Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Poltergeist On Video

I recently had an email exchange with Stewart Lamont about his 1978 coverage of the Enfield Poltergeist for the BBC. His team captured some of the poltergeist phenomena on film, and that video is the only one to have done so that's extant and available to the general public. What I want to do in this post is discuss the history of Enfield videos in general, quote some of Lamont's comments to me in our email exchange, and add to what I've said before about the contents of Lamont's video. One thing I want to do is say more about the poltergeist knocking that occurs in the video, particularly some evidence for it that I haven't seen anybody else mention.

Since the release of The Conjuring 2 last year, YouTube has been inundated with people looking for videos about the Enfield case. Lamont's video has been widely viewed in that context. If you read some of the YouTube threads, you'll see that Lamont's video has also been widely cited by skeptics as a justification for their rejection of the authenticity of Enfield.

The use of the video by skeptics is nothing new, but the degree to which it's being used by them is. In the 1980s, Bob Couttie referred to the Lamont video as something that "many sceptics regard as highly evidential [against Enfield]" (Forbidden Knowledge [Great Britain: Lutterworth Press, 1988], 64). In the 1990s, Mike Hutchinson wrote:

There is a little-known interview with the girls in the Enfield case which wasn't mentioned in Bizarre Beliefs [a book Hutchinson wrote] but which I would now like to share with your readers. It suggests from the reactions of the girls that they might have been playing tricks after all.

Sitting on a couch they were asked "How does it feel to be haunted by a poltergeist?" Janet [Hodgson] responded by saying "It's not haunted". Margaret looked at her sister, whispered "Shut up!" and turned away with a silent giggle and a hand raised to her mouth as though she'd said something she shouldn't have. And maybe at that point she'd let out the secret which she had been sharing with Janet. To me, that interview—which a written description can hardly do justice to —said more about what had been going on at Enfield than anything contained in sensationalist books. (Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, vol. 61, 1996-7, p. 283)

More recently, Deborah Hyde cited a video sourced to a web site that's no longer available, and that video seems to be Lamont's. She refers to how, in the video, Janet Hodgson suggests that "there was no ghost" (The Skeptic, vol. 23, no. 4, Summer 2012, p. 31). Hyde most likely is appealing to the same "It's not haunted." line that Hutchinson cited.

So, skeptics of Enfield have been citing the Lamont video for decades. That includes skeptics of a higher caliber than the ones you typically come across in YouTube threads. But the popularity of The Conjuring 2 has significantly increased the number of people who have viewed Lamont's video and the number who are citing it as justification for rejecting the entire Enfield case.

Before I get to Lamont's comments in his recent email exchange with me, I want to briefly provide an overview of Enfield videos in general and why Lamont's video is the only one we have that captured any of the Enfield phenomena. Guy Playfair refers to another video of the poltergeist voice on page 185 of This House Is Haunted (United States: White Crow Books, 2011). That video isn't available to the general public, though. It featured a speech therapist talking with the Hodgson girls while the poltergeist voice was being manifested through them, and that speech therapist didn't want her involvement in the case publicized. (See page 186 of Playfair's book.) That may be the reason, or part of the reason, why that video hasn't been made available to the general public. See Rosalind Morris' December 26, 1978 radio documentary, at 21:58 and 25:19, for other references to such videos. I suspect that the one referred to at 21:58 is the one described on page 185 of Playfair's book, but Morris' documentary doesn't provide many details.

Attempts were made to get the poltergeist on video as early as September of 1977. As Playfair explains on page 39 of his book:

It was the dullest TV show ever. Janet went to sleep, stayed asleep, and absolutely nothing happened.

Significantly, though, he mentions on the same page that Maurice Grosse referred to a paranormal incident that occurred "just before" the filming team arrived. It seems that the poltergeist would often stop its activities just before cameras arrived and start them just after cameras left. It sometimes didn't want to be filmed, apparently. (For more about what poltergeists may be and what reasons they may have for acting so erratically, sometimes trying to avoid being recorded and other times allowing it, see here.) In his book, Playfair refers to multiple occasions on which the poltergeist voice objected to the presence of video equipment. For example:

Anyway, it was clear that the Voice, whoever or whatever it was, did not like the video equipment. 'GET THAT [expletive] OUT OF HERE,' it kept roaring angrily. (179)

Furthermore, the poltergeist often caused equipment failures, including the failure of camera equipment, in ways that were paranormal. Playfair, in his book, refers to how there were "countless" incidents of video and other types of equipment failing in such a manner (34, 38-39, 228). He and Grosse obtained signed statements from equipment operators saying that the equipment failures were extremely unusual, that those failures had rarely or never happened before in their careers working with such equipment, that the failures seem impossible to explain in normal terms, etc. Listen to Rosalind Morris' radio documentary referred to earlier, starting here until 18:42, for some examples.

Though the poltergeist didn't want to be filmed at times, it occasionally was caught on film, and Lamont's video provides us with the only example we have that's available to the general public. In a documentary produced about a decade ago, Lamont discussed the poltergeist knocking captured on his video. Watch here until 23:30. I recently contacted Lamont by email and asked him some questions about his video.

Regarding Janet Hodgson's "It's not haunted." comment and the demeanor of the girls:

I agree that it is wrong to use the answer of the Hodgson sisters about "haunting" as evidence they were dissembling. They were in their early teens, nervous at the camera and the laughing and ill at ease was perfectly normal.

In Feb 1978 when the interview was recorded shortly after the peak of the physical phenomena, two things can be mentioned. First that filming in these pre-video days required a crew of four (lighting, sound, cameraman & assistant plus director and reporter [me]). Not all could get into the room of their small council house and so some were outside the room. No wonder they were nervous in such a situation and because they had nice natures, this came out as giggly laughing. One other point was that film magazines lasted 10' and film was expensive so we could not keep the camera running as is now possible with video. Big powerful lights on stands were necessary and these were put in the small room.

It was the producer who prompted me to ask if they thought their house was haunted (he had a background in tabloid journalism and wanted to appeal to a wider audience). I thought Janet's response valid as it was a silly question. She was an intelligent girl and had learned from the researchers who had been camping out in their home for months (Grosse, Playfair plus cameraman G Morris) that it was not simply a "ghost". She parried the question and when her sister interrupted it was to assert her older more mature presence....

I think skeptics have to imagine themselves as teenage girls whose house was invaded for months by teams of people (including us for a few days only). They were on one side used to it, on another they perhaps enjoyed the attention, but on another they reacted by giggling. So to sum up, the answers they gave were NOT an admission of deception....

I am sorry if my interview clip is being distorted to make a case against the girls. They seemed to me genuine and decent girls.

Concerning the poltergeist voice and what Janet is saying at 10:24 in the video:

I am still uncertain about this [the voice phenomenon in general] and how it can have been faked. There is one moment when it manifests on film when it speaks of M Grosse as "goose-chaser" which I thought was quite a witty nickname for Maurice who was sometimes very zealous.

On the knocking that occurs at 5:19 in the video:

Most of the crew were outside the room and if someone had created the knocks they would most likely have been spotted in that small house. The knocking came from near the interview room and stopped almost immediately. Mrs H (mother) was upstairs and so I cannot swear that it could not have been manufactured.

Whether Lamont and his team witnessed any phenomena other than the poltergeist voice and the knocking:

…we witnessed no other actual phenomena when we were at the house except the voice. I remain convinced that real poltergeist phenomena took place there and was verified by the many witnesses.

About the sincerity of the Hodgson family and whether they gained financially from Lamont's coverage of the Enfield case:

The family put up with a lot and never profited financially (we paid them a small fee for electricity for the lighting). To heap a charge of deceit upon them seems very unfair considering what they had to put up with (both from the poltergeist and the researchers and the media and now the skeptics).

Concerning his interview with two police officers who witnessed paranormal phenomena at the house, I asked him several questions. I asked why he refers to the male officer's last name as Ayres in his book, whereas the Society for Psychical Research's Psi Encyclopedia refers to him as Hyams. I also wanted confirmation that the male police officer, who doesn't speak in the video, was the one who went to the Hodgson house with the female officer (Carolyn Heeps) on the night in question. In addition, I wanted to know if the male officer said anything significant off-camera, whether he had witnessed the chair moving at the Hodgson house, and what other officers seemed to think of the testimony of the two officers Lamont interviewed. He replied:

…our production team found them and got permission for them to take part and I simply interviewed them. We used the names we were given. The man was taciturn and it was the WPC who actually saw the chair move but he was attending the house with her….

…while the male policeman was present at the interview and visit to the Hodgson home with WPC Heeps, his comments were not included in the final edit as they had nothing further to add/subtract.

It's striking that the man who visited the Hodgsons' home and interviewed the girls and other witnesses came away with an impression so different than the one suggested by later skeptics. But skeptics don't just claim that they know what the Hodgson girls meant better than Lamont does. They also seem to think they know that Janet's intentions were the opposite of what the surrounding context suggests. Less than thirty seconds after she allegedly confessed that the case was fraudulent by saying "It's not haunted.", she was talking to Lamont about the activities of the poltergeist whose existence she supposedly had just denied. It's no wonder Lamont didn't come away from the interview with the impression that Janet had confessed to fraud. She herself shows no awareness that she'd made such a confession. That's because the confession is a figment of the imagination of later skeptics.

And it should be noted that skeptics seldom say much about the portions of Lamont's video that don't involve the girls' frivolous demeanor and the "It's not haunted." line. Yet, there's a lot of evidence supporting the authenticity of the Enfield case in the remainder of the video. The testimony of the police officers is highly evidential. (For more on the subject, see here.) When Lamont interviews Grosse, he (Grosse) makes some points about the evidence for the authenticity of the poltergeist voice, and I've seldom seen skeptics interact much with what Grosse says there. At the end of the video, Lamont makes an important point about how many people would have to be involved in a conspiracy if the Enfield case was faked. That's a point that the skeptics abusing Lamont's video seldom interact with. They also don't have much to say, if anything, about the knocking that occurs in the video while the girls are being filmed sitting on a couch in a different part of the house. Since most skeptics claim that only the girls faked the poltergeist phenomena, the knocking in Lamont's video seems to require that those skeptics expand their hypothesis to include at least one other person in the alleged fraud. Who would that be? Since Lamont refers to how Peggy Hodgson was upstairs when the knocking occurred, see here for a discussion of some problems with the idea that she was involved in faking anything.

I've said a lot about the Lamont video elsewhere. What I want to do in the remainder of this post is supplement what I said there, based on my recent discussions with Lamont and other research I've done since that earlier post. I'll be linking to certain parts of the video below, and you can click on the time markers to go directly to those points in the video.

More should be said about the knocking. People typically refer to three knocks that occur starting at 5:19. But I think there are ten knocks in all. Start listening at 5:15. You can hear two much quieter knocks, followed almost immediately by three that are also quieter, after which the three louder ones occur that people focus on. And you can hear two additional quieter knocks at 8:36.

Notice that all of these knocks occur in groups of two or three. That's the pattern Margaret describes at 5:49. She says that the poltergeist often knocks in patterns of two or three.

And notice the changes in the volume of the knocks in the pattern starting at 5:15. It sounds like the knocking is occurring in different parts of the house, with the group of three knocks beginning at 5:19 occurring closest to the room where the interview was occurring. That's reminiscent of what witnesses have said about how the knocking would rapidly move from one part of the house to another. For example, listen to Maurice Grosse discussing the subject here until 22:19. I don't know if there's any way to confirm that the knocking in Lamont's video is coming from multiple places in the house. Maybe it could be confirmed by analyzing the sound in some way. I don't know much about acoustic issues. But, at the least, if the knocking was faked, it seems to have been faked in such a way as to make it sound as if it was coming from multiple locations within the house.

Furthermore, no creaking can be heard on the floors of the house around the time when the knocking occurs. If somebody upstairs was faking the knocking, and that person moved around close to the time of the knocking, that moving should have made some noise. Watch here until 6:07 to see Graham Morris explaining how easy it was to hear people walking around upstairs in the house.

It's also important to note the eye movements of the Hodgson girls in the context of these knocks. I've gone through the entire video and have tried to track their eye movements in every context. Where they look when the knocking occurs is different than where they look at other points in the video. They look up after some of the knocking, which gives us an indication of where they thought the knocking was coming from. See 5:22, 5:48, and 8:38. The first three are their responses to the initial knocking (eight knocks, ending in the three loudest ones that people typically focus on). The last one is Margaret's response to the two quieter knocks later. Both girls look up and toward the center of the room in response to the initial set of knocks. But at 8:38, Margaret seems to look somewhat further to her left. If so, that provides some evidence that the knocking was coming from multiple locations within the house. It seems that the loudest knocking was coming from the general area of the stairs and the main bedroom upstairs. The quieter knocking Margaret responds to at 8:38 seems to have come from the general area of the two smaller rooms upstairs. (I'm basing these estimates on what I know of the structure of the house from photos and videos I've seen and a floor plan in an older edition of Playfair's book.) At a minimum, the fact that their eyes kept moving upward suggests that the knocking was coming from upstairs. At the time of the filming, they were sitting on a couch in the living room downstairs.

And Janet's eyes don't go up until the final three knocks, the loudest ones, of the initial group of eight. She also stops talking at that point. Apparently, she hadn't noticed the previous, quieter knocking. Neither did Margaret or Lamont, apparently. Start watching at 5:48, where Lamont refers to three knocks, not eight, and Margaret agrees with him that there were three. It's doubtful that they were only saying that there were three knocks in the final set of knocks after the previous two sets. Nobody comments on the knocks until the three loudest ones arrive. In a book Lamont published shortly afterward, he refers to the three loudest knocks, but not the others (Is Anybody There? [Great Britain: Mainstream Publishing, 1980], 27). More recently, Lamont referred to how there "suddenly" were three knocks. So, it seems that Janet, Margaret, and Lamont didn't hear the previous knocking. Why would somebody faking the knocking make the initial five knocks so quiet that they could so easily be missed?

Given all of these characteristics of the knocking, it's very unlikely that the knocks were just normal noises that a house would make. Why would normal noises occur in patterns of two and three, like what the poltergeist was thought to produce, move around the house rapidly as the initial set of knocks apparently did, have a sound unusual enough that the people who were present didn't think it was a normal noise, and just happen to occur around the same time that the poltergeist's alleged voice was manifesting itself? Natural house noises offer a poor explanation for the knocking, so it seems likely that the knocks were either poltergeist phenomena or the faking of such phenomena.

If the knocking in Lamont's video was faked, it had to have been some highly skilled faking. It goes in the patterns of two and three that the poltergeist often followed, and it seems to have different volumes at different times, as if it was coming from different parts of the house. It wasn't accompanied by any creaking on the floors upstairs, which would normally accompany any upstairs movement. And it was initially so quiet that the girls and Lamont didn't notice it. If somebody faked the knocking, it was faking of a really high quality.

But that doesn't sit well with how skeptics have been interpreting Lamont's video. Typically, they claim that the girls were so incompetent that their smiling, laughing, and such were a reflection of the fact that they had been fabricating the whole Enfield case. Janet's "It's not haunted." line is supposed to be a confession of that fabrication, and Margaret's "Shut up!" is supposed to be her incompetent reaction to Janet's confession. So, what we apparently are supposed to believe is that the girls kept smiling, laughing, confessing, etc. in such an incompetent manner, yet kept on talking to Lamont as if the case was authentic during all that time, while one or more accomplices faked the knocking phenomena so skillfully. That doesn't make much sense. I've never seen a skeptic even attempt to explain that sort of mixture of competence and incompetence, with people confessing to fakery while continuing to carry out the fakery around the same time. They also don't explain why Janet supposedly would want to confess in the middle of an interview in which no pressure was being placed on her to confess. The skeptics I've seen discussing this video just isolate the portions of it that they think are most vulnerable to criticism, apply a skeptical interpretation to those portions, ignore other portions of the video that are problematic for their view, and ignore the irrationalities and inconsistencies in their explanation of what's going on.

Something else I want to expand on here is the issue of the girls' demeanor. Read my earlier material on the Lamont video for my initial comments on the subject. What I want to do here is underscore the point that we have good evidence that the girls were smiling, laughing, and such for reasons other than fakery at some points in the video.

Look at Janet laughing at 4:51, for example. She looks off toward the corner of the room, then laughs at somebody or something she sees. We don't know much about the off-camera contexts that gave the girls their on-camera demeanor, but what happens at 4:51 is a good illustration of how something that had nothing to do with faking the Enfield case could cause the girls to smile or laugh. As Lamont notes in his discussion with me quoted above, the girls' behavior is typical of adolescents and people who are uncomfortable with being filmed. That's why we refer to the concept of nervous laughter. People often do something like smile or laugh when they're uncomfortable for some reason.

For another example, look at what happened during the silence from 10:07 to 10:28. How do you expect Janet to react? She's a twelve-year-old girl with little experience of being filmed. There's a camera focused on her, and people are looking at her. She's reacting to a poltergeist voice that she and everybody else involved in the case considered ridiculous (because of the nature of most of what it said, not because they thought it was faked). She and other people involved in the case had been laughing at the voice for months, not just when Lamont's team was filming. In addition to laughing at the voice, they were often fascinated by it, bored by it, annoyed at it, disturbed by it, etc. They had a range of reactions. Their reactions depended on the circumstances, including the nature of what the voice was saying at the time, as Playfair's book often notes. The idea that anybody who smiled or laughed at the voice must have thought it was fraudulent is absurd. So, during the twenty-one seconds of uninterrupted silence from 10:07 to 10:28, Janet had a camera on her, people looking at her, and a voice manifesting through her that was making ridiculous comments at the time. If she occasionally smiles under those circumstances, I don't know how you would go about justifying the conclusion that she must therefore have been faking the entire Enfield case.

The video as a whole shows the girls with different demeanors at different points in time. Focusing on their more frivolous behavior doesn't explain the video as a whole, much less the Enfield case as a whole. They were living through a poltergeist case that had already been going on for about half a year at that point. Part of what the case involved was a poltergeist voice that often made comments of a ridiculous nature. That's the situation Lamont and his team were covering. You shouldn't expect their video to resemble a horror movie.

One of the biggest problems with how skeptics analyze this video seems to be their ignorance of the explanatory options for a poltergeist. Most skeptics I've encountered seem to assume a demonic view of poltergeists or something similar and expect demons or other entities involved to behave as they do in movies or fictional literature. I doubt it's a coincidence that so many of the skeptics who criticize the Lamont video in YouTube threads came there after watching The Conjuring 2. (They often say so in the threads.) The movie portrays the Enfield poltergeist as demonic. If the poltergeist in Lamont's video doesn't behave the way they expect demons or some similar entity to behave, then that allegedly makes the Enfield case suspicious. But what if the poltergeist in the Enfield case is a paranormal manifestation of the subconscious of one or more members of the Hodgson family, which is a common view of poltergeists among people who study the subject? Or what if the poltergeist is a manifestation of a deceased person who has an equivalent of a mental illness, for example (which would help explain its irrationalities and inconsistencies)? These kinds of alternatives to something like a demonic hypothesis seem to be unknown to, or given little consideration by, most skeptics.

And Lamont's video should be evaluated in the larger context of the rest of the evidence we have pertaining to the Enfield case. On the evidence for the voice phenomena (which manifested through Margaret, Billy, and Peggy Hodgson and independently of any person, not just through Janet), see here. On the knocking, see here. On the evidence for the Enfield case in general, see here.


  1. Part of the problem with skeptics not looking at other options besides demons is because many don't believe in anything other than the natural view of the world. Thus a psychic or otherworldly view wouldn't be an option either.

    I always figured that if it was real, and I have no real opinion one way or the other since I'm only vaguely aware of the case, it could still be demonic. Not all demon oppression or possession would need to look like the demoniac that Jesus encountered.

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

  3. Here's an evaluation of the voice and the personality of the poltergeist, written after I finished listening to Grosse and Playfair's Enfield tapes.