Like an urban legend sprung to life, a quiet, mysterious woman shrouded entirely in flowing black clothing has been spotted walking on roadsides all along the Appalachian U.S. in recent weeks.
Police believe the woman, who reportedly speaks rarely, is Elizabeth Poles, a 56-year-old woman from Alabama. Poles's brother Raymond told Reuters she is a U.S. Army veteran and widowed mother of two who began disappearing during treatment at a Veterans Affairs hospital:
For the first three months, Poles was "doing great," going to church on Sundays and to her regular appointments at the nearby VA hospital, he said.
"She got to where she started walking from the (hospital) about a mile away," he said. "She then started just popping up at my house and then one night she came over and just started cursing."
Poles recalled one Sunday when his sister shaved her head and refused to go to church. Since then, Elizabeth has vanished for months at a time. Poles said his sister is a loving, kind-hearted woman.
Poles has attracted rampant social media attention on her walking journey from Georgia to Ohio: A Facebook page dubbed Where is the Mysterious Woman in Black? has 50,000 likes, and a video showing her arguing with a man about masons, prophets, Jesus, and the devil in a Virginia parking lot has nearly 200,000 views.
In Sullivan County, Tennessee, the woman reportedly told police she "worked at the Pentagon" and was from "an Islamic nation," neither of which appeared to be true. On Facebook, onlookers report a wide range of interactions with her, often with religious fervor. One woman wrote that Poles showed people "God is real," and as the Daily Dot points out, another said she had a "sparkle/glow" about her, and gave her daughters a "peaceful feeling":
My daughters, being teenagers were a little "freaked out" but as they walked into the door she was sitting beside, my daughter said the woman had a sparkle/glow around her. I asked if maybe she had shiny things sewn on her clothes and my daughter said no. My daughter also reported a very peaceful feeling as she walked past this lady. Whatever this lady's mission, she had an effect on my girls last night. My daughter asked if she would like for her to go get some food for her, but the lady didn't answer. My hope and prayer is that this lady stays safe, fed and rested wherever her travels lead her.
Several posters say Poles told them she doesn't want help, and that, understandably, she would like to be left alone. Yesterday, she arrived in Winchester, VA, her apparent final destination, where police are urging that people respect her privacy. According to a local Fox outlet, officers took her to an undisclosed location upon her arrival, giving her food and shelter, after a crowd of people gathered to welcome her.