It’s a warm summer night in 1950. Maybe Earth Angel is playing on the radio. Maybe a teenage boy has borrowed his father’s Studebaker to impress his girl. Maybe he’s brought her to Lovers’ Lane, a quiet patch of field at the end of a winding gravel drive. It’s dark and secluded, but that’s what he’s looking for.
As they settle in for an evening of romance, their musical interlude is interrupted by an urgent news bulletin. A mad man has escaped from the local asylum, a criminal deviant bent on murder and mayhem. Police are actively seeking a suspect. He’s got a hook for a hand. The asylum lies just a half mile from their parking spot.
The Good Ending
The girl grows concerned over sounds emanating from outside the car. Metal on metal. Scratching. Obviously, the romantic allure of the backseat and the crooning of the love song have worn off. She’s so scared that she demands they leave immediately. The fine hairs on the back of her neck are at attention, bristled, suddenly very aware of another presence lingering just beyond the car door. She’s petrified. Her male companion is less than amused, having had his romantic evening thwarted, but he agrees to take her home. He throws the car into gear and they speed down the drive toward home.
They pull up in front of her house a short time later and, in the interest of chivalry and the hope that he might get another chance later on down the line, he jogs around the car to her door to open it. As he reaches for the handle, he sees it: a bloody metal hook hanging there, glinting in the moonlight.
The Bad Ending
The boyfriend, irritated by his girlfriends irrational fear, says he’ll take her home after he goes to relieve himself. He leaves her into the car and disappears into the darkness. After a time, the girlfriend begins to hear scraping sounds on the roof of the car. She gets out of the car to see what the noise might be and comes face to face with her boyfriends butchered body. He’s hanging upside down from a tree, his fingers scraping against the roof of the car.
This legend is an oldie, but definitely a good-ie!
It seems as if this legend was designed to frighten, hoping that fear would fix the problem of the insatiable teenage libido, but you could also read into the story a little more. If you channel your inner Freud, you could find all sorts of sexual overtones and imagery. The teenage boy who wants to “get his hooks” into the girl. The tearing off of the hook could symbolize castration. The radio broadcast acting as a sort of voice of reason or conscience, jarring the teens out of their romantic mood.
The Hook Man is a popular urban legend. I’ve heard it more than once while settled around a glowing camp fire in the woods. For me, it was a tale meant to frighten and titillate. A story to make us believe that, at any moment, a hook-handed crazy man would burst through the tree line and flay us all, as the popular fantasy/slasher film Candyman put so aptly, “from [our] groin[s] to [our] gullet[s].”
Here’s My Advice…
Interestingly enough, the first appearance of The Hook Man legend in print was in a Dear Abby column on Nov. 8, 1960.
DEAR ABBY: If you are interested in teenagers, you will print this story. I don’t know whether it’s true or not, but it doesn’t matter because it served its purpose for me:
A fellow and his date pulled into their favorite “lovers’ lane” to listen to the radio and do a little necking. The music was interrupted by an announcer who said there was an escaped convict in the area who had served time for rape and robbery. He was described as having a hook instead of a right hand. The couple became frightened and drove away. When the boy took his girl home, he went around to open the car door for her. Then he saw — a hook on the door handle! I don’t think I will ever park to make out as long as I live. I hope this does the same for other kids.
It is interesting that the only consistent part of The Hook Man legend, throughout all incarnations of the tale, is that the maniac wears the prosthetic on his right hand. Never his left.
According to Elissa Michelle Zacher, a writer from The Epoch Times, who penned an article entitled, “Urban Legends: Modern Morality Tales” (2010), in order for The Hook Man story to be classified as an urban legend, it must meet the following criteria.
1. The story must contain outrageous content in an everyday setting: The Hook Man escaping from the insane asylum. What sort of prison or asylum allows a criminal to keep his hook prosthetic while incarcerated?
2. The origin of the story is anonymous: The story has been around for so long, nobody really knows where or how it originated.
3. There are multiple incarnations of the story: The Hook Man is sometimes hiding in the back seat of a car. In some incarnations, the boyfriend gets out of the car to urinate and the girlfriend stays inside the car. She then later hears scraping on the roof of the car. Her boyfriend is hanging from a tree branch above the car, his boots scraping on the roof. Sometimes, the woman is at the gas station and goes to get back in her car when her hamstrings are sliced through. She falls to the ground and the hook man pulls her under the car, brutally maiming her with his hook. In yet another story, the couple run out of gas on a deserted highway. The girlfriend stays in the car while her boyfriend goes in search of a fueling station. She falls asleep and is awoken by a state trooper who tells her to get out of the car and not look back. She does and sees her boyfriends mutilated corpse hanging from a tree.
4. No matter who tells the story, it begins with “it happened to a friend of a friend of mine.”: There is no real credibility and no person to hold accountable for factual information.
5. There are some aspects of the story that are plausible and have a ring of truth: Young lovers let their libidos get the better of them and let their guard down. Something bad happens. A couple run out of gas. An escaped mental patient. A deserted location. Car trouble. Murder.
6. The story serves a purpose, either as a cautionary tale or otherwise: A cautionary tale about the dangers of premarital sex. A warning about spending time in abandoned places. No one can hear you scream.
The legend of The Hook Man was carefully curated by parents and caregivers to deter hormonal teens from unsavory activities on lovers’ lanes throughout North America. Often, it’s easier for parents to offer a narrative in place of logical explanation to get a point across, though many people under the age of 30 might think it’s a child of Hollywood. Movies like I Know What You Did Last Summer have plucked the Hook Man figure straight from urban legend, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to fear.
Urban Legends Brought to Life
In the 1930’s, a man described as wearing shabby clothes and around 40 attacked two couples in secluded locations, similar to locations that might be used for popular make out spots, on two separate occasions. In one instance, a man was killed outright and a woman was sexually assaulted. He released the woman close to a bus stop with a letter to be sent to the press. The letter made little sense, but stated that the man had been killed because he possessed secret government documents and that the killer was an international secret agent. The killer was never caught. Seven years later, there was another double murder, but in this instance both victims were found with red bulls eyes on their foreheads.
In 1946, the small town of Texarkana, Texas was terrorized by a ghoul called The Phantom Killer or the Texarkana Phantom. Over the course of 3 months, 8 people were murdered, all had parked at Lovers’ Lanes. The Phantom Killer’s spree began on February 22, his first victims Jimmy Hollis, 25, and Mary Jeanne Larey, 19. Hollis was ordered out of the car by gunpoint and told to pull down his pants. He was then struck in the head with a heavy object, cracking his skull. He attempted to rob the couple and struck Larey with the object as well, then telling her to run for her life. Larey, unable to navigate the undergrowth in her heels, was easy prey. The killer was able to catch her and assaulted her with the barrel of his gun. Both survived the attack and gave a description of the phantom, stating he was wearing a white hood with eye and mouth holes cut into it.
A month later, Richard Griffin, 29, and Polly Ann Moore, 17, were parked in a popular make out spot. A driver passing by thought the couple had fallen asleep in their car, but upon approaching realized the two had both been shot in the back of the head.
Next, Paul Martin, 16, and Betty Jo Booker, 15, were killed in a remote location. A couple in their 30’s were also murdered in their home, though some wonder if this murder was committed by the same person.
Reigniting the anxieties of Texarkana residents, The Town That Dreaded Sundown was released in 1976, claiming to tell the stories of the murders exactly as they happened. At the end of the film, we see a figure from the ankles down, feet clad in combat boots, standing in line at the movie theater. The Phantom Killer was never caught.
The Zodiac Killer also enjoyed haunting secluded locations like lovers’ lanes. The Zodiac murdered his first victims in Benicia, California in December, 1968. David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen had stopped to park at around 10 P.M. The couple were discovered less than an hour later, shot to death and lying on the ground beside their car.
In July, 1969, Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau, 22 and 19 respectively, parked at a secluded spot in Blue Rock Springs Park in Vallejo, California. Michael was shot in the head but survived his injuries. Darlene was not so lucky. Police originally thought that Darlene’s husband was to blame for the murder, Darlene and Michael were engaged in an affair, but he had an airtight alibi. The Zodiac has never been identified, aside from though speculation, but his motives were clear: he enjoyed killing, likening it to hunting wild game.
David Berkowitz, The Son of Sam, was also keen on finding his victims in flagrante delicto. In July, 1976, Berkowitz shot two women who were parked in a parking lot. In total, Berkowitz killed 6 people and injured 7 more.
Whether based on actual fact or a simple tale of abstinence, the tale of The Hook Man is a riveting urban legend. Over time, it has evolved and shifted to suit the time in which it is told and put down roots in our collective psyches. How many of us have heard this story, been frightened by it, and gone on to relay it to some other unsuspecting individual? How many of us have gathered with our peers around a blazing campfire, placed a flashlight under our chin, and let fear reign.