The Mysterious Case of the Enfield Poltergeist: Fact, Fiction, or Hoax?
Evidence of Life After Death, or Something More Sinister?
It was 1977 in a normal council estate in North London. Peggy Hodgson was a single mother with four children. Until this point, life had thrown few surprises at them, but their peace was to be shattered in a most unnatural and inexplicable way: a haunting with severe poltergeist activity that would last for over a year and cause a media sensation. This case became infamously known as the Enfield Poltergeist. But was it a ghost or something else entirely?
What Is a Poltergeist?
The term "Poltergeist" derives from 19th century German, created from two separate words: Poltern, 'to create a disturbance' and Geist, meaning 'ghost.' The Oxford Dictionary describes a poltergeist as:
"Noun. A ghost or other supernatural being supposedly responsible for physical disturbances such as making loud noises and throwing objects about."
There has been a lot of debate as to what exactly a poltergeist is amongst paranormal circles. Is it just a noisy spirit, the trapped soul of a deceased person who cannot move on to the afterlife because of fear and anger? Or as some people say a manifestation of the anger and frustration teenagers feel in the early stages of puberty? Perhaps it is neither, or both. Let us begin to look at the surreal events of this besieged family, and maybe then you can make an informed decision as to what and who you believe.
The Year From Hell
It all began on the 30th of August. A year of torment that would be forever burnt into the memory of the Hodgson family and indeed an entire nation as they followed every word in the national press. It started small, Janet and her younger brother Pete complained that their beds were moving in a peculiar manner. Peggy dismissed this first sign as just the kids playing up at bedtime and thought no more of it.
The following night however marked a rapid descent into the unknown and surreal for them all. Janet had complained of shuffling noises in the bedroom, saying it sounded like the chair being dragged along. Peggy promptly removed the chair, but as she turned out the light, she too heard the noise. She immediately turned the lights in expecting to catch the prankster out, but both kids were under the blankets. Upon turning off the lights again, the noise resumed once more. Then the first of what was to become many knocks on the wall began. Peggy once again turned on the light,this time to see a chest of drawers moving 18 inches across the floor. She immediately moved it to its original location, only for it to once again move away from the wall. Scared but undeterred, she once more tried to move it, but found it stuck fast, like someone, or something was holding it in place.
Terrified she gathered all the children downstairs and knocked on the next-door neighbors to ask for help. The knocks continued and were also heard by the neighbors. The decision was made to call the police, who promptly attended at 11 pm and began investigating the possibility of intruders in the property. Once again the knocks continued and were witnessed by the police officers in attendance. The investigators have a statement from one of the officers in attendance, and I think it is better for her words to speak for themselves:
"There were four distinct taps on the wall and then silence. About two minutes later I heard more tapping, but this time it was coming from a different wall, again it was a distinct peal of four taps ~ I looked at the chair and noticed that it was wobbling slightly from side to side, I then saw the chair slide across the floor towards the kitchen wall. It moved approximately 3–4 feet and then came to a rest ~ I checked the chair but could find nothing to explain how it had moved." — Carolyn Heeps, Policewoman. Statement on the Enfield Poltergeist.
The Terror Intensifies
Things continued to deteriorate for the family. Lego bricks and marbles were thrown by some unseen hand, and seemed hot to the touch. After a local vicar and medium failed to help, Peggy took a controversial but desperate decision. She contacted the press.
Reporter Douglas Bence and photographer Graham Morris worked for the Daily Mirror at the time. They arranged to visit, and much to their disappointment, found nothing out of the ordinary. As they were leaving however, things started up again so they raced back inside, just in time for Morris to be hit on the head by a flying piece of Lego, leaving a welt.
It was at this time that a senior reporter suggested that the family contact the Society for Psychical Research (S.P.R). Maurice Grosse became involved on their behalf, and had a couple of quiet days getting to know the family, until the 8th of September 1977, when at around 2 am he heard a crash coming from Janet's bedroom. Another chair had gone for a ride. At 3 am Graham captured the chair moving again on film, while Grosse saw doors opening and closing without human intervention.
All manner of phenomena were manifesting now. Books had taken to flying off shelves, chairs were still being thrown and the family were no closer to a peaceful night. Furthermore, electrical faults were commonplace, Morris had three terribly expensive and reliable flashbulbs drain themselves of all life immediately after charging, infra-red cameras fail regularly, and a BBC reporters tapes are damaged and the recordings wiped. Even metal components inside some recorders are bent out of shape. The Enfield Poltergeist seemed to be gaining in confidence, power, and violence.
Communicating With the Entity
Mr. Grosse was joined by fellow SPR investigator Guy, author of the definitive book of the haunting, This House is Haunted (ISBN-13: 978-1907661785).
Over the course of the following weeks and months, the phenomena continued to intensify. The knocking became a nightly occurrence, and furniture movement more commonplace. Drawers were removed forcibly from units, toys thrown, and perhaps more sinister, bedclothes pulled off from the children while they are sleeping. Inexplicable puddles of water appeared spontaneously on the floor in perfect circles and small fires would flare and extinguish. The children's uncle was wrenched out of his chair and spun 180 degrees, Janet was thrown from chairs and her bed, a table lamp lent over 45 degrees before returning to its normal position and in front of 9 witnesses the settee (sofa) rose up from the floor and was turned upside down
It was at this point that perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the case emerged. A harsh male voice coming from Janet, who appeared to be in a trance-like state at the time. The voice at first claimed to be several people, and displayed both anger, frustration, an uncanny knack for bad language, and strangely enough humour. One character kept returning however, that of "Bill".
Attempts to communicate with Bill seemed to be successful, initially through a serious of knocks, one for yes, three for no, but then direct voice communication became possible. Bill claimed to be 53 at one point, then 64. He claimed to have died in the house, sat in his favourite chair after going blind and having a haemorrhage. Strangely, the facts of Bill were not previously known to the family or neighbours, but were confirmed later by his son coming forwards to corroborate the events surrounding his life and death in the house, including the position of the chair he died in. Had the investigators finally found the answer to who the Enfield Poltergeist actually was?
Below is an extract from the documentary Interview with a Poltergeist, from UK Channel 4. This clip contains the actual voices heard so please listen and make up your own mind.
This clip is not for people of a nervous disposition, contains some bad language, and is not suitable for children under ANY circumstances.
Interview With a Poltergeist
Was the Case a Hoax?
There were people who attended that saw no evidence whatsoever of paranormal occurrences. There are also well-documented cases of Janet being caught out creating hoaxes. She freely admitted occasional hoaxing, as did the two main investigators. The thing one must remember is that when the girls did try it on for the cameras, they were caught every time.
There must have been tremendous pressure every time the press arrived for something to happen, and Janet must have felt this pressure more than anyone else. Was it not inevitable that some hoaxing or bending of the truth would take place. That does not however allow one to dismiss the vast quantity of valid phenomena that was witnessed by the press, police officers, investigators, members of the local church, neighbours and others. Then we have the physical evidence, the photos and the recordings of the voice to further add to the stack of undeniable evidence.
To me the thing that really cements this though, it that Janet was approached at the time by two competing newspapers, offering by 70's standards quite huge sums of money if she spilled the beans on how she was faking it all. She adamantly refused, and we must remember that this was not a wealthy family by any stretch of the imagination. It also was not a trick to try to get moved by the local authority into a nicer house, as Peggy stayed for another 25 years after the activity ceased until her death in 2003.
So, how did the Enfield Poltergeist activity stop? As suddenly as it started. Janet was placed in The Maudsley Hospital for psychiatric evaluation in July 1978. She was tested thoroughly for two months and found to be perfectly healthy and normal. In the time Janet was away the activity in the house died down completely. On her return, she always felt there was something there right up until her mum, Peggy died, but there were no further major disturbances.
After this terrible ordeal, the family was able to resume a normal life, and it's interesting to note that after all this time, no-one has taken up any of the offers to "come out" as a prankster, and not one witness has changed their story.
This may well still be the best-documented case in the world today, but please, read and watch, and draw your own conclusions.
Janet Hodgson Today
As recently as June 2016 Janet and Margaret returned to the house in Enfield that caused so much terror and uncertainty in 1977. There has been a resurgence of interest in the case due to a fantastic mini series shown on SKY TV in the UK, and of course the great movie based loosely on the occurrences released in 2016, The Conjuring 2. Of the two, I can heartily recommend the mini series if you can obtain it as to my mind as a researcher, it takes the least liberties with an already engaging and terrifying story.
Whilst writing this article, my computer crashed twice, I lost three pictures, and an entire section of text I had prepared earlier that needed to be written from scratch again. Perhaps some stories just don't want to be told?
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Do you think this was real or a hoax?
© 2011 Michael Murchie