People Break Down The Disturbing Backstories Behind Famous Pictures

There's an old expression about photos that surely everyone and their grandmother has heard or used: "Pics or it didn't happen." Unfortunately, sometimes the things that did happen are horrifying, monstrous events captured forever on film.

Reddit user, u/Nikku187, wanted to hear about:

What famous picture actually has a disturbing backstory behind it?

Final Moments

The last picture Jodi Arias took of Travis Alexander in the shower before she brutally murdered him. You can see the fear and realization of what was about to happen in his eyes.

Edit to add Travis Alexanders Photo


Watched the documentary about that. She was a psychotic, sociopath.


A Slow Fate

Omayra Sánchez - Every time I see her photo, it breaks my heart.


Not Knowing What's Happening

For me, its LBJ getting sworn in. For the record, im Canadian, but ive always found the Kennedy assassination fascinating.

In the picture, LBJ is being sworn in and Jackie is standing next to him. Theres blood on her coat but its not super obvs because the photo is so old and is b&w.

My dad told me that at the time (he was 4 but his parents related it to him later) they weren't sure at the moment who had assassinated Kennedy and thought maybe it had been the USSR So LBJ being sworn in so soon with Jackie covered in blood was a message to the USSR that "we are not afraid of you and we are still in power". I always found that incredibly powerful and cool but disturbing at the same time


LBJ getting sworn in

This one?


Saving The Evidence

There are some photos of Mount St Helens erupting. The photographer, knowing he was too close to get away safely, put the film in his backpack, and then laid over the backpack, protecting the film from damage at the cost of his own life


Tanks A Lot

It used to be famous, but its not so much now.

So the story is that during the Okinawa campaign, this Marine Sherman tank was moving along a road area providing support for the infantry units. It happened to roll over a hidden Japanese soldier in a fox hole who detonated a large bomb under the tank, flipping it and setting it on fire. Because of the way the tank landed, the infantry couldn't get to it to dig the crew out (they couldn't open the hatches), and the angle prevented anyone from getting out of the belly escape hatch. So, the men around the vehicle could only stand by and watch (and listen) as the men inside the tank burned to death.


All Is Lost

The Weeping Frenchman of a man watching the French army regiments be dissolved and sent out of France in surrender to the Nazis


A Beautiful Horror

The most beautiful suicide. I won't link it but she jumped off a building and crushed a car roof. She looked peaceful. She fell to pieces when they had to move her. Literally.


For those who are interested (trigger warning obviously but there's no blood) this is a good write up about the story around it.

Obligatory: suicide is not pretty so please don't let this photo romanticise the idea.


Caught Red Handed

There a basketball card from a Knicks Player, Mark Jackson. While it seemed like any other from 1990, you need to look at the crowd as it contains brothers who killed their parents.

Here's the picture if You're asking


They look like the Menendez brothers? Not twins! Their story is crazy though.


A Perfect Summary Of America

The Migrant Mother picture is kind of disturbing. The journalist allegedly promised that she wouldn't publish it, but published it the next day. She later gave the photo a false, sensationalized back story.

It's one of the most iconic pictures in American history, but it's subject felt misrepresented, lied to, and exploited, all while dealing with the harsh realities of the Great Depression.


Not to politicize every damn thing on Reddit, but it's striking how an image of an American migrant with a bunch of kids becomes an iconic symbol of pride and resolve whereas a similar image of a Mexican or Guatemalan woman is commonplace and mostly inspires derision.


Standing Next To Your End

John Lennon signing a copy of his album for Mark Chapman (to the right). Mark shot and killed Lennon six hours later.



This photo from the Vietnam War.

I remember first being shown this picture in high school as just soldiers moving a family out of their village before a strike was called in, but in reality the strike had already happened, those children had survived a napalm strike, and the child in the center (Phan Thi Kim Phúc, or "Napalm Girl" as she's now known) had all of their clothes melted off by the chemical

I went to HS in America BTW, hence why I think I was told the photo was pre-strike


Unaware Of What Was About To Happen

The Execution of Nguyen Văn Lém. The photo was a complete accident as the photographer wasn't aware he was about to be executed. The photo and the subsequent fame he received for taking it haunted him for the rest of his life. Nguyen was summarily executed for allegedly cutting the throats of a Lt. Col, his wife, their six children and 80 year old grandmother. Link


Knowing What They Did Moments Before...

This photo of Tyler Hadley taken just hours after he killed his parents, hid the bodies and threw a party unbeknownst to anybody else.

God that story of how he actually did it. Just thinking about it makes me nauseous, I don't know why I even read it. And those pictures too. Why would those even get posted online?

Last I heard, the bank foreclosed the house and it's now demolished.

Not really a famous photo but it has a horrifying back story to it.


She's Definitely Not Enjoying That Kiss

V.J Picture

This was taken after the end in the Second World War. And on first glance it looks unassuming enough but the body language & testimony from the alleged female in the picture portrays that this was not a consensual act & that the man is actually assaulting the woman. Again its alleged but disturbing nonetheless.


A Slow, Awful End

This picture of a starving boy (originally thought to be a girl) is pretty sad. The vulture was waiting for the child to die so it could eat it.

The photographer took his own life just a few months after winning a Pulitzer Prize for the photograph.


Seriously, People, Do Your Research On Anything.

The photo of Devonte Hart (a Black boy) hugging a police officer. He's crying and looks distressed and it looks like the officer is comforting him so it has been used as a symbol of racial reconciliation, but not only was it staged by his abusive and manipulative adoptive parents, but those parents ended up killing themselves and all their adopted kids in a murder/suicide a few years later.


A Piece Of History

A lot of famous paintings we don't know actually had political messages to them that are completely lost in modern times. Let me give you an example, A Bar at the Folies Bergère by Édouard Manet. Sometimes known as the barmaid picture. One of my most favourite impressionist paintings.

At that time the barmaids were rumoured to also be sex worker. Manet was actually depicting a gentlemen picking up a sex worker. He did this deliberately because he wanted to show the seedy side of life in a fancy high brow art gallery, which of course caused a controversy that is lost in modern times because all we see is a beautiful bar with a barmaid.


So Real They Look Alive

A picture of a missing girl that wound up murdered by the serial killer Israel Keyes.

She was dead for a week, so he stitched her eyelids opened and took a picture of her, which ended up in local newspapers. At first glance, she looks alive. Chilling.


Not As Symbolic As You Might Think

The Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima by Joe Rosenthal.

The book, Flags of our Fathers does a great job telling the story of the men who raised the flag (which was actually the second flag raised). While it seems to be very triumphant, there's a bit of sadness too.

  • Three of the six men were dead within a month
  • Several misidentifications of the men that were in the photo that persisted for years
  • Three surviving men were brought back to the US for bond drives while their unit continued fighting
  • Ira Hayes, a Native American in the photo suffered intense PTS and died of alcoholism


If you or someone you know is struggling, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

To find help outside the United States, the International Association for Suicide Prevention has resources available at

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