An iPhone Turned Up In This Guy's Subaru Dashboard, Prompting The Most Entertaining Internet Mystery Of All Time

Buckle up.
Alex Tom / Facebook

This is it. The most entertaining Facebook thread of all time.

Oh, you disagree? Then please point me to a better (and true) story than this one, prompted by a mechanic finding an old iPhone ― locked and stuck in airplane mode ― in a Subaru’s dashboard airbag compartment (yep, you read that correctly). Then the car owner goes on a tireless search to figure out not only who it belongs to, but how it got there.

It’s a tale of truly creative internet sleuthing, a lucky break via Craigslist “Missed Connections,” and ― potentially ― unrequited love, though the jury is still out on that.

We have Alex Tom to thank for this tale. He told HuffPost it wouldn’t have happened, had his 2009 Subaru Forester not been a part of the Takata airbag recall. (For an explanation from Subaru about how an iPhone could have possibly ended up in this situation to begin with, scroll to the bottom).

It started, innocently enough, with a trip to the repair shop for replacement of the faulty passenger-side airbag.

Alex Tom / Facebook

Tom said the phone was dead when the shop found it. After a charge, it booted up, revealing this mysterious, blurry photo. Complicating matters: It was locked and stuck on airplane mode.

He checked with the shop, assuming the iPhone 4s belonged to whoever worked on his car. But the mechanic confirmed he found the phone inside the dash airbag compartment.

At this point, Tom’s former classmates from Colorado College and Berkeley Law School, where he’s currently a student, began to ask the important questions on Facebook.

“Why does the phone still think it’s January?” wondered Logan Roberts. “Is there a time traveling portal in your dashboard?”

Tom did some digging:

Alex Tom / Facebook

The hive mind digested the clues. But first, more pressing questions needed to be raised.

For starters, what is that photo on the lock screen? Why is it so blurry? And will Sarah Koenig please turn this into a podcast?

No easy answers here, friends. Bobby “helpfully” suggested smashing the phone open “to see if there are more clues inside.” Nice try, Bobby.

Then Bobby redeemed himself with a great idea:

Alex Tom / Facebook

The “plug it into a computer” tip would add another critical clue: The iPhone once belonged to someone named “Sully.” Problem was, Tom couldn’t recall any Sullies in his life.

Then Tom made another big discovery: how to access the phone’s notifications, which included the weather at wherever the phone was located on Jan. 3, 2015 (”currently 75 with a high of 91”), and ― AND ― a message from “Bonnie” via the “Coffee Meets Bagel” dating app:

Alex Tom / Facebook

And with that, the growing community following the thread went to work.

One group cross-referenced historical temperature data in search of locations that had a high of 91 degrees on Jan. 3, 2015. Another group posted the riveting story to “Missed Connections” on Craigslist, targeting locations identified by the weather-researcher group.


Logan Roberts took a bold stab at solving the puzzle:

Alex Tom / Facebook

[Ron Howard as “Arrested Development” narrator voice]: It was not Troy’s phone. The mystery continued.

Others, inspired by the realization that an anagram of Troy’s name (almost) spells “Cyanide Thor” ― and would make a terrific heavy metal band name ― embarked on a tangent designing a T-shirt for the group (below, left). It was later redesigned to the version on the right:

The original shirt (left) and the redesign (right)
The original shirt (left) and the redesign (right)
Alex Tom / Facebook / HuffPost

As the Facebook conversation continued, more people joined the thread, adding expertise.

The Subaru’s sales history was studied in search of clues. Bonnies of all stripes were considered, and Sullies, too.

“Has anyone considered that Sully might be short for Suliman?” Michael asked. “We can eliminate Suliman the Magnificent, former Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, because he died in 1566 (455 years before the release of the iPhone 4s). But there’s a whole bunch of other Sulimans to be considered.”

Just when it seemed the search had hit a dead end, Craigslist responses began to flood in; Some were helpful, others a little less so.

Then, Logan Roberts hit the jackpot:

Alex Tom / Facebook

Roberts told HuffPost he was shocked the breakthrough came via Craigslist, going so far as to ask “Coffee Meets Bagel” to independently verify the “too good to be true” news.

“I was expecting to hear some random peoples’ ideas about what happened, or maybe have some people with car or phone knowledge chime in,” he said. “But I really thought it would just be a funny addition to the search.

“When, less than 24 hours later I got an email from Melissa at [”Coffee Meets Bagel”], I literally shot up out of my chair at my desk and yelled. I scared the shit out of the guy sitting next to me, but we’d all been following the story so closely, he was thrilled, too, when he found out that we had found Sully ...”

As you’d expect, the thread ― at this point already pushing 100 comments ― exploded in celebration, and with long overdue questions for Sully.

“I just laugh-cried. Like people do at the ends of movies like Apollo 13,” wrote Tucker. “Somewhere there is a control room going f**king wild.”

Tom jumped in and formally introduced Sully to the thread:

Alex Tom / Facebook

And Sully, good sport that he is, finally pulled back the curtain on so many of the mysteries that had plagued everyone else the previous few days. Like, who is featured in the lock screen photo?

Alex Tom / Facebook

Several mysteries remain, of course. Not the least of which is who is Bonnie? Has she settled down? Is she still interested in going on a date with Sully?

(”Coffee Meets Bagel” has reached out to Bonnie and offered to host the major characters of this saga at their headquarters in San Francisco; We eagerly await the outcome).

Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the iPhone’s apparent time-bending abilities: “Why did a phone that was lost in June 2014 (and presumably died a few days later) reset to January 2015 when it was finally charged again?” Asked Tom.

Subaru, though, came through. The carmaker’s corporate communications director, Michael McHale, assured HuffPost nobody was ever in danger of taking an iPhone to the face if the airbag had exploded. Here’s his explanation of how the phone likely ended up where it did:

Where the phone was found really is not the “airbag compartment”, it’s just the inner dash below the airbag. Sounds like it dropped behind the glove box. If the airbag deployed, the phone would still be in the dash until the body shop found it when they replaced the deployed airbag. It would not cause the airbag to go off as the airbag wiring is tucked well out of the way for anything falling back there to interfere with it or damage it.

Basically this is the same principle as how socks disappear when you do laundry. When you overfill your washer (top loader) and the clothes spin out, the sock goes over the top of the tub and falls inside the washer, never to be seen again until the repairman comes to fix your washer. Two go in but only one comes out.

And as for Tom, he’s just happy to have been along for the ride.

“I certainly didn’t expect this to gain this level of attention,” he told HuffPost, “but it was truly amazing how invested people became, and I was really impressed with the general creativity in all the ways people suggested to track down the owner of the phone.”

HuffPost has blurred the last names of Facebook users who weren’t consulted for this article.

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