"At first glance, it might appear that a deranged individual is intent on abducting or scaring children. Yet, accounts of phantom clowns stalking children have been recorded since at least 1981, when clusters of reports appeared in several American cities including Boston, Omaha, Kansas City, and Denver. Numerous outbreaks have since been recorded throughout North America and Europe.
"While every report of strangers stalking children should be taken seriously, in the absence of concrete evidence these stories should be treated with skepticism. Stalking clown folklore appears to be part of the 'Stranger Danger' moral panic of the 1980s. Moral panics are periods of intense fear that crop up from time to time, and involve exaggerated threats from perceived evil-doers -- either real or imagined. A classic example is the current fear of Muslims and Middle Eastern refugees in Europe and North America, where they are often stereotyped as terrorists and subversives. Some moral panics are entirely imaginary, such as the hunt for witches in the vicinity of what is now Salem, Massachusetts in 1692.
"When one examines the reports of phantom clowns, a curious pattern emerges: they are almost never caught. There is also a lack of tangible evidence. All police have to go on is eyewitness testimony, which is notoriously unreliable. Most witnesses are children, who are vulnerable to peer pressure and being asked leading questions. Another curious aspect is that the children always seem to get away. On the one hand, the clowns are extremely adept at making their getaway. On the other hand, they appear to be totally incompetent at nabbing their prey."