It seems that as we progress and evolve, so do our strange phenomena and the dark, little understood powers that exist around us, even if only in our minds. The persistent notion of cursed places and items has also followed this trend, being shaped by our ever expanding push into new frontiers of development. Rather than disappearing into the realm of myth and fantasy, the ancient belief in curses seems to have followed us into the modern era, merely changing its form instead of fading away and being erased by science. Whereas in ancient times there were cursed places or objects, in modern times we have our technology, which if looked at in times past may have appeared to be magic itself, and it is this very technology that at times has become infused with tales of sinister forces. Perhaps this is just our inherit fear of the unknown undergoing a metamorphosis to adapt to the world around us and extend to our modern devices, or maybe it is truly mysterious powers that are shaping themselves to us. Whatever the case may be, one of the oddest alleged types of curses is that which seem to revolve around phones and phone numbers. It is a bizarre phenomena which is either evidence that our innate fears of the unknown extend to our modern trappings, or that there are forces out there that are weirder than we can imagine.
We as a civilization have come far in just the past few decades, technologically speaking, and this can be seen very dramatically in our media devices. There was a time when the idea of phones itself was an impossible notion, yet they were invented and moved on to handheld versions. Even when the first handheld mobile cell phone was demonstrated by Motorola in 1973, weighing in at a blocky, unwieldy 4.4 lbs. (2 kg), it is unlikely anyone could have imagined that we would be calling, e-mailing, and playing video games on thin, sleek devices that weigh next to nothing and barely take up any space at all. We have subsequently become so dependent on these devices that it is sometimes hard for many to imagine how we could get through life without them. It is this dependence that perhaps contributes to our fears that this technology can somehow fail us at important times or even turn against us. Perhaps it is this ever changing, rapid technological progress and the subsequent fear it evokes that has led to some of the stranger tales of technology running amok, and indeed transformed the landscape of our myths and legends. In one such case we have the story of a cursed cell phone number which has been blamed on several rather brutal deaths, and no, that is not the plot of a bad horror movie but rather an allegedly real thing. An urban legend that is the product of our times, our fears, and our dependence on technology, or something else? Let’s take a look.
In the early 2000s, a Bulgarian mobile phone company called Mobitel issued the number (+359) 0888 888 888. Although certainly easy to remember and a tad unusual, there is nothing on the face of it that should seem especially sinister or evil about this particular mobile number. In fact, the number 8 is actually considered quite lucky in some countries, such as China, where companies will pay big money in order to purchase phone numbers that hold as many 8s as possible. However the tale of Mobitel’s all-8 number is not one of luck, but rather of death and whispers of mysterious curses, as since that fateful day when the now notorious phone number was first released, it seems that every single person who has owned it has met with an untimely, often violent death.
The first person to own the ominous number was the CEO of the company himself, Vladimir Grashnov. Within less than a year of acquiring the number, the relatively young, 48-year old executive was quickly ravaged by a highly aggressive form of cancer and died in 2001. It was curious since he had been in perfectly good health before the turn of the millennium, and this in turn led to rumors that the cancer had its origins in an assassination attempt by a business rival using dangerous radioactive materials. This in and of itself would not be unheard of, as radiation poisoning has been used as a method of assassination before, especially in Russia and eastern Europe. The most high profile such killing would be that of the Russian officer of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and KGB turned British spy, Alexander Litvinenko, who died from acute radiation syndrome induced by a lethal amount of the isotope polonium-210, which was believed to have been intentionally administered by Russian security forces for the purpose of assassination. The odd thing about the death of Grashnov is that he was not known to have any enemies and was known for his honest business practices. At the time, no one really made any connection between the unusual death and the phone number, but this would change with a succession of other holders of the number meeting sudden, violent ends.
The next person to own the number in the wake of the first death was a Bulgarian crime boss by the name of Konstantin Dimitrov. In 2003, the 31-year old Dimitrov was reportedly in the Netherlands on business to inspect his flourishing drug smuggling operation, traveling along with his fashion model girlfriend. As the two were having a luxurious dinner at an upscale restaurant in Amsterdam, a lone gunman approached out of the night and wildly fired upon them, injuring the woman and killing Dimitrov. It was reported that Dimitrov had the “cursed” phone in his hand when he was gunned down, perhaps having been in the midst of a call or text. Although the official motive was rival Russian drug dealers looking to move in on the estimated £500 million smuggling operation, by this time there were rumors already circulating that the enigmatic phone number had brought death and misfortune upon its owner, and the cancer suffered by the former owner took on a more ominous shape.
The seemingly very unlucky phone number found its way to its next owner, a real estate agent named Konstantin Dishliev. In this case, it appears that Dishliev had been living a double life, an estate agent by day and a prolific trafficker of cocaine by night. In 2005, Dishliev was leaving an Indian restaurant in the Bulgarian capital of Sophia when he was gunned down right there on the street by an unknown gunman, sustaining multiple fatal gunshot wounds and leaving him lying in a pool of blood. Although a police investigation ruled it an assassination linked to a large, £130 million haul of cocaine which had been confiscated by police on its way into the country from Columbia, nevertheless the rumors swirled again that the cursed phone number had somehow had a hand in the brutal death.
After the Dishliev murder, the supposedly cursed phone number was rendered dormant while the police conducted their investigation into the killing and the smuggling ring, but when it was finally activated once again nobody wanted anything to do with it, leading to its indefinite suspension by the phone company. From that point on, any attempt to call the number results in a prerecorded message which simply states “outside network coverage.” Is this move by the company to shut the number down linked in any way to its alleged curse, or is it merely because the police maintain an open file on the Dishliev assassination? It seems that the answer to that will remain murky, as when Mobitel was pressed on the matter they elusively stated “We have no comment to make. We won't discuss individual numbers.”
The idea of cursed phone numbers is certainly not new, and in fact it is at the root of a truly eerie set of forwarded e-mails that began circulating on the Internet in 2007. The so-called "red number," "cursed phone number," or "death call" mails began making the rounds in Pakistan on April 13, 2007, and typically contained warnings not to pick up calls from certain numbers, which would appear on the screen in red. The mails stated that to do so would result in mysterious high frequency signals which would burst forth to cause brain hemorrhaging and instant death, and that dozens of people had already been killed by calling these sinister numbers. The weird mails caused widespread panic in Pakistan, where there were soon numerous people talking about people they knew who had succumbed to the deadly calls. Before long, the rumors had transformed and evolved to include not only claims of instant death, but also the even more absurd notion that the numbers could induce impotence or pregnancies. During this hysteria, numerous theories were being thrown about by the scared populace, ranging from some secret government program, to terrorists, to even the idea that the construction of a cell phone tower over sacred land had invoked the rage of vengeful spirits.
Before long, the scary stories were no longer contained within Pakistan, as they moved out into Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Phone companies for their part actively debunked the claims as a hoax, explaining that cell phones lacked the ability to project fatal frequencies that could be potent enough to cause instantaneous death or injury, but this seemed to merely fuel the rumors and add to the whole mess accusations of a cover-up. The major mobile phone company Nokia was even blamed for releasing an official document in Nigeria supposedly written by a company executive, which allegedly admitted to the use of such deadly high frequency waves over phone lines, stating:
The use of our mobile phones can cause spontaneous death to the user in certain circumstances. The problem manifests itself when the phone is dialed from certain numbers. The mobile base sends out massive quantities of electromagnetic energy, which resonates from the mobile phone's antenna. As the user answers his phone, the energy surges into his body, resulting in both coronary heart failure and brain hemorrhaging, generally followed by severe external bleeding and rapid death.
This “official document” was immediately denied by Nokia, who called it a “work of fiction” and a hoax. However, considering how deeply rooted the idea and lore of these deadly phone calls were, as well as all of the accounts from people who claimed to know those who had been targeted, of course people accused the company of merely perpetuating a cover-up. These sorts of “red number” mails warning of these deadly calls continued right up until 2012, when they began to slowly peter out. This probably was all indeed a hoax mixed with mass hysteria, but it does show that there is a fundamental fear of the technology we take for granted everyday turning into a lethal weapon against us, and an extension of this would be the notion that this technology could also be cursed by forces beyond our understanding. In both the cases of the “red numbers” and the cursed Mobitel phone number, there is the underlying fear of our ubiquitous, indispensable cell phones transforming into agents of evil.
Was the case of the Mobitel cursed number similarly simply the reflection of these fears mixed with eerie coincidence and hysteria to create essentially a sort of spooky urban legend? Or is this indicative of something truly mysterious? It certainly seems rather ominous that every person to own the mysterious phone number has died a horrible death, but does this mean that there is truly a curse? The murders of a crime boss and drug trafficker seem to be an occupational hazard in those lines of work, but what of the by all accounts honest CEO who suddenly and dramatically wasted away from cancer? Is the sudden death of three owners of the number within 5 years all just coincidence, or is it something more? While we may never really truly know the answers to these questions, cases like this underline our deeply ingrained fear of the technology we use every day somehow turning against us. Where once there were cursed amulets or jewelry, now we have cursed cell phones and phone numbers. It seems that as we move forward and our technology evolves changes and progresses, so to do our fears, folklore, and legends, and these will likely stay with us in one form or another no matter how much we technologically progress.