A young woman in Leeds was getting into her car during a blackout when she is approached by an old woman asking for a ride, as she cannot find her way home in the dark. The driver agrees. However, as the hitchhiker places a large grocery bag in the back seat, the girl notices something suspicious about her passenger: hairy arms. Thinking quickly, the driver asks the stranger to check her recently-repaired tail-lights, as she wouldn’t want to have trouble from the police. When the obliging stranger exits the vehicle, the driver takes the opportunity to speed off. Only later does she look in the big grocery bag left behind and discover that it contains a hatchet.
|Image source: Freebie Photography.|
|The 1953 movie The Hitch-Hiker caused this urban legend |
to move to American shopping malls.
On 16 December 1989, 29-year-old Sedrick Cobb kidnapped 23-year-old Julie Ashe from a department store parking lot in Waterbury, CT, after he helped her change a flat tire on her car that he had let the air out of while she was in the store Christmas shopping. He then drove Miss Ashe to a wooded area, raped her, bound her, and pushed her off a dam into an icy pond 23 feet below. Her feet were found protruding from the ice on Christmas Day, nine days after she disappeared.Although the legend has changed, chameleon-like, to reflect current events like the 1977 ripper scare or a 1989 murder-kidnapping, its roots are actually much older. Mikkelson points to antecedents going back as far as the early nineteenth century.
This urban legend is a favorite of academics. As Brunvand explains, “The story appeals to folklorists because of its long history, its numerous texts and variations, it similarity to some current crimes, and its thematic content.” (2001, p. 186). The most interesting elements are:
- The intended victim is always a young woman.
- The assailant is disguising his gender by dressing as an elderly woman.
- The absence of a male rescuer.
|Recent research confirms that hitchhiking can also be very dangerous for the hitchhiker.|
Brunvand, Jan Harold, “The Hairy-Armed Hitchhiker” in Encyclopedia of Urban Legends (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2001), 184–6.
Carroll Michael P., “The Sick Old Lady Who Is a Man: A Contribution to the Psychoanalytic Study of Urban Legends,” Psychoanalytic Study of Society 1988, 13: 133–48.
Mikkelson, Barbara, “Shopping Mauled,” Snopes.com, April 8, 2011.