Sunday, July 22, 2018

Dragged Out Of Bed By A Poltergeist

One of the most memorable incidents described in Guy Playfair's book on the Enfield Poltergeist is an occasion when the poltergeist pulled Janet Hodgson out of bed and dragged her out of the room, around a few bends, and partway down the steps. Less than ten minutes later, she was dragged out of bed again (This House Is Haunted [United States: White Crow Books, 2011], 101, 212-13). Both events were caught on audio tape, and you can listen to some brief sections of the recording in a documentary here.

The vast majority of Enfield skeptics I've encountered just ignore these events. They don't even attempt to explain them. A rare exception is Deborah Hyde, who made the remarkable suggestion that Janet was suffering from sleep paralysis.

Unfortunately, both Playfair's book and the documentary linked above leave out a lot of significant evidence for the authenticity of these dragging incidents. I want to discuss several lines of evidence, some of which I've never seen addressed before, derived largely from the audio of the events.

They occurred starting at about 1:20 A.M. on December 3, 1977. The recording is found on tape 32B of the digital version of Maurice Grosse's Enfield cassettes. The audio is about 26 minutes long. The first dragging incident occurs at 9:55, and the second occurs at 16:32. Click here to see a floor plan of the house, which will help you visualize what happened. The family was sleeping in the front bedroom upstairs, and, by this time in the case, the beds were arranged differently than you see in the floor plan. My understanding is that the bed Janet was in at the time required her to move or be moved a large distance and around some objects and bends (around one of the beds, around the door, down the first flight of steps, and around to the second flight of steps; Grosse describes the sequence at 52:28 on tape 83A). Go here to see video footage of the staircase in question. And go here, here, and here to see video footage of the room in question, footage that apparently was taken the month before the events under consideration. But the beds were frequently rearranged, so we can't assume that they were positioned the same way on December 3. In fact, the beds are in different positions in different segments of the same television program linked above. So, we have to go by descriptions of the events on the night in question to determine where the beds were at the time.

- It was standard practice to leave the lights on at night. Grosse went as far as to say, in March of 1978, that there hadn't yet been a single night when the lights were turned off deliberately (tape 83A, 17:57), so the lights presumably were on throughout these events.

- One of the advantages of having so much audio for the Enfield case is that it gives us so much material to use to make judgments about the character of the individuals involved, how their beliefs and behavior developed over time, etc. An important example is how the audio allows us to evaluate whether the people involved in alleged paranormal events were sincere or were putting on an act. Something that stands out about the events on tape 32B is that everybody involved comes across as sincere. (Margaret and Billy Hodgson were in the room, but there's little or nothing that they can be heard saying on this tape. Peggy Hodgson, Janet, Grosse, and John Burcombe speak a lot, and I'll be focused on those four individuals.) Any skeptical explanation of these events that would involve some sort of acting on the part of one or more of the participants would require acting of a high quality. All of the proposals that Janet was a great magician, a great ventriloquist, knew a lot about poltergeists, etc. need to add great acting skills to that list. You can get some idea of what I'm referring to by listening to the clips included in the documentary I linked earlier. But there's much more of it in the full audio. (The version in the documentary isn't just short, but is edited as well. It has Janet explaining what happened less than 10 seconds after she's dragged out of the room, even though there was actually more than half a minute between when she left the room and when she came back, then explained what happened.) When she's being pulled out of bed, you can hear her gasping at 9:56, and later she's heard yelling, groaning, calling for her mother, etc. You can hear her breathing heavily in the background at times. If she faked all of that, or even some of it, then she's an unusually talented actress. Much the same can be said of the other participants in these events. And keep in mind that skill in faking one thing isn't equivalent to skill in faking another. If somebody is good at faking crying, it doesn't follow that he'd be good at faking surprise. A person who's skilled at faking anger isn't necessarily good at pretending to be sad. Being skillful at feigning disgust doesn't prove that you have the memory skills and other abilities needed to deliver the right lines at the right times. And so on. Calling Janet a good actress isn't as simple a claim as it may seem.

- Everybody who speaks on the tape seems astonished by what happened, even though they'd already experienced so many poltergeist phenomena for a few months. Grosse or Burcombe (I usually can tell the difference between the two, but sometimes can't) comments, "That's incredible! How the hell did she get through there?...What trick will it think up next?" (10:23, 11:33) After Peggy explains to Grosse how the poltergeist pulled Janet through a narrow opening in the door, Grosse responds, "That was damn clever." (12:15) At 13:32, Burcombe prefaces his comments about what he saw with "Mr. Burcombe speaking". Apparently, he thought it was important to leave a record of what he had experienced on the tape. Peggy refers to what the poltergeist had just done as "the biggest trick of the lot" (11:17). She "couldn't believe it" when she saw the door of the room open by itself in order to let Janet out when she was being dragged (11:55), and Peggy later says that she's "never seen anything like that" (13:59). Janet emphasizes that she was dragged out, as if she's amazed by it (15:51). If these incidents were faked or only imagined (hallucinations, misinterpretation, etc.), it's harder to explain why they left such a strong impression on the participants.

- Peggy refers to how she was awake the whole time (16:11). She saw Janet being dragged on both occasions, she describes what she saw, and she refers to seeing the door open by itself both times. On the first occasion, Janet was being dragged in a nearly horizontal position, like somebody would drag "a piece of rubbish" behind him (13:29). When describing the second incident, Peggy says that Janet was dragged "again", "but she was on her feet" (16:42, 16:47), apparently contrasting what happened the second time to what happened the first time. The implication is that Janet wasn't on her feet the first time. That's what Playfair, who knew the eyewitnesses and interacted with them, reported (page 101 in his book cited above). And Janet refers to how she was "on the floor" as she approached the door during the first dragging (13:21). She repeatedly refers to her stomach and how her stomach was upset, which makes more sense if she was dragged close to the ground, in a nearly horizontal position. How do you go about faking that? The second time, she was on her feet, but Peggy comments that it was evident that Janet was being dragged and was resisting it (16:47, 16:58, 17:21).

- When the first incident starts, Peggy cries out, as if she's seen something frightening, and she does that just before the thumping sound from Janet hitting the floor. Apparently, there was something about how Janet was pulled out of bed that disturbed Peggy. That's a problem for a fraud hypothesis. It seems that not only did the dragging of Janet along the floor look to Peggy like something paranormal, but so did the manner in which Janet was removed from her bed.

- When Janet was dragged out of the room during the first incident, the door only opened about 18 inches. (Grosse asked Peggy how far the door opened at 12:04 on the tape.) Somebody faking such an incident would be likely to open the door much more widely, since such a narrow opening makes faking the incident more difficult.

- Something happened to prevent Peggy from leaving the room. She refers to a mat blocking the door, so that she couldn't get out. Later, Burcombe refers to how he'll fix it the next day (17:01). Peggy comments on how she doesn't have a hammer to fix it with (17:04). I don't know if the mat had been fastened with something like tacks or nails previously and had been pulled up or if Peggy wanted to begin fastening down the mat at that point in order to avoid the problem in the future. I doubt that they'd had much of a problem with the mat previously, since Peggy seems so surprised and frustrated by how the mat was blocking the door, needs Burcombe to fix it for her, and doesn't have a hammer to do it with. It seems that they'd rarely or never had that sort of problem with the mat before. It probably would take something significantly unusual to get a mat in a position to keep Peggy from opening the door in a situation in which she was desperate to get the door opened. Maybe the dragging of Janet over the doorway displaced the mat, which would suggest that she was being dragged in an unusual way rather than faking it. But how likely is it that the mat would happen to be displaced in such a way as to allow Janet out, but temporarily prevent the other people inside the room from getting out? The poltergeist blocked doors on other occasions, so there's precedent for that (e.g., page 132 in Playfair's book cited above). I don't think the movement of the mat has much significance, but it does have some. It's at least evidence that Janet was moving in an unusual enough way to displace the mat in that manner, and it's likely that the poltergeist intentionally moved the mat to block the door.

- The rapidity of the events is significant. Peggy refers to how Janet was dragged "very quickly" during the second incident (17:28). During the first incident, she fell on the floor just after being pulled out of the bed, which you can hear on the tape starting at 9:57 and finishing at 9:58, and the door can be heard opening at 10:00. How would she have gotten from being on the floor to being in a position to open the door in about two seconds, all the while faking being dragged in a nearly horizontal position? How did she then so rapidly get through such a narrow door opening, position the door and mat in such a way that the people inside would have difficulty getting out, and place herself on her stomach and facing the bottom of the second flight of steps, all in about ten seconds at most (probably less)?

- At the beginning of the second dragging, Janet yells out "Mum, it's dragging me!", and she sounds like she's sincerely distressed (16:32). If she was faking the incident, she probably wouldn't have drawn attention to herself so early in the process. It would be much easier to fake something like that if you didn't have somebody you wanted to deceive watching you the whole time. Her calling out to her mother at the start of the event makes more sense if she wasn't faking it.

- In his book, Playfair seems to suggest that you can hear a dragging sound on the tape during the second incident (101). I think he's right, but I could easily be mistaken. There's a lot of screaming during the second incident, and Janet's resistance to the dragging may have made any dragging sounds intermittent rather than constant, so it's hard to judge the presence or absence of any dragging noise and the significance of it. But it does seem that there are some dragging sounds (16:35-37). When Playfair wrote his book, the tapes were a few decades younger than they were at the time when they were digitized, so there's a reasonable chance that he was able to hear more than we can now.

- Burcombe mentions that when he grabbed Janet to try to stop her from sliding further down the steps, she "seemed to be a ton weight" (13:32). Those are the comments he prefaces with "Mr. Burcombe speaking", which I referred to earlier. He interrupted a conversation the other people in the room were having in order to make his comments. It seems that he thought Janet's weight was highly unusual and was significant enough that he wanted to interrupt a conversation to bring the subject up and wanted to leave a record of it on the tape.

- At the time, Burcombe had no way of knowing that a scientific experiment would be done at Birkbeck College a few years later, in which Janet would be documented to have gained weight when attempting to levitate. For a brief overview of that experiment, see here. Go here and do a Ctrl F search for "weight changes" for more discussion from one of the individuals who conducted the experiment, David Robertson.

It should be noted that any skeptical hypothesis that would attempt to explain what happened during these events on December 3, 1977 would have to be very multifaceted. You'd have to simultaneously address the acting issue, what frightened Peggy about the way Janet was removed from her bed, what Peggy reported seeing after the removal, the door only opening narrowly, the movement of the mat to block the door after Janet was let out, the speed at which the events occurred, Janet's weight gain, etc.

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