For nearly a year and a half in the late 1970’s, a newly single mom and her four children, in particular 11-year-old Janet Hodgson, were menaced by one of the most persistent, violent poltergeists recorded in modern history. The Enfield Poltergeist.
At 284 Green Street in Enfield, just north of London, sits an unassuming council estate (public housing). In 1977 Peggy Hodgson, in the midst of a nasty divorce, moved in with her four children. On the night of August 30, Janet and her 10-year-old brother, Johnny, were in trouble for playing at bedtime. The children tried to convince their mom that their beds were shaking on their own, but to no avail. The next night, Janet and her 13-year-old sister, Margaret, heard strange noises in their bedroom, like someone was dragging a chair back and forth. Peggy stomped into the room, removed the chair and told the girls to settle down. As she turned out the light, Peggy, too, heard the shuffling noises. She quickly turned the lights back on, but both girls were still in bed. Then the dresser moved. Frightened but undeterred, Peggy moved the dresser back to its original location.
The dresser moved itself again. And when Peggy went to put in back in place a second time, she could not move the dresser – it was like someone was pushing against it from the other side. So Peggy collected her children and went to a neighbor for help. The neighbor who came over also heard strange noises, particularly knocking on the walls, and the group decided to call the police.
The police arrived about 11:00 p.m. Constable Carolyn Heeps saw a chair levitate, moved three or four feet to the left and then stop. She could find no reason for the chair to move – no wires, no strings, nothing hidden under the cushion. She even put a marble on the floor at the chair’s original location to see if it the floor sloped, but the marble did not roll anywhere.
Over the next few days, the situation deteriorated rapidly. Legos and marbles started flying across the room and striking people. The noises worsened. Furniture started inverting itself. When a priest and a medium could not help, Peggy called the Daily Mirror to document the events and ask for help. After a flying Lego hit the newspaper photographer hard enough to leave a welt, a senior reporter at the paper suggested that Peggy call the Society for Psychical Research.
The Society sent Maurice Grosse to investigate. His first few nights in the house were quiet, but the poltergeist quickly made its presence felt. Furniture flew across the room. Doors opened and closed themselves. Books, and on one memorable occasion, a brick, were added to the projectile arsenal. Electronics started failing. Metal components were being bent out of shape, as were spoons. The knocks were joined by barking and growling noises.
The epicenter of events seemed to be Janet. Her and her sister’s bedroom was regularly tossed by the poltergeist. The poltergeist would make Janet levitate and hurl her about the room. One night, Janet’s Uncle John was downstairs when he heard a noise. He went to check on the girls and found Margaret on the floor and Janet, draped over a radio on top of a dresser, fast asleep. According to some accounts, Janet had been given a Valium that night so she could finally get some rest. As an experiment, Grosse and another investigator, Guy Playfair, removed all the furniture from the girls’ bedroom to see what the poltergeist would do.
It ripped a 60-pound iron fireplace grate out of the wall in the room above the girls’ bedroom.
Grosse initially communicated with the poltergeist through asking yes-or-no questions, directing the ghost to knock once for no and twice for yes. The ghost claimed he was haunting the family for fun. When told to leave, he adamantly refused. And eventually, the ghost was able to speak – through Janet.
In a raspy, low-pitched, barely discernable voice, the poltergeist claimed to be Bill Wilkins. Bill was angry, argumentative and overly fond of swearing. And quite talkative. When asked how he died, Bill said, “Just before I died, I went blind, and then I had a hemorrhage and I fell asleep and I died in the chair in the corner downstairs.”
With so much paranormal activity focusing on Janet (and to a lesser extent, Margaret), the girls were inevitably accused of lying, of faking the whole haunting just to get attention. Janet was sent to a number of doctors and psychiatrists, who felt events would settle down if all the attention went away – they never did. Janet was even sent to London’s Maudsley Institute of Neuropsychiatry for a complete physical and psychological assessment. According to the report, no abnormalities were found.
The girls admitted to playing a few tricks, but insisted the poltergeist was real. In one of the very rare interviews Janet gave as an adult, she stated, “There was times when things would happen and times when they wouldn’t. Sometimes, if things didn’t happen, you’d somehow feel you’d failed…Plus you’d get bored and frustrated at all the people coming and going. I mean, life wasn’t normal.” She went on to say that Grosse usually caught them when she or her sister did try to fake some type of poltergeist activity, and that she and her sister faked “two percent” of the incidents.
More telling, the girls and their family never tried to capitalize on the fame (or notoriety) that came with the poltergeist. Their stories never changed, no corrections, no reversals, even after decades had passed. Peggy stayed in the home until her death in 2003, but the family that moved in after her reported feeling a presence in the home that made them profoundly uncomfortable. They stayed a mere two months.
The Enfield Poltergeist has been the source material for a number of books and movies, including Playfair’s book This House is Haunted, the SkyTV miniseries The Enfield Haunting and the movie Conjuring 2. And the poltergeist’s claim that he is the spirit of Bill Wilkins? Bill’s son, in an interview, corroborated the poltergeist’s details of his father’s death, including the location of the chair he died in.
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