When Allan Bridge started The Apology Line, he wanted to help people unburden themselves from past regret – a feeling he was all too familiar with.
The struggling artist had the idea to created a hotline people could share their wrongdoings after stealing art supplies he couldn't afford when he moved to New York – a secret that ate away at him.
Wracked by guilt, Bridge began to think of all the other people out there that were also burdened by misdeeds too sensitive to share – there was no anonymous corner of the internet they could post it to then.
So in 1980, he decided to put up flyers around the city, encouraging people to call a phone line and "apologise for their wrongs … without jeopardising themselves", according to the New York Post.
However, the phone line quickly gained huge notoriety, attracting confessions from murderers, thieves, child molesters and cheating spouses – something his wife has now revealed caused his life to "unravel".
Bridge's life's work is the subject of a new podcast, The Apology Line, hosted by his wife Marissa Bridge.
In the six-part podcast series she explains in detail – accompanied by the chilling audio recordings – how her husband stayed anonymous during the hotline's operation, referring to himself only as "Mr Apology".
"Allan was a petty criminal in his early life, and he worried that people could fall too easily into being either the predator or the prey," she told Westword in 2004.
"He lived his life to say, 'Let's see if we can be better people'."
'I WANT TO APOLOGISE'
Bridge eventually introduced call-in options with topics that included child abuse, hatred, addiction, crime and homosexuality – a cause of many horrendous attacks at the time.
One man, who called himself Ritchie, said he was a serial killer who phoned in confessions for five years.
A son admitted to killing his mother while another man, nicknamed by one listener as "Johnny the Dick of Death" would knowingly infect sexual partners with HIV.
One caller even threatened to kill Bridge while others admitted to extraordinary past misdeeds.
"I want to apologise," one particularly chilling confession began, reports Westword.
"I don't know if even what I did was wrong or right, but when I was in Israel for six months, I killed six Arabs at night with a gang of other Jewish settlers.
"At the time we thought – I believed – we were fighting for our homeland to keep it from the Arabs.
"But perhaps now that I'm here in America, I realise that maybe killing is not the right way, and I want to apologise."
Some of the recordings would be played in the outgoing message on the phone's answering machine, so callers could respond and give advice.
The confessions were also printed in magazines, while some aired on radio and many made it into Allan's art shows in galleries and museums.
Despite the criminal nature of many of the confessions he received, Bridge never co-operated with authorities.
One time police contacted him for information about a confession from a man who admitted to beating and robbing gay men.
The description matched an unsolved murder, a detective told Bridge.
But Bridge did not want to break his pledge to callers to keep their confessions anonymous, and instead agreed to play the interview during an upcoming radio interview so police could listen in, the Post reported.
'IT TOOK UP HIS WHOLE LIFE'
By 1994, the Apology Line was getting more than 100 calls a day but Bridge was "unravelling".
He grew increasingly frustrated by the number of people who "showed no remorse" and friends began to distance themselves from him, Marissa Bridge said.
"It took up his whole life. He slept very little and worked minimally at carpentry," she told the Post.
"Keeping up with everything was a Sisyphean task. Calls got dark."
In 1995, the hotline came to an abrupt end when Bridge, then 50, was killed scuba-diving in Long Island after being hit by a man on a jet ski.
He died of his injuries but to this day the person responsible has never been found and no one has confessed to his death.
Marissa Bridge still holds out hope that one day the person who killed her husband will come forward and apologise.
"It was an accident. It was not their fault. It was an accidental death, but I'm sure that person carries around a lot of pain about it," she told Fox News.
"And if they did come forward to apologise, I think it would be very healing for them. And for me."