It’s been a lovely evening. A young woman walks out of a popular restaurant and heads to her car, popping the door open and sliding in. Without another thought, she jams the key into the ignition and heads home. It isn’t long after she’s left the lot that she notices a car behind her. It’s approaching fast and the driver is flashing his high beams. The woman is at first annoyed. The lights are distracting and making it hard for her to see the road. She adjusts her rearview mirror so that the light isn’t shining directly into her eyes and continues driving. That’s when the honking starts.
The car behind her is accelerating, the driver is laying on his horn, flashing his lights, and driving recklessly. Now, the woman can feel fear clawing its way up the back of her throat. The fine hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. This guy is crazy and he’s following her. She realizes that she’s close to home and it seems as if this individual isn’t going to leave her alone. In desperation, she allows the car to follow her back home, throwing the driver’s side door open before she’s barely put the car in park. The woman scrambles up the drive, yelling for her husband to call the police. As she enters the house, she looks back into the driveway and sees the driver of the other car pulling a figure from her back seat and subduing him.
An ax-wielding maniac had recently escaped from a nearby lunatic asylum and slipped into the back of her car while she was in the restaurant. Each time the maniac would rise up in the back seat to murder the young woman, the car behind her would flash its lights and honk its horn. The potential killer would then duck down out of view. The young woman was lucky to be alive.
The moral of the story? ALWAYS check your back seat!
I’m guilty, too. Whenever I leave a mall, a coffee shop, a gas station, or a fast food restaurant, I always glance over my shoulder. I’ve done it for so long it just makes too much sense not to do it. But where did this fear originate? Where did I first hear about random strangers hiding in the back seats of cars? Did I imagine it one day as I walked to my car in the dark, allowing my mind to wander off where it shouldn’t have gone? Is my paranoia blame? Turns out, the answer is no.
According to Wikipedia, “The Killer in the Backseat (also known as High Beams) is a common, car-crime urban legend well known mostly in the United States and the United Kingdom. It was first noted by folklorist Carlos Drake in 1968 in texts collected by Indiana University students.” It’s always the same, a lone woman in a risky situation. She’s leaving the gas station or a mall and suddenly she’s in grave danger. It takes a random stranger (always male) to save her. I’m not a fan of what I like to call the princess complex by urban legends, but for some reason or another, that’s just how they’re told. Here’s how this one plays out.
“The legend involves a woman who is driving and being followed by a strange car or truck. The mysterious pursuer flashes his high beams, tailgates her, and sometimes even rams her vehicle. When she finally makes it home, she realizes that the driver was trying to warn her that there was a man (a murderer, rapist, or escaped mental patient) hiding in her back seat. Each time the man sat up to attack her, the driver behind had used his high beams to scare the killer, in which he ducks down.
In some versions, the woman stops for gas, and the attendant asks her to come inside to sort out a problem with her credit card. Inside the station, he asks if she knows there’s a man in her back seat. (An example of this rendition can be seen in the 1998 episode of Millennium, “The Pest House”.) In another, she sees a doll on the road in the moors, stops, and then the man gets in the back.”
Let’s not forget the KITBS tale that played out in the opening of the 1998 film Urban Legend (one of my personal favorites.)
Jan Harold Brunvand, the author of the Encyclopedia of Urban Legends, Volume 1, has this to say about this famous urban legend.
According to Brunvand, the tale was given a boost of popularity in the 1980’s when it was featured in Ann Landers’ advice column. An individual from California wrote Landers in 1982, opening the letter with, “I tell this story to everyone I meet but I hope that by telling you, others will get the message.” The story ran concurrently in several newspapers but received little response from Landers. The writer ended with the moral, “always check the back seat” and encouraged Landers to spread the word. Landers simply replied, “Consider it spread–and thanks for the tip.” The story also found its way into crime prevention brochures. In 1983, a widely reprinted New York Times article spoke of a woman who was a karate expert and gives courses on anti-abduction techniques. The story the “expert” used as an example was the urban legend of The Killer in the Back Seat, choosing the gas station version to drive her point home.
It seems that there are two classic versions of this particular urban legend. In the first telling, the woman is on her way home from a night with the girls, she’s leaving a restaurant or a bar. In the second version, the woman stops at a gas station to refuel. The woman is told over the intercom by a gas station attendant that there is an issue with her credit card (or that she has to come in and sign the slip) and she will have to come into the service station to resolve it. The setting of a gas station at night is a familiar one. You might remember, a few years ago, a tale about a predator that would hide under cars while they were refueling and slice women’s ankles with a razor or piano wire. This version had something to do with a gang initiation and was circulated as a chain letter through email.
A friend stopped at a pay-at-the-pump gas station to get gas. Once she filled her gas tank and after paying at the pump and starting to leave, the voice of the attendant inside came over the speaker. He told her that something happened with her card and that she needed to come inside to pay. The lady was confused because the transaction showed complete and approved. She relayed that to him and was getting ready to leave but the attendant, once again, urged her to come in to pay or there’d be trouble. She proceeded to go inside and started arguing with the attendant about his threat. He told her to calm down and listen carefully:
He said that while she was pumping gas, a guy slipped into the back seat of her car on the other side and the attendant had already called the police.She became frightened and looked out in time to see her car door open and the guy slips out. The report is that the new gang initiation thing is to bring back a woman and/or her car. One way they are doing this is crawling under women’s cars while they’re pumping gas or at grocery stores in the nighttime. The other way is slipping into unattended cars and kidnapping the women.Please pass this on to other women, young and old alike. Be extra careful going to and from your car at night.
If at all possible, don’t go alone! This is real!!
1. ALWAYS lock your car doors, even if you’re gone for just a second!
2. Check underneath your car when approaching it for reentry, and check in the back before getting in.
3. Always be aware of your surroundings and of other individuals in your general vicinity, particularly at night!
Send this to everyone so your friends can take precaution.
AND GUYS…YOU TELL ANY WOMEN YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS Thanks,
Barbara Baker, Secretary Directorate of Training U.S. Army Military Police School
So what do we make of all this KITBS mumbo jumbo? It’s certainly never happened in real life, right? Actually, that’s not entirely true. It did actually happen, to a male police officer in 1964. Apparently, the cop found an escaped murderer in the back seat of his cruiser. The killer was subdued and subsequently arrested, but is this instance still fueling the paranoia of female motorists?
Across the Pond
It’s entirely possible that at some point in the past, a woman was in danger of being murdered by an assailant hiding in her back seat, but this Urban Legend isn’t as popular in Europe as it is in the United States. Although the KITBS story also ran in some European newspapers, it just never caught on. What does that say about American culture? Are Americans more apt to believe that random strangers are out to kill them? Perhaps. In all honesty, checking the back seat prior to getting into your car isn’t a terrible idea. You never know who might be lurking…
Your Fellow Haunt Head,
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