One can always tell how well things are doing in the world of paranormal research by looking at what movies are showing at your local cinema. When the film world gets flooded with re-makes, then it’s a sure indication that there is a dearth of fresh cases in any particular genre.
In the UK it’s been thirty years since we had a good (and I use the term loosely) poltergeist infestation that hit the headlines. Back in 1977, Maurice Grosse and Guy Lyon Playfair, two veteran researchers and members of the Society for Psychical Research, investigated the notorious Enfield Poltergeist in London. Guy’s book about the affair, This House is Haunted, has just been re-released and I was privileged to have the opportunity of making the extraordinary photographs taken back then “book ready” for the publisher. Never did Darren Ritson and I dream that we’d have our own poltergeist case of equal notoriety thrown into our lap.
The story of the South Shields Poltergeist began back in December 2005, when an ordinary family from the north east coastal town of South Shields began to experience strange raps, bangs and other anomalous noises in their home. Whereas most poltergeist infestations have an extremely short shelf life of several weeks, this one was different. The low-level but nevertheless disturbing symptoms increased steadily over a period of six months. In June 2006, Darren received a call from an associate of the family and was asked to help. He telephoned me and enquired as to whether I’d like to join him in the investigation. “Is the Pope Catholic?” I replied, and he correctly understood this to be a positive response.
Poltergeists are notoriously shy, and always seem to go into a state of psychic hibernation when investigators are present. Not this one. It seemed to take a positive delight in putting on a display of its dubious talents when we were present.
You can never be in the paranormal investigation business too long to learn anything new, and what Darren and I learnt was that a decent poltergeist can be the most devious, conniving, cunning and malicious entity around if you press the right metaphorical buttons.
Things took an unusual turn when the polt started to leave scribbled messages on a child’s doodle-board. At first they were quite innocent; short, terse answers to questions such as, “Yes”, “No”, and “I’m sorry”. Hardly compositions of Shakespearian standard, but it was a start. Then things turned nasty, and it started to send death threats containing foul expletives which I have no intention of repeating here, although we have included them in the text of our book.
But this polt was also inventive, and quickly mastered the art of sending text-messages to cell phones. These too were, as a rule, threatening and intimidating. Intriguingly, the messages would sometimes be sent from another cell phone that had had both the battery and the SIM card removed. It also sent voice messages from a disconnected landline.
There is a general perception that poltergeists are either unwilling or incapable of harming their victims, and can only frighten them. To our cost, we found out that this is simply not true. In the early hours of the morning I filmed the entity cutting the male resident of the house. Within minutes, his torso had gone from being almost unscathed to looking as if he’d been in a car wreck; and, yes, the benevolent poltergeist allowed us to film the entire episode.
Over the following weeks we gathered literally hours of footage as the polt repeatedly attacked the man. This was in addition to the times when it threw a bed frame at him and poured hot wax over his head.
Bad though this was, far worse was to come. On two separate occasions the three year-old child in the house was removed from his bed and wrapped, cocoon-like, in a quilt. The first time this happened, the child was simply placed on the floor and had a nearby table positioned over him. On the second occasion he went missing completely, and was later found in a wardrobe in an adjoining room. To add insult to injury, the polt scratched the letters RIP into the toddler’s bedroom wall. There can be little doubt that it was attempting to terrify the family in the coldest, most clinical fashion possible.
On another occasion we were able to film a plastic bottle full of mineral water balancing bizarrely on its edge. As my finger prods the bottle it can be seen to move, but it doesn’t fall over. It did eventually, but there seems to be no rational explanation as to how it adopted such a weird position in the first place, seemingly defying the laws of gravity.
As the polt became more desperate to feed, its tactics became more violent, more sadistic. It would throw knives around the kitchen, smash household artefacts and, on one occasion, fully appear before both myself and the householders as a menacing silhouette – midnight black and devoid of all expression. It was like staring at a ruthless automaton.
Eventually, with the help of colleagues both here and in the USA, we were able to determine the precise nature of the entity and, ultimately, defeat it.
Darren and I have written a book about the case, entitled, The South Shields Poltergeist – One Family’s Fight Against an Invisible Intruder. The volume contains 15 full-colour plates, some showing the polt in action at its most obscene best.
The book is truly disturbing, and should finally nail the notion that poltergeists are not dangerous. They are – but just choose not to be most of the time, thank goodness.
Darren and I are working on several new book projects at the moment, and would be interested in hearing from anyone who has endured their own experience with a poltergeist.