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Korean Urban Legend Goes Viral, Makes Taxis Scary

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You've heard it before: Person wakes up in a bathtub of ice, only to find a kidney has been harvested. It's an urban legend that, according to Snopes, has been around since 1991. Now in South Korea, there's a somewhat similar story that involves taxicabs. And it's taking the internet by storm.

Numerous websites and news programs have been reporting about an urban legend that has passengers getting drugged in taxis and then waking up minus a kidney. The rumor is spreading through social networking sites. Within the last week this screenshot has made its way through KakaoTalk, a South Korean social networking platform, and Facebook.


Via Kotaku tipster Sang, here's an English translation of the conversation:

Don't take taxis around city hall. Someone my friend knows had to go into surgery yesterday because his kidney was taken.


He got on a taxi while drunk.

His kidney?


Someone put a needle in his neck. He lost consciousness and was defenseless. When he came to, he was bleeding from his stomach and abandoned in a farm field. He was taken to a hospital and they told him one of his kidneys was missing.


There are other variations on this story, such as phony taxis with anesthetic on the door handles that cause passengers to fall asleep, making them easy prey.

South Korea's CNBC affiliate reports that a screenshot of the above KakaoTalk conversation racked up more than seventy thousand likes on Facebook. Apparently, the post's title referred to the city of Gwangju, and police are concerned that this is damaging the city's reputation. Oh, it's also probably not so hot for the taxi business, either.


As with most urban legends in any country, there are those who know the rumors are bunk. Then, there are those who believe them. According to Joins MSN (also via Sang), one 45 year-old man got a text from his wife while he was drunk in the back of a taxi. She warned him about organ harvesting, and the man jumped from the moving taxi, breaking his arm.

"Urban legends are rampant as the summer comes around, and this is just a fad," a police spokesperson said, adding that people should not believe stories about organ harvesting and taxi cabs. The police have looked into these incidents, turning up nothing. And in the past, they have actually arrested individuals who have started groundless rumors.


Online in South Korea, people are of course making the inevitable comparison between this latest urban legend and Park Chan-wook's 2002 Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, which centers on the black market organ trade.

According to Joins MSN, the "taxi driver kidney thief" urban legend really seems to have gained steam last fall. This isn't new, however. Online in South Korea, there have been organ-harvesting hoaxes for the past few years. And like most urban legends, they typically start with "This guy/gal my friend knows had it happen to him/her." They don't exactly deal in the world of facts and rational thought, but that's perhaps the point.


The summer traditionally has been when ghost stories are told in South Korea—to chill you to the bone, so to speak. That's also why horror movies have traditionally been released in the summer—not the fall, like in some countries. This latest horror story isn't being told around a campfire. It's spreading through Korean cyberspace.

'장기적출 괴담' 잊을 만하면 극성부리는 까닭 [Hankooki]

SNS서 ‘장기 적출’ 괴담 확산…경찰 “사실무근” [KBS]

콩팥 괴담 "택시탄 후 쓰러졌는데…" 온라인서 공포 확산 [SBS CNBC]

잊을만 하면 떠도는 '콩팥 괴담'…이번에는 광주 [Joins MSN Thanks, Sang!]

Photo: Andrew Park | Shutterstock

To contact the author of this post, write to or find him on Twitter @Brian_Ashcraft.


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