The Ghostly Hitchhiker of South Africa
One of South Africa's longest roads is the M9. It runs from the Golden Shores of the southern coast right up into the heart of Northern Cape Province. It is also home to one of the country's most famous ghostly hitchhikers. In this post, we take a ride with the Uniondale hitchhiker.
The tragic accident
The storm had been coming in hard and heavy for the past few hours and showed no signs of abating. As torrential rain hammered down on the surface of the highway, a solitary motor vehicle battled its way through the horrendous conditions, headlights struggling to penetrate the relentless downpour. It was Easter weekend of 1968, and the car in question was a Volkswagen Beetle. driven by a young man named Giel Pretorius.
The unpredictable crosswinds and limited visibility made far difficult driving conditions, but as a Corporal in the South African Army, Pretorius was no stranger to sticky situations. Had it been up to him, he would not have elected to make a car journey during the worst storm in living memory, but the reality was that he'd had little say in the matter. The young soldier turned for a moment to look back at the sleeping figure curled up on the tiny rear seats behind him, and allowed a contented smile to spread across his face.
Maria Roux was the first woman he'd ever truly loved and the previous evening, she had agreed to marry him. Unfortunately, that agreement had come with the caveat that the happy couple would have to drive the 500 kilometer trip down to Riverdale, to share the news with her parents in person. Still, Giel reflected, in the grand scheme of things, this was an acceptable price to pay in return to spending the rest of his life with the woman he so adored.
As he turned his attention back towards the highway, the car was suddenly buffeted to one side by an incoming blast of wind. Pretorius instinctively heaved on the steering wheel, attempting to counter a burgeoning sideways skid, but there was no response. His eyes widened in fear as he picked out the onrushing tree line. Then there was darkness.
Pretorius awoke some time later to find his clothes soaked from the rain pouring in through the car's now shattered windscreen. Blood was pouring down the side of his face from an injury to his temple. He called out for Maria, desperate for confirmation that she had not been badly hurt, but there was no response. Mustering the strength to haul himself out of the wrecked car, he found the rear seats empty. With the growing realization that Maria must have been thrown clear of the vehicle, he repeatedly cried out her name as the storm continued to rage around him.
After some time spent fruitlessly searching the undergrowth, he staggered back up towards the highway, eventually collapsing into an exhausted heap at the side of the road. It would not be until well into the following afternoon that the broken and shattered remains of his fiancé were discovered by a local farmer. The coroner would later note in his report that Maria would have been unconscious at the time of her death, and would not have felt any of the horrific injuries she had sustained. He could not have known it at the time, but these closing comments would not be the end of her tragic story.
Le Grange's contact with the ghost
Eight years after the accident, a local youth by the name of Anton Le Grange set off from his home in Willowmore to attend a party in the neighboring town of Uniondale. It had been an uneventful trip, but as he was approaching the outskirts of his destination, he caught sight of a solitary figure standing at the side of the carriage way overhead. As he drew closer, he was able to make out that the lone pedestrian was female, less than appropriately dressed for the tumbling temperatures of Easter weekend.
It was this factor, along with the lack of other traffic on the road which caused him to pull up alongside her and asked if she needed a lift into Uniondale. She nodded silently in assent, before opening one of the rear doors and climbing into the back seat. As Anton pulled away. he spent the next few minutes attempting to strike up a conversation with the young woman, but it was to no avail. Growing slightly apprehensive at her complete lack of interaction, he eventually turned to face his passenger only to find the back seat completely empty.
One of only two officers on duty at the Uniondale police station that evening was Constable Snowy Potgieter. He was less than impressed when the hysterical Le Grange burst into his front office, claiming that he had just picked up a ghost on his way into town. After listening in passively to Anton's bizarre story, Potgieter asked him to drive back to the spot where he encountered the girl whilst he followed behind him in a patrol car. With darkness now descending, the two vehicles have been traveling in Convoy for a few minutes. When Potgieter witnessed the rear passenger door of the Le Grange's car unexpectedly open.
The young man slammed on his brakes and exiting his vehicle came running back towards the police car, yelling that the girl had suddenly reappeared sitting on his back seat and staring at him in the rearview mirror. Beginning to suspect that he was the target of some juvenile prank, Potgieter told Le Grange to carry on driving. This time however, he was asked to switch on his interior lights, so the police officer could see exactly what he was doing. The journey resumed only for the same door to suddenly fly open a short distance along the road. As both cars screeched to a halt, Potgieter angrily exited his cruiser and stormed over to the car in front.
Having satisfied himself that there was nobody else hidden inside La Grange's vehicle, he was in the process of threatening the youngster with arrest. when they both clearly heard the sound of an anguished female cry emanating from the tree line a short distance away. In an instant, Le Grange was back in his car and driving full Pelt back towards Uniondale, the policeman following close behind. Back at the station, the bewildered Potgieter took a brief statement from the Le Grange before sending the terrified teen on his way. It would not be until the following weekend that one of his colleagues had sought him out in relation to the reports he had submitted.
Constable Pat McDonald had been among the first officers to reach the mangled Volkswagen Beetle eight years previous and told Potgieter that the description of the girl provided by Le Grange was an exact match for how Maria Roux had been dressed on that fateful Easter evening.
Two years later, another off duty Army Corporal by the name of Dawie Van Jaarsveld was heading along the N9 towards Uniondale on his motorbike when he encountered a lone female hitchhiker. Accepting his offer of a lift, the girls silently climbed onto the back of the bike and donned the spare helmet that was handed to her. After about 3 kilometers, Jaarsveld felt the motorcycle jerk suddenly underneath him and immediately pulled over to ascertain what had happened. There was no sign of that the girl and the helmet she had been wearing was now securely strapped down, just as it had been several minutes before.
Andre Coetzee's experience
Two years on from this encounter, another motorcyclist, 20 year old Andre Coetzee, would have a decidedly unnerving experience. He had been traveling at speed along the N9, looking for a friend who had run out of fuel, when he had passed the young woman standing alone on the side of the road. Focused on finding his fellow biker, he had simply ignored her and continued on his way.
Soon after, he had felt a sudden inexplicable tightness in his chest. Looking down, he could see a pair of feminine-looking arms wrapped firmly around his waist and could feel a pressure on his back as if there was someone leaning against him from behind. Crying out in alarm, he accelerated up to 80 miles per hour in an attempt to shake off his unwanted passenger. Almost immediately, there was a violent blow to the back of his helmet which almost caused him to lose his balance. Coetzee continued to increase his speed and was struck two more times in the rear of his helmet. Finally, as the motorbike hit a hundred miles per hour, the arms round his waist disappeared, and the pressure on his back ceased. When Coetzee pulled over and dismounted his bike, there was no sign that anyone had been behind him.
He proceeded straight to Uniondale to report the matter to the police. It was there, whilst he was recounting his tale, that one of the officers showed him a photograph from the old case file. On seeing the picture, the color completely drained from Coetzee's face. The girl he had passed standing at the side of the road had indeed been Maria Roux.
The phenomenon known as the Phantom Hitchhiker has been reported in countries all over the globe, with stories of spirits allegedly haunting the world's highways and byways showing a significant number of common features, regardless of where they may have originated from. In Switzerland, for example, it is said that a ghostly hitchhiker frequents the roads in the vicinity of the Belchen Motorway tunnel near Basel.
The local police department has received multiple reports over the years from drivers who have stopped to give an elderly woman a lift. Said to be dressed all in white, she apparently warns motorists of an unspecified impending disaster, before disappearing from the vehicle. A similar woman in white is alleged to haunt White Rock Lake Park in Dallas, Texas. She has reportedly appeared to numerous witnesses along East Lawther drive, completely soaked through asking for a lift to her home. She's believed to be the ghost of a visitor to the lake who drowned in a boating accident at some point during the 1930s. And it is said that she leaves a waterlogged seat behind after she too vanishes from inside the car.
In many of these cases, most notably those that have generated a high frequency of reported incidents, it is relatively easy to ascertain that they are nothing more than urban legends. In these instances, it proves impossible to identify any of the alleged witnesses, their identities conveniently withheld or forgotten by the storyteller, with the detail of the reported encounters becoming more elaborate and fantastic each time it is passed on. That said, there are equally as many cases, especially those which have been reported in more recent times where identifiable witnesses are more than happy to go on record with what they have seen. And the existence of accompanying photographic or video evidence is also becoming more commonplace where footage appears to show someone or something standing by the roadside illuminated by the headlights of the approaching vehicle.
Numerous reports exist of a phantom Airman appearing on the roads leading up to RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk. During the course of his most notorious appearance, he apparently asked a military policeman who had picked him up on the roadside if he could have a light for his cigarette. When the driver passed a metal zippo lighter back over his shoulder, he heard the familiar metallic sound of it being opened, struck and then closed, before the dull thud of it hitting the floor mats, as the ghostly passenger suddenly vanished.
Dashcam footage purporting to show the Airmen circulated online in 2018. The video shows what appears to be the hazy outline of a figure dressed in what may be the distinctive blue uniform of an RAF servicemen, which then fades into a blur as the vehicle approaches. Similar footage also exists from the Philippines, which is alleged to show the figure of a small boy sitting on his own at the side of the road with his head in his hands, who disappears as a carload of students pass by.
One of the hallmarks of the so-called Phantom hitchhiker, which sets them aside from most other ghostly apparitions is their apparent ability to physically interact with the living, often succeeding in passing themselves off as a living person, until the point they disappear. They seem to be able to handle physical objects, maintain conversation with the driver and often display an eagerness or strong desire to get to a specific location. Sometimes they even complete the journey in question.
It has been theorized that in many of these cases, the spirit is either desperate to complete their final tragic Journey or may not even be aware that they are deceased. This is one of the explanations for the Maria Roux hauntings. Some observers have theorized that she was fast asleep at the time she was killed, her consciousness wasn't able to fully comprehend that her physical body had been so quickly and cruelly taken from her. In some cases, the slightly unusual behavior of the spectral passenger suggests that they are merely replaying their final journey and have no understanding of the time and events that have passed since they were killed.
But in others, quite the opposite is true, with the Hitch-Hiker displaying a clear desire for the driver to know something about them and the circumstances of their death before they fade away. There is a slightly sinister footnote to the Maria Roux haunting, which suggests that her spirit did indeed possess some degree of awareness of what had happened. The final recorded sighting of the Uniondale hitchhiker was in 1984, the year in which another significant incident would take place. After Maria's death, Pretorius managed to find a love once again and would go on to marry his new partner. In a sad twist of fate, he too would lose his life in 1984, killed in another tragic car accident.
With her fiancé now joining her in the afterlife, it seems that whatever reasons Maria had for returning to the N9 Highway passed on with him, and she was never seen again. Naturally, a certain percentage of reported incidents involving roadside apparitions can be attributed to driver fatigue or simple fabrication on the part of some of the people reporting them. But in the Uniondale hauntings, these explanations do not seem to marry up with what was being reported. None of the accounts feel too fantastical and those coming forward had little to gain from sharing their testimony with the authorities.
In addition to this, the evidence of constable Snowy Potgieter in particular adds a compelling and disconcerting degree of weight to the story. An officer of the law would stand to gain nothing over the ridicule from his peers and superiors by coming forward and admitting to being involved in such an incident. In the end, the story of the Uniondale hitchhiker is one of tragedy heartbreak and longing, rather than anything overly sinister. If there is any positive to be taken from this story, it is that despite the saddening circumstances of her death, it seems that the spirit of Maria Roux found the closure she needed in order to break the cycle she had become trapped in. May she and Pretorius now rest in peace together.