A call from beyond the grave?
July 21, 2014 2:38 PM   Subscribe

Years ago, I read a "true story" about a man who receives a strange phone call from his brother, then later finds that the brother was surely dead at the time. Do you recognize it? Can you tell me anything about its origins?

I don't remember which book I read it in, but I remember the type of book exactly: library paperback from the early seventies, much battered, black and white photos, stories of hauntings and lost airmen and premonitions of death and freakish coincidences and cursed automobiles, et cetera. All of it True!, of course.

The story I have in mind is of a pretty familiar type, The Phone Call From a Ghost, but I've never seen its elements arranged in quite this way since. Here it is, as best as I can remember it after fifteen years:
Robert N____, of Philadelphia, PA, was relaxing in his den one April evening when the phone rang.

"Mr. N____?" said the voice on the other end. He did not recognize it: a man's voice, hoarse and amused. There seemed to be a swirl of conversation in the background, like the man was calling from a cocktail party.

"Mr. N____?" the man said. "Mr. N____, I've got Charlie here."

Charlie was Robert's younger brother. Robert had not seen or heard from him in six months. Not since Charlie had departed for parts south to seek his fortune.

"Charlie?" said Robert. "Is he alright?"

"I've got him right here," said the man. "I'll put him on for you."

There was the crinkling sound of the phone being passed around. The other voices got louder for a moment. Robert could hear them laugh quietly, as though at the build-up of a joke.

"Robert," said Charlie. He sounded faint, and there was a groan in his voice.

"Where are you, Charlie?" said Robert. "Are you O.K.?"

"They got me here," said Charlie. "I'm hurt pretty bad."

"What's going on? What happened?"

"It hurts..."

Charlie groaned again. All the voices were laughing now.

Suddenly the line went dead.

Robert called the police, who pulled the phone company records. The call seemed to have come from San Francisco. The Philadelphia police duly forwarded inquiries to their West Coast counterparts.

Two weeks after the call, a man's body was pulled from the San Francisco harbor. In its pocket was Charlie's wallet, with Charlie's license in it. The body answered to Charlie's general description, although a positive identification could never be made owing to the poor condition of the face. The coroner estimated that the man had drowned at last four weeks before...

Said famous director Alfred Hitchcock of the case: "I'd make a movie about it, if I could only begin to explain it!"
I may not have all the details correct (particularly the cities and the time spans), but I believe I have the general events in the right order. I particularly remember the parts about the laughter and the Hitchcock quip.

I read this story, as I said, back in the middle nineties, in a book from the early seventies. I have never encountered a single mention of the case since.

Does the story this ring a bell? Was this possibly a relation or an embellishment of actual events? I'd be much obliged for the provenance.
posted by Iridic to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I have no specific help, but Hilobrow recently finished a series of "Phone Horror" stories and if I recall one of them was a story with this basic premise.
posted by lownote at 3:11 PM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Does the story this ring a bell? Was this possibly a relation or an embellishment of actual events?

It doesn't ring a bell, but I can answer your second question.

People have been reporting phone calls from deceased relatives or acquaintances pretty much since the phone was invented. Simma Lieberman's story in this article is pretty typical. There are also a lot of stories here. While I don't remember reading the particular story you're talking about, I've definitely seen stories like it and they'd usually be included in collections like the one you describe - purporting to be true stories of the unexplained.

The answer to your second question is that it is probably a relation of a story told to the person who submitted it for publication by someone or other, but it is either a complete fabrication or it is a true story embellished beyond recognition; if it were basically true, it would be someone playing a particularly sick and unlikely prank. The reader is intended to take away the conclusion that the dead brother's ghost somehow made the phone call. Since ghosts don't exist, this is impossible.

Another giveaway is the Hitchcock quote - it seems pretty certain to have been made up by whoever wrote it, using Hitchcock's name as shorthand for people who make spooky ghosty movies. This suggests the writer wasn't super familiar with Hitchcock beyond his existence as a cultural signifier, otherwise the writer might know that Hitchcock didn't really make movies about the supernatural.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 3:19 PM on July 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Look for Cal Cooper's book Telephone Calls From The Dead.
posted by kidbritish at 3:51 PM on July 21, 2014

I agree, it's a verbatim quote from Phone Calls from the Dead, a book I read dozens of time as a young teen.
posted by anastasiav at 4:59 PM on July 21, 2014

Ok, so, amazingly I was able to retrieve my (very sad looking) paperback copy of this book from the last "oh so embarassing" box of books upstairs (I also found a copy of Splinter of the Minds Eye and Pillars of Pentegarn so it was worth the trip.

Your story is found on pages 73 and 74, and I've photographed them here:

Page 73

Page 74

Page 72 starts things off by saying that the Arne Gandy story was published in 1955 by Alfred Hitchcock in the September issue of Coronet magazine, as part of an article entitled "My Five Greatest Mysteries."

I will leave to another researcher to find out if Coronet was a real magazine, or if Arne Gandy was a real person.
posted by anastasiav at 5:24 PM on July 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

PS: the "It hurts" section comes from a different story, on page 118, related to a call received by the mother of a WWII soldier at Saipan.

And now I'm putting this away before my kiddo gets his hands on it and gives himself the heebie jeebies.
posted by anastasiav at 5:40 PM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dang! Nice sleuthing, everyone!
posted by Iridic at 5:59 PM on July 21, 2014

Wow, neroli, that's really cool!
posted by anastasiav at 6:06 PM on July 21, 2014

There's a couple of mentions of it in the newspapers from 1934. One here and here. They're both really short and vague. The second one doesn't even mention the telephone story.
posted by interplanetjanet at 6:14 PM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

And here's a more recent write-up that mentions a second phone call. (The source, perhaps appropriately, is called Unbelievable.)
posted by Iridic at 6:24 PM on July 21, 2014

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