Has there been a rash of injuries caused by ankle-slashers lurking under women's cars at America's shopping malls?
A Columbus, Ohio, woman wrote that many women have told her different versions of the story, but that she has never seen a news report of such crimes.Another woman, who also doubts the story's authenticity, wrote that she heard it in 1985 in Birmingham, Ala. The attackers were said to have waited until the woman had her right foot inside the car and then grabbed at her left foot.
In 1984 I received a report of "The Slasher Under the Car" from a woman in Fort Wayne, Ind. She heard that the event happened at a shopping mall near Chicago.
When the slashed woman reached down towards her injury, the man grabbed her hands and pulled her under the car.
Another version pinpointed the crime site as Crown Point, Ind. This attacker would roll out from under a woman's car, cut her ankles and then steal both the packages and the car.
None of those who wrote about "The Slasher Under the Car" came any closer than "a friend of a friend" to finding proof that such crimes had ever occurred.
Women appear to be the chief narrators of this legend, using it to warn others against patronizing certain malls, or against parking far from other cars, especially at night.
A variation minus the slashing was told by a police officer in Phoenix, Ariz., as part of his safety course.
A Phoenix doctor wrote that he heard this version just before Christmas 1984, and from his office manager who had attended the course.
The officer said the assailant used a tire iron to break women's ankles with a single blow.
Another detail that the police officer included was that the women suffered such intense pain from the blow that they were unable to cry out, so the man easily overpowered them.
When a student in the class asked why there had been no press coverage of the crime, the officer said, "Plenty of things like that never get into the papers."
My earliest notice of "The Slasher Under the Car" came from a woman who heard it in 1978 in Fargo, N.D. this version has two details not found in others - the slasher specifically aimed for the victims' Achilles tendons, and he had supposedly attacked 28 women.
Similar rumors hit the Tacoma (Wash.) Mall last Christmas, prompting local police to issue a statement that no such attacks were known to have actually happened.
An article in the Tacoma News Tribune referred to the stories about "mythical ankle-slashers" as being examples of "urban American folklore, like the one about the woman who put her wet poodle in the microwave oven."