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Chris Dawkins' Encounter
Exactly two weeks after Ian Sharpe's encounter (to within the hour, in fact) and barely before the press furore surrounding his encounter had died down - incredibly - it happened all over again!
In what I at first feared might be a 'copycat' incident, another lone motorist heading for Maidstone, 19-year-old Christopher Dawkins of Coxheath, reported an experience that mirrored Ian Sharpe's, except for the fact that it had taken place further up the Hill, in the heart of Blue Bell Hill village - some distance away from the clustered group of encounters that preceded it.
First again in print with the news was the Kent Today (23 November) which hurriedly squeezed in a report at the foot of its front page ('Blue Bell Hill Ghost Seen Again'). The article, and the expanded versions that would follow it, described a virtually identical encounter to Ian Sharpe's. The incident had occurred at 10.55 p.m. on Sunday 22 November, a week after the 19 November anniversary of the 1965 crash.
Mr Dawkins, who had been on his way home, was just passing the Robin Hood Lane junction in the village (southbound) when, suddenly, a woman reportedly wearing a red scarf ran into the path of his Toyota car and vanished beneath the vehicle.
In words remindful of Ian Sharpe's, Dawkins described the encounter: "She ran in front of the car. She stopped and looked at me. There was no expression on her face.
"Then I hit her and it was as if the ground moved apart and she went under the car.
"I thought I had killed her because it wasn't as if she were see [sic] through or anything. She was solid - as real as you are."20
In a state of shock, he got out to search for the injured woman, only to find she had disappeared. At first assuming the woman had managed to run off without his seeing her, Dawkins found a public telephone box and rang his father. After the call, he had second thoughts, it having occurred to him that the woman's body might be beneath his car. However, he could not bring himself to look.
Upon his father's arrival, Dawkins broke down. His father promptly arranged to phone the police from the house of a village resident, Marian Warburton, who later attested to the distress the incident had caused the young man.
Police, who were likewise impressed with the integrity of the witness, as they had been with Ian Sharpe, searched the area but could find no trace of the woman, and no damage to the car. Their conclusion, once again, would be that the incident would have to be put down to "you know what" - the ghost. And the ghost, again according to the Kent Today, was said to be that of JL.
In October 1994 Ian Sharpe and Chris Dawkins recounted their experiences before an audience of millions on the BBC's television programme Out of This World - a one-hour special on the paranormal hosted by Sue Cook.
Also featured were the two police officers involved in the investigation. PC Roger Ginn confirmed what Ian Sharpe had said regarding the conclusion of the police following their investigation:
"Once we were satisfied there was no sign of an accident, no damage to his car, and particularly in view of where it had occurred, we just had to write it off as another sighting of the Blue Bell Hill ghost."21
A later police source revealed that such mysterious reports such as Blue Bell Hill's ghost usually receive conventional attributions in the log: Suspected Intruder for a house-haunting, and so on.
Blue Bell Hill may therefore be unique as the only example where 'Probable Ghost’ has been recorded
Hit or Myth?
Three remarkably similar witness accounts (the latest two under good observational conditions), each supported by police involvement: together they posed the exciting possibility that something genuinely anomalous was occurring on Blue Bell Hill. But what precisely? Could it really be, as the press supposed, that these motorists had encountered the ghost of a young woman killed here in a car crash in 1965?
Unfortunately, even given the level of detail present in Ian Sharpe's case, such encounters are, by their very nature, both sudden and fleeting, allowing for any number of possible interpretations, let alone a positive identification of the 'ghost'. In fact, there are a host of difficulties in relating the encounters to the victims of the 1965 crash, or to any other tragic event on the Hill - despite the relative closeness (in Ian Sharpe's case) to the scene of the accident, and the admittedly intriguing proximity in date to the 19 November anniversary of the crash, which for the press, along with the prior (1974) naming of JL, provided all the proof the press required to once again identify the ghost as JL.
For one, descriptively, the ghost-girl did not clearly match any of the crash victims; and in one fascinating case I would later hear, the girl was encountered back in 1934 - which, if accepted as true, demolishes the 1965 crash connection in one sweep. Finally, as further cases (at Blue Bell Hill and elsewhere) came to light - describing very similar characters and a virtually identical pattern of behaviour, it became increasingly clear that there was something more to these encounters than the simple ghost-as-tragic-spirit-of-the-dead case that is the traditional interpretation of ghostly events - something that was bound more closely to the folklore of the Phantom Hitch-Hiker and its deeper folk roots than had hitherto been recognized.
What the Blue Bell Hill series was beginning to reveal was a genuine and widely reported phenomenon and 'explanation' that was more compelling than anything an occasionally sensationalist press could serve up in any individual case.
To begin with, the nature of the encounter itself - the ghost throwing herself in front of the vehicle - hardly stood in my mind as an attempt at meaningful communication we might expect of a returning or earthbound soul. In these cases, the action seemed purposeful and intelligently motivated, suggestive of free will. And yet this bizarre behaviour seemed to be enacted in accordance to a fairly strict pattern:
The very similar behaviour (of stepping deliberately into or waiting in the path of an oncoming vehicle), giving the motorist no opportunity to avoid a collision.
The focus on a lone driver (frequently male).
A similar time-frame for the encounter (commonly 11 p.m.-1 a.m.)
Similar descriptions for the 'ghost' - a fair-haired young woman or girl in white - to all appearances, a real person - who calmly gazes into the eyes of the horrified witness as she is struck down by the vehicle.
The 'disappearance' that takes out of direct sight of the witness, in this case beneath the vehicle.
The panicked report to and fruitless search by police, who find no evidence for the described incident, either at the scene or on the witness's vehicle.
The apparent conformity (in the latter two cases) to the time-honoured (if threadbare?) principle of a tragic or emotionally significant anniversary as the most likely time for the ghost's appearance.
All sounded very much like the idealized Phantom Hitch-Hiker ‘script’ Lo and behold, in his book The Evidence for Phantom Hitch-Hikers, Michael Goss observes that while there is a world of difference between what he terms the 'Spectral Jaywalker' habit and that of the PHH, not infrequently these two motifs can be found in the same road-ghost story cycle. While, on the basis of the above, I came to disagree regarding the extent of their differences (finding that the 'true life' encounters actually obeyed many of the 'folk' conventions), the case at Blue Bell Hill certainly seemed to bear this out, with 'real' encounters occurring against the backdrop of an existing Phantom Hitch-Hiker tradition.
What differences there were between the Hitch-hiker and Jaywalker themes lay with the fact that whereas most PHH accounts are apocryphal (with a few possible exceptions) Jaywalker cases are generally well-supported by named witnesses, and often by some form of independent corroboration (either through police involvement or, in the case of a few incidents at Blue Bell Hill, other witnesses). The latter also tend to be more prosaic, lacking the suspiciously artistic or romantic embroidery that has made the Phantom Hitch-hiker the poignant and memorable tale so dutifully passed on and adapted to new locations.
The close link between the two behavioural styles raised some interesting questions: could the PHH in fact represent a romanticized version of real paranormal events, in which the hitch-hiking habit was introduced as a benign alternative to the graphic (and sinister) 'phantom road-accident' scenario? Or, in light of the 'reality' of haunting cases such as Blue Bell Hill that support PHH traditions, could that maligned and improbable behaviour - the hitch-hiking feature - as claimed by witnesses in a very few other cases - also be true?
In time - largely as a result of the newspaper coverage of 1992, and some private leads, I would get to talk to a number of other people who were willing to put their names to similar experiences on BBH. Some of the accounts would agree well in detail - whether in description, or location, or timing with the 'big three'- with most conforming well with the tentatively identified ‘script’ above - certainly enough to convince me that this was a real, and strangely predictable (in a famously unpredictable field), feature of these events, and prompting me to agree with Tom Harber’s words when he told Michael Goss: "I have never found such a well-tallied set of accounts." After dozens of similar accounts collected over the years from sincere, reliable witnesses, I couldn't agree more. In all they certainly suggest that something strange is going on at Blue Bell Hill.
What that something might finally be attributed was to become a more complex question than I could have anticipated at the beginning of my research back in 1986, but is one that is fully explored in my book, The Ghost(s) of Blue Bell Hill & other Road Ghosts.
Notes & References
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