The Urban Legend of the Troll in the Closet

a person sitting in a closet
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In this well-traveled urban legend, a parent returns home from a shopping trip to find her mentally-challenged son in a very excited state. "I caught a troll and trapped him in the closet!" he exclaims. Upon investigation, she finds that the "troll" is a very short census taker who just happened to knock on the wrong door at the wrong time. The story starting circulating online around a decade ago. Here is one variation of the tale that appeared in an online message board early on.

This is a true story!
So my wife calls me from her work and tells me this story:
A coworkers sisters son who is 27, and is autistic. Called his father and says "Dad I caught something! Dad I caught Something! I have it locked in the closet!!" Dad is like "What is it" and son says "come home." So the dad comes home and he has a Census Taker LOCKED IN THE CLOSET!!! Here the census taker is a midget and the son hit him in the head with a frying pan and put him in the closet! The son said he was feeding him Skittles by putting them under the door.

The Troll Who Loved Pizza

Readers found this story posted on an online message board on Dec. 8, 2009:

Here's a true troll story I heard last night.
Our friends wanted to take some other friends out for dinner. They have an (adult) autistic son and don't manage to get out on their own often. They hadn't been able to get someone to sit with him, but he seemed fine, they set him up with a pizza and his favourite DVD, and went to a local restaurant.
After about half an hour, the son phoned: "Mum, Mum, come home quick. I've caught a troll."
So they went straight home. The sitting room door was barricaded from the inside, and they could hear talking. The son dismantled his barricade once he knew the outside door was safely locked. Inside, sitting calmly, finishing off the pizza, was a midget, who had been innocently delivering leaflets door to door, before being taken captive.

Troll in a Box

Amber S. shared this version of the story on March 17, 2010:

A lady has a mentally-challenged brother who is very independent and lives in a trailer behind the woman's house so that he can live "on his own," but she can still watch him and make sure he is okay. Anyways, she walks to to house every day to check on him, except for on this one day, she couldn't because she had the flu. She calls him instead. He seems fine, but is very excited about the troll he caught. She figures him pretending and dismisses the idea. The next day, she feels better and makes the trip to his house. She hears a weird noise and asks her brother what the noise is. He tells her "It's the troll I caught." She hears the noise again, and begins to investigate. She opens up a large box and finds a "midget" tied up in several knots and ropes. She, of course, flips and releases the man. The man is now pressing charges against the mentally-challenged man.


One of the hallmarks of an urban legend is variability. The specifics of the story change depending on who's telling it, where, and when.

In the three versions of the tale recounted above, for example, the little person mistaken for a troll is variously said to have been imprisoned by 1) "a co-worker's sister's autistic son," 2) "a friend's adult autistic son," or 3) someone's "mentally-challenged brother."

One variant says the victim was a census taker (which is clearly false given the date it was posted, since according to the Census Bureau its employees were not yet in the field as of March 9, 2010); another says he was distributing leaflets; the third offers no explanation for his presence at all. In other online versions, the little person is a Jehovah's Witness or a magazine salesman.

Some storytellers say the troll-trapper fed his captive by sliding Skittles candies under the door. Others say it was M&Ms.

The Leprechaun in the Closet

Still, other variants claim the mentally-challenged person believed he had captured a leprechaun, not a troll. This example was posted on the Internet on March 2, 2010:

Last week, in Northwest Arkansas near Springdale a lady, who has a twenty year old slightly mentally challenged son, received a call around 10:00 am. He told her that he had just caught a Leprechaun. The mother, considering all the wild stories which her son had told her in times past, merely passed it off as another of his wild stories. He asked that she come home and see him because he was mean. She told him that she was busy and it would have to wait until she got home later.
Sometime after noon he called back and asked her again to come home and see his very own Leprechaun? She again told him that he would have to wait until her normal end of work time.
Then about 4:00 pm she called him back to check on his Leprechaun. He told her that his Leprechaun had gone to sleep and all seemed very peaceful now. He told her that he was really glad because the Leprechaun had been very mean and angry! She is now beginning to wonder what he really had caught at locked up at their home?
Finally she arrived home and asked to see the Leprechaun which he had caught earlier that day. He led her to the bedroom closet, and there and told her to be careful because if he was awake he would be very mean! Easing the door slowly out jumped a dwarf man less than 4 feet tall. Now this really startled the mother! The dwarf explained that he was a Jehovah Witness who had called at there door earlier in the day only to be captured by her son, who was calling him a Leprechaun. The mother began to apologize to the man, but he stated that he could tell by the young man’s actions that he really thought he was a Leprechaun. He told her not to worry and that he would be sure not to wear any green from that day forward when making house calls. The mother explained to her son that he is never supposed to capture anyone and hold them against their will. She also vowed to take his stories a little more serious from now on!

In the foregoing version, the story is set in northeast Arkansas, but other online tellings claim it happened in Louisiana, Ohio, Texas, Alabama, and even Sweden, to name but a few locations.

Obviously, they can't all be true. In fact, it's pretty unlikely that any version of the story is true, especially considering that the basic premise was borrowed from an older urban legend in which a person (or group of people) high on mushrooms (or acid) captures what they take to be a "gnome" (or leprechaun) and, guess what, locks it in a closet.

The Bad Trip

Someone posted this version online in 2008:

A mate was telling us about her friend that lives in a digs in London. His roommate chuned all his housemates that he was gonna get some mushrooms and go trip out in the park. So all the other housemates went out for the day and when they got back home, this guy was lying on the couch still tripping.
He started yelling that there are gnomes in the house and that everyone must be careful. They all laughed it off, but then the guy said, 'no really, I caught one and it is in my room'.
So everyone missioned up to the guy's room and found his closet locked with a chair pushed up against it and something banging from the inside.
When they opened it there was a little down-syndrome kid inside that this guy saw in the park and thought it was a gnome and so he took him home.