It all started in the late 1990's, when a rumor began circulating around the United States by e-mail that an organized crime ring was drugging transients and unsuspecting people, harvesting some vital body organs (particularly the kidneys) and selling them on the black market. The urban legend had been around since the beginning of the decade, but spread like wildfire with the easy accessibility of e-mail several years later.
The e-mail message with the topic labeled "Travelers Beware" hit inboxes everywhere, causing a panic and bombardment of phone calls to authorities across the nation. As the story evolved, these kidney thefts were soon taking place in Las Vegas, Houston, New Orleans and other major U.S. cities.
The story takes on different forms with some aspects consistent every time. Often the victim is a business traveler who stops at the hotel bar for a drink. A person befriends them and offers them another drink. The next thing the businessman knows, he is laying in a bathtub, submerged up to his neck in ice, with a note advising him to call 911 for assistance. The 911 operator apparently knows what happened as she asks him if there is a tube protruding from his lower back. This indicates that there have been previous cases of kidney harvesting and gives further "credibility" to the story.
Sometimes the account involves a man at a bar who incidentally drinks too much and is invited to a motel room by a beautiful woman. She gives him another drink and he wakes up hours later in the bathtub packed in ice. This plays on the fear of talking and befriending strangers, especially if you're in an unfamiliar city.
In every instance, these stories describe the ice, a precise incision, a sterile environment and lack of complications -- signifying that the person stealing the kidney was a professional surgeon and knew exactly what he/she was doing.
If these stories are true, why don't they ever give you any specific information, such as a first and last name of the victim, or the hospital they were taken to? In the e-mails, the victim of the kidney harvesting is a friend of a friend, a cousin's friend, the neighbor's nephew and (as usual) is never anyone you can verify the information with.
This hoax has some folks afraid to go out at night. They are not aware that it's an urban legend, just a particularly frightening one. Even so, it does give you an incredible apprehension of drinking at a nightclub with a stranger.
Update: Notice a fairly current story about "Dr. Horror" in Toronto, Canada, who is the alleged ring leader of a kidney theft racket in India. This just may prove that truth is as strange as "fiction". The question now is which came first?