Today the police released an interesting phone recording related to the unsolved 1974 disappearance of Margaret Ellen Fox, a fourteen-year-old girl who disappeared 45 years and one day ago from Burlington, New Jersey, after going to meet with a man who said he wanted to hire her to babysit.
After her disappearance was reported, the police tapped Margaret’s parents’ phone in hopes that someone would call with information or a ransom demand or whatever. Someone did, a man who said, “Ten thousand dollars might be a lot of bread, but your daughter’s life is the buttered topping.”
That caller has never been identified, and the police held back all that info — the fact that they recorded calls, the call itself, all of it — until today, forty-five years later.
You can listen to the clip here. It’s very short: that sentence, followed by someone else saying “Who is this?” I am not sure — and perhaps the police are being deliberately vague here — whether that’s the entire call and the caller then hung up, or whether that’s not the whole call but it’s all they were able to catch on tape, or whether there’s more to the call that they decided not to release.
I posted articles about this on the Charley Project Facebook page, and a few commenters groused about the cops waiting 45 years to release the recording.
However, to that I have to say two things:
- The internet barely existed at all in 1974 and social media was not a thing yet, so it would have been harder for the police to disseminate the recording to the public even if they had wanted to.
- The phrasing used by caller is unique, and the police would have been able to use it to screen out false confessors — but ONLY if the exact words in the call were kept a secret from everyone except the investigating officers and, perhaps, Margaret’s parents. If the police had released this recording at the time they got it, they would have lost that critical advantage.
Now, about the call itself.
For those who are unaware, The word “bread” is or was occasionally used as slang for “money”. (The Oxford English Dictionary finds the first usage in 1935 and notes it may be criminal slang.)
The call sounds a little rehearsed to me. It sounds like something a character in an action movie might say, not someone in real life, and when you actually analyze the statement, it doesn’t even really make sense. (Obviously the guy meant “$10,000 is a lot of money but your daughter’s life should be worth more to you” but buttered topping is no good without any bread to put it on, so his analogy just falls apart.)
I think whoever made that call thought up that phrase ahead of time, trying to sound impressive.
Which doesn’t, of course, mean that the call WASN’T from someone with knowledge of the case. The police obviously think there’s a good chance that it was, or they wouldn’t have made a big deal of releasing this recording.
I hope this leads to something, anyway. The abductor could very well be deceased, but if at the time of Margaret’s abduction he was under, say, forty years old, he could also still be alive. And even if the abductor is dead, perhaps he told someone Margaret’s fate before his passing. When people get old they often start to fear eternal judgment.