The babysitter and the man upstairs
The babysitter and the man upstairs — also known as the babysitter 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". The basic storyline has been adapted a number of times, including in Foster's Release (1971), Black Christmas (1974), O Anjo da Noite (1974), The Sitter (1977), When a Stranger Calls (1979), When a Stranger Calls Back (1993), When a Stranger Calls (2006) and Amusement (2008). (The Sitter, When a Stranger Calls, and When a Stranger Calls Back are all the work of director Fred Walton.)
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A teenage girl is babysitting at night. The children have been put to bed upstairs and the babysitter is downstairs, watching TV. The phone rings; a man tells her to check on the children. The teenager dismisses the call and goes back to watching TV. The stranger calls back several times. Eventually the girl becomes worried and calls the police, who tell her they will trace the next call. After he calls again, the police call back, telling her that the call is coming from inside the house and tell her to get out now. She goes outside and the police meet her. They explain that the calls were coming from inside the house, and that the man was calling her after killing the children.
The historical crime
The crime on which this urban legend is likely based happened in 1950. On the evening of March 18, 1950, 15-year-old Janett Christman was babysitting 3-year-old Gregory Romack at his home on West Boulevard and Stewart Road in Columbia, Missouri. Sometime after Christman put the toddler to bed and before his parents returned around 1:30 a.m., an intruder shattered a window and attacked her in the Romacks’ living room. Although a garden hose left outside was used to break the window, police said the furniture and light fixtures near the window were totally undisturbed, making it impossible for him to run into the darkness that way. This indicated to investigators that the intruder attempted to make it look like the house had been broken into, when in reality, Christman probably opened the front door for someone she knew.
At 10:35 p.m., Officer Roy McCowan received a jarring phone call. A girl was screaming hysterically on the other end, and McCowan heard the words “come quick!” The connection, however, broke off before the girl could identify herself. At that late hour, the test board at the telephone company was not staffed, and the call could not be traced. At about 1:35 a.m., the Romacks returned home to find the front Venetian blinds open and the porch light illuminated. Both the front and back doors were unlocked, and a side window was broken open. Christman's dead body lay in a pool of blood on a shag carpet by the family piano.
In the attack, she was hit on the head with a blunt weapon, raped and strangled with an iron cord. Several small puncture wounds on her head were consistent with that of a mechanical pencil — an item often carried by a close friend of the Romacks, Robert Mueller. He had met Christman several times and, according to court documents, “expressed admiration for Christman’s figure and her mature development, and expressed the opinion that she was a virgin.” Mrs. Romack told police she thought Mueller had made unwelcome advances toward Christman in the past.
The crime remains unsolved.
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- 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 will kill the children and when he will 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 is "upstairs with the children".
- Sometimes the killer doesn't say anything but makes disturbing noises. And when the operator tells the babysitter that the calls are coming from upstairs, the line goes dead. The operator then tries calling the babysitter back to see if everything is alright, only to hear the same disturbing noises on the line.
- 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 tears 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, sometimes describing the sitter as having a multiple personality, with at least one of these personalities being a threatening and dangerous one.
- A common variation does not feature the babysitter receiving any phone calls; instead, she is disturbed by a large, hideous clown doll (or, in some versions, an angel statue). During the night, the babysitter repeatedly notices that the clown always seems to be in a different position than before. The babysitter eventually calls her employers asking for their permission to hide or remove the doll; the mother tells her they do not have a clown doll, and thus it is revealed as the intruder/killer. This version has made its way into the annals of internet "creepypasta", and is retold in the horror anthology film Amusement. However, it is probably inspired by the 1982 movie Poltergeist.
- In several semi-related variations, the babysitter goes upstairs to check on the children only to run away upon seeing a man's face in the window. Later, when the parents and police arrive, the babysitter mentions the window incident, the parents/the police however say that it is not a window, only a mirror, meaning the man was behind her.
- 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 some versions of the story the police 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, and the children (and sometimes the sitter) are kidnapped and 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 that 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.
- 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. This version ends with the sitter and children escaping and the police arresting the man.
- A lighter and slightly humorous variation ends 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; a little man with a bucket and a cloth comes in and announces in some degree, "I am the viper. I vish to vash and vipe the vindows.", and is a Central European man with an accent.
- In another variation, the babysitter is watching the television with the children. But the phone begins to ring. Thinking it's the parents checking up on them, the babysitter answers it. Only to hear a creepy man's voice saying that he'll be with them soon. Then at random times throughout the evening, the caller keeps calling them and keeps stating that he'll be with them within one hour, then forty-five minutes, then thirty minutes, and so on. The babysitter then calls the operator and they put a trace on the caller if he calls again. The caller does call again, saying that he'll be with them very soon. The babysitter then contacts the operator who says that the calls are coming from upstairs and that the babysitter must get the children out of the house at once and they'll call the police. Just after the operator says this, the babysitter and the children hear a door open and slam shut upstairs and hurried footsteps heading down the stairs and towards the door to the room where they are. This story has two endings. In one the babysitter and the children managed to get out safely while the caller is captured and taken away by the police. While in the second version, the police arrive to find everyone killed brutally and the caller had disappeared into the night. There is also another version where the caller turns out to be an older sibling of the children who after going out for the night, had sneaked back into the house and was playing a prank on the babysitter. But they end up getting into serious trouble by the police because of the prank.
- Forman-Brunell, Miriam (2009). Babysitter: An American History. New York University Press. p. 133. ISBN 0-8147-2759-X.
- Gillian Bennett, Paul Smith (2007), Urban legends, p. 50
- Gillian Bennett, Paul Smith, Contemporary legend
- "Mueller v. Powell, 203 F. 2d 797 - Court of Appeals, 8th Circuit 1953". Google Scholar. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
- "A History of Violence: Janett Christman". Vox Magazine. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
- "Who killed Janett Christman?". Columbia Daily Tribune. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
- "Unsolved murder brought back to spotlight". Columbia Daily Tribune. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
- "Statue". Urban Legends Reference Pages. Retrieved 28 November 2009.