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Anonymous Creepy Letter
January 9, 2013 11:23 AM   Subscribe

My wife received an anonymous creepy letter from someone out of state.

My wife received an anonymous letter addressed to her workplace today. This person claimed to have the same name as her, but that's not surprising - my wife has a very common name that pulls thousands of results in any internet search.

This individual says that although he/she doesn't know my wife, they enjoy writing letters and chose my wife to be the recipient only because they supposedly share the same name. The writer of the letter claimed to be an English major, but the letter was filled with blatant misspellings. This person, who claimed to be a female but had handwriting that looked male, let my wife know they would be writing from time to time on a variety of subjects and claimed they were not imprisoned or insane. They then included a return address (which isn't accurate - see below) so that my wife could respond if she wanted it to stop. The very nature of the letter and the fact that it was mailed from a city half-way across the country and totally unconnected with her makes me (and her) really, really worried.

There are a couple of things that are really troubling about it:
-According the the White Pages, there is a person with her name who lives on the same street, but not at the specific address provided by the letter's author.
-It was written in pencil - for some reason, an adult writing an anonymous letter in pencil struck me as odd.
-My wife's workplace never updated their website with her name, and she is not listed anywhere online that would give this information up easily.
-They specifically mentioned a book in the letter, a book which does include anonymous letters written from and to unknown individuals.
-A Google search of my wife's name doesn't put her remotely close to the top of the search results. Her name on Facebook doesn't include her last name. A LinkedIn search pulls hundreds of people with the same name as her. In other words, she truly is indistinguishable from the thousands of other girls who share her name.

What would you do in this situation? Has anybody ever heard of this as a prank? We've contacted the local police station, who told us there is nothing they can do about it. Is there anything else we can do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
If your wife doesn't respond, the person has no way of knowing if your wife is even there to take and/or read the letter. If your wife writes back, even via a cease-and-desist, she confirms that she got the letter and is where she "should" be.

Have your wife inform HR at her workplace about the creepy letter, for safety reasons (writer could show up at work?) and then just keep the letter and the envelope in a safety deposit box or other safe place, just in case someone does show up at her workplace.

Think about your safety, and your wife's, in a general context. Do you perform any behaviors that are needlessly risky? Identify those and stop. Read "Gift of Fear," a perpetual Ask MeFi favorite.

If she gets more letters like this at work, she should bring them to HR and have HR open them in front of her, and document the incident.
posted by juniperesque at 11:33 AM on January 9, 2013 [14 favorites]


I'd say there's nothing to worry about if the letters are sent to her place of work.
I would feel differently if they sent the mail to your home address.

But just to be sure, keep the letter, and if there are more letters with anything resembling a threat, then you can take them all back to the police, so you have a complete history of correspondence.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:33 AM on January 9, 2013


How do you know it was sent from across the country? By the return address or an actual postmark?

Honestly, I would just pitch it and not give it another thought. Or, rather, I'd probably show my friends and say, "lookit this weirdo!" and stick it in a box or something and forget about it. "Pitch it" metaphorically speaking.

If you get a second letter, then I'd be a bit concerned. But as it is, I'd just mentally file it in "sometimes life is dumb" and move along.
posted by phunniemee at 11:34 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


And I agree with juniperesque, keep HR informed and involved.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:34 AM on January 9, 2013


Oh, and I'd double check everything and be super super sure it's actually from a person, and not from a church or something. I've gotten a few really really weird letters that seemed personal, but were really just cleverly disguised junk mail from religious organizations. Some of them are more obvious than others. Whackadoo prayer rug, I'm looking at you.
posted by phunniemee at 11:37 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Save the letter, do not respond, tell HR.

Maybe I am jaded because as a writer I get tons of weird correspondence all the time (lots of perpetual motion machines and PEAK OIL) but there is just a certain subset of people who like to write weird letters to complete strangers.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:41 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I sent an email once to someone who has my unusual name and she ignored it. I was just so excited to find someone with my name! So it might just be that. I imagine she figured I was a creepy stalker, though if she'd wanted she could have googled me.

Now there are 4 people with my name so far as I can tell, one of whom is a teenager who posts hundreds of pictures of herself, so the thrill of finding someone with my name has worn off some.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:50 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


By way of contrast to the letter your wife got: I recently wrote a letter to someone with my name in another country, mainly because I was getting all her insurance quotes and job applications and didn't know what her correct email address was.

I had her mailing address, because it was in all the emails (oops, security issue) but didn't want to freak her out -- so I wrote her a nice letter saying so, including my business card to prove I was who I said I was, and advising her to check her contacts. Haven't heard back yet, but I hope she wasn't scared -- although the emails featuring her stuff continue!

I used to work for a local paper and I can also confirm that people send letters in green pen, pencil, crayon, stickers, and all sorts -- so continue to ignore the letter if it freaks out your wife, but I don't see it as a targeted "attack."
posted by vickyverky at 11:57 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


If a second letter shows up don't open it, write "addressee unknown" on the envelope and give it back to the postal worker (white page directories are often inaccurate).
posted by mikepop at 12:03 PM on January 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


For normal correspondence I would agree with mikepop, but for something so far outside the norm... The Gift of Fear says do not engage at all. So in this case I would go with the advice of notifying HR. I was wondering if this could possibly be someone who your wife encountered in the course of business (some sort of disgruntled customer maybe)? Either way, she should flag it (with HR) and then move on.
posted by vignettist at 12:22 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Something very similar happened to me:

I work at a university, and our department has my name and photo on our website (so we look friendly...I suppose...). Someone saw that photo and decided to email me to tell me how beautiful he(?) thinks I am. Having read The Gift of Fear, I knew better than to respond.

Three months later I get another email from the same person telling me how my lack of response was making him feel creepy, and how unfair that is because he isn't creepy at all (WTF?).

A combination of the context, tone, and broken English, was really unsettling to me, so I took the emails to HR. They were really great about it. With my permission, they sent copies of the emails to my department and formally asked that no information about me be given out to anyone outside the department, in case the person tried to escalate his pursuit.

This is what I would recommend you ask HR for if possible. I mean, I realize that companies aren’t supposed to release information about you anyway, but you would be surprised what you can achieve by calling in with a fake emergency or believable excuse. If you want a good example, just look at how simple it was for the makers of the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated to call the veritable fortress that is the MPAA, and get the supposedly "heavily guarded" names of all of their film raters.
posted by Shouraku at 1:09 PM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


HR could write a letter saying the person involved no longer works there.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:13 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


HR could write a letter saying the person involved no longer works there.

I asked about that when I had my issue. Our HR told me that they wouldn't make themselves liable by lying, especially in writing. However, I suppose that it wouldn’t hurt to ask, YMMV.
posted by Shouraku at 1:23 PM on January 9, 2013


I agree with everyone who says notify HR, keep a copy of the letter, and then do nothing. It could be someone with a mental illness, even though they don't consider themselves "insane". (I could see someone in a manic phase write something random like this).

Notify HR so that they can be aware of any random visitors that are looking for your wife (and to make sure your wife's information is NOT added to the website), and then wait to see what happens next. It could be one random letter sent to several people with the same name, hoping someone responds so that they can start up a "conversation". Don't engage.
posted by MultiFaceted at 1:32 PM on January 9, 2013


I saw something on facebook along the lines of: this man writes letters/postcards to complete strangers every single day. It was written as if this were a good thing and that others should be inspired to do the same [very weird if you ask me]. Maybe the sender is one of those that got inspired?
Not saying you should engage this person, just that he or she might be harmless and motivated by stupid stuff on facebook.
posted by Neekee at 4:20 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Honestly? This seems less like something malicious and more like someone looking for a quirky pen pal. Paying it forward, PostSecret, that kind of thing. Maybe someone lonely and going about it in an awkward way, but not an ax murderer. A lot of what you mention as red flags are more like red herrings (pencil? So what? Handwriting "looking male"? Does it, like, dot the i's with dicks? And you don't even want to know the misspellings that English professors get every day on official assignments, let alone casual correspondence.)

My guess is that they read the book - what book is it, by the way? - was inspired, and found your wife's name the same way you found hers: on the White Pages, randomly. I mean, my creep-dar's more sensitive than a lot of people's, I feel like, but this strikes me as harmless unless it escalates. (In which case you should definitely follow the advice above.)
posted by dekathelon at 4:53 PM on January 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


That's freaky. I'd go to HR for sure, maybe the police as well. (Just in case there are future incidents).
posted by windykites at 5:00 PM on January 9, 2013


The thing that concerns me and puts it into creepy territory instead of just weird, is that the mail was sent to her workplace, even though she is not publicly listed as an employee, nor is she listed by complete name in any easily found webpage or on social media.
posted by QuakerMel at 6:32 PM on January 9, 2013


Oh i am so glad I read this post. I did some google searching based on one of the comments and found that INDEED there is an entire facebook community and website dedicated to the art of writing letters to strangers to cheer them up and make new connections (typically the letters are left in coffee shops, but can also be sent to specific people). A extrovert writer's dream that I never knew about and now I've gone and signed up to participate!

Hopefully your letter writer is just that- an extroverted writer- and it is harmless. Maybe let your guard down and don't be so quick to assume dangerous/creepy intentions. A stranger is only a friend you don't know yet. :)
posted by TestamentToGrace at 6:57 PM on January 9, 2013


This sounds like a Paul Auster book. Not responding seems like the right answer, you'll probably never hear from this person again. But if you really want to understand what is going on, while I understand why the police won't investigate, that doesn't mean you can't hire a private investigator to discretely find out who is sending the letter and, possibly, why.
posted by chrismc at 7:04 PM on January 9, 2013


I am not a lawyer (nor a member of law enforcement).

That being said, I would consider contacting the following organizations:

(a) the US Postal Service's inspection division (https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/)
(b) the FBI (if the letters continue).

I'm not sure local law enforcement has the time or resources to handle something like this.

Good luck, either way.
posted by NYC-BB at 7:43 PM on January 9, 2013


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