The Hook

hook
Actor Tony Todd as the memorable “Candyman.” His primary weapon was a bloody hook in place of his hand.

“The Hook” is one of the oldest urban legends on record. Typically, it’s dismissed as a method used by parents to keep kids from having “fun,” but does it serve a deeper purpose? There are two common variations:

Version #1:

Did you hear about those kids last month? They were out on Lovers’ Lane, and just as they got started, a warning came on the radio. A mental patient had escaped from the asylum a few miles away.

They didn’t pay attention when they first heard it. They turned the engine off and ignored the warning. A few minutes later, they heard all kinds of strange noises around the car. It was too dark to see outside, and even if it was lighter, the windows were fogged up. Neither of them wanted to get out and investigate.

They were now spooked, so they started the car and fled the empty lane. He dropped her off at her house. Suddenly, she screamed when she closed the passenger door. A bloody hook was hanging from the latch of the rear passenger door.

Version #2:

Did you hear about those kids last month? They were out on Lovers’ Lane, and just as they got started, a warning came on the radio. A mental patient had escaped from the asylum a few miles away.

They didn’t pay attention when they first heard it. They turned the engine off and ignored the warning. A few minutes later, they heard all kinds of strange noises around the car. It was too dark to see outside, and even if it was lighter, the windows were fogged up. Neither of them wanted to get out and investigate, but the guy decided he would if it made her more comfortable.

He got out and closed the door behind him. She waited for fifteen minutes, but then she heard a steady scraping sound against the car roof. She decided a branch had probably fallen overhead. She got out of the car.

She reached up to yank the branch down, but her hand hit something. It was a shoe. She grabbed her cell phone and used the flashlight function to investigate. She found her boyfriend hanging from a branch. A hook had been rammed into the back of his neck. His bloody shoes brushed against the top of the car every time his body moved.

This is one of the most retold urban legends and has sent shivers up the spines of listeners for decades. The tale has a variety of titles, The Hook, The Hook Man, or The Bloody Hook. It is likely a compilation of many events. Many folklorists dismiss the tale as a tool to keep kids from having “fun” or having sex. Sometimes the entire tale is believed to be a metaphor for sex. It’s a convenient way to explain the tale’s propagation, but is it truly so cut-and-dried? Before judging older generations with Freud in mind, it may serve us better to consider our history. Perhaps a more literal interpretation is more suitable.

This is the earliest known date for the urban myth is the 1950s because a reader wrote advice columnist Dear Abby asking about the story in 1960. Even if you completely ignore any social taboos regarding sex, that’s just the tip of a mammoth iceberg. If kids go into remote areas, they may return safe, or they may return robbed, assaulted, or dead. Even cell phones today do not guarantee safety.

We often forget that the Twentieth Century was also the height of the serial killer. DNA forensic work didn’t exist until the 1980s. There were no digital computer databases until nearly the end of the century. Serial killers were a mystery until the FBI gained the amazing knowledge of such experts as Roy Hazelwood and John Douglas in the 1970s. Serial killers were finally exposed, labeled, and studied.

There have always been serial killers who have evaded arrest. The Axeman of New Orleans murdered eight in 1918. Both the Alligator Man and the Cleveland Torso Murderer reached their most prolific activity in the 1930s. The Phantom Killer or the Texarkana Moonlight Murders happened in 1946. The 1970s had such serial killers as Charlie Chop-off, the Alphabet Murders, and the Freeway Phantom. Out of every killer listed here, the only one apprehended and prosecuted was the Alligator Man. The aforementioned murderers don’t even take into account such well-known killers as, The Zodiac, the Hillside Strangler, and the Boston Strangler.

Is there any logic to the “escaped mental patient” portion of the tale? A quick search of Google’s News Archives with the term “escaped mental patients in 1950,” brings back over 2,000 results. Both patients and prisoners frequently escaped hospitals and jails nationwide.

This tale served two distinct purposes. It did not merely entertain and thrill listeners, but it also urged listeners to use caution before going into an unfamiliar area. It also kept people away from situations that present a very real danger. Listeners have their own opinions on the tale’s purpose or greater moral, but we can’t deny the story’s timeless status.

 

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