The Killer in the Window

An Urban Legend

Killer in the Window
Carlos Gomez Bové/Getty Images

This urban legend is also known as "The Face in the Window" and "The Killer's Reflection."

Example #1

As told by reader Destinee (Aug. 25, 2000):

This girl was home all alone watching TV on a cold winter night. The television was right beside a sliding glass door, and the blinds were open.

Suddenly she saw a wrinkled old man staring at her through the glass! She screamed, then grabbed the phone next to the couch and pulled a blanket over her head so the guy couldn't see her while she called the police. She was so terrified that she remained under the blanket until the police got there.

It had snowed a lot during the day, so the police naturally decided to look for footprints. But there were no footprints at all on the snowy ground outside the sliding door.

Puzzled, the police went back inside the house – and that's when they saw the wet footprints on the floor leading up to the couch where the girl was still sitting.

The policemen looked at each other nervously. "Miss, you're extremely lucky," one of them finally said to her.

"Why?" she asked.

"Because," he said, "the man wasn't outside at all. He was in here, standing right behind the couch! What you saw in the window was his reflection."

Example #2

As posted online (May 29, 2010):

A 15-year-old girl was babysitting her little sister while her parents went out to a party. She sent her sister off to bed around 9:30 while she stayed up to watch her favorite T.V. show.

She sat in her recliner with a blanket and watched until it went off at around 10:30 after it went off she turned around in her seat to face the big glass door and watch the snow fall. She sat there for about 5 minutes or so when she noticed a strange man walking toward the glass from outside. She sat there staring as he stared at her back. He started to pull a shiny object out from his coat. Thinking it was a knife she immediately pulled the covers over her head. After about 10 minutes she removed the covers and saw that he was gone. She then called 911 and they rushed over.

They examined outside for any footprints in the snow, but there were none to be found. Two cops walked into her house to tell her the bad news and they noticed a trail of big wet footprints leading up to the chair where she was sitting.

The cops came to their conclusion and immediately told the girl she was very lucky because the man she saw staring at her was not standing outside, but he was standing behind her and what she saw was his reflection.


This chilling variation on the familiar trope of the threatened babysitter (see also "The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs" and "The Clown Statue") makes effective use of the "shocking reveal"—our protagonist learns after the fact that the prowler hadn't been watching her from outside the house as she had assumed; but was inside the house the whole time, making her close call with the boogeyman all the closer, and all the more horrifying in retrospect.

As in "The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs," the cautionary message of this tale is aimed at the teenage protagonist: stay alert, be careful, mind your responsibilities. The consequences of distraction can be dire. "The moment that the sitter relaxes (eat a snack and watch TV) and lets her guard down," notes Simon J. Bronner in American Children's Folklore (August House, 1988), "is when dangers lurk."

But though the babysitter's main job is to protect the children (and in some variants of these tales the children are killed), it's the young woman whose safety is directly threatened, a motif that links "The Killer in the Window" to other close-call-with-intruder narratives like "Aren't You Glad You Didn't Turn on the Light" and "Humans Can Lick, Too." Subtextually, these stories convey a decidedly more retro message than the one mentioned above, namely that young woman set themselves up to be victims merely by going about their business unchaperoned. For better or worse (surely the former), they no longer pack the moral punch they once may have had.