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Flat Tire Mall Abduction Warning

by Brett M. Christensen

Email forward claims that an apparent good Samaritan who changed a flat tire for a woman in a shopping mall car park was actually a deranged killer intent on abduction.

Brief Analysis:
This warning is overblown and inaccurate. Although there was one case in 1989 in which a similar tactic was used, there are no credible reports that suggest that such crimes are currently occurring. Certainly, no such crimes have been reported in the locations named in the email. Forwarding this warning will serve only to cause unnecessary fear and alarm.

This happened in MicMac Mall in Dartmouth… And a similar thing took place in Bayer’s Lake Industrial park. About a month ago there was a woman standing by the mall entrance passing out flyers to all the women going in. The woman had written the flyer herself to tell about an experience she had so that she might warn other women. The previous day this woman had finished shopping, went out to her car and discovered that she had a flat. She got the jack out of the trunk and began to change the flat. A nice man dressed in business suit and carrying a briefcase walked up to her and said, “I noticed you’re changing a flat tire. Would you like me to take care of it for you?” The woman was grateful for his offer and accepted his help. They chatted amiably while the man changed the flat and then he put the flat tire and the jack in the trunk, shut it and dusted his hands off. The woman thanked him profusely and as she was about to get in her car, the man told her that he left his car around on the other side of the mall and asked if she would mind giving him a lift to his car. She was a little surprised and she asked him why his car was on the other side.

He said he got turned around in the mall and left through the wrong exit and now he was running late and his car was clear around on the other side of the mall. The woman hated to tell him “no” because he had just rescued her from having to change her flat tire all by herself, but she felt uneasy. Then she remembered seeing the man put his briefcase in her trunk before shutting it and before he asked her for a ride to his car. She told him that she’d be happy to drive him around to his car, but she just remembered one last thing she needed to buy. She told the man that he could wait for her; she would be as quick as she could be. She hurried into the mall and told a security guard what had happened; the guard came out to her car with her but the man had left. They opened the trunk, took out his locked briefcase and took it down to the police station. The police opened it obviously to look for ID so they could return it to the man. What they found was rope, duct tape, and knives. When the police checked her “flat” tire, there was nothing wrong with it; the air had simply been let out. It was obvious what the man’s intentions were and obvious that he had carefully thought it out in advance.

The woman was blessed to have escaped unharmed. How much worst would it have been if she’d gone against her judgment and given him a lift. I’d like you to forward this to all the women you know. It may save a life. I was going to send this to the ladies only, but guys, if you love your mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, ect. you may want to pass it on to them as well.

Send this to any woman you know that may need to be reminded that the world we live in has a lot of crazies in it . . better safe than sorry.


Detailed Analysis:
According to this email warning, a violent criminal is posing as a good Samaritan in order to abduct women from shopping mall car parks. The message claims that the man first lets the air out of his target’s car tire while she is shopping. When she returns to the vehicle, he offers to help change the flat tire. After changing the tire the man asks for a lift back to where his own car is supposedly parked. If the woman complies, however, the man is able to abduct her and eventually employ the knives, rope and duct tape that he has secretly left in the car boot.

Although there was one case in 1989 in which a similar tactic was used, there is no evidence that such crimes are currently happening. Versions of the warning message have circulated for several years and have been set in several different locations. Like many such email warnings, this one tends to be localized from time to time during its journey before being sent onward. The version included here claims the mall where the killer lurked was in Dartmouth, Canada. Others have been set in various malls across the United States. Many versions do not name the mall or city at all. The earliest version identified the location as Tuttle Crossing Mall in Columbus Ohio. However, there are no reports of such attempted abductions in Columbus or any of the other locations named in the messages. In fact, other than the one 1989 case, there are no credible references to such crimes at all. Moreover, staff at the Tuttle Crossing Mall denied that any such event occurred. For weeks after the rumour began circulating, mall staff were inundated with enquiries about the supposed abduction attempt.

The message may have been loosely derived from a case in which Julia Ashe was abducted and killed in Waterbury Connecticut. A 1991 New York Times article notes:

Mr. Cobb kidnapped Miss Ashe on Dec. 16, 1989, from a department store parking lot in Waterbury after he helped her change a flat tire on her car. He had let the air out of the tire while she was in the store Christmas shopping. He then drove Miss Ashe to a wooded area, raped her, bound her and pushed her off a dam into an icy pond 23 feet below.

Cobb was apprehended and condemned to death for the crime.

While its creator may possibly have used the Cobb case as a base, the story is actually a modern manifestation of an urban legend that dates back over a century. Tales about narrow escapes from deranged killers who leave behind their instruments of death are part of our folklore. Other variants tell of a male killer disguised as an old woman who waits in the back of his target’s vehicle. After the potential victim escapes unharmed, an axe is discovered hidden in the car. In 19th Century Britain, similar tales told of a disguised axe-murderer hidden in the back of a horse-drawn carriage. Another modern take on the legend falsely claims that a serial killer is tricking women into allowing him access to their vehicles by pretending to return a $5 bill that he says they have dropped.

Of course car park abductions do happen and, as the Cobb case illustrates, those doing the abducting may use clever ruses to achieve their aims. Certainly, we should be cautious of strangers even if they are apparently going out of their way to help us. However, since this message describes an abduction attempt that did not take place, and there are no credible reports about such crimes occurring, forwarding it will do no more than raise unnecessary fear and alarm and needlessly clutter inboxes.

Last updated: 26th March 2010
First published: 7th March 2007
By Brett M. Christensen
About Hoax-Slayer

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Brett Christensen,