Once the telephone became widespread, phone calls became a rather mundane part of life. But what if you were just going about your day when your phone rings, you answer the call, and on the other side of the line, you hear a tragedy unfolding?
10 Laura McComb
On May 23, 2015, Laura McComb, her husband, her children, and another family of five were vacationing together in Wimberley, Texas, when a violent storm hit the area. It caused the Blanco River to flood, and the waters rose 8 meters (26 ft) within one hour.
That water surrounded McComb and her family and forced them onto the second level of the cabin. At 11:11 PM, McComb called 911 and told them that she and her family were on the second floor. The dispatcher said they would send help but did not give them a time frame.
Less than 18 minutes later, the cabin where the two families were staying broke away from the foundation. McComb called her sister in Austin and said, “We are floating in a house that is now floating down the river. Call mom and dad. I love you . . . and pray.”
The cabin floated for a while before breaking up. Only one person out of the nine staying in the cabin survived the flood: McComb’s husband, Jonathan, who was pulled from the flood 20 kilometers (12 mi) away with a punctured lung and a broken rib.
9 Lisa Flormoe
On the night of August 13, 1991, Lisa Flormoe from Eugene, Oregon, was visiting a friend in Wilsonville, Oregon. At some point, 16-year-old Todd Davilla came to the door looking for a teenage girl who lived in the house where Flormoe was staying. She told him that the girl wasn’t home, and Davilla left.
Alone in the house, Lisa decided to call her fiance. While they talked on the phone, there was another knock at the door. After Flormoe went to get it, her fiance heard her scream and plead for her life before the call went dead.
Her fiance called 911, but they responded too late to save Flormoe. Davilla had returned to the house, forced his way in, and attempted to rape Flormoe. But after she cut him with his dull Boy Scout knife, he decided to kill her.
He stabbed her with the knife several times in the neck, nearly decapitating her. After the murder, Davilla showered and went to the county fair with some friends. He was arrested five days later after police received an anonymous tip. He pleaded guilty and was given a life sentence.
Since his plea, Davilla’s sentences have been overturned repeatedly. As of late 2015, he has been sentenced five times and is currently serving a 50-year sentence. But he plans to appeal.
8 Angela Marie Hammond
At 11:45 PM on April 4, 1991, Angela Marie Hammond, 20, called her boyfriend, Rob Shafer, from a pay phone in the parking lot of a grocery store. She told him that she wouldn’t be coming over as originally planned. Instead, she was going home to take a bath.
Hammond then said that there was a pickup truck circling the parking lot. She told her boyfriend that the man driving the truck had parked next to the phone booth, gotten out, and pretended to look for something. Hammond described the man as filthy and bearded.
Then Shafer heard Hammond scream, and the call went dead. Shafer jumped in his car and drove in the direction of the grocery store that was seven blocks away. On the way, he passed a green Ford F-150 pickup truck from the 1960s or early 1970s. Shafer heard Angela scream his name, so he turned around and followed the truck for about 2 kilometers (1 mi) before his transmission had problems and the car died.
Angela’s car was found at the parking lot near the phone booth where she had made her last phone call. But her body was never found. Shafer and other eyewitnesses gave a description of the man to the police.
He was wearing coveralls and a baseball hat. He also had glasses, long hair, a beard, and a mustache. The rear window of the man’s truck had a decal of a fish jumping out of water.
After Hammond’s disappearance, Shafer was cleared as a suspect, although the bearded man in the green truck was never identified.
7 Thomas Ray Walker Jr.
On December 1, 1980, a call came into the switchboard at KDFW-TV in Dallas, Texas. The man told the operator that he had a good story, so he was connected to someone in the newsroom. When he talked to an executive producer, he identified himself as Thomas Ray Walker Jr. and admitted to killing his 35-year-old wife, Linda Jo, and his four children.
After the confession, the TV station alerted the police. They traced the call to a grocery store and converged on a phone booth there. Meanwhile, Walker explained what happened that fateful morning. He had shot his wife twice in the face while she showered. Then he called his children into the house one by one, telling them that he had a surprise for them.
As each child entered the house, he shot that child in the face, except for the youngest, who was shot behind the ear. The children ranged in age from 14 to seven. Walker explained that he did it because he was depressed and didn’t think his family would do well after he killed himself. So he decided that they were better off dead.
After confessing to the murders, he stepped out of the phone booth and kept saying, “Shoot me!” Finally, the police obliged and shot him. He died an hour later at the hospital.
6 Jonathan Hoffman
While 17-year-old Jonathan Hoffman’s parents were going through a divorce, he was living with his grandparents just northwest of Detroit, Michigan. On May 18, 2012, Hoffman and his grandmother, 74-year-old Sandra Layne, got into an argument because Hoffman had failed a court-ordered drug screening.
Layne claimed that she was afraid for her life. During the argument, she fired her Glock 9 mm semiautomatic handgun at least five times at her grandson, striking him in the chest. Hoffman called 911.
On the phone, he told the dispatcher that his grandmother had shot him. His words were slurred as he pleaded for help. A few minutes into the call, Hoffman became quiet. His grandmother reentered the room and shot him again in the abdomen. The call went silent after Layne begged Hoffman to let go of her.
Police arrived at the scene and heard two or three more shots. As Layne came out of the house, she screamed, “I killed my grandson!” Inside, a gruesome scene awaited police, with pools of blood around the house. Hoffman had been shot five times—three times in the chest, once in the abdomen, and once in the left arm.
After her arrest, Layne pleaded self-defense. But she was found guilty of first-degree murder. The 911 call was damning evidence because Hoffman was already dying while on the phone with 911. Shooting him one more time did not appear to be self-defense. The jurors also questioned why Layne didn’t call 911 herself. In the end, she was given 20–40 years in prison.
5 Mark Saylor
On the afternoon of August 28, 2009, California Highway Patrolman Mark Saylor was driving a loaner 2009 Lexus ES 350 from a dealership in El Cajon, California. In the car with Saylor were his wife, Cleofe, 45, the couple’s 13-year-old daughter, Mahala, and his brother-in-law, Chris Lastrella, 38.
They were on their way to soccer practice when the car started to speed up and the brakes didn’t work. By the time they called 911, the car was going over 160 kilometers per hour (100 mph). On the 911 call, Saylor told his family to pray as they approached an intersection, which was at the end of the freeway on which they were driving.
Saylor tried to make a left turn when the freeway ended, but they were going too fast. They hit a Ford Explorer, went through a fence, and hit a dirt embankment that catapulted the car more than 30 meters (100 feet). Once the vehicle crashed, it burst into flames. No one survived.
The Saylor family sued the dealership and Toyota, the parent company of Lexus. They settled in 2010 with Toyota, receiving $10 million. In 2015, they settled with the dealership.
The crash also led to a wider investigation into Toyota regarding problems with certain models accelerating on their own. After the investigation, the US Justice Department concluded that Toyota had misled the public about the problems and agreed to a $1.2 billion settlement with the company.
4 Triffie Wadman
In St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, on the night of September 30, 2011, 30-year-old Triffie Wadman and her ex-boyfriend, Trevor Pardy, were texting. Pardy wanted to talk about their relationship, but Wadman didn’t want to communicate with text messages. Instead, she suggested they meet face-to-face.
Pardy had promised to return money that he owed her, so they agreed to talk then. At 1:00 AM, Pardy and Wadman met on the street. Pardy pulled a 9 mm handgun and shot Wadman.
As she lay on the ground, she called 911. Once the operator picked up, Wadman screamed, “My ex . . . got a gun, he just shot me.” Later, she became quiet, and Pardy said, “All that for what?” He told Wadman to look at him. Then he said, “I love you. Goodbye.” Moments later, Pardy talked on the phone with the dispatcher and told her that he was going to kill himself.
When police and paramedics arrived on scene, Pardy wouldn’t let them help Wadman for 15 minutes. She died in the hospital due to blood loss. Meanwhile, Pardy engaged in a four-hour standoff with police. They arrested him when they pretended to hand over insulin for his diabetes.
In court, he pleaded not guilty, saying that it was an accident. But on the first day of the trial in 2015, the Crown played the recording of the chilling 911 call, and Pardy was found guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years.
3 Amina And Sarah Said
Throughout their childhood in Irving, Texas, Amina and Sarah Said were physically and sexually abused by their father, Yaser Abdel Said. When they became teenagers, he would often spy and videotape the girls without their knowledge.
They were not allowed to have boyfriends. Yet, both of them, now 17 and 18, started secretly dating. On Christmas Eve 2007, Yaser found out. He waved a gun around, and Amina and Sarah fled the house to their mother’s workplace.
That night, the three women and the girls’ boyfriends ran away to Tulsa, Oklahoma. They got an apartment, and one of the boyfriends found a job. Yet for reasons that remain unclear, Amina, Sarah, and their mother returned to Texas for New Year’s Eve.
The next day, Yaser convinced his daughters to go to lunch with him. In his taxi, he drove them to a hotel parking lot and shot them. Then he got out of the car and walked away.
Once the girls were out of the car, one of them called 911. A dispatcher with the Irving Fire Department tried desperately to get their address, but the girl on the phone faded in and out, saying that she was dying and that her father had shot her. An hour later, the bodies of the teen girls were found after someone reported seeing a body slumped over in the passenger seat of the cab.
After murdering his daughters, Said took all the money from his savings accounts and fled. He is still at large and is currently on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List.
2 Don Spirit
On the afternoon of September 18, 2014, the 911 dispatcher in Bell, Florida, received a call from a man who instantly blurted out, “Yes, ma’am, I, I, um, I just shot my daughter. And shot all my grandkids. And I’ll be sitting on my step. And when you get here, I’m going to shoot myself.”
The dispatcher then got more information from the man, who identified himself as Don Spirit and gave his address. He said that he had shot his daughter and six of his grandchildren, one of them an infant. When the dispatcher tried to get him to stay on the line, he became angry.
Finally, Spirit said that he’d be waiting on the back step for police to arrive. Then he hung up. After the police arrived, there was a brief exchange before Spirit shot himself. Inside the home, police officers found the bodies of Spirit’s 28-year-old daughter and her six children, who ranged in age from two months to nine years old.
Amazingly, the mass murder wasn’t the only time that Spirit was responsible for the death of a family member. In 2001, he was hunting with his eight-year-old son, Kyle, when he pointed out some rust on the end of his rifle. When Kyle looked at it, the gun fired, hit the boy in the head, and killed him.
Spirit was given three years for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He had a record for a felony marijuana conviction in 1998.
1 Amber Tuccaro
On August 17, 2010, 20-year-old Amber Tuccaro arrived in Nisku, Alberta, where she stayed the night at a motel with her infant son and a friend. The next day, Tuccaro wanted to head into nearby Edmonton. So she decided to hitchhike, and an unknown man in a truck picked her up.
While in the truck, Amber was on a recorded phone call with her brother, who was serving time at the Edmonton Remand Center. During the 17-minute call, Amber sounded nervous and was concerned with the direction that the man was driving. She said things like “you better not take me any place I don’t want to go.” Then suddenly, the voices became inaudible and the line went dead. That was the last time that anyone heard from Tuccaro.
Two years after her disappearance, the Royal Mounted Canadian Police (RCMP) released 61 seconds of the call in the hopes that someone would recognize the voice of the man. In a complete coincidence, four days after the audio was released, the partial skeletal remains of Tuccaro’s body were found by people on horseback at a farm in Leduc County, about 17 minutes away from the motel where she had stayed.
The RCMP admitted that they had mishandled the first stages of the disappearance, which is an example of Canada’s problem with unsolved murders and disappearances of aboriginal women. But they are still hoping that someone will recognize the voice of Tuccaro’s killer so that he can face justice.