The murder of a teenage babysitter 67 years ago remains unsolved.
“The call is coming from inside the house.”
These eight words have been uttered by countless children, and mark one of the most popular urban legends of all time. Children have been telling this story — sometimes called “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs” — for decades at slumber parties, and swearing they know the sister of the person it happened to.
This legend, unfortunately, isn’t just a tale made up to frighten your childhood BFF. It’s rooted in an unsolved murder case from 1950.
The Babysitter Urban Legend
For those that haven’t heard this legend in a decade or more — here’s a quick refresher. It’s best read in a spooky voice, with a flashlight in front of your face.
Jane was babysitting for the Millers for the first time. The Millers’ kids, Bobby and Tiffany, were already asleep when Jane arrived. She was doing her homework at the kitchen table when the phone rang. “Hello?” Jane asked, but heard only heavy breathing in return. She hung up the phone and walked to the front door to make sure it was locked.
The phone rang again. Jane picked up and said “Hello?”
“Have you checked the children?” said a low voice from the other end. Confused, Jane asked who was calling, but the caller was gone.
Fifteen minutes later, the phone rang again and the caller asked the same question: “Have you checked the children?” Jane knew she should go upstairs to check on Bobby and Tiffany, but her legs were too weak to safely climb the stairs. She called the Millers several times, but couldn’t get ahold of them.
Next, Jane called the operator to see if it was one of her classmates trying to frighten her. The operator asked her to hold while she traced the calls.
When the operator came back on the line, she told Jane: “Get out of the house now! I’ll send the police. The calls are coming from inside the house!”
The Truth Behind The Urban Legend
The truth is even more horrifying, so be warned. The origin of the babysitter-and-the-man-upstairs story is believed to be a murder that happened in the town of Columbia, Missouri in March, 1950.
Eighth grader Janett Christman had decided to skip a party with her classmates to babysit for a local family named the Romacks. The 3-year-old boy she was babysitting was already asleep when she arrived.
“It was kind of an eerie night,” recalled Janett’s friend Carol, decades later, in the documentary ‘Killer Legends.’
“I also was babysitting, and I just felt uneasy,” she said. Reports say that night in Columbia, the temperature was below freezing, and it was raining and sleeting.
Little is known about what happens next, but here’s what we know. Janett Christman was raped and strangled to death with an iron cord. The killer was likely someone she knew. Janett tried to call the police, but all they heard on the other end of the line was desperate screams telling them to “come quick.” Police were unable to trace the call.
Soon after Janett’s phone call to the police, Mrs. Romack tried calling to check in on how the night was. She received a busy signal, but thought little of it. It was only when the Romacks came home that they realized what the busy tone had probably been: the phone still off the hook, while nearby, Janett lay dead.
Despite the urban legend, there’s no hard evidence that Janett’s killer placed any calls to the Romack’s phone on the night of the murder — either from inside or outside the house. Sorry to debunk the scariest line from the horror story, but them’s the facts.
The Romacks found Janett’s body on their living room floor at 1:30 a.m. when they came home. Signs of a violent struggle spread across two rooms. Thankfully, their 3-year-old kid was safe. He’d slept through the whole ordeal.
Local police questioned dozens of men in their search to find the killer. The most likely suspect was Robert Mueller, a friend of the Romacks. Mr. Romack testified that Mueller, 27, had commented on Janett’s “well-developed form.” Mrs. Romack said Mueller had run his hand across her dress two days before the murder. Mueller was also known to carry around a mechanical pencil that matched puncture wounds that police found on Janett’s body.
But police and the Boone County Sheriff’s Department bungled the case against Mueller, and he was never charged in the murder. To this day, the case remains unsolved.
We may never know what happened to 13-year-old Janett Christman.