How Sweet it Isn't
Date Added: Dec. 31, 2006
Spurious details of time and place, an unsuspecting single woman shopping alone, a nefarious ne'er-do-well with a clever scheme. This one has many elements common to urban legend - and, just like most legends, it describes in frightening detail a believable crime that actually could happen. But did it?
I just wanted to let you all know of something that happened to me today in the Target parking lot. Be aware of this and let everyone you know be aware so this does not happen to anyone else.
I was at Target today to return something which only took a couple of minutes. When I pulled into the parking lot a man in a car pulled in a couple spaces down from me. He started to go into the store about the same time as I did, then turned back around and went back to his car. I went into Target returned my items and walked back out to get into my car. When I walked out, he was walking away from my car carrying a small gas can. I noticed there was fluid on the side of my car and a puddle beside it. I got into my car not sure of what happened, wrote down the license plate # and left. He followed me out of the parking lot.
I was only able to drive about a half a mile and my car started acting funny. It died on me as I was driving and I was able to pull into an area business along the highway. I just sat in my car and called the police. The man drove by three times as I waited. The police who came took a report and said that he had poured sugar water into my gas tank which is what made my car stall. It was a great way to get a woman by herself to be stranded on the streets. Luckily for me I was able to stop where there were people around. The police know where the car came from and are working on this now. Not sure what will happen but my car is now in the shop not running, but it could have been much worse for me. Just be aware that this is happening and always be aware of your surroundings. It certainly scared me and I am grateful that nothing else happened.
The letter above tells in surprising detail a tale that is feasible and believable and seems to be fairly easy for a criminal to carry out. The intent of the would-be evil-doer is assumed - but never confirmed - to be the attack, robbery, abduction or rape of the near-victim. I say this because, in the telling above, the supposed crime was attempted, but never actually successfully committed. The worst the criminal in the tale above could be charged with (if captured) is vandalism and property damage.
This is a common element in urban legendry: the criminal was clever, but not quite clever enough. The victim, either through savvy or just plain ol' luck, avoided his snare. Also, like most urban legends, the attacker in our story is male and the intended victim is female, presumably single. The underlying mythos is that a self-suffient woman puts herself at risk when she ventures into public alone. That this one first surfaced during the holiday shopping season is no coincidence, since this is a time of year that women are more likely to put themselves in such a precarious situation and the criminal is more likely to fade into the crowds.
The version above contains the generic citation of "the Target parking lot," which could place it at one of approximately 1,500 stores in 47 states. I've seen some versions that add detail, placing the events in "Jackson" and "Cypress, TX," or some other location. Such regionalization is typical when the original contains no such locale information. Those receiving it assume it must have happened near them or the person who sent it to them. Expect to see accounts placing this in parking lots all over the nation (and probably at other retailers and in other countries over time).
Could this really have happened? Hard to tell and nearly impossible to prove. On one hand, it is possible that it is real and the heroine jotted it down for a few of her friends who knew her and would understand the context, thus the absence of verifiable details. Of course, it is just as likely that the tale made up from whole cloth - the fanciful imaginings of an overactive mind intended to frighten and sow distrust, with just enough detail to make it believable but not provable either way. There was likely no media coverage and my search of news articles on such an attack in any of the locations mentioned turned up nothing. I could search police reports, but this would be labor intensive and probably fruitless since, as stated above, no real crime beyond simple property damage was actually committed in the account.
While the above includes a citation to "Carol Jones," I have not seen one that contains verifiable contact information for her and I've even seen versions that do not include her name at all, suggesting that she may be the victim of False Attribution Syndrome, wherein someone who fowards the message becomes mistaken for its author.
Some versions leave the disabling agent a mystery, though the most popular version of this chain so far mentions sugar water as the specific culprit, which is another factor that makes us lean toward the verdict of "myth" on this one. Sugar in the gas tank has been a staple of vandalism and "get-even" legends for almost as long as the motor vehicle has existed. The commonly held believe is that sugar will dissolves into the fuel, then get injected into the engine where the intense heat turns it into a syrup that clogs cylinders and injectors until the engine no longer runs. Then, once the engine cools, the syrup hardens into a high-octane rock-candy that renders the engine permanently destroyed.
However, the reality is that sugar does not dissolve in gasoline, thus it is unlikely to disable an engine in this fashion. Perhaps the author of the above knew that, which is why he or she suggests that the assailant dissolved the sweet stuff in water first. But there's still a major hole in that theory, as well. Nearly all vehicles have filters that keep foreign substances in the fuel from reaching the engine. Particles larger and more dense than gasoline are trapped by the filters. Both sugar and water are more dense than gasoline.
Nonetheless, putting sugar in a gas tank can disable a vehicle, but in a much less dramatic way. Enough foreign substances could clog the filters and prevent fuel from reaching the engine, causing it to stop. The repair would likely be a fuel tank and filter replacement - about $200. Similarly, adding water to the tank might also dillute the fuel enough to choke the engine, but the tale above mentions that the attacker used a "small gas can," which means our would-be victim's car would have to have been sitting on empty to have been affected so dramatically.
So, we are left with a feasible, but impractical, scheme with no evidence to prove (or disprove) that it has happened at all, let alone that it is a widespread phenomenon. Like most legends, it reads more like a "criminal how-to guide" than a citizen advisory because it offers very little in the way of preventive advice - such as using lockable gas tank caps and making sure your tank is always at least half full - but describes in repeatable detail how one might be able to corner a victim. Chains like this frequently have the unintended side effect of creating more crime than they prevent. Break this chain