The Man in the Back Seat: A Classic Legend Resurfaces

A warning claims that a new gang initiation involves men slipping into the back seats of cars at gas stations in order to kidnap, kill, or burglarize women.

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This is a long-running urban legend, found in published texts nearly 50 years ago.

Let’s first take a look at a version the story being circulated in modern times:

IMPORTANT PLEASE READ
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 slip 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!!

The message:

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

THIS IS TOO SERIOUS … DO NOT DELETE PLEASE PASS IT ON!

While it is always a good idea to remain aware of your surroundings and keep your car doors locked when you are away from it, the above cautionary tale been circulating for decades, with few real incidents reported that resemble the above narrative. Consider the abbreviated list of references below:

1965-1968: Origins

“The Killer in the Back Seat” tale can be found in folklore collections as far back as 1965 and 1968. In these early publications, the tale told of two women who were being followed home by a mysterious truck. The end of this version reads:

So they locked all the doors and she turned into a side road. But this truck was still following her, and so she just hurried home as fast as she could.

This one lady got her husband and said that this truck had followed her all the way home, so he came outside to see what it was all about. He went up to the man in the truck and said, “What are you doing following my wife home?”; and he said, “I just wanted to tell your wife that there is a man in the back seat of the car.” The husband was really “shook up.” so they went to the back of the car and opened it. Sure enough, there was a man back there. The truck driver saw this man because when he would turn on his lights, he would see this man come up from the back seat, starting to reach forward, and then he ducked down again. But they did call the police and took him to jail.

1982: Ann Landers

A July 9, 1982 Ann Landers column featured the more modern “gas station” variant of the tale. A reader wrote in asking her to “spread the word,” to which Landers acquiesced. Notice how little the story has changed from 1982 to 2014.

Dear Ann: I tell this story to everyone I meet, but I hope that by telling you, others will get the message.

A lady friend of mine got into her car to do some errands. She was in a hurry but had to stop for gas.

The attendant asked her to step inside his office because something was wrong with her credit.

Reluctantly, she got out and followed him. Once inside he asked her if she was aware that a man was crouched down in the back seat of her car. My friend nearly fainted.

Moral: Check your back seat before you get into your car. These days it’s easy for an experienced rapist or mugger to open a locked car and hide in the back seat. Spread the word, Ann. – I LIVE IN CALIFORNIA

Dear California: Consider it spread – and thanks for the tip.

back-seat1998: “Urban Legend”

The 1998 film “Urban Legend” used the man in the back seat story. Unlike the popular urban legend, the victim is actually killed by the man in the back seat in this depiction.

2007: Real Event

Although the story has been circulating for decades with little evidence that it ever happened, there has been at least one reported incident in modern times that is similar to the man in the back seat legend. As reported by The Decatur Daily in 2007, a 23-year old college student on her way home was surprised by a man who appeared from her back seat – possibly holding a gun – and said “he wanted her to take him somewhere.” The woman slammed on the brakes and exited the vehicle. The man calmly walked away and was never found. It is believed the man may have entered her vehicle while she stopped at a grocery store on the way home because she had not locked her SUV on that brief stop.

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While the story is sometimes referred to as “The Killer in the Back Seat” it should be pointed out that the tale always involves the man being spotted before he can do any harm, then running away – thus never actually killing his intended victim.

Bottom Line

“The Killer in the Back Seat” is a decades-old urban legend which can be traced back to the mid-1960’s, and probably existed for many years before it was retold in print.

Aside from the 2007 incident, we could find no other true reports which closely match the long-running urban legend. While this scenario could happen, dire warnings such as the one circulating in modern times are overstated.

Sources

  • JoAnn Stephens Parochetti. “Scary Stories from Purdue.” Keystone Folklore Quarterly 10 (1965), 49-57.
  • Carlos Drake. “The Killer in the Back Seat.” Indiana Folklore 1 (1968), 107-109.
  • Jan Harold Brunvand. The Killer in the Backseat. Encyclopedia of Urban Legends, Updated and Expanded Edition (2012), 358-361
  • Holly Hollman. Real-life urban legend: Woman says assailant hid in her SUV. The Decatur Daily, September 14, 2007.

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  • JoePischi

    You say it isn’t real but you’ve seen Goodfellas right where they do kill Joe Pesci’s character this way which was a story based on real events.

  • Mia

    That is not the way his character was killed off. Not even close!!