1979, October 12: Roy Fulton’s Passenger
Roy Fulton [Larger version here]
October 12, 1979, was a rainy night in Bedfordshire, England. Roy Fulton had been playing in a darts match in Leighton Buzzard, and it was about twenty past nine when he decided to head home. Fulton was a carpet fitter, and he was driving his van that night; he drove through nearby Stanbridge. About 100 yards from where the last streetlight was, Fulton saw a person thumbing for a ride and, figuring they probably lived in either Totternhoe or Dunstable which were both in the direction Fulton was headed, Fulton pulled up in front of him.
The young man walked towards the van in the headlights, and Fulton could see he was wearing a dark colored jumper and trousers, with an open collared white shirt... he walked to the passenger side, opened the door, and sat down. Fulton asked where he was going, and the young man just pointed up the road. So Fulton started driving.
After a few silent minutes, Fulton reached down to grab his cigarettes and offered one to his passenger... who was no longer in the car.
Fulton braked and turned on his internal light, then turned to look in the back of the van; no one was there. He had been driving about 40 MPH. The door had not opened. When the full impact of the moment hit him, Fulton stomped on the gas and drove like a "bat out of hell," not stopping until he reached a pub called The Glider. After a quick drink to steady himself, he went to the Dunstable Police to report the incident; he felt that they might know if someone had been hurt or killed on the road, or maybe have some other explanation for what he experienced. They were unable to help him; but they understood he was being quite earnest in his concerns. In an later interview his wife, Shiela, stated that Fulton insisted on leaving the lights on at home that night, because he was afraid that whatever it was he had encountered might come after him.
No one was quite sure what to make of the matter, but everyone agreed Fulton was truly terrified and absolutely believed what he was describing happened. In a 1985 TV interview for Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers, Fulton stated: "It was obvious that someone got in that motor. And I do not know to this day what it was."
As many of you may have realized by now, what Fulton experienced is a mirror of an often repeated urban legend titled by Folklorists as "The Phantom Hitchhiker." Urban legends are usually told as a form of entertainment, or as a true -- but utterly unconfirmable -- experience of a friend of a friend. The legend of the Phantom Hitchhiker generally tells of an unknown person being picked up for a ride, them stating where they wish to go, and afterwards vanishing mysteriously from the vehicle. The legends then usually continue by stating that the person who offered the ride goes to the location indicated by the vanishing passenger, and discovers proof that the person they picked up was in fact a ghost trying to return home.
But those are just legends. Folklorists have assumed the legend is meant to answer questions about what happens to loved ones who die while away from home and family, and have shown that the legend's general form (as I laid it out above) can be found being used in almost every culture on Earth, and going back as far as history will let them... so it's considered a sort of universal tale that answers a universal human need for closure.
Then Roy Fulton claimed it actually happened to him, which Folklorists were pretty sure it couldn't.
There is an important difference to Fulton's experience, however; he was never presented with a form of closure to the story. His experience did not include a moment when someone told him that he did, in fact, encounter a dead person trying to go home; part of the reason he went to the Dunstable Police appears to be an attempt to get an answer to this very question.
If we suppose that ghostly hitchhikers do exist and do occasionally get picked up, it would make sense that the driver in such an event would not ever know enough to find out who their vanishing passenger was; and that in re-tellings later, such an encounter might have an ending attached that explained who the passenger was to make the tale a better story. So, did Roy Fulton have a hallucination based on the old legend, as some people stated? Or did he actually experience the sort of encounter that created the legend in the first place?
And that is the difficulty of the situation. Roy Fulton is not the only person to report such an encounter, by the way; more recently in 2015, several taxi drivers in Japan reported also picking up odd passengers... follow the 'See Also' link to find out more.