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The True Story Behind “Child’s Play”

Since the first movie was released in the 1980s, the Child’s Play franchise and its cursed doll Chucky have become horror-movie classics.

But did you know Chucky is based on an actual voodoo doll? The real thing is so much creepier than the Hollywood version. It even looks creepier.

Image from the Key West Art and Historical Society

Image from the Key West Art and Historical Society

Key West artist and author Robert Eugene (Gene) Otto was given the homemade “Robert the Doll” in 1906, when he was six years old. One of his family’s Bahamian servants made the spooky-looking thing out of a wire frame, cloth, straw, and hair from Gene’s own head. This same servant was apparently mistreated by the family, had recently lost her own child when she was ordered to take care of Gene, and was skilled in black magic and voodoo. Of course she was. If you’re going to mistreat a servant, maybe choose one who doesn’t know voodoo. Or at least don’t let her use your child’s own hair on a doll.

Gene loved his creepy new friend, and his parents didn’t think much of it when their son began chattering away to the doll. However, it did give them pause when the doll answered back–in a completely different voice.

Robert the Doll was apparently the jealous type, and soon Gene’s other toys were mutilated. Neighbors reportedly saw the doll watching them from different windows when the family was known to be away from the house.

As Robert’s hold over the family grew stronger, Gene’s parents heard the doll giggle. They caught glimpses of it moving through the house. (This maybe would have been a good time to get rid of the doll.) When their son screamed in the middle of the night, they would rush to his room, only to find furniture knocked over and Gene terrified. Of course Robert the Doll was blamed for the destruction.

Soon people outside the family learned that Robert was not an ordinary doll. A plumber fled the house after it snickered at him. Other visitors swore the doll blinked and its expression changed.

Robert’s influence didn’t end when Gene grew up. Once Gene’s parents died, he moved back to his childhood home with his wife Anne, and was soon reacquainted with his old fiend. Anne took an instant dislike to the doll, swearing she had seen its expression change.

When the doll was confined to the attic, guests heard unexplained footsteps, laughter, and movement upstairs, even though no one was there. Pedestrians saw the doll staring at them from the home’s windows, and children began crossing to the other side of the street as they approached the house. Some kids claimed the doll taunted them. Gene found Robert in a rocking chair on the main floor time and time again. He kept putting the doll back in the attic, but it always returned to the chair.

Gene died in 1974 and his house was sold, along with Robert the Doll, who was in a trunk in the attic. The new family’s ten-year-old daughter claimed the ugly thing as her own, but soon regretted it. Her other dolls were mutilated, and it wasn’t long before she began having night terrors. She claimed that Robert moved about the room and had even attempted to attack her on multiple occasions.  When the family discovered their dog tied tightly with cord, they returned the doll to the attic.  As an adult, the girl still insisted that Robert the Doll was alive – and evil.

You can visit Robert in the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West. If you want to take his picture, you have to ask his permission. The museum is full of letters of apology from those foolish enough to snap a photo against the doll’s wishes.

Had you heard of Robert the Doll? Do you believe a doll can really be cursed? Would you visit or own a cursed object?

While I was researching this post, I was startled by the similarities between Robert the Doll and the cursed bear in my latest book, The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave. Life really is stranger than fiction!

1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.

79 Comments

  1. Alex J. Cavanaugh

    Wow, why didn’t they get rid of the doll? Give it to a church and tell them to lift the curse and then burn the doll? If I ever visit the museum, I promise not to take his photo.

    Reply
    • JH

      Good question, Alex! I was wondering that myself. I’m guessing Gene might have had a unhealthy attachment to it.

      Reply
    • Angie

      If was you I wouldn’t even bother evil doll .if really decide to that evil thing. Throw some holy water on it. .rebuke it in the name of Jesus..

      Reply
      • Joey

        You people will believe anything if it’s written down so believe this I don’t believe what I haven’t seen so I suggest you do the same

        Reply
    • Cory

      Alex please tell me what factory That made chucky

      Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Barbara! And thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  2. Madeline Mora-Summonte

    Why oh why did they keep that doll in the first place?! As soon as it answered Gene back in a totally different voice, it should have been out of there! And that photo of the real thing is way creepier than the movie version.

    Reply
    • JH

      I agree, Madeline. I really don’t get these stories where things escalate out of control because of a supposed “cursed” object–but then people keep the object.

      In my book you can’t get rid of Edgar. Maybe it was the same with Robert. Perhaps the doll could only be passed on to a new owner after Gene died.

      Reply
  3. Roland Yeomans

    It is a scarier looking doll, isn’t it? The ghost of Mark Twain always advises me to give a Viking funeral to any doll that starts speaking! How odd that after all the strange occurances that the parents stayed in a form of denial and refused to take action. Great story.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks Roland, and welcome back! I think Mark Twain had the right idea.

      At the very least, Gene was disturbed and was using the doll to cover his own bad behaviour.

      Reply
  4. Cherie Reich

    The tale sounds familiar, although I can’t remember where I’ve heard of it. That’s one creepy doll. They should dismember it, burn it, and somehow destroy its ashes.

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome back, Cherie! I could have written a book about this doll. All sorts of creepy things have happened to the documentary crews and media who attempted to film it at the museum–cameras dying and malfunctioning, etc.

      Your plan makes sense to me. 😉

      Reply
  5. Chrys Fey

    That is creepy! I did not know that. I wonder…is this how you got the idea for Edgar?

    Reply
    • JH

      Actually, no…I just found out about this yesterday! But the similarities were eerie. Maybe there’s a kinship between cursed toys.

      Reply
  6. Elle

    I am never going toy shopping with you. Ever. How do you keep finding these things? *shivers*

    Reply
    • JH

      Google is my friend. 🙂

      Reply
  7. Denise D Hammond

    OK. I have a hard time believing this actually happened. Was everyone hallucinating? Aliens and UFOs I get. Voodoo dolls? Not so much. Sounds like an exorcism was needed.

    Reply
    • JH

      Apparently it still happens, Denise. Some of the letters sent to the doll seem like people are just trying to be in on the “fun,” but plenty of the documentary crews and media who have attempted to film the doll have had their cameras malfunction and other strange stuff.

      There are some things I won’t mess with, and voodoo is one of them.

      Reply
  8. Patricia Lynne

    I’ve seen more than one program on TV talk about Robert the Doll. It’s tempting to want to visit him in the museum, but I live to far away and I think I’d chicken out if given the chance.

    Reply
    • JH

      I wouldn’t mind visiting, but I definitely wouldn’t take him home with me!

      Reply
  9. Stephanie Faris

    OMG as I was reading this I was thinking, “This reminds me of the book I just finished.” Which was your book! You did a great job of capturing the sheer fright that comes from a childhood toy going bad…

    Stephanie
    http://stephie5741.blogspot.com

    Reply
    • JH

      You read my book? Oh, Stephanie, I am so touched and honoured! Thank you. xoxo

      I’d never heard of Robert the Doll until yesterday, but the similarities between this story and mine were a bit freaky.

      Reply
  10. TD Harvey

    Okay, that’s much creepier than those daft movies. That doll is grim. I don’t think of take the risk of a photo.

    Reply
    • JH

      Tee! You’re back! Welcome–I missed you. Things must be going well with the cats. 🙂

      I agree–the true story is almost always spookier.

      Reply
  11. Lexa Cain

    Love this story! Very creepy, and your asides are so funny! Tweeting!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Lexa! Sharing is good. 🙂

      Reply
      • sebastian skidmore

        i have seen every chucky movie that there is and knew that it was a true story because i have heard about it before just like alot of these old horror movies are true stories but the actual robert the doll DANG thats actually more creepy than having a life size chucky doll and his bride no jokes

        Reply
  12. djinnia

    uh, creepy much! i’m so not a fan of dolls anymore. dolls are vessels for possession and i don’t want any around me. the trauma of elm street three and r.l. stine night of the living doll killed my goo factor for them. **shudder**

    great article though. reminds me of a ghost hunt anime story arc with minnie the possessed doll.

    Reply
    • JH

      Yeah, dolls were never my favourite thing, even as a child. Any doll given to me was pretty much doomed. I will make an exception for Monster High, which is awesome.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  13. Kala

    Dolls are banned in my house lol and becAuse of the child play movies that I was forced to watch at 6 by older cousins still have night terrors , thank the lord children are more into electronics, skating, and bikes now than dolls and toys , so creepy pray I don’t have night terrors tonight after know it’s based on some truth , this to me is worse than any thriller I’ve seen except demonic films .

    Reply
  14. Kala

    I swear that with the night terrors I have I could write a thrilling demonic novel myself lol and several of them

    Reply
    • JH

      Then go for it, Kala! Tell me when it’s done and I’ll make sure to buy it. 🙂

      Reply
  15. sebastian skidmore

    i just dont think that the doll would have its power like back then after all it was 1906 or 09 something like that when the doll was made thats a hundred years but then again its an evil spirit or soul trapped and cant go anywhere else most demons and spirits that i heard of or seen myself not on tv or a book are more powerful now then what they ever was then when they died

    Reply
  16. Patty Farkas

    I went on a Haunted Key West walking tour in 2012. Outside the Otto house, as the tour guide was telling the story of Gene and Robert the Doll, all the hair on my body stood straight up and I felt something shoot through me. I grabbed my sister’s arm, and all I could say was “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!” Someone else on the tour started snapping photos in my direction and the photos show a streak moving down between my sister and me. I’ve always been a “sensitive”, so I was not entirely surprised by this. That strange feeling stayed with me for over an hour, and affected me to the point that I had no desire to go to the museum to see Robert.

    Reply
    • JH

      Oh, that is REALLY creepy, Patty! Thanks for sharing. Has anything like that happened since?

      I don’t blame you for not wanting to see Robert the Doll.

      Reply
  17. Kelli

    I get creeped out every time I hear this story. Not a big doll fan, epecially the talking ones. But then, I’m not a big clown fan either. Robert came to mind when reading Dean Koontz ‘s Tick Tock.

    Reply
  18. Jazz

    I would not want a photo of him

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re probably safe then. 😉

      Reply
  19. Khushboo Joshi

    Today morning WS watching a movie curse of chucky I saw dis movie many times today I thought I HV to search is dis story is true or nt I m researching on most haunted places in d wrld bt never tried on dolls or other thing bt as dis story voodoo doll it’s kind of weird cz a servant took genes hair been cursed n she did dis in jealousy so y tht doll hvnt killed gene n why they still kept d doll in a museum it’s better to destroy it get rid of tht thing rather then to keep tht in museum cz as u said we HV to take a permission to take his photo otherwise we ll b cursed cz their is no less nums of fools in dis wrld n aft dng this n get suffered ..

    Reply
  20. Tim

    Lmao…..complete HORSE@@@@. A stuffed doll that comes alive? Buhbhuuaaaaa!!! Ive heard alot of stories about this type of garbage and each time they get better. Haha

    Reply
    • JH

      I think you might be visiting the wrong blog, Tim. 😉 Skeptics R Us is a different url.

      Reply
      • katherine rose lock

        this is too funny i am a big time beliver in the super natural actualy i deal in this stuff

        Reply
  21. Tim

    I guess it’s all in good fun so, I would like to apologize JH for the “harshness” of my prior comment but, believing that a doll can come alive is completely ludicrious. Take care.

    Reply
    • JH

      No worries, Tim. I always appreciate honesty.

      As for the living doll, my book is about a cursed teddy bear, so I’m hardly one to judge. 😉

      Reply
  22. monica bradshaw

    I would love to visit. Would I take a photo, probably not. I love ready about stuff like this and watching movies based on true events. Call me crazy or adventurous. Either way they both work for me!!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Monica! Glad you found me.

      Reply
  23. Stephanie

    I love the doll CHUCKY

    Reply
  24. ameerah

    Thanks for sharing I often wonder if the Chucky doll movie was based on real life, finally decided to look it up today and it was.
    I dont know why the did not get rid of the Robert the doll.
    really creepy stuff

    Reply
  25. robert the doll

    leave me alone from this matter i am not a ghost i am just a doll

    Reply
    • JH

      At least we didn’t take your picture!

      Reply
  26. Summer Moon

    I went on a ghost tour in Key West and had a paranormal experience outside of Gene’s (& Robert’s) house. I felt this energy shoot through me, and grabbed my sister’s arm and uttered “Oh my god.” Every hair on my body was standing straight up. People who were photographing hoping to catch orbs started clicking away in my direction. Someone caught a spirit rod between me and my sister. I have never felt anything like that before or since. I have total respect for spirits, and would definitely not even visit Robert, let alone take his picture.

    Reply
    • JH

      Yikes! That is creepy! Thanks for sharing your story, Summer.

      Reply
  27. Jebaly

    Hi Ms JH ..

    Can we be friends Please. I really will have honor if you accept.

    You can find me on my Email

    I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

    Please send to me on e-mail ..

    Reply
  28. DRSG

    I can’t stand the Child’s Play genre. Not really a fan of horror flicks either but I had a WEIRD FEELING about the movie like there was more to it and I think you should suggest that the museum destroy the doll or buy it from them and do it yourself. They don’t realize how much danger they are putting people in by keeping it.

    Reply
  29. Somer Canon

    I’ve either read about this doll before or he was featured on a show but GACK is that eerie.

    Reply
  30. Rei Elyssa

    This was very creepy. Although it is funny, because when I was a young girl I had a stuffed monkey whom I called Pancho. Oh my gosh I loved Pancho so much. My brothers not so much. They would mistreat Pancho by throwing him across the room and pretend to shoot him and choke him. I would get so mad and ask myself why in the world they would do that to him. I later than asked and they both said, because that’s a creepy doll! I was like whatever haters… Usually when I would fall asleep I would hug him against my chest and he would stay there, so my little brother (whom at the time I was sharing a bed with) would not take him easily from me. During one night my mother was checking on us to see if we were asleep and she said she saw Pancho on top of my brother in a position of wanting to choke him during his sleep. Immediately my mother got Pancho and threw him in our hallway closet. We kept it there to remind our cousins that Pancho is looking down at us and if he sees we are being disobedient he will try to kill us in our sleep. Creepy and Weird I know! But it sure did keep my cousins from being disobedient.

    Reply
  31. Dianne

    I am aware of “Anabelle”, whose story is similar.

    This is the first I have heard of Robert the Doll.

    Perhaps I should return to reading. As these comments sound enticing.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for the kind comment, Dianne. Hit the “Free Books” link on this website to get access to lots of free books, including one with supernatural tales like that of Robert the Doll. Enjoy!

      Reply
  32. John Doe

    Very fascinating to find out that this movie is based on a true story

    Reply
  33. Justin Dunn

    You said a family servant created this doll and used his own hair? I think the doll was actually from Germany, a gift from his grandma.

    Reply
    • JH

      That conflicts with my information, but as I don’t know the family or Robert personally, I can’t stake my life on it.

      Reply
  34. Jeffrey House

    I seen that doll in Zaks hunted Museum show holy hell I never new the full story behind him would love to know more about him

    Reply
  35. Jeffrey D

    The doll originally belonged to Robert Eugene Otto, an artist described as “eccentric” who belonged to a prominent Key West family. The doll was reportedly manufactured by the Steiff Company of Germany, purchased by Otto’s grandfather while on a trip to Germany in 1904, and given to young Otto as a birthday gift. The doll’s sailor suit was likely an outfit that Otto wore as a child.[3][1]

    The doll remained stored in the Otto family home at 534 Eaton Street in Key West while Otto studied art in New York and Paris. Otto married Annette Parker in Paris on May 3, 1930. The couple returned to the Otto family home in Key West to live there until Otto died in 1974. His wife died two years later.[4][5] After their deaths, the Eaton Street home containing the doll was sold to Myrtle Reuter, who owned it for 20 years[3] until the property was sold to the current owners, who operate it as a guest house.[4]

    In 1994, the doll was donated to the East Martello Museum in Key West, Florida, where it eventually became a popular tourist attraction.[6][7] It is annually rotated to the Old Post Office and Customhouse in October.

    Reply
  36. sam

    your amazon link (bear book) no longer links anywhere

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for letting me know, Sam. I fixed it.

      Reply
  37. Of a mind

    This was definitely a voodoo doll. My only issue is from what I have learned of voodoo is they don’t practice ‘black’ or ‘white’ magic. If something is done intentionally evil by invoking an evil spirit, it’s called red magic, as the person practicing has their eyes turn red. Normal or ‘good’ voodoo that becomes evil by circumstance is also red. There is no mention of black or white magics. It is my opinion, similar to what you commented somewhere, that Gene was likely a spoiled little boy who was rarely disciplined. Unlike the servant. Even if the doll was not hand crafted by her, that is irrelevant. If the lock of hair was added, in invocation preformed, the the perception was born. I feel spoiled little Gene was well aware of the superstitious nature of his family and used the doll as an excuse to get away with things rather than risk punishment. Especially during that period, where little was known about voodoo and there were witch hunts on every other corner in all different religions. Throw in misunderstanding, ‘forbidden’ items’ (like snakes, calling on spirits, and some gris-gris), and foreign beliefs and you find yourself a hotbed of speculative tales and myths. I wouldn’t shy from taking the doll ‘s picture. I would ask, to appease any spirits still residing in the thing. And if he were to answer, I’d likely pee my panties and run for the door. Because voodoo or not, dolls from that era did not talk I don’t believe.

    Reply
  38. ??

    I would take its picture with out asking the DOLL! I’m curious to see what would happen

    Reply
  39. Jennifer

    This is so interesting to read about!!
    Could someone please give me the name of the book about the bear? I would love to read it!

    Reply
  40. Brooke Steele

    Fun fact this is not true … The person who wrote child’s play said that it is not based on Robert since he has no idea who Robert even is .. he basically said so on Twitter or Facebook

    Reply
  41. Katelynn

    I think that it is very creepy to think that there is a doll out there that can do all these things. I would be too scared to own a doll like that let alone visit the doll. Geez!

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re not alone, Katelynn. I’ve never been much for dolls in the first place.

      Reply
  42. Stone brenner

    LOVE the story! Really freaks me out.
    I gotta ask,
    Do you know if the doll ever gave anyone permission to take its photo?

    Reply
    • JH

      Wow, Stone. That’s a great question! I have no idea…I wish I did.

      Reply
  43. Jordyn

    Well Joey its in a museum SO GO SEE IT!

    Reply
  44. Jim

    And the moral of this story is … NEVER play with dolls!

    Reply

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