Unsolved vanishings are quite frequently orbited by strange clues, enigmatic leads, and baffling evidence, and some of the most intriguing of these are mysterious phone calls made either by the vanished themselves or other unknown parties. These calls often give us fleeting glimpses into the circumstances of the vanishings, providing potential clues that more often than not remain frustratingly cryptic and further propel the cases into bizarreness. Whether the calls are made by the victim just before, or even as they are vanishing, or are placed by other unidentified individuals, these sinister calls are compelling stabs of light into the darkness cloaking these unsolved disappearances, and continue to incite deep speculation.
One of the earlier mysterious disappearances linked to a strange phone call was that of Andrew Carnegie Whitfield, the nephew of none other than the famous Scottish industrialist, steel magnate, and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, after whom New York’s famous Carnegie Hall is named. An amateur pilot, the Princeton educated Whitfield departed aboard his small monoplane from Roosevelt Field on Long Island bound for an airfield located in nearby Brentwood on April 17, 1938. Since Whitfield was said to be a fairly skilled pilot, the day was calm and clear, and Brentwood was only 22 miles away, it was considered to be a routine flight that would only take around 15 minutes, yet he would never arrive at his destination and considering his prominence a search was launched immediately. Considering that Whitfield had had enough fuel on his plane to carry him 150 miles, it was thought that he had probably just come down somewhere else and couldn’t be too far, but this would prove not to be the case, and no sign of either he or his plane could be found despite meticulous, intensive searches. Andrew Carnegie Whitfield and his plane had simply vanished without a trace.
This is all odd enough, but things would get stranger still when the information on the series of events leading to the disappearance were uncovered. It turned out that on the day he had vanished Whitfield had checked into a hotel in Garden City on Long Island and paid $4 in advance, but rather than use his own name he had inexplicably signed in with the alias “Albert C. White.” When the hotel room was searched it was found to contain all of his belongings, including his clothing, passport, valuables, and, oddly, two life insurance policies worth $6,000 dollars each with Whitfield’s wife, Elizabeth Halsey Whitfield, listed as the beneficiary, as well as some stocks and bonds. A check of the phone records also showed that a phone call had been placed from the room that day to Whitfield’s home, which would further the mystery.
The call in question was to an unidentified individual and had been overheard by an operator, who claimed that Whitfield had said “Well, I am going to carry out my plan,” after which he had hung up. What was this “plan” he spoke of? The cryptic phone call, coupled with the presence of the life insurance policies and stocks and bonds in the hotel room, led authorities to believe that he had perhaps intentionally crashed his plane into the sea to take his own life, but no sign of even a scrap of wreckage was ever found. There were some who also pointed to the fact that Whitfield had been happily married and planning to move with his wife to Pennsylvania, and that he had no known financial or personal problems serious enough to make him want to commit suicide.
Another theory was that he might have intentionally faked his death or run away to escape his life for reasons unknown, yet again there was no evidence for why he should want to do this. Supporting this theory are various supposed sightings of Whitfield in the years after his vanishing, including one made by railway police in Council Bluffs, Iowa, who claimed to have seen the man riding in a freight car in 1939, still wearing his flight suit and looking decidedly unkempt and disheveled. The witnesses claimed that as the train had passed they could see Whitfield smiling and waving about a bundle of money. Yet another theory is that he was kidnapped, but there is no evidence at all for this, rendering it pure speculation. Indeed, the entire case is steeped in speculation, and just about the only thing known about the disappearance of Andrew Carnegie Whitfield for sure is that neither he nor his plane have ever been seen since, leading him to be listed as presumed dead in 1946. The reason for his sudden vanishing and the meaning of his strange last phone call remain an enduring mystery to this day.
In many cases the missing call is similarly placed by the vanished, offering up more odd clues to add to the whole mystery. Take the case of 9-year-old Anthonette Cayedito, who disappeared from her home in the quiet town of Gallup, New Mexico, on the night of April 6, 1986. On this evening, Anthonette’s mother, Penny, had gone out drinking with friends at a local bar, as she often did, leaving Anthonette and her younger sister Wendy at home with a babysitter. When she returned home, the girls were allegedly still full of energy and stayed up until around 3 AM, after which Anthonette ended up sleeping with her mother. However, when Penny woke up at 7 AM, the girl was gone. Thinking that her daughter had just gotten up early, she went around looking for her, but the girl was nowhere to be seen and neighbors claimed that they had not seen her about either.
Penny and some neighbors began frantically searching around the neighborhood for Anthonette, but could not find any sign of her, and with their fears escalating they called the authorities. The police launched a search of the entire area but could find no trace of the missing girl either, leading them to suspect that she had been kidnapped. No further leads were forthcoming and the case went cold, with no sign of where the girl could have possibly gone. It would not be until a year later when a mysterious phone call would come in to the Gallup Police Department and reignite the investigation.
The call was placed directly to the police station itself, and on the other end was the voice of a scared sounding little girl claiming to be the missing Anthonette Cayedito. In the call she tells the police that she is in Albuquerque, and pleads for help before an unidentified man’s voice can be heard saying “Who told you that you could use the phone?” This is followed by a short scream and what sounds like a tussle before the line goes dead. It was at first thought that this was merely a prank call, but when the girl’s mother heard it she was convinced it was the voice of Anthonette. Unfortunately, the call had been far too short to trace, and no further calls came in. The call was maddening for police, because it strongly suggested that the girl was still alive and had been kidnapped, but they weren’t sure who the man’s voice belonged to and had no way of knowing her whereabouts except the vague claim that she was in Albuquerque. Penny would say of the mysterious call:
I listened to that tape over and over and over. And just by the way she says her last name, and the way she screamed, sent chills all over my body. A mother knows and I know that was her.
The case would get weirder still when in 1990 a waitress in Carson City, Nevada, claimed to have seen Anthonette eating in the diner where she worked. According to the witness, the girl looked rather tired out and disheveled, and was eating with a similarly run-down and unkempt looking man and woman, who acted very suspiciously, constantly looking about with shifty eyes. The waitress also claimed that the girl had deliberately dropped eating utensils onto the floor over and over again, and had left behind a note scrawled on a napkin which read “Please help me. Call the police.”
This startling new development prompted the until now silent younger sister, Wendy, to come forth with the potential revelation that on the night of the disappearance Anthonette had gone to answer a knock at the door in the middle of the night, after which a man’s voice had been heard claiming to be “Uncle Joe.” When the door was opened, two unidentified men who Wendy had never seen before then allegedly grabbed Anthonette and dumped her kicking and screaming into a waiting brown van before driving off into the night. When asked why she had not divulged this information before, Wendy claimed that she had not wanted to further upset her mother. It is not known if Wendy’s claims are true, and there has been doubt as to whether the waitress’s account described Anthonette or was even real at all. It has all just created more layers to the mystery.
This new information was nevertheless checked out, with the first target the very real uncle Joe, but he was quickly ascertained to have had nothing to do with it, and was dropped as a suspect. Other suspects were checked out as well, including Anthonette’s estranged father, Larry Estrada, and two known sex offenders living in the area, but none of this turned up any solid leads. Interestingly, more and more suspicion was eventually placed on Athonette’s own mother, as it turned out that she lied to the police about several minor details and showed other suspicious behavior such as the purchase of a new sports car shortly before the disappearance, despite the fact that the family was not well-off and lived in a poor part of town. She was also known for her hard-partying ways and drinking problem, and authorities began to suspect that Penny perhaps knew more than she was letting on, but unfortunately she passed away in April of 1999 before any headway could be made into this potential lead.
The case has remained totally unsolved. No one knows where Anthonette went, or whether she was kidnapped, murdered, or just ran away. The mysterious call made to the police department cannot be concretely confirmed to be the voice of the missing girl, and even if it is her it only manages to add to the whole mystery. It is likewise not known why she would not have just dialed 911 rather than calling directly to the Gallup police station, nor whether Wendy’s claims of an abduction are true or why she would not come forward with this crucial information until 4 years after the fact. As to the claims by the waitress in Carson City, there is no evidence at all to show that the girl she said she saw was actually Anthonette or even whether she just made the whole thing up. These are all things we will likely never have any answers to, and it all remains an impenetrable mystery.
Another harrowing phone call made by a missing person was placed at 11:45 PM on April 4, 1991, when 20-year-old Angela Marie Hammond called her boyfriend, Rob, from a payphone at a grocery store in the area of 2nd Street and Jefferson Street in Clinton, Missouri, in order to tell him that she had decided to go home and take a bath rather than meet that evening as originally planned. During the frightening call, she told Rob that an old, 1960’s style green pickup truck with some sort of mural of a jumping fish in the back window was prowling around the parking lot, driven by a man she described as having a beard, wearing glasses, coveralls, and a baseball hat, and as looking absolutely “filthy.” The creepy man apparently drove by and shone a flashlight at her, after which the truck stopped and the man seemed to be looking for something. At this point Angela suddenly screamed and the line went dead.
The alarmed and concerned Rob then immediately got into his own car and began speeding towards the grocery store, which was only 7 blocks away, in the hopes that he could intervene in whatever was going on. As he approached the scene, Rob claims that a two-tone green Ford F-150 pickup truck went roaring past at top speed in the other direction, and that he could distinctly hear a woman’s screaming emanating from it. He allegedly tore his own vehicle around and gave chase, but his car died from the damage the transmission had incurred in the maneuver. Despite an intensive investigation, no signs of the missing woman nor her abductor or his truck have ever been found.
At other times these mysterious phone calls are not made by the missing people themselves, but rather by other enigmatic parties, and serve to be just as bizarre, tantalizing, and mysterious. One of the most famous of these is a curious call that was made in relation to the disappearance of a 25-year-old nurse by the name of Donna Lass in September, 1970. On September 6th 1970, Lass, who worked at the Sahara Tahoe Hotel and Casino at Lake Tahoe, Nevada, finished her shift at 2 AM and went off to meet a friend. This would be the last time anyone would see her, and she never did make it to her appointment with her friend. Her abandoned truck would be found parked at the apartment complex to which she had recently moved, with no signs of any struggle or foul play.
Curiously, the very next day an anonymous man placed a call to both her workplace and landlord to inform them that Lass would not be around that day as she had a sudden family emergency to deal with. It would be found later that she had not in fact had any such family emergency, and additionally no family members had made that call nor recognized who the mystery man was. Considering the timing of this vanishing, it has been speculated by authorities that the man on the call could have been the mysterious Zodiac Killer, who had been terrorizing the San Francisco Bay Area at the time and would eventually claim 7 confirmed victims, although Lake Tahoe would be rather outside of his known range. The Zodiac Killer has never been caught, and remains a specter to this day. Was this another one of his unofficial victims and was that his voice on the phone call? It is hard to say.
Perhaps lesser known is the case of four missing fishermen who vanished in April of 1990 after embarking on a planned 7-day fishing expedition off of South Carolina, in the United States. Nathan Neesmith, his brother Billy Joe Neesmith, his nephew Keith Wilkes, and his friend Franklin Brantley, set out aboard the snapper boat Casie Nicole on April 12, 1990, from McIntosh County pier, in Georgia. At some point during their voyage the boat began to ride low in the water, and it became apparent that it was taking on water and acting sluggishly. The boat’s pumps proved to be inoperable, making the situation dire indeed, and as the boat continued to sink further under the surface the crew desperately tried to bail out the water with buckets by hand.
As the boat inexorably dropped farther into the water, the crew realized that their radio did not work either, and they were forced to abandon ship, cramming aboard the tiny life raft, which turned out to have its own problems in the form of a quarter size hole in it. With the life raft also slowly sinking, all hope seemed to be lost until a hatch cover from the Casie Nicole came floating by and they climbed aboard that. As they bobbed about at the mercy of the sea, they spied their ship in the distance and Nathan Neesmith decided to try and swim to it, thinking it held more promise for getting help than floating about on a hatch cover. He said of what happened next:
It looked like it was maybe three or four miles from us. I said I don’t know what kind of chance we got, but at least maybe one of us can make it to the boat and get some kind of help. Well that’s what I struck out to do. And they started hollering no, no, no, you come back. If we separate up, we going to be split up and ain’t no telling what can go wrong. I just kept swimming and kept swimming. I swam from oh about 9 o’clock that morning and just before dark that afternoon, I got to where I thought… the boat was. I drank so much salt water trying to swim in it. And I was just real weak.
Nathan eventually made it to the hull of their ailing ship, but as night fell he lost sight of his friends out on the waves upon the hatch. He clung to the hull of the boat as it slowly continued sinking, during which time he saw a freighter in the distance but had no way of signaling it. This would go on for several days until he managed to get onto a floating bait box that had broken loose from the boat, where he would remain until he was finally rescued on April 15, 1990 off the coast of Georgia. A search was carried out for the remaining three men, but no sign of them was ever found. It was largely assumed that they had been lost at sea, but this conclusion would be challenged by a series of strange phone calls that would be received in the coming weeks.
The caller was an unidentified male who spoke Spanish and seemed unable to understand English. During these calls, the only thing he would say is the phone number he was calling, which he would repeat several times, followed by the name of the person he was calling and the names of the missing men. He would ignore any questions directed at him, possibly because he didn’t understand, and then hang up the phone. Over the next year, 7 of these calls would be made to both Nathan’s sister and the owner of the Casie Nicole, Doug Tyson, and every time it was the same thing, just the man saying the phone numbers and names, except on the final call, when he allegedly said in broken English that he was going to bring the missing men home.
This would be the end of the calls, but there was no further contact from neither the caller nor the missing men. While the calls may have been simply a tasteless prank, the families of the missing men believed that they indicated that the vanished fishermen were still alive, and that they had either drifted to a foreign country or had even been kidnapped. What happened to the missing crew of the Casie Nicole and who was the mysterious caller? Are they still alive somewhere or were they lost at sea as initially suspected? To this day there has been no sign of them, and their whereabouts and the identity of the caller remain unknown.
In another case, 19-year-old Balraj Rattu was last seen sitting in a car drinking beer with a friend near 138th Street and 72nd Avenue in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, on November 6, 1995. This was the last anyone would see of him, and he was listed as a missing person shortly after. On the day after his sudden vanishing, there was a strange phone call made to his home at around 1 AM in the morning. The voice was that of a young woman, and she seemed to think she was talking to Balraj when she simply said, “Raj, you were beaten up,” before laughing and hanging up. The following day there was another mysterious call, this time from an older woman, which was described by Surrey RCMP Corporal Bert Paquet thus:
This time [it was] described as an older voice, again from a female, and very clearly she said the family son was no longer alive. And that was the end of that conversation, as well.
In both cases the callers were reported as speaking Punjabi as well as English, and were determined to be two different women, although no one had any idea of who they were or what the meaning of their calls was, and neither of the calls could be traced with the technology of the time. Not long after these odd calls, another clue would be found when Balraj’s car was found abandoned and burned out on a remote road near Chilliwack, British Columbia. Within the car were found bloodied clothes, but there was no sign of the missing man. Authorities suspected foul play, that the unidentified callers had had something to do with it, but family members would say that he had no enemies and had not been involved with gangs or drugs. To this day it is a mystery as to what happened to Balraj Rattu or what the significance the mysterious phone calls was, if any, but it is thought that they may contain the key to this cold case. Paquet has said:
Technology back then was definitely not as evolved as it is today. Investigators immediately tried to follow up and to identify the origin of those calls, as well as the callers — or caller, if it was the same person — but without success. Now, 19 years after the fact, it is impossible to go back and get that information from any kind of system. This technology today would probably be different, but in 1995 things were different and unfortunately not being able to identify the callers or the phone numbers where the calls came from is probably going to remain a mystery until we receive information about these calls, specifically.
In some cases, mysterious phone calls can occur many years after cold cases have occurred, often thickening the air of mystery surrounding them. One such case is that of a young woman named Judith Hyams, of Coral Gables, Florida, who vanished in 1965. Three weeks after her vanishing, Hyams’ abandoned car was found hundreds of miles away over in Atlanta, Georgia, with blood smeared on the back seat, serving to deepen the mystery. Ominously, one local claimed to have seen a man park the car and carry off a large, heavy-looking duffel bag. It came to light that Hyams, who had been recently divorced and was pregnant at the time, had made arrangements to have an illegal abortion carried out at the clinic of a Hungarian by the name of George Hadju. He was considered to possibly have information on what had happened to Hyams, but shortly after he was accused of impersonating a physician, and soon after that he skipped bail and left the country to vanish himself, making it impossible to question him on the disappearance. Detective Sergeant Bob Robkin of the Coral Gables Police Department said of Hyams’ vanishing:
We were able to determine that she contacted a close friend of hers who helped arrange an abortion through the suspect, Dr. George Hadju. And through that, a date and time and price were set for it. The last time she was seen, we feel that she was on her way to get this abortion.
Theories swirled as to what had happened to the missing Hyams, including foul play and even the possibility that she had died during a botched abortion and her body secretly buried, but with no new leads or evidence the case went cold, that is until more than two decades later, when in 1990 it would be brought back to life by a series of mysterious phone calls made to Coral Gables Police Captain, Chuck Scherer. In the first call, a man identifying himself as a radio host from Omaha, Nebraska claimed that he had been called by someone with information on the case of Judith Hyams before hanging up, yet when Scherer called the radio station back the next day the host said that he had not made any such call and had no idea who Hyams was or what Scherer was talking about. This was already confusing enough as it is, and then 2 days later Scherer received another call from Omaha, this time from a caller claiming that the missing woman was alive and well. Although it could have been a prank, Scherer was convinced that there was more to it than that. In the meantime, he would receive yet another strange call, this time from a man claiming to be with the FBI and to have information on the missing Hadju. Sherer would say of this call:
The third phone call I received was from a man that identified himself as an informant for the FBI. He refused to give me his name, but he said that he had just spent several weeks with Hadju over in Budapest, Hungary and gave me a phone number. I contacted Interpol, and they determined that the phone number he gave me indeed came back to the same name of the suspect at that time, the doctor that supposedly performed the abortion.
The calls gave hope that Hyams was in fact still alive, and it was speculated that she may have disappeared of her own volition in order to escape being ostracized for being a single woman accused of having an illegal abortion done, which was a fairly big stigma at the time of her disappearance. However, this still did not explain why she had never once contacted friends or family even years later. Why would she run away and then just never come back even years later when such stigmas had faded somewhat? No one has a clue.
The rejuvenated case and the mystery of the phone calls was broadcast on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, which had the effect of turning up more sinister evidence that would unfortunately dash the hopes that Hyams was still alive somewhere. Not long after this episode aired, a typewritten letter was received by the Coral Gables Police Department that claimed that Hyams had in fact died of the illegal abortion all of those years ago, and that her body had been unceremoniously dumped into Biscayne Bay near Miami, Florida. It is unknown who the letter came from, who had made the calls, or which information is correct, and this has all merely served to further cast mystery over the case. Despite these calls and the letter, what happened to Judith Hyams or whether she was still alive in 1990 or not are still impenetrable mysteries.
Do any of the mysterious calls in these baffling cases offer any clues with which to gain some understanding of them? Is there meaning to be gleaned from them or are they just oddities? Here we have some of the most puzzling disappearances there are, mired further in shadows by these calls, which while certainly tantalizing, have only served to make them more bizarre. Perhaps at some point further leads or evidence will be forthcoming, but for now the only ones who may know the answers to these questions are the ones who have vanished and those who made the calls.