I've always thought that the Enfield Poltergeist was one of the best attested. It's often discussed, being relatively recent and the subject of a full length book This House is Haunted by Guy Lyon Playfair and Maurice Grosse. But here's a very recent case that is its equal in terms of persistent and extreme phenomena. It's described by paranormal investigators Mike Hallowell and Darren Ritson in their new book The South Shields Poltergeist: One Family's Fight Against an Invisible Intruder.
The case occurred over several months in a terraced house in South Shields, a coastal town in north east England. It started in December 2005 with anomalous movements of furniture and objects, and the following June came to the attention of Hallowell and Ritson, who staged an investigation over a period of several months. The victims were a young couple, Marc and Marianne, and their three-year old son Robert.
Some typical incidents logged by the couple early on include the following:
21.4pm: We ... found two chairs had been stacked on top of one another on top of the table in the bedroom.
12.40pm: Bed, box and drawers were heard moving in [Robert's] bedroom] upstairs.
5.00pm. The chest of drawers [from Robert's room] was pulled out onto the landing on the top of the stairs and the large box full of stuff was moved from one bedroom to another.
5.10pm. While in the bedroom two toys were thrown at Marianne and Marc.
5.20pm: the door leading into the kitchen opened three times on its own..
Often investigators arrive after the disturbances have lost much of their force and don't see much happening. But that's not the case here. The authors were present during many of the disturbances, and photographed and filmed many of them. One particularly convincing incident was a plastic water bottle which one of them saw and photographed balancing diagonally on the table, a quite unnatural position.
Repressed emotion in living individuals is quite often thought to be responsible in cases of this kind, but the investigators soon rejected this. They had a strong sense of an independent entity wanting to stir up trouble. In fact it soon became obvious that the poltergeist was trying to frighten the couple. Once they found their child's rocking horse hanging by one its reins from the loft hatch in the ceiling. In another particular sinister incident, a large toy bunny was found in a chair placed at the top of the stairs, holding a box cutter blade in one of its paws. The poltergeist also took to writing threatening messages on a doodle-board in the child's bedroom, and in the later stages sent text messages to Marianne's mobile phone, such as 'get you bitch' and 'You're Dead'.
As time wore on the phenomena intensified. Big red weals appeared suddenly on Marc's torso and vanished equally mysteriously, in front of several witnesses. The investigators watched cupboard doors swinging open, light-shades swinging, the quilt on the bed moving. The couple were seriously frightened when the child himself was moved. On the first occasion they found him lying on the floor tightly wrapped in his bed quilt, with a plastic table on top of him. The child himself seemed to be asleep, but his eyes were wide open, as if he was in a trance. Another time the child appeared to have vanished altogether, and was eventually found in a closet, tightly cocooned in a blanket.
In fact no real harm seems to have ever been done, but the couple were terrified, and the authors speculate the poltergeist was trying to create fear in order to generate emotion that it could feed from. They compare the case with the Amherst Incident of 1878 in Nova Scotia, where death threats to the occupants were found scratched on the walls.
What to make of it all? The case fits a classic pattern in many ways, and reads like a very detailed account of what we are long familiar with from other accounts. The investigators quickly eliminated any possibility of Marianne staging a hoax - she was obviously frightened, and in any case was not involved in phenomena they themselves witnessed. They were at first less sure about Marc, largely because he didn't seem to react very much to the incidents, and was the type who might have enjoyed playing pranks. But they were certain he could not have been responsible for incidents they witnessed themselves, and by the end of the investigation had totally abandoned any idea of fraud.
I'm certain this book will soon become a classic of its kind, a very full and detailed description of eye-witness testimony, that will be compared with the Enfield case (Playfair provides a short foreword) and the Columbus, Ohio case described by William Roll in Unleashed. I'm not sure how much it will resonate with people who are not already convinced that such things do happen. I would personally like to have seen more independent corroboration of the kind that one often gets in other cases - from reporters, police officers, social workers etc. It's true there are 15 or so statements from other eyewitnesses, but most of these are from paranormal investigators who the authors invited to the house, and only witnessed one set of phenomena. The quantity and quality of eyewitness testimony can count for as much as of the phenomena itself.
On the other hand it might not have been in the couple's best interests to involve other people. And it's good to see such a rich episode being written up so fully and so readably. As a recent in-depth description of a puzzling phenomenon the book has few rivals, and will be an important addition to the literature.