Wednesday, November 07, 2018

The Choking Incidents In The Enfield Case

Before I get to the main topic of this post, I want to provide an overview of where I am in my research on the Enfield Poltergeist. I'm a little more than halfway through Maurice Grosse's tapes. The digitization of Guy Playfair's tapes was recently completed, and I should have the digital version soon. Once I finish Grosse's tapes and listen to all of Playfair's, I'll have a lot more to say about the Enfield case. When I'm done with all of the tapes, I intend to write summaries of my findings on some of the issues involved. Since I don't expect to finish listening to the tapes until sometime next year, probably during the first half of the year, I expect most of my Enfield articles about my initial reactions to the tapes to be posted sometime in 2019. It takes a long time to go through the tapes, not only because there are so many hours of audio on them, but also because I'm often replaying sections, taking notes along the way, etc. There's a vast amount of significant material on the tapes, much of which has, as far as I know, never been discussed publicly before. So far, my impression is that the tapes substantially strengthen the argument for the authenticity of the case. It seems highly unlikely that anything in the remainder of the tapes or elsewhere would overturn that conclusion. However, there's also evidence on the tapes of some faking of phenomena by the Hodgson children, material that leads me to disagree with Grosse and Playfair on some issues, etc. I intend to write about topics like those next year as well. On balance, it's extremely probable that the case is authentic, with the tapes adding a lot of weight to that conclusion. However, it's much more difficult to judge some of the details within those general parameters.

Having said all of that, I'll move on to the primary topic of this post. In his book on Enfield, Playfair briefly discusses some incidents in which the poltergeist choked Janet. Those events haven't been discussed much over the years, and they're associated with some other subjects worth discussing, so I want to address them here. I'll quote some of Playfair's comments as an introduction:

Then came quite the most sinister incident to date. The poltergeist had a go at Janet [Hodgson].

She was sitting by the window in the living room when she suddenly clutched her throat and let out a cry. One of the curtains had wrapped itself around her neck and seemed to be trying to strangle her. She looked terrified.

So was [Mrs. Hodgson], and I reassured her that poltergeists did not kill people; they just fooled around. I told her nothing of the rare cases in which inexplicable deaths had occurred…

Shortly after Christmas [of 1977], it happened again. This time there were two witnesses, and Grosse's tape recorder picked up the rapid swish as the curtain, according to [Margaret Hodgson] and Peggy Nottingham, just shot off its wire and whipped around Janet's neck like a lasso. This happened eight times altogether.

Then it was her dressing-gown. 'I seen that with my own eyes,' [Mrs. Hodgson] reported. 'She'd just settled down to go to sleep, and it twisted her body round, and wrapped her round with it.'

A minute later, it happened again with Janet's sheet. [']The top sheet seemed to separate from the blankets,' her mother told us immediately afterwards, 'and wrap itself round her.' Then it was the blanket, then the sheet again. Finally, [Mrs. Hodgson] lost her temper.

'Oh, you bastard, you fucking bastard,' she exclaimed. Then she added at once: 'Oh, my language! Sorry about that, that'll come out on your tape. But there was a cause for it tonight.'

'That's the first time I heard you swear,' said [Margaret].

Even after Janet had gone to sleep, it happened again at least three times. It was this endless repetition of incidents that really wore us all out, though [Mrs. Hodgson] remained defiant.

'I'm going to be up at six in the morning even if I have to lie awake all night,' she said.

(This House Is Haunted [United States: White Crow Books, 2011], 168-69)

When Playfair writes that "This happened eight times altogether", I think he's referring to a particular type of choking, not all of the choking events of every type. The latter total is well into the double digits. Many of the incidents were caught on tape, and some that weren't were described on tape later by eyewitnesses.

These episodes are significant for a lot of reasons, several of which I want to address. I'll be citing some of the tapes I've listened to from Grosse's collection, so that's what you'll see me referencing occasionally in parentheses.

As suggested by some of Playfair's comments, incidents like these chokings reflect a darker side of poltergeists and the paranormal. That darker side doesn't get discussed as much as it should, and it has implications for how we interpret poltergeists and other phenomena.

One view of poltergeists is that they're paranormal manifestations of a living individual or group. In the Enfield case, Janet is usually thought of as the most likely candidate. But these choking incidents, which had Janet as their victim, fit better with a poltergeist that came from a source other than her.

And she wasn't the only person who suffered from these incidents. Her mother and sister often stayed up late at night watching her, to prevent a strangulation. It's a reminder of how miserable something like a poltergeist can be. Not only are the paranormal events often disturbing in themselves, but they also cause other problems, like a loss of sleep. On the night Playfair refers to in which Peggy Hodgson refers to being up until 6 A.M., the children had to return to school in the morning, and Grosse had to work. Lack of sleep was a problem, and it went on for long stretches of time for many months.

But why didn't Janet die during these choking episodes or on other occasions, and why do poltergeists so seldom involve deaths? The poltergeist may not have intended to kill her. The intention may have been to create fear, for example, without going any further. That seems to be how Grosse interpreted the events when he discussed the subject on his tapes. The poltergeist may have been drawing energy or gaining entryway into this world from individuals like Janet or have been using them for some other purpose and, therefore, found those individuals more useful alive than dead. Like a cat who prefers that a mouse he's playing with be kept alive. Or it could be that the poltergeist was going as far as it could, stopping short of killing people only because it had to (along the lines of Job 2:6). The poltergeist voice does sometimes refer to what it's "supposed" to do or "permitted" to do (53A, 19:22; 61A, 51:45).

Shortly before Christmas of 1977, the Hodgsons' pet fish were killed by the poltergeist, though it dubiously claimed that it killed them by accident. The family's other pet, a bird, died on Christmas, and the poltergeist was silent when asked whether it was responsible. Given the proximity of the death of the three pets, the poltergeist's admitted involvement in the death of the first two, and the suspicious timing of the death of the third (Christmas day), it seems likely that the poltergeist deliberately killed all three. There has to be a reason why it killed animals, but not humans, despite being so abusive toward humans and sometimes coming close to killing them.

A lot depends on what a poltergeist is. I should have more to say on the subject next year and beyond. At this point, I think it's likely that the poltergeist in the Enfield case was a deceased human with some sort of mental impairment. If he had the sort of mental problems he seems to have had, that's relevant to the poltergeist's abilities and motivations.

Grosse's assessment that the poltergeist was a "psychic joker" has some truth to it. Watch the opening of Stewart Lamont's television program on the Enfield case, for example, to see some footage of the poltergeist acting that way. In that video, Margaret comments on how there are ten sensible voices produced by the poltergeist, whereas the rest of the voices are rubbish. Actually, none of the ten are credible personas. In that sense, they're all rubbish. There's a paranormal entity behind the voice, but he probably isn't any of the large number of individuals he claimed to be. In addition to joking, he enjoyed playing games involving paranormal phenomena. In a famous recording from November 5, 1977, Grosse asked the poltergeist "Are you having a game with me?", and it responded by throwing a box across the room at Grosse's head. You can listen to that portion of the tape here. (The accompanying video is a reenactment, not a video of the event.) The poltergeist sometimes refers to "goose chasing" in reference to hiding an object and having Grosse look for it. Watch this part of Lamont's television program to see the voice saying "Goose chaser's here", apparently in reference to Grosse. The poltergeist also refers to Grosse as "goose chaser" on the audio tapes (52B, 45:14, 48:01). David Robertson told me that the poltergeist would often play those hiding games with him as well. Sometimes the children would see an object dematerialize, which the poltergeist would then rematerialize in a hidden location. He seems to have liked joking and playing games (in addition to often being angry and vulgar), and he seems to have enjoyed lying to people and doing harm to them in other ways.

Some of those characteristics are reflected in a couple of choking incidents that occurred on the night of December 23, 1977. Grosse commented on those events on one of his tapes (53B, 0:24, 11:21). While he's explaining what happened, you can hear the poltergeist voice in the background growling and grunting:

Maurice Grosse: It just wrapped the curtain around Janet's neck again.

Poltergeist Voice: That's good!

Maurice Grosse: It's not good at all. It's a stupid trick. That is not a good trick. That's a bad trick, and…

Poltergeist Voice: I'll kill her.

Maurice Grosse: …I don't want to see it done again. And stop talking silly like that. That's absolute nonsense. You can't, you can't do anything like that [killing people], and stop talking nonsense. Trying to frighten people. I know that's your job….

[later that night]

Maurice Grosse: Janet and the family were asleep in bed, and I just took the tape recorder down - be quiet [talking to the poltergeist] - and I took the tape recorder downstairs, and…

Poltergeist Voice: Boom! Boom! [It's not making a booming noise. It's saying the word "boom" twice.]

Maurice Grosse: …and he…

Poltergeist Voice: Boom! Boom!

Maurice Grosse: …he wrapped the curtains right around Janet's neck, including the wire.

Poltergeist Voice: Boom! Boom!

Maurice Grosse: So, we've taken the curtains down altogether.

Poltergeist Voice: Boom! Boom!

John Burcombe: Mr. Burcombe here.

Poltergeist Voice: Boom! Boom!

John Burcombe: This curtain was wrapped around Janet's neck, and it was tied in a knot.

Janet Hodgson: The mat's [carpet's] come up! The mat!

John Burcombe: As I'm talking to you, the mat has just come up behind me.

Poltergeist Voice: Boom! Boom!

Margaret Hodgson: It's saying "Boom! Boom!"

Poltergeist Voice: Boom! Boom!

Maurice Grosse: Well, it's reverted to stupidity.

John Burcombe: Yeah, completely.

Maurice Grosse: Oh well. Try and go to sleep again, Janet, will you?

Poltergeist Voice: Boom! Boom!

Maurice Grosse: Be careful, Janet, it's very…

Poltergeist Voice: Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!

Maurice Grosse: Oh, shut up!

Poltergeist Voice: You old sod.

The part involving the carpet coming up is significant. The poltergeist would sometimes move the carpeting in the bedroom in a way that Grosse and others who tried were unable to duplicate. Earlier in the night, Grosse had said that the carpet movements (done several times) were "literally…impossible" and "absolutely impossible" for Janet to have done (53A, 37:43). He goes on to describe the "very strange" way in which the carpet will "billow out" and how he can't repeat it. He calls the carpet movements "first class phenomena" and "indisputable" (53A, 50:53). Since there was carpet movement around the time of these choking incidents and the two seem connected, the former adds credibility to the latter.

Grosse, Playfair, and others involved in the case would sometimes lie to the family in order to comfort them, reassure them, prevent them from fearing what might happen next, and so on. They'd lie to the poltergeist at times as well, such as by making threats they wouldn't be able to carry out. In the exchange quoted above, Grosse may be lying when he says "you can't do anything like that [killing people]". But it probably was true that the poltergeist in the Enfield case wouldn't kill anybody, for whatever reason. He had a lot of opportunity to do so, if he could and if he wanted to. The number of choking incidents alone was at least in the double digits.

Why did the poltergeist seem so excited about the choking episodes on the night of December 23? Maybe partly because using the curtains to choke Janet was something he gradually learned how to do over time. He had successfully done something he had only recently learned how to do. I'll probably be saying more next year about how the poltergeist seemed to learn things over time and what that learning suggests about the nature of the poltergeist.

Events involving curtains became prominent earlier in December. On December 16, Peggy Hodgson saw a curtain in a bedroom upstairs moving on its own while the children were downstairs with David Robertson. He interviewed her about it that day, shortly after it occurred (48B). On December 21, another curtain incident was caught on tape, with Peggy and Margaret describing how they saw the curtain move without Janet touching it (52Aii, 2:21). In a January 4, 1978 interview, John Burcombe relates some paranormal events that have been occurring in neighbors' homes, and he refers to one home that had an incident involving the moving of curtains (57A, 6:28).

A noteworthy event in this context is one attested by Enfield's foremost critic, Anita Gregory. In a generally highly negative account of her visit to the Hodgson home on December 20, 1977, she wrote, "The only thing I did manage to catch out of the corner of my eye was a moving curtain, but Janet's hand was lying nearby, though it appeared placid." (page 166 of Gregory's doctoral thesis) When as negative a critic as Gregory acknowledges that Janet's hand "appeared placid", you have to take the event seriously.

We have good evidence that paranormal activity was going on with curtains in the context surrounding the choking incidents. Since the poltergeist was showing interest in curtains, that context adds credibility to the reports of choking involving curtains.

I should clarify, though, that not all of the chokings involved curtains as the instrument. Some involved bed covers, a plastic bag, or one of the posters hanging on the bedroom walls, for example.

Some of the incidents occurred off-tape, but many of the events were recorded. As Playfair notes above, you can sometimes hear the swishing or other noises associated with the movement of the object used to do the choking. Janet can often be heard whimpering, gagging, breathing heavily after the object is removed from her neck, and so forth. The fear, anger, frustration, weariness, and such of Peggy, Margaret, and others involved seem evident. How likely is it that they were putting on an act? My impression is that it's very unlikely that all of these people would have been so good at so many different types of acting simultaneously. I should have more to say about the acting issue next year.

And aside from the acting issue, people like Peggy, Burcombe, Grosse, and Robertson are highly credible witnesses in general. Though Margaret is often lumped together with Janet as somebody who faked alleged paranormal events and even faked the entire case, the tapes I've listened to so far suggest that she's significantly more credible than she's typically made out to be. I'll probably have more to say about her credibility next year.

Some of the curtain movements and choking incidents were seen in part or in whole by witnesses like the ones I've mentioned above. Margaret saw a curtain disappear (48A, 56:24). Just afterward, it reappeared and flew up and hit Robertson in the face (48A, 57:29). Peggy saw a curtain move off the wire holding it up (48B). Peggy and Margaret saw a curtain move next to Janet's bed without her touching it (52Aii, 2:21). Peggy and Margaret saw Janet trying to get away from a curtain, which then wrapped around Janet's neck (53A, 33:40). Peggy saw a curtain in the living room wrap itself around Janet's neck (55B, 6:41). Margaret saw a curtain that was out of Janet's reach fly over to Janet and choke her (57A, 32:22). After the curtains were removed from the room, something else, apparently a poster from the side of the room opposite of Janet, went over to her and wrapped around her neck. Peggy and Margaret saw it happen (57A, 33:57). Peggy then saw Janet twisted around in her bed, with a sheet wrapped around her neck in the process (57A, 36:59). Shortly after, Peggy and Margaret see a plastic bag that was on the floor quickly fly up and wrap around Janet's neck (57A, 42:25). One characteristic that often distinguished poltergeist activity from human efforts to duplicate that activity was the greater speed with which the poltergeist acted. Just after the incident with the plastic bag, Peggy comments on the impressiveness of "the way that went, the quickness of it" (57A, 44:12). Peggy and Margaret would sometimes see Janet's bed covers moving in preparation for a choking, such as when a sheet would separate itself from the surrounding blankets (57A, 51:12). Grosse seems to have been in the room during one of the chokings (57B, 3:51). On another occasion, Peggy and Margaret saw a curtain go around Janet's neck while she was laying on her back, a position that would make faking such an incident difficult (61B, 18:52). Margaret comments on the force with which the objects used to choke Janet were held around her neck, which also would be hard to fake (61B, 23:59). On one occasion, Peggy saw a pillow case move off of Janet's pillow, then wrap around Janet's neck (61B, 24:08).

Given the tendency of people to watch Janet more closely when they thought there was potential for strangling, these kinds of incidents are poor candidates for faking accordingly. If you're going to fake something, don't choose a type of event that would motivate people to observe you so much during the time when you want to do the faking. That kind of observation wouldn't just interfere with the faking of choking incidents, but also would interfere with faking in general.

When I've discussed the Enfield case, I've sometimes referred to the difficult circumstances in which the Hodgson family was living. The lights would be kept on at night, the family and others involved would lose a lot of sleep, etc. In the context of these choking incidents, Peggy comments on another factor along those lines, that she had spent months going to bed with her daytime clothes on instead of changing into more comfortable clothing (61B, 21:18). Apparently, the poltergeist's activities would get her out of bed and keep her moving around the house during so much of the night that she thought she'd be better off keeping her daytime clothes on. If the family was faking the poltergeist, you'd think that circumstances like the ones I've just described would have provided a major incentive to put a stop to the faking sooner rather than later.

Something else that should be mentioned about these choking incidents is how people commented on sensing some kind of presence in the house around the time when the choking events occurred. On one tape, there's a discussion among a few people about sensing a presence in the house. Apparently, Peggy Hodgson, John Burcombe, and Peggy Nottingham all sensed it (57B, 56:06). Burcombe refers to it as "a horrible feeling" (57B, 56:16). Peggy Hodgson refers to how she had a sense of somebody following her as she walked to the bathroom downstairs. Shortly after one of the chokings, Peter Hallson, an investigator affiliated with the Society for Psychical Research, commented that he sensed a presence in the bedroom, which he couldn't explain (61B, 24:15). It should be noted that people haven't often made such comments in the dozens of tapes I've listened to so far. It's significant that so many people, sometimes independently, commented on sensing a presence around the time of these chokings.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks again for all your fine work here, Jason. I can hardly wait until next year to hear what you make of the poltergeist's nature. But patience... :)

    Medically speaking, it does sound like it was likely the poltergeist choking. There does seem to be (indirect) evidence of cerebral hypoxia and hypoperfusion, for example.

    I think the other main alternative it could be is one kind of choking game or related strangulation activity. But that doesn't seem as clear to me judging by the account in the post. For one thing, people who knowingly engage in choking games or strangulation activities typically aren't fearful afterwards, but in fact euphoric since that's normally one of their aims in engaging in a choking game.