Yorkshire Poltergeist investigation
Anomaly researchers dream of investigating their very own poltergeist. Surely any agent that can hurl physical objects around is conclusive evidence for the paranormal? Cases are rarely as clear cut as that, but they still offer some of the best evidence available to field researchers. [This account first appeared in ANOMALY Number 8]
It all started for me when I received an excited phone call from my brother, Mike, who has a keen interest in the paranormal. He was calling from his home in Yorkshire. ‘You’ll never believe this, Col, but there’s a poltergeist in action at this very moment in The Bed Shop just a few doors down the road from where I’m working.’ ‘Are you winding me up?’ I asked him (he is from Liverpool, like me, and has a true Scouse humour). ‘You know I’d never joke about anything like this,’ he replied. He then proceeded to tell me how he came to hear of it. Earlier that day his sister-in-law and her husband had gone to The Bed Shop to buy a new bed. They were alone on the first floor showroom, when some coins came flying towards them from nowhere and just missed them. They were both shocked at this because they knew it was impossible. Downstairs they spoke to the proprietor, Don (pseudonym), and told him what had just happened. He was not at all surprised. He told them that this sort of thing had been going on for a couple of months. Mike decided to look into this further so during his lunch break he went to The Bed Shop and had a chat with Don.
Background to the Poltergeist
Don started recounting numerous instances of coins, pens, staplers etc. flying through the air when no one had been in the area where they came from. Items had gone missing from the offices only to reappear a few days later, sometimes in exactly the same place they originally went missing from and at other times appearing to materialise in mid-air and drop to the floor. When they hit the floor they would always drop onto something that made a noise, like a cardboard box or the metal strip which joined two carpets together.
Mike told Don about me and my previous psychic investigations and asked if it would be possible for the two of us to stay overnight with some recording equipment to try and capture some activity on tape. Don agreed on two conditions. The first was that there must be no media involvement as he was running a business and, if the word spread that his shop was haunted, he would lose a lot of sales - who would want to buy a bed with possibly a ghost in it? The second was that he did not want the shop swarming with investigators with mountains of equipment. Just the two of us would be allowed. This was, of course, agreed.
The earliest I could get up to York was on Saturday 10 November 1990, so I phoned Don and made an appointment to visit him then. When I arrived at the shop on that day I was surprised at how ordinary it was. It is quite a large shop with about 25 sales areas spread over 4 floors. The office area is to the rear of the ground floor display area, facing the store front. This was surely not the venue of something as incredible as a poltergeist. As things transpired it surely was!
I went to the office and introduced myself to Don and Susie (pseudonym), his assistant. I asked Don if he remembered when the activities first started. He told me that about three months ago he brought his 9 year old son to the shop for the first time. His son was running all over the shop and was very excited. Don was in Susie’s office and he noticed a large price ticket marked £954 (this is a perspex card with plastic removable numbers). These price tickets are normally only put in the office when something is sold, and the only item in the shop costing over £900 is a water bed. Don asked Susie if she had sold a water bed and she said no. When Don went upstairs he noticed that the only bed with no price ticket on was one selling for £645. He rearranged the numbers on the £954 ticket, turning the 9 upside down make the 6, and put this ticket on the bed. A few minutes later Don noticed the sign was gone and he found it back in the office reading 954. There was no one else around at the time!
From then on many people witnessed objects such as coins, pens, bulldog clips etc. flying through the air and dropping from the ceiling inside the shop as if by an invisible force.
An Initial Visit
I asked Don if I could bring a couple of video cameras and set them up in the shop and let them run through the night. He said that would be alright but he told me that I did not have to wait until then to witness one of these events as they had been happening almost every day since the first occurrence. He said I could wait around for a while to see for myself. I did not have to wait long before my first experience of a poltergeist in action.
I was standing in the doorway of Susie’s office facing the shop front, Susie was sitting at her desk and Don at his. A man came into the shop approaching the offices. As he approached we both heard a thump coming from between us. He asked me what it was, and I went over to where the noise came from and looked behind a headboard which was leaning up against a sofa bed. There was a marker pen there which had hit the back of this headboard. This was not physically possible as no one was anywhere near it. We were both amazed at this.
Don and Susie joined us in the display area in front of the offices and Don started recounting previous events. All four of us were standing in a semi-circle facing each other and we all heard two thumps on the floor behind us near Susie’s office. We looked round and saw a bulldog clip and a biro on the floor. No one else was in the shop at this time.
About 15 minutes later I was upstairs on the first floor when I felt an incredible shiver running through me. I knew something was about to happen so I went downstairs and stood at the foot of the stairs. I looked over towards the offices and saw Don in his office on the phone and Susie in her office writing. Both office doors and windows were closed and no one else was in the shop. As I was scanning the shop I noticed a marker pen appear a few centimetres below the ceiling in front of me. This pen flew across the shop, hugging the ceiling for about 3m, then arched downwards hitting a cardboard box. While witnessing this, all my hairs felt like they were standing on end. This really was incredible, but what a pity my video cameras were not up and running to record it.
Shortly after, the three of us were chatting in the display area in front of the offices when something hit the filing cabinets in Susie’s office. It was a one pence piece. Ten minutes later the lights in the Pine Area were switched off, although no one had been near the switch.
I was with Susie in her office and she was telling me that she played games with the poltergeist. She would place several items on her desk in front of her (eg. a pen, a bottle of Tippex, a stapler and a coin) and wait for one item to disappear. She said they never disappeared when she was looking at them but if she turned away, for example to answer the phone, then looked back, sometimes one of the items was gone. Generally within a few minutes this item would be thrown somewhere in the shop or drop from the ceiling in the display area onto the metal strip which joins the carpets together. She said that the poltergeist never took the same item after it was replaced. It would always take one of the other items next and then maybe go back to the first item later. A couple of minutes later I was leaving her office and when I reached the doorway I heard a loud ‘ping’ next to my right ear and a small key came flying out from the wall. I retrieved it and took it into Susie’s office, placing it on her desk near the doorway. Don was in his office with the door closed and no one else was in the shop. Susie and I were laughing a little nervously at what had just happened, when her phone rang. I walked out of her office and when I reached the doorway a small object was flying towards my face from the direction of the shop front (there was no one in the shop at this time). It just missed me, but hit the wall at the same position as a couple of minutes ago. It made a loud ‘ping’ and rebounded to the floor. It was another key looking rather similar to the one that had come out of the wall a minute or so earlier. I went to Susie’s office and the key had gone - it was the same key! I replaced it on the desk in the same position. A few minutes later Susie was standing in the doorway and I was facing her and the key came off the desk and hit the filing cabinet. I replaced it once again in the same position. Susie and I were in the same position as before and the key almost immediately fell to the floor by itself.
It seemed as though the poltergeist had listened to what Susie had said before about it not taking the same object, because in the space of a few minutes the same key had been ‘used’ four times! About 20 minutes later Susie was once again standing in her office doorway and I was facing her a metre or so away, when we heard a bang against the filing cabinets which were about 1.3m behind her. There was a disposable lighter on the floor which I did not see hit the cabinet despite the fact that I was facing it. Where had it come from? Don came out of his office and told us that 5 minutes earlier he had given a customer a light with that lighter. After the customer had gone the lighter was missing and Don thought that the customer must have taken it.
What I had witnessed that day was beyond my expectations. Don agreed that Mike and I could set some equipment up on Friday 23 November - I would have preferred to go back sooner but Mike was going on holiday and would not be back before then. A week later Don phoned me and said that there had been a number of messages and scrawls both in Susie’s office and in the toilet area at the back of the shop. One read ‘2 SCOTT’ and another ‘BYE’. (Scott is a young chap who works for Don but is out most of the time doing deliveries). I was keeping my fingers crossed that ‘BYE’ was an idle threat for the moment and that the poltergeist would still be active when Mike and I returned with the cameras.
The big day finally arrived and at about 3pm I went to the shop to get the key for the vigil that night. Don was with his son, Lee, and Susie in the display area in front of the offices. After just a few minutes a key came flying towards us from the direction of Susie’s office (there was no one near there) and landed near the stairs leading to the Pine Area. The key was the same one that had been thrown four times on my previous visit. I may be wrong but I got the impression that the poltergeist was showing me that it recognised me. Ten minutes later a small toy plastic mouse (said by Susie to be one of the poltergeist’s favourite items) came flying through the air from the direction of the shop front (no one was in that direction) and hit the filing cabinet in Susie’s office. I left the shop shortly after with a confident feeling that with so much activity still going on I was bound to catch something on video.
At around 11.30 that night I returned with my brother and two camcorders. Before we managed to set them up we heard a very loud thump coming from the first floor. Armed with one of the camcorders we went upstairs to investigate. We were not able to identify anything that appeared to be disturbed, so we went back downstairs and set up the camcorders - one in Susie’s office facing the door and the other facing the offices. Both camcorders had been fitted with wide-angle lenses. The recordings were started at 1am and the tapes were changed at 4am. As nothing had happened by this time we left the camcorders recording with 3-hour tapes, locked the shop up and went back to Mike’s house to rest. At about 9am we returned and put clean tapes in the camcorders. The tapes were changed at noon and again at 4pm. By 4.45pm (15 minutes before the shop was due to close) no poltergeist activity had taken place in front of the camcorders so I switched them off.
Three minutes later a pen and a bulldog clip hit the filing cabinet in Susie’s office (Susie was alone in her office at this time). At 5pm Susie and I were standing near the shop doors facing Don and Lee. Susie and I both saw the plug and lead jump off the retaining hook on the vacuum cleaner behind Don and fall on the floor. There was, as usual, no one else around!
The Phones Malfunction
Throughout the day there had been numerous bangs and knocks coming from various unoccupied areas of the shop. The phone system had started to malfunction - when the phone rang in Susie’s office, if she was alone when she answered it she would be disconnected after a few seconds, but as soon as she replaced the receiver it would ring immediately and she would be reconnected. Since the shop had two outside lines (one in Don’s office and one in Susie’s) I decided to try an experiment with the phones. I asked Don to go to his office and phone Susie. Susie, alone in her office, answered and within a few seconds they were disconnected even though they were both still holding their receivers (l could see them both through their windows). I told Don to replace his receiver. Nothing happened. I then told Susie to replace her receiver. Her phone rang immediately, so she picked up her receiver, Don his and they were both reconnected! I then asked them to swop offices. Susie then phoned Don, and once again after a few seconds they were disconnected while still holding their receivers. I asked Don to replace the receiver (the one that rang before) - this time nothing happened. I then asked Susie to replace hers. It rang immediately. She picked it up, Don picked his up and they were reconnected. The experiment was repeated with someone else in Susie’s office with her but the phones would not malfunction.
When I returned to my home town of Colchester I went to see the Customer Services Manager for British Telecom who used to be an engineer. I asked him if he would be able to duplicate this scenario. He told me that he could not, as what I described to him was impossible - but I witnessed it!
I went back to the shop on the Monday to continue the recordings. After three fruitless hours I decided to take the camcorder out of the shop area but leave the other one running. It seemed to me that this poltergeist, probably like all other ones, was camera shy! A salesman called into the shop and saw me packing away the camcorder and asked me what I was doing - was I making a promotional tape or something? I suggested he ask Don, who told him the story. This man was a hardened disbeliever - he wanted proof. Don suggested he wait around for a while. Now that the camcorder in the shop area was off, something would probably happen. Susie and I went into the Pine Area with the salesman. Susie was showing us the large mirror that had moved a month ago and told us that one time all the doors and cupboards in this area had opened when there was no one around. As Susie was telling us this a small straw hat containing potpourri came off a nearby dressing table and dropped on to the floor next to us! ‘Well, I’ll be damned - did you see that? I don’t believe it!’ said the salesman. Did we see it? How could we miss it - it landed right next to us. Soon afterwards the salesman left the shop muttering to himself about how stunned he was at what he had just seen. I must admit it had this effect on me also! I kept asking myself ‘Why won’t this poltergeist perform in front of the camera? Is it afraid and if so - of what?’ All that had happened in the vicinity of the camcorders were knocks and bangs.
In most cases of poltergeists there is a focus - a person around whom the activities revolve. The focus is usually an adolescent or maybe someone under stress. The focus in this case is Susie, and without going into any details I can reveal that she was then suffering from stress. I had an idea that if I could convince Susie that the camcorder in her office was switched off, then maybe the poltergeist would also believe it and would start performing again. It was worth a try. When Susie returned to her office I told her that I was going to switch the camcorder off because nothing seemed to happen in front of it when it was on. She said it was worth a try. I unplugged the video recorder which I was using with standard VHS tapes, and I switched off the mains connection to the camcorder. I then pressed the record button on the camcorder which was now running on an internal battery and had a small 30- minute VHS’C’ tape already inserted. I announced that it was now unplugged and switched off. I asked Susie to sit alone in her office and see what would transpire. Susie seemed alert to the fact that the lens cap was not on and the camcorder was still making a noise. I returned to the office and looked at the camcorder and told her that the noise was caused by the batteries running down (this was the best excuse I could think of on the spur of the moment!). I left Susie in the office with the camcorder still running. A couple of minutes later several knocks were heard coming from the office. Over the course of the next ten minutes 20 or so more knocks were heard. On checking the VHS ‘C’ tape later it was obvious that Susie was responsible for some of the knocks - she could be seen kicking her leg against the wooden wall in front of her desk. Susie then repeated the fact that the lenscap was off so I decided to remove the camcorder from the office. On my way out to the car with the equipment I heard several items being thrown about in Susie’s office (a pen, a key, a coin and a calculator).
When I checked through the video tapes (quite a laborious task!) a number of anomalies became evident. In total there were 14 sessions of recordings. Three of these sessions were completely blank - no picture and no sound. One session had pictures but no sound. This is extremely interesting because the sessions, both before and after this one were perfect - also the camcorder used for this has no facility to isolate the microphone. In other words it is impossible to record picture only on this camcorder, but it did!
Phoned at Home
During the course of the next week, while I was at home, I received in excess of 70 ‘strange’ phone calls. Sometimes there were just electronic bleeps on the other end, sometimes silence. On a number of occasions my answerphone recorded Don saying ‘Hello, The Bed Shop, can I help you?’ When I spoke to Don about this he told me that his phone had been ringing and he would answer, but no one would be there and at other times he would answer and my answerphone would give its message. Apparently both our phones were being called simultaneously by each other! Once again British Telecom could provide no explanation.
Don told me he was getting fed up with the poltergeist messing with his phones. He kept getting cut off when talking to customers and he was anxious about the probable loss of business it was causing. He decided to call on the services of the local vicar to perform an exorcism. This was to be done the following Monday, 3 December. It was attended by Don, Susie, Scott, Norman (Don’s delivery man), and myself, and was performed by the Rev. Peter Brown (pseudonym) and his assistant, Ben, from the Church of England. Prayers and blessings were said over each individual present and the ‘evil spirit’ was commanded to be gone from each and every room in the building. Don was assured by the Rev. Brown that everything would now return to normal, although on some occasions a second visit would be necessary. A couple of days later Don phoned me to say that things were much the same as before the exorcism. Also there were messages written in the office and toilet area. ‘BRING COLIN BACK NEED TO TALK WITH HIM CONTACT [my telephone number]’ and ‘DON BRING HIM BACK THEN BROWN’ were two of the messages. The next time I visited the shop I was shown reams of paper with messages written on them. Some of these were signed ‘Susie and Pop’ (the names of Susie’s deceased grandparents). Some were indecipherable, others were rude - referring to Don as ‘rough tongue’. Another read ‘COLIN IS COMING TODAY’ and another ‘HE IS AT CARPET SHOP [telephone number] I THINK RING HIM YOU HAVE TO TELL HIM B4 I WILL GO’. This last message had been found just before I arrived and I had actually been to the carpet shop to see my brother Mike who works there. The number is the phone number of the carpet shop!
Don showed me a message which he thought to be important - ‘I WANT SUSIE AND COLIN ALONE THEN I WILL GO’. Don said he would go out for an hour or so to see what would happen. An hour later he returned and was disappointed that nothing had happened. Would it keep its word? Apparently not - although the phones seem to be working fine now. Things still get thrown around the shop but much less frequently these days. I phone Don regularly and visit when I can. I wonder if it will get more active or will it just fade away? Time will tell.
As is so often the case with poltergeists, the events eventually died away. One of the most interesting aspects of this case is the marker pen that appeared a few centimetres below the ceiling and flew across the shop hugging the ceiling for about 3m. Thrown objects move in a parabola rather than horizontally. It is the most impressive observation of the whole case. The strange happenings with the phones were also interesting, though we can only have the word of telecommunications engineers that such things are impossible. Interestingly, similar instances of interference with phones occurred in later cases though they were little known before this case. Another point of interest is that Susie was observed apparently causing some of the noises by ‘normal’ means. Sometimes in poltergeist cases certain witnesses feel compelled to ‘manufacture’ additional ‘phenomena’ when the ‘real thing’ does not perform to order (as is often the case). There are certain incidents in this case, such as the flying pen just referred to, that make it highly likely that unknown causes were responsible for a good proportion of the incidents recorded.