Monday, May 08, 2017

The Enfield Poltergeist: Anita Gregory's Skepticism

(Earlier posts in the series: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7.)

In some ways, Anita Gregory is the most formidable skeptic of the Enfield Poltergeist, even though she died in 1984. She was a prominent member of the SPR. She visited the Hodgson home during the months when the poltergeist's activity was at its height. She knew of some occasions when the Hodgson girls had faked phenomena, including on video, and she was largely responsible for publicizing that information. She knew Grosse and Playfair and often interacted with them about Enfield, including several times in the JSPR. She's the one who reviewed Playfair's book for the JSPR. She had discussions with some of the most significant witnesses in the case and used their testimony to argue against the authenticity of the Enfield phenomena. She wrote a doctoral thesis that argued against the authenticity of the Enfield case. Today's Enfield skeptics probably cite Gregory more than they cite any of the other original skeptics.

That record looks impressive at first sight. But it doesn't hold up well under closer examination.

Gregory visited the Hodgsons' house multiple times, but she was there far less often than the primary investigators. She didn't witness anything of much significance on the occasions when she visited. All of the most evidentially significant events occurred while she wasn't there.

I've discussed the tricks played by the Hodgson girls in another post. Here are some of Gregory's comments on the subject:

Nor was my impression that the girls were play-acting in the least mitigated by the subsequent occasions when I was allowed to stay inside the bedroom (provided, that is, I faced the door and covered my head with the girls' dressing gowns) whilst slippers and pillows were shied at me….I certainly received the impression (which isn't evidence, of course) that the children were positively relieved that I, at least, was treating the dialogue and pelting as games and a bit of a joke, and I always made a point of stating firmly that all good poltergeists go to sleep at 11 o'clock. My candid refusal to take any of this at face value was never held against me by any of the family, who always welcomed me most cordially, nor by the "voices" who allowed me into the sanctum when true believers were excluded. (JSPR, vol. 50, 1979-80, pp. 539-40)

That sounds like joking rather than trying to deceive anybody. We've now had a few decades for the girls to grow up and admit that they had faked everything, almost everything, or some other large percentage of the events. That hasn't happened. To the contrary, they maintain that the case as a whole was genuine, even though they played tricks on a tiny minority of occasions. They admitted to the trickery from the start. They weren't good at it, so they often got caught. Grosse and Playfair knew about it without having to be informed by Gregory, and the girls admitted to it both privately and publicly from the late 1970s onward. The fact that they had Gregory put "the girls' dressing gowns" over her head, which I don't recall them doing with anybody else, suggests that they weren't even making much of an effort, if any, to hide the fact that they were joking with her. If you approach your interactions with children "as games and a bit of a joke", you'll often get a response in kind. Gregory went out of her way to get that result.

Though the girls did act frivolously at times, as you'd expect from young adolescents, Gregory's comments on the Enfield case are inordinately focused on those occasions. Playfair's book, which acknowledges the frivolous moments without giving them as much attention as Gregory does, is much more accurately balanced. The Hodgsons, including Janet and Margaret, were initially in terror and distress over what was going on. That's been confirmed by witness after witness after witness. It's also confirmed by other evidence, such as audio recordings. The documentaries I linked earlier provide some examples. Recall Graham Morris' testimony about how terrified everybody was, including the Hodgson children, when objects began moving around the house while he was visiting. The Hodgsons and others involved gradually became more accustomed to the phenomena, and there were less serious moments like those Gregory refers to as the case went on, but there were more times of terror and distress as well. The case as a whole was significantly more somber than you'd think from reading Gregory.

There's one incident of playing tricks that's probably cited by critics of the Enfield case more than any other. Gregory writes:

And what of the video recording that David Robertson took before Janet knew he was doing so, and in which she can be seen bending spoons and attempting to bend a bar in a thoroughly normal manner, and then bouncing up and down on the bed making little flapping movements with her hands? (ibid., p. 540)

Notice that Gregory doesn't provide a larger context (whether the video was taken in a context of "games and a bit of a joke", as Gregory put it earlier, or some other context; what Janet was told about the spoons, bar, and whatever else of relevance before the video was taken; what Janet said afterward; what relevance the bouncing and flapping are supposed to have; etc.). As we'll see, Gregory keeps faulting the chief Enfield investigators for allegedly not providing enough evidence, not addressing enough of the relevant issues, and so on, yet she frequently does those things herself. In many ways, she provides less of what she keeps asking more of from the people she's criticizing. She often operated with a double standard.

Grosse provides some context that Gregory failed to provide for the video in question:

Anita wishes to know why this tape was never mentioned in my rejoinder to her review. I have news for Anita Gregory. Not only do I continually refer to the children's antics in my lectures, but also to the other tape David Robertson and I made which shows both of the girls indulging in tomfoolery in their bedroom while David and I were recording in the boxroom. Both these videos were made after we asked the girls to produce levitation and metal bending 'to order'. We could not get the girls to take the tests seriously, and I remember saying to David at the time, 'You had better not let anyone see that rubbish or someone will take it as serious evidence'.

I have not taken issue on the point before, as I did not think it was really possible for anyone to take these antics seriously, but obviously I was wrong. The children, in January 1978, were perfectly aware they were being video taped, and no attempt was made, as in June 1978, to disguise the camera. (JSPR, vol. 52, 1983-4, p. 92)

It seems, then, that the videos in question at least partially involved the sort of joking referred to earlier. If there was any attempt at deception involved, it apparently was deception of a low quality. What percentage of the Enfield case can be explained by the efforts of two young adolescent girls who were such incompetent deceivers? Not much. Gregory doesn't seem to realize that she's undermining the skeptical case rather than advancing it.

A skeptic might argue that the girls were trying to make themselves look less skillful at deception than they actually were. But how would skeptics verify that argument, as opposed to just speculating that it might be true? And if the girls were the sort of genius deceivers they would need to be in order for deception on their part to explain the Enfield case as a whole, it would have been in their interest to have not gotten caught at deception at all rather than to have gotten caught at deception of a low quality.

In an interview with Will Storr, Janet addressed why she behaved as she did in the video Gregory cited and in similar contexts (WSVS, 194). I quoted some of her comments in an earlier post. She seems to have been frustrated by how much David Robertson was trying to get paranormal results from her. That's a theme that comes up in Playfair's book. Robertson put a lot of effort into running tests on Janet and trying to get particular results, such as with bending metal.

Something Gregory doesn't mention is that the Hodgson girls took testing like Robertson's more seriously on other occasions, sometimes resulting in substantial evidence of paranormal phenomena. Grosse and Playfair mentioned some examples in their 1988 JSPR article I cited earlier in this series (vol. 55, 1988-9, pp. 208-19). See, also, some video of Robertson discussing this subject here.

In her next response to Grosse, Gregory comments that, in the video she initially cited, Janet was "merrily cheating away and giving not the slightest indication that she was aware of being filmed" (JSPR, vol. 52, 1983-4, p. 93). But how would you know whether she was aware of being filmed by just looking at her in the video? To make matters worse, Gregory goes on to note that there had been a long history of video cameras in the house, so that:

The notion that the girls might have been surprised [at being filmed in June of 1978], in that tiny house where video equipment had been hanging about for six months, and with all those trial runs, is entirely preposterous. (ibid., p. 94)

I agree that the girls would have been well aware of the possibility of being filmed in the middle of 1978. But they also would have been well aware of the possibility earlier. So, why should we think Janet would have been unaware of the possibility of being filmed in the January 1978 video Gregory initially cited? If Janet knew of the possibility, yet cheated as carelessly as Gregory describes and did so with the intention of deceiving, then Janet was a highly incompetent deceiver. And that undermines the skeptical case against Enfield, as I explained earlier.

Furthermore, Gregory is wrong about how long video cameras were in the house. Playfair refers to some operating there as early as September of 1977, for example (THIH, 38-9). So, Gregory is also mistaken when she writes that "In Playfair's book the impression is conveyed (and I quoted a long passage in my review) that the bright idea of using a videotape had only just occurred to Grosse and Playfair in June 1978" (JSPR, vol. 52, 1983-4, pp. 93-4). Not only does the earlier passage I cited from Playfair's book, the one about September of 1977, contradict Gregory's interpretation of the later passage, but so does that later passage itself (THIH, 232-3). In that later passage, Playfair doesn't say or suggest that they were videotaping the girls for the first time, much less that they'd never even had the idea of doing so before. Rather, what was different about the occasion in question was that they had made arrangements to convince the girls that the camera wasn't working. Grosse and Robertson acted like they were going somewhere to get a part to fix it. But Janet looked through the keyhole of the door and saw that the camera was operating rather than being broken. It should be noted that Playfair explicitly refers to filming the girls much earlier than the middle of 1978 and explicitly says that the new idea being implemented in mid 1978 was convincing the girls that the camera was broken. Gregory's interpretation, as if filming the girls was the new idea they'd come up with in the middle of 1978, is ridiculous. Not only does Gregory misrepresent Playfair on this issue in her review of Playfair's book in 1980, but she even repeats the error years later, as I've quoted above.

What does all of this back-and-forth between Gregory and Grosse regarding trickery and cameras amount to? It looks like the girls joked a lot and sometimes faked poltergeist phenomena. They were caught on video doing one or both of those at times. They seem to have known that they were being filmed or to have known that there was a good chance that they were being filmed every time. They sometimes behaved that way off camera as well. Grosse, Playfair, and other investigators expected that sort of behavior to some degree, and they knew of some instances of it as early as 1977. The girls weren't good at joking or faking things, and they admitted from the early months of the case onward that they were sometimes involved in such trickery. Janet discussed some of their motives for playing tricks in her interview with Will Storr, cited above. She said that only about two percent of the Enfield phenomena were faked (WSVS, 195). And that includes instances that the investigators knew to be fake at the time, like the ones captured on the videos discussed above. If skeptics want us to believe that substantially more than two percent of the events were faked, they need more of an argument than what Gregory has provided. Grosse and Playfair have sometimes underestimated how much the girls joked, faked incidents, and such. I think Playfair's book ought to have said more about the subject, and Gregory is right in noting that her emphasizing the issue led Grosse and Playfair to discuss it more as well. She deserves some credit for that. But the fact remains that trickery can't account for much of the Enfield case. The fake incidents probably were somewhere in the range of a little less than Janet's two percent estimate to somewhat more. I doubt that the percentage was more than a single digit.

It's worth noting that everybody else I'm aware of who saw the video Gregory initially cited accepts the paranormality of the Enfield case. Gregory refers to David Robertson as the individual who captured Janet's cheating on camera (JSPR, vol. 50, 1979-80, p. 540). That didn't prevent Robertson from continuing to work on the Enfield case, helping test Janet for paranormal abilities years later, and spending the decades that followed arguing that the Enfield case involves some authentic paranormal phenomena. Robertson participated in the Interview With A Poltergeist documentary I cited earlier, for example, which was filmed in the mid 2000s, and he argued for Janet's ability to paranormally bend metal in that documentary. Not only did Robertson accept the paranormality of the Enfield case in general, but he even accepted Janet's ability to paranormally bend metal in particular, despite having captured the video under consideration that involves Janet bending metal with her hands instead. Similarly, though Gregory refers to how John Hasted showed her the video of Janet bending metal with her hands (JSPR, vol. 52, 1983-4, p. 93), Hasted accepted the paranormality of the Enfield case (THIH, 228-9, 248, 252). Grosse, Robertson, and Hasted saw the video Gregory and modern skeptics suggest is such persuasive evidence against Enfield, but it didn't prevent any of those three men from accepting Enfield as paranormal. Who else, aside from those three individuals and Gregory, is known to have seen the video? I'm not aware of anybody else. Gregory seems to be the only one we know of who saw the video and rejected the paranormality of Enfield.

I've discussed Gregory's misrepresentation of what Playfair said about cameras. What about the remainder of her analysis of his book? Her review of it in the JSPR provided her with an opportunity to present her best argument against the Enfield case as a whole. Judging by how she used that opportunity, she didn't have much of an argument. The review is a few pages long (JSPR, vol. 50, 1979-80, pp. 538-41), but she makes no mention of the most significant phenomena and leaves the vast majority of the case untouched.

The first page of her review summarizes the case and the subject matter of Playfair's book. The second and third pages discuss her experiences when she visited the house. Later on the third page and on the fourth, she summarizes her view of the book as follows:

The trouble is that this sort of case is very likely to be an unwholesome and painful mixture of personal and social pathology, playacting, group interaction, self-deception, trickery, ego-tripping and —conceivably—some authentic paranormality: the real problem is disentangling them. Unfortunately the book is not likely to make much of a contribution towards this end: it does provide testimony which I personally accept as being sincere, and some of which it is reasonable to accept as competent, for occasional paranormal physical movement of objects, especially in the earlier phases of the case….

The book, then, may be enjoyed as entertainment, and it also adds another case to the centuries of personal testimony for paranormality embedded in quite other facets of life. It is far too sketchy, unsystematic, incomplete, imprecise, ambiguous and confusing to be seen as a contribution to research, except in an oblique way

She only says that it's "reasonable" to accept some of the testimony for paranormal events, so she isn't saying that she accepts the testimony. And, as we'll see later, she gradually changed her mind, developing an even more negative view of the Enfield case with the passing of time.

Her claim that "the book is not likely to make much of a contribution towards this end [sorting through the potential explanations of what happened]" is ridiculous. The book provides a lot of information about times, the order of events, who was present, what people said, etc., and it does so on the basis of a lot of eyewitness testimony, a vast amount of audio recordings of the events in question, and other evidence of high quality, less than two years after the height of the poltergeist's activity. The paranormality of many of the events is supported by multiple lines of independent evidence. It's often the case with the Enfield phenomena that whatever objections one wants to raise against seeing an event as paranormal, much weightier objections can be raised against the alternatives. And you have to be critical all around, not just critical of paranormal explanations.

Gregory makes some comments on the voice phenomena in her review of Playfair's book and in a later letter written to the JSPR (vol. 51, 1981-2, p. 115). In both contexts, she focuses on evidence against the authenticity of the voice while ignoring the large majority of the evidence for it. For an outline of some of the evidence supporting the authenticity of the phenomena, see my comments on the subject in an earlier post.

But Gregory rightly criticizes Playfair's book for some of its faults. She mentions its lack of an index and that it has some unclear or otherwise inadequate passages. And it's appropriate to criticize the book for a lack of documentation. Playfair was an eyewitness who had a lot of contact with other eyewitnesses, and he tells his readers that the large majority of the dialogue quoted in the book comes from audio recordings. Those characteristics make Playfair's book valuable and highly evidential, but he should have included more (e.g., more citations of signed statements from witnesses, fuller documentation for the newspaper articles he refers to).

Gregory makes some good points about the book and the larger issues involved, and there's some significance to what she says about her experiences while visiting the Hodgson home. But she radically underestimates the value of the evidence Playfair and his sources amassed, and she doesn't even attempt to explain the most important events Playfair discusses. Her comment toward the end of the review, to the effect that "a truly adequate investigation" would require more resources than Playfair and his colleagues had, is applying a far higher standard of adequacy than most people use in their everyday lives, including when they're making judgments about important matters and matters involving the paranormal specifically. Faulting Playfair and his colleagues for not meeting a higher standard of evidence doesn't explain what they did provide. Asking for more evidence doesn't explain the evidence you already have. Critics like Gregory should offer alternative explanations for the events whose paranormality they doubt, so that we can set the alternatives side by side. We've seen how poorly that went for Deborah Hyde, Joe Nickell, and other more recent critics on the rare occasions when they've offered an explanation for an event (e.g., Hyde's appeal to sleep paralysis, Nickell's suggestion that Margaret was playacting when she claimed that something invisible was holding her leg). I suspect that the lack of such alternative explanations from Gregory, both in her review of Playfair's book and elsewhere, is due to her being aware that offering alternatives would go poorly for her, in spite of her objections to the alleged inadequacy of the evidence.

One way in which she tried to cast doubt on the evidence on a couple of occasions was by appealing to her own conversations with some of the witnesses. In her review of Playfair's book, she writes:

Both [John Burcombe and Peggy Nottingham] testified and stuck to belief in some of the phenomena observed in the earlier phases of the case. On 23 December 1977 John Burcombe told me he thought that Janet taught herself the trick of talking in a deep voice and that she enjoyed keeping strangers hopping about: that now the family were keeping things going, and that the researchers were, without perhaps fully realizing it, "egging them on". On 15 January 1978 Peggy Nottingham told me that what was going on now was "pure nonsense", and it was kept going by the investigators.

Even if we were to accept Gregory's report at face value, the fact would remain that Burcombe and Nottingham affirmed that some paranormal events occurred, despite their doubting the paranormality of other events.

Furthermore, notice the insignificance of some of what she's attributing to Burcombe and Nottingham. For example, even if she's right that Burcombe doubted the voice phenomena on December 23, 1977, so what? The voice originated less than two weeks earlier. At that point, the vast majority of the evidence for its authenticity hadn't been accumulated. For instance, Burcombe's alleged opinion that Janet had taught herself to speak with the voice in question wouldn't explain how Margaret and Billy would later exhibit the voice as well or how the voice was sometimes heard in a disembodied manner when none of the children were around. Burcombe would later refer to how "amazed" he was by the voice when he heard it coming from Billy (THIH, 246). Gregory doesn't mention that.

If you read Playfair's book, you'll see that Burcombe and Nottingham remained highly involved in the Enfield case and were highly supportive of the Hodgson family and Grosse and Playfair around the time of and well beyond the dates Gregory cites for her discussions with them (e.g., 166, 201, 206-7, 220, 223, 227, 238-9). That's hard to explain if they were as skeptical and as critical of the Hodgsons and the investigators as Gregory suggests. Playfair even describes Burcombe's being at the Hodgson home, witnessing a paranormal event, and acknowledging that he'd seen it on the same day he allegedly made the comments Gregory cites above (THIH, 166-7). In the preface of an edition of Playfair's book printed in 1984, he writes:

Thanks also to John and Sylvie Burcombe and to Vic and Peggy Nottingham who, with [Peggy Hodgson] and Mr Grosse, have read the manuscript of this book and signed a statement to the effect that it is true. (This House Is Haunted [Briarcliff Manor, New York: Stein and Day, 1984], 11)

Why is the behavior of Burcombe and Nottingham that's recorded in Playfair's book, described by eyewitnesses, recorded on audio tapes, etc. so different than what we'd expect if they'd told Gregory what she claims they told her?

In a letter Grosse later wrote to the JSPR, he reports that Burcombe and Nottingham denied in January of 1981 that they said what Gregory attributed to them (JSPR, vol. 51, 1981-2, pp. 34-5). It's unclear just how much of Gregory's report they were denying, but they denied some of it. Grosse asked Gregory for a record of her alleged conversations with Burcombe and Nottingham, and she responded by saying that she recorded the discussions in her notes and circulated those notes among some colleagues at the time (ibid., p. 115). Remember, Grosse and Playfair regularly got signed statements from their witnesses and kept audio recordings and other highly evidential records. All Gregory can offer is her own notes that she passed on to other people at the time. Yet, she criticizes Grosse and Playfair for allegedly not documenting things well enough.

To whatever extent Gregory accurately reported what Burcombe and Nottingham told her, the negative sentiments they expressed to her about the Enfield case apparently weren't of much significance. Maybe their reservations about the case were only minor relative to their positive views of it. Maybe the views they expressed to Gregory were highly transitory.

Another problem with Gregory's treatment of Burcombe and Nottingham is that she later changed her view of their importance as witnesses. Before I quote her later position, I want to cite her initial positive comments about the credibility not only of Burcombe and Nottingham, but also of Grosse:

John Burcombe and Mrs. Nottingham seemed to me sensible and reliable witnesses. (JSPR, vol. 50, 1979-80, p. 539)

The fact that I know and value and trust Maurice Grosse (which I do), just is not evidence [for other people]. (JSPR, vol. 51, 1981-2, p. 116)

But she later took the position that most of the evidence for paranormality in the Enfield case is so bad as to be "pathetic" (JSPR, vol. 52, 1983-4, p. 94), acknowledged that her view of the case had changed to a more negative one over time (ibid.), and dismissed witnesses like Burcombe, Nottingham, and Grosse with these comments:

The SPR's working party presented a long and composite dossier and report, from which it becomes clear that virtually the only eye-witness testimony to anything paranormal in addition to the family, neighbours and relatives, was that of Mr. Grosse, Mr. Playfair, when it came to the crunch, claiming to have witnessed relatively little. Mr. Grosse quotes me quite correctly as having said that the Enfield case was a 'poorly researched and doubtful case in which there is nevertheless some good evidence and testimony'. Having once more gone carefully into the evidence, I feel, alas, that this was an over-enthusiastic estimate. Allow me to give an instance.

The 'good testimony' I had in mind was that of Woman Police Constable Carolyn Heeps to the effect that she had seen a chair move of its own accord and satisfied herself that this could not have happened in a normal way. Her testimony, as coming from outside the charmed circle, and relating to the very night of the onset of the case, is crucial. (ibid., pp. 94-5)

So, people like Burcombe, Nottingham, and Grosse are now dismissed as part of "the charmed circle" whose testimony doesn't qualify as "good". She mentions Carolyn Heeps, whose testimony she goes on to likewise dismiss as no longer seeming good. We're not given any explanation for why everybody other than Heeps was dismissed. Over her years of writing about the Enfield case in the JSPR, Gregory said nothing about the testimony and experiences of Hazel Short, John Rainbow, Graham Morris, John Hasted, and other people outside of the family, relatives, neighbors, and chief investigators she refers to (those she apparently has in mind as "the charmed circle"). And she provides no good reason for dismissing every, or even any, family member, relative, neighbor, or lead investigator. Who do you expect to witness more than did the family, relatives, neighbors, and primary investigators in a poltergeist case like Enfield? Furthermore, as Playfair often notes in his book, many of these witnesses were initially skeptical of paranormal phenomena in general and/or the Enfield phenomena in particular. If they were "charmed" because they believed that the case was authentic, then citing that fact doesn't explain how they came to believe in the first place.

Here's how Gregory tries to dismiss the testimony of Heeps:

I rang up Miss Heeps on the morning of 5.11.1982. She instantly remembered the whole case, and volunteered various correct details. She said, without the least prompting from me, that at the time she had thought the children or their friends had done it all, but later 'Dr. Grosse of the Psychical Research Society' had told her that he and various media people had 'proved' it could not have been the children. She provided more detail and repeatedly assured me that now she herself believed it had not been the children since 'Dr. Grosse of the Psychical Research Society' had 'proved' it could not have been—originally she had thought otherwise. The incident took place in the early hours of 1 September 1977, WPC Heeps' statement is said to have been signed 10 September, 1977 and Mr. Playfair first went to Enfield on 12 September 1977. (ibid., p. 95)

There are so many problems with what Gregory is doing:

- Once again, notice that Gregory holds herself to a much lower standard than she expects others to meet. Does she offer video of Heeps renouncing her previous testimony? Or audio of Heeps explaining how she now thinks that one of the children moved the chair? Does she give us a signed statement from Heeps? No, Gregory provides us with her own memory of a phone call, which she says in a footnote was witnessed by K.M. Wilson, and she implies that Heeps' reaffirmation of her previous testimony during that phone call implies that her testimony isn't reliable in a subtle way. I don't doubt that the call took place and that Gregory is right about the basic facts of what occurred during that call. But when people like Grosse and Playfair give us much better evidence for their claims than Gregory is giving us for hers, she acts as if it's not enough. She refers to it as inadequate, pathetic, etc.

- Apparently, what Gregory is implying about her phone call with Heeps is that Heeps seems to have been overly dependent on Grosse for her conclusion that the chair wasn't moved by one of the Hodgson children or anybody else. Heeps was a police officer who signed a sworn affidavit about what she witnessed. (See here for an image of a statement Heeps signed accompanied by audio of Grosse referring to the affidavit.) It's unlikely that a police officer, especially one signing an affidavit about such a controversial matter, would allow Grosse to persuade her to reach a significantly different conclusion than she'd previously reached before meeting Grosse.

- Heeps provided her testimony in multiple contexts, such as in the video here (until 2:30), which comes from an interview she did with the BBC. She explains, over and over, that she investigated multiple potential ways that the chair could have moved (looking for wires, placing a marble on the floor to see if the floor was slanted, etc.). She says nothing, in any of her statements I've seen, about suspecting that any of the children or anybody else moved the chair once she began investigating the matter. So, on the night she was at the Hodgson house, before she'd ever met Grosse, she was already convinced that involvement by the children or anybody else in the home wasn't a reasonable explanation for what happened. That's why she was focused on other explanations.

- Heeps' alleged reference in the phone call to how "at the time she had thought the children or their friends had done it all" has to be referring only to the initial moments of the incident, while the chair was moving and perhaps just afterward, before she investigated the matter. Otherwise, why would she have gone on to test other ways the chair could have moved? Why do such testing if you're already convinced that "the children or their friends" moved the chair? Most likely, Gregory is taking a comment Heeps made about her initial impression, which was quickly dispelled, and is portraying that comment in a misleadingly ambiguous way. Gregory's ambiguity allows her readers to reach the false conclusion that Heeps believed for a longer period of time that the chair was moved by the children or their friends.

- In the video of Heeps linked above, at 2:29, she refers to how she could find "no explanation at all". She's referring to what happened that night, not what happened days later, after meeting Grosse. Why would she say that she couldn't find an explanation if she had thought at the time that "the children or their friends had done it all"?

- In a BBC video I linked earlier (at 1:53), Vic Nottingham refers to how the police officers, including Heeps, were noticeably frightened and wanted to get out of the house. That's hard to explain if Heeps was convinced at the time that "the children or their friends had done it all". Nottingham's impression that the officers were frightened is corroborated by an article, titled "The House Of Strange Happenings", that appeared on page 1 of the September 10, 1977 edition of the Daily Mirror. The article comments that "one policewoman [presumably Heeps] is too scared to return to the house."

- Gregory's wording is vague enough to allow that Grosse's exchanges with Heeps strengthened, instead of creating, her conviction that the children didn't move the chair.

- Why think that any influence Grosse had on Heeps must have been bad? What if Grosse's arguments and evidence were good, so that his influence on Heeps was positive rather than negative? Given Grosse's connections with relevant witnesses, his knowledge of the layout of the Hodgsons' home, etc., he was in a position to offer good rather than bad counsel to somebody like Heeps. Even if we were to accept the interpretation of Heeps' comments that Gregory seems to be implying (we shouldn't), namely that Heeps didn't become convinced that the children didn't move the chair until after talking with Grosse, it wouldn't follow that she was wrong to accept what Grosse told her.

- A couple of times, Gregory quotes Heeps' references to "Dr. Grosse of the Psychical Research Society" and her use of the word "proved". Why would Gregory not only quote Heeps' words, but even do so twice in so short a space? Gregory doesn't explain what the significance of Heeps' quoted words is supposed to be, but a few possibilities come to mind.

One is that Gregory is implying that Heeps had an overly high view of Grosse. Supposedly, the wording Heeps used when referring to him demonstrates that she thought too much of him. But the sort of courteous language Gregory quotes is common among police officers. Similarly, Heeps probably would refer to "Mrs. Gregory", "Dr. Gregory of the Psychical Research Society", or some such thing if she were referring to Gregory. Her courteous reference to Grosse doesn't suggest that she was overly influenced by him in the way Gregory seems to be implying.

Another possibility is that Gregory is criticizing Heeps for some inaccuracies. As far as I know, Grosse didn't have a doctorate, and the SPR is normally referred to as the "Society for Psychical Research", not the "Psychical Research Society". But so what? If Heeps was wrong about such matters, those errors are of little significance. Should rearranging the words in the SPR's name even be considered an error? People do that sort of thing a lot, even when they know how an organization is usually named. Earlier in her comments, Gregory referred to how good Heeps' memory was and how accurate she was concerning the most relevant facts involved in the Enfield case. If she was less accurate about far less important issues, that doesn't matter much.

As far as the term "proved" is concerned, is Gregory suggesting that the word is too strong and that Heeps' use of the word suggests that she overestimated what Grosse had done? The term "proved" is sometimes used to refer to demonstrating a high probability, but sometimes it's used to refer to demonstrating any probability, regardless of whether it's a high one. Maybe Heeps misused the term, maybe not. We can't tell from what little context Gregory gives us. Even if Heeps misused the term or thought too highly of Grosse's claims, how would it follow that Heeps' testimony should be dismissed?

Keep in mind that Gregory was talking to Heeps more than five years after Heeps' visit to the Hodgsons' house, and Heeps apparently wasn't expecting to receive that phone call from Gregory. I doubt that many police officers, even ones who think they've experienced paranormal phenomena, spend much time thinking about issues like whether Maurice Grosse had a doctorate and the correct order of the words in the name of the SPR. The fact that Heeps accurately remembered as much as she did, more than five years later and while receiving a phone call she apparently hadn't anticipated, is impressive.

- Notice that Gregory quotes Heeps' reference to Grosse and her use of the term "proved", but doesn't quote anything else she said. Why use quotations on such insignificant matters while not using quotations on matters of more substance? It makes you wonder about the accuracy of Gregory's paraphrasing of the remainder of what Heeps said.

- Critics like Gregory should explain how one or more of the children in the house would have gotten next to the chair without any of the relevant witnesses noticing, would have moved the chair as described, then would have left the area without any relevant witness noticing. Playfair and other sources have described the scene for us, and it doesn't seem like a context in which the chair would have been moved in such a manner. It's one thing to make vague references to how the children might have moved the chair. It's another matter to put forward more details, which can be subjected to scrutiny.

- Heeps didn't just see a chair move. She also heard knocking in the house. The other officer who was with her looked through the house, trying to find a normal explanation for the knocking, and couldn't find one. Gregory says nothing about Heeps' testimony about the knocking. And, as with the chair moving, Gregory offers no explanation of how one or more of the children or anybody else would have produced the knocking.

- Gregory has unintentionally strengthened the evidence for Heeps' testimony rather than weakening it. We're told by Gregory that, even more than five years after the event, as late as November 5, 1982, Heeps "instantly remembered the whole case, and volunteered various correct details". So, Heeps had a good memory and was accurate.

- Stewart Lamont, a BBC reporter who interviewed Heeps, quotes her as saying, "I'm absolutely convinced that no one in that room touched that chair or went anywhere near it when it moved. Absolutely convinced." (Is Anybody There? [Great Britain: Mainstream Publishing, 1980], 23) The terms "absolutely convinced" and "anywhere near it" are strong language. And she says "absolutely convinced" twice, for emphasis. It doesn't seem that Heeps was depending to any large extent on what Grosse told her days after the incident in question. The sort of confidence she expressed is best explained if it's based on something more substantial.

- Gregory says nothing about the other officer who was with Heeps. He has to be the man standing next to her in the video linked above. Why else would he be standing next to her while she's giving an interview on the subject of what she experienced the night she and another officer went to the Hodgson house? And if that other officer is willing to stand next to her like that and be filmed with her as she's interviewed on the topic, the implication is that he stands by her testimony. And the BBC video explains that both officers reported that the chair moved in a paranormal manner. Are we to believe that the other officer, like Heeps, was unduly influenced by Grosse? Which is more likely? That both officers were as undiscerning as Gregory suggests? Or that both were more discerning, as we'd expect police officers to be?

It didn't take long for Mary Rose Barrington (who's been critical of the Enfield case in some other contexts) to write a response to Gregory's attempt to dismiss Heeps' testimony:

The original testimony of W. P. C. Heeps, that she examined the moving chair and found nothing attached to it, remains (as I see it) substantially unimpaired. She may well have assumed originally that the movement must be due to trickery, but after she made her examination she was prepared to believe that it must have been due to PK [psychokinesis]. (JSPR, vol. 52, 1983-4, p. 156)

Gregory then responds to Barrington on the same page on other matters related to Enfield, but says nothing about Heeps. So, when somebody (Barrington) proposed the interpretation of Heeps' comments that I've argued for, Gregory had no response. And, as far as I know, her brief reply to Barrington, which says nothing further about Heeps, is the last public comment Gregory made about the Enfield case, at least in the JSPR.

But what about Gregory's doctoral thesis on Enfield? When Will Storr talked to John Beloff about the Enfield case, Beloff said that he had only visited the Hodgson house once, agreed with Gregory that "the two little girls involved were up to mischief", and objected to how Grosse had "put Anita Gregory's Ph.D. thesis out of bounds" (WSVS, 157).

Storr tracked down what seems to be the title of that thesis, though he couldn't get hold of the thesis itself. The title is "Problems In Investigating Psychokinesis In Special Subjects" (ibid., 191). (See JSPR, vol. 53, 1985-6, p. 62 for confirmation that Will found the correct title.) The thesis wasn't primarily or only about Enfield. Rather, it was about a broader subject, with Enfield included within that larger framework. Beloff, writing a tribute to Gregory after her death, commented:

Another main concern of hers with which I got caught up was her Ph.D. Thesis, having been officially assigned the role of external supervisor. I read each chapter as it came off her typewriter and my admiration for her insight and industry grew steadily….

a long chapter of the thesis is devoted to the Enfield case which was then still in progress. (JSPR, vol. 53, 1985-6, pp. 129-30)

So, there's just "a long chapter" on Enfield, and the case was still in progress when she wrote. If Grosse and Playfair's investigation wasn't complete yet, and much of the information they later released wasn't yet available to the general public, how much of the evidence could Gregory have analyzed in her thesis?

Here's part of Grosse's exchange with Storr on the subject of Gregory's work on Enfield:

Or did Janet speak in that gruff growl because she was on some sort of extreme attention trip? Anita Gregory thought so, I mention, very quietly.

There's a small, dense silence. I sit and wait in slow motion.

'Anita Gregory,' Maurice says. He lets out a small sigh and glances out of his window. A car passes by. 'What a problem she was.'

'I was trying to get hold of her thesis,' I say, 'but it was placed out of bounds.'

'That's because we threatened her with legal action,' says Maurice….

'I'll tell you what happened,' says Maurice. 'She came to the [Hodgson] house maybe three, four times. One day, she was writing up her notes in a book, similar to the one you've got there. I was also writing up my notes in a book. Now, she went home one evening, and when I opened my book, I realised that she'd got my book and I'd got hers. Now, when I read those notes, I thought, this is a very disturbed person. She's writing, "I don't know what the hell's going on here" and "It doesn't make any sense" and so on and so forth. And yet, when she did that thesis, she said, "Oh, this definitely didn't happen and this definitely didn't happen." If I'd have been clever, I'd have kept that book. But I didn't. I gave it back the next morning.'

'Still, though,' I say, 'to threaten her with legal action - that's quite an aggressive act.'

'Well, no. I wasn't too worried about it,' he says. 'But Guy [Playfair] got very upset. Well, Guy's an author, you see, and it was questioning his book and his honesty. I was naive enough to think that it didn't matter a tuppenny damn.'…

'So, was Anita lying about that [Heeps' testimony about a chair moving]?' I ask.

'You want my honest opinion?'


'I don't want to speak ill of the dead.'

'I know she's dead,' I say, 'but … '

There's a long, driving silence. I look at Maurice. Maurice looks at me.

'She was a liar,' he says. 'No question about it.' (ibid., 218-20)

Most likely, Gregory's thesis was about as speculative and unreasonable as her public material against Enfield. Why should we think her thesis was significantly better than her other material, yet that better work contained in her thesis was never reflected in her other work or that of Beloff and other skeptics? (Remember, Beloff read the thesis and was Gregory's external thesis supervisor.) Gregory had years to make a good case against the Enfield phenomena, and Beloff had decades to do it. They failed.

Time has passed by critics like Gregory and Beloff. Janet and Margaret Hodgson are now a few decades older than they were at the time of the height of the poltergeist's activity. They stand by the authenticity of the Enfield case. The prime of their lives has passed by without their having pursued the sort of attention and money they could have gotten from the Enfield case if they'd wanted to. After they moved out of the home where the poltergeist occurred, some of the phenomena continued for decades. After Peggy Hodgson's death, the family who moved into the house also reported experiencing paranormal phenomena there. Because of changes in technology, we now have far more access to the documentation Grosse, Playfair, and other investigators built up and much more access to other evidence. It's now easier to appreciate the quantity and quality of the witnesses and events.


  1. Great series. Seems like Gregory's "street cred" comes from the fact that she was in the house a few times. She really doesn't add more than Nickell.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Steve!

    2. Steve, as a sceptical Christian by nature I hoped for something more substantive from these sceptics. One who is sceptical yet (truly) investigative by nature is left completely underwhelemed by the lacklustre and laboured attempt to cast doubt upon the Enfield case. Any 'sceptic' worth their salt ought to be utterly appalled by these incomplete and amateurish attempts at debunking Enfield.

  2. Jason, thanks again for this series. Your research throughout has been second to none. Ditto the thorough nature of your responses and rebuttals to the so-called sceptical case against Enfield.

  3. Above, I refer to how John Hasted and David Robertson offered evidence for the Enfield case, even though Gregory cites them for evidence against Enfield. Since Hasted and Robertson were willing to offer evidence against Enfield and worked with Gregory in her efforts to undermine the case, the corroboration Hasted and Robertson offered for the Enfield case in other contexts is more significant accordingly. For further discussion of that point, see here.

  4. I recently had a lengthy email discussion with David Robertson. He had a lot to say about the videos he took in the Hodgsons' home, Anita Gregory's claims about those videos, and Gregory's treatment of the Enfield case in general.

  5. Gregory's doctoral thesis is now available for free online, and here's my response to it.

  6. Here's a post with more information about the police officers involved in the Enfield case, based on the tapes of Grosse and Playfair.

  7. I've written an article that revisits the issue of faked events in the Enfield case, in light of what's on Grosse and Playfair's tapes and other evidence.

  8. Here's an article on what Anita Gregory and other skeptics actually experienced when they visited the Hodgsons' house.