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Phantom Tow Truck

January 2001

Police work in a small rural town on the "graveyard" shift normally means checking around businesses for burglars and answering an occasional prowler call. Occasionally I come across a stranded motorist needing assistance.

February the 14th, Valentine's Day, 1986 started out no different than any other 11pm to 7am shift. It was a cold, cloudy night and the weatherman was calling for a winter storm. I made my usual business checks and by 2am the snow had arrived in a big way. I decided I had better check a stretch of interstate that parallels the city limits so I drove on through the snow looking for stranded motorists. Sure enough about a half a mile from the exit I spotted emergency flashers on a car on the shoulder of the Northbound lane. The snow had just started so I hit my blue lights and crossed the median strip. As I pulled up behind the stranded car with Ohio license plates I could see steam coming from underneath the hood which was open about two inches. "A blown radiator hose on a night as cold as tonight" I said to myself." The irony of the situation had not yet begun to dawn on me.

I walked up and the driver said that he and his wife were on a trip and headed back to Cleveland when the car overheated. He said that a tow truck had stopped by and the mechanic quickly diagnosed the problem as a blown radiator hose. The mechanic had told him that he could fix it right there on the shoulder of the road without towing it in, thus saving him a bill for towing. The mechanic had left to go back to his garage to retrieve the hose and would return shortly. I told the driver I would wait with them until the tow truck came back. I went back to my patrol car and radioed dispatch of my location and that I would be tied up a few minutes. A few minutes turned into nearly an hour. I walked back up to the stranded car and asked him which two truck was supposed to be coming and that I would have dispatch call the garage and rush him up. The man said "Joe's 24 Hour Service." He said he didn't ask the mechanic his name but it did say "Joe" on his shirt. "Ok," I said and walked back towards my patrol car. As I walked back to my car it hit me like a brick in the back of the head. I turned and nearly ran back to the stranded car. The man rolled down his window and I was sure he could see the look of terror on my face. "What tow service did you say?"..."Joe's 24 Hour Service, it said so on the side of his truck" the man confirmed. "That service is unavailable" I said and I told him I would call another.

A while later the second tow truck arrived and had the motorist fixed and on his way in no time. As the mechanic with the second truck was securing his tools I told him what had happened. "There's no way" he said. We both got that same look of terror that I had displayed before.

You see about four years before Joe Brewer had run a twenty- four hour tow service out of his garage. One night he was found murdered in the garage. A couple of teenagers had tried to rob him late at night and he refused to give up his money and was hit over the head with a wrench. When the investigation was published the next day in the newspaper a local couple came forward stating that Joe had stopped to help them and had left to go back to his garage and never returned.

I feel a little safer now working the graveyard shift knowing old Joe is out there with me patrolling the interstate.

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