The familiar telephone looks the least probably thing you would associate with the supernatural, but through the years, there’ve been lots of reports of ghosts ringing up people, and that’s the topic of this collection of Strange But True tales: phone calls from the dead…
In 1969, a New Jersey rock music performer known as Karl Uphoff received a telephone call from his grandmother; nothing strange about that you might think, but Karl’s Gran had died 2 days earlier. Karl was eighteen at the time of the phantom call, and there had always been a special bond between him and his Gran, who was deaf. She used to phone up Karl’s friends and ask: ‘Is Karl There?’ but because she knew she wouldn’t be able to hear the reply, Karl’s Gran would then say, ‘Tell him to come home at once.’ Karl’s friends were always irritated by the deaf old woman’s constant calling, and used to tell Karl he shouldn’t have given his Gran their phone numbers.
One day Karl’s Gran died and the teenager was naturally upset, but he had no leanings towards spiritualism, and clearly never expected to hear from his Gran ever again. But Karl was wrong. One evening in 1969, Karl was with his friends in the basement of an apartment in Montclair, New Jersey, when the mother of his friend came down and said that Karl was wanted on the phone. When Karl walked upstairs he talked to the old woman and realised he was talking to his Gran, who had recently died. Before he could ask her how she could talk to him when she was dead, the woman hung up. Many more calls followed, but on each occasion, when Karl’s Gran was asked how she was still able to communicate, or what the ‘other side’ was like, the old woman would hang up. In the end, the calls stopped, but Karl felt that his Gran was still watching over him.
An additional chilling phone call from beyond the grave presumably occurred in Wilmslow, Cheshire in 1977, when a young woman known as Mary Meredith received a call at her home from her cousin Shirley in Manchester. Mary shuddered when she heard Shirley’s voice on what sounded like a bad line, because only minutes before, Mary had received a telephone call from her aunt telling her of Shirley’s tragic death in a car crash just an hour ago. Again, before the phantom caller could be questioned, she hung up.
In 1995, a radio station in Liverpool, England featured a medium named James Byrne who came on a phone-in show each week. Mr Byrne was a psychic who claimed he could convey messages from the next world, and was a very popular guest. In fact he was so popular, callers would jam the switchboard at the station whenever he was on air. One woman named Mrs Wilson of Ellesmere Port rang the radio station, desperate to get in touch with James Byrne because her grandfather had died a year ago and she wanted to know if he had any messages for her. Unfortunately, Mrs Wilson couldn’t get through to the medium because the lines were jammed solid, and so she just sat back and listened to Mr Byrne on the radio show. Around 10 o’clock that night, just as the News At Ten news programme was starting, Mrs Wilson’s phone rang. The woman answered the call, and a familiar, but distant-sounding voice said, ‘Look love, I’m all right. It’s great over here; I’m with your Grandmother and all the other nice people who have passed on.’
Mrs Wilson was naturally astounded, for she recognised that the caller was her late grandfather. ‘Granddad – is that you?’ she muttered. Her legs felt weak.
‘Yeah love. Now listen: stop living in the past and reminiscing. Go forward. I’m still around looking over you. I’ve got to go now love. Give my love to the kids. Bye.’ said the old man’s voice and it faded away until Mrs Wilson could just hear the purring tone.
Mrs Wilson wondered if someone was perpetrating a sick joke, so she dialled 1471 on the phone in order to get the caller’s number. But the automated voice on the line quoted Mrs Wilson’s own number. In other words, the call had originated from her own telephone. Mrs Wilson had no extension, and was therefore convinced that her grandfather had somehow called her from beyond the grave to let her know he was okay.
In the late 1980s, a Manchester woman in England named Sadie lost her husband in tragic circumstances. Her husband left her a considerable amount of money in his will, and Sadie and her 7-year-old daughter Abigail subsequently moved to a graceful old cottage just outside Sandbach. The landlord asked for a modest sum as a deposit on the cottage, and Sadie wondered why the rent was so low on such a desirable rustic residence.
She and Abigail gave the dusty cob-webbed place a good spring-cleaning, and later had it decorated. Sadie fell in love with the peaceful rear garden, which had a sad-looking weeping willow in the middle of its neglected lawn. Three months after moving into the Cheshire country house, Abigail excitedly told her mother one December evening that she had just seen ‘a kind old woman’ in a long black dress standing beneath the willow tree, smiling at her. Abigail said the woman waved once and faded away.
Abigail was a quiet, honest child who was not in the habit of imagining things and embroidering fanciful stories, so Sadie was a little unnerved by her daughter’s tale of the ghostly woman. However, there were no further sightings of the phantom, although many strange things did occur at the cottage not long afterwards.
One night, Abigail said she felt dizzy. Sadie put her daughter to bed earlier than normal and surmised that the girl was just over-tired, as she had risen earlier than normal that day and had helped out in the garden, digging the weeds. Sadie decided she would have an early night herself, and retired to her bedroom with a book. An hour had passed when there was a knock at the door of the cottage. Sadie was naturally alarmed and wondered who could be calling at 11 pm. She went downstairs to the hall in her slippers and night-gown and nervously asked who was there.
A well-spoken man replied that he was a doctor and that he had been called out to examine a girl named Abigail.
Sadie unbolted the door and opened it. A tall grey-haired man stood on the doorstep carrying a briefcase. He looked at a card in his hand and said, ‘You are Sadie?’ and he apparently knew Sadie’s surname.
Sadie explained that she had not called him out, but invited the physician indoors anyway. She took him up to Abigail’s bedroom and the doctor gave the child a quick examination. He pointed out the rash on Abigail’s arms and after shining his penlight torch in her eyes, he told Sadie it looked as if Abigail had the symptoms of meningitis. The doctor drove the girl and her shocked mother to hospital where Abigail was positively diagnosed as suffering from the potentially fatal condition. Because the brain disease was caught in its early stages, the antibiotics and other medicines luckily overcame the life-threatening condition.
But who had contacted the doctor to call him come out to Abigail? Sadie was really confused by that mystery. She did not have an idea at the time, but something later happened which gave her a good idea who the eerie helper was.
In 1989, a handsome middle-aged man called at Sadie’s cottage. He said his car had ran out of petrol and he asked the widow if she could possibly lend him a few pounds so he could go and fill his can at the filling station down the road. The man offered to leave an expensive-looking watch as a security and promised he’d return later to repay Sadie. Sadie kindly gave the sincere-looking man a five-pound note and he seemed very grateful. He walked off to the filling station with his can and loaded it with petrol, then returned to his Ford Fiesta, which was parked up at a lane near to Sadie’s cottage.
When the man had emptied the can of petrol into the Fiesta’s fuel tank, he went over to the cottage and gave the widow the change from the five-pound note she had lent him. The man said he would set off right away to get the money he owed her, and although Sadie told him that wouldn’t be necessary, the man left. He returned about six that evening with a bunch of carnations and the money he owed Sadie. The cottager was flattered, and when she accepted the roses, the man kissed her hand then turned, ready to walk away. Sadie suddenly said to him: ‘Wait; you forgot your wristwatch.’
The man said ‘Oh yes,’ and walked back up the path to her.
Sadie said to the man, ‘Come in and have a cup of tea.’
It had been quite some time since Sadie had had some male company, and she did find the man attractive. Over a cup of tea he told her that he was from Middlewich and that his name was Tim. In the course of the long conversation that stretched until 9 pm, Tim said that the girl he had gone steady with for four years had recently left him for someone else, and that he was now wary of getting involved with the opposite sex again. Sadie advised him not to become a recluse because of his experiences with one girl, and hinted that she was still looking for someone too. Sadie was almost forty but looked about thirty-five. Tim said he was twenty-six. Sadie thought the age gap between them wasn’t too big, and she and Tim ended their chat that evening by swapping telephone numbers.
Two days afterwards, Sadie telephoned Tim but got a steady disconnected tone. She wondered if the young man had only given her a ‘dead’ number just to appease her. She didn’t know what to think, but she hoped she would see or hear from Tim again. A few days later, the phone in Sadie’s cottage started to ring. Abigail picked it up as Sadie was racing towards it. The girl said, ‘It’s for you Mum.’
Sadie grabbed the receiver and said: ‘Hello?’
Tim didn’t reply. It was the voice of an old woman, and she said some horrible things about Tim from Middlewich. She said he was a bigamist and a confidence trickster who knew about the large amount of money that had been left to Sadie by her late husband.
Sadie was stunned by the claims and a little heartbroken. She asked the caller to identify herself, and the old woman told Sadie that her landlord would provide her with that answer. Tim paid another visit to Sadie one Sunday evening in the following week. This time he brought more flowers and a bottle of wine to the cottage. Sadie asked Tim about the strange telephone call she had received and what the anonymous old woman had said. When Tim heard about the caller’s allegations about him being a bigamist and a conman, the young man suddenly got up, put on his coat, and left the cottage without saying a word. Sadie never set eyes upon Tim again, and several months later she learned from a neighbour that Tim was regarded as a rather shady character who had spent six months in prison for fraud. He was also rumoured to have two wives; one in Crewe and another in Chester. He was also currently living with a mistress in Middlewich.
When Sadie’s landlord visited her one day, she told him about the mysterious old woman who had telephoned with her strange tip-offs. The landlord seemed very nervous all of a sudden. Sadie told him that the uncanny caller had said that the landlord knew her identity.
In the end, the landlord said that previous occupants in the Sandbach cottage had reported seeing the ghost of an old woman. The former tenants had also told him of creepy late-night nuisance calls from an old woman who gave advice and warnings. The landlord said he initially thought the stories were just exaggerations and excuses to leave without paying the rent. Sadie promised her landlord she would not move out because she regarded the ghost as helpful and harmless. The landlord then told Sadie that an old spinster named Enid had died at the cottage five years back.
She had lived in the cottage for some twenty years, and was something of a recluse. There were rumours that she had been jilted in her youth and had never bothered with men again. The only thing she lived for was the back garden. One afternoon she was found dead beneath the willow tree in the garden she had so lovingly tended. The coroner ruled that Enid had died from a massive stroke, but within months, the new tenants at the cottage reported seeing the spectre of an elderly woman crossing the lawn in the back garden one moonlit night. The landlord confessed that he also glimpsed Enid’s shade one wintry evening. He saw her glide across the snow-covered lawn, but when he went to investigate, there were no footprints in the virgin snow.
The ghost hasn’t phoned for a while, but whenever the phone rings, Sadie often wonders if its Enid calling. Sadie still hasn’t found Mr Right and although Abigail is now married, her mother doesn’t feel lonely, because she knows Enid is always around somewhere.
Article author: Tom Slemen 1999