This UK poltergeist case is possibly the most famous in history, inspiring many books and the motion picture, The Conjuring 2. It is the subject of tonight’s edition of Unpleasant Dreams!
Primary writing is by EM Hilker with supplementary writing by Cassandra Harold.
Cassandra Harold hosts and Jim Harold is the Executive Producer.
CLICK HERE for the original article by EM Hilker
In the Enfield borough of London, England lay a neighborhood known as Brimsdown, formerly Grimsdown. Brimsdown is, and was, an industrial and commercial region. Much of the residential area consists of council housing – that is, government-owned housing rented at a lower rate based on need. The Hodgson family – mother Peggy and three of her four children (the fourth being away at school) – lived in one such house, sharing a wall with their neighbors and good friends the Nottinghams. Money was tight and life was busy, and they were recovering from the shock of Mr. and Mrs. Hodgson’s recent divorce, but all in all the family was happy enough.
Peggy Hodgson, her mind very much on the entirely material concerns of feeding and clothing her children, didn’t initially take it seriously when her daughters, 13 year old Margaret and 11 year old Janet, began to complain of knocking and strange goings on in their shared bedroom. There were lots of reasons one might hear odd sounds in a house that shared a wall with one neighbor and a slender alleyway with the other. Because of this, no one is sure precisely when it began.
In fact, when Mrs. Hodgson strode somewhat angrily into her daughters’ shared bedroom to tell them to stop messing around and go back to sleep on a seemingly normal August night in 1977, she certainly didn’t expect to see the first clear evidence of the thing that would consume the next year and a half of their lives. Her daughters, rather than playing around past their bedtime as she’d imagined, were shaking and afraid, and staring intently at a chest of drawers that wasn’t in its usual place. Peggy pushed it back into place impatiently, as a mother who does not have time for this nonsense would, only to watch with a dawning sense of dread as it slid back across the floor unaided. Peggy Hodgson was not prepared for this and, with no idea what to do, the family ran next door for help from the Nottinghams, who for their part listened with some skepticism but nevertheless returned with them to the Hodgson home. The banging and odd noises hadn’t stopped, and Vic Nottingham couldn’t explain what he was hearing. He found himself very afraid. Baffled, the two families decided to do the sensible thing and call the police.
The police, upon arrival, investigated the home according to standard procedure. They could find no source for the sounds, no intruders, no trickery. One of the officers, who would later sign an affidavit confirming what she had witnessed, watched a chair slide across the room on its own. A police officer through and through, she inspected the chair assiduously, looking for wires, magnets, anything that might cause a chair to move of its own accord. She found nothing.
And then, the police officers left. There was no one to arrest, or charge, and no way to make it stop. There was simply nothing to be done.
Still at a loss, Peggy Hodgson called the Daily Mirror, a British newspaper that continues to run in modern day, in the hopes that if they ran a story someone out there, somewhere, would know something about what was happening. What to do. How to stop it, if indeed it could even be stopped. In the first of many ways in which the force or spirit in the Hodgson home showed itself to be something of a trickster, nothing happened for the hours in which the reporter and photographer who were sent to investigate by the newspaper sat in the house with the family, drinking tea. It was only as they left that they found themselves called frantically back by the family. Running back in, the men saw things floating around the room; photographer Graham Morris found himself promptly hit in the face with a lego piece, leaving a bruise that was visible for days. The newspaper men feared for the family, and it was they who called the Society for Psychical Research, where it came to the attention of Maurice Grosse. Grosse was a new member of SPR; his daughter – also named Janet had died the year before, and the confluence of synchronicities surrounding her death had set in motion a newfound interest in the supernatural, which he would pursue for the rest of his life. He felt drawn to the case. The situation immediately proved to be out of control, and he was shortly thereafter joined by writer and fellow SPR member Guy Lyon (lion) Playfair.
It was immediately obvious to the two investigators that they were dealing with poltergeist phenomena. A poltergeist, taken from the German meaning “knocking ghost” or “noisy ghost,” refers to a spirit or force which rarely manifests in a physical form, but is instead responsible for pinching, throwing objects and more rarely people or pets, breaking things, and generally being a terrifying nuisance. Frequently, poltergeist hauntings start off with minor disturbances – knocking, whispers, cold spots. From there, they often increase in intensity – biting, scratching, throwing things, often to simply and abruptly stop after some period of time. Some people think poltergeists are the spirits of people who were violent in life, or who suffered a terrible death; some think they might be demonic entities, or the result of a dark, evil magic. Some say it’s telekinesis, done consciously or otherwise, by a distressed individual. Others think it’s spirits, given new strength by the wild energies of a teenager or teenagers in the home. None know for certain.
Despite the family knowing very little about poltergeist phenomena – Peggy Hodgson had never even heard the term prior to the strange occurrences in her home – their reports matched other cases the two investigators were familiar with, both in terms of manifestation and in the pattern of increasing intensity. What began as knocks and strange noises escalated to moving furniture, disappearing and reappearing objects, and the girls being thrown out of the beds. At one point, the girls began acting out of character in a way that felt to the men like possession, and feces wrapped in cloth or paper was being flung around the house by invisible hands. Janet levitated, both awake and asleep, and floated about the bedroom. This was witnessed by multiple people. At one point Janet found herself unable to breathe, a curtain tightly wrapped around her neck, Janet channeling the voice of a gruff old man and traveling through solid objects. The majority of the hauntings seemed centered around Janet, though Margaret wasn’t spared entirely from the spirit’s mischief.
The most popular conclusion in skeptics’ circles is that the girls simply faked the whole thing. Pure hoax, simply two little girls who had been abandoned by their father and were soaking up the attention from the crowds. Perhaps it had started as a prank and gotten out of hand. Perhaps they were hoping for fame, or money.
Skeptic Deborah Hyde takes a more kindly view of it, and is of the belief that several of the incidents that involve Janet waking up to be dragged out of bed or where she felt like she was being suffocated were a result of “sleep paralysis” rather than an outright lie. She does suspect that the explanation for the continuance of questionable phenomena probably had more to do with the abandonment by their father and the fear that when the tricks stopped, so would the attention of the two kind, fatherly gentlemen it had brought into their lives, but she at least treats it with an air of sympathy for what was doubtless a difficult time for the whole family.
Not all skeptics have been so kind. Hyde points out that famed ventriloquist Ray Alan and Illusionist Milburne Christopher both felt that there was nothing done in the house that couldn’t be explained by the professional tricks they already knew; this may be true, but Playfair’s view of the situation is a little different. He felt that they scarcely investigated so much as arrived with preconceived notions that they didn’t challenge even slightly during their brief time in the home. The two performers were rude, dismissive, and demanding, bullying the children and making aggressive accusations. They had scarcely waited for the girls’ responses; Janet did not even directly speak to them. Playfair felt they had declared victory with very little reason; and, despite the fact that perhaps some of the effects could be reproduced by professionals, these were not professionals. These were little girls who entirely lacked the benefit of training and experience.
In fact, some of it was faked and all of the parties involved, including the girls themselves, have acknowledged that. The 2016 cinematic treatment of the case, The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Case, has Janet caught on video faking an attack because the spirit in the home blackmailed her into it but the real-life explanation is much simpler: according to Playfair’s account, the girls were fond of both investigators and they liked to play; they wanted to know if they could trick them. This corresponds with a comment Janet made in an interview decades later: that they did try to trick the gentlemen, and the two men always caught the girls. Janet and Margaret maintain up to the present day that, childish play aside, the hauntings were real.
Playfair made it clear in his account of the events, This House Is Haunted, that he believed the family wholeheartedly. So did Grosse. He and Grosse spent far more time at the house than other researchers and one might think that they’d have had far more opportunity to catch the girls “in the act.” Much has been made of Grosse’s involvement in the case – he lost a daughter, also named Janet, only the year before his involvement with the Hodgson family. Janet Grosse died in August of 1976, and Janet Hodgson began experiencing things in August 1977. Grosse always felt that his own Janet was somehow involved in this case, perhaps drawing his attention to this family who needed his help so badly.
It is worth mentioning that, despite the widely spread claims that Grosse and Playfair were duped by the family and showed little critical thought, they did in fact run tests, some with the knowledge of the Hodgson family and some without: hidden tape recorders, cameras that were very advanced for the day, filling Janet’s mouth with water and then taping it shut to see if that stifled the voice – it didn’t, of course. They changed schedules of who would stay in the house at what times; sent the family away for a fortnight and monitored the house. Regardless of what one might think of their conclusions, it’s not true that they approached this entirely uncritically.
Completely aside from the credulity or lack thereof of the two investigators, there are a few incidents that simply cannot be explained unless the investigators were an active part of a known hoax. Oddly human-shaped puddles randomly appeared while the kitchen was empty. They were usually water, but at one point when an unusually pungent sample was sent to the lab, it was ruled, in the words of the lab tech, to be “cat piss.” Marbles were regularly “thrown” in the house by unseen hands, but when they landed they wouldn’t bounce, and they wouldn’t roll. No one was ever able to replicate it. The marbles would just sit there, completely still, as if slammed to the floor by an invisible hand, and after each incident were found to be hot to the touch. Playfair points out, as well, that the husband next door, the neighbor who came on the first night and called the police, was a builder by trade. He knew houses inside and out, quite literally. He knew what noises you’d expect them to make. And he was afraid.
And that’s not all: in 2010 Dr. Barrie Colvin, a professional chemist and physicist, analyzed the audio recordings of the case and published the results in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research. According to his analysis, the sounds made in the Hodgson home, in comparison with sounds reproduced by the researchers, display what he calls “abnormal acoustic qualities.” He believes that this method of analysis might be used in future.
It’s also worth mentioning that some of these witnesses, including the police officer on the first night of the haunting in earnest, have been outside of the bubble of family. In fact, there are more than 30 such witnesses.
One particularly interesting incident was seen from outside the house by two witnesses who weren’t acquainted with one another and didn’t know the family well. Hazel Short was a “Lollipop lady” in the neighborhood – A “Lollipop Lady” is a term used in European and Australian English for what North America calls a “school crossing guard”. Hazel Short regularly found herself passing by the Hodgson home. One day she happened to look up at the house in time to see Janet floating up and down, laying as flat as if she were in bed, in front of the window. At that same time a delivery man was delivering baked goods in the neighborhood and looked up when he heard a commotion. He saw Janet float by the window, a variety of toys and books trailing after her through the air, like ducklings following their mother. Hazel Short tried to mimic what she saw later at home on her own bed, holding her body in different positions and contorting herself – she couldn’t do it. Neither witness had a personal stake in the case.
And then there are the things that can be more easily proven, insofar as such things can be proven at all. One of the voices that spoke through Janet called himself Bill Wilkins, and claimed to have died in an armchair in the living room. He spoke of going blind and bleeding inside; In fact, a Bill Wilkins had lived in the house, and died of a cerebral hemorrhage in the armchair in the living room, just as the voice issuing from Janet had described. Wilkins’ son, upon hearing the tape, acknowledged that that was precisely what happened. The family has said that they moved into the house not knowing anything of its history, and It’s unlikely that anyone was randomly telling these gruesome particulars of an old man’s death to a pair of pre-teen girls in 1970s England.
The haunting petered out for the most part in 1979, though Peggy would feel a presence in the house and feel eyes on her until the day she died, after Janet was removed from the home and admitted to the Maudsley Psychiatric hospital for testing for a period of months, only to be pronounced healthy. Normal.
She didn’t feel normal, though; no one in the house did. The effects of the haunting linger still in the minds and lives of both girls, now grown into women. Margaret is afraid of the dark, and she still finds herself jumping at every little thing. Even at work. Even in broad daylight. Janet has referred to feeling used, then and now; the media and investigators overran their home, leaving them with no privacy, no space for them to live their lives. Janet suffered a lot of bullying at school, and still blames herself for having played with an Ouija board, which she believes might have initiated the haunting. Both women agree that it was a traumatic and traumatizing time in their lives.
And what’s in that house now? Who can say? After Peggy Hodgson died, the Bennett family moved in, and immediately felt uncomfortable. Watched, as Peggy had. The boys heard voices in the dark, saw the shape of a man come into the bedroom at night. The family moved out within a mere two months. Since then, whatever spirit or entity that resides in that house, be it Bill Wilkins or otherwise, seems to have lain quiet, perhaps dozing and deprived of the right sort of energy to come fully to life again. Laying in wait for that wild energy. Because what if it really was feeding off the wild energy of the Hodgson girls, and later of the Bennett boys? This may not be over. Only time will reveal what else may be brought forth in that home when the circumstances are right.
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“The Enfield Poltergeist: Living The Horror.” YouTube, New Line Cinema, 2016. Accessed 4 June 2022.
Guglielmi, Jodi. “Inside the Real Story That Inspired The Conjuring 2.” People.com, updated 13 May 2022. Retrieved 23 May, 2022.
Hyde, Deborah. “The Enfield ‘Poltergeist’: A Sceptic Speaks.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 1 May 2015. Retrieved 3 June 2022.
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