Thursday, April 02, 2020

How Much Of The Enfield Case Was Faked?

I've argued at length for the authenticity of the Enfield case, such as in a recent post about the credibility of the witnesses. But how much of the case was inauthentic?

I'll be making a lot of references to Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's Enfield tapes below, and I'll use "MG" to designate Grosse's tapes and "GP" to designate Playfair's. MG79A refers to Grosse's tape 79A, GP2B refers to Playfair's tape 2B, etc.

I don't know of any significant evidence that anybody other than the Hodgson children was involved in fraud. That's important, given the large number of other people involved in the case. You occasionally come across skeptics of a more ignorant variety who claim, without justification, that other individuals faked events. But, in my experience, those are skeptics who take that sort of approach toward the paranormal in general. They speculate that all sorts of witnesses in all sorts of contexts are lying for money or faking things in an attempt to get attention, for example. But that sort of approach toward the paranormal is more of an assertion than an argument. It's a highly unlikely hypothetical that I've never seen anybody substantiate. (For a discussion of why such hypotheticals should be considered highly unlikely, see my earlier post on the credibility of the Enfield witnesses.) More knowledgeable skeptics limit their accusations of fraud to a small percentage of the witnesses, namely the Hodgson children. See the opening paragraph of the post here for documentation that skeptics who are more knowledgeable argue that way.

No less a critic of Enfield than Anita Gregory made the point in her doctoral thesis that she didn't want to be accused of claiming that an entire paranormal case is falsified if any event within it is discovered to have been faked. I noticed multiple places in her thesis where she made the point. She acknowledges that it would be "crude and simplistic" to think that "any play-acting by the children" proves that nothing paranormal occurred in the entire case (189-90). In a 1982 article included as supplemental material in her thesis (section G), she writes:

"The point I wish to make here is not that in my view a proven example of cheating by the subject disqualifies a case from serious parapsychological consideration. On the contrary, I firmly believe that the traditional SPR [Society for Psychical Research] methodological stance 'once a fraud always a fraud' is gravely mistaken, quite apart from being logically invalid." (Parapsychological Review, vol. 13, September-October 1982, "Investigating Macro-Physical Phenomena", 14)

During a discussion of the Enfield case at a March 29, 1978 SPR symposium, Grosse commented:

"The things that matter are the real things that happen. And these real things have happened [in the Enfield case]. If you have a case with a thousand episodes, and nine hundred and ninety-nine of them are frauds, if one of them is real, that is a real case." (MG83B, 28:04)

Playfair expressed the same sentiment in a discussion in early April of that year with Hans Bender, one of the leading poltergeist researchers in the world at the time (GP39A, 27:17). And Bender agreed with Playfair's comments.

Many analogies could be cited to illustrate how the reasoning of Gregory, Grosse, Playfair, and Bender is widely accepted in other contexts. If a child is caught cheating on a test in school, we don't use that cheating by that student to dismiss all of the results of every test he's ever taken, much less to dismiss the results of every test of every student in the school. If an athlete is caught cheating on some occasion, we don't conclude that he must therefore have never exhibited any genuine athletic skill on any other occasion, much less do we conclude that all of his teammates and every other athlete in the league must be cheating on all occasions. And so on. If what we're trying to find is paranormal activity, then, as Grosse says, all it takes is one instance of it to make a case a paranormal one. The presence of inauthentic events doesn't prove the absence of authentic ones.

I've seen a lot of estimates of how often poltergeist cases involve fraud, but those estimates have varied widely. Charles Moses, who was at the time working with the Southern California Society for Psychical Research, referred to fraud being widespread in "most" poltergeist cases (MG69B, 14:18). In her doctoral thesis, Anita Gregory cites Alan Gauld's finding that "in only 41 out of 500 cases of poltergeist reports was fraud shown" (5). William Roll and Michael Persinger cite studies showing anywhere from 12% to 26% of cases involving fraud (James Houran and Rense Lange, edd., Hauntings And Poltergeists [Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2001], approximate Kindle location 4385).

Before I go further in discussing issues related to fraud, some points ought to be made about the unusual nature of the Enfield case. It was unusually long. (Or is unusually long, if the phenomena are ongoing.) Paranormal activity was reported for more than a quarter of a century. Even if we limit our consideration to the time when the poltergeist was at the height of its activities, say roughly during the two years from August of 1977 to August of 1979, that's still far longer than a poltergeist typically lasts. That factor alone can make it misleading to compare Enfield to other poltergeist cases, whether in terms of fraud or in other contexts. And the home was a single-parent one, with four children and frequent visitors, which resulted in an unusually large amount of observation of the children's behavior. The two lead investigators, Grosse and Playfair, spent months trying to calm the family down, telling them that the entity behind the poltergeist didn't intend them much harm and trying to raise their spirits in other ways. Human nature is resilient. People can get accustomed over time to something that was initially highly difficult to live with, even something as unusual and disturbing as a poltergeist. You eventually get used to it and adapt to it to some extent. Under circumstances like the ones I've just summarized, it would be surprising if there weren't some degree of behavior by the Hodgson children that could be considered fraudulent in some sense.

The youngest child, Billy, who was only seven years old when the case started, frequently imitated what he saw or heard in non-paranormal contexts (what he saw on television, what he heard one of his siblings say, etc.). Unsurprisingly, he also imitated paranormal events at times (e.g., imitating the poltergeist voice).

Janet was easily excitable and often found humor in situations, even when other people didn't. As you'd expect, she did sometimes joke around in paranormal contexts. On one occasion, Grosse was in the kitchen talking to the poltergeist voice, trying to get it to do something paranormal. Janet was in the living room with her mother. You hear a pounding sound, then you hear Janet's mother scolding her, "Don't do that!" (MG63B, 26:09) Apparently, Janet had done the pounding, because she thought it was humorous to yank Grosse's chain that way. She did it in front of her mother, apparently without making much or any effort to hide it. It comes across as a joke, without any intent to deceive Grosse beyond the initial moment of the joke. There are other occasions when you can hear Grosse telling Janet to "stop playing the fool", and her mother and sister sometimes criticize her for joking around. In another context, Margaret makes a comment about something disappearing (it sounds like she refers to her tea disappearing), and she laughs, and her mother tells her to not do that, so it seems that Margaret was joking (MG75A, 15:39). Again, it would be surprising if that sort of thing hadn't happened at all during a case that lasted for years in a home with four children.

Some of what occurred in these contexts was of a more ambiguous nature. Playfair discusses an example in his book. He found that a tape recorder he'd left upstairs had been moved after Janet went upstairs for a while. It only took him about half a minute to find the recorder. She hadn't hidden it well:

"Janet's expression gave the game away at once, though I said nothing about the incident. Later that day, Grosse gave her a very good talking-to, after which she spent a good hour in the bathroom having a sulk. We never mentioned it again, and I do not think she played any more such tricks. The fact that I had spotted the trick at once encouraged me to think I would have spotted earlier tricks, had there been any, and the fact that Janet confessed without much prompting suggested that she was not a natural liar." (This House Is Haunted [United States: White Crow Books, 2011], 184)

I suspect Janet was joking on that occasion rather than doing something that was intended as a deception. But it's not as obvious that she was joking as it was on other occasions. In another context, Grosse saw Janet moving a pillow and suspected that she was about to fake an incident in which the poltergeist supposedly moved the pillow. But Janet responded that she was pushing the pillow back down after the poltergeist lifted it up (MG53A, 53:12). Grosse dropped the discussion at that point, probably because he didn't have enough evidence to determine what actually happened. I don't see any way to determine what really occurred from what's on the tape. Playfair mentioned another ambiguous incident involving Billy (GP34A, 49:14). Playfair was in one of the bedrooms with a visitor. They heard a knock on the bedroom door, and Playfair suspected that Billy did it. He walked into one of the other bedrooms and found Billy there, with a guilty expression on his face. Was he just joking, or did he have an intention to deceive?

These three categories I've just discussed – imitation, joking, and ambiguous events – raise the issue of how we should define fraud. And there are other complicating factors.

If the voice phenomena or some portion of them are alleged to have been produced by one or more of the children by normal means, for example, how do we arrive at a number or percentage when calculating how much fraud was involved? If a five-minute conversation involving the voice is thought to have been faked, do you count the conversation as a whole as one faked incident? Where do you draw the line as to where one conversation ends and another begins? Or do you count each sentence as a separate incident? Or each word? What if somebody rejects the voice phenomena as a whole as fake? Even if he were to accept every other type of phenomena as genuine, the rejection of the voice incidents alone would substantially drive up the percentage of events he's rejecting. So, a person could believe in the authenticity of the vast majority of types of events in the case, yet arrive at a high percentage of events that he rejects just because he rejects one type of event (the voice).

Another issue to consider here is how we would go about determining the total number of events. Janet reported ongoing paranormal activity at the house after she and her sister moved out, until the time of their mother's death in 2003. But I don't know of any way, from information that's publicly available, to determine the number of events in that timeframe.

At the 1978 SPR symposium mentioned earlier, there was an exchange Grosse and Playfair had with Tony Cornell. It illustrates some of the difficulties involved in coming up with numbers and evaluating each event, with regard to fraud or in other contexts. (It also illustrates the unreasonableness of what some critics have expected Grosse and Playfair to have done.) Cornell kept asking for numbers regarding how many events were witnessed by Grosse, how many were witnessed by more than one person, etc. Playfair responded:

"There have been times on this case when the things have been happening faster than we can write them down. You know, we're only human, you know. I mean, when you've got about four things happening in thirty seconds, what the hell are you supposed to do, you know? Will you tell me? Get up and tell me, you know? What do you do?" (MG83B, 35:28)

Playfair and Grosse acknowledged the difficulties involved in defining and calculating fraud. Playfair remarked, at another point in the symposium:

"Short of repeating myself over and over again, ad nauseum, yes, we have considered the question of fraud. It is very, very complicated. It's not as simple as you allege that Bill Roll describes. He didn't quite say that. And, really, could we talk about something else?" (25:05)

Later, Grosse commented:

"To the question of whether there's fraud or not, we know that, children being children, they have from time to time tried to impress the guests. We know that very well. They've tried to impress both of us. It isn't a question of trying to whitewash anything. I must point out in this case, that we have been there over one thousand man-hours, and we've seen everything happen, from what you call fraud, and I don't call fraud, down to the absolute genuine happenings, episodes, that cannot be called into question at all unless somebody's prepared to stand up and call us either fools or liars. Now, if there is a certain amount of fraud, I can't, that you call fraud, I can't see that it really matters. The things that matter are the real things that happen." (27:23)

I suspect those terminological issues, concerning how to define fraud, along with the largeness of the case and other factors, led Grosse and Playfair to provide different estimates of the amount of inauthentic events involved in the case at different points in time. I'll start with the most problematic comments they made, or are alleged to have made, on the subject.

Playfair often referred to how the children played tricks "once or twice". Janet apparently used the same kind of language at times. In his book, Playfair quotes a 1980 interview with her in which she referred to how she played tricks "a couple of times" (271). He also quotes a 1982 interview in which Janet refers to how tricks were played "once or twice" (271). The actual number is clearly higher than two, for reasons I'll get into later, yet Playfair and Janet kept citing one or two.

I think the best explanation for why they did so is that they were using phrases like "once or twice" or "a couple of times" in the sense of "a small number of times", regardless of whether the number was literally one or two. On one of the tapes, Playfair refers to how two or more of the children have done "a few sort of things here or there" (GP34A, 16:05). He later discusses the faking of spoon bending (18:56), and he comments that he thinks one or both of the girls may have faked "one or two" of the throwing incidents (29:45). He goes on, just afterward, to refer to an occasion when Janet moved his tape recorder. So, he used the phrase "a few" and referred to more than two faked or potentially faked incidents. Yet, in the midst of all of that, he refers to Janet playing "one or two" tricks (25:25, 28:17) and, shortly afterward, he reverts to referring to playing tricks "once or twice" (30:23). Clearly, he didn't intend to say that the number was literally one or two. I recently noticed a similar practice in the letters of Samuel Rutherford. He refers to writing "a line or two" to somebody, yet goes on to write far more than two lines (Letters Of Samuel Rutherford [Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2012], 600). It seems that Rutherford, like Playfair and Janet, referred to one or two of something in the sense of a relatively small number without intending to say that literally one or two were involved.

Go here to see Playfair, Grosse, and Janet discussing the issue of playing tricks in a documentary produced shortly before Grosse's death. Grosse and Janet don't mention any numbers, but Playfair refers to "a few" tricks that were played.

We can't derive a precise number from these comments made by Playfair and Janet, but there was a tendency to use minimizing language. Even if they didn't intend that phrases like "one or two", "a couple", or "a few" be taken literally, there's a lot of potential for the language to be taken that way. They can be faulted for that, and I think they should be. But we should qualify that criticism with the fact that they indicated at times that they weren't using the language literally, and they sometimes acknowledged that a number substantially larger than two or three was involved.

A lot depends, too, on what individuals like Grosse and Playfair are addressing on a given occasion. For example, how many times they caught the children cheating is a different issue than how many times they suspected cheating. At the SPR symposium referred to earlier, they were asked, "In your considered opinion, have you not once encountered a single event where any of the members of this family were attempting in any way to deceive you or to trick you?" (MG83B, 24:06) Playfair said "Yes, we have", then added that it had happened with him once, and Grosse said he'd experienced it three times. But surely they suspected trickery of some sort on more than those four occasions. And a lot depends on how terms like "trick" are being defined and what standard of proof you're using, such as how confident you have to be that cheating occurred before you're willing to classify something as cheating. As I said above, there is a pattern of using minimizing language in these contexts, and I think Grosse and Playfair (and others involved, like Janet on some occasions) deserve to be criticized for that. Later at the same symposium referred to above, Grosse estimates that 1490 of the roughly 1500 incidents that have occurred so far have been genuine (28:18), so, even within the context of this symposium, Grosse was allowing for a range of possibilities as to how much was inauthentic.

At this point, it's useful to quote some of Anita Gregory's comments on fraud. Her comments are relevant to what I just discussed, and they bring up some related issues. In a letter to the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (JSPR) in 1983, Gregory wrote:

As regards the videotape, the question-mark hangs over an earlier tape, presumably the one shown me by Prof. Hasted, on 11 January 1978 according to my diary, showing Janet merrily cheating away and giving not the slightest indication that she was aware of being filmed. On that occasion Prof. Hasted asked me to ferry David Robertson to Enfield, as well as video-equipment….

Now prior to this, on 31 December 1977, at a demonstration of 'psychic painting', Mr. Playfair told me over and over again how he had now, by means of a video camera, caught the girls cheating. He made a very heavy production indeed of this episode (my line being that it didn't take a video camera), and told me, against anguished protests from myself, that he would now insist on Janet permitting herself to be hypnotised: he appeared to be under the impression that this would infallibly uncover the truth. On January 3rd 1978 there was another demonstration of 'spirit painting' at Acacia Hall, West London, and on that occasion Mr. Playfair and Mr. Grosse told me they had caught the girls cheating by video. They repeated these accusations when talking to Mrs. M. Branch, to whom I introduced them. She 'vividly' remembers how proud they both were at their own prowess as detectives and researchers for having caught the girls in trickery by means of video equipment….

As regards 'antics', it cannot be stressed enough that it is only now that Maurice Grosse talks indulgently of 'antics' on the part of the girls. He seems to have forgotten that he did not do so at the time. Indeed, both he and Mr. Playfair took John Beloff and myself severely to task for suggesting that any part of the tragi-comedy acted out at Enfield was antics and play-acting. I certainly repeatedly heard Mr. Grosse solemnly admonishing Janet that if he ever once caught her cheating, he would never come back. It is Mr. Grosse and Mr. Playfair who took it all, absolutely all of it, dead seriously at the time, indignantly repudiating any admixture of pranks. The indulgence of the 'antics' interpretation is sophistication of more recent vintage forced upon Guy and Maurice by, I submit, primarily myself. (vol. 52, 1983-84, pp. 93-94)

There are too many errors in Gregory's comments, quoted above and in the surrounding context, for me to address all of them here. See my previous responses to Gregory here and here for discussion of some of the issues.

As I've mentioned in the two articles just linked, it seems that Grosse and Playfair had some exchanges with Gregory in December of 1977 and January of 1978 that she misinterpreted. I won't repeat everything I said in those previous posts, but I'll summarize some relevant points here.

Playfair couldn't have been trying to get Janet to confess to some cheating by means of hypnosis for the first time in late December of 1977, since he'd already had Ian Fletcher conduct such a hypnosis session on December 8. Playfair was interested in doing another session, but Gregory makes it sound as if he was trying to arrange one for the first time. During the session in early December, Janet had referred to some of the tricks the children had been involved in, and, as we'll see, both Playfair and Grosse were aware of tricks that were played before then.

Let's go back to the earliest months of the case and move forward from there, in chronological order. During an October 3, 1977 discussion with officials affiliated with Janet's school, Grosse commented that though they hadn't yet caught Janet cheating, you "usually" find "a lot" of cheating in poltergeist cases (MG4A, 11:17). He explains that cheating usually occurs "as time goes on", after the initial poltergeist activity, which implies that there would be cheating in the Enfield case eventually, if it follows the usual pattern. That's not the sort of comment you'd expect him to have made if he was as naïve and as surprised by later cheating in the Enfield case as Gregory suggests.

Just two weeks after that meeting with school officials, there's an incident on tape that could be classified as cheating, depending on how you define the term. Shockingly, Janet sometimes enjoyed aggravating her siblings. On the night in question, Billy's bed is moving, and he's upset about it, presumably because he thinks the poltergeist is moving his bed (MG6A, 19:09). Margaret apparently thinks the poltergeist is doing it as well, and she calls for Grosse. He enters the room shortly after and says, "The only thing that's pushing Billy's bed out is Janet. Now, pack it up, Janet, I'm telling you. I'll get very cross with you, Janet, I'm telling you. His bed's not moving at all. Now, get to sleep, both of you. Stop playing the fool." That doesn't sound like somebody who needed Anita Gregory to inform him two months later that the children were sometimes involved in such behavior.

In early November, Grosse recorded some of his impressions of the case so far. He commented that, "I have, once or twice during the investigation, caught both Janet and Billy trying to simulate some of the phenomena, but, when they have done so, it has been more than apparent what they've been up to. I can safely say that over ninety-five percent of the phenomena that has taken place has been quite genuine. If anything, I have been over-cautious and over-careful in my approach, and I'm afraid I have been guilty sometimes of accusing them of doing things which, on reflection, they were certainly not responsible for." (MG14A, 17:46) Notice that he was not only aware of some trickery going on, but even suspected it on some occasions when it apparently hadn't actually occurred. And notice that he allows for nearly five percent of the phenomena to be inauthentic. Again, Grosse's own comments on tape, much earlier than the period during which Gregory alleges he was so naïve, suggest that he wasn't so naïve.

At the SPR symposium in March of 1978 that I referred to earlier, Grosse commented, "In this case, we have a case with fifteen hundred, at least, episodes, and I will stick my chin out and say fourteen hundred and ninety of them were real." (MG83B, 28:18) During an interview in June of 1980, Playfair was asked whether anybody could have been playing tricks during the case. He responded, "Yes, they were [sometimes playing tricks]. I mean, children do. I was expecting it, and I would have been extremely surprised if they hadn't. I should think about 0.1% of the whole list of phenomena were children imitating something which had already happened." (GP43A, 14:25)

So, Grosse and Playfair both said they were expecting some faking to occur going into the case. And Grosse even commented on the subject on tape well before the events in December and January that Gregory refers to.

But Gregory alleged that "Indeed, both he [Grosse] and Mr. Playfair took John Beloff and myself severely to task for suggesting that any part of the tragi-comedy acted out at Enfield was antics and play-acting. I certainly repeatedly heard Mr. Grosse solemnly admonishing Janet that if he ever once caught her cheating, he would never come back. It is Mr. Grosse and Mr. Playfair who took it all, absolutely all of it, dead seriously at the time, indignantly repudiating any admixture of pranks." I suspect Gregory was misinterpreting one or more comments made by Grosse and Playfair, as she often did. Maybe they said something about how nothing was faked in a particular context, such as when Gregory and Beloff visited the house on December 10, and Gregory applied that comment to the case as a whole.

Grosse's remark about never returning to the house again if he ever caught the children cheating is the sort of exaggerated threat that parents and other authority figures have frequently used throughout human history when addressing children. A mother will tell her son that if he keeps making faces at his sister, his face will freeze in place that way. If you keep misbehaving, Santa won't bring you any presents this year. And so on. As I documented in an earlier post, Grosse would sometimes tell the children that he was able to see through walls, that he always knew everything they were doing, that he had a device he could use to "put little girls out of action", etc.

I recall one of the occasions when he threatened to not come back to the house again if he caught the children cheating, since his comment was captured on tape this particular time. He made the comment in early December of 1977, well after he'd caught the children cheating on multiple occasions, as I documented above. It was on the night of December 5, when Hugh Pincott was visiting. Janet asks for the bedroom door to be shut, because she didn't want a draft getting into the room (MG33B, 11:24). That's suspicious. I suspect she was planning to fake something. As we'll see below, one of the reasons why she faked events was to accommodate visitors, because she didn't want them to go away thinking that nothing paranormal had happened when they visited. I suspect she wanted to fake something for Pincott. A few minutes after she asks for the door to be closed, you hear her speaking quietly to Billy, and you can discern that one of the words she uses is "quick" (14:25). That's suspicious. It could be her telling Billy to do something quickly, in order to fake an incident. (If so, that illustrates her incompetence at cheating, since the tape recorder was running.) Shortly after, you hear a banging noise, and it's claimed that a slipper moved. Grosse then enters the room and makes his comment about never coming back again if he catches the children faking anything (15:14). It could be that he and/or Pincott had seen the slipper incident by looking into the room through the keyhole. They knew the event was faked, which is why Grosse made his comment. Or he may have been suspicious, because of all of the commotion and laughter, even though he hadn't seen anything relevant through the keyhole on this occasion. He's dismissive of the slipper incident. He doesn't seem impressed by it, probably because he either knew or suspected it had been faked. At the same time, he didn't want to tell the children about monitoring them by looking through the keyhole, if that's what he'd done. So, instead, he made his threat about not coming back if he ever caught the children cheating. To take that sort of comment as evidence that Grosse thought no cheating had ever occurred up to that point, which is how Gregory seems to have interpreted him, is ridiculous and demonstrably wrong.

The issues related to what was caught on video are difficult to sort out. Some of the relevant comments made by Grosse and others are ambiguous, and some of Gregory's comments on video issues are inaccurate. In a letter to the JSPR shortly before Gregory's letter quoted above, Grosse wrote:

I have not taken issue on the point before, as I did not think it was really possible for anyone to take these antics [of the Hodgson girls, caught on video] 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. (vol. 52, 1983-84, p. 92)

As far as I know, Grosse is correct about what the girls knew in January. And the video Gregory had seen, in which Janet was jumping on a bed and trying to bend some metal by hand, was shown to Gregory that month. If the video was filmed that month, as seems likely, then Gregory apparently was wrong in her claim that Janet was unaware of being filmed. Or if Janet was unaware of being filmed, she should have been aware of it, so that the incident reflects her incompetence. Either way, the incident is problematic for Gregory's view of Enfield. If Janet knew she was being filmed, then no deception was involved. If she didn't know she was being filmed, then her incompetence doesn't sit well with the sort of high quality of deception that would be needed to sustain a fraud hypothesis meant to address the Enfield case as a whole.

However, there's a reason why Grosse is careful to specify the month of January. In late December of 1977, Janet was caught cheating on video on an occasion when she apparently wasn't aware of it. It happened on December 30, and there's some discussion of it on a tape from that day. It's probably the incident Grosse and Playfair talked to Gregory about on December 31 and January 3, referred to by her in her letter to the JSPR quoted above.

Before I get to that December 30 tape, I want to address the competence issue again, this time as it relates to the December 30 incident. There were video cameras in the house as early as September of 1977. When David Robertson started working on the Enfield case in December of that year, he brought a video camera he'd gotten from John Hasted, who sent Robertson to help Grosse and Playfair with the case. You can read some portions of a lengthy discussion I had with Robertson a couple of years ago about Hasted's views on paranormal issues, what Robertson was trying to accomplish in his work on the Enfield case, what happened in the context of filming the Hodgson girls, etc. As Robertson notes there, the camera equipment was so large as to be easily noticed. We're talking here about technology from the 1970s, not some later era. The adults in the house would sometimes tell the children that the equipment was a levitation detector or something else other than a camera, but the children had more than sufficient reason to at least suspect it was a camera from the start. Even if they'd thought it was something else, it was presented to them as something being used to monitor them. So, if Janet was playing around (or faking things, cheating, or however you want to put it) anyway, that suggests some significant incompetence on her part. And that incompetence, as I mentioned above, doesn't go well with any fraud hypothesis that's meant to explain the Enfield case as a whole.

On a December 21 tape, more than a week before the December 30 incident, Grosse made a comment to the poltergeist voice, warning it that he had set up a "magic camera" that would "catch you out" if it wasn't careful (GP80A, 16:00). He made that comment in the presence of the children, and Janet responds by referring to the camera in question as a normal one, denying Grosse's "magic" qualifier. So, they knew there was a video camera in the house long before the events of December 30. The best explanation for the December 30 incident, then, is that Janet was being careless, which has the implications I've mentioned above regarding incompetence.

Only a portion of one tape, MG55A, is from December 30. Near the beginning of the relevant part of the tape, you can hear a conversation between Janet and Peggy. Unfortunately, Janet is talking quietly, so I can't make out much of what she says. Peggy's side of the conversation is clear, though. She comments, "Look, forget about it. Just don't try anything else. Mr. Grosse understands. He knows all children get up to pranks at times. If anybody knows you, he does. He's been coming here enough weeks now." (15:43) The poltergeist voice eventually starts demanding that some equipment that's in the room be removed. David Robertson responds, "That's the machine to detect levitation." (28:57) The voice responds, "Like hell it is." So, the voice was suspicious of the claim that the device was a levitation detector, and I suspect that Janet and Margaret were suspicious of Robertson's claim. (I don't know what Billy thought about the equipment at the time.) There's a discussion between Robertson and the voice regarding a bent spoon that was placed in a drawer. The voice says, "Then Mr. Grosse blamed Janet for putting that spoon in the drawer." (29:48) Robertson responds, "No, it's okay to put in the drawer, but Janet shouldn't touch it." The voice then claims that it, not Janet, put the spoon in the drawer. Later, Robertson tells Janet that she shouldn't cheat. She replies, "I haven't been cheating." (38:19) Robertson then says, "Mr. Grosse says you have. I don't know what to think." (Apparently, the cheating incident had occurred earlier in the day, before Robertson arrived, and he had gotten conflicting reports about what occurred.) Robertson then tells Janet to try to get the poltergeist to do something paranormal. She says, speaking to the poltergeist, "Sling that pillow at the camera." (39:11) So, she was referring to the equipment as a camera, even though Robertson and Grosse kept referring to it as something else. Robertson, after a pause, asks, "What camera?" The voice says, "That stuff over there." By this point, Janet clearly suspects that the device is a camera. It's hard to believe that she didn't at least have a strong suspicion that it was a camera earlier in the day as well. The best explanation for why she cheated in front of the camera is that she was being careless at the time, perhaps mistakenly thinking the camera was turned off for some reason.

The closing minutes of the tape involve a conversation between Robertson and Janet about cheating, and Grosse enters the room and joins the conversation partway through. Janet is talking quietly, and I suspect that Robertson and Grosse have their backs to the tape recorder, so it's hard to hear some parts of the discussion. They may have all been talking quietly because one or more of the other people in the room were asleep. Grosse refers to how he "knows jolly well" that Janet was jumping off the bed rather than levitating earlier in the day, then refers to "bending the spoon". He sounds confident that he caught Janet cheating, and he refers to having seen what Janet was doing on the "chart". It looks like he and Robertson are continuing to claim that the equipment in the room is something other than a camera, even though Janet suspects otherwise. Robertson eventually says, "Unless you tell the truth always, no one's going to know when you're telling the truth and when you're not."

It looks to me like Grosse caught Janet cheating on video, she initially denied that she'd cheated, then she admitted it. The difference between this December video and the January ones Grosse referred to seems to be that Janet and Margaret knew they were being filmed all along in the January context and didn't deny that they were joking around (because they weren't taking the testing seriously).

Carl Sargent reported witnessing a later event involving trickery on the part of the children. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Billy throwing a kitchen brush, apparently in an effort to fake a poltergeist event (MG83B, 26:20; Hans Eysenck and Carl Sargent, Explaining The Unexplained [London, England: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1982], 105-6). In another context, Grosse comments that he saw Billy jump out of bed (MG89A, 46:06). Grosse tells Billy that he's going to get smacked if he doesn't stop it.

For reasons that are unclear to me, Johnny was involved in a lot of faking in the spring of 1979. Peggy took the initiative to bring the subject up (MG95A, 19:22), which reflects well on her honesty. And she sounds sad when she discusses the topic. One of the examples she provides is an occasion when she heard some knocking that she thought sounded suspicious. She eventually caught Johnny knocking on the bottom of a table (26:17). Grosse goes on to add that he'd recently caught Johnny faking something as well (26:38).

On the other hand, Peggy mentions that "we" caught him, and you can hear both girls talking in the background about catching Johnny cheating, so it seems that the girls were helping to catch him. We need to be careful to not lump all of the children together anytime some sort of fraud, joking, or other such behavior occurs. The children have to be judged individually, and we have to allow for variations across time and circumstances for each individual.

I've provided other examples of possible or probable faking on the part of the children in other posts. Those who are interested can go here and here, for example.

About fifteen years ago, Janet was asked in an interview about faking things:

'So why did you do fake stuff?' I ask.

'Well,' she says, her hands cupped on her lap in front of her, 'there was times when things would happen and times when they wouldn't and sometimes, if things didn't happen, you'd feel that somehow you'd failed.'

'So you'd feel obliged to make things up?' I ask. 'Because you didn't want people to be sceptical?'

'Yeah,' she says, 'that's pretty much it. Plus you'd get bored and you'd get frustrated at all the people coming and going. I mean, life wasn't normal. But the incident you were saying about, David Robertson, even at that age I thought, God, what's he on about? You have more respect for people as you grow up, you know, but there's some people you just can't stand.'

'So, you decided to wind him up because you didn't like him?'

'Yeah. He was just sort of…dozy.'…

'How much of the phenomena at Enfield was faked, then?' I say. 'As a percentage?'

'Hmm,' Janet exhales and looks into her lap. Her chin creases with the concentration. 'I'd say two per cent.' (in Will Storr, Will Storr Vs. The Supernatural [New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006], 194-95)

From what I know of the case, Janet's comments seem honest. Her remarks about Robertson are inappropriate, factually and ethically, but I think she was being honest about her view of him. It's important to note that she gives more than one reason for faking things and does that on her own initiative. I suspect that the children's motives were multifaceted. The desire to impress people and not have them go away empty-handed seems to be a good explanation of some of what's on the tapes.

I've already given the example of the slipper incident when Pincott was visiting on December 5 of 1977. Other examples that come to mind are some exchanges Janet had with Lawrence Berger later in that same month (GP79B, 8:28, 15:24). In the portions of the tape just cited, Janet claims to have seen various figures appear in her room while Berger was outside the door, claiming that an angel was on her bed during the second episode, for example. She doesn't sound convincing. It seems likely to me that she was making things up for Berger, whether to impress him, because she felt sorry for him due to the lack of paranormal experiences he'd had at the house, because she was trying to get him to leave her alone, or whatever other reason.

And this raises another point that ought to be made, which Playfair gets into during his discussion with Hans Bender in April of 1978. Playfair notes that Janet isn't well educated and that she's impulsive (GP39A, 7:23). She doesn't describe things well. He goes on to explain that those kinds of characteristics are good in that she doesn't have much of a capacity for fantasy and, therefore, isn't good at faking things. Bender expresses agreement. It does seem that though Janet and her siblings sometimes played tricks, they weren't good at it. Playfair goes on to mention that Janet and Margaret often argued with each other (11:12), a fact that can be substantiated by the tapes. That doesn't go well with the notion that they were working together to fake the entire case.

What percentage should we assign to the faked incidents? How accurate is Janet's estimation of two percent? When I began examining the Enfield case in more depth a few years ago, I estimated that the percentage was likely somewhere in the single digits. I'd still cite that figure if giving a percentage. But I'm now more hesitant to frame the issue in terms of percentages, for reasons like the ones I discussed earlier in this article. It's acceptable to give percentages in some situations, such as if you're trying to address the subject briefly and on short notice and you're responding to somebody who's focused on percentages. But I'll outline what I think is a better approach.

Begin by addressing whether there's at least one event that seems authentic and whether there's at least one that seems inauthentic. Then, you can move on to giving a rough estimate of how many such events occurred. I'd start with a broad range of numbers, such as whether the authentic and inauthentic events are in the single digits, double digits, triple digits, or whatever. Then, as a later step, if there's time for it and you want to do it, you can try to get more specific.

Because of factors like the ones I mentioned earlier, it's much harder to evaluate these numbers as they pertain to the Enfield case if we include the voice phenomena. So, it's useful to begin by excluding the voice.

My sense is that we can be highly confident that the number of authentic non-voice events in the Enfield case was at least well into the triple digits, probably more. And we can be highly confident that there was at least a double-digit number of inauthentic non-voice events. If the inauthentic number is higher than a double digit, I doubt it went any higher than the low triple digits.

When the voice phenomena are added, the situation changes significantly. You can read my article on the voice last year to get some idea of how large and complicated the subject is. Even some people who consider the non-voice phenomena largely authentic dismiss the voice as entirely inauthentic. I've explained why I not only think there's a core of authenticity to the voice, but even that a large percentage of the voice events are authentic, though not all of them. Under my view of the voice, the large majority of the Enfield events are authentic even when the voice is added to the calculation. Those who hold a more negative view of the voice would reach different conclusions depending on factors like the ones I've discussed in this article and elsewhere.

But even if somebody were to evaluate the voice phenomena in such a way that those phenomena amount to a large number of faked events, a point I made earlier should be reiterated. It only takes one paranormal event to make a case genuinely paranormal. Driving up the number (and percentage) of faked events by taking a highly negative view of the voice phenomena isn't enough to demonstrate that Enfield isn't a genuine paranormal case. We could have thousands of fraudulent events from the voice alone (though I think that would be an absurd conclusion), yet still have a case that's authentic.

Something Playfair said from time to time over the years bears repeating here. Even if we thought the Enfield case is entirely fraudulent, it would still be significant and worthy of study because of the high quality of the deception that would have to be involved (GP34A, 34:41; GP98B, 3:01). Whether you think the case is completely inauthentic, entirely authentic, or somewhere between those two ends of the spectrum, it's an important case that deserves a lot of attention, more than it's gotten so far.

Grosse and Playfair did underestimate the amount of fraud in the case at times, and Anita Gregory deserves some credit for pressing them on that issue. But they didn't underestimate the fraud as much as Gregory claimed they did, and their overall view of the case was far more accurate than hers.


  1. I like to think I have quite an extensive knowledge of the Enfield case myself, but now I've discovered your writings on it. Most impressive. I'm curious though as to your background and how this has come to be featured on this site, which as far as I can tell is concerned with religious matters rather than psychical research?

    1. Anthony,

      Thanks for the encouragement! I was familiar with the Enfield case for many years, but didn't start studying it in a lot of depth until 2017. You can go here to see how my work on the case developed from that point onward. I funded the digitizing of the tapes of Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair, which I discussed here and here. I also came across Anita Gregory's doctoral thesis online in 2018, I suspect because it was made available to the public after Playfair's death earlier that year. And I've been in contact with some of the people involved in the original events, which has helped me in sorting through the issues.

      This is a religious blog (Christian and conservative Protestant, specifically), but we discuss a wide variety of topics, including many paranormal issues. These subjects often intersect.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to reply, Jason. I commend your diligent work and I look forward to reading it thoroughly. Perhaps you might consider releasing the material as a book. Speaking of witnesses to the case, I've often wondered whether anyone managed to locate PC Carolyn Heeps and who the male constable was who attended the house with her? As far as I know, he has never been identified or his opinion solicited. It would be interesting to know what PC Heeps' take on her experience is after all these years.

    1. Thanks!

      I've written about the involvement of police officers in the Enfield case here. In 2018, I tried to get some documentation from the Ponders End police station regarding the original visit to the Hodgsons' house, but was unsuccessful. The request I submitted received a response, but it seemed to be a form letter, and they didn't find any relevant records. I don't know that any relevant paperwork would have been kept or how much it's accessible by means of something like an online request for information. In his recent book on Enfield, Melvyn Willin noted that he wasn't able to find current contact information for Carolyn Heeps (The Enfield Poltergeist Tapes [United States: White Crow Books, 2019], 117). The latest occasion I'm aware of in which Heeps discussed the Enfield case was in November of 1982, when she discussed the subject with Anita Gregory over the phone. I've addressed that discussion with Gregory elsewhere, like here and here.

      There seems to be a general consensus that the male police officer's last name was Hyams. Unfortunately, though, there are a couple of sources who have reported otherwise.

    2. Stewart Lamont, who interviewed both of the officers who went to the house on the opening night, identifies the male officer's last name as Ayres (Is Anybody There? [Great Britain: Mainstream Publishing, 1980], 23). He quotes Heeps using that name for the male officer in a context in which Heeps was communicating orally, so it's possible that Lamont was going by that oral comment without any written record. In that sort of context, you can easily misinterpret what somebody has said.

      In a book by John and Anne Spencer, The Poltergeist Phenomenon (London, England: Headline, 1996), there's an interview with a man identified as Brian Hyams (58-60). The interview occurred on March 12, 1996. Hyams is identified as the man who sent Heeps and her colleague to the Hodgsons' house. He's distinguished from that colleague. He's referred to as visiting the Hodgsons' house himself, with another officer, shortly after the visit of Heeps and her colleague. In the interview, this man identified as Hyams refers to paranormal phenomena he and the (unnamed) officer with him experienced during their visit to the house. Some of the details are problematic, though. His timeline is wrong, as far as I can tell. He refers to being with Daily Mirror staff at the Hodgsons' house two days after Heeps and her colleague went there, but my understanding is that the Daily Mirror didn't get involved until late on September 4, about four days (not two) after Heeps and her colleague went to the house. He refers to how he and the officer with him ran out of the house, which seems unlikely. That's different than the reaction of any other officer I'm aware of who went there, including a few who witnessed paranormal events. Other details he mentions so closely resemble what's been publicly reported about Enfield, that I'm suspicious that he was making up a story in which he combined various details he'd heard from others. The manner in which his account resembles the reports of other people is suspicious. And I've never seen Grosse, Playfair, or anybody else cite the alleged experiences of Brian Hyams or the other officer who supposedly went to the house with him. Nobody I've heard recounting the events of the earliest days of the case (Peggy Hodgson, Peggy Nottingham, etc.) mentions this visit from the police, though they do repeatedly mention other police visits. Maybe the man the Spencers interviewed was who he claimed to be, but there's a lot of reason to doubt it. I currently think it's unlikely the man is who he claimed to be and had the experiences he claimed to have, but it does warrant further investigation. I've tried to find contact information for John and Anne Spencer, but haven't found any yet.

      My current view is that the male officer who went to the house with Heeps most likely had the last name Hyams, but may have had the name Ayres instead. These problems with identifying his name aren't of much significance. We know that he went to the Hodgsons' house on the night in question, experienced apparent paranormal events there, was supportive of what Heeps reported, etc.

      A lot of the work that still needs done on the Enfield case would be better handled by somebody who lives in England or could spend a large amount of time there. I'm not in either of those categories. I suspect some people in England (in the media, etc.) could get access to relevant police records and find contact information for Heeps and one or more of the other officers involved without much difficulty. Given how young Heeps and her colleague were during their visit to the house, it's likely both are still alive.

  3. Most interesting, and I agree with you here. My curiosity regarding the male constable stemmed from the fact that I hadn't, until now, ever seen a potential name for him in print and the fact that he remains silent in the footage of Carolyn Heeps describing the chair incident. I haven't yet gotten round to reading the Spencers' work but, along with their 1996 book, I intend also to read John Fraser's forthcoming book 'Poltergeist: A New Investigation into Destructive Haunting'. Fraser mentions the case in a recent interview (which can be found on YouTube) and so I expect he will have something to say about the case in his new book. Incidentally, Fraser is under the impression that there hasn't been any significant books on the poltergeist since Colin Wilson's 1981 book - but this is not so. Apart from the Spencers' book, there are also two fascinating books by Darren Ritson and Michael J. Hallowell regarding a major poltergeist incident in a town adjacent to where I live in the North of England. The second book, 'Contagion', advances the idea of an 'arch-poltergeist' and gives much food for thought.

    As to the work that still needs to be done on the Enfield case, it has been my intention for some time now to visit the SPR's library in order to read 'The Enfield Poltergeist Investigation Committee Report', which, despite being assured that it would be a number of years ago, still hasn't been digitized. I may also be in a position to illuminate some other aspects of the case.

    1. I'm looking forward to Fraser's book. I've preordered it, and I've listened to some recent interviews he's done about it. I haven't yet read the other two books you mentioned. Thanks for the information.

      I'm glad you're interested in doing further research on the Enfield case. Please let me know if you come across anything significant.

  4. I think you will find 'The South Shields Poltergeist' interesting. It has a foreword by Playfair and there are one or two incidents which have curious parallels to those at Enfield. Unfortunately, I was somehow entirely unaware of the outbreak when it was occurring in 2005-2006. Happily, the book can be purchased on Kindle but I see that 'Contagion' seems to have gone out of circulation. Hallowell's thinking, at least, started to see the poltergeist with reference to the concept of the Jinn as found in Islam. Indeed, I believe that Hallowell went on to convert to Islam. I have some misgivings about him in light of what appear to be his beliefs about the Sandy Hook tragedy, but I'm sure you will find both books very interesting.

    Once the current situation improves, I will visit the SPR library and hopefully do some research myself and alert you if I unearth things of interest.