Did you check your backseat?

A woman was driving home alone one night when she noticed a truck tailgaiting her.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, it kept flashing its lights at her.  It started to make her nervous so she turned off the road, hoping to lose him.  The truck followed her and continued flashing its lights.  She made a series of complicated turns but the truck kept following her.  She didn’t know what to do (presumably this was before cellular phones), but she finally drove home, hoping her husband would be able to protect her.   When she pulled in the driveway she honked her horn several times to get her husband’s attention then sprinted to the door.  The truck followed her into the drive as she expected, but to her surprise (and that of her husband who came running out the front door) the driver got out and opened her back door then began hitting something with a baseball bat.  “Call the police!” he ordered the woman.  It turns out there was a man hiding in her backseat.  When the trucker flashed his lights at her it was because the man was raising up a knife to stab her!

Sound familiar?  It’s the urban legend commonly known as “The Killer in the Backseat” and if you’re like me you probably heard it from your slightly paranoid mother around the time you started driving.  But it’s just an urban legend.  Right?

Well… mostly.  In Kokomo, IN last week a woman came out of a convenience store and got in her car, only to be grabbed from behind by a man hiding in her backseat.  The good news is she got away.  The bad news is there’s some evidence the man may have done this before.

But the folklorist in me thought this would be a great time to educate you all about a fun folkloric concept:  Ostension.

Ostension is when someone hears a legend and acts is out in some way.  Put another way: When I told my sister that the “Killer in the Backseat” story was just a legend she said, “Yeah, but you never know who will hear it and get ideas.  I’m still checking my backseat.”

Now it’s not clear whether this was actually ostension or just a crazy guy who hid in a woman’s backseat.  But the point of ostension is to keep in mind that no legend is ever just a legend.

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