The Urban Legend of the Hook Man

Hook hand prosthetic
  Keith Hamshere/INACTIVE / Getty Images

Also known as "The Hook Man"

A teenage boy drove his date to a dark and deserted lovers' lane for a make-out session. He turned on the radio for mood music, leaned over to whisper in the girl's ear, and began kissing her.

Minutes later, the mood was broken when the music suddenly stopped mid-song. After a moment of silence an announcer's voice came on, warning in an ominous tone that a convicted murderer had just escaped from the state insane asylum — which happened to be located within a half-mile of where they were parked — and urging that anyone who notices a man wearing a stainless steel hook in place of his missing right hand should immediately report his whereabouts to the police.

The girl became frightened and asked to be taken home. The boy, feeling bold, locked all the doors instead and, assuring his date they would be safe, attempted to kiss her again. She became frantic and pushed him away, insisting that they leave. Relenting, the boy peevishly jerked the car into gear and spun its wheels as he pulled out of the parking space.

When they arrived at the girl's house she got out of the car, and, reaching to close the door, began to scream uncontrollably. The boy ran to her side to see what was wrong and there, dangling from the door handle, was a bloody hook.

Analysis:  Folks have been telling the hook-man story since the 1950s, and indeed the implicit moral message — "Sex is naughty; bad boys and girls will be punished!" — seems more appropriate to that simpler, more naive era. Just as this message has come to be parodied in recent horror films (whereas, once upon a time, it was delivered with morbid solemnity), its "bygone" relevance has taken the teeth out of the cautionary tale.

Remarking on the improbable tidiness of the plot of "The Hook," folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand observed that "most tellers narrate the story nowadays more as a scary story than a believed legend." Small wonder. Given its exploitation by Hollywood in popular genre films like Candyman and I Know What You Did Last Summer, most people under the age of 30 probably assume the story was invented by screenwriters.

Folklorists of a more Freudian bent find meaningful sexual overtones in the imagery of the tale. The boy, who wants to get his "hooks" into the girl, is not only frustrated by her unwillingness but afraid of his own lustful impulses — a fear heightened by the stern "voice of conscience" emitting from the radio — and has to "pull out fast" before a deadly sin is committed. The tearing off of the madman's hook symbolizes castration. Proponents of this type of psychological interpretation find the sexual apprehensions of both boys and girls represented in the legend.

One of the earliest appearances of "The Hook" in print was in a "Dear Abby" column dated Nov. 8, 1960:

DEAR ABBY: If you are interested in teenagers, you will print this story. I don't know whether it's true or not, but it doesn't matter because it served its purpose for me:
A fellow and his date pulled into their favorite "lovers' lane" to listen to the radio and do a little necking. The music was interrupted by an announcer who said there was an escaped convict in the area who had served time for rape and robbery. He was described as having a hook instead of a right hand. The couple became frightened and drove away. When the boy took his girl home, he went around to open the car door for her. Then he saw — a hook on the door handle! I don't think I will ever park to make out as long as I live. I hope this does the same for other kids.

Not all urban legends in this vein have a safe and happy ending, I should point out. "The Boyfriend's Death" is an example of a similar cautionary tale that pulls no punches. If you dare...

Print references:

Brunvand, Jan H. Too Good to Be True: The Colossal Book of Urban Legends. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999, pp. 94-95.

Brunvand, Jan H. The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings. New York: W.W. Norton, 1981, pp. 48-52.

Dundes, Alan. "On the Psychology of Legend." American Folk Legend: A Symposium (Hand, Waylon D., Ed.). Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1971, pp. 21-36.

Emrich, Duncan. Folklore on the American Land. Boston: Little, Brown, 1972, pp. 333-334

Genge, N.E. Urban Legends. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000, p. 77.