Location: A15, nr. Ruskington (Lincolnshire)
In 1998, the presenters of ITV's popular daytime show This Morning turned their attention (not for the first time) to the subject of GHOSTS. Accompanied by the Revd. Lionel Fanthorpe, the jovial host of Fortean TV, Richard Madeley (one half of 'Richard & Judy', the popular husband & wife team) and Julia Carling (standing in for Judy Finnegan) hosted a phone-in of personal experiences from the general public. Neither Richard nor Julia could have anticipated that they were about to hear a story that would so captivate them that it would result in an investigation that would span several shows.
The story that was to prove so fascinating was Kevin Whelan's terrifying encounter just weeks previously on a dark lonely stretch of the A15 near Ruskington, Lincolnshire.
The precise location is marked by a house (on the right, heading southbound) situated just before the left turn to Ruskington (pictured right).
"First of all," Kevin said, "before this experience, I didnít believe in ghosts. If anyone said anything to me, Iíd have ridiculed them like anyone else."
A fortnight previously, Kevin had been driving home from Lincoln to Sleaford on the A15 at around 2 a.m. on a Sunday.
"Just before the Ruskington turn-off I saw, on the horizon, like a white shadow. I didnít know what it was. I thought it could have been car lights. I didnít give it much thought. When I got to that white shadow all of a sudden, from the driverís side of the car, a face appeared around the front pillar, and it was on my windscreen, with the left hand up. I had been travelling probably a little bit faster than I should have been, and it completely - well, it just got me by surprise."1
"Could you see through it?" asked Richard Madeley.
"No, I couldnít. It had dark hair. It was like a Greek-looking person. The skin was olivey-green. It had a pitted face. I could see the teeth. I could see everything. One hand was up. From the neck down was like a sort of - on a photograph when you photograph someone with a flash on, itís too bright, you get that white fluorescent sort of look."
Kevin estimated that the figure remained for between 40 and 50 seconds.2 In his panic, Kevin didn't stop the car, but struggled on, at around 60 mph with the frightening figure staring at him. His tape player was blaring loudly. Kevin pulled the tape fascia away to kill the sound as he fought to keep the car on the road. The figure "...didnít just go away, it faded into obscurity down the side of the car."
After that, Kevin just 'bombed it' back home. When he arrived, he left his car unlocked, and then locked the front door behind him ("which I never do") before waking up his wife, Sue. "I looked in the mirror," he said, "and I was white. My skin looked like a turkey, it was all goose bumps. I was crying."
First thing on waking, Kevin took his car to the car wash, as if to wash away memory of the event. Even so, he returned to the spot the following Saturday, replicating the time of the encounter, this time armed with a video camera. The trip was uneventful, but Kevin said he would go again, "because Iíve got to prove to myself [that it was real]."
Inevitably, Kevin's experience prompted speculation as to its cause.
Julia Carling suggested it was because Kevin was driving too fast - that there may have been an accident there, and the figure was trying to warn Kevin.
Kevin mentioned that a police officer had told a friend of his that in the last 18 months a motorcyclist had been killed there, losing his legs in the accident.
Later in the show, two other viewers rang claiming to have had similar experiences at the same spot.
Richard Madeley put it to the first, Rob Burkett, that he must have had goose bumps when he heard Kevin's tell that story.
"You ainít kidding," said Rob. "It was about half-past eight at night. I used to deliver day-old chickens, and I'd finished a delivery. It was around about October-November time, about 14 years ago [c.1984]. I used to stay at a B&B in Ruskington and, as I say, about half-past eight/quarter to nine at night, and wallop, all of a sudden, [there was] this thing on the side of the road, with his hand up3 and he seemed to walk out. And I just broke the speed limit."
Next was Sarah Martin of Cranwell, who claimed a sighting the previous year4 whilst she and her boyfriend were driving back to Cranwell from Lincoln, where they'd been to the cinema.
Sarah said: "On that particular corner near the house that Kevin said I was driving along there and this black silhouette figure of a man, I would think, ran out from the ditch and went straight in front of the car."
Sarah's boyfriend, who was driving, saw nothing.
"If it was a person," said Sarah, "obviously weíd have hit it. It was horrid, it was really frightening."
The following day, the show presented the findings of its hasty investigation, which included video and on-the-spot interviews with Kevin and Sarah near the scene. And it included new witnesses. Richard Madeley said that following the previous day's airing of Kevin Whelan's story, "...loads and loads more people phoned in too to say that theyíd encountered exactly the same thing at the same spot."
Before these, though, Kevin and Sarah repeated their experiences for the camera, providing additional details in the process.
Kevin said, "At a very sharp bend just before the Ruskington turn-off, as I got around the bend, I saw in front of me like a white image - like a large bin bag - white bin-bag - thatís the only way I can describe it - floating in front of me - and I didnít really give [it] that much thought for concern really, because it could have been car headlights or anything like that. "[But] as I got to where I saw that, all of a sudden in front of me a face appeared."
Again, he described the figure's face vividly: "It was just staring at me all the time; mouth was open, jet black hair, I could see the eyes, the pitted skin, olive...a very very olive, green complexion. It was very very very distressed. I didnít know if it was trying to - people say to me it was telling me to slow down, and it may well have been."
Kevin's wife, Sue, later described the state her husband was in when he arrived home: "Well, I was asleep in bed, and he literally came in the bedroom and he said like "Sue, Sue", like all in a panic. And he was standing there, he was white, he had tears streaming down his face, and I sort of went "whatís the matter?" and he said "Iíve seen a ghost". He said, "Youíre not going to believe this, Iíve seen a ghost." And he was so adamant, and in the thirteen years together Iíve never seen him anywhere near that sort of state over anything, and he was just really distraught, distressed. Iíve never seen him like it before."
Sarah described again her encounter, which she said had occurred in 1996: "[At] the same place as where Kevin saw his [ghost], this black shape - silhouette - ran out of the dyke and ran straight in front of the car. It was just all black, from head to toe, and we went straight through it."
In addition to Rob Burkett, who had also called in the previously day, the This Morning team also heard from a man (unnamed) who apparently in 1960 had been driving a school coach when he believed he had run someone over on the road. He got out of the coach and went back to investigate, but of course there was nothing there."
In all, Richard Madeley estimated that they had received "about 5 dozen calls, from people who are all very credible." Unfortunately, only a few were willing to put their accounts on record.
One of those interviewed in Ruskington was Catherine Stephenson, who said she was 15 at the time of her own encounter. "I used to walk to Ruskington to school. It was behind me, I felt a cold shiver up my back; and then I just turned round and there was this figure and it was like head and shoulders, but from the waist down it was just like a sheet."
Back in the studio, there were two guests with accounts to add:
Jenny Sellars saw the figure around 9 or 10 years previously [c.1988-9] when driving from Sleaford to Lincoln.
She said: "I wasnít driving particularly fast because its quite a dark stretch of road, and this white - I can only describe it as a sheet or a bit of plastic, which I thought it was -"
Just like Kevin said," noted Richard Madeley," "He thought it was a plastic bin liner."
"Yes. It just came down in front of the windscreen and I just slammed on my brakes because I thought Iíd hit something...but knew I hadnít because there was no impact or anything on the screen. I stopped the car, and as I stopped the car, it went round the side of the window. And I only sat there - for not very long. I did actually open the door of the car because I was convinced I must have hit something although I didnít actually feel that Iíd hit anything. There was nothing on the ground, there was nothing. It was just black."
Christine Lee described her father's experience, evidently some time ago, when he worked at the RAF base at Cranwell. He and some friends decided one night to cut across the fields on their return to barracks when "this white ghostly figure came from up high [and] put his hand out as if to say Ďdonít goí." Christine's father grabbed his companions and led them away, taking the long way back to the barracks.
Christine said he had believed the fields may have been marshy or boggy, and that by the figure's gesture they were being warned of the danger.
At a later date, he apparently saw it again, whilst driving, and turned off to avoid the A15.
Julia Carling made brief mention of two other witnesses. Lynn Gothing from Essex had called into to say she'd seen the same thing a year and a half before [c.1997], saying it had looked like a monk waving; while Helen Carter saw a figure with hand raised, as if in warning.
This Morning's initial investigations threw up a range of research avenues in attempt to explain the encounters. There was, of course, the reputed motorcycle victim mentioned by Kevin Whelan himself, who might naturally be thought of as a potential ghost, out to warn others to avoid his fate. And a hermit who apparently used to live there, who was run over by an army lorry during the [Second World] war. Then there was the discovery that the area is also known as Hangman's haunt, and Dunsbury Hollow - on account that in the past highwaymen used to hide in the hollow to hold up passing stagecoaches.
If the foregoing were not enough, on-the-spot reporter Nina Myscow described other accounts involving a woman in a pink ball-gown, and two white cart-horses, all seen at the same locality, the latter on at least three occasions.
As is so often the case, the hasty search for an 'explanation' based on traditional, romantic notions involving violent or tragic death can quickly lead to as many candidates as individuals consulted. TV presentations may be satisfied with shallow anecdotal causes, but I believe this need for a quick 'n tidy, no loose-ends conclusion to genuinely baffling experiences blinds us to something far more interesting going on.
I prefer to focus on the details: the repetitive nature of the experience and its features, which share so much with similar cases from around the world involving ghostly figures that assault motorists at late hours on lonely roads.
In this case, there is the common and intriguing feature of the figure's raised hand. What might it mean?
The gesture was understandably interpreted by the show's hosts as a 'warning' sign - a 'get back!' gesture. Julia Carling believed it was 'obviously not a bad thing', as it seemed to be warning people away from danger. Richard Madeley was less sure, saying, "I donít know actually. It frightens them."
Of the two interpretations, I would tend to side more with Richard's (although the folklore record and some instances involving phantom hitch-hikers have certainly involved warnings or observations regarding the road's safety record).5 There is no doubt that the majority of witnesses whose accounts are featured on this website would agree. Many describe the seemingly deliberate intent of the figure to impart as much fear in the witness as possible. To ensure a collision and maximise its horrific effect, the figure steps out at the last moment, giving the shocked motorist no opportunity to swerve or stop. In a few cases, the figure turns and chillingly locks gaze with the motorist - even, in the case of Keith Scales (see White Hill, Kent), smiling before she is struck. Such, I think, serves less as a warning of danger than a cruel twist with another agenda in mind.
One aim of that agenda, perhaps, is reflected in the folklore underlying these encounters: the beguiling of the witness, the act of leading them out of their way, in some case literally as well as figuratively. In spite of their fear, a curiosity is often awakened in the witness - their world view challenged - resulting in a need to find out more about their experience - as evidenced by Kevin Whelan's subsequent return to the spot at the same time with a video camera. Whether this new-found curiosity amounts to a good thing or bad, is open to question. But, however you look at it, the witness is in some way forever changed by the experience.
In some cases - and Kevin Whelan's experience stands as an example of this - it is the 'ghost' that appears more distraught than the witness, if that is possible. Kevin Whelan said: "It was very very very distressed." Does this give us more of an insight as to the meaning of the gesture - that the figure is desperately trying to elicit help in the only manner it can? The idea appears to be upheld in a few other cases.
At Easton, Connecticut (USA), for instance, Rod Vecsey encountered a woman in the road outside Union Cemetery. As he braked, and she came directly in front of the car, she extended her arm toward him in a gesture of pleading. Vecsey's vehicle passed through her, leaving him with an impression of sadness so strong he started to cry. Similarly, school headmaster Bill Hopkins experienced a similar sensation of sadness when the figure of a girl passed through his car near Llanidloes, Powys (Wales). "It all happened so quickly", he said. "All I can remember is her face. It was so sorrowful and she was looking straight at me."
Those who have read this site's Introduction and Phantom Hitch-Hiker page may recall how figures described in 'real life' encounters, whether of the 'hitch-hiker' or 'phantom jaywalker' type, echo the actions and persona of their counterparts in folklore. In place of the pitiable Versions A or C hitch-hiker - almost exclusively a young woman futilely trying to hitch a ride home - we have the young woman that exudes an overpowering sense of sadness. Others that appear to involve more blatant hostility or shock tactics reflect more the dark persona and actions of the Beardsley & Hankey's Version B character.
Quite in which category the Ruskington ghost belongs is a matter of opinion. A tragic soul in desperate need of help? Or a horrific caricature bent on terror for reasons less evident?
Whichever it is, the above is surely an advancement in understanding over better than the final conclusion of This Morning's investigation (which, unfortunately, I missed). According to Sarah Kirk (nťe Martin), who of course, had appeared on the show, a medium was brought in and [predictably6] discovered a number of ghosts at the locality. Sarah added a new detail - that, in her case, the figure had worn a long black cloak and a trident hat. These apparently helped identify the figure...no less than Dick Turpin (oh my), who had used the area to hide and the road to accost travellers. Sarah also discovered that Turpin had stolen horses from a farm a few miles away. I suppose old habits die hard, if from this we are to believe that Turpin is up to his usual tricks with modern motorists - and all without Black Bess.7
Link: This Morning website
Source(s): 'Living With Ghosts', 'The Ruskington Horror', This Morning (ITV) 1998; Lincolnshire Echo, 6 February 1998; Fortean Times no. 137 (August 2000), p.8.
A full transcript of the Living With Ghosts programme and subsequent one is available here
1 Kevin's experience is echoed in two cases from England's West Country. Lorry driver Laurie Newman was driving from Chippenham to Bath when he spotted a figure that he took to be a nun beside the A4. As he slowed down to pull out and pass her, the figure turned and sprang, clutching to the side of cab and leering through the near-side window.
Sebastian Cliffe experienced something similar as he drove from Bath to Warminster. Before a bend at Limpley Stoke (Avon), his dashboard gauges died and he felt a chill. Suddenly a face appeared in his windscreen. As it slowly faded, his dashboard dials came back to life.
(source: England's Ghostly Heritage, by Terence Whitaker (Robert Hale, London, 1989), p.124).
2 It's easy to estimate time incorrectly, especially at times of stress. A timing of the sequence from video taken at the scene by the This Morning team (even with much in slo-mo) amounts to no more than 30 seconds.
3 A feature of other ghost / road ghost cases. See for, instance, Easton, Connecticut.
4 The following day, Sarah was to say the incident occurred in 1996.
6 Has a psychic medium ever visited a reputedly haunted location and sensed nothing?
7 Email correspondence of October 2002. More interestingly, Sarah said that the week following her sighting, the cutlery in her cupboard twisted, as did her car keys - a not unheard of side-effect of some psychic/paranormal experiences.