Down a foggy Missouri highway, the Phantom waits.
June 30, 2014
I CANNOT THINK of that time in my life without cringing. They were desperate times. I had been doing private-duty nursing care for the elderly for over ten years, but at this time I had been jobless for a few months as eldercare work became scarce. Wannabe caregivers were flooding the eldercare job market, knocking the old-standbys from their situations. The next job I got wind of, I would have to take—or wind up bankrupt.
On a cliff-hanger kind of a day, I got a call from someone explaining the particulars of a job possibility. It was caring for a married couple in their late eighties with mental and physical health problems. The job would be to cover the whole weekend single-handedly. It would be challenging work, with both clients needing considerable care. Because of this, the pay would be a little higher than usual. I felt encouraged until the caller dropped the bomb. It would be in Nixa, forty miles from my own home, and I would have to be there at six-thirty in the morning to relieve the crew that was leaving for the weekend.
Nixa is supposedly the only town in America with that name. They say it was named for one of the area’s early civic leaders, Nicholas A. Inman. He was a blacksmith that moved from Tennessee to Missouri in 1852. Some of the letters of his name were arranged to become “Nixa.” Others say the name of the town came about because the area was a crossroads, as in “nothing but a crossroads.”
Could my old beat up ’75 GMC truck make the trip to Nixa—no matter how it got its name—on a regular basis? It was barely road-worthy with balding tires—and I would have to start driving long before dawn, over desolate back roads, to get there. The possibilities of bad things that could happen filled my brain. If I had had a tear left in me to cry, I would have, but they had all been used up years ago. I would have to take that job.
Creepy cannot completely describe the first trip, and every trip thereafter. I was usually the sole driver on the ancient country roads in the middle of the night. The trip up the mountain and through part of the Mark Twain National Forest was made lonelier and colder by the lack of a working radio or heater. The windshield became a movie screen playing a horror show—scenes that would frighten Boris Karloff. My headlights spotlighted scraggly tree limbs drooping from overhead, and bushes on the roadside seemed to be hiding places for demons, ready to dart out. Wind whistled through the window vent making an eerie yowl. Clouds blowing fast across the moon created macabre moving shadows on the land. The glowing eyes of both small and large wildlife appeared in the headlight beams. Cattle huddled near the barbed wire fences stared at me curiously as I drove along.
Not only was this deer country, it was also bear country. If you have ever seen a black bear running down the road in front of your vehicle, you are amazed at how much the thing in your headlights looks like a huge fur ball, rolling, a tumbleweed on steroids. I scrutinized occasional passing cars—who could be in them? I hoped it was farmers seeing to their property or livestock. My eyes scanned sections of the road where bodies had actually been dumped—unsolved murders. Twice I saw lone road-walkers that could have been hitchhikers from hell. They were scruffy and angry-looking. They made direct eye contact with me as I drove by.
If I could make it to Sparta in one piece, I would be able to catch Highway 14 which would take me to my final destination. It passed through Ozark where it made a jog around the brightly-lit square before going into Nixa. Except for this one bright spot, the roads were dark, lonely and desolate. Once, as I was five miles out of Ozark, I was terrified to see a flatbed truck coming right toward me in my lane with no headlights on. I swerved to the shoulder and off the road. This white-knuckled and shaky-fingered action was the only thing that saved me.
When I later read about Sheriff Jones of Nixa and an event that happened on April 6, 1933, I had a deep and immediate empathy, caused by my own dark journeys on the same stretch of road. I am sure Sheriff Frank Jones knew that road like the back of his hand. On a dim night in March of 1932, he left alone to go to Ozark at about seven o’clock, east on Highway 14, possibly to check on prisoners. Two men that knew him well were traveling in the opposite direction. They each reported that he was driving at a fairly high rate of speed. After he had passed them something strange and out of character happened. His car hit gravel on a little hill and became airborne. Could he have been another victim of “The Phantom Motor Car?” Many are convinced that he was, that he was probably forced off the road at that spot by this mystery automobile seen by many and possibly made of ectoplasm. The sheriff was mortally injured when his car rolled. He never came completely out of coma and died some time later.
Fred McCoy, manager of the local phone system at the time, came forward and said that a dark mystery motor car had done the same thing to him. He had his whole family in the car with him at the time. They were almost killed on that same hill when they were forced off the road. As they kept watching the motor car, it disappeared, right before their eyes, like a mirage.
More prominent citizens came forward and said they had had similar experiences at that exact spot on Highway 14—the hill—that they were forced off the road. As they were still watching the malevolent vehicle, it disappeared into thin air.
Frank Jones wife, Sarah Tucker Jones, acted as sheriff of the county, because her husband, hospitalized in a sanitarium was barely alive and his mental abilities were compromised. She handled what business came across her husband’s desk for almost two months, the length of time it took him to lose his grip on life. A special election would need to be held to elect a replacement. Having a woman serve as sheriff of Christian County had been a historical first for the county.
Sarah Tucker Jones argued against the special election. She felt that she or her daughter Estia should fill the rest of her husband’s term. They would be without livelihood and had Frank’s medical bills to pay. Against her objections, they had an election—with a low turnout—and elected a new sheriff, Joe Monger.
This weird tale about the phantom motor car has almost vanished itself, through time. There were articles about it in 1933 editions of newspapers and Vance Randolph included it in his book OZARK MAGIC AND FOLKLORE, 1984.
Did I see the phantom motor car when I made my middle-of-the night road trips to Nixa on Highway 14? No, but I saw things just as bad, and I don’t ever care to do that type of thing again. And who knows, maybe the phantom motor car saw me.
Please click the book cover image to read more about Sara Marie Hogg and her novels.