The Suicide Engineer

NOTE:  I am a friend of Andrew Talbot, the man that sent me this recording.

I recently received an email from Andrew that contained a recording of his podcast that, to my knowledge, never aired.  There was no explanation as to why he had sent it to me.  There was just a request that I distribute it.  When I tried to call him to find out what was happening, I was unable to get through.  The call didn’t go to voicemail; it just beeped twice and hung up each time that I tried.  Over the last few days I’ve called multiple times and have gone over to his house twice, but I haven’t been able to reach him.

Whenever I would try to upload the podcast to a website as he requested, there would always be an error message.  No matter what I did, I couldn’t get it to properly upload.  Because of this, I wrote a transcript of the recording so that I could instead distribute that.  This is the first time that I’ve ever done anything like this, so I’m sure that there are some errors in formatting.

Andrew, if you’re reading this, please let me know that you’re all right.

—-

ANDREW TALBOT

On April 18, 2022, Carolyn Blake committed suicide.

Her body was found when her downstairs neighbor reported water leaking through the ceiling.  Thinking that there was a burst pipe, the landlord had knocked at Carolyn’s door for nearly twenty minutes to try to gain access to her apartment.  It was easier to go in through her floor rather than through the complaining tenant’s ceiling.  She didn’t answer, and after checking with his lawyer that this qualified as an emergency allowing him to enter without permission, he unlocked the door using his master key and went in to perform the repair.

The landlord discovered her body in the bathroom.  She was lying fully clothed in the bathtub with her wrists slit.  The water had been left running, and it poured over the side of the tub like a waterfall as it drained into the floor vent and soaked into the floor and wood trim.

I didn’t know Carolyn.  It’s a small town, so I may have passed her in a store or bumped into her in a restaurant, but I don’t remember if something like that did happen.

I’d like to say that her death had an effect on the community.  Maybe people holding a memorial, or even asking the town council to improve the way mental health programs were handled to help prevent this sort of thing from happening again.  That’s what I’d like to say.  What actually happened was, well, nothing.  Carolyn’s death was just a blip on the radar that the vast majority of people didn’t even register.

One of the exceptions to this was Ray Carsten.  I had known Ray since first grade, and while we had never been particularly close, we had always been on friendly terms.  When he called me three days after Carolyn’s suicide, I quickly agreed to meet him at the same Denny’s that a large group of us had gone to after every home baseball game in high school.


[AUDIBLE CLICK, FOLLOWED BY A SHORT HIGH-PITCHED BEEP]


ANDREW TALBOT (cont.)

Fuck.  I think…

[Short pause]

ANDREW TALBOT (cont.)

Okay, maybe not.  It might have just been…

[Short pause]

ANDREW TALBOT (cont.)

Ray told me that he had known Carolyn for a few years.  They worked in the same office, and they had grown particularly close while working on a project that had been assigned to them.  One thing led to another, and they began a relationship.

The problem was that Ray was married.  Happily married, as he put it.  I have my doubts about that since in my experience happily married people don’t tend to have long term affairs, but that’s what he told me.

Because of this, he was worried that she might have left something behind that could expose their affair and get back to his wife.  At some point she had introduced him to her mother, and he had convinced the elderly woman to let him help with going through Carolyn’s things and getting the necessary arrangements made.  This had allowed him to rummage through her late lover’s possessions with impunity.  Her mother had been grateful for the assistance and had thanked him profusely for it, if you can believe it.

Ray had managed to check everything except for Carolyn’s cellphone.  It was password protected, so he wasn’t able to find out what was on it.  That’s why he came to me.


[SHORT BURST OF STATIC THAT CUTS OFF THE BEGINNING OF THE NEXT SENTENCE]


ANDREW TALBOT (cont.)

…arted this podcast about electronics and technology, I never thought that it would lead to old acquaintances asking me to go through dead people’s phones.  That’s what Ray wanted me to do, though.  He didn’t just need me to unlock the phone.  That would only have gotten him so far.  Carolyn had frequented multiple social media platforms, and she used dozens of different apps that he knew of.  What he needed was for me to go through everything and make sure that all mentions of the affair were removed.

At first I refused.  I was polite about it, but just the thought of doing what he was asking disgusted me.  He kept pressing.  He told me that he had already wanted to end the affair and had planned to do so, but she took her own life before he was able to.  He said that if the relationship was exposed it would hurt not just his wife, but also their two children and they didn’t deserve to have that happen to them.  I eventually relented and agreed to do what he asked, under the condition that he give me the phone and not be present while I worked.

I had already started to rationalize things in my head.  We’re all exceedingly good at doing that when we know what we’re doing isn’t right, aren’t we?  I convinced myself that since Ray wouldn’t be seeing anything, I would be protecting Carolyn’s privacy as much as possible.  That’s a load of bullshit, obviously.  I would have actually been protecting it if I hadn’t agreed to break into her cellphone in the first place.

[Pause]

ANDREW TALBOT (cont.)

I don’t know if I’m about to confess to a crime here.  Is it a crime to break into a dead person’s phone?  Whether it is or not, I’m not going to pretend that it wasn’t wrong.  It absolutely was.  It’s just…  It’s just not what’s important right now.

[Pause]

ANDREW TALBOT (cont.)

It wasn’t hard to unlock the cellphone.  All I needed was to hook it up to a computer and use a program that’s free and easy to find if you know where to look.  Most people would be surprised at how unsecure their supposedly secure phones are.  That goes for most pieces of technology in this day and age, but you’re not here to listen to a lecture on proper tech security and I’m not here to give one.

I wasn’t sure where to start looking, so I opened the calendar and began to check appointments and reminders.  I didn’t find anything that had to do with Ray.  I moved onto the Notes app and once again came up empty.  It wasn’t until I started digging through her email that I found something of interest.

I probably should have realized that something was off when the inbox was completely empty.  Carolyn had been dead for three days.  Anyone that uses their email for everyday use can tell you that at least one or two spam emails will get past your filter and wind up in your inbox over a three day period.  At the time I didn’t think of that.  I was so preoccupied with hurrying up with what I had agreed to do that my critical thinking skills didn’t have time to catch up.

When I checked the trash folder, I found hundreds, if not thousands, of automated notifications that had been deleted.  They were from all corners of social media and content sites: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tik Tok, and many, many more.  Every notification was marked as having been read.  I did a bit more digging, and I found that they had all been sent within the span of a week.  I picked one at random and opened it.

The notification was for a new comment on a video that Carolyn had posted, and it wasn’t flattering to say the least.  The poster, screen name YrlGrl, had gone on a rant about how bad the video was and that they were going to be unsubscribing from the channel because of continued poor content.  That’s greatly cleaning up the language that was used.  The entire post was phrased in such a way that it read like a personal attack.

There was a link to the video in question.  I tapped on it and watched the first minute or so of the video.  It was a makeup tutorial that Carolyn had posted.  It wasn’t something that I was interested in, but judging by the number of views it had and how many followers she had, it was definitely something that many others enjoyed.

Now that I had some context, I scrolled down to the comments to locate the post by YrlGrl to see if other people had replied to it.  I found the post, but it wasn’t anything like the notification had said.  It was instead a glowing review that went out of its way to praise Carolyn and the content that she provided.  That was odd, obviously, but I figured that there had been two posts and the negative one had been deleted.

I began to doubt that theory as I went through more of the notifications.  All of them were bad, with many of them bordering on hateful.  When I would check the platform they were supposedly hosted on, though, I would always find a positive post.  Something very odd was going on.

I came to an email that was a response to a complaint that Carolyn had filed with a site administrator about a particularly disgusting comment.  The administrator had sent back a response saying that they hadn’t found any evidence of harassment, and that they had checked to make sure the comment in question hadn’t been deleted or edited.  They didn’t come right out and say it, but it was strongly implied that they believed she was making the entire thing up.

She had attached two items to her original email.  The first was a copy of the original notification that she had received.  The second was a screenshot that she had taken of the comment.  The image included a number of other comments as well, all of which were negative.  When I tracked down those comments, however, none of them contained the same message.


[LONG BURST OF STATIC.  THERE IS A LOW HUM ACCOMPANYING THE NOISE.  THE SOUND MAKES ANDREW TALBOT’S SPEAKING IMPOSSIBLE TO HEAR UNTIL IT ENDS]


ANDREW TALBOT (cont.)

…wrote on Facebook about how she was feeling down after the onslaught of negative comments.  Her mother and a number of friends replied to the post, and all of them basically told her that she had become both a whiner and a disappointment in some extremely colorful language.  The messages were long and intense, and I felt myself growing more and more sympathetic towards Carolyn.  Nobody deserved the amount of abuse that she was receiving, especially from the people that she was closest to.

I took a break for about an hour.  At some point during the process, I had begun to care less about helping Ray weasel out of his affair being discovered and more about figuring out just what had caused this avalanche of hatred towards Carolyn.  None of the pieces, especially the comments seeming to magically change between negative and positive, seemed to fit into a coherent image.


[SHORT BURST OF STATIC.  THE HUMMING IS SLIGHTLY LOUDER THAN PREVIOUSLY]


ANDREW TALBOT (cont.)

…sten to it, but I figured that I’d already come this far.  I clicked on the voicemail and almost immediately wished that I hadn’t.

What followed was a nearly five minute long message from Carolyn’s mother berating her daughter.  It tore into every aspect of her life; there didn’t seem to be any line that the woman wouldn’t cross.  At one particularly horrible point, she stated very matter-of-factly that the only reason that Carolyn had been born in the first place was because she hadn’t been able to afford to terminate the pregnancy after becoming pregnant from a man other than Carolyn’s father.  I only managed to get through half of it before I stopped the playback.  I couldn’t stomach any more than that.

The second voicemail was from Ray.  She had received it less than an hour after getting her mother’s voicemail.  If the first message had sickened me, this one made my blood boil.  In a very condescending tone, he proceeded to talk about every flaw he saw in her in great detail.  He tore into everything from her intelligence to her looks to even her lovemaking skills.  It was brutal to listen to.  It was almost a relief when he finally declared that their relationship was over and hung up the phone.

I was reaching for my own phone even before the recording had ended.  Friendship be damned, I wasn’t going to help someone that could be that cruel to another human being.  The number was entered and my thumb was over Call when a thought made me pause.

Ray had told me that he had been getting ready to break off his relationship with Carolyn when she had committed suicide.  According to the voicemail he had left, though, he had already done so.  Why had he lied to me about that?  There didn’t seem to be any point to it.  Had he been feeling guilty about his message having possibly contributed to her taking her own life?

I thought back to the mysteriously changing online messages.

I was starting to think that maybe-


[LONG PULSING SOUND, LIKE THE FLOW OF ELECTRICITY.  THERE ARE QUIET WHISPER-LIKE NOISES IN THE BACKGROUND]


ANDREW TALBOT (cont.)

I found that Carolyn had downloaded an audio file the day before her death.  A woman’s voice, quiet and level, played from the phone’s speaker when I tapped on the file.  It took me a few seconds to realize that I was listening to an autonomous sensory meridian response recording, also known as the much less taxing to say ASMR.  For those that don’t know what that is, it’s basically voices and sounds that are recorded in such a way as to elicit a physical response from people.  You know that odd tingling sensation that you get sometimes in your head?  ASMR recordings are supposed to trigger that.

A lot of people, a lot more than you probably think, use ASMR videos on YouTube or audio recordings to relax and even fall asleep.  They don’t work for everyone, but many people swear by them and use them as part of their everyday routine.  After the stress that all of the sudden negativity in her life must have caused her, it was no wonder that Carolyn had looked for something to help relieve it.

Rather than try to explain the recording on her phone, I’d like to play a portion of it.  A quick warning: there’s some questionable content in it, so if that sort of thing bothers you, I’d recommend skipping ahead until you’re past it.  If I’m able to get this posted I’ll try to leave markers on the timeline so you’ll know when it’s over.

Here it is.  I’m not going to reveal the name of the person who made it or the source it was downloaded from, for reasons that will be extremely obvious in just a bit.


[RECORDED CONTENT BEGINS PLAYING.  IT IS A WOMAN’S VOICE, BARELY ABOVE A WHISPER]


WOMAN’S VOICE

Sometimes it’s best to take a step back, take a deep breath, and try to let go of all that stress that you’re feeling.  I know that life can be hard sometimes, and we all have our personal crosses to bear.  It can feel like you’re being overwhelmed, like you’re being smothered.  It’s important to remember that there are always other people that you can turn to when you need comfort and reassurance.


[WHISPERS, BARELY AUDIBLE, BEGIN IN THE BACKGROUND]


WOMAN’S VOICE (cont.)

Sometimes we need to ask ourselves what we would do if we didn’t have those incredibly important people in our lives.  Imagine how lonely that would be.  If everyone in your life had turned against you, what would you do?

I think that if everyone was turning against me, I’d need to take a good hard look at myself.  All of those people couldn’t be wrong.  What did they know that I didn’t?  What was so wrong with me that it invited such disdain and hatred?  There would have to be something for everyone to act that way.  

How about you?  Have you ever experienced all of your friends and family turning their backs on you?  If so, did you look deep inside yourself and figure out why you’re so repellent to others?

I think that if it was me, I would have to decide if the people I cared about were better off without me in their world.  After all, is my one life more important than the happiness of all those other people?  No, of course not.  I love my family and friends.  I want them to be happy, much more than I want myself to be.  If my being gone was what would make them happy, then wouldn’t it be better for everyone if I was just-


[FINAL WORD IS LOUDER AND DISTORTED]


WOMAN’S VOICE (cont.)

DEAD?

[RECORDING ENDS]

ANDREW TALBOT

There’s more, a lot more, but I’m sure that you get the idea.  I’m also sure that you know where this is leading.  I tracked down the site that Carolyn had downloaded the ASMR recording from, and when I played it there it was nothing like the version she had downloaded.  It was instead focused on something called Reiki, which I’m not familiar with but was clearly not something sinister.

[Pause]

In the Downloads folder I also found a copy of a recent bank statement from her online account.  It showed that the account had contained a decent savings until a week before Carolyn’s death.  At that point it had gone to zero.  The change in balance was listed as a teller withdrawal.  It was a lot of money to have been taken out in a single transaction.

Because of everything that I had come across so far, I was immediately suspicious.  I went through the phone’s call history for the date she had downloaded the document and discovered that she had made a call to the customer service number at the bottom of the statement.  The call had lasted over an hour.  It seemed to me that Carolyn hadn’t been the person that emptied her account, and when she had checked her account and seen that it was empty, she had called the bank to get it corrected.

In her final days Carolyn had been under assault mentally, emotionally, and financially.  It must have been hell.

This assault had obviously been engineered.  I just couldn’t see how that would have been possible.  Online posts on major social media platforms that appeared one way to someone but completely different to everyone else?  Audio recordings that were magically different for one download?  And the bank withdrawal had been a teller withdrawal, meaning that someone had gone into a physical bank location and taken the money out of the account.  How could that have happened?  That wasn’t even getting into the voicemails.

As someone who has to regularly do a lot of research in the tech industry, I knew that the message and recording changes should have been impossible.  It would technically have been possible to target a single system like that, in this case a cellphone, but to do it in real time?  That’s where it crossed into the realm of fantasy.  Even if there was a way to do it, it would have required a lot of manpower.  A huge conspiracy against a single small town government employee didn’t make any sense.


[A COMBINATION OF DISTORTED STATIC AND LOUDER WHISPERS THAN PREVIOUSLY.  THE WHISPERS ARE IN AN UNRECOGNIZABLE LANGUAGE]


ANDREW TALBOT (cont.)

One by one I went through all the apps on Carolyn’s phone.  I had completely abandoned the original plan of getting rid of references to her affair with Ray.  Instead, I was now solely searching for other signs that her life and wellbeing had been tampered with.

There were a number of things that I found that I would have dismissed as unimportant if I hadn’t specifically been looking for oddities.  For example, her latest Instagram posts had significantly less interactions than previous ones had, to the point that there might as well have been nothing at all.  The same went for her Tik Tok account.

Most concerning was that I started to see a pattern emerging on non-social media apps as well.  All of her content suggestions on Netflix and HBO Max were depressing stories or contained characters that commited suicide.  I tried clicking on a few of Carolyn’s previously watched movies and shows that weren’t these suggestions, but each time an error message would pop up saying that the content wasn’t currently available and to try again later.  The suggested shows, however, would instantly start to play.


[MORE DISTORTED STATIC AND LOUDER WHISPERS.  THIS TIME THE WHISPERS ARE IN ENGLISH, AND REPEAT THE WORDS “ONE WAY” OVER AND OVER AGAIN]


ANDREW TALBOT (cont.)

I finally ran out of apps to check with the exception of one.  I had been purposely avoiding it.  During the hours that I had been going through Carolyn’s phone, I had been invading her privacy.  As I’ve said already, it wasn’t right and it’s not something that I’m proud of having done.  The last app would take that invasion of privacy one step further, though.  It was the feed and recordings from her home security cameras.

I forced myself to click on the app.  There was no doubt in my mind that Carolyn had been targeted and pushed over and over again until she had finally taken her own life.  I needed to collect every bit of evidence that I could and turn it all over to the police.  I’d probably get in trouble for what I had done, but it was worth it to have the authorities look into whoever had done this to her.

There were only three camera footage recordings listed on the app.  Each one had a time and date stamp, and all of them were listed as having been captured when a motion sensor was triggered.  All of them were within a few days of Carolyn’s suicide.  Taking a deep breath, I started the first recording.

It showed a woman in her mid to late thirties walking towards the camera.  The shot was at an odd angle, and it took me a couple of seconds to realize I was watching footage from a doorbell camera.  I recognized the woman as Carolyn from her social media pictures.  She stopped a few feet from the camera and dug around in her pocket before producing a set of keys.  As she did so, her face tilted at an angle that allowed me to see the dark circles under her eyes.  She looked exhausted.

She found the key that she was looking for and inserted it into the lock.  When she went to turn it, however, she struggled to do so.  She fought with the lock for a moment before stepping back and looking at the key she was holding.  It was now broken.  She stared at it blankly before her face screwed up in anger and she threw it to the ground.  She leaned forward and placed her head against the door.  It was hard to tell from the angle, but I thought that she was crying.

I felt horrible for her.  She was being put through so much, and it was clearly wearing her down.  I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to go through something like that.

The second recording was completely black, and it was impossible to see anything on it.  I assumed that there was some sort of error, but there was still audio.  Either the camera hadn’t properly recorded or it was just too dark for the camera to illuminate.  I could hear a series of odd whispers that were too faint to make out words.  There was also a humming noise that I couldn’t identify.

[Pause]

If you’re still with me to this point, I’m hoping that means that you understand that this isn’t some sort of elaborate joke or prank.  I…  I get how this all sounds.  It’s about to sound a lot worse.  If you already think that I’m crazy, you’re about to hear something that’s going to set that in stone in your mind.  If you don’t think that, you probably will soon.


[MORE DISTORTED STATIC.  IT IS LOUDER THIS TIME.  A HIGH-PITCHED MECHANICAL VOICE SAYS THE WORDS “END ALL”]


The third and final recording was from a camera in a hallway.  It was angled so that it was pointing through an open doorway.  This was Carolyn’s bedroom.  The bed could be seen on the right side of the opening, and to the left was a small table or desk with an open laptop on it.  The image was that odd black and white that you get when a security camera is in night vision mode.  According to the time stamp, the recording was taking place at 2:54am the morning of Carolyn’s suicide.


[A LONG MOMENT OF HEAVY BREATHING WITH NOTHING ELSE IN THE BACKGROUND]


The… thing came into view from the left side of the bedroom.  It leaned down from the top portion, and at first I thought that it was extremely tall.  That wasn’t the case, though.

I’m going to try to describe it.  I’m sorry if I don’t make a lot of sense while I’m doing so.  Every time I’ve tried to do so it feels like the limits of the English language make it impossible to do so properly.

It was being lowered by thin sinuous tendrils.  The creature itself was…  Fuck, how do I put this.  It was only a few inches wide, but was the height of a person.  It was like the head and body were just a mask and covering being manipulated by the tendrils rather than an actual figure.  Three arm-like appendages reached out towards the bed, each ending in thin delicate strands that acted as fingers.

Because of the circumstances of the recording, with it being so dark and the low resolution of the camera’s night vision, it was difficult to make out any further details.  I was thankful for that.

The creature slowly pulled the blanket off of the bed.  It released its grip and allowed the cloth to fall to the floor.  One of the appendages slowly stretched out through the open door and into the hallway.  The fingers touched a thermostat attached to one of the walls and turned the dial all the way to the left.  The appendage retracted, and the creature pulled back up out of sight.

Minutes passed as the recording continued.  I started to wonder if anything else was going to happen when a pair of legs swung out over the side of the bed.  Carolyn got out of bed, her arms folded tightly over her chest as she visibly shivered.  She went out into the hallway and checked the thermostat.  Turning it back to where it was before the creature had adjusted it, she put a hand on the wall and leaned against it for a moment.  She looked like she was about to collapse from exhaustion.  She gathered herself and went back into the bedroom, picking up the blanket before getting back into bed.

The recording ended.


[EXTREMELY LOUD AND QUICK BURST OF STATIC]


I watched it back…  I don’t know how many times it was.  I just kept replaying it over and over again.  No matter how many times I watched it, I just couldn’t force myself to accept it.  Not really.

I’m trying to figure out how to put this in a way that really explains how I was feeling.  It was like being in a car accident.  When it happens, you know intellectually that you were just in a collision.  The evidence is right there in front of you: the twisted metal, the broken glass, the smell of smoke.  Even when you’re staring right at the wreckage, though, there’s this weird disconnect that doesn’t allow you to grasp what’s just happened to you.

That was what I was experiencing while I watched the security camera footage on loop.

I’m not sure what viewing I was on when I began to question why it was even happening at all.  Why was this creature pulling off a blanket and adjusting a thermostat?  It seemed juvenile, something on the same level as a college prank.

I probably should have put it together faster than I did, but my mind was still reeling.  It wasn’t the actions themselves that were important.  It was the result.  The creature was depriving Carolyn of sleep.  That was the last component it needed to push her past her breaking point.

The creature had made sure that all roads led to her taking her own life.


[A SERIES OF TICKING NOISES, LIKE THE SOUND OF A CLOCK TICKING BUT SLIGHTLY DISTORTED]


ANDREW TALBOT (cont.)

I haven’t taken any of this to the police.  That was my original intention, and I would if I thought that it would do any good.  The problem is that none of this can be corroborated.  I have, what, some screenshots that the sites themselves said weren’t accurate and a couple of grainy videos?  From their perspective I would just be the nutjob podcast host that’s using a tragic event to drum up interest in his show.

This is where Carolyn Blake’s story comes to an end.  It’s unfortunately not where the story as a whole does.

Twenty-four hours ago, I found out that Ray Carsten committed suicide.  A single gunshot wound in the right temple.  The moment before the trigger was pulled he was there, and the moment after he wasn’t.

I called his wife to offer my condolences.  We got to talking, and I don’t know if it was the grief or some need to get it off her chest or what, but she told me that the day before he died a woman had shown up on their doorstep while Ray was at work.  The woman had presented her with a stack of pictures and email records showing in great detail that Ray had been having an affair.  That same woman had then identified herself as Carolyn Blake.

It didn’t take a genius to put two and two together.  The creature from the security footage had gone after Ray, and it had once again been successful.

This morning, I woke up to a text on my phone alerting me that my checking account was overdrawn.  Thousands of dollars were just… gone.  I also received notice that my podcast is currently suspended while it is being investigated for violating the terms and conditions of the hosting site.

It’s my turn to be targeted.  I’m hoping that because I actually know what’s happening, I will be able to get through what’s about to come my way.  That’s what I hope.

There’s no way of knowing what plan the Suicide Engineer has for me.


[STATIC WITH THE SAME TICKING NOISE AS BEFORE.  THE NOISE GOES ON FOR SOME TIME BEFORE THE RECORDING ENDS]


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