Sunday, August 01, 2021

Was the Enfield case faked for money?

The recent release of The Conjuring 3 has brought up issues about the Warrens and their financial interests in the paranormal cases they investigated. I discussed the subject in a post about the latest Conjuring movie several weeks ago. I want to address a related issue concerning the subject of the second movie in the series, the Enfield Poltergeist. What financial motives might the people involved in that case have had? One of the most common motives proposed for any sort of fraud is a desire to make money. That's relevant not just to the Warrens, but also to the rest of the people involved in the Enfield case.

Movies can, and often do, make people wealthy. But The Conjuring 2 came along too late to be a good candidate for motivating anybody to fabricate the Enfield case. The same can be said of the television series on Enfield that came out in 2015. Nobody in 1977 was expecting that sort of television series or movie, much less would anybody have been expecting it to make a lot of money. Something like a movie that comes out nearly four decades after a poltergeist case started offers a poor explanation for why the case originated. What critics of the Enfield case need to be more focused on is the opportunities for making money early on, such as by means of media coverage or the publishing of books.

In the process of discussing these issues, I'll be making reference to Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's Enfield tapes. I'm going to use "MG" to refer to tapes from Grosse's collection. "GP" will refer to those from Playfair's. MG64B is tape 64B in Grosse's collection, GP3A is Playfair's tape 3A, and so on.

I'll get to Playfair's book below, but I first want to address some lesser examples. I don't think any of these instances of the Hodgsons getting money from the case is significant, nor do I think the cumulative effect is significant. As far as I know, the Hodgsons and others involved never made any substantial money from media coverage of the case.

Probably the most famous Enfield video, the most famous television coverage the case received in its earliest years (as opposed to the Daily Mirror's print coverage), is Stewart Lamont's BBC program I've discussed elsewhere. In the article just linked, I quote Lamont's comment to me that he and his BBC team only "paid [the Hodgsons] a small fee for electricity for the lighting".

On one of the tapes, Peggy Hodgson refers to an article Margaret wrote, apparently for a magazine named Jackie, for which she got a "small" amount of money (GP95B, 31:09).

A reporter covering the Enfield case, I suspect Paul Bannister of the National Enquirer, gave the Hodgson children some money, seemingly on his own initiative and out of his own pocket (GP98A, 23:37). One of the girls refers to how they were given "a five-pound note", and there's a later reference to how "we get one-fifty each". Presumably, that was an approximation of how to divide five pounds among the three children (Margaret, Janet, and Billy, without Johnny being involved, since he was away at boarding school). I see nothing significant in this incident. Only a small amount of money was involved. It's common practice for adults to reward children in that sort of way in a lot of contexts. And it seems that it was something the reporter did on his own initiative just before leaving the house rather than something arranged with the family's knowledge ahead of time.

At a March 29, 1978 symposium, Playfair commented:

"At no time has either of us [Playfair and Grosse] sought publicity either for ourselves or for the case, nor have we requested or obtained fees for our often very lengthy sessions with members of the media." (MG83A, 31:39)

Among Grosse and Playfair's Enfield tapes, probably the most significant one on financial issues is MG95B, which I've discussed before. John and Sylvie Burcombe are discussing Ed Warren's inordinate interest in money, and some other financial issues come up in the process. Sylvie is talking about how Ed doesn't even thank the people who help him, in addition to not paying them anything, and she comments in that context that "Peggy don't get nothing" (5:46). So, it looks like the Warrens didn't pay the Hodgsons or anybody else involved for hosting them, interviews, etc. John Burcombe comments:

"All the time, Mr. Warren was on about money, how much you're getting, have you got a contract with Mr. Grosse and Mr. Playfair, and I'm saying, 'We haven't got contracts. This [Playfair's book] is a book being done and, if there's anything coming any way, those two gentlemen are going to see that a fair share is given by all.'" (7:06)

He goes on to relate how Warren kept telling him that they should get a lawyer, should have contracts, etc. So, it looks like there was an informal understanding that any profits made by the book, at least if the profits were significant enough, would be distributed among all of the people involved (probably Playfair and the people who helped him most with the book and signed a statement saying the book was accurate: Maurice Grosse, Peggy Hodgson, Vic and Peggy Nottingham, and John and Sylvie Burcombe).

It should be kept in mind that this discussion between Grosse and the Burcombes on tape MG95B is focused on how disgusted they were with Ed Warren's inordinate interest in money. John Burcombe's comment about the relevant people getting "a fair share" from Playfair's book is something Burcombe said in response to Warren's initiation of a discussion about financial issues. It was Warren, not Burcombe, who brought the subject up. Burcombe merely responded. He was trying to deflect Warren's inordinate focus on money. Burcombe's point was that if any money were to be made from the Enfield case, it would be handled in a normal, ethical way, without the additional steps Warren was trying to get them to take. It would be perverse to try to transform those comments by Burcombe into some kind of evidence that he was motivated by money in an inappropriate way.

How much of a role might the book have had in motivating people to fabricate the case to one degree or another? I don't know of any precedent for a book about a poltergeist making a lot of money. I doubt that anybody would have been expecting to get rich off a poltergeist book, especially if any profits were to be distributed among several people. Around the time of Playfair's death, his literary executor, Alan Murdie, wrote that the book had sold 98000 copies. My understanding is that sales of the book increased significantly after the Enfield television series came out in 2015 and The Conjuring 2 came out the year after. So, the number of books sold before then must have been substantially less. Nobody got rich off the book, and nobody had much reason to expect to get rich off it.

And the people who had the potential to get rich off it were only a small minority of the individuals who witnessed one or more of the phenomena. Furthermore, Playfair didn't even get involved in the case until September 11 of 1977 (visiting the Hodgsons' house for the first time the next day), after there had already been a lot of paranormal events, and I doubt that he was talking about writing a book as soon as he got involved. The book wouldn't have even become a factor until sometime after September 11, most likely.

We also need to keep in mind that there's nothing wrong with making money off something like publishing a book about a poltergeist case you worked on. It is, after all, work, and it's work of a highly difficult and valuable nature. And Playfair was a professional author. A large percentage of people work some sort of job, and we don't begin with a default assumption that anybody who gets paid for doing something must be lying for money. We don't assume that scientists are lying for money when they make a living doing scientific work, we don't assume that war veterans who make money off a book about their wartime experiences are lying for money, etc. Skeptics who speculate that people like Playfair were lying for money should be asked if we should begin with a default assumption that those skeptics are lying for money. After all, many of those skeptics work jobs that provide them with money, and skeptics often make money off writing against the paranormal, including their writings against the Enfield case in particular.

What's more significant than the presence of Playfair's book is the lack of others. Given the large number of witnesses and other individuals involved in the case in one way or another, the lack of books (and articles, interviews, etc.) coming from those individuals doesn't sit well with the notion that a desire for money was motivating widespread dishonesty. And keep in mind that there's potential for making money in more than one context. You can make money by debunking a paranormal case as well, especially once it becomes famous. The fact that nobody has made money from the Enfield case in that manner is significant. See here for some comments by Playfair on how the media offered the Hodgsons money to say that they'd faked the case, offers they declined. And here's Playfair discussing his rejection of Ed Warren's offer to help him make money off the case. But those early rejections of financial gain by that small number of individuals are less significant than the broader lack of financial interests among the witnesses in general over a longer period of time.

For more about how to evaluate the credibility of witnesses, in financial contexts and elsewhere, see my article on the subject last year. People's motives are multifaceted. The fact that a person could make money from something has to be balanced with other factors involved. You can't just single out a person's financial motives and ignore everything else.

Peggy Hodgson, the most important witness in the case, died in 2003 in the same old, small house where the poltergeist occurred. I'm not aware of any evidence that she ever got wealthy off the case. Dozens of other Enfield witnesses have lived and died similarly.

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