Don’t Hitchhike

Warning: This post includes mentions of torture and sexual slavery (not mine)

A hard-sided waterbed

In the 1970s we had a waterbed in our extra room. It was my mom’s “study,” but it also had a small black and white television on a dresser in the closet, and I spent time lounging on the bed and watching television. I loved that waterbed.

On May 19, 1977, 20-year-old Colleen Stan was hitchhiking near Eugene, Oregon, when she was picked up by a couple with a baby. For the next seven years, she was tortured, raped, and brainwashed by Cameron Hooker.

She became known as the “Girl in the Box” because her captors often confined her to a box underneath the couple’s waterbed. Hooker also forced her to wear various gags, blindfolds, and a sometimes left her confined in a 20-pound “head box.”

When I did the math, I realized that I couldn’t have been thinking about this when I lay on the waterbed, even though I remembered doing so. Stan wasn’t released until 1984, and the waterbed was long gone by then.

So why did I remember my mother telling me a story about a woman with no arms and legs trapped in a box under a waterbed?

I thought this memory was a fiction, a mash-up of Stan’s story and the 1994 episode of The X-Files about the incestuous family that kept their armless and legless mother on a cart under a bed. The memory pre-dated both of these things, but the past is a malleable place. Weird coincidence (?) time: I now live four miles from the town of Home that is referenced in the episode.

As my mother represented this story as true, I did some more research to see if there was any basis in fact.

I found the story of Mary Vincent.

On September 29, 1978, Lawrence Singleton picked up Vincent in Berkeley, California. About 100 miles later, he raped her, cut off her arms, and threw her in a culvert to die. She survived, made her way to the road, and was rescued by the people in the second car that came along.

Singleton was convicted in 1979, and my mother told me Vincent’s story to warn me that I shouldn’t hitchhike.

I was eleven years old.