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Cars That Kill

When Good Autos Go Wrong


Cars That Curse and Kill

The film Maximum Overdrive (1986), released in some long-forgotten year and directed by none other than horror bestseller Stephen King, starred Emilio Estevez in an ignominiously bad B-movie that postulated sinister, living vehicles taking over the world.

And possibly this was developed or developed into the idea that became King's bestseller Christine (1983)... about a possessed car. Anton La Vey had something to do with a similar movie before his death, it is rumored, and we also have the example of Stephen Spielberg's Duel (1971), in which actor Dennis Weaver is terrorized by a long-distance trucker whom no one ever sees, making the vehicle itself the monster of menace. (This concept was later ripped-off in the 80s anthology film Nightmares, which also starred Emilio Estevez, who really made the cinematic rounds back in those by-gone, halcyon days.)

Cars are bad. They'll kill you. You go careening down the interstate at fifty-five, sixty miles an hour into a head-on collision; and then find out if there really is a God. Alternately, spend the rest of your life a hopeless cripple, paraplegic, burned to a shudderingly Freddy Krueger-esqe crisp of mangled skin and lost hopes and dreams. Ah, 'tis a wunnerful, wunnerful world...

Hot Toddy

Beautiful Thelma Todd, "Hot Toddy", starred in films with performers such as the Marx Brothers and ZaSu Pitts. She was found dead in her car at the age of 31. 

Thelma Todd, a.k.a "Hot Toddy", died mysteriously in her car, either the victim of Lucky Luciano's revenge (she refused to have her roadside restaurant become a part of his gambling racket), her demented director husband Raoul West (he directed the classic silent thriller The Bat) ; or simply her own drunken carelessness. Either way, asphyxia due to inhaling carbon monoxide auto exhaust due to passing out drunk in her garage saw Hot Toddy take her final bow.

Curiously, Groucho Marx, that erudite and seemingly inexhaustible fount of humorous quips and smart aleck observations, told her, on the set of Monkey Buisness, "...you look like a woman who could use a break[... ] We can fix your car, but you'll have to sleep in the garage all night." Indeed, on her final night, she went to sleep in her garage... forever.

It is, of course, reputed ot be haunted, chiefly by the revving of a mysterious engine. Her ghost proper can, or could, or will or was seen in the remains (is it still there?) of her roadside restaurant.

(A punny fun MIGHT be: "Hot Toddy's dead body was found... in her MAZARATTI!" Oh, 'tis to laugh!)

(Below) Groucho and Thelma in happier times: Horse Feathers (1931).

James Dean

James Dean's wrecked Porsche 550 Spyder: The "Little Bastard." 

James Dean died in his auto, seated next to his mechanic (from the Porsche automobile manufacturing factory in Stuttgart he was. Sent as a personal gift to Mr. Dean?) Rolphe Wutherich, who walked away unscathed from the collision with student Donald Turnipseed that would cost Mr. Dean his Hollywood career, not to mention his bodily corporality. The car: Dean's Porsche speedster, dubbed the "Lil' Bastard."

The date? September 30, 1955. According to legend, actor Alec "Obi-Wan Kenobi" Guinness, upon being shown the Porsche 550 Spyder by Dean, told him, "It has a sinister appearance. If you get in that car, you'll be dead within one week." Within one week, the prognostication was proven to be true. Indeed, the Force was strong with that one.

In short order, the cursed car:

Slipped off a trailer after being sold, breaking a mechanic's leg.

Was present and accounted for during a race that ended with injury and death, respectively, of two drivers, both of whose cars were fitted with parts from the Lil' Bastard.

Furthermore fouled the works of a man driving around on two of its spare tires, both of which blew, injuring him badly in the process.

Fouled an attempt by two would-be thieves to steal the car ended in injury for them both, one having his arm torn open trying to remove the steering wheel, the other being injured trying to remove the still-bloodstained seat.

Was busy issuing forth with the poltergeist effect, when, being sent to a Highway Safety Exhibit, it, undoubtedly directly caused the FIRE that mysteriously broke out in the garage wherein it was housed. ANOTHER exhibit, one at a high school, ended badly when the hideous heap fell from a display and broke a student's hip.

Was transported back home, but Transporting "Hell on Wheels" back home again, it slipped from a truck bed, rolled over the driver (how did HE manage to slip from his rig? One wonders.) "crushing" him (to death?). It fell off an additional two more transport trucks. It then disappeared. One wonders if this suspect has been spotted recently.

According to David Cronenberg's film of J.G. Ballard's dystopian novel of warmth, happiness and lingering erotic fixation on orchestrated auto crashes, (as well as gaping wounds), Crash (1997), Dean's last words were, "Don't worry that guy's got to see us." Actor Elias Koteas (playing the psychopathically brilliant conceptual artist "Vaughn") intones this, mantra-like, several times during the Dean crash recreation in the film: "Don't worry that guy's got to see us...don't worry that guy's got to see us... Don't. Worry. That. Guy's. Got. To. See. Us." Well, Mr. Dean, of course, was mistaken.

Of course, I only watched the erotically-charged film for purely research purposes. Because... art; I wouldn't lie to you. 

Jayne Mansfield

The Jayne Mansfield Crash. 

The hotsy-totsy actress died, with lawyer Sam Brody, after having a curse placed upon Brody by Church of Satan founder Anton La Vey, who was smitten with Mansfield. La Vey, apparently, took a much more dim view of Mansfield's lawyer boyfriend. The Black Pope warned Mansfield to steer clear of him (no pun). She lost her figurative head and ignored this; she lost her literal head AFTER ignoring this.

In an demonic aside, we note that utterly obnoxious and screamingly unfunny stand-up comic Sam Kinison died in an auto accident also. His car had a vanity plate with "666" on it. 

The Black Pope and the Blonde Bombshell: Satanist Anton LaVey warned acolyte Mansfield to steer clear of lawyer Sam Brody. She wouldn't didn't, and ended up in a hell of a bad way. 

Bonnie and Clyde

The final, bloody ride of Bonnie and Clyde. Images from 1934. 

I have no idea if this famous Deathmobile is haunted, cursed or whatnot; but, as the saying goes, "if it ain't, it oughta be!" Bonnie and Clyde were two plug-ugly, Depression-era punks out to raise hell, rob banks, and kill cops. And they did a lot of both robbing and cop killing.

Traveling a backroad in Louisiana, reportedly to pick up his mail at a secret gangster mail-drop, Clyde and Bonnie received a message they would never forget as long as they lived; which was probably about fifteen seconds after it was delivered.

Texas Rangers opened fire on the 1940 model Ford V-8 (Clyde's preferred ride), filling it more full of holes than a Tijuana bathhouse, and rendering Bonnie and Clyde dripping, bullet-ridden horrors bent over on the front seat. The Rangers were going to make damn sure the "Texas Rattlesnake" didn't have time to reach for his gun, this time. The resultant crime scene photos are grim and unnerving.

At the time, curious locals and onlookers stole little items when the car was towed into town, twisting off pieces of it as souvenirs, even wiping kerchiefs in the sodden interior, which was still dripping blood as the thing was hauled into town.

An exhibit in the 1970s offered patrons the chance to sit in the Barrow Gang Deathmobile for a dollar. Later attractions included Clyde's bloody, bullet-torn shirt, as well as 1934 mannequins dressed to the gangsterish nines in provocative, tommy-gun wielding poses. (J.G. Ballard would, no doubt, have very much approved of this posed artifice, this eroticization of car culture, death, tragedy and recreation. He once officiated at an exhibition of wrecked automobiles at an art museum, where a woman was sexually assaulted by an overzealous patron.)

Lincoln and Kennedy

The Lincoln Continental careening through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, that fateful day of 11-22-63, right before the historic shot.  

Kennedy was assassinated, we suppose by a lone-nut communist working at a school book depository, who just happened to have his Mannlicher-Carcano rifle with him the day the ill-fated motorcade passed below, in a LINCOLN Continental, built by FORD. Lincoln, on the other hand, was assassinated in a BOOTH by a BOOTH, in FORD'S Theater. Both men had their wives present. And, well, Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln, Lincoln a secretary named Kennedy, so this stuff gets spooky. 

Lincoln was shot while sitting in a theater BOOTH (well... box, at any rate), by a Booth, in FORD'S THEATER. Kennedy was shot riding in a LINCOLN manufactured by the FORD motor company. Talk about "Coincidence Theory." 


Ed Gein's Car

The Necromobile: Ed Gein's famous impromptu hearse. 

There was a trashy punk band, at one point, named "Ed Gein's Car." Ed, the necrophile and grave robber (and seemingly living incarnation of Elmer Fudd), did indeed transport his ghoulish trophies (which he used to manufacture flesh masks, flesh suits, soup bowls, furniture, lampshades and drawstrings, among other home decor) back and forth from Plainfield cemetery, via his "Ghoulmobile." Also, the body of Bernice Worden, which he later decapitated, disemboweled and hung, upside-down, in a disused tool shed. An enterprising entrepreneur of exploitive manure, put the damn thing... on tour. Display. Turn a buck, you dig? Anyway.

One further note here: Ted Bundy, the undeniably handsome and prolific serial killer of auburn-haired co-eds, had his own 'Murdermobile," a legendary tricked-out Volkswagen Beetle (yellow, natch) with a modified interior: the passenger side couldn't be opened, and he could, likewise, remove the front seat. He no doubt transported his fair share of victims this way, oftentimes posing as "Chris Hagen," who was a character of a mall cop or a man with a broken arm. Bundy's victims were victimized in this car; he himself died, of course, in a Florida electric chair in 1989. I well remember the day. 

And now, for a bit of "Ed Gein's Car":


A sickening stench pervades the Death Car, a legend of a suicided driver and his lingering, rotten stench. 

There is an old story about a man that buys a used car at a dirt cheap price, presumably from some fat used car salesman that looks, for all the world, like the late television actor Kenneth McMillan; a fat man in a Hawaiian shirt with a gold chain or two and breath that reeks of Philly steak and swiss.

He gets the thing home. But, after a few days, he begins to notice this...smell. He cleans it and cleans it, lets it air out. But, still, that smell lingers, persists. A real sickening stench it is, too; like something... well, you know.

Finally, he takes the car back to the dealer. The used-car dealer admits, shamefacedly, that he neglected to tell the present owner that a "Fella hooked a hose up to the exhaust. Yeah. Killed himself, see? Carbon-monoxide poisoning. In that car. And now, no matter who I sell it to, what they do to try and clean it...that smell always returns. So, buddy, you're not the first."

Stinky ghosts. Also, not the first account of that.

"There Will Be a Body in the Backseat Before the Night Is Through!"

A vintage ambulance, like the sort featured in the legend below. 

Now, for this little eerie gem to round off this essay before it stretches to book-length.

A couple is riding on a rainy night. WE can imagine some 1943 scene from an old black-and-white movie, windshield wipers sloshing back and forth across a long and winding blue screen road.

They pick up a mysterious hitchhiker. He tells them two things:

First, when the Second World War will end.

Second, that before the nigth is over, they will, "Have a dead body in the backseat of this car!"

The driver angrily brings the car to a halt at this morbid suggestion. But, just then, in true Vanishing Hitchhiker fashion, the Vanishing Hitchhiker indeed vanishes. Maybe in a puff of smoke.

Driving on, completely unnerved, the man and woman come across the scene of an accident. A car has gone off the road in the rain, and hit a tree. An ambulance is there with the lights spinning. The man pulls over.

The ambulance attendant rushes forward.

"Oh, thank the Lord you two pulled up! This man is severely injured. But, our ambulance is stalled. He has to get to a hospital as soon as soon as possible. Could you take him?"

And so he is loaded in the back. The car rushes through the rainy night more quickly than is safe under the circumstances. They finally make it to town, and pull up to the hospital door. Attendants rushing out find, however, that the man has, unfortunately, already died. Thus, the prediction of the weird Vanishing Hitcher has come to pass.

"When did that guy say the war would end?" we can almost imagine the driver asking his rattled wife.

Anyway, this has been a longer, stranger trek than what I first surmised. I'm going to kick back, put it in neutral, and cruise on out. Like the song says, "Get outta my dreams..."

And then there is something about his car.

But who, besides us old men, really remember the Hits of the Eighties?

Scary Urban Legends by Tom Baker. Illustrated by John C. Eng.

Read next: Hell Underground
Tom Baker
Tom Baker

Author of Haunted Indianapolis , Indiana Ghost Folklore, Scary Urban Legends, Midwest Maniacs, Midwest UFOs and Beyond, Scary Urban Legends, 50 Famous Fables and Folk Tales Notorious Crimes of the Upper Midwest : tombakerbooks.weebly.com. 

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