Previously: Creepy Phone Numbers That Actually Work.
(Warning: Abundant spoilers for the 2019 documentary Wrinkles the Clown are ahead. If you have plans to see the film and you haven’t yet, you may want to save this article until after you’ve watched it.)
The phone number was never meant to be a secret. Quite the contrary; it was purposefully made public, plastered on everything from trash cans to lampposts all over Naples, Fla. It spread via the use of simple, yet eye-catching stickers: “WRINKLES,” the stickers read at the top; at the bottom was the phone number, 407-734-0254; below that, you’d find the hashtag #WRINKLESTHECLOWN; and dead center, providing a menacing background to all of the other information contained on the sticker, was Wrinkles the Clown himself: A face, painted white and with skin like old leather; scraggly, white hair rising in tufts out of the back of the head; a red nose, of course; a gash of a mouth; and — perhaps most disturbingly — a pair of black pits for eyes.
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Although the sticker left no indication of what might happen if you actually called the phone number, it didn’t take long for word to get out. There was, you see, video evidence of exactly what Wrinkles would do, should you ring him up and request a visit from him — and pay him for his time, of course.
He would, according to this video, sneak into your child’s room at night. He would hide somewhere — under their bed, perhaps. And he would creep out in the middle of the night, looming over your sleeping child, waiting for them to wake up, to notice him, to scream in terror.
He would, in short, scare your child into behaving.
It would later emerge that Wrinkles considers what he offers “behavioral services.”
That video, which was uploaded to YouTube on Nov. 8, 2014, received some early news coverage just a few days after it went live; the Palm Beach Post featured it in a report published on their website on Nov. 13. It wasn’t until about a year later, though, that Wrinkles hit the big time; in 2015, he went so viral that the Washington Post even covered him, taking his scary, Floridian clown schtick nationwide.
Throughout all that time, though, Wrinkles’ actual identity has remained unknown. He gave a few details to WaPo; he was, he said, in his 60s, retired, a military veteran, and divorced. He also said that he wasn’t a Florida native; originally from Rhode Island, he had moved down south several years ago to escape New England’s notoriously rough winters. The face wasn’t makeup; it was a mask he had ordered off of eBay. He offered his behavioral services to keep busy. But beyond that, not much else was known about the man behind the mask — and he hasn’t been at all forthcoming in the years since.
Something notable happened about a month ago, though: A documentary about Wrinkles was released. Directed by Michael Beach Winters of the Emmy-nominated Welcome To Leith and written by Winters and Christopher K. Walker, Wrinkles the Clown examines the “evil clown” trope, the rise and spread of digital and online folklore, and, of course, Wrinkles himself.
Midway through the film, though, comes a startling revelation: Wrinkles is not at all who he appeared to be. In fact, nearly every aspect of the Wrinkles story — from the character of Wrinkles himself to the supposed identity of the person who created him — is made up.
Just about the only “real” thing about it is the phone number.
But then again, maybe that’s all we need to bring him to life.
It’s not immediately clear where, exactly, Wrinkles’ story begins, but there’s no denying that the “Wrinkles The Clown Caught on CCTV” video — what I usually think of as “the trundle bed video” — played a key part in his rise to fame. The video, which was published to a YouTube channel called HvUSeen Wrinkles on Nov. 8, 2014, is short, clocking in at just one minute and 19 seconds; it’s also soundless and colorless, as one might expect from CCTV footage recorded at the time. In it, we see a child asleep, peacefully tucked into her little bed — only to witness the trundle underneath the bed slowly roll out on its own, revealing a horrifying clown lurking inside. The clown — Wrinkles — emerges from the trundle, places a stuffed animal next to the child, notices the camera filming him, and then approaches and disables the camera.
It is, to be honest, terrifying.
But the video itself isn’t the only important thing here; the video’s description also provides valuable information. According to this description, which was presumably written by whoever started the HvUSeen Wrinkles YouTube channel in the first place, the footage is said to date back to “June of 2013,” when it was “captured on a security camera in Sarasota, FL.” The homeowners allegedly had “no idea how [Wrinkles] got in or out of the house without setting off the alarm”; additionally, they claimed there was “no sign of forced entry.” In the year or so since the alleged “break-in,” the description claimed, the family had moved out of state. They did not wish to be identified in the video, which suggests they were the ones to supply the footage to the YouTuber themselves.
It’s also worth noting that that whoever wrote the video’s description goes on to state here that they are “not sure if this truly is Wrinkles or someone posing as him,” and that it’s not clear to them whether the footage is “real or fake.”
But the video’s contained an alternate explanation for the footage, as well — allegedly one from Wrinkles himself. The clown reportedly said that he had been “hired to do this to strike fear into a misbehaving child.” The plan, per Wrinkles, was both to scare the child straight in the moment, as well as in the future: Reads the description, “The video was made (from home security camera) so that when the child acted up, the parents could show it to her and threaten to bring him back if she didn’t improve her behavior.”
Here’s the interesting thing, though: Despite the careful positioning of Wrinkles as having been already established by the time the footage made its way to the internet, this video — along with two tweets published by the YouTube channel’s corresponding Twitter account, similarly titled HvUSeen Wrinkles?, the day before — is, as far as I’ve been able to determine, Wrinkle’s very first appearance. Is it possible I missed something? Of course — I’m not infallible — but I found no evidence anywhere in my research of Wrinkles’ existence prior to Nov. 7/Nov. 8, 2014.
This, then, seems to be ground zero for the core pieces of the Wrinkles story: That he exists; that he lives in Florida; and that he can be hired to scare your child into behaving.
The only piece missing was exactly how one hires Wrinkles and his “behavioral services”—which is where the phone number comes in.
The Phone Number
As is the case with so many of the details about this story, it’s not totally clear exactly when the Wrinkles the Clown phone number was put into service. However, the HvUSeen Wrinkles? Twitter account implies that it came about roughly six months after the trundle bed video arrived online: On May 3, 2015, the account tweeted a photo of one of Wrinkles’ now-infamous stickers pasted to the front of what looks like an adult vending machine in a public restroom somewhere. “Now he’s advertising…” read the tweet.
And here is where the gimmick really started to take off — because the number actually worked. It still does. If you call 407-734-0254, you’ll, at the very least, be able to get a hold of Wrinkles’ voicemail. “Hello, you’ve reached Wrinkles the Clown,” the pre-recorded message tells you. “I’m not here to take your call. Leave me a message and I’ll call you back,” it continues, before ending on a note of maniacal laughter.
If you’re really lucky, though, Wrinkles will pick up and actually talk to you. He doesn’t do it very often; by Wrinkles’ own admission, he gets hundreds of calls a day now — some nice, some not so nice, and many downright abusive — so it’s understandable that he’d let it go to voicemail most of the time.
For the curious, the number is a non-fixed VoIP — a Voice-over Internet Protocol number, like “Murray Bauman’s” number as utilized by the Stranger Things ARG earlier this year —which means it was likely set up using Google Voice, Skype, or another similar service. (Google Voice launched in 2009 and opened up to the general public — no invitation required — in 2010, about four years before Wrinkles first showed up; Skype, meanwhile, was founded in 2003 and has been a Microsoft subsidiary since 2011.) The area code is based in Orlando.
Through this phone number, suddenly everyone had access to Wrinkles — not just the locals who lived in and around the area in which Wrinkles was said to operate. Heck, you didn’t even need to know a local in order to learn about the number; thanks to the internet, everyone could learn about it. Indeed, the number spread so widely that, in the fall of 2015, it went certifiably viral. Wrinkles was in BuzzFeed. He was in MoviePilot. He was on Craigslist. He was on TV, in person, in a segment that aired on NBC2 News in the Fort Meyers, Fla. area on Nov. 1, 2015.
He was even interviewed by Peter Holley of the Washington Post the same week the NBC2 News segment aired. Outlet after outlet picked up this strange story — the story of this (he said) 65-year-old former New Englander who had taken to clowning in his twilight years, all in the name of correcting the behavior of misbehaving children.
He was, as the Wrinkles the Clown documentary would put it several years later, just a phone call away. And he’s remained as such ever since.
Will The Real Wrinkles The Clown Please Stand Up?
In 2016, wrote filmmaker Michael Beach Nichols in the Director’s Statement included with the Wrinkles the Clown press kit, a friend sent him a link to the trundle bed video. Intrigued, he started digging — and, not unlike everyone else who came to Wrinkles slightly after the fact, he found everything that had been seeded online thus far: The videos, the tweets, the photos, the news coverage. “It was all so gloriously bizarre,” wrote Nichols. “To top it off he was from the swamps of southwest Florida, where I happened to have grown up.”
So, along with his frequent collaborator, Christopher K. Walker, he got in touch with Wrinkles and embarked on the filming of a documentary — a documentary as much about coulrophobia, folklore, and internet fame as it was about Wrinkles. Interspersed between interviews with folklorists, academics, psychologists, parents who use the threat of Wrinkles as a behavior management tool, and children who are scared of and fascinated by Wrinkles in equal measure, we see snippets of Wrinkles’ life: The van he lives in. The places he frequents, The flip phone from which he makes his calls. He’s aging, white-haired, rough around the edges, a little bit like Santa Clause gone to seed. We never see his face — until we reach a critical point in the film.
At that point, Wrinkles’ face is revealed — but, it turns out, the man we’ve been following all this time… isn’t Wrinkles. It’s an actor. His name is D.B. Lambert. He’s been playing a part — but not the part you think.
The picture of Wrinkles that’s been painted so far is a fabrication. According to the documentary, Wrinkles isn’t in his 60s. He isn’t retired. He doesn’t live in a van. He doesn’t use a flip phone. And, most importantly, he doesn’t scare kids for money.
Neither Wrinkles the Clown nor the man we’ve been led to believe is Wrinkles the Clown exists.
The real Wrinkles doesn’t reveal who they are. For the remainder of the documentary, they remain shrouded in shadow, their appearance hidden and their voice obscured.
To be fair, everything I’ve pointed out thus far supports the idea of Wrinkles having been manufactured: The masking of his origin, as seen in the early videos and tweets; the fact that his number is VoIP number; the way information about him spread online prior to the boom of coverage in 2015; the works.
If you watched the trundle bed video and thought, as I did, “I don’t buy it,” or, “It looks staged,” you’re right — it was staged. The “Wrinkles” hiding under the bed isn’t even the person who created the clown in the first place: It’s a friend who had to take their place, due to the fact that they were too big to fit inside the trundle when it was closed. “Wrinkles” directed the video — as well as all of the other videos posted on the HvUSeen Wrinkles YouTube channel (including the most recent one, “Wrinkles The Clown crashes game night,” which was published in June of 2018).
If you thought, “If Wrinkles’ number is a VoIP number, then why is he answering it on a flip phone? Does he even have internet access?” — again, you’re right. There’s footage of the real “Wrinkles” answering calls to the clown’s number not on a phone, but on a computer.
You’ll also note that a lot of the earlier articles about Wrinkles that emerged in the fall 2015 — which, by the way, were all tweeted out from the HvUSeen Wrinkles? Twitter account — prior to the NBC2 News report aren’t exactly what they appear to be, either. Despite appearing to belong to large, established websites like BuzzFeed and a site associated with what was then Gawker Media, they’re all actually posts from the “community” sections of those websites — the blogging platforms hosted by these well-known sites which are open to anyone to use. What’s more, the bylines for all of these posts don’t belong to staff writers, but rather to “HvUSeen Wrinkles” (or some variation thereupon) — the same name used for the Wrinkles-spotting YouTube channel and Twitter account tweeting the articles.
In the most forgiving possible reading of the situation, all of these accounts are run by someone trying to get the word out about Wrinkles so as to gather more information about him — but knowing that the videos on the HvUSeen Wrinkles YouTube channel were all staged, a more skeptical reading (and, in my own opinion, a more likely reading) emerges: They’re all run by the person who created Wrinkles in an attempt to manufacture a legend.
And the kicker is… it worked. All you have to do is watch everyone who was interviewed for the Wrinkles the Clown documentary to see that: The kids who believe in him, or fear him, or admire him who appear in the film. The folklorists, academics, and other specialists (all of whom are, in fact, real people — I verified them all) who contributed their own two cents about the phenomenon to the documentary. Everyone who isn’t Wrinkles himself — they’re all proof that the attempt to build a legend out of nothing works.
A Brief Interlude
Now seems like a good time to mention a red herring I found during my research about Wrinkles’ true identity: I did locate one source — the Australian online news outlet/tabloid News.com.au — which maintained that Wrinkles was “the creation of a professional clown, Joel Mason of Collier County.” This, however, appears to be an erroneous claim — and, honestly, it’s not clear where News.com.au actually found that piece of information. None of the sources linked in their report actually referred to that name in association with Wrinkles; what’s more, the only other sources I found that did mention the name had gotten it from News.com.au.
I think I figured out what might have happened, though. It goes back to the NBC2 News television report that aired on Nov. 1, 2015. Although the report didn’t identify most of the kids or teens interviewed in it — I assume due to the fact that they were minors at the time — a transcript of the report I dug up does identify everyone who speaks in the segment, with their names listed right before their respective sound bytes. Here, the name “Joel Mason” appears — but not pegged to the voice of Wrinkles the Clown. Rather, it’s pegged to the voice of one of the teenagers interviewed for the segment. Knowing this, I’m pretty sure that what happened is whoever wrote the News.com.au report (there’s no byline; it’s listed only as having been written by a “Staff writer”) misunderstood the original NBC2 News report.
Do with that what you will.
A Hidden History
The plot thickens when you venture outside the constraints of Nichols’ Wrinkles the Clown documentary, as well. You see, someone else tried to make a Wrinkles the Clown documentary several years ago, too — a project which failed to get off the ground and died a quiet death before it had ever really been alive. And it’s possible that the person behind this previous project might actually be Wrinkles’ true creator — or, at the very least, connected with Wrinkles in some way, shape, or form.
(This theory has never been proven; indeed, it’s either been denied or shot down by a terse “I don’t feel like talking to you” when reporters have attempted to speak with the individual in question.)
In early 2016, videographer Cary Longchamps attempted to fund a Wrinkles the Clown film on Kickstarter. Posted by Anomalous Films, the campaign aimed to raise $45,000 for the purposes of creating a documentary centered around Wrinkles; according to the project’s description, the filmmakers had acquired permission from Winkles to “follow him and document his life on and off the clock,” allowing them to “see first-hand how Wrinkles lives and works in and out of the mask.” The campaign raised only $3,853, however; the project failed to achieve its required funding to receive the payout.
Anomalous Films’s profile on Kickstarter confirms that the company is Longchamps’; he’s listed as its verified creator (from the Kickstarter campaign’s main page, scroll down until you see the box with “Anomalous Films” in it on the right hand side and click “See more” to see for yourself). The profile also notes that Anomalous Films was based in Naples, Fla. at the time. Additionally, both the HvUSeen Wrinkles? Twitter account and the corresponding (and now-defunct) Google+ account are listed included in the Anomalous Films Kickstarter profile; so, too, is Longchamps’ WordPress-powered portfolio. Although they’re not on the Anomalous Films Kickstarter Profile, Longchamps can also be found on LinkedIn, Instagram, Etsy, and Facebook — although it’s worth noting that each of these profiles, combined with the Kickstarter profile and Longchamps’ WordPress site, link through to each other frequently enough to suggest that they’re connected. (He looks like a fine videographer, by the way; you can see samples of his work at many of those sites and profiles, including his WordPress portfolio.)
It’s true that the evidence provided by these links and profiles is somewhat circumstantial; for example, just because the Anomalous Films profile includes a link to the HvUSeen Wrinkles? Twitter account doesn’t necessarily mean the Kickstarter profile and Twitter account are run by the same person. But in December of 2016, an article published by the Naples Daily News, a USA Today affiliate, speculated openly that Longchamps might actually be Wrinkles. This report claimed that “at least one of the spooky video clips of Wrinkles was filmed in front of Longchamps’ duplex,” and pointed out that in October of 2015, a photograph taken of Longchamps showed him wearing a red-and-white polka dot suit similar to Wrinkles’. However, Longchamps has categorically denied that he’s Wrinkles; as Ryan Mills wrote in The Naples Daily News, “Longchamps said it was a coincidence. He plays it straight. He denies he’s the man behind the mask.” The newspaper also reported that they were unable to reach Longchamps for further comment; according to the paper, he said only, “I don’t feel like talking to you” before hanging up the phone.
It has never been confirmed or fully proven that Longchamps has any connection with Wrinkles other than a desire to document the clown’s activities.
But it still feels as though there’s… a lot we don’t know about what’s going on here.
And the one thing we do know is that no one is talking.
Of course, even after all of that, we… don’t actually know if the second Wrinkles origin story is true, either.
We don’t actually know if the story told in the latter half of the documentary is true — because we have only the documentary’s own word to go on.
We have only Wrinkles’ own word to go on.
We have only the word of an unreliable narrator — the word of someone we know we cannot trust, because have already lied to us once.
Or at least, they say they have.
Maybe Wrinkles is an old man who lives in Florida and scares kids for money.
Maybe Wrinkles is a social experiment dreamed up by an anonymous artist who remains in the shadows of their own creation.
Maybe Wrinkles is both.
Maybe Wrinkles is neither.
Maybe, ultimately, it doesn’t matter.
We care about Wrinkles because, no matter who created him or who played him, he’s the boogeyman we hear about our whole lives. He’s the creature of darkness who exists in countless cultures, who parents and caregivers have been invoking for years, for centuries, to get their kids to behave: “Stop whining or I’ll call Wrinkles.” “Get ready for bed or I’ll call Wrinkles.” “No TV until you’ve finished your homework — or I’ll call Wrinkles.”
The difference is that, thanks a simple trick of technology, we have direct access to the boogeyman. We can call him — even if he may or may not actually come if we do. We can talk to him. He may not be “real”… but he’s still real.
And he’s just a phone call away.
Follow The Ghost In My Machine on Twitter @GhostMachine13 and on Facebook @TheGhostInMyMachine. And don’t forget to check out Dangerous Games To Play In The Dark, available now from Chronicle Books!
[Photos courtesy of Magnet Releasing.]
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