A 29-year-old Oklahoma woman was murdered March 21, allegedly by a hitchhiker that family and friends said she probably picked up so she could share a Christian witness with him.
Amanda Bateman left her home in Chandler, Okla., on Palm Sunday after attending evening choir practice at her church, bound for her parents’ home in Franklin, Tenn.
Authorities say she phoned her family about 2 a.m. saying she had picked up a hitchhiker along an interstate highway near Memphis. When she didn’t arrive, her parents called the phone company, who said her cell phone had been used to call a woman in Georgia. Brenda McCauley said her son, Bobby Joe McCauley, made the call to confess that he strangled Bateman to death.
“‘I know she was witnessing to him because I know Amanda,” Kevin Martin, associate pastor at Bateman’s church, told the Nashville Tennessean. “‘She was in love with her church. This was where she spent the majority of her time. I know this guy got an earful about the Lord.'”
Bateman’s parents said she had a habit of picking up hitchhikers. A devout Christian, she often shared her faith with the people she picked up.
“It was her way of serving God,” her mother, Ann Phillips, said. “We didn’t really approve.”
“She says ‘I pick up hitchhikers because they need to hear the gospel, and if one of them takes my life, Dad you’ll know where to find me,'” her father, David Phillips, told Memphis station WMC-TV Channel 5.
In contrast to an Atlanta woman who won the trust of a murder suspect holding her hostage by reading to him from Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, Bateman’s decision to pick up a hitchhiker apparently proved deadly.
Her car was found March 22, abandoned near Lake Ray Hubbard near Dallas. Her body was discovered the next day in Natchez Trace State Park in Henderson County, Tenn.
An anonymous tip helped authorities capture her suspected killer March 30 at a truck stop in Harbor Creek, Pa.
McCauley, 30, on Wednesday pleaded not guilty to a charge of first degree murder. He is described as a drifter who frequented truck stops and often hitchhiked. He has a history of violent offenses and has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Police regard him a “person of interest” in other unsolved slayings in six states across the years. Many of the women’s bodies in the crimes were dumped along highways.
Bateman’s pastor said he wouldn’t have advised her to try to witness to hitchhikers.
“We would teach that you should not stop and pick up strangers,” said Doyle Seeley, pastor of the First Assembly of God in Chandler, Okla. “Amanda knew that. There’s no doubt in my mind she thought she could help that hitchhiker. That’s just who Amanda was. I honestly believe this was a good intention that turned out evil.”
The connection between hitchhiking and witnessing has been around since Philip chased down the chariot of an Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8.
Evangelist Arthur Blessitt, in his book Witnessing Where You Are, writes: “I know a lot of people disagree with me, but I believe in picking up hitchhikers. It might be dangerous, but the worst they could do is kill me, and they’d just be sending me to heaven. But, I haven’t heard of a Christian’s being killed for witnessing to hitchhikers. Most of us are so poor, they wouldn’t want what we have anyway. But if you pick up a hitchhiker once in a while and give him a world witness, you will probably have a lot of good experiences. It will give you a change of pace, and if they don’t like what you are saying, they can always get out. They can walk if they don’t want to ride with your preaching. It’s really a very effective way of witnessing.”
The Christian Web site Titus 2 Men and Women, however, takes a different view.
“Never pick up hitchhikers,” it says. “It is never safe to have a stranger in the car with you. When you see a hitchhiker, do not pick them up. Even if they seem to be an innocent lady or girl, they may be accompanied by a bad guy hiding in the area awaiting for your arrival. If you want to be a good citizen and need to take action, call 911 and advise them of where the stranded hitchhikers or persons may be. Hitchhiking is considered a crime.”
While young drivers are taught as a cardinal rule never to pick up a hitchhiker, the Metropolitan Burglar and Fire Alarm Association of New York says some kind of motorist ignores the rule and becomes victim of a violent crime perpetuated by a hitchhiker every day.
The Sacramento Bee on Feb. 24 reported the arrest of a 25-year-old hitchhiker who allegedly punched a 73-year-old man who stopped to give him a ride and stole his keys.
In Alaska, 22-year-old Robert Owen Holt Jr. recently pleaded no contest to murdering a 44-year-old man who picked him up while hitchhiking nearly four years ago.
Despite the risks, many people pick up hitchhikers and always will, says Digihitch.com, a Web site promoting the “hitchhiking and road travel subculture.” Many who pick up hitchhikers have in the past hitchhiked themselves.
“Hitchhiking is a valid, cultural exchange,” the site says. “Its tradition stretches across the world, and has been practiced for hundreds of years in many different forms. While hitchhiking, in its long and varied history, has never been considered 100 percent safe, for many thousands of people it is still a meaningful and economical form of travel.”
A 1974 study in California found that only a small fraction of crimes or accidents involved hitchhikers, and hitchhikers were more than twice as likely to be victims than perpetrators of major crimes.
In a Web poll on HowStuffWorks.com, just 44 percent said they would never pick up a hitchhiker. Nineteen percent said they have done it once or twice, 5 percent many times, 12 percent yes but not in the last 20 years and 9 percent that they have never had the opportunity.
Digihitch.com says the most common reason for stopping for hitchhikers is the driver wants company. The site discourages, however, asking personal questions or proselytizing with hitchhikers.
“Don’t be judgmental, and don’t accept it from your guest. All of these things create defensive behavior, which ruins a ride faster than anything.”
The site says homosexual advances are rather common for frequent hitchhikers, because it is safer to “come out” and risk rejection from a stranger than an acquaintance.
One of the most famous Christian urban legends involves hitchhiking. A motorist supposedly picks up a hitchhiker who says “The Lord is coming back soon” and then disappears. The motorist reports it to the police, who tell him he is the fifth person that day to report the same experience.
The story has been circulating since the 1800s with many variations, according to the Web site ReligiousTolerance.org, but there is no truth to it.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, truck drivers have been urged to be more wary of picking up hitchhikers, because large trucks are now viewed as potential weapons of mass destruction, says the Web site Trucking Against Terrorism.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Managing editor at EthicsDaily.com from 2003-2009, Allen wrote more than 1,500 news stories during his tenure.