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Poltergeist?
by William Eyre

In this intriguing case the main phenomena reported are items going missing. These, with other incidents, add up to produce the atmosphere of a poltergeist outbreak. But is it a poltergeist?

ASSAP member David Sankey and I were requested to look into a case of alleged poltergeist activity at a terraced house at Chesbrough (pseudonym), in which a number of apparently psychokinetic phenomena had taken place, in particular objects inexplicably disappearing.

Interview with Primary Witness

An arrangement was made for the two of us to visit the principal witness, a young lady by the name of Miss Emma Roberts (pseudonym), at her house, in March 2001. Emma's parents (who did not live at the house) were also present during the interview. Emma explained that she and a friend by the name of Miss Tamsin Bradford (pseudonym) shared the house on a rental basis.

She said that various objects belonging to her over a period of time had disappeared and then reappeared in another place. Examples included:

  • her face compact disappearing from the dressing table and reappearing, when she came back from work, on the bed
  • her eyeliner appearing under an envelope that she picked up, even though she had not placed it there
  • one eyeliner disappearing and never reappearing
  • a milk shake going missing from the fridge
  • £200 cash going missing: sums adding up to this had disappeared from various hiding places, including a purse placed under the pillow that she was sleeping on
  • cigarettes going missing.

The most recent incident had been a sum of £100 going missing in early February 2001. Although the other disappearances were thought by Emma to have a paranormal cause, this particular incident was being treated as a criminal incident and had been reported to the Police.

Other apparent psychokinetic phenomena reported included:

  • the television and DVD player had switched themselves on
  • in January 2001, the mirror had come off the wall, smashing the teapots and clock that had been on the mantelpiece
  • a male friend (who was unaware of the phenomena) had witnessed a knife move by itself across a plate

Sometimes her cat used to play up at about 4 or 4.30am and attack her. One night, about two weeks prior to the interview, she had been pinned to the bed by something invisible, ie. paralysed. She had felt pressure on the shoulders and legs and experienced a feeling as if the cat were walking up her leg, despite being able to tell as soon as the paralysis had worn off that the cat had not even been on the bed. At other times, she would feel as if something was coming for her, which she couldn't see.

Sometimes she felt as if Tamsin were there, when in fact she was not. Once, she opened the front door to come into the house and saw what she thought was Tamsin walking into the kitchen. However, upon inspection, she found that in fact Tamsin was not in the house at the time. She sensed that someone was watching her and sometimes got strange feelings at work.

Once, she acquired a mark on her wrist that lasted some length of time: this was triggered by taking a bath.

The phenomena commenced as soon as Emma moved into the house, in September 2000. Although most of the phenomena seemed to affect Emma, Tamsin had claimed on two occasions that she had received a shove which had had the effect of pushing her downstairs, when she had been standing at the top of the stairs. She had also claimed to occasionally have objects mysteriously disappearing, eg. her underwear.

Prior to the interview, the young women had become so frightened by the phenomena that, despite each having her own bedroom, Tamsin had moved into Emma's bedroom.

Students had lived in the house before her. Emma said that the house next door on one side felt 'creepy'. Someone was supposed to have lived there but it was always dark.

She said that the woman living next door on the other side had said that there had been an elderly couple living at the house under investigation some time previously. The man had had a stroke and then the wife had had one.

Emma said that people never seemed to stay long in the house, implying that they moved out quickly because of phenomena. The house, which had been built in the 1920s, once belonged to the grandfather of Mr Jones (pseudonym), the present landlady's husband. The Robertses knew of no deaths that had occurred in the house.

The Roberts family had approached the local church with a request for a blessing to be given to the house. Arrangements had been made for the Rev. Stuart (pseudonym) to visit the house for this purpose. However, on his first attempted visit, a Land Rover almost ran over the Rev. Stuart while he was on his way to the house. This shook him up so much that he was unable to make the visit. On his second visit, in early December 2000, he did carry out a blessing of the house, during which Tamsin felt 'freaked out'. Emma said that Mr Stuart felt something strange in the front bedroom. Subsequent to the blessing, phenomena occurred more regularly. Later on, the phenomena quietened down to some extent. Emma thought that some paranormal influence connected with the house was responsible for most of the incidents occurring in the house and that it may have been responsible for the Land Rover incident, trying to keep the clergyman away from the house.

Inspection of House

The investigators inspected the parts of the house where strange occurrences had allegedly happened. It was observed that there were Japanese symbols on Emma's bedroom door and also in the lounge. Emma had been told that they would keep evil spirits away. A search of items left in her bedroom threw up some Japanese art notes dated 1998, belonging to the previous tenant, who had lived there in 2000. The investigators examined the picture hook from which the lounge mirror had hung before falling and it seemed to be secure in the wall. It was noted that the basement had been painted completely black.

Contact with the Rev. Stuart

I telephoned the Rev. Stuart in order to obtain his experiences / feelings about this matter. He said that he had had a definite feeling that there was something out of the ordinary going on at the house. He suspected that some of the odd drawings on the fixtures and fittings in the house were drug related. While in Emma's bedroom, he had felt on a psychical level as if he was falling into something. He felt that redecorating the bedroom would lighten the atmosphere. He also felt that there was something ‘not right’ with the basement. When asked whether he considered himself to be psychic, he said that he had the 'gift of spiritual discernment'.

Research into Previous Occupancy

David carried out research to discover who the previous occupants of the house had been, mainly by using the Electoral Registers. The data uncovered related to the period from 1937 to the present day. Going back further in history was impractical as the house concerned was in a different ward until 1936. The table below shows the findings of this research.

YEAR(S) OCCUPANTS COMMENTS
2001 Emma Roberts and Tamsin Bradford  
2000 Miss 'A' and possibly her boyfriend the art folder found containing her name was dated 1998
1998 to 1999 Mr 'B' had a stroke
1997 Mr 'B' and Ms 'C' Ms 'C' had a stroke
1994 to 1996 Ms 'C'  
1992 to 1993 Ms 'D', Mr 'E' and Mr 'F' students
1991 Mr Peter Jenkinson, Keith Jenkinson and Ms 'G' (all pseudonyms) alleged anomalous activity
1990 No one in residence or no one voted  
1989 Mr and Mrs 'H' photography students who painted cellar black
1986 to 1988 No one in residence or no one voted  
1985 Ms 'I' and Mr 'J' possibly relations of the landlady
1980 to 1984 Mrs 'K'  
1971 to 1979 Mrs 'K' and possibly a Mr 'L'  
1966 to 1970 Mrs 'K'  
1965 Record missing Mr 'K' probably died then (in hospital)
1946 to 1964 Mr and Mrs 'K' records missing for 1953 to 1954
1945 Mrs 'K' Mr 'K' probably away in the Armed Forces
1940 to 1944 No records because of War restrictions  
1937 to 1939 Mr 'K' + 2 other members of the 'K' family sitting tenants

Contact with Landlady

David visited the landlady, Mrs Beryl Jones (pseudonym), in order to carry out an interview to see whether she could provide any corroborative evidence in support of paranormal activity.

Mrs Jones did give credibility to Emma's account of seeing an apparition because in 1991 a Mr Peter Jenkinson (pseudonym), his son Keith Jenkinson and Mr Jenkinson's then girlfriend were tenants of the house. Mr Jenkinson had requested a possible move to another property owned by Mr and Mrs Jones. Although no reason was given for the request to move at the time, Mrs Jones assumed that it was because the house had no central heating. Some time later, after the move was granted, Mr Jenkinson was working at Mrs Jones's private house, fitting carpets. In conversation, Mr Jenkinson had then told Mrs Jones the real reason that they had requested the move. According to Mrs Jones, Mr Jenkinson had witnessed an apparition while in the house. The figure had been witnessed in the back bedroom and along the corridor to the toilet.

As regards the cellar; Mrs Jones made no mention of anything strange happening there: on the contrary, she explained that the reason that it had been painted black was nothing more sinister than the fact that the tenants in 1989 (see table) had been photography students and they had wanted to use the room as a dark room.

Mrs Jones reliably informed David that she was unaware of any other allegations of strange phenomena apart from those reported by Emma and Mr Jenkinson.

As regards the incidents involving money going missing, she revealed that there may be some relevance to the fact that a certain previous tenant sometimes visited the house.

She said that the drawings in the bedroom were undoubtedly executed by the tenant who was there in 2000, who was an art student.

Attempted Contact with Mr Jenkinson

Mrs Jones did not have a forwarding address for Mr Jenkinson, but UK Info disc revealed that he was at that time married to the girlfriend with whom he had lived while at the house under investigation, at another address in Chesbrough, only a very short distance away. David attempted to contact Mr Jenkinson at this new address, but unfortunately there was no response.

Analysis of Options

In some cases where poltergeist phenomena are reported, the incidents are made up by the resident of the house as a pretext for trying to be rehoused. This is most likely to occur in the case of a council house tenant. In this particular case, the house was privately rented and in any case, if Emma had preferred to be moved to a different house belonging to Mrs Jones, she could merely have asked her in a straightforward way to be moved to one of her other houses. Mrs Jones had been receptive to such a request from one of the previous tenants of the house, Mr Jenkinson. In fact, ironically in that case, the reverse had happened. Mr Jenkinson had kept quiet about any paranormal reason for wanting to move, even though there was such a reason. We therefore felt that Emma was being sincere in her tales of strange incidents and that she was not merely making them up.

As regards the Japanese symbols on the bedroom door and in the lounge, the fact that a search of belongings left by Miss ‘A’, carried out by ourselves and Emma, revealed examples of Japanese art in her folder, strongly suggests they were examples of her artwork.

As regards objects of Emma's going missing and usually being returned, the options were:

  • Emma was forgetful or
  • that the objects had disappeared and reappeared in some sort of paranormal way or
  • that Tamsin had been using these objects herself without telling Emma

From speaking to Emma and her parents, there was no evidence of her being forgetful. Also, it was not just an isolated incident of something being misplaced but a number of such incidents.

The items that tended to go missing were items which could perhaps have been useful to Tamsin. For example:

  • cigarettes sometimes went missing (Tamsin smoked)
  • cosmetics, such as a face compact, sometimes went missing (such items would have been of use to other young women, and Tamsin is of the same age group as Emma)

There did not appear to be many of the other factors typically associated with poltergeist cases in this house (eg. objects being thrown, raps and other noises, apports, object arrangements, doors being opened and closed, cold breezes, apparent communications with ‘entities’, etc.) . In particular Emma, around whom most of the incidents occurred, had not been subject to any emotional problems, which are typical of a ‘focus’ in poltergeist cases.

As regards the occasional item of Tamsin's which had reportedly gone missing, Tamsin could, of course, have merely lost such items or possibly even have invented such incidents if she had, in fact, been using Emma’s various missing items herself.

As regards the incidents of 'being pinned down in bed', the most likely options were:-

  • sleep paralysis or
  • some kind of unknown or paranormal effect

Were there to have been other overtly paranormal phenomena taking place in the house, when everyone was wide awake, the second option would have been a serious contender. However, this was not the case, as the other incidents have probable normal explanations. Certainly, a feature of sleep paralysis, as its name implies, is that the subject is paralysed. Emma described a feeling on her leg as if the cat were moving along it, and I know from personal experience that one can experience a sensation of being touched or stroked by a sleep paralysis 'intruder'. However, the 'intruder' is merely a hypnopompic hallucination, ie. a superimposition by the subject's unconscious mind of a dream image on top of the physical reality being simultaneously perceived by the subject's conscious mind. If sleep paralysis were the explanation, then the incident would have only been subjective, whereas Tamsin claimed that she too could feel a non-present cat on her leg. However, for the reason given above, it is not impossible that Tamsin could possibly have been making up incidents occurring to her.

It was accepted that the switching on of the television and DVD could have been an isolated paranormal incident. It resembles a very similar incident in which I once connected a second-hand computer to a television in my house and, within an hour, the television was heard to come on at full volume. Upon inspection it became clear that this would have entailed both the on-off switch being pressed and the volume slider switch being moved from the 'no volume' to the 'full volume' position, despite there being no one in the room at the time.

As regards the mirror incident, Mr and Mrs Roberts confirmed the after-effects of this, but vibrations from passing traffic or a localised underground earth tremor could conceivably have caused it to fall.

The 'knife moving' incident could not be substantiated, as the investigators did not have access to the actual witness.

Emma's sensing of a 'presence' near her could have had a parapsychological explanation, ie. it could have been occurring because she had some psychic sensitivity, or could have had a psychological explanation, ie. the anxiety of mentally stringing together the other strange incidents to come to a conclusion that there was a paranormal cause could have subconsciously induced this further experience.

It was difficult to account for Emma’s thinking that she had seen Tamsin as she came in through the front door, when Tamsin had not been in the house unless Emma had in fact seen an apparition. This was quite possible, as it transpired that Mr Jenkinson's real reason for moving out of the house had been that he had seen an apparition in the house.

As regards Emma's assertion that people never seemed to stay long in the house, implying that they moved out quickly because of unexplained phenomena, David's research into the previous occupancy did not seem to bear this out, with the exception of Mr Jenkinson. Some residents had in fact lived for a number of years at the house and those residents who had not stayed long tended to be students, who would be expected to move on once their course was finished anyway.

Conclusions

The following conclusions were drawn:

  • that there was probably a normal (as opposed to paranormal) cause of the disappearance of Emma's personal items
  • that the Japanese symbols and darkness of the cellar had no paranormal connotations
  • that there was a normal cause of the incidents experienced by Emma while in bed, ie. sleep paralysis.

While there was insufficient evidence regarding the occasional occurrence of apparitions to draw a definite conclusion, the investigators feel that there was a probability that these incidents had a paranormal cause.

So, to summarise, it was felt that most of the reported incidents had a normal cause but that there were probably isolated paranormal incidents. Indeed, this was the second case of its type recently which I have looked into where the reporter of the phenomena has observed a number of apparently psychokinetic incidents occurring over a period of time, together with 'bed phenomena', and concluded that there must be a common paranormal cause. In both cases, upon examination, one has to conclude that a poltergeist is not really responsible.

This article originally appeared in Anomaly 31 Nov 2002