Phone ‘phreakers’ in 1980s LA: Digging up the forgotten era

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One little-remembered era of tech history was the 1980s, when telephone “phreakers” abounded in LA. Photo by Pixabay.

When you think of a computer hacker, you probably visualize a nerdy guy tapping away at his computer until he screams “I’m in!” That’s what Hollywood typically gives us. But in the 1980s, Los Angeles had a much different type of hacker: Susy Thunder. Her real name was Susan Headley. You’ve probably never heard of her because she never got caught. Writer and musician Claire L. Evans spent a year tracking down Susy Thunder during the pandemic. 

“She’s a mythological figure in hacking history,” says Evans. “I'm interested in tech history. I wrote a book about women in computing history, and Susy was my white whale.”

Once Evans found Headley and gained her trust, the two spent hours on the phone, and Headley shared exciting stories about a forgotten moment in technology history: the era of telephone “phreakers” in Los Angeles.