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Old Woman and The Smashed Car Window Abduction Warning Hoax

Outline
Message claims that a violent male criminal is attempting to abduct women at the Galleria Shopping Centre in Perth Western Australia by pretending to be an old woman.



Brief Analysis
This warning has no basis in fact and should not be taken seriously. There are no credible reports that indicate that such abduction attempts have been happening in the Perth area. Western Australian Police have no knowledge of any incidents like the one described in the message. In fact, the story is just one more variant of an old urban legend that has circulated in Australia, the United States and elsewhere for decades.

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Detailed analysis and references below example.



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Last updated: 11th June 2010
First published: 11th June 2010
Article written by Brett M. Christensen
About Brett Christensen and Hoax-Slayer


Example
Subject: LADIES! PLS READ! scary but true

THIS IS TRUE -SO BE CAREFUL If YOU SHOP THERE!

Just be aware there's some nutters out there!

This is scary!!!

HEAVIEST STORY!!!!!! A colleague of mine at work (Belinda) has just gathered us girls and told us that her gf that works at the Galleria shopping Centre in Morley had a bit of a situation just over a week ago and all females in Perth should know about it! Her friend came out of work after 5:30pm and walked up to her car to find an old lady standing next to it and her car had a smashed window. The old woman said that she had seen the smashed window and she had stood by the car for 20 mins as she didn't want anyone to come along and steal something out of it. The girl was really grateful and the old lady explained she had missed her bus in the process and asked if she could get a lift. The young girl agreed and within a few minutes she noticed that the nanna had really manly hands, so she panicked and didn't know what to do so she ran into the back of the car in front of her at a really slow speed but enough to make the other ppl get out of the car, the police were called and the old lady ran and soon after the cops found a rope and a knife under the passenger seat. This happened in May 2010 on the streets of Perth.

TELL ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS!!!

The Police have said there was a similar case of it happening south of the river




Detailed Analysis
This rather breathless "warning" message claims to tell the story of a young woman's lucky escape from the clutches of a violent male abductor who had tricked her into giving him a lift by pretending to be a helpful but harmless old lady. According to the story, the would-be abductor, in his guise as an old woman, waited by the girl's vehicle, ostensibly to guard it from thieves because one of its windows had been broken. Supposedly, the young woman, grateful for the "old lady's" selfless act of kindness, agreed to give "her" a lift because "she" missed the bus while waiting by the car. It was only after the girl noticed grandma's "manly" hands, that she realized something was amiss and managed to save herself from a terrible fate by deliberately driving into the back of another vehicle. Later, so the story would have us believe, police found a knife and rope hidden under the car seat.

©iStockphoto.com/ jeff gynane

Broken Car Window
A new version of an old urban legend claims that a killer is using a broken car window as a ruse to fool young women into giving him a lift
While the "warning" certainly makes for a compelling tale, it has no basis in fact whatsoever and certainly should not be taken seriously. There are no credible reports that indicate that attempted abductions like the one described have taken place in the Perth area. Moreover, a Western Australian Police Media spokesperson that I contacted assures me that police have no knowledge of any such incident. He notes that police have investigated the claims in the warning message but found no evidence to indicate that such abduction attempts have actually taken place. Thus, the claims in the email that the police attended such an incident at the Galleria Shopping Centre and that police have reported on a similar case "south of the river" are totally unfounded.

In fact, the "warning" is just one more variant of an ageing urban legend that has circulated in various forms for decades. While details in these stories vary considerably, they all involve a woman's lucky escape from a madman and the subsequent discovery of a dastardly set of tools in the vehicle. The tools are usually listed as a knife and rope and, sometimes, duct tape. A few versions substitute a blood covered axe in place of the knife. Versions of the story have been set in several countries, including the United States, Canada, The United Kingdom, Australia and South Africa.

The following, UK based version describes a very similar "broken window" tale:
Just to make you all aware -

Last week in the Asda car park at Owlcotes, a lady returned to her car to find the window broken. A helpful man at the side of the car said he had seen someone tampering with it and had remained with the vehicle to make sure no-one did any further damage.

The lady was very grateful and when the man asked for a lift he was quite disappointed she was in a rush and going in the wrong direction and could not return the favour.

It was only when she got home that she noticed in the pouch behind the seat a piece of rope and a knife."
Another version describes a similar scenario in which a crazed killer disguised as an old lady is identified in the nick of time by his intended victim - again a young woman - by his hairy arms and wrists:
Driving home alone one evening, a young woman notices an old lady with a large shopping bag trying to hitch a lift in her direction. Feeling charitable, and in spite of her vow never to pick up hitch-hikers when alone, the girl stops and offers the hitch-hiker a ride. With much gratitude the old lady accepts and gets into the car. The young woman is about to drive away when she notices that her "female" passenger has large hairy arms and wrists. Guessing instantly that the old lady is in fact a man, she pretends to be having trouble with the car and asks him to get out and check if the rear lights are working. As soon as the "old lady" is round the back of the car, the young woman immediately locks the doors and drives away.

In fear she goes straight to the police station where she is questioned and the car is searched. In the shopping bag the hairy-handed hitch-hiker has left behind, the police find a large and very sharp blood-stained axe -- all ready for the next victim.
Yet another variant, that has circulated since the 1980's, describes how a young woman returns from shopping to find what appears to be a confused old lady sitting in the back of her car:
A young woman returns to her car from a day's shopping. She had parked her car in the town's multi-storey car park.

As she approaches the car she notices someone sitting in the back seat. She cautiously checks the registration plate to see if it is indeed her car, as it is a popular model and colour. The car is indeed hers, and as she gets closer she sees that it's an old woman sitting in the back seat.

She asks the woman how and why she is sitting in her car.

The old woman replies that she had been shopping with her son and family but felt unwell and returned to the car to rest. She obviously had mistaken the young woman's car for her son's, as it was the same model and colour. The old woman then asks to be driven to a hospital, as she is still feeling unwell. The young woman agrees.

As she gets into the driver's seat something makes her very nervous about the situation and she asks the old woman if she is feeling well enough to direct her as she reverses the car out of the parking place. The old woman agrees, gets out of the car and proceeds to direct the reversing manoeuvre.

As soon as the young woman has the car out of the parking space she speeds out of the car park, leaving the old woman stranded. She then drives straight to the nearest police station and reports the incident.

A police officer then searched the car and found an axe concealed under the driver's seat.

The killer masquerading as the good Samaritan is a common theme in many versions of this urban legend. In one US based story, a well dressed man helps a woman in a shopping centre car park fix a flat tyre and then asks for a lift back to his car. Again, the woman manages to subvert her would-be kidnapper's terrible plans and police later discover knives, rope and duct tape hidden in the car.

Of course, in some cases killers and rapists have no doubt posed as helpful strangers and perhaps even donned disguises in order to gain control over their victims. And certainly people should remain vigilant and aware of their surroundings in order to protect their personal safety. However, that certainly does not make warnings such as the Galleria broken window abductor story in any way valid or useful. In fact such, false warnings only raise unnecessary fear and alarm within communities and may even distract people from watching out for genuine threats. Moreover, they can also waste the time and resources of police. The Police Media officer that I contacted notes that, even when police know that such rumours are very likely to be baseless, they are still obligated to spend time investigating them, just to be sure. He also notes that the circulation of such false warnings can create a "cry wolf" situation in which members of the public might one day ignore genuine warnings because previous rumours have turned out to be nonsense.

Thus, if you receive this warning, please disregard it. And please do not further the spread of such destructive nonsense by sending it on to others.

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References
Flat Tire Mall Abduction Warning
The Hairy-Armed Hitchhiker

Last updated: 11th June 2010
First published: 11th June 2010
Article written by Brett M. Christensen
About Brett Christensen and Hoax-Slayer

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