Stu Bykofsky | Verizon disconnects 2 lives
Phone company's foot-dragging stymies police, owner in search for dog's torturers
Philadelphia Daily News
THE LAST TIME Bill Whiting heard his little brown dog, she was screaming in pain as two miserable bastards tortured her.
Whiting heard this over the phone as the two monsters demanded money to return the Beagle mix.
Her name was Edna, and she was so gentle that Whiting took her to hospitals, where patients cheered up as they petted her. Edna had pointed bunny ears, warm brown eyes and was Whiting's "constant companion" since he adopted her a decade ago. She had never known anything but kindness from human hands.
Whiting made sure that Edna always wore her collar. Attached to her collar were her vaccination tags, showing she was a healthy dog, and her name tag with Whiting's information, showing she was a loved dog. When Edna walked, her tags jingled.
Whiting heard the jingling over his Verizon phone as Edna screamed in pain. Terrorized, he couldn't imagine what the savages were doing to his little brown dog.
He just wanted it to stop - and when he wanted help from Verizon, it came very slowly and at a steep price.
Edna disappeared on Halloween night. A Center City resident, Whiting was visiting a friend in the Italian Market area, and he brought Edna along, because Edna went everywhere with him.
That evening, with the doorbell being rung every few minutes by trick-or-treaters, Edna somehow slipped out, maybe to follow some children, because she was a friendly and trusting dog.
When Whiting noticed she was missing, he frantically ran up and down the narrow South Philly streets, whistling and calling her name. The next morning he put up fliers with her picture, his cell-phone number and the promise of a $500 reward for her return. Whiting hoped anyone finding her would call, either out of the goodness of his heart or desire for the reward.
He waited vainly for 10 days, heart-sick and physically sick over Edna. Then, late at night on Nov. 10, the phone rang and he could hardly believe what he heard.
He heard two voices that sounded male and young. The first said he was 16, his brother was 9 and they had his dog. He wanted Whiting, 57, who works for the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, to talk with his brother.
At first, Whiting says he could barely understand the younger boy, speaking in what he described as "American ghetto slang." Whiting slowly realized the boy wanted $600 to ransom Edna.
"I was to bring cash, by myself," at midnight to a location Whiting could not decipher.
Whiting agreed to pay the money but not to a midnight meeting. "They said they wanted the money now, and told me they'd kill the dog, repeating, 'You don't believe me, Mister, let me hurt it so you can hear.' "
Whiting heard Edna yelp in pain. When he heard the jingling of her tags, Whiting knew they had his beloved little brown dog.
"I couldn't believe how evil he was," says Whiting. "He said, 'You know, Mister, I want to kill your dog.' "
Whiting pleaded with them not to hurt Edna, offering to give them even more than $600 if they would keep Edna safe until the morning.
The line went dead.
Whiting immediately called 911 and Philadelphia police took the complaint seriously, entering it as extortion.
A few hours later, at 3 a.m., Whiting got a second call from one of the monsters. "I've killed your dog, it's dead," he said. The call came in on Whiting's land line, which was listed on Edna's name tag but not on the fliers he had posted everywhere.
Later that morning, Whiting tried to find the phone number the extortionists had used. He called his service provider, Verizon, to tell them to release his phone records to police, but it wasn't that simple.
"I made about five calls and kept getting people who were good at passing the hot potato," Whiting says. He was told police know the procedure.
The detective working the case, who asked me not to use his name, says he got a search warrant and faxed it to Verizon on Nov. 16, but it took 12 days before he got a list of calls made to Whiting. The city was charged $150 for the search.
Verizon charged police $150?
In most cases, says Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski, "the company charges no fee or a nominal one," but in a "very small percentage of cases, Verizon will charge reimbursement fees for gathering information it does not routinely maintain."
The fee covers some of Verizon's costs and it makes no profit, he says. In a wired world, I find both the slow service and the high cost hard to swallow.
A crime has been committed. Another police source tells me the service is no better for other crimes, such as kidnapping, when time is crucial.
In Edna's case, the detective says, he must now get another search warrant to connect the phone numbers he has to subscribers. He couldn't say what the charge would be or how long it would take.
More delay and more expense.
Bill Whiting believes Edna was heartlessly killed by the savages who called him. (You see her picture. If you recall seeing someone with the dog, call police detectives at 215-686-3093 or -3094.)
Whiting will live for a long time, maybe forever, with the pain of hearing his little brown dog tortured. But he doesn't want Edna to have died in vain. As her legacy, he wants the phone companies to act faster and cheaper. He thinks telecommunications companies should provide free assistance to police "as a public service. It's not like they have a narrow profit margin."
He's right. Who'll get the ball rolling? *