You’ve most likely heard the story. A person is driving down a lonely road at night when they see a hitchhiker, often a young woman, ahead. The woman is offered a ride and gets into the vehicle, usually the back seat.
The hitchhiker never says a word and after traveling some distance vanishes without a trace. The story is a Halloween/campfire type ghost story that can be found seemingly everywhere with slight variations.
The question is, is there a real case of the phantom hitchhiker that may be the basis for the modern version of the legend?
The answer would seem to be yes. It was Good Friday in March of 1968, Maria Roux and her fiance were driving to her parents home in Uniondale on the N9 about 200 miles from Cape Town, South Africa.
The weather suddenly turned bad and fierce winds forced their car into a ditch. Her fiance survived the crash, Maria however was killed instantly. It was certainly a tragic event but one which occurs everyday all around the world.
What makes the story of Maria Roux unique among traffic fatalities is what happened years after her death.
A man named Anton Le Grange was driving on the N9 during Easter week of 1976, not far from the site of Maria Roux’s fatal crash. It was late at night when he saw a figure standing at the side of the road.
As he got closer he could make out that it was a woman, apparently hitchhiking. Le Grange stopped and offered the woman a ride which she accepted without saying a word. She opened the rear passenger side door and got into the back seat. Le Grange asked the stranger where she was going but there was no response.
He commented that it was rather dangerous for a young woman to be hitchhiking alone at that time of night, again, silence. Le Grange then turned and looked into the back seat, the hitchhiker was gone and Le Grange was scared and confused.
He saw the woman get into the car, he could even describe her and now she had vanished. Le Grange thought that perhaps the woman had fallen out of the car at some point and went to the closet police station, Uniondale, to report the incident.
Once at the police station Le Grange began to tell the desk sergeant of the strange occurrence he had just experienced. No doubt Le Grange’s tale of the vanishing hitchhiker was met with considerable doubt, the possibility remained however that a young woman was lying injured or dead along the N9.
With that possibility in mind the officer agreed to follow Le Grange back to the area of the strange encounter. The officer followed close behind as Le Grange approached the area of the occurrence.
To the officers’ amazement he witnessed Le Grange’s rear passenger door open and close as Le Grange’s car passed the location where he had picked up the phantom hitchhiker. Thinking that Le Grange might be trying to pull off a hoax the officer agreed to follow him past the location one more time.
This time Le Grange would drive with the interior car lights on and the doors would be locked. Despite the precautions, the officer again saw the rear passenger side door open and close as the two passed the same area and this time the officer heard the sound woman laughing as the door was opened by the phantom hitchhiker.
The baffled police officer soon contacted fellow Uniondale officer Sergeant Pat MacDonald. MacDonald was the first officer to arrive on the scene of the Maria Roux crash. MacDonald met with Le Grange and handed him a stack of photos.
The pictures were all of young women and looked much alike. Despite the similarities of the images Le Grange was able to quickly pick out the picture of the phantom hitchhiker, Maria Roux.
The next report of the phantom hitchhiker came in 1978. Dawie Van Jaarsveld was riding his motorcycle on the N9 heading towards Uniondale to visit his girlfriend for Easter. As he rode he spotted a female hitchhiker ahead and stopped to offer her a ride.
She said nothing but put on a helmet and got on the back of the bike and Van Jaarsveld sped off with the hitchhiker hanging on to him tightly. Van Jaarsveld said he was suddenly overcome with a feeling of strangeness and at just that moment experienced what he described as a “twitch” and the phantom hitchhiker, which matched the description of Maria Roux, had vanished.
Uniondale journalist Jani Mayer has followed the Maria Roux story for more than 30 years.
“One of the theories of why she apparently can’t go to rest is that she was fast asleep in the car when the accident happened and she didn’t prepare herself for death. She wanted to finalize her wedding arrangements, and the theory is that she will carry on until she reaches her destination.”