After binge watching dozens of park tours (don’t ask), we began to wonder “just how haunted are Disney’s theme parks?” or more plainly: just how many Deaths at Disney parks have there been?
Despite a cult-like devotion to an image of safe and family friendly fun, it turns out not everything is always magical in the mouse’s kingdom.
From failing floats to alligator attacks to knife fights, Disney’s theme parks have had their share of sad, strange and surreal deaths over the past decades that add a dark shadow to an otherwise picture perfect park going experience.
Read on for a list of 13 notable Deaths At Disney from both California’s Disneyland and Walt Disney World in Florida.
Deaths At Disney: Alligator Attack! (2016)
With some very strong Florida energy for Walt Disney World, one of the most gruesome Disney Deaths occurred on June 14, 2016 when a 2-year-old boy from Nebraska was bitten and dragged into the water by an alligator at 9:15pm on the shore of the Seven Seas Lagoon.
Horrifyingly, his parents tried to save him and the boy was pulled into the water in front of their eyes. His body then surfaced the following afternoon, in the vicinity of where he went missing.
Since the incident, Disney has added warning signs and rope-barriers to waterways around the entire resort and, for a short time, references to alligators were removed from a number of attractions, including The Jungle Cruise.
However, these actions did little to help Disney shake accusations of a cover-up, with local press alleging Disney removed nearly 100 alligators from the park in the year leading up to the incident.
Deaths At Disney: Knife Attack! (1981)
On March 7, 1981 18-year-old Mel Yorba was fatally stabbed with a knife during a fight with a 28-year-old man after the victim supposedly attempted to pinch the man’s girlfriend in Tomorrowland.
His family sued the park for $60 million and while the family did not receive the full amount (They got $600k in the end) the jury found the park negligent for not summoning outside medical help during the assault.
Disney, forever obsessed with their image even in the face OF AN ACTUAL MURDER, sent the victim to the Hospital not in an ambulance, but a Disneyland van with a park nurse.
Deaths At Disney: The Gang Murders Someone (1987)
The second homicide in the park’s history, on March 7 1987, a 15-year-old boy was fatally shot in the Disneyland parking lot after keeping it real went wrong as revellers left the park after closing.
The incident began as an early-morning shouting match between apparent rival gang members before escalating into a brawl that devolved into a shooting match in the parking lot around 1am.
About two hours after the brawl, Long Beach police and California Highway Patrol officers arrested no less than 13 Samoan youths as they drove north on the San Diego Freeway in Long Beach in a van and a Cadillac, Long Beach Police Lt. Rod Mickelson said at the time.
Keleti Naea, the shooter, contended that he thought the gun, which belonged to the victim, was a toy when he picked it off the ground and fired at Tai, but that wasn’t enough to escape being convicted of 2nd degree murder for his role in the shooting.
Deaths At Disney: America Sings (1974)
A classic among Deaths at Disney, this incident befell poor Deborah Gail Stone, a fresh faced, bubbly 18-year old employee who had just graduated from Santa Ana High School, and was, as the immortal Joe Bob Briggs would say “mashed to bits” after slipping between a revolving wall and a stationary platform inside the eternally creepy America Sings attraction.
On July 8, 1974 she standing was in the wrong place during a ride intermission and, as the revolving platforms revolved, she was ground to a pulp between the wheels of the attraction.. Investigators say it was unclear whether this was the result of inadequate training or an “operator error”, as the ride was brand new, having only opened about a week earlier.
In classic Disney fashion, America Sings was closed for a mere two days while crews installed simple warning lights and breakaway walls to prevent further incidents of mashing to bits.
Deaths At Disney: The Matterhorn Decapitation (1984)
One of the grisliest Deaths at Disney was 1984’s Matterhorn incident, when 48-year-old Dolly Young from California was killed after she was thrown from a bobsled car and was then struck by the next oncoming bobsled, crushing her and separating her head from it’s shoulders between the cars wheels and the steel track.
A later investigation had found that her seat belt was not buckled, and it remained unclear if she deliberately unfastened her belt, the seat belt had malfunctioned, or another passenger had unfastened it. Dun dun dunnn!
Deaths At Disney: Mono-doh! (1966)
The first of many, many Deaths at Disney’s California location was on June 8, 1966, when 19 year old Thomas Cleveland was killed while attempting to sneak into the park by climbing onto the monorail track.
Ignoring the shouted warnings of a security officer he was struck by the train and dragged nearly 50 feet down the track.
A Quote from author David Koenig’s 1994 book Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland attributed to the the security guard there at the time stated that he had to “hose the kid off the underside”.
Deaths At Disney: Killer Coral Cafe Menu (1982)
In one of the more bizarre Deaths at Disney (and the 6th death in the history of Orlando’s park in a mere 11 years), a 2-year-old local girl from Florida died on April 6, 1982 in Walt Disney World after being crushed, by of all things … a falling menu board.
Reports says she was standing in line with her family outside the kitschy tiki-themed Coral Isle Coffee Shop (now re-branded as the Kona Cafe) when she and her 12-year-old sister were playing with a rope tied to a large menu board.
In a Rube Goldberg worth series of unfortunate events (and a great advertisement for birth control), the unattended girls pulled on the rope, freeing the sign from it’s fasteners, and the board fell on top of the toddler, crushing her.
Deaths At Disney: Oh no, Not The Bees! (1992)
In a Death worthy of Nicolas Cage himself, an off-duty cast member fell to his death from the ledge outside the Top of The World restaurant on On November 12, 1992.
And while falls and suicides are surprisingly common Deaths at Disney, this one is a little more weird.
The strange accident began as Brian Hribek, 24, a host at the Disney hotel’s Top Of The World, was showing his roommate the view from an observation deck on the 15th floor of the hotel.
As he sat on the 4 ft high security barrier in broad daylight, a swarm of “giant wasps” began attacking him without warning. As he tried desperately to swat them away, he fell over the edge and the wasps had claimed their victory.
The victim slammed into a 4th floor landing deck of the monorail, killing him instantly and with much splattering.
Reporters on the scene were told by employees ” We noticed the wasps…They were huge, all over the place…Then a little while later, someone came in screaming, ‘Call 911!’ “
Disney officials said they do not know where the wasps came from. A reporter who walked on the deck two hours after the accident found dozens still swarming…looking for more victims…
Deaths At Disney: Mini Golf Car Fire (2018)
A recent and still unsolved entry in our Deaths at Disney, August 18, 2018 saw a person found dead inside of a burning car near Disney’s Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf Course at the park, shocking local residents.
Brian Christ, 49, was found dead in a burning vehicle at 4:11 a.m, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. but it was not the result of an automobile accident.
Deputies have not released details about how Christ died, but said that no foul play is suspected and detectives were not looking for any suspects. Disney remained tight lipped about the incident, and has not commented to this day about just what happened. Suspish.
Deaths At Disney: A Dream Come True Parade Crushing (2004)
Imagine dying in a mascot costume? How humiliating right? Well imagine no longer.
A tragic entry in our Deaths at Disney, Javier Cruz, 38, a father of two and an eight-year Disney veteran, was playing Pluto in the daily afternoon parade like he had countless times before.
Preparing backstage, he was shockingly killed after being run over by the Beauty and the Beast float in the “Share a Dream Come True Parade”. We’re guessing that was not his dream come true.
“We think very few guests saw it, if any,” said park spokesman Bill Warren at the time.
On the day of his death, he was dressed in character near the end of the parade line and was ready to pass through a gate into public view near Splash Mountain when the float struck him.
In a scene that’s tragic, but honestly pretty hilarious to imagine, Cruz tripped and before he had time to escape the oncoming float, was crushed to death by the giant golden princess float that loomed over him.
Floats and characters that left the backstage area before the accident continued down the parade route toward Main Street, U.S.A., Warren said, but floats and characters behind Cruz did not.
Deaths At Disney: Shotgun To The Head (1992)
While we’re not counting the spate of suicides among our “Top Deaths At Disney”, this one is just too salacious to leave out.
On September 12, 1992, 37-year-old Allan Farris entered Epcot at Orlando’s Walt Disney World after closing, yelling and demanding to see his ex-girlfriend who worked at the park.
Ferris then confronted a guard at the park who approached him, and after again demanding to see his former girlfriend, two other guards then confronted Ferris.
In a big Florida move, Farris produced a 12-gauge shotgun – with its stock cut off – from a nylon bag and went into full psycho-mode, firing three blasts at the first guard, who was miraculously unharmed.
The two other guards also ran, but after Ferris fired one shot, both stopped and were held hostage for 10 minutes in a restroom near Kodak’s Journey Into Imagination pavilion.
Given the serious nature of the event, Police deputies immediately surrounded the area, and Ferris released his hostages. He then emerged, walking around the pavilion with the gun clenched to his chest.
“Shoot me. Shoot me. You’re going to have to kill me,” Ferris yelled.
After exchanging words with deputies, he put the gun to his head and fired, evaporating his head into a cloud of red mist.
As expected, he was pronounced dead on arrival at the Orlando Regional Medical Center. Investigators attributed his actions to a recent breakup with his long-time girlfriend.
In a quote worthy of a true crime podcast, a friend said “He was a big man . . . but he got pushed to the limit. Something just happened to set him off.”
Deaths At Disney: Killer Coaster (2003)
Howdy folks! We’re heading to the old-west for one of the most calamitous Deaths at Disney in Frontierland history , yee-haw!
On September 5, 2003, a 22-year-old man died after suffering severe blunt-force trauma and extensive internal bleeding in a derailment of the Big croller coaster that also injured ten other riders.
The derailment was the result of a mechanical failure that had occurred because of omissions during a maintenance procedure. Fasteners on the left side guide wheel on the floating axle of the locomotive were not tightened and secured in accordance with specifications.
As the train entered a tunnel, the axle came loose and jammed against a brake section, causing the locomotive to become airborne and hit the ceiling of the tunnel. The locomotive then slammed down on top of the first passenger car, crushing the victim.
Deaths At Disney: Gondola Death Drop (1999)
One of the sadder Deaths at Disney saw 65-year-old part-time custodian Raymond Barlow killed as he was cleaning the Fantasyland Skyway station platform on February 14, 1999, when the ride was turned on by staff likely unaware he was there.
He was in the path of the ride vehicles and after beging struck by the oncoming and adorable Gondola, he grabbed a passing seat in an attempt to save himself.
Sadly, He lost his grip, fell 40 feet (12 m), and landed in a flower bed near the Dumbo ride, where he expired from his injuries.
The Skyway ride, which was already ancient and in poor repair, had been scheduled to be closed before the accident occurred, was permanently closed in November, 1999.
As a result of the accident, OSHA fined Walt Disney World a whopping US$4,500 for violating federal safety codes in that work area.
Heading Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash