Tuesday, March 03, 2020

The Quality Of The Initial Enfield Investigation

Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair have often been criticized for how they went about investigating the Enfield case. You can find a lot of examples in my previous articles, like this one on Anita Gregory and this one on Joe Nickell. I've mentioned some of my own disagreements with Grosse and Playfair, though I have a generally positive view of how they handled the case. They acknowledged that they made some mistakes. Nobody would be one of the lead investigators of such a large and complicated case without getting some things wrong. The quality of their work is often underestimated, though, largely because so many of the relevant details haven't been publicized much. What I want to focus on in this post is the evidence we can gather on this subject from Grosse and Playfair's tapes. I'll use "MG" to designate Grosse's tapes and "GP" to refer to Playfair's, which means that MG99B refers to Grosse's tape 99B, and GP51B refers to Playfair's tape 51B, for example.

Think of the significance of how I just concluded the paragraph above. The fact that we have so many audio recordings related to the original investigation of the case, including recordings of so many allegedly paranormal events, is a testament to the quality of the investigators' work. And I had to distinguish between the tapes and other sources above because there's such a large amount of material outside of the tapes as well. The amount of tapes, signed witness statements, notes, transcripts, and other documentation Grosse and Playfair produced is highly impressive and, in some ways, unprecedented.

I can't be exhaustive, but here are several examples of the quality of their work from the tapes:

- Grosse would often tell the children, in vague terms, about various abilities and instruments he had that would be able to detect fraud. His background as a successful inventor would have made the claims more believable. It's hard to tell to just what extent he was believed by the children, and he sometimes made the comments in a manner suggesting that he was joking. But I suspect he succeeded in planting seeds in their minds, getting them to be more aware of the possibility that they were being monitored more than they knew. Unsurprisingly, the oldest child, Margaret, seems to be the one least convinced by these comments Grosse made. But Janet seems concerned and hesitant about the claims to some degree, and Billy, who was only 7 years old when the case began, may have believed at least some of what Grosse said. He tells the girls, and apparently the poltergeist voice manifesting through them at the time, that he has a "special thing" that he'll use on them if they don't behave (MG64A, 39:28). He refers to a "special ray" that he has. It sounds like he's opening and shutting something to make a snapping noise and is shining some sort of light into the room from behind the door. The children laugh and try to guess at what he's using, but he and Peggy tell them they're wrong. Peggy warns Janet that Grosse has a "special device" (42:34). He comments that his device is for "putting little girls out of action" (42:57)! That apparently got the wheels turning in Janet's mind, because she's almost entirely silent for the next half-minute, then she says, somewhat angrily and somewhat suspiciously, "Why would you say it's for putting little girls out of action?" (43:28) Grosse doesn't respond. Janet goes on to make references to Grosse "spying" on them, and she seems concerned about it. Grosse tells the girls he can see them from outside the room, even from miles away, and always knows what they're doing (MG64B, 4:08). He can see through walls (MG87B, 14:54). Peggy warns Janet that "they" (presumably the investigators) can see through the door (GP98A, 37:34). Grosse refers to a "magic camera" he's set up that will "catch out" the poltergeist if it's not careful (GP80A, 16:06). I don't know how convincing these claims were to the children. Grosse often comes across as joking in these contexts. And there are occasional references to how the investigators and others involved would sometimes try to be humorous to improve the mood of the family and others involved in the case (GP33Ai, 11:02; MG98A, 6:40; Guy Playfair, This House Is Haunted [United States: White Crow Books, 2011], 100). I'd be surprised if Margaret believed any of it, but Janet at least seems to take some of it seriously. If nothing else, these comments by Grosse and Peggy have value in that they made the children more aware of the interest people had in monitoring their activities, and they probably were more hesitant to do things like faking paranormal events as a result.

- The notion that the investigators could see through doors has some truth to it. Early in the case, Janet referred to Grosse's ability to see inside the main bedroom through the keyhole (MG6A, 18:58). She later saw a camera set up in another one of the bedrooms by looking through the keyhole to see inside the room, which had its door shut and locked at the time (pages 232-33 in Playfair's book). So, the children knew from early on, probably from the start of the case, that they could be monitored by means of looking through keyholes. Peggy Nottingham refers to an occasion when she looked through a keyhole to try to observe some paranormal events supposedly going on inside the room (MG6B, 5:09). During one of his first visits to the house, Hugh Pincott comments on how he'd been listening to the poltergeist voice through the keyhole (GP25B, 1:48). Either Pincott was told about using the keyhole before or shortly after arriving at the house or he was able to quickly figure out the potential for using the keyhole on his own. Either way, it seems that there was widespread knowledge that the keyhole could be used for such purposes and that at least a few people did use it. There are occasions when Grosse says that he saw events, even that he saw them clearly or some such thing, at times when he seems to have been out of the room. That happens both in the context of seeing paranormal events (MG39A, 1:52; MG52B, 12:12) and seeing Janet fake something (MG61B, 57:43). During the first of the three incidents just cited, Grosse refers to seeing Janet thrown out of her bed, and he says emphatically, "I saw her go there. I saw her go then. I saw her go." Peggy starts to describe what happened, but Grosse interrupts her and says, "Yes, yeah, I saw her go….I saw her go, yes, quite clearly." So, it seems that he was out of the room enough for him to want to emphasize the fact that he saw the event and for Peggy to have not been aware of how much of it he'd seen. After the second incident cited above, Grosse refers to how he saw what happened "quite clearly", even though you can hear the door closing more than ten seconds earlier. In the last episode cited, after some knocking is heard, Grosse tells Janet he saw her doing it. She denies having done it and asks how he could have seen her doing it. He insists that he saw her do it and comments, "Never mind how I did." His looking through the keyhole seems to be the best explanation of what happened in all three of these contexts.

- The different personalities and backgrounds of Grosse and Playfair went well together and allowed them to take a well-rounded approach to the case that they wouldn't have been capable of alone or with somebody who was of a more similar nature. Grosse was in some ways more of a father figure to the family. He'd often raise his voice with the children and threaten to slap them if they misbehaved (MG26A, 3:36; MG62B, 14:39, 15:20; MG89A, 46:06). Playfair didn't raise his voice as much, and I don't think he ever threatened to slap any of the children. He explained on multiple occasions over the years that he considered himself a guest in the house and wanted to avoid being too demanding on the family. Sometimes the differences between Grosse and Playfair were a result of an agreement they made ahead of time. I doubt they ever told the family early on, if ever, but the difference in the approaches Grosse and Playfair took toward the poltergeist voice was something they had agreed upon at the start. Playfair explained that he and Grosse had agreed that Playfair would approach the voice in a negative way (telling it to go away, that he didn't want to talk to it, etc.), whereas Grosse took a more positive, "friendly" approach (GP39A, 26:19). There is a rare occasion on one of the tapes, though, when Playfair criticizes Grosse for how he's handling the case, and it's in this context of how the poltergeist voice should be addressed. Playfair tells Grosse that he's "encouraging" the poltergeist when he laughs at so much of what it says and warns that the voice can get "out of control" if he talks to it too much (GP23A, 15:38, 17:39).

- I referred to how Grosse refused to tell Janet how he saw what she was doing inside the room when he was outside with the door closed. He and Playfair frequently used ambiguity to their advantage like that. Grosse tells the poltergeist voice that he can make it stop talking if he wants to, but refuses to explain how when asked (MG53A, 5:02). In the context of discussing some activities Margaret was involved in while apparently asleep or in some other altered state of consciousness, Playfair refers to how he's done something to make sure it won't happen again (GP33Ai, 5:28). He says that he won't tell her what it is that he's done.

- They often gave the family incentives to stop faking the case if they were faking it. On one of the tapes, Playfair comments on how he's played tricks on the children and will tell them about those tricks after the case is over (GP34A, 18:32). Margaret says that David Robertson has played some tricks on them as well. Later in the conversation, after Janet comes into the room and joins the discussion, Playfair tells her about how he and Grosse have played tricks on the children and will tell them about the tricks after the poltergeist is gone (25:38). He goes on to say that there's "all kinds of things" they'll tell the children once the case has ended (25:56). Janet initially says, "Please tell me!" (25:44), then, predictably, "That's not fair!" (26:09) It's evident that she wanted the information Playfair and Grosse were withholding, which gave her a reason to want the case to end sooner rather than later. In a conversation with Hans Bender, who was an expert on poltergeists, Playfair commented that they've told the girls that there are many appealing things they'll be able to do once the poltergeist has gone away. He and Grosse will take the girls to visit London, they'll take them to visit John Hasted (a scientist at Birkbeck College who studied children with paranormal abilities), etc. (GP39B, 23:18) He's told them "a hundred times" that they'll be more of a focus of attention once the poltergeist stops (25:30). Bender expresses agreement that what Playfair and Grosse are doing is the best way to handle the situation. It gives the children reason to want the case to end. They also used negative motivation. For example, Janet hated being taken away from home and put in another home where she stayed for a while (apparently a nuns' home). Playfair goes as far as to say that she was "terrified" of having to go back there. Grosse and Playfair told her that she'll have to go back if the poltergeist continues (GP39B, 20:36). But it kept going on. So, she and the other children were given a lot of reasons, both positive and negative, to end the poltergeist if they were capable of ending it.

- Playfair refers to how he'd bugged the family a couple of times (GP39B, 21:37). He left his tape recorder running while he was out of the house. He refers to how he told them that the recorder was broken and that he's "quite certain" they were unaware of being recorded. I discussed one of those incidents in a previous post. He explains that on those tapes "there's not one indication that they were cheating at all". To the contrary, as I explained in the previous post just linked, there are multiple indications that they were sincere about the poltergeist.

- Critics like Anita Gregory and Joe Nickell claimed that Playfair was highly gullible. Gregory absurdly referred to his "general credulity at all times", and Nickell went as far as to refer to Playfair as "one of the most credulous people, maybe, in the history of the paranormal…he loses pretty much all credibility…a very gullible man". It's ironic how many mistakes Gregory and Nickell made in the process of criticizing Playfair's work. You can read my responses here and here. The tapes, like the other evidence I'm familiar with pertaining to the case, suggest that though Playfair made some mistakes, he was far more reasonable than people like Gregory and Nickell have claimed. On one occasion, though there was evidence that a slipper had recently gone through a wall, Playfair wanted everybody to keep an eye on the slippers to "be sure this time" if they went through a wall again (GP9B, 6:13). During a knocking episode, with multiple adult witnesses in the room who were watching the children to make sure they weren't faking the knocks, Grosse assures Playfair, who had been out of the room during the knocking, "We've watched them [the children] all the time." (MG12B, 25:28) He responds, "Yeah, but I haven't." He wanted to see it for himself. Elsewhere, he comments that he wants to have more experiences himself, instead of being so dependent on the testimony of other people, to be "101% sure" about the authenticity of the case (GP47B, 9:28). When talking to Janet and Margaret about one of their shared dream experiences, he asks them how they know they had the same dream (GP20A, 9:30). He's not satisfied with their responses and comments that what they're telling him doesn't make sense. On another occasion, he questions Peggy Hodgson about the contents of one of his tapes, since he found the behavior recorded on it hard to understand (GP33Ai, 2:36). He was critical of her response and asked for further details. He would often review his tapes, and he'd ask the witnesses questions about the contents, change his conclusions in accordance with being corrected by something on a tape (e.g., page 122 in his book), etc.

- Grosse had Peggy Hodgson regularly take notes on poltergeist events that happened when the investigators were away, and Playfair encouraged Margaret to do the same (GP26B, 24:52).

- While talking to some guests visiting the house, Playfair refers to a marked piece of wood that's been hidden, so that they can have good evidence that the poltergeist moved it if they find that the piece of wood has been moved (GP11B, 12:20). He goes on to refer to other such "tricks" they've set up. I can't tell where the piece of wood was hidden. They're upstairs at the time, but there's not much further indication of where they are or where the wood was hidden. It sounds like Playfair pulls a drawer out, but it could be something that only sounded like a drawer. The person he's talking to seems convinced that the children wouldn't find the wood, so it seems to have been well hidden. They go on to talk about the stairs just afterward, and it sounds like Playfair walks a small distance in that context, so I suspect they were in the main bedroom, close to the door, with the steps just outside the door. Janet seems surprised when Playfair tells her about the tricks he and Grosse had set up in a conversation a few months later (discussed elsewhere in this post), and it would have been counterproductive to have told the children they'd hidden any items, so I doubt that the children knew there was anything hidden to look for. Even if they'd found the piece of wood, I doubt they'd have had much interest in it or have figured out what it was for.

- Grosse and Playfair would often interview witnesses independently, then compare their testimony, so that one wouldn't influence the other, and they'd be able to more easily notice any inconsistencies (MG65A, 9:55).

- They made a lot of effort to photograph the poltergeist in action, and they were sometimes successful. I've discussed photographic issues in previous posts, like here, here, and here. They contacted video recording companies and tried to persuade them to come to the house to make an effort at filming the poltergeist, they set up a remote-controlled camera in the bedroom where the children were sleeping, they made various efforts to keep the children from knowing they were being filmed on some occasions, etc. One approach I haven't mentioned before is that Grosse would sometimes try to take photographs when the poltergeist wouldn't be expecting it. On one occasion, he acted as if he was walking out of the room, but suddenly took a picture with his arm that was remaining in the room while the rest of his body was out (MG28A, 48:25). After he did it, Peggy said enthusiastically, "Oh, that's a good idea! I think you might have gotten it!", so it seems that he handled it well. Grosse did get some good photographs during the case, but I haven't seen many of his photos, nor do I know how this particular one turned out. (I think the Society for Psychical Research has his photos in their archives at Cambridge University.) But however well or poorly photos like this one turned out, a lot of effort was put into getting photographic evidence.

- An aspect of the investigation that hasn't been discussed enough is how extensively Grosse and Playfair attempted to get the entire family examined by doctors and psychiatrists. There are many references on the tapes to such examinations that occurred or were attempted (MG84A, 8:35, GP53A, 8:03; GP54B, 19:14; page 247 in Playfair's book). There's often discussion of how Janet was examined in depth, for both her physical and her mental health, at the Maudsley Hospital, but Playfair mentions on one of the tapes that he tried to get at least one of the other children examined there as well (GP39A, 36:44). There was a requirement that the Hodgsons' local doctor had to approve it, and they couldn't get the doctor to do so. Playfair comments, on the tape just cited, "I spent about three days, all day, trying to arrange for the children to go to the Maudsley Hospital to be seen by Dr. Peter Fenwick, who is a psychiatrist who told me that he was very interested in this case, and he would like to help. But because of the bureaucracy we have here, the local doctor has to give permission, and the local doctor would not give permission, because the local psychiatrist decided that all this was a complete imagination and would not give permission for the girls to go to the Maudsley. Now, this man ought to be in prison, in my opinion, and he ought to be struck off the register as a danger to the public. But I can certainly say that there's nothing that I could have done that I didn't try and do. Finally, we have succeeded in finding a local doctor, psychiatrist, who is now examining the whole family, because it so happens that the brother of the mother [John Burcombe], he works in a hospital, and he's arranged this himself."

In conclusion, something should be said that goes beyond the contents of Grosse and Playfair's tapes. One way to measure the quality of their work is by the responses of their critics or, often, the lack of response. For all that Anita Gregory, John Beloff, Joe Nickell, and other critics have said about Enfield for almost half a century now, they've had tellingly little, frequently nothing, to say about the documentation offered for the most significant events. That's a tribute to the quality of Grosse and Playfair's work, and it comes from their enemies.

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