The call came over the two-way radio to the County Cab dispatcher about 3 a.m. yesterday.
It was from cab No. 36, but it wasn't the driver checking in. Police say it was his killer.
What followed was an intensive ground and air search by police before the body of Gregory Cunningham, 42, of Clifton Heights, was found about 6 a.m. in a walkway between Buildings E and F of the Park Lane East Apartments in Upper Darby.
In the tidy, quiet complex of three-story tan brick buildings just off Garrett Road, a bloodstain yesterday marked the spot where police believe Cunningham's body was dumped after he was shot. Police said he was struck by one bullet, but they would not disclose the location of the wound or what kind of weapon was used.
At a news conference, Capt. Michael Kenny said he believed robbery was the motive, but he declined to say whether money was taken from Cunningham's cab.
Of the Christmas Eve shooting, he said: "A man is out there trying to make a living. Sad is certainly an understatement."
Kenny gave this account of the shooting:
About 2 a.m., County Cab received a call from one or more people requesting a taxi at a home in the 7400 block of Rogers Avenue in Upper Darby.
About an hour later, the dispatcher at the cab company "heard a male's voice come over . . . the radio from the cab . . . saying essentially he killed the cab operator."
The cab company called Upper Darby police, who launched a search for the taxi that included the use of a helicopter from Delaware state police.
Cunningham's empty cab, a white Ford Crown Victoria, was found at 3:21 a.m. at Keystone and Sellers Avenues, resting against a wall but not significantly damaged.
The search for the driver continued, culminating with the discovery of Cunningham's body about six to eight blocks away at the Park Lane East apartments. Police had been called there for a medical emergency.
Because Cunningham was single and lived alone, locating next of kin was difficult - a task Kenny said was made harder because of the holiday. Contact was made later yesterday afternoon. An autopsy was expected to be conducted later in the day.
Police said an arrest or arrests could be made by today.
At County Cab headquarters at 67th and Upland Streets in Southwest Philadelphia, a spokeswoman referred all questions to Upper Darby police. Kenny said Cunningham had driven for the company about two years and was a good employee.
As they picked up and dropped off riders yesterday, County Cab drivers expressed sadness and anger over Cunningham's death.
"He doesn't deserve that," Sorie Kamara, a driver for eight years, said.
Because he works the day shift and Cunningham typically drove nights, Kamara said, he never met Cunningham, but he knew his voice "on the radio." In fact, Kamara didn't know Cunningham's name, referring to him only by his cab number, 36.
"He was a nice guy," Kamara said.
Gora Singh remembered Cunningham as a driver eager to help other drivers with directions through Upper Darby's network of streets.
Singh has been driving for County Cab for about two months. Yesterday afternoon, he had just passed the spot where Cunningham's body was found and was dropping off two passengers who were quarreling with him about their $6 fare.
Rattled, he said: "This is a very hard job." Cunningham's killing, he said, makes it even more so. "I'm so scared," Singh said.
Police are asking anyone who may have seen the cab between 2 and 3 a.m. to call 610-734-7693.
Contact staff writer Diane Mastrull at 610-313-8095 or firstname.lastname@example.org.