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  • Writer's pictureJohn Wick

The Hairy Hands of B3212 Highway

There are many highways which are believed to be haunted by the spirits of previous travelers. Perhaps one of the most famous examples of this phenomenon is to be found on a stretch of road which cuts through one of England's most beautiful national parks. In this post, we investigate the horrifying legend of the B3212 highway.

As he sat and listened to the coroner's opening statement, the young constable had tried to cast his mind back to the case in question. Several months have passed now since the accident had taken place and he was struggling to distinguish the facts of this particular incident from the many others he had attended since it had transpired. He was painfully aware of the attention his uniform was receiving from the other interested parties seated around him in court. In addition to the families of the victims, several members of the local authority were also in attendance, as well as a significant number of journalists. Cursing his poor luck at having been the officer who attended the scene he found himself once again nervously wiping his palms down the sides of his trousers.

The coroner continued to read through the statements of the various witnesses who he had not felt the need to call to the inquest. The ambulance workers who had attended the scene. The doctor who performed the autopsy on the male party. The nursing staff who had treated his female companion who had survived.

Their written accounts were all relayed in a calm and composed manner, the facts agreed and deemed protected from any scrutiny. Finally, the coroner laid down the sheets of papers he'd been reading from and asked for the constable by name. The officer rose before swearing the oath on a Bible, which had been handed to him by the clerk, and then introduced himself to the court. He was then lead through his statement by the coroner, who would pause on occasion to clarify something or to ask him to expand on a particular point.

The Constable related how he had been called to attend a stretch of highway known as the B3212, which was located near Cherrybrook Bridge. There had been a traffic accident involving a motorcycle and sidecar, the occupants of which had been severely injured. He explained how the male rider had been rushed to the hospital in Tavistock and had died of serious head injuries, but that the same doctors had managed to save his girlfriend who had been thrown clear at the impact. He was asked to clarify that no other vehicles had been involved, and that there was no suggestion of alcohol having played a part in proceedings.

From witnesses at the scene, it appeared as though the rider had lost control despite traveling in a straight line with nothing in his path which might have caused him to swerve. The twisted remains of his motorbike had later been examined by a local mechanic with no defects identified. His testimony completed, the coroner asked if any of the other assembled parties had any further questions for the officer. There was a pause and then a hand was raised by one of the reporters. "Is the constable familiar with the story of the hairy hands, and was there any indication that this local legend had some bearing on the fatal crash?" There was a longer pause as the young constable carefully considered his answer, aware of that all eyes in the courtroom were now fixed upon him.

He replied that he could not identify any apparent reason for the crash and that the true cause had most likely been lost now along with the life of the rider. Having been dismissed, he made straight for the court doors, avoiding the gaze of all those present. He was in fact very familiar with the tales of the spectral hands that haunted the road between postbridge and Two Bridges. But he had not been completely sure what the wounded motorist had been mumbling as he had been placed in the rear of the ambulance at the scene and he was damned if he was going to condemn his entire career to ridicule by admitting to the reporter that the dying man may indeed have been claiming an invisible person had wrenched control of the motorbike from him.

The creepy hands of B3212

The first suggestions that some malevolent entity was at work on the B3212 can be traced back to the turn of the century. In the early nineteen hundreds, several cyclists who have been traveling along this particular stretch of road claimed that an invisible force had physically taken hold of their handlebars. Having gained control of the steering, it had then caused them to swerve sharply and fall from their bikes, sustaining serious injuries in some cases. Naturally, the local constabulary took a dim view of these explanations, but as time progressed, such reports stubbornly persisted.

Into the mid 1910s, a number of pony and traps were forced off the same road with the drivers again claiming that they had felt a pair of rough and hairy hands overlay their own, before yanking the reins they were holding to one side. There followed several crashes involving motor vehicles, with one traveler being found dead in the driver's seat of his car, which had overturned as it had come off the main carriageway. It was during the summer of 1921 that the legend of Dartmoor's hairy handed ghost finally became cemented in the national consciousness, following a pair of terrifying incidents which took place on the road.

The deaths on the highway

The first of these occurred in June of that year and involved Dr E.H Helby, who was the medical officer at the nearby Dartmoor prison. Helby had agreed to take the daughters of the Prison's Governor out for a ride in his motorcycle combination. The two young girls seated in his sidecar had screamed and cheered in delight as the bike had powered along the road, until suddenly the doctor began to struggle to retain control.

He had fought unsuccessfully for a few seconds to straighten the handlebars, before the motorbike hurtled off the carriageway and into a ditch. The doctor was killed by the force of the impact, but both girls survived. When they were interviewed by the police in the following days, they claimed that immediately prior to the crash, helby had yelled at them to jump. Telling them that someone had grabbed hold of his hands and was trying to crash the motorbike. Neither had seen anybody else present, but were adamant that their driver had been visibly struggling with someone or something. The following August, the local police were called to another accident involving a motorcycle, this time ridden by a young Army Captain. On this occasion, the rider had survived his ordeal and swore blind to the officers that he had felt the sensation of a pair of large and rough hands closing over his own, which are then wrenched his handlebars violently to one side.

Several years later in 1924, a woman and her husband who were holidaying in the vicinity of Powder Mills claimed to have had an encounter with the haunted hands. The female party stated that she had been awoken in the Night by the Sound of something, scratching against the outside of the caravan they were camping in. Rising from her bed, she had followed the noise as it had traveled away from the door frame across the exterior of the caravan to one of the windows. Suddenly, a large male hand had appeared on the pane of glass.

The women had watched in terror as it had made its way up across the window, trying to get inside of the top, where it was slightly ajar. She screamed out in alarm and then reflexively made the sign of the cross. As her bewildered husband had awoken and sprung out of the bed, the hand had promptly disappeared, leaving no trace that it had been there.

Almost four decades would pass before another such incident was reported to the police, when a terrified motorist by the name of Florence Warwick staggered into a local police station. In floods of tears, she reported how she had pulled over to the side of the road to check her map as she had gotten lost whilst visiting family in the area. Warwick related how she had switched off her engine and then produced a small torch on her handbag to inspect the route. Suddenly, she was startled by a dull thump from the windscreen and had turned the torch upwards to see what had caused the sound. Recoiling in horror, she saw two large and hairy disembodied hands, pressed flat against the glass of the window.

Once the officers had managed to sufficiently calm the distress motorists, they drove her back to the scene and search the lay-by where she had stopped, but they did not find anything of consequence. Having satisfied themselves that she was neither intoxicated nor suffering from some form of mental episode and not knowing what else they could do, they escorted her to the campsite where she was staying, advising her to get a good night's rest.

History of Darthmoor prison

There remains a great deal of speculation as to who the owner of the spectral hands maybe. Some historians and local residents claimed that they could originate from a motorist who died in a horrific crash on the road, losing both his hands in the process. Others state that they belong to the spirit of a prisoner who was executed at Dartmoor prison and seeks vengeance on the souls of the living from beyond the grave. The majority of commentators though are drawn to the tail of an unnamed worker at the nearby Powder Mills.

In this story, the man was able to quit his job at the gunpowder factory, as he was left an inheritance from a wealthy aunt who had passed away. Having enjoyed a lengthy period of celebration at a local hostelry, the worker then decided that he wanted to reclaim his personal tools from his former employer. Staggering into the factory, the drunken man forgot that he was wearing his own hobnail shoes rather than the safety boots he had been issued with by the company's owners. A spark caused by his footwear which was making contact with the granite floor subsequently ignited some of the nearby powder and immediately caused a huge explosion.

Once the fire has been brought under control, all that was found of the victim were his hands lying severed on the cold stony floor. Documentary evidence revealed in local newspapers certainly suggests that prior to its closure, the gunpowder factory was no stranger to misfortune. Serious accidents were reported there in both 1851 and 1857, which resulted in the deaths of workers due to explosion of fire, though neither makes specific reference to the discovery of dismembered appendages. Who knows, perhaps the hands are not even human at all!

Sitting alongside these news stories is an alternative theory regarding the high number of traffic accidents which have occurred on the road, put forward by a writer named Beatrice Chase. In her article, she alleges that the moorlands, which the carriageway had been carved through contained a significant quantity of metal deposits, which exerted a magnetic effect on the motor vehicles that were traveling across it. There is no evidence that the local authorities have given any credence to chase his theory, or investigated it to any significant degree. Official Police reports of accidents which have occurred on the B3212 make reference to drivers being tired or intoxicated and unfamiliar with the roads they're driving upon. Work has also been carried out to reduce the camber of the carriageway in some parts as it was considered to have contributed to the collisions.

Similarities between other incidents

There are striking similarity between this story from the wilds of Dartmoor and other haunted highways around the world. There is the case of the ghostly hitchhiker, who is believed to have antagonized passing motorists in the vicinity of Uniondale in South Africa. Another such example is the woman in white who leaves the seats of motorists who offer her a lift soaked with water from the nearby lake in which she drowned.

Dartmoor's hairy hands are by no means the only example of the pair of disembodied and ghostly appendages which have been separated from their owner. In the Mexican city of San Luis Potosi, two sets of severed hands are said to haunt an alleyway in the Alfalfa District. These are thought to belong to two boys who are executed in 1784 for the murder of a priest. Closer to home, there has been widespread speculation that a photograph taken in Northern Ireland during the early nineteen hundreds may have captured a ghostly severed hand. The image, which shows 15 female workers posing at a Linen Factory appears to depict a hand resting on the shoulder of one of the women, even though they all had their arms folded at the time the image was captured.

Unfortunately, over time the legend of the hairy hands has become something of a go-to for motorists, who have been involved in traffic collisions throughout the region. In many of these cases, more obvious and viable explanations have been evidenced and documented by investigators, which is only served to undermine and devalue the stories featuring the hairy hands from the county's distant past. We may never know if there is any truth behind this haunting legend from the southwest of England, or if it is simply a fabrication, created and perpetually revisited by motorists in order to excuse poor standards of driving. Regardless, if you do happen to find yourself driving through the rolling moors and heathlands of Dartmoor, think twice before taking the B3212.


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