Man Blames Break-In on Zombie Pursuit

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A Florida man who used a chunk of concrete to break a window outside a hotel told police he did it to escape pursuing zombies.

According to ABC ActionNews, “David Allen Jensen, 41, used a doughnut-shaped piece of concrete to break glass outside the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront hotel on First Street S. He was trying to get inside, he told police, because zombies were chasing him. Security officers say they saw Jensen pulling on the handles of car doors, too, but not to avoid the undead. He told police he was trying to steal tobacco from the cars.”

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This is, of course, not the first time that a person has blamed supernatural — and presumably non-existent — entities for crimes and misbehavior. Last year a man in Memphis was arrested after destroying a motel room that he believed contained demons and ghosts. The motel manager discovered the room’s furniture had been smashed and the sheetrock walls had been ripped out. A 22-year-old man arrested nearby explained to police officers that he’d simply been trying to free the demons and ghosts that were trapped in the room and its walls. He did not state whether his efforts were successful.

Sometimes such claims are made by drunks grasping at straws in an attempt to excuse the inexcusable — such as a Wisconsin man arrested for domestic violence who tried to claim that a ghost was responsible for his wife’s injuries. While it’s easy to assume that anyone who holds beliefs about zombies, ghosts, demons and the like is intoxicated or mentally ill, that is not necessarily the case.

Many people — especially religious fundamentalists — believe in the literal, physical existence of demons and devils. For these individuals such paranormal entities are not metaphorical, nor the stuff of horror movies, but instead very real and can harass, attack and even possess humans. Other people who would dismiss such talk of demons and zombies as silly are convinced they experience ghosts and unseen spirits, perhaps influenced by popular TV shows such as Ghost Hunters.

Zombies and Social Contagion

There is also an element of social contagion to such claims. When an idea or theme becomes widespread in popular culture — as zombies and ghosts have in recent years — they tend to be on people’s minds. In some rare circumstances these fears are revealed in weird ways. This is not to say that seeing TV shows and movies about zombies will necessarily make people hallucinate zombie pursuits. It’s not quite so direct or straightforward.

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However psychologists know that our expectations can and do influence our perceptions and interpretations of what we see. A scary late-night encounter with a centipede in your bedroom, for example, is likely to make any stray shoelace or piece of string on the floor look like a centipede for a few days.

Earlier this year a woman was seen late at night on Ohio’s Oberlin College campus wrapped in a blanket. Because there had been recent discussions about racism on the campus, an eyewitness told police that the woman was instead a Ku Klux Klan member in full white regalia.

The current fascination with zombies will eventually fade away, and along with it the occasional reports of real-world zombies. Until then, the sightings will continue…

Photo: Corbis

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