The Dead Boyfriend

A rusting old car in the woods
Owen Franken/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

Here are two examples of the urban legend known as the "The Dead Boyfriend."

Example #1

A girl and her boyfriend are making out in his car. They had parked in the woods so no one would see them. When they were done, the boy got out to pee and the girl waited for him in the safety of the car.

After waiting five minutes, the girl got out of the car to look for her boyfriend. Suddenly, she sees a man in the shadows. Scared, she gets back in the car to drive away, when she hears a very faint squeak... squeak... squeak...

This continued a few seconds until the girl decided she had no choice but to drive off. She hit the gas as hard as possible but couldn't go anywhere, because someone had tied a rope from the bumper of the car to a nearby tree.

Well, the girl slams on the gas again and then hears a loud scream. She gets out of the car and realizes that her boyfriend is hanging from the tree. The squeaky noises were his shoes slightly scraping across the top of the car!!!

Example #2

Here's a story my mom told me and my friends when I was about seven years old. You can imagine I was scared to death...

A woman and her boyfriend were on their way home from somewhere (not important) one night, and suddenly his car ran out of gas. It was about one in the morning and they were completely alone in the middle of the nowhere.

The guy stepped out of the car, saying comfortingly to his girlfriend, "Don't worry, I'll be right back. I'm just going to go out for some help. Lock the doors, though."

She locked the doors and sat restlessly, waiting for her boyfriend to come back. Suddenly, she sees a shadow fall across her lap. She looks up to see... not her boyfriend, but a strange, crazed-looking man. He is swinging something in his right hand.

He sticks his face close to the window and slowly pulls up his right hand. In it is her boyfriend's decapitated head, twisted horribly in pain and shock. She shuts her eyes in horror and tries to make the image go away. When she opens her eyes, the man is still there, grinning psychotically. He slowly lifts his left hand, and he is holding her boyfriend's keys... to the car.

Analysis

"The Dead Boyfriend" is reminiscent of the hook-man urban legend, in which a pair of teenagers necking on Lovers' Lane race off in fright after hearing a radio alert about a murderer on the loose with a hook for a hand. On returning home they discover, to their horror, a bloody hook dangling from one of the car door handles.

Whereas the protagonists of "The Hook" escape with their lives, the present tale concludes with the boyfriend murdered and the girlfriend in fatal jeopardy (though in some variants she is ultimately rescued by passersby). Folklorists regard both narratives as examples of cautionary tales but tend to interpret their meanings differently. "The Hook" is usually read as a warning against adolescent sexual activity; "The Dead Boyfriend" has been interpreted as a more generalized warning not to stray too far from the safety of home. "On a literal level a story like 'The Boyfriend's Death' simply warns young people to avoid situations in which they may be endangered," writes folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand, "but at a more symbolic level the story reveals society's broader fears of people, especially women and the young, being alone and among strangers in the darkened world outside the security of their own home or car." (The Vanishing Hitchhiker, W.W. Norton, 1981.)

Thematically, "campfire stories" such as these have much in common with the plot lines of modern horror movies, but there is an important difference. Typically, the villains in slasher films exhibit supernatural traits such as inhuman strength and "unkillability" (e.g., Michael Myers in Halloween and Freddie in Nightmare on Elm Street), while the hook-handed madmen and crazed axe murderers of urban legendry are only slightly exaggerated versions of the real-life serial killers we read about in newspaper headlines.

Read more about this urban legend:

  • The Boyfriend's Death
    Variants of the legend with commentary by Barbara Mikkelson
  • Legend and Life: "The Boyfriend's Death" and "The Mad Axeman"
    By Michael Wilson, Folklore magazine, 1998
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