CONTENT WARNING: This post contains details of violence and sexual assault.
Mary woke from her nap. As her eyes began to focus, they fixed upon a road sign that rushed past the window of the van. It looked different somehow. Wrong. The fog of sleep lifted and the 15-year-old realised. East. They were heading east.
She mustered courage and turned to the driver, a paunchy, grandfatherly man who had picked her up in Berkeley earlier that afternoon. “Look you’re going the wrong way,” she said, “and you know you’re going the wrong way.”
Just an honest mistake, he insisted, nothing to worry about. He’d just have to stop briefly to relieve himself, then they could continue on their journey to Los Angeles.
They drove for a short time, then the van peeled off the freeway down a side road that seemed to lead toward the canyon. Mary’s instinct overpowered her naïvety. The area was isolated and the road deserted. She was a prisoner.
‘I’m young; he’s old,’ she thought, her mind racing. ‘I’m healthy; he’s not.’ She could outrun him, she could get away, get help. But she’d need to tie her loose shoelace if she had any hope.
Once he’d closed the door behind him she opened hers, and bent down toward her foot.
Then came the blow of the sledgehammer.
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It was 1978. Mary Vincent had done what many teens had before and many have in the decades since. She’d run away from home.
Raised in fast-and-loose Las Vegas, she was the middle of seven children in a military family. According to a People article published 10 years later, she’d cut classes, wore makeup, generally rebelled against her strict parents. Then came the day when Mary’s sister warned that their father was on his way home with a migraine and was angry at her.
She fled in a hurry, she later told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, to save her life.
Mary stayed with her boyfriend for a time in Sausalito, California, then, between nights sleeping rough, with an uncle in the small town of Soquel. It was from there she left on the morning of September 28 to hitch the 620km to her grandfather’s place in Los Angeles.
Standing with two other hitchhikers, clutching her sign, a man pulled up in a blue van, empty but for a single bag – yet he only had room for one of them, for her. Ignoring the warnings of the others, she climbed in.