The Roommate's Death

An Urban Legend

Antique rocking chair at rustic fireplace
Grace Clementine/The Image Bank/Getty Images

As told by Felicia McEntire...

This story has been told over and over in my town (Harrison, Arkansas). Here goes...

There were two college roommates, Sarah and Megan. Sarah was the theatrical type and loved acting. She was in all the town's plays. Megan was more of a book person, she loved to read and her studies were her first priority.

Anyway, there was a huge play called "Oh, Susannah" that Sarah was in, and it was coming up on Saturday ... so every chance that Sarah got, she would practice in the park (that's where she got her inspiration) for hours. Every time, she would beg Megan to go with her, but Megan would stay in the dorm and read.

Well, on Saturday Sarah was a hit. Being the star, she was detained after the play, and got home really late. As she entered, she heard her roommate's rocking chair squeaking in the corner, but couldn't see it, not all the lights were on. Must be waiting for me, Sarah thought. Putting her stuff away, she went back into the main room.

From the corner came a voice. It sounded rather husky, but that wasn't what agitated Sarah.

"Oh, Susannah, don't you cry for me..." came the voice.

"Stop it Megan! Don't give me that crap, okay?" said Sarah.

"Oh, Susannah, don't you cry for me..."

"Stop it! I mean it, Meg!"

"Oh, Susannah, don't you cry for me..."

"Stop!!!!! That's it!!!!" Sarah screamed as she flicked on the room's lights.

Sarah gawked in horror at the sight. Her roommate's body was in the rocking chair, but her head wasn't, her head was on the wall, kept there by a butcher knife. From behind the rocking chair she could hear laughter – maniacal laughter.

"Who's there? Who are you?"

From behind the rocking chair jumped a man, later found out to be the butcher that escaped from the sanitarium in the next town. All the time he was cutting Sarah, he was singing, over and over, "Oh, Susannah, don't you cry for me... I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee."

Pinning Sarah to the wall next to her roommate's head, he screamed, "Now, Susannah, don't you cry for me!!!!"

Analysis: Before the term "urban legend" became popular, folklorists referred to tales of this kind as "migratory legends" because they pop up from place to place over time, studded with localized details to enhance their credibility and emotional impact. The legend retold above is a hometown variant of "The Roommate's Death," which dates back to the 1960s and shares motifs with "Aren't You Glad You Didn't Turn on the Light?" and "Humans Can Lick, Too."

One thing that distinguishes this version of the story from others is "Oh, Susannah," the killer's chant. The repetition of this line from the chorus of the old folk song not only ratchets up the horror of the moment when the murderer's presence is revealed, but suggests — because he is clearly aware that she has been rehearsing a play called "Oh, Susannah" — that he has been stalking and observing her for quite some time.

Another way this version differs from other retellings is how it ends: Instead of escaping with her life (traditionally, the story is given a "close call" ending), the protagonist is left helpless in the clutches of the crazed killer who murdered her roommate.