These days, it’s common knowledge that hitchhiking or picking up hitchhikers can be a very dangerous and risky practice. However, while it’s heavily discouraged now, there was once a time when hitchhiking was very common, and people had few qualms about using it as a form of travel.
Unfortunately, creepy tales like these are the reason people are now more aware of the dangers of hitchhiking. These stories wound up ending in tragic murders, mysterious disappearances, and even brushes with the supernatural.
10The Orange Sock Murders
It takes a very brazen killer to abduct and murder two separate women at two separate locations at two separate times on the same night, but that’s exactly what happened in 1982 near the town of Breckenridge, Colorado. At the time, Breckenridge was known as a safe community, so hitchhiking was pretty much a daily occurrence for many of its residents. On the evening of January 6, 29-year-old Bobbie Jo Oberholtzer phoned her husband, Jeff, to let him know she was hanging out with friends at a local pub and would get a ride home. Bobbie never arrived. Jeff went searching for her the next morning and eventually found his wife’s body in a remote field. Bobbie had been shot to death. Curiously, an orange sock that did not belong to her was found nearby.
Six months later, the body of another missing woman, 21-year-old Annette Kay Schnee, was discovered in a wooded area, 21 kilometers (13 mi) from where Bobbie was found. Annette had been sexually assaulted and shot to death. She also happened to be wearing the matching orange sock from Bobbie’s murder scene. It’s believed that the same perpetrator had picked up Bobbie and Annette at different points throughout the evening while they were hitchhiking and murdered them. Annette’s orange sock was likely left behind in the killer’s vehicle and somehow fell out at the location Bobbie was murdered. Jeff Oberholtzer was initially considered a suspect, since his business card was found in Annette’s wallet. However, this turned out to be an odd coincidence: Jeff had picked up Annette hitchhiking on a previous occasion and given her his card. Years later, Jeff was officially cleared as a suspect, but the “Orange Sock Murders” remain unsolved.
9‘Lydia, The Vanishing Lady’
One of the most popular ghost stories is the urban legend of the “vanishing phantom hitchhiker,” where a motorist picks up a hitchhiker who mysteriously vanishes without explanation. A particularly enduring version of this tale involves a ghostly hitchhiker from North Carolina known as “Lydia, the Vanishing Lady.” The story goes that on a rainy night in 1923, a young woman named Lydia traveled to Raleigh to attend a dance with her boyfriend. The couple was driving home to High Point on Highway 70 when they collided with another car at a narrow underpass. Lydia was killed instantly and happened to be wearing a white evening gown that night. Ever since then, there have been numerous sightings of a female hitchhiker at that location wearing that exact outfit.
One notable sighting involved a motorist named Burke Hardison. He was driving near the underpass one night when he saw a woman in a white evening gown signaling for help. Hardison picked her up, and the frantic woman said she needed to get home to High Point, since her mother would be worried. She provided her home address, but when Hardison arrived at the house, the girl completely vanished. Nonetheless, Hardison decided to go knock on the door. A woman answered. After hearing Hardison’s story, she told him that her daughter, Lydia, had been killed in an accident at the underpass. Apparently, Hardison was not the first person who had shown up at Lydia’s house to describe this experience. While the story sounds like a folk tale, researchers have uncovered a death certificate of a 19-year-old High Point girl named Lydia, who died in a car accident on December 31, 1923. The legend of Lydia, the Vanishing Lady continues to live on.
8The Albert Brust Abductions
In July 1973, 15-year-old runaway Mary Ellen Jones went to the Fort Lauderdale police with a horrifying story. She had been hitchhiking with her 16-year-old boyfriend, Mark Matson, when they were picked up by a middle-aged man calling himself “Eric.” Eric took the young couple to his home, but then forced them to perform sex acts at gunpoint while he took photographs. At one point, Mark made a grab for Eric’s gun but was shot three times. Mary was then held captive for the next 24 hours. She was chained up and repeatedly raped inside a makeshift soundproof “torture chamber.” Surprisingly, Eric decided to let Mary go but warned her not to share her story. Nonetheless, Mary went to the police, but after contacting the girl’s mother and learning that Mary was a known pathological liar, they completely disbelieved her story.
Days later, residents in a suburban Miami neighborhood became suspicious when they noticed that one of their neighbors, a 44-year-old building inspector named Albert Brust, had been sitting outside in a lawn chair for two straight days and did not even move when a thunderstorm hit the area. They soon discovered that Brust was dead. He had taken his own life by drinking chocolate milk laced with cyanide. A search of Brust’s house soon uncovered some horrible secrets. The remains of Mark Matson’s dismembered body were found encased behind a slab of concrete inside a shower stall. A further search uncovered Brust’s hidden torture chamber, proving that Mary Ellen Jones’s story was completely true. Brust’s journal was also found, containing his fantasies about holding a girl captive as his sex slave. In his last entry, Brust expressed immense disappointment with the actual experience, motivating his decision to commit suicide.
7The Disappearance Of Connie Smith
During the summer of 1952, 10-year-old Wyoming resident Connie Smith was attending Camp Sloane in Salisbury, Connecticut. On the morning of July 16, Connie had a violent altercation with some other campers, leaving her with a bloody nose. Connie then said she was heading to the dispensary to return an ice pack, but she decided to leave the camp instead. Several witnesses reported Connie asking for directions to the town of Lakeville, about 0.8 kilometers (0.5 mi) away. She was last seen holding out her thumb to hitchhike on US Route 44, before she completely vanished. Camp counselors didn’t notice that Connie was missing until they found the ice pack inside her tent that afternoon.
Connie’s grandfather was governor of Wyoming at the time and organized an extensive search campaign, but no trace of her was found. It was believed that Connie had become homesick at the camp and was leaving to visit her parents, but neither of them ever saw her. In 1958, hunters in Arizona found the skeletal remains of an unidentified young girl who would become known as “Little Miss X.” Four years later, the Connecticut State Police received an anonymous letter claiming that Little Miss X was Connie Smith. Little Miss X’s teeth were soon compared with Connie’s dental records, but the results were inconclusive. In recent years, Connie’s surviving relatives have submitted their DNA for a comparison, but unfortunately, Little Miss X’s remains can no longer be found. After more than 60 years, Connie Smith’s fate remains a mystery.
6The Castration Murders
On June 12, 1982, 22-year-old Marty Shook left his mother’s home in Sparks, Nevada to travel to Colorado. He was planning to hitchhike to reach his destination. Two days later, a fly fisherman discovered Marty’s nude body near Daniels Canyon in Wasatch County, Utah. He was shot in the back of the head with a .38-caliber pistol. Most disturbingly, Marty’s genitals had been removed and were missing from the scene. The case would remain cold until 1989, when authorities connected it to the murder of another hitchhiker the previous year.
On August 19, 1981, the nude body of 30-year-old Wayne Rifendifer was found in a wooded area near Williamsburg, Pennsylvania. Like Marty Shook, he had been shot in the back of the head, and his genitals were removed and never found. The two victims physically resembled each other, and ballistics tests would eventually determine that they had both been shot with the same .38-caliber weapon. Authorities also looked into the possibility that these two murders were connected to another unsolved homicide.
On November 24, 1986, the nude body of 26-year-old hitchhiker Jack Andrews was found at a rest stop in Litchfield, Connecticut. Even though he had not been shot, and the cause of death was never determined, the victim’s genitals were missing. His nipples were also removed, and both legs had been severed at mid-thigh. While the same person may have been responsible for all three murders, they remain unsolved.
5The Murder Of Phillip Fraser
In 1988, 25-year-old Philip Fraser had plans to attend The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. On June 14, he left his hometown of Anchorage, Alaska to drive to Evergreen and complete his enrollment. Fraser first had to cross the border and drive through Canada. On June 18, he stopped at a cafe in the rural community of 40 Mile Flats, British Columbia. It was there that he crossed paths with an unidentified male hitchhiker, who asked Fraser for a ride. According to an eyewitness, Fraser initially turned down the man’s request and started driving away but suddenly reconsidered and stopped his car to let the man climb inside. This would be the last time Phillip Fraser was seen alive. On July 27, Fraser’s body was found in a remote gravel pit near the community of Stewart. Many of his personal possessions, including his birth certificate and passport, were never recovered.
Approximately eight hours after Fraser was seen in 40 Mile Flats, a couple from the town of Kitwanga pulled over to help a motorist with car trouble. The man was driving Fraser’s vehicle and matched the description of the mysterious hitchhiker at the cafe. He spent the night at the couple’s home and provided them with a personal backstory that was remarkably similar to Fraser’s. It was apparent that the hitchhiker had taken over Fraser’s identity. He also made an attempt to sell Fraser’s car, but when the couple turned him down, the man fixed the vehicle and went on his way. Twelve hours later, the vehicle was abandoned and set on fire at a car wash in Prince George. The hitchhiker was not seen again and has never been identified.
4The ‘Triangle Of Death’
During the 1980s, the Marne region of France became known as the “triangle of death.” A large number of young army conscripts from the three military garrisons in the area wound up vanishing without a trace, often while hitchhiking. The first known victim was Patrick Dubois, a 19-year-old conscript from the 4th Dragoons regiment at Mourmelon Le Grand, who mysteriously disappeared on January 5, 1980. Over the next seven years, a total of eight young men went missing in the region. Most of them were army conscripts, and the only victim to be recovered was a 20-year-old Irish hitchhiker named Trevor O’Keefe, who was found strangled to death in August 1987. One year later, authorities uncovered a likely culprit: Pierre Chanal, a former commando who was the senior warrant officer of the 4th Dragoons.
Chanal’s military career came to an end after a police patrol happened upon his camper van parked by the side of a country road. They discovered Chanal videotaping the rape and torture of a young Hungarian hitchhiker he had abducted. Chanal was given a 10-year sentence for the crime, but was released on probation in 1995. Since Chanal had become a suspect in the “triangle of death” disappearances, DNA testing was eventually performed on his camper van. Traces of DNA evidence were found that matched Trevor O’Keefe and two of the other missing victims.
In 2001, Chanal was charged with the three murders and is believed to be responsible for the deaths of all eight victims. On October 15, 2003, shortly after the start of his trial, Chanal decided to commit suicide in the prison hospital by slashing an artery in his leg.
3The ‘Walhalla Hitchhiker’
Much like Lydia, the Vanishing Lady in North Carolina, the state of South Carolina has its own famous urban legend about a vanishing phantom hitchhiker. According to local legend, a ghostly male figure wearing a dark all-weather coat has been seen haunting Highway 107 near the city of Walhalla, South Carolina for the past several decades. He is known as the “Walhalla Hitchhiker.” Depending on which direction the vehicle is traveling, the mysterious man asks to be dropped off at either the Piedmont Overlook or Moody Springs after he is picked up. Given that he often appears on dark and stormy nights, his decision to visit scenic tourist sights seems bizarre. After the hitchhiker arrives at his destination, he exits the vehicle without saying a word and promptly vanishes without a trace.
One popular theory is that the Walhalla Hitchhiker is the ghost of a deceased pilot named Larry Stephens. Sometime during the 1950s, Stephens and his plane took off from Greenville to go on one of his typical sightseeing excursions through Oconee County. Tragically, a violent hailstorm hit the area while Stephens was airborne, seriously limiting his visibility. Stevens wound up crashing into some mountains near Highway 107, in the Walhalla area. Even though remnants of Stephens’s plane were found, his body was never recovered. According to eyewitness reports, the Walhalla Hitchhiker bears a striking resemblance to Larry Stephens and is dressed in the same clothing he was believed to be wearing at the time of his death.
2The Disappearance Of Amy Billig
During her teen years, it was not uncommon for 17-year-old Amy Billig to hitchhike through the Miami area. On the afternoon of March 5, 1974, Amy left her home in Coconut Grove. She planned to visit her father’s office and was last seen hitchhiking along Main Highway. She never arrived at her destination. Amy’s camera was later found at the Wildwood exit on Florida’s Turnpike, but she was never heard from again. Throughout the next several years, Amy’s mother, Susan Billig, would be dragged on a bizarre journey as she attempted to find her daughter. A biker named Paul Branch approached Susan and told her that Amy had been abducted and was being held captive by a biker gang called “The Pagans.”
Susan searched all across the country for Amy but could never find her and was often led on wild goose chases by the people she encountered. Paul Branch died in 1997 but supposedly gave a deathbed confession to his wife. He claimed that Amy actually overdosed on the same day she disappeared while attending a party held by The Pagans. They subsequently disposed of her body by feeding it to some alligators in the Florida Everglades.
For over 20 years, Susan was also tormented by harassing phone calls from a man named Henry Johnson Blair, who claimed Amy was being held captive by a sex slavery ring. After Blair was arrested and charged in 1995, he claimed to know nothing about Amy’s disappearance. However, Amy’s diary did contain an entry about her wanting to run away to South America with a man named “Hank,” which was Blair’s nickname. Unfortunately, Susan Billig passed away in 2005, without ever finding out the truth about what happened to her daughter.
1The Murder Of The Prendergast Family
In November 1958, Thomas Prendergast from El Cajon, California picked up Carl Alfred Eder, a 16-year-old runaway hitchhiker from New York. Eder was homeless, and Prendergast felt sorry for him, so he decided to let Eder stay with him and his family until Eder got back on his feet. However, Prendergast would come to regret that decision after leaving for work on December 12. When Prendergast returned home, Eder was already standing outside the house and asked for a ride to San Diego. Prendergast complied and dropped Eder off at a service station. Prendergast then went back home again and made a horrifying discovery. His wife, Lois, was shot to death. The couple’s four children—nine-year-old David, six-year-old Thomas Jr., four-year-old Diane, and two-year-old Allen—had been murdered with a hunting knife.
Eder was captured two days later and claimed he had snapped and thrown Diane to the floor because she was making too much noise. As Mrs. Prendergast tended to her injured daughter, Eder shot her before murdering Diane and Allen. When David and Thomas Jr. returned home from school, Eder killed them, too. He was subsequently given two life sentences. In October 1974, Eder managed to escape from prison and has never been recaptured. He left behind a note which read: “I’ve done enough time and I’m leaving.”
In subsequent years, Eder was seen hanging out with motorcycle gangs and radical, left-wing, anti-government groups, and it’s speculated that one of these groups might have murdered him. However, if he is still alive, Carl Alfred Eder would be 73 years old today. There is a $20,000 reward for his capture.
Robin Warder is a budding Canadian screenwriter who has used his encyclopedic movie knowledge to publish numerous articles at Cracked.com. He is also the co-owner of a pop culture website called The Back Row and recently worked on a sci-fi short film called Jet Ranger of Another Tomorrow. Feel free to contact him here.