Throughout human history there has been a powerful urge to communicate with the dead, and the persistent belief that they can also reach out to communicate with us. The specifics of how this happens have evolved over time with our means to do so. In the past it was through seances, spirit mediums, rituals, or dreams, but we have come a long way and as technology becomes ever more advanced so it seems does the methods by which the deceased can reach out to speak to us. With recording equipment we have come to be able to record the voices of spirits through what is known as the Electronic Voice Phenomenon, or EVP, whereas a mysterious phantom voice or voices which are not heard at the time of recording show up later on playback. An extension of this is the modern phenomenon of ghostly phone calls; literally getting a call, voicemail, or email message from the dead. After all, it makes perfect sense that in this age of phones and nearly everyone possessing a mobile device it seems like it would be the perfect way for the spiritual realm to try and reach out to contact us. Here we will look at some cases of ghosts that got with the times, and allegedly made calls from beyond the grave.
One of the most high profile accounts of a call from the dead was made to none other than the best-selling author Dean Koontz, which he would later relate to author and biographer Katherine Ramsland. Koontz claimed that one day he received a call on his unlisted office phone, and that when he had picked it up he could hear the voice of a woman, who sounded as if she were “far away.” Koontz explained that the woman spoke out with great urgency, giving the simple yet chilling statement of, “Please be careful.” When Koontz asked who it was, the voice did not acknowledge him, but rather repeated the same warning three more times, as the voice started to fade into the distance, after which the line fell silent leaving the author to sit there pondering what he had just heard. Eerily, he would claim that the voice had sounded exactly like that of his mother, who had passed away 20 years earlier, and he remarked, “It was such a strange call.”
Two days later, Koontz went to visit his father at a mental health facility, where he was being treated for unspecified “behavioral problems.” Allegedly, when Koontz entered the room, his father inexplicably lashed out at him with a small knife. The author was able to wrest the weapon away, and claims that when he exited the room holding the knife he was confronted by armed police officers who ordered him to drop it. Koontz, who was still bewildered by the fact that his own father had just tried to kill him, tried to explain the situation but was warned that he was going to be shot if he didn’t comply. Finally he did drop the knife and the situation was resolved, but not without sticking in his head forever. Koontz would later ponder whether the strange call he had received had been a warning from beyond the grave from his mother.
An even earlier account of ghostly phone calls comes from 1969, when a New Jersey rock musician named Karl Uphoff claimed he was called by his grandmother, with whom he had been close and who had died two days earlier. The elderly woman had been deaf, but had still always called on the phone to him or his friends to ask if Karl was there, even though she couldn’t hear the response and much to the annoyance of his friends and band mates. Karl claims that one night in 1969, he received a call while hanging out with some friends. On the other end of the line, he says he unmistakably heard the voice of his grandmother. When he asked how she was able to call when she was dead, the woman hung up. Over the next several days there would be numerous calls of this nature, and each time Karl asked her where she was or how she could call the line went dead. This went on for some time until the calls suddenly stopped.
Also from the late 1960s comes the story of a Simma Lieberman. At the time, she was in love with a man named Johnny, who she had planned to marry. The two had moved in together and things were like a dream come true. Then one night Simma claims that she got a call at night from Johnny, but that the line was filled with static and his voice sounded urgent and “rushed.” He allegedly told her, “I just want you to know that I love you, and I'll never be mean to anybody again.” When she asked him what was wrong, Simma claims that the line simply went dead. She claims that she had tried to call him back numerous times, but was only met with a dial tone. Two hours later, she received yet another call, this time from Johnny’s mother saying that he had been shot and killed the night before as he sat in his car. To this day, Simma insists that it was her dead lover reaching out to comfort her from beyond the grave.
A rather bizarre, well-circulated, and allegedly recorded case of a call from the dead happened in 1994, when a paranormal researcher by the name of George Meek was contacted from the land of the dead by his long deceased colleague, Konstantin Raudive. Meek and Raudive had been eminent researchers of recording and researching Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP), in which disembodied voices of spirits are purportedly caught on audiotape. Together, the two men had made it their life work to attempt to investigate and prove the phenomena, and were claimed to have made several groundbreaking recordings to this end, but their research was cut short with Raudive’s tragic death in 1974. Then, in 1994, Meek claims that he started being contacted by his long-dead colleague through calls, emails, and even fax. It seems oddly fitting that such a prominent researcher of EVP should come back to successfully become a part of the very phenomena he had so doggedly studied. Meek claimed that he successfully made recordings of these calls from Raudive, one of which you can listen to in its deeply creepy entirety here. For added maximum spook effect, listen to it by yourself with the lights turned off.
Also is the case of a woman simply identified as Bety, who in the late 1990s got a very strange call indeed. Bety had been working at a new job at an office and her co-workers had been out at lunch. During this time, she claims that the phone of one of the other workers rang and she absentmindedly picked it up. A man’s voice on the other end asked for an unfamiliar name before correcting himself and asking for Mary, which was the name of the woman whose phone she had picked up. When Bety told him that Mary was out and that she could take a message, he allegedly said, “Could you tell her this is her brother? I really missed her at the family gathering and I wished that she had gone.”
When Mary returned, Bety passed along the message, which provoked a shocked reaction in the woman, prompting her to run off crying. Another co-worker then explained to the perplexed Bety that Mary’s brother had died in a car crash 5 years before, and that she had not gone to a recent family reunion two weeks prior due to her husband’s health problems. The co-worker also related that the unfamiliar name was a nickname which only her brother had called her.
In another account, in 2003, a man from Lancashire named Frank Jones lost his wife Sadie to a heart attack and had her buried with her beloved cellphone, which she was known to always be playing with. Not long after the wife’s death, Jones and his family began to receive inexplicable calls, as well as SMS messages which had seemed to come from the deceased Sadie’s phone. On another strange occasion Jones claimed to have gotten a call on his cellphone from his home number, which was odd considering that he knew nobody was there at the time. When he got back home, he claims that he could smell the distinctive smell of cigarettes, which Sadie was fond of smoking even though Jones was not a smoker, as well as a faint whiff of the perfume his wife had used to wear. Jones also claimed that he regularly received SMS messages from his dead wife, which contained things that sounded like something which she would say but which listed no incoming phone number or mail address.
In a rather sinister twist, Jones had had a brush with some sort of supernatural entity before, which had already chased away another family from the house. At the time, allegedly his family’s Blackpool home was plagued with all manner of paranormal phenomena such as furniture being moved or even flung around, the sound of disembodied footsteps, a myriad of banging or tapping noises, taps turned on, clothes torn off of people, bed covers ripped off of beds, and doors being slammed shut. The entity had been known as “The Thing,” and had led the family to have the house exorcised. 5 years later, the couple lost their 32-year-old son Steven to a brain tumor, and just 3 months after that Sadie died. Does any of the phantom phone activity or the deaths have anything to do with malevolent entity they know as “The Thing”? Who knows?
One of the most famous cases of calls from the dead occurred on September 12, 2008. On this day, a Metrolink commuter train was involved in a catastrophic, fatal crash with a freight train as it ran through the Chatworth district of Los Angeles. The disaster claimed the lives of 25 people on board, one of which was a 49-year-old man named Charles E. Peck. In the hours after the tragic disaster, a total of 35 calls were made from Peck’s phone to various friends and family, including his fiancee, sister, son, and stepmother, all of who reported picking up the phone to hear only static, and also said that return calls simply picked up the man’s voicemail.
The cell phone signal from Peck’s phone eventually led to the discovery of his body, and it was determined that he had been killed instantly on impact. However, eerily, the calls had been made from his phone over the course of 11 hours after the crash, up to one hour before the body was found, when they suddenly stopped. Oddly, although the signal had led rescuers to the body, it is unclear if Peck’s cell phone was ever actually recovered. Some articles on the matter have eerily claimed that the phone was never found, but in reality the authorities simply made no mention of finding it rather than specifically saying they hadn't found it, which is different. Whether it was really found or not, rather strange is that if Peck’s phone had simply been damaged and was malfunctioning, then why did it only contact the people closest to him and no one else?
Sometimes calls from the dead don’t go all the way through, and end up as mysterious messages left on voicemail or even just numbers of dead people left behind on caller ID. In one such case, a woman known only as Fern was in grief after her husband had passed away in 2001. She then began to date a man who most people around her thought was taking advantage of her sadness and loneliness, and it was at this time that she claims she was visited in a dream by her deceased husband, which was followed not long after by orbs appearing in pictures that were taken of her. Fern believed these were signs of her husband trying to contact her, and one night her friend Lisa begged for him to appear in another dream for her. The next morning she could not remember if he had or not, but on her phone was a caller ID that was from Fern’s dead husband. Strange indeed. Was he warning her from beyond the grave of the man she was seeing? We’ll probably never know.
Beyond calls from the dead are the just as spooky emails from beyond the grave. In 2011, 32-year-old Jack Froese passed away of a heart arrhythmia. Although this is tragic, the really strange part would begin 5 months later, when Froese’s good friend, Tim Hart, received a bizarre email one night, which had come from Froese’s account and was listed as sent by him. The subject line contained simply the eerie message: “I’m Watching.” The rest of the email was no less bizarre. The email itself said, “Did you hear me? I’m at your house. Clean your f-ing attic!!!” This was especially weird because just before Froese had died Hart claimed that they had been up in the attic discussing what to do with all of the space up there.
Hart was not the only one who would allegedly receive messages from the dead man. Froese’s cousin Jimmy McGraw got in an accident and broke his ankle. A week later, he claims that he got a mail from Froese’s account that allegedly read: “I knew you were going to break your ankle, tried to warn you, gotta be careful.” The whole situation remains unexplained, and friends and family say that no one had Froese’s password and that they don’t believe the account was hacked. Just what is going on here? Your guess is as good as mine.
These are just a few choice cases of many such reports which I could not possibly extensively cover here, and throughout the cases of phantom ghost calls there are some recurring details that many of them have in common. For one, they usually tend to happen within 48 hours after the death of the person in question, although this is not always the case and they can more rarely happen in some case up to a few years later. The recipient of the call is usually someone with whom the deceased was quite close with in life, or with whom they shared some emotional tie. The calls also tend to be repetitive, often repeating a similar line over and over again before the line goes dead, and they can be a bit incoherent as well, but the ones that make sense usually mention things along the lines of “being cold,” “taking a trip,” saying goodbyes, giving reassurance, or something else adequately final. Often attempts to ask questions to the entities are met with silence of the line going dead. These calls never last long, and the voices are almost without exception always distorted by static, or sounding faint, far away, or as if being heard through a wall from another room, yet at the same time the voice is usually recognizable. The calls that do seem to last longer and have more interaction are the cases in which the person does not realize that they are talking with someone who has died, although why this should prolong the connection remains unclear.
With these cases, what are we dealing with? There are a variety of explanations proposed, ranging from the rational right up to the idea that they are exactly what they are claimed to be; calls from the dead. One notion is that these are just sick practical jokes, but who would do such a thing and how would they carry it out? Another is that these cases represent some sort of device malfunction, but if that is true then why do they consistently target only close or loved ones or one particular individual? Is it all perhaps it just an illusion created by the brain of grieving people, their minds desperately seeking a sense of closure? There is also the idea that this is just people reading what they want into random static, but with many of the calls that have been recorded everyone who hears it can unmistakably hear a voice saying something. Is it all a hoax?
Or maybe it is exactly what it seems to be? Can the spirits of the deceased reach out over that barrier between the living and the dead to make contact with us through our modern devices? If so, how do they do it? Another question might be if they are capable of doing this, then why doesn’t every spirit that passes into the next realm contact their loved ones in the same way? If they can do this, then why isn’t everyone who has lost someone’s phone ringing off the hook with messages from the dead? There are several possibilities. Perhaps pushing through the veil between these worlds is a demanding endeavor or a skill that only a few find they possess or have the willpower to accomplish. Perhaps it takes a lot out of the spirit, they have only a limited window of opportunity to attempt such a thing, or maybe only those with an urgent, desperate need to reach through can punch past that membrane separating them from the world of the living to make contact. Maybe it just simply doesn’t work for some of them. If there is a spirit world at all, then we are far from understanding how it works, so who knows?
One thing that does seem to be certain is that even as our civilization advances and our technology becomes more sophisticated, stories of the dead reaching out to us to communicate seem to be as strong as ever and the ways with which they are claimed to do so have evolved with the equipment available. Is there any reality behind these tales, whatever that may be, or is this all just wishful thinking? After all, it is a powerful human emotion to want to speak to our dead loved ones, even if it is just to say one last goodbye. The reality of the ability to reach across the space between the lands of the dead and the living to make the ultimate long distance phone call will probably not be known to us until we cross that barrier for ourselves. It is likely that only then will we know for sure whether we can make that call, and hopefully we won't be put on hold.