The Killer in the Backseat

A crazed killer is discovered hiding in the back seat of woman's car at a gas station.

  • Published 26 September 2000


A good Samaritan warns a female driver about the armed and dangerous man hiding in the back seat of her car.



Stories about a stranger slipping into the back seat of a solo woman’s car, presumably with ill intentions, have been circulating in various forms both on and off the Internet for many years:

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.


Barbara Baker, Secretary Directorate of Training U.S. Army Military Police School

 This legend first appeared at least as far back as 1967 and Cartoon of the legendquickly caught on, becoming one of the favorite scary legends of that period. In addition to circulating orally, it showed up in Ann Landers’ column in 1982, presented as a harrowing experience that had befallen the letter writer’s friend.

Despite the legend’s many incarnations and long history, there’s little or no record of its ever playing out in real life. It’s merely a cautionary tale warning us to be vigilant of our surroundings — there just aren’t that many bad guys lurking in backseats to get worried about.

Though there have been rapes wherein the attacker hid in the back seat of an automobile, they are rather rare occurrences (one example of which took place in the Chicago area in March 2013). As for carjackings, in the overwhelming majority of them the assailant opens the door and gets into the car while the driver is behind the wheel; there’s little of this “lurking in the backseat” bit.

The legend, unlike many, might originally have been prompted by a real news story:

Research shows that one true case of “The Killer in the Backseat” did occur in 1964 in New York City, when an escaped murderer hid in the backseat of a car. The car, ironically, belonged to a police detective who shot the man. Though the differences between the legend and the true occurrence are vast (the real occurrence did not feature a lone female; it didn’t necessarily happen at night; and no third person was involved), the legend may have sprung out of this real incident:

Even as a horror legend, this one is sexist to the core. As mentioned earlier, the prey is always female and both the evil fiend and the rescuer are male — there are no exceptions to this typecasting (even though men are far more often the victims of killing by strangers than women are). Both male figures are seen as powerful: the fiend for his evilness and mad intent, the rescuer for his coolness in knowing what to do and his ease in dispatching the fiend:

The warnings that the woman misunderstood as aggression lead to a surprising turn of events: her fear was misdirected and the danger came from somewhere much closer than she realized, the backseat of her own car!

The woman, by contrast, is portrayed as completely and irredeemably ineffective. In none of the tellings does she catch on to the source of her peril; she always needs a man to set the record straight. (The task of rescuing her from a dangerous situation also falls to a guy; the woman is never involved in either containing the bad guy until the police arrive or in tussling with him if he tries to escape.) Her inability to take care of herself is further driven home by her resolutely acting on the assumption that the man either chasing after her or trying to lure her into the gas station means her harm. Unaided, she can’t tell friend from foe.

In those recountings where anyone’s ethnicity is mentioned, the man hiding in the car or the rescuer is invariably black. It’s easy to see those versions as a racist reaction to anxiety about being attacked by a member of a feared group: the lurking black man represents the perceived menace of his race, waiting for the proper moment when a back is turned to strike; the rescuer’s attempt to warn the victim is ignored because his color marks him as more likely to be an attacker than a protector.

Update: In late 1999 through early 2002, versions circulating on the Internet which involved prospective gang members looking to kidnap a woman for rape reappeared with surprising frequency. These morphing e-mails contained specific city names (such as Chicago or Boston) and names of local chains of gas stations/convenience stores (such as “Quik Trip,” “Quick Trip,” “Quick Stop,” “Kwik Trip,” “Kwikfill,” and “Citgo”). Later versions incorporated the ankle slasher motif from another horror legend and posited that the gang initation required prospective members to bring in dismembered body parts from female victims.

Sightings: This legend shows up in the 1983 film Nightmares, the 1984 film Mr. Wrong and the 1998 film Urban Legend. You’ll also spot the “gas station” version worked into the plot of an episode of TV’s Homicide (“Thrill of the Kill”; originally aired 10 November 1995) and Millennium (“The Pest House,” original air date 27 February 1998). It was also made into a short film titled Suspicious in 1995.

Last updated:   21 May 2015

Also told in:

Healey, Phil and Rick Glanvill.   Now! That’s What I Call Urban Myths.
    London: Virgin Books, 1996.   ISBN 0-86369-969-3   (p. 6).

Holt, David and Bill Mooney.   Spiders in the Hairdo.
    Little Rock: August House, 1999.   ISBN 0-87483-525-9   (pp. 65-66).    

Schwartz, Alvin.   Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
    New York: HarperCollins, 1981.   ISBN 0-397-31927-4   (pp. 66-68).    
The Big Book of Urban Legends.
    New York: Paradox Press, 1994.   ISBN 1-56389-165-4   (p. 11).