Friday, July 17, 2009

Number 559

The Hitchhiker Killer!

"Death Thumbs a Ride" is from Exposed #1, 1948, one of the crime comics that people got on soapboxes to denounce. In the late 1940s there were a few well-publicized incidents when parents and teachers, church groups and schoolkids, got together to throw stacks of comic books like Exposed onto bonfires. Never mind that the Nazis also used to burn books they didn't like, and the memories of war were still fresh.

The story of the ride-thumbing killer is a cautionary tale. Don't pick up hitchhikers!

In those days we didn't know the term serial killer. We called them spree killers or thrill killers, homicidal maniacs or even mad dog killers. I understand the use of the word serial to denote a person who goes from one victim to another, but it doesn't have the zing of thrill killer...or mad dog.

Artist unknown.


Tamfos said...

At first I thought this story must have been about Billy Cook, the famous hitch-hiker killer who had at least one movie made about him, but then I looked him up and discovered my memory was a wee bit off. Cook was caught in 1950.

Still, you have to love how rawly brutal this story was. Murder is not pretty, or tame, after all. The "procedural" part of it was pretty lame -- perhaps due to space limitations -- but kudos to the writer for his unflinching approach to the subject.

carreaux said...

I had a feeling that the story was probably true just based on the way that the case "felt" -- a low key arrest, emphasis on the interview technique, and Hall's blasé confession echoing those of other functional psychopaths who value self-image over survival. A bit of poking around revealed it is, indeed, a true case. His full name was James Waybern Hall, nicknamed "Red" for his hair. You can find a decent if somewhat sensational account here: