The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs

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The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs — also known as The Baby-sitter or The Sitter — is an urban legend that dates back to the 1960s about a teenage girl babysitting children who receives telephone calls from a man who continually asks her to "check the children".[1] The basic storyline has been adapted a number of times including in Foster's Release (1971), Black Christmas (1974), The Sitter (1977), When a Stranger Calls (1979 and 2006), When a Stranger Calls Back (1993), and Amusement (2008). (The Sitter, When a Stranger Calls, and When a Stranger Calls Back are all the work of director Fred Walton.)

It has also been covered in the television programs Freaky Stories and Mostly True Stories: Urban Legends Revealed.[2][3]

The legend[edit]

A teenage girl is babysitting at night. The children have been put to bed upstairs and the babysitter is downstairs, busying herself with homework. The phone rings, and she hears at the end of the line either silence, a strange voice laughing or heavy breathing. She at first dismisses the calls as a practical joke, but as she prepares to hang up, a sinister voice asks her to "check the children." When she asks who it is, the caller hangs up. Rather than checking on the children, the teenager decides to ignore the call and goes back to her reading. The stranger calls back several times, each time becoming more persistent and aggressive.

Eventually the girl becomes worried and calls the police, who ask her to wait for the man to call again, so that they can trace the call. When he calls again, she manages to keep him talking for a few minutes and, when the police call back, they tell her that the call is coming from a second line inside the house.

As she runs to the door she sees a man with a bloody axe running down the stairs, and just manages to avoid his blow. She runs outside into the waiting arms of police, who quickly arrest the man. They then search upstairs and find out that he had already killed the children. He was waiting for the girl to come upstairs.


  • In some tellings,[4] the babysitter does not receive any phone calls but is disturbed by a hideous clown-doll (sometimes it is an angel-doll). During the night, the babysitter repeatedly leaves the room and returns, and the clown always seems to be in a different position than before. The babysitter calls her employers asking for her permission to remove the doll from the bedroom, and the mother tells her they do not have a clown-doll. This version has made its way into the annals of internet "creepypasta." This is most likely a version inspired by the movie Poltergeist. The film Amusement also includes a babysitter troubled by a sinister clown-doll.
  • The number of children varies in different versions; sometimes one, other times, two or three. Also the children rarely survive in the story, sometimes having been murdered by the man before he called the babysitter.
  • Sometimes in the story, the killer gives a certain time that he'll kill the children and when he'll come for the sitter (usually 10:30 pm is the given time).
  • Often when the killer makes the phone call, he asks the sitter if she's "upstairs with the children" or the calls start with heavy, deep breathing.
  • Sometimes the killer is described as having a weapon like an axe or a sharp knife, or the killer is described as being covered in blood in darker versions he tore the children apart with his bare hands such as in the film When a Stranger Calls.
  • Other similar legends feature the babysitter herself as the threat to the children.
  • In lighter versions of the story, the calls turn out to be a prank by the children using a tape recorder of an adult voice (usually a recording of their father's voice).
  • In lighter versions, the children are not killed. They are instead locked up in a closet or trunk, or tied up or threatened by the killer to be silent. This variant is used in the 2006 version of When a Stranger Calls.
  • In most versions of the story, the sitter calls the police and they put a tracer on the line. In some versions of the story they arrive just in time to save the children, but in others they are too late.
  • There have also been versions where the killer gets away, but the children (and sometimes the sitter) are never seen again such as in When a Stranger Calls Back.
  • In most versions, the caller asks the sitter "have you checked the children?" at least three times.
  • In one version, the story cuts to several years later. The babysitter is now married with her own children, and she is out for dinner with her husband having hired a babysitter. During the meal in the restaurant, the waiter advises that there is a phone call for her which turns out to be from the same caller who terrorized her years before. This element is used in When a Stranger Calls (1979)
  • In about every variation of this tale, the sitter is told that the calls are coming from inside the house.
  • In a different variation, the babysitter hides the children (usually in a laundry basket or an empty trunk) after she finds out the phone calls are coming from the house, only to be confronted by the killer soon after. He murders the babysitter and finds the children, who hug him lovingly when they discover he is, in fact, their brother. The parents come home, overjoyed to see their son come home from the bad place (possibly referring to an asylum or a prison) and the killer explains how he found the gift (the babysitter) waiting for him, suggesting the whole family is psychotic.
  • Some renditions of the story only start out with a single parent leaving the children with the sitter only to have the other parent (who often has been restricted by court officials) breaking in to either see or take the children.
  • Other versions describe the sitter as having a split or multiple personality. With at least one of these personalities being a threatening and dangerous one.
  • A version appears in one of Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. In this version, the sitter is with the children in the TV room and keeps getting calls from someone laughingly saying "pretty soon now". She has the police trace the call, and they tell her that the man is inside the house, at which point he reveals himself. However, this version ends with the sitter and children escaping and the police arresting the man.
  • Other variations end with neither the deaths of the babysitter nor the children, but simple miscommunication on the babysitter's part about a man called "The Viper" calling constantly to announce his arrival once an hour, eventually for the babysitter to face her assassin face-to-face at the door after hearing a knock; The man comes in and announces of some degree, "I am the viper. I vish to vash and vipe your vindows.", and is a Central European man with an accent.
  • Other variations also have one of the children (usually a young boy) being babysat playing a prank on the babysitter after the call is traced and coming from inside the house.


  1. ^ Forman-Brunell, Miriam (2009). Babysitter: An American History. New York University Press. p. 133. ISBN 0-8147-2759-X. 
  2. ^ Gillian Bennett, Paul Smith (2007), Urban legends, p. 50 
  3. ^ Gillian Bennett, Paul Smith, Contemporary legend 
  4. ^ "Statue". Urban Legends Reference Pages. Retrieved 28 November 2009. 

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