The Chinnery Backseat Driver:  Still Controversial

by Guest writer Rick Hale

In 2004, the Sci Fi channel released a reality TV show that would forever change the field of psychical research. The show was “Ghost Hunters.” I won’t lie; I was excited about this new show.  I thought, “Finally, a TV show that’s going to properly show what many of us have been doing for years.”

But then something happened that would turn me off from the show. They used terms I’ve never heard before. Take “matrixing’” for example.

According to the show, matrixing is when the human mind makes familiar patterns out of light and shadow. I came up in the field and I know this as pareidolia.

The second term was “the holy grail.” This, of course, refers to being lucky enough to catch the image of an apparition on film.

Please, don’t think I’m being snobbish, I just believe that words matter. Especially in the field of psychical research.

A Match Made In Heaven

Photography and ghost hunting was an immediate match made in heaven. Well, at least some people thought so. Since the early days of the spiritualism movement ghosts and photography just seemed to go together. Most of these so-called spirit photos were certainly fakes. And they threatened to throw psychical research into the garbage heap of history. If these photos were all fake then it would only stand to reason that all ghost photos were fake.

Now hold on a second, let’s not be too eager to throw the baby out with the bath water just yet.

There are a large number of photographs that do appear to show something legitimately anomalous taking by pure accident. Not by professional photographers, or even a hoaxer trying to make a buck or gain some notoriety. A perfect example of this is the image of a ghost sitting in the backseat of a car.

The photo has been called “The Chinnery Backseat Driver,” and it’s had one hell of an interesting ride for 60 years.

Visiting Mother

In March 1959 in Ipswich, Suffolk, Mrs. Mable Chinnery and her husband made their yearly pilgrimage to the grave of Mable’s mother to pay their respects. There really isn’t much information on the location of the cemetery–just that it was a British churchyard. When they arrived, Mr. Chinnery stayed in the car as his wife went to the grave of her mother. Mable had just gotten a new camera, and she was eager to take pictures of the gravestone.

The Accidental Snapshot

After taking several photos, Mrs. Chinnery saw that she had one picture left. So, she pointed the camera at her husband in the car and took the picture. And then it was time to go.

When they got the film developed, Mr. and Mrs. Chinnery made a spine-chilling discovery. Sitting in the backseat of the car was the clear image of a person.  When Mrs. Chinnery inspected the photograph more closely, she immediately broke down in tears.

Mr. Chinnery went to comfort his wife, and he took a look at the photo and saw the mysterious passenger. After Mable regained her composure, she said she had no doubt the mysterious figure was none other than her mother.

The snapshot proved to the Chinnerys that a piece of us must still exist after the death of the body.

A Heavily Scrutinised Photo

The moment the “Chinnery Backseat Driver Photo” was released to the public, it was immediately scrutinised by sceptics. These sceptics suggested that whatever was in the photo wasn’t a ghost, but rather the mind making familiar patterns out of light and shadow. The photo has since gone through rigorous tests by professional photo analysts. All have come to a controversial conclusion.  According to the experts, the figure in the photo is not a reflection or a double exposure.

These photography pros are understandably reluctant to call the image a ghost. However, everything points to it being just that: a ghost–and possibly that of Mable Chinnery’s mother.

As a paranormal researcher and investigator I am loathe to present any evidence as rock solid proof. Especially pertaining to ghost photos.

Is the image sitting in the backseat of the car a ghost? Maybe. Is it Mrs. Chinnery’s dead mother? I can’t say with any certainty.

I leave it to you, the reader, to draw your own conclusions about this famous photo.


Rick Hale is a deputy editor for Spooky Isles ( and a frequent contributor to Mary Sutherland’s LEGENDS Magazine and Paranormal Underground Magazine. Rick has has been researching the paranormal for decades and is  an American correspondent for the European Paranormal Activity Society.


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