A telephone call at midnight normally would have awoken Bill Whiting, but he hadn't been sleeping much since his dog disappeared. He picked up the phone and couldn't believe what he heard.
Children were demanding $600 or else they would kill Edna, his beloved beagle mix. Whiting listened in horror to what sounded like the jingle of Edna's collar, and an animal yelping in pain. He agreed to pay the ransom.
"You don't understand, mister," a boy replied. "I want to kill your dog anyway."
What happened to Edna remains a mystery, but Philadelphia police have charged a 15-year-old with harassment, terroristic threats, theft by extortion and other counts for allegedly calling Whiting. Police have yet to find the dog.
Authorities gave no immediate explanation for how they traced the call.
"I've had tears today a couple of times. I don't see any happy news in this," a heartbroken Whiting said Friday. "I don't have a dog coming back, apparently." He also said he believes at least two children were involved.
Dog vanished on Halloween
Edna had been Whiting's constant companion for more than 10 years. The 57-year-old employee of the University of Pennsylvania's archaeology museum described Edna as a gentle dog that loved children and had been a therapy animal at nursing homes and hospitals.
Edna vanished on Halloween, after Whiting and the dog walked from his home in Philadelphia to a friend's house. Whiting thinks she slipped out into the unfamiliar neighborhood while the door was open for trick-or-treaters.
Frantic, he looked for hours, then printed up "Missing Dog" posters and plastered them around the neighborhood. The posters contained his cell phone number and offered a $500 reward.
Ten days after the dog disappeared, Whiting received the midnight call on his cell phone from a youth who demanded $600. Then a younger boy got on the phone and apparently began abusing an animal.
Whiting said he didn't recognize the yelps, since he had never heard Edna hurt before, but detected the sound of her collar, which had numerous tags and "jangled like a charm bracelet."
He begged them not to hurt the dog, and simultaneously dialed police from his land line.
'I became hysterical'
Whiting went to a police station in the middle of the night to make a report. When he returned home a few hours later, his land line rang almost immediately. "We killed your dog," the voice said. "It's dead."
Whiting began to believe the children really did have Edna, since the land line phone number was only on the dog's tags, not the poster.
"I became hysterical," he said. "I started to tremble."
Police worked for weeks on tracing the calls, whose numbers came up as unavailable on Whiting's Caller ID. Publicity led to an outpouring of support for Whiting and rage against the perpetrators; rewards were offered by animal advocacy groups.
On Dec. 30, police arrested the 15-year-old, who was released to his family for a hearing Jan. 31.