Hook Handed Horrors

It’s a classic urban legend that’s been retold thousands of times – a creepy and macabre legend of a man who either is released or otherwise escapes captivity and goes on a murderous rampage.  And instead of a hand, this gruesome character has a hook for a hand.  But is there any truth to this legend that’s been told and retold for decades?  And what can we learn about the human psyche by examining the more fantastic elements of this story?

First, it should be noted that there have been a number of real killers who have had hooks for hands throughout the long history of crime.  However, the number is actually quite low partially due to the fact that a prosthetic hand isn’t actually a very effective murder weapon.  And it’s more likely that a number of real life killers were later attributed a hooked hand later rather than actually possessing one.  Perhaps the most terrifying hooked hand attribution was the notorious mystery of Cropsey in Staton Island, New York.  Cropsey would eventually become a legend in its own right, eventually spreading so that the name Cropsey would become a hushed name around campfires throughout the Eastern United States and parts of the Midwest.

In 2009 a documentary film by the name Cropsey was produced by Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio.  In the film, the daring investigative duo examined the trail of missing children and ultimately led them to Riker’s Island.  But the actual story of Cropsey and its origins has been considered scattered and untraceable, with some allusions leading all the way back to the 19th century.  And the most popular campfire tale of a hook handed killer is not generally attributed to Cropsey himself, but rather the generalized and largely apocryphal “friend of a friend who knew someone.”

In the classic urban tale a couple heads out to the local lover’s lane somewhere between the 1950’s and the 1980’s and discovers after abruptly leaving their spot unexpectedly – for variable reasons – that a hook attached to a human arm stump have been clamped onto the driver’s side door.  The legend is generally considered a morality play warning would-be lovers of the dangers of visiting lover’s lane without actually going into what goes on there.

But there is another element to the story that seems overwhelming in the case of the legendary hook handed horror.  The hooked hand of the story is generally considered an integral part of the legend, and deals with the human fear of the afflicted or otherwise altered human form.  Films and movies have often capitalized on this notion as well, portraying the main antagonist as a person whose inner psychological instability is channeled through a body that has been transformed or disfigured in some horrifying way.  Freddy Krueger, Jason, the Cenobytes from the Hellraiser series, Leatherface, any given zombie, Dracula, and even Captain Hook are all entities that begin as humans, but then underwent a terrifying and traumatic transformation which either caused or resulted from their deeper inner flaws.