The body has been disposed of, now what do I do?
That’s the alarming text message Radnor Township Police Superintendent Bill Colarulo received on his personal cell phone this summer.
“How do you not have to take that seriously,” he said, recalling the message.
Supt. Colarulo, who was vacationing in Wildwood Crest, N.J. at the time, immediately began to question the sender. Receiving only one word answers to his texts and unable to get someone one the phone, he alerted his officers back in Delaware County.
In the meantime, he continued to call the unknown number several times until finally a man answered. But that just added another layer of mystery when the man explained that he found the text messages on his daughter’s phone.
“He says, ‘Oh, let me apologize, it’s my daughter’s phone. We were at a dog park, she put the phone on a bench and some strange man picked the phone up. We have it back now,’” Supt. Colarulo said of the conversation.
Breaking news and the stories that matter to your neighborhood.
Over the course of the conversation, Supt. Colarulo learned the park, Harford Park, was in his town. Fearing the worst, the department dispatched officers to search the area for any signs of foul play.
Police spent six hours looking for shallow graves but found nothing.
The entire thing was a hoax, and the prankster -- a senior citizen -- used a young girl to dupe the cops.
“The thing that’s most disturbing is it’s an 11-year-old girl’s cell phone. Knowing that it was going to come back on her. That’s what bothers me,” Supt. Colarulo said.
But all was not lost.
Looking over videos the girl’s brother had taken in the park, the family realized they had caught a picture of the suspicious man they remember seeing.
“When the detective retrieved that image and he showed it to me, I said, ‘I know who this fellow is,’” the superintendent said.
That man was Clifford Fleming – a 70-year-old resident Supt. Colarulo had given his number to years ago.
“He seemed like an individual that was concerned about his community and quality of life issues, so I gave him my personal cell phone number,” he said.
Detectives visited with Fleming, who initially said he was at the park that day but denied sending any text messages from the girl’s phone, according to the criminal complaint.
However, over the course of the questioning, Fleming’s story changed.
According to the criminal complaint, Fleming admitted moving the girl’s phone, but only to keep it from getting wet if it rained.
Then, he confessed.
Fleming told detectives he thought he had “gotten away with it” after a couple of days went by and nothing happened, according to the criminal complaint. He also said he initially lied to investigators because “he watches police shows” and “thought he could dance around” the truth.
In a letter to Supt. Colarulo, the 70-year-old apologized for his actions saying he only wanted to “joke” with the superintendent.
"Stupidity in my family can be rampant," he wrote."I must have thought you would see this as a harmless joke."
Supt. Colarulo wasn't laughing.
Radnor Police arrested and charged Fleming with making a false report, harassment and disorderly conduct.
“He’s learning a valuable lesson, and he’s paying the price, and this should also send a message to other people that sending a message that you buried a body is not a harmless prank,” Supt. Colarulo said.
NBC10 visited Fleming's Wayne, Pa. home Friday, but no one answered the door. Calls to numbers listed under his name were not returned.
As for handing out his cell phone number to residents, the superintendent says this case won’t stop him.
“I’ve done it numerous times in the past...In all my time here, he’s the only one that has abused having the chief’s personal cell phone number,” he said.
Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, email@example.com or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.