Updated: Jul 25, 2022
Uniondale is a picturesque little burg located in South Africa's Western Cape Province. The town was founded in 1856 when two smaller towns were joined together. While Uniondale isn't the most remarkable town in the "Klein Karoo" it does hold one claim to fame. This is the dark story of the phantom hitchhiker of Uniondale.
The storm raged overhead as the young couple drove down the Barandas-Willowmore road. They were 20 km outside of town and visibility was low. Maria Charlotte Roux slept fitfully on the backseat of their Volkswagen Beetle. Her fiancé lost control of the car in the high winds of the storm. The Beetle flipped onto its suspiciously round roof, and Maria lost her life. Her fiancé survived the crash and would go on to marry another woman one year later. This tragedy of a love cut short would curse Maria's ghost to wander the road for eternity. Forever seeking to return to her lover's arms.
She was witnessed by a young man named Anton La Grange, on the 1st of May 1976. He was driving down the cursed road when he spotted a female hitchhiker. This late-night hiker had dark hair, a pale face, and wore a dark coat. La Grange stopped to let her in. She gave her address as Porterstraat 2, de Lange. He was unfamiliar with the address she gave and after a few kilometers, he turned to inquire further. One can only assume that he had been speaking non-stop for the intervening minutes because he found the girl unresponsive. He turned to check on her, and she had vanished.
La Grange panicked and made haste for Uniondale's police station to report the incident. He recounted the event to the sergeant on duty, Cornelius Potgieter. The sergeant listened to the young man's ramblings and sent him on his way. Anton La Grange was spooked once more as he left Uniondale's boundary. He reportedly heard what could either have been a laugh or a scream inside his car. The sound terrified the young man, and he made a swift retreat to the police station, where Sergeant Potgieter helped him to search his vehicle. They found no trace of the phantom screamer.
His curiosity now aroused, Sergeant Potgieter followed Anton out of town in his police van. The high-strangeness resumed just as they left the town. La Grange reported that he was driving at 70 km/h when the rear door of his vehicle slowly opened and closed. The door's anomalous action seemed controlled and purposeful, like someone stepped out of his car.
Sergeant Potgieter recounts:
"La Grange drove through a patch of mist and about 200 yards beyond the mist, I saw the right rear door slowly open and close as if somebody got out."
The mist-covered road really adds to the spookiness factor here. Sergeant Potgieter had enough ghosts for the night, so he headed back to town and closed the police station for the night. The next day he asked his colleague, Sergeant Pat McDonald, about the report. Something about the description given by La Grange had sparked the memory of a car crash that happened years ago. Sergeant McDonald had been the first officer on the scene of the grizzly accident.
According to McDonald, the story goes like this:
"I found a Volkswagen Beetle off the road, and a girl was lying on her back with her head against the embankment, she had died of head injuries. I later ascertained that her name was Maria Roux. The driver survived. I explained to sergeant Potgieter what the girl actually looked like, which was exactly the same description that was given by La Grange."
The strange case of the phantom hitchhiker made it to journalist Janie Meyer. She contacted Maria Roux's mother and informed her of what had happened on the night of May 1st. Maria's mother provided the journalist with a photo of her daughter. This picture was later shown to Anton La Grange, who confirmed that it had been Maria he saw on that fateful night.
Sightings of Uniondale's vanishing hitchhiker continue to this day if social media is to be believed. The phantom passenger is often encountered by motorcyclists passing through the area. This is apparently highly unlike Maria Roux's character, according to her brother, Mr. Frans Roux.
The myth of the vanishing hitchhiker is nothing new. Public knowledge of the trope was greatly expanded in 1981 when Jan Harold Brunvand published his non-fiction book, The Vanishing Hitchhiker. He found the trope in tales from all over the world, in Korea, Tsarist Russia, and several cases in North America. These tales go back several centuries and seem to be deeply connected to human myth making.
Common variations of this myth include the phantom passenger interacting with an item. This may be an item of clothing offered by the driver to protect against the cold, or something left behind by the ghostly apparition. Sometimes they would leave the living with some information to facilitate some future contact, like an address. Borrowed garments are often later found draped over a gravestone at a nearby cemetery. Those left with information usually make contact with their passenger's living family, only to discover that their passenger had died years before.
These stories have persisted in various parts of the world for a long time. Perhaps there could be more to the tales of ghosts haunting the highways? The case of Resurrection Mary is by far the most famous and detailed of such stories.
The White Lady - Remnant of Tragedy
Another urban legend reminiscent of Uniondale's ghost is that of the White Lady. The White Lady is a type of female ghost closely associated with themes of tragic death and unrequited love. Legends of White Ladies are found in several countries across the world. Every continent except Antarctica has some form of this legend.
White Lady spirits are called Dama Branca in Brazil, the ghost of a woman that died during childbirth. Canada's Chute de la Dame Blanche (White Lady Waterfall) was named for the tragic tale of a young bride-to-be that ended her life there following the death of her fiancé. He had been killed in battle against the British. Unwilling to go on without him, she leaped from the top while wearing her wedding gown. She is said to haunt the area around Montmorency Falls near Quebec City. Thailand's White Lady appeared in Bangkok after a group of teens entered a house in Thawi Watthana. The teens would all die accidental deaths soon after their ghost adventure. Local mediums claimed that their deaths were caused by a vengeful spirit named "Dao".
The only problem is that Uniondale's phantom never appears wearing white. She is usually seen wearing dark clothes.
Maria's surviving family wants nothing more than to lay the story to rest. They have stated that every report tears open old wounds and that they do not believe the legend. Perhaps the ghost that haunts the road between Uniondale and Willowmore isn't that of Maria Roux. Could it be that another young woman met a tragic end along that long blighted stretch of road?
Are you brave enough to take a trip down South Africa's N9 towards Uniondale on an Easter evening?