|Another Round of Pay Phone Hysteria|
|Netlore Archive: Add pay phone keypads coated with LSD and strychnine to the list of things the Internet says may kill you|
(Originally published April 7, 1999)
Let's face it, a lot of us were phobic about using pay telephones before all these scary rumors started going around. The filth alone can be enough to make you want to wear latex gloves, but I doubt that anyone seriously worried that using a public phone could be a life-threatening choice until recently.
We can thank the Internet for kick-starting our paranoia.
For the past several months, email rumors have been flying about HIV-contaminated needles turning up in pay phone coin return slots, allegedly hidden there by diabolical drug fiends. Supposedly, innocent users have contracted AIDS by pricking their fingers on them.
That bit of foolishness was studiously debunked by the Centers for Disease Control just last month, only to be supplanted by a new bit of foolishness on or about April 1st:
Subject: FW: Please be careful using payphones
Hello, this is to warn everyone of a new thing happening in communities as a gang initiation and such. If you care about anyone, please forward this to them immediately so they can learn of the possible harm. Even if you don't read this, at least forward it to people.
Hello, my name is Tina Strongman and I work at a police station, as a phone operator for 911. Lately, we've received many phone calls pertaining to a new sort of problem that has arisen in the inner cities, and is now working it's way to smaller towns. It seems that a new form of gang initiation is to go find as many pay phones as possible and put a mixture of LSD and Strychnine onto the buttons. This mixture is deadly to the human touch, and apparently, this has killed some people on the east coast. Strychnine is a chemical used in rat poison and is easily separated from the rest of the chemicals. When mixed with LSD, it creates a substance that is easily absorbed into the human flesh, and highly fatal.
Please be careful if you are using a pay phone anywhere. You may want to wipe it off, or just not use one at all.
Please be very careful.
On the whole, it's scarcely more credible than the needle-stick rumor, but the message above does have the advantage of citing a motive for the crime a "gang initiation" rite (reminiscent of the "Headlights Out" urban legend of years past).
In fact, the entire text can be read as a clever pastiche of older legends. The death-by-LSD motif hearkens back to the decades-old "Blue Star Tattoo" warnings. The adulteration of LSD with strychnine the latter being deadly to humans in large enough amounts was a feature of some variants of the tattoo legend, not to mention a hoary and discredited drug myth in its own right.
So, should you take this latest warning seriously? Should you warn your family and friends away from public phones? No. Don't embarrass yourself. There's no evidence that any such thing has happened, while there's plenty of evidence that whoever invented this story cribbed the details from well-known urban legends of the past. It was probably created as an April Fools prank. A highly successful one, I might add.
Does 'Tina Strongman' Really Exist?
Some versions are circulating with a Hotmail address at the bottom which appears to belong to the alleged author, "Tina Strongman." But, based on correspondence I've had with the actual owner of that address (known to me only as "Not Tina"), it does not belong to whoever created the email.
|Who wrote the email?|
The "signature" of an Air Force sergeant complete with a Pentagon phone number began appearing on one version of the message about a week after the original was first sighted.
The official credentials lent the warning a false aura of credibility -- they got there completely by accident. The Pentagon says the message did not originate from its premises, nor was the named officer its author.
Newsweek: "Sabotaged by Signature" - 05/01/99
For a short time, "Not Tina" answered all inquiries to the address "firstname.lastname@example.org" with a statement declaring the message a hoax and instructing recipients to forward it no further. It was a well-intended project, to be sure, but it had to be abandoned after some 250 messages several of them angry and accusatory flooded into the mailbox during the first two days of its existence.
So, though she undoubtedly "owns" one of the most active Hotmail accounts in existence, Tina Strongman, so far as we know, does not exist. Just another little irony of virtual life as we know it.