Friday, May 01, 2020

What Enfield Skeptics Actually Experienced At The Hodgsons' House

Some of the most prominent critics of the Enfield case are individuals who visited the house where most of the poltergeist phenomena occurred. People like Milbourne Christopher, John Beloff, and Anita Gregory claimed to have not experienced anything at the house, and their skepticism has been cited against the case for decades. Because I've now listened to Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's audio cassettes and because of some other information that's recently come to light, I want to revisit the subject of what these skeptics actually experienced when they were at the house. As we'll see, their experiences have often been misrepresented, and they do more to support than to undermine the authenticity of the case.

It's useful to know the layout of the house, so go here to see a floor plan. I'll use "MG" to designate a tape from Grosse's collection and "GP" to designate one from Playfair's. MG8A is Grosse's tape 8A, GP21A is Playfair's 21A, etc.

Alan Gauld, Bernard Carr, And A.D. Cornell

They visited the house on November 12-13, 1977. I don't think any of them were there on any other occasion. Their visit is discussed in Playfair's book (This House Is Haunted [United States: White Crow Books, 2011], 78-80), Gregory's doctoral thesis (160, 176-77, 204-6), and Melvyn Willin's The Enfield Poltergeist Tapes (United States: White Crow Books, 2019), 11, 72-73, 77-78, 81, 90, 118-19, 125-32. You can see some photographs taken on the night of November 12 by running a search on "Enfield Poltergeist" here. Only some of the photos are from that night, so you have to look at the date for each photo to see if it's from November 12. All of the photos from that day were taken by Lawrence Berger.

Though none of the three men under consideration here thought they experienced any paranormal events while at the house, some qualifiers should be added. A few decades ago, Carr thought the events in the case as a whole "were a mixture of genuine and fraudulent" (page 90 in Willin's book). In his contribution to Willin's book in 2019, Carr comes across as more agnostic. Referring to Cornell, who's now dead, he writes, "Tony was rather sceptical of the Enfield case itself but - like me - he only spent one night there." (119) Elsewhere in Willin's book, Gauld wrote that Cornell "had been convinced from early on that the two girls were responsible for all the phenomena" (129). By contrast, Gauld "could and still can sympathize with both sides. It seemed to me that a (rather limited) number of the reported events in the case, including some witnessed by the investigators themselves, were not readily susceptible of any normal explanation" (130). So, the views of Gauld, Carr, and Cornell are somewhat complicated.

While I think they were honest about what they experienced, and they probably didn't knowingly experience anything paranormal firsthand, there are some important factors that are often overlooked or misrepresented. Willin cites Gauld's comments a few decades ago that "Nothing occurred while we were in the house that the girls could not have perpetrated themselves" (81). Willin goes on to note that Gauld "believed in Mrs Hodgson's 'good faith' and praised John Burcombe's 'very clear accounts'." (81) And Willin cites Carr's remarks about how "Various incidents did occur which were alleged, by others, to be paranormal." (90) Willin goes on, "Carr felt that Mrs Hodgson and John Burcombe were both honest, but possibly gullible" (90). Elsewhere, Gauld and Carr make positive comments about Grosse as well, suggesting that they view him as an honest witness (90, 119, 126-27, 130).

But Peggy Hodgson, Burcombe, and Grosse all claimed, on tape, to have witnessed paranormal events while Gauld, Carr, and Cornell were at the house, and you can often hear that at least one of them is nearby when the relevant witnesses comment on what they saw. So, the three men in question had reports of paranormal events from witnesses they considered significantly reliable. Yet, Gauld comments in his 2019 material in Willin's book, "we had been informed that these events only happened when the children were alone in the room…Maurice would rush into the bedroom, hoping to catch the phenomenon in progress (I cannot remember whether he had a camera in his hand) but although his energy and persistence were admirable, he had no luck." (126-27) But on other days, events frequently occurred when the children weren't alone in the bedroom, and Gauld doesn't mention that Peggy was in the room with the children the night the three men in question were visiting, as you can see in some of the photographs linked above. He also doesn't mention Burcombe's presence.

With Peggy in the room with the children, some knocking occurred (GP62B, 21:08; GP63A, 1:15, 2:31), and a pillow moved (GP63A, 3:50, 5:14, 8:08). Peggy sometimes comments on having witnessed the events in question, and she agrees to watch the children at Grosse's request (GP63A, 4:55). Just after telling Grosse that she'll watch the children, a pillow moves again, and Peggy reports that both girls were lying still when it happened (5:14). You can hear one or two of the men under consideration here (Carr and Cornell, before Gauld arrived later) talking and asking about the incident, so there's no question that they were present when Peggy reported witnessing the event. A little later, a pillow moves again, and Janet goes with it (9:27). Peggy saw it happen and describes it afterward. She reports that Janet was lifted slowly in the air, then was moved over top of Margaret and dropped on the floor. I see no way of faking that sort of event. Once again, two of the men in question were present and heard Peggy reporting what she witnessed. Both girls are then pushed out of the bed together, on five occasions, which Peggy saw each time (13:10, 16:54; GP63B, 6:14, 13:06; GP64A, 4:45). Another throwing incident occurs after that fifth one, but I can't tell whether it involved only Janet or both girls (6:15). More importantly, John Burcombe was there for this sixth throwing, and he says that he saw it happen (6:21). Notice the cumulative effect of these incidents. It's highly unlikely that the girls would have successfully faked such a large number and variety of events in the presence of so many witnesses, including some who were watching the girls at the time.

Furthermore, Gauld was nearby when a table was moved, allegedly in a paranormal manner, in the kitchen. See page 79 of Playfair's book and the further details provided by Gauld on page 128 in Willin's book. In Playfair's account, Grosse criticizes Gauld for not getting up and checking to see if the children could have, by normal means, moved the table in the manner in which it was moved. Grosse comments that, as he and Playfair had found by experimentation, the table couldn't have been moved that way by normal means. Though Gauld doesn't say that the event was paranormal, his account suggests that conclusion. He adds some important details not included in Playfair's book. Gauld mentions that Janet was the only one of the girls in the kitchen at the time, that her mother was in there with her, that he looked up and saw Janet just after hearing the table go over, and that "Janet was beside it, looking towards me with a curious expression, not as though she had not been alarmed by the sudden bang of the table but more as though she wondered what I might have seen." Janet's reaction, as Gauld describes it, is ambiguous, but the surrounding context isn't. She wasn't in the kitchen alone. She was there with a witness widely believed to be honest, Peggy Hodgson, and Gauld is among those who consider Peggy an honest witness. And Janet was within full sight of Gauld, an unlikely position to be in if you were faking the moving of a large object. She could have gone further into the kitchen, out of Gauld's sight, before moving the table. And she apparently didn't look like she had just finished moving such an object. If she'd just moved such a large table, and Gauld had looked up as soon as he heard the bang, how would he have not seen any corresponding positioning or movement of Janet's body? That's possible, but a less likely scenario. Furthermore, there were other occasions when the table was turned over, sometimes with good evidence that nobody had faked it, so there's precedent for the poltergeist's interest in turning the table over. One of those table incidents occurred on the evening of November 12 (GP62B, 5:18). Grosse says, on the tape just cited, that he saw the table go over. I think it's likely that the event that occurred in Gauld's presence was paranormal. He could have gotten some good evidence of its paranormality by experimenting with the table, as Grosse mentioned to Playfair, but he didn't experiment with it, unfortunately.

It looks to me like Gauld, Carr, and Cornell honestly didn't think they witnessed anything they would be willing to identify as paranormal. But that's a different issue than whether anything paranormal happened when they visited. It seems highly likely that some paranormal events did occur when they were at the house, and they had good indirect evidence for some of those events.

John Beloff

He only visited the house once, on the night of December 10, 1977, going into early December 11. Before getting to what happened while Beloff was there, I want to discuss some important contextual factors.

There was a lot of paranormal activity leading up to Beloff's arrival. Just before he arrived in the evening (with Anita Gregory), a few witnesses reported hearing disembodied voices (GP73A, 22:10, 22:48, 23:33, 24:19, 24:37, 26:17). Some of the incidents were heard by two people (Billy and Margaret, Billy and Paul Burcombe). It's harder to dismiss an account of a disembodied voice when two people report hearing the same incident. When Billy is describing what he experienced during these episodes, he sometimes talks more clearly than usual, which he did when he was upset. That indicates that he was sincere. He also stutters a lot and sounds excited. He seems to have sincerely thought he heard a disembodied voice. John Burcombe goes as far as to say that he would "stake my very being" on the fact that he heard a disembodied voice (26:31). Shortly afterward, Peggy says, "The visitors have arrived." (26:48) Beloff and Gregory come in, and you can hear some greetings and other talking in the background.

It's significant that the disembodied voice was so active just before Beloff and Gregory arrived, since it was later that day when the embodied voice phenomena started. See my article on the voice here, such as the sections titled "The Origin Of The Embodied Voice", "The Initial Characteristics Of The Embodied Voice", and "The Family's Reactions To The Voice", for evidence of the authenticity of the voice phenomena on December 10. Beloff was a witness to those phenomena, even though he dismissed them as inauthentic. Given the evidence I've outlined in the post linked above, I consider it highly likely that at least some of the voice phenomena that night were genuine. So, Beloff did witness some paranormal events while at the house.

A few months later, when discussing Beloff's behavior with Hans Bender, Playfair comments, "Well, I mean, when Dr. Beloff went [to the Hodgsons' house], it was absolutely ridiculous. He spent most of his time sitting in the other room and talking to Anita Gregory and not even looking at the phenomena. I don't think he ever even spoke to the mother [Peggy], you know." (GP39A, 40:13) You don't hear Beloff much on the December 10-11 tapes, so that corroborates Playfair's assessment. There's further corroboration in Anita Gregory's doctoral thesis, where she writes, "[Playfair] also took me to task for talking for hours in the other bedroom rather than investigating 'the phenomena'. I showed a certain amount of temper and said I was not going to be dictated to by him how I was going to conduct an investigation. I was presumably there as having some sort of professional competence, and in my view getting the background from another member of the family, especially such an apparently responsible witness as [John Burcombe]…was at least as important as dashing into a room, addressing a 'poltergeist', dashing out again, and dashing in once more when there was a thump or a hoarse barking." (164) So, Gregory adds the detail that she was talking to Burcombe in the other room as well, not just Beloff, but she seems to corroborate the fact that she was in another room for "hours", and Beloff seems to have been there with her for at least much of that time. She refers disapprovingly to accommodating the poltergeist by entering and leaving the room where the family was. But Grosse, Playfair, and others involved had good reasons for taking that sort of accommodating approach. See my article here, especially the section titled "Concealment". It probably was a mistake for Gregory and Beloff to spend so much time in another room, and it was especially bad for Beloff to do it, since that was his only visit to the house.

They could have talked to Burcombe on some other occasion. He wasn't difficult to access, and he was highly cooperative with researchers. Even if there was some good reason for talking to him that night, did they need hours to do it? Especially given how active the poltergeist was on the night of December 10 and the fact that a major new phenomenon originated that night (the voice in the new form it took), it was a bad idea for Beloff (and Gregory) to be away from the activity, in another part of the house, for so much of the night. Furthermore, Beloff's decision to not visit the house again was just that: his decision.

Like Gauld, Carr, and Cornell, Beloff had good reason to accept the testimony of other people who reported witnessing paranormal events the night he was there. Peggy reported that Janet's bed was shaking, and she noted that Janet wasn't moving while the shaking was going on (GP73A, 29:56). As I've documented elsewhere (do a Ctrl F search for "shake" to find two relevant sections in the article here), there are many incidents involving the shaking of beds for which we have good evidence, so there's a lot of precedent for the poltergeist's activity in that context.

Some throwing incidents followed shortly after the bed shaking. Somebody asks Paul Burcombe whether he saw one of the throwings, and he says that he did (37:04). He describes seeing Janet thrown from her bed in a paranormal manner. What's significant about this occasion is that Beloff seems to be the one who asked Paul if he saw what happened. Why ask him if you don't think his testimony is significant? I'm not aware of any evidence that Paul faked any paranormal events or lied about anything during the case, and he showed some skepticism and often tried to catch the girls in fraud and was involved in some good testing of the poltergeist voice (MG34A, 33:00; MG44A, 31:18). I see no justification for Beloff to dismiss a throwing incident witnessed by multiple people, including somebody as credible as Paul, whose testimony Beloff himself showed interest in.

A box of tissues then moves, and Grosse comments on how interesting the incident is. You then hear a male voice say "Yes", a voice distinct from the voice of every other male who was present at the time, and it sounds like Beloff (GP73A, 40:33). There are more throwings, and Grosse comments after one of them, "I saw that one." (41:30) He asks somebody if he saw it, and the same distinct male voice referred to above, which has to be Beloff's, answers, "Half saw, half saw." (41:38) Shortly after, John Burcombe comments on how high Janet was thrown into the air, so he apparently saw at least a portion of the event as well. A little later, it sounds like both girls are thrown around the same time, and they apparently ended the sequence in some unusual way, perhaps by bouncing along the floor, as had happened earlier (GP73B, 2:39). Grosse saw the end of the sequence.

After the embodied poltergeist voice starts up, there's a sequence in which Janet's bed starts shaking, and you can hear Grosse come into the room (MG38A, 30:26). The bed keeps shaking. It seems unlikely that Janet would keep shaking the bed after Grosse came in if she had been faking it. In fact, she had made a comment about something walking on the end of her bed, which apparently caused Grosse to reenter the room. I doubt Janet would have done that if she'd been faking the bed movement. Grosse eventually comes in again and asks whose bed is squeaking (32:07), at which point Janet says it's hers. It keeps squeaking. These bed movement incidents are happening in the context in which Grosse is asking the poltergeist voice to say "Dr. Beloff" and "Anita Gregory", so the two of them were surely nearby and should have known about the bed moving with Grosse present in the room. When Beloff and Gregory go in and out of the room to talk to the voice (GP21B, 1:51), you can periodically hear the bed moving over several minutes, including at times when one of them seems to be in the room.

Later, John Burcombe is thrown off a bed (MG39A, 0:25), so the children weren't the only ones being thrown that night. Would Beloff (and Gregory) claim that Burcombe was faking it or somehow was thrown by one or more of the children without knowing it? Peggy sees Janet's bed covers move on their own (0:48). Grosse sees Janet thrown again "quite clearly" (1:52). Her bed shakes a lot, and they eventually take the mattress off the frame in an attempt to stop it. But even after they place the mattress on the floor, it keeps shaking (16:44). Burcombe responds, "That's impossible." Etc.

It seems that Beloff and Gregory stayed until sometime past midnight, but some of the last events I described may have occurred after they'd left. Even if those events did occur after the departure of Beloff and Gregory, the events are still significant as part of the larger context of Beloff's visit.

In summary:

- The context surrounding Beloff's visit is one in which multiple paranormal events were being reported by multiple credible witnesses. Paranormal activity just before Beloff arrived and just after he left doesn't prove that such activity occurred while he was there, but it does increase the likelihood of it.

- During Beloff's visit, multiple credible witnesses, including ones who were credible by his own standards, reported witnessing paranormal activity in the house that night.

- Some apparently paranormal events happened in Beloff's presence. That includes both voice and non-voice phenomena. The fact that Beloff dismissed the voice as unconvincing doesn't change the fact that the evidence suggests that the voice phenomena that night were at least partially authentic. We shouldn't just ask what Beloff's opinion was of the events that night. We also should ask what actually happened, even if what actually happened conflicts with Beloff's opinion. It looks like some paranormal events happened in front of him.

- He decided to spend much of the night in a part of the house where the poltergeist apparently wasn't active at the time, while significant activity was going on elsewhere in the house. That was a bad decision.

- He presumably decided to not visit the house again. That, too, seems like a bad decision.

Though this article is focused on what skeptics experienced at the Hodgsons' house, I want to discuss some comments Beloff made a few months after his visit. The following exchange occurred during a March 29, 1978 symposium of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). Beloff had asked if phenomena like levitations and furniture turning over were still going on:

Maurice Grosse: In fact, there was one yesterday morning.

John Beloff: There was?

Maurice Grosse: Yes.

Guy Playfair: Well, the phenomena ended…

John Beloff: Who was [unintelligible] yesterday morning?

Maurice Grosse: By me.

Unidentified Man [sounds like Tony Cornell]: And who else?

Maurice Grosse: Who else? Photographer from the, from the National Enquirer of America.

Guy Playfair: [talking quietly to Grosse, who was next to him, apparently] You shut him down. (GP38B, 29:26)

I want to provide some further background to this exchange, then summarize what I think was going on during the exchange and what significance it has. In a conversation with Hans Bender shortly after this symposium, Playfair referred to how Beloff and Cornell had recently made some inaccurate claims about Enfield to the media (GP39A, 33:23). Apparently, Beloff and Cornell claimed that the poltergeist activity had stopped, but that Playfair and Grosse were trying to keep the case going. I doubt it's a coincidence that Beloff raised the issue of whether phenomena were still going on during the symposium, and I doubt it's a coincidence that Cornell joined the discussion after Beloff initiated it. They're the same two individuals involved in the media story Playfair discussed with Bender. Beloff and Cornell probably had gotten some bad information about what was going on or had concluded that it was probable that the poltergeist activity had stopped based on how long poltergeists typically last. Either way, or for whatever other reason, they were wrong. Grosse and Playfair's tapes, along with a lot of other evidence, suggest that the poltergeist remained highly active (with some occasional breaks) until at least August of 1979, more than a year after the March 1978 symposium. But for whatever reasons, Beloff and Cornell apparently went into their exchange with Grosse with the impression that nothing paranormal had happened lately. So, when Grosse told them that there had been ongoing activity, even as recently as the morning of the previous day, Beloff was taken aback. He paused, then said "There was?" After Grosse said "Yes", Beloff decided to change the subject to the credibility of the witnesses to the event that just occurred, by asking who witnessed the event. Grosse then explained that he had witnessed it. Cornell probably recognized how much trouble Beloff was in at that point, so he entered the discussion and, once again, changed the subject. He asked Grosse who else witnessed the event (as if other witnesses would be needed). Grosse then responded by noting that there not only was another witness, but that the other witness in question was outside the Hodgson family and the rest of the circle of individuals who witnessed most of the events in the case. A photographer from the National Enquirer witnessed it. (And I doubt Grosse would have made up a witness who didn't actually witness anything, have named the organization he was part of, have identified what position he had with that organization, and have chosen an organization as disreputable as the Enquirer. Those details suggest he was honestly reporting on what happened. And he doesn't hesitate in answering. He doesn't come across as making something up.) The reason Playfair then tells Grosse "You shut him down." (or "That shut them down." or something similar) is because it was evident to Playfair, as it should be to anybody listening to the tape, that Beloff and Cornell just had their legs cut out from under them. After Playfair makes that comment to Grosse, you don't hear anything else from Beloff or Cornell, and the next questioner starts talking.

It looks like there's a pattern with Beloff asking for more evidence, being given it, then dismissing it without any (public, at least) explanation for why he did so. He did that when he visited the Hodgsons' house, and he did it at this symposium. He never provided much of an explanation in public for why he rejected the authenticity of the Enfield case, as far as I can tell, and I have no reason to think he offered much of an explanation in private either. He didn't die until 2006, so he had nearly three decades to offer more of a justification for his position. He didn't.

Milbourne Christopher

Joe Nickell has called Christopher "one of the greatest influences on my early career as a magician turned paranormal investigator…one of America’s best-known magicians—gaining world acclaim as an illusionist and prestidigitator", and he elsewhere cites Christopher against the authenticity of Enfield. Like Beloff, Christopher only visited the house once. He was there the night of December 19, 1977. I've discussed some aspects of his visit in another post, and I won't repeat what I said there. My focus in this post is on whether there was paranormal activity when skeptics visited the house and what sort of evidence those skeptics had for what occurred. If you're interested in other issues related to Christopher's visit, see my post linked above.

A 1978 article on Enfield closed with a memorable line about Christopher's view of the case, a line that skeptics have long cited: "He believes the only spirits responsible for the events are high spirits of the girls." (Bryan Rimmer, The Daily Mirror, March 30, 1978, "Ghost Story", 20) The article doesn't mention any arguments or evidence cited by Christopher, and I'm not aware of any significant support he offered for his conclusion anywhere else. The tapes of his visit suggest that paranormal events did occur while he was at the house, including some that he witnessed.

The relevant tapes come from two contexts. Grosse did some taping in the house while Christopher was there. And Playfair had his recorder running in his car while he drove Christopher back to his hotel (with Lawrence Berger in the car with them). The recording from Playfair's car has poor audio quality. I can discern some of what's said, but there's a lot I haven't yet been able to make out. Other people who know more about audio issues may be able to make some adjustments to discern a larger percentage of what's said on the tape. I tried multiple audio programs and did some experimenting with adjusting the audio, but I'm far from an expert on audio issues.

Part of Christopher's time at the house was spent getting the poltergeist voice to manifest through Janet while her mouth was taped shut. See David Robertson's comments here on how careful they were with handling the tape applications. Do a Ctrl F search for "tape over her mouth" and read that paragraph and the quote of Robertson that follows. My citation of tape MG51A in that article comes from the night Christopher visited. At one point, Grosse even adjusts the tape to make sure it's covering Janet's mouth adequately (MG51A, 37:38). Later, he and Playfair can be heard in the background discussing how well Janet's mouth has been sealed with the tape, and they seem satisfied that the taping has been done well enough (39:21). So, it's clear that they were being careful on this occasion. Furthermore, the efforts at getting the voice to speak with Janet's mouth taped shut occurred in Christopher's presence, and he even carried on a conversation with the voice under those circumstances (34:39). There's no indication on the recording that Christopher raised any objections while any of the events were going on. If he disagreed with how they were going about testing the voice, wouldn't it have made sense to have raised those concerns while he was at the house, perhaps even giving Grosse and the others involved some suggestions about how to do better testing?

Furthermore, the night when Christopher visited was the occasion when the voice identified itself as George Mace. Go to the article here and do a Ctrl F search for "Mace" to read about the significance of the voice's identity claim on that occasion. The claim to be Mace provides significant evidence that there were at least some occasions during Christopher's visit when the voice being manifested wasn't being faked.

Shortly after the session in which Janet's mouth was taped shut, an important series of events takes place that I've never seen anybody discuss. I don't know why, since what happened is so important. I suspect that Grosse, Playfair, and others involved in the case were overly focused on other issues, perhaps the voice manifestations that had just occurred, so they overlooked the significance of what happened on this occasion. Grosse seems to walk out of the room just after ending a session of testing the voice, and the voice seems to be angry. It yells "Get out!" (40:05) Just afterward, you hear some banging, followed by some yelling and Margaret and Peggy explaining what happened. Apparently, some books that were being used to prop up Janet's bed had been pushed out, which caused that end of her bed to fall down to the floor. Playfair explains in his book (170) that Janet's bed would sometimes be propped up with books, since the poltergeist's frequent shaking of the bed would sometimes cause the legs of the bed to break. How would Janet have faked the removal of the books from under the end of her bed? She would have to have reached far away from where she was and have done it in the presence of her mother, who was in the room with her and is widely regarded as an honest witness. You hear some books being moved out from under the bed, and it sounds like it happens one at a time. So, Peggy and anybody else nearby had a lot of time to turn and look at what was happening if they hadn't already been looking in the relevant direction. It would be unreasonable to suggest that Janet was removing the books from under the bed, one-by-one, without any relevant witness noticing. But what happens just after the removal of the books is even more significant. The bed starts moving a lot, so forcefully that you can hear it banging the floor over and over again loudly on the tape. Janet cries out, even saying "Help!" loudly, twice. While the moving of the bed is going on, you can hear Christopher laughing (40:27), and he comments, "Boy, you have fun!" He's clearly in the room or looking into it and is witnessing the event as it's going on. He makes another comment about having fun, and Janet responds by saying that it's not fun for her. As with the voice incidents, it seems that Christopher makes no effort to look further into what happened, to see how plausible it is to dismiss the bed movement as something that's been faked. But Lawrence Berger is present and has enough sense to raise the issue. He tells Janet, "Try and make that bed jump like that again, Janet. See if you can make it do that." (40:56) There's a brief pause, apparently while Janet attempts to duplicate what happened and can't. (Notice, also, that Berger refers to making the bed jump, not just shake, vibrate, or something like that. Berger's comment confirms what the audio suggests. The bed was moving a lot.) Peggy then says, "No, I don't think she can do it in the same way it does it when that [the poltergeist] does it." How could Janet fake something of that nature? If the end of the bed had fallen after the books were removed, the bed would be at an angle. How would a girl who's twelve years old cause an object as large as a bed to move so far and so forcefully while the bed is at such an angle and she's lying on it? She'd have to not only move the bed that way, but also do it in such a manner that her forcing the bed to move wouldn't be noticed by the multiple witnesses who saw the event, including Christopher, who was a highly skilled magician. And if she'd been faking it, why would she move the bed so forcefully as to make so much noise and call out "Help!" twice, which would draw people's attention to her and make it easier for them to notice that she was faking it? I suspect Christopher's laughter and his comments about "having fun" were his way of dismissing something he couldn't explain. (Nobody else on the tape is laughing.) If he thought he had a normal explanation for what happened, especially if he thought he had evidence that Janet had faked the event, he surely would have said so. Christopher has nothing to say after Berger asks Janet to try to move the bed that way by normal means, she isn't able to make it move that way, and Peggy comments that she doesn't think Janet would be able to do it. Why didn't Christopher speak up, if he had a better explanation to offer?

It's highly probable that it was a genuine paranormal event, witnessed by Christopher. Even if we were to be agnostic about whether the event was paranormal, the fact that the event occurred in Christopher's presence disproves the popular notion that none of the allegedly paranormal events happened when skeptics were around. When he was being driven back to his hotel, Christopher commented on how "delighted" he was that so many allegedly paranormal events happened in his presence, since there "usually" aren't any that occur when he investigates paranormal cases (GP29A, 11:12).

Shortly after the bed incident, Peggy has a slipper thrown at her face (MG51A, 41:48), the light in the room goes out (42:31), etc. You have to wonder how so many events of that nature could have been faked, one after another in so short a period of time, without Peggy or any other adult who was there realizing that any of the events were faked. At about 43:39, Janet gets thrown headfirst and lands on Margaret's legs. Not only did that happen in front of other people, but it's also something Janet would have had reason to not fake. Landing on your head is dangerous and painful, especially if you're landing on somebody else's legs. Peggy and Margaret explain what happened, and Christopher is present to hear what they said (44:13). Even though he apparently didn't see the event himself, he had no reason to reject the testimony of Peggy and Margaret (or Janet).

During his conversation with Playfair and Berger on the ride to his hotel, Christopher is largely dismissive of what he experienced and what other people reported, offering various explanations for how the events may have occurred by normal means. From what I can make of the audio, it doesn't seem that most of what I've highlighted above is discussed.

The taping of Janet's mouth comes up. Christopher talks for a while with his hand over his mouth, but as Playfair mentions and as Christopher concedes, his talking with his hand over his mouth (presumably with his mouth shut) isn't equivalent to the voice coming from Janet with her mouth taped shut (GP29A, 7:29). And Janet wasn't a professional, highly experienced magician (like Christopher), a professional ventriloquist, or any other such thing. The more often critics attribute such advanced abilities to Janet, across so many contexts, the more problematic their fraud hypothesis becomes. Every time a critic appeals to that kind of explanation, it ought to be noted, and the cumulative effect of appealing to such explanations across so many contexts ought to be noted.

Shortly before Christopher left the house that night, there was a period of time when Janet was in the middle-sized bedroom upstairs, by herself, with the voice manifesting. During that timeframe, Playfair walked up the steps silently. (See my post here for a discussion of how well he was able to do that.) As he explains to Christopher, the voice yelled "Get out!" just as he (Playfair) was going around the bend in the steps (2:00). Christopher responds by saying that you can see shadows on the wall of the stairway, suggesting that Janet knew Playfair was coming up the steps by seeing his shadow (2:46). But, as Playfair mentioned in response, she couldn't have seen any shadows around so many bends. See a floor plan of the house here. But Playfair's knowledge of the house's layout and Christopher's apparent concession to the point Playfair was making are more significant than the floor plan I just linked, since it's just a drawing that roughly estimates how the house was structured. If Playfair was going around the bend in the steps, and Janet was lying in bed in the middle bedroom, she apparently wouldn't have had any means of seeing a shadow of him. Christopher has no counterargument, but instead changes the subject. So, it seems that Playfair's argument is a good one. The entity behind the voice seems to have known that Playfair was going up the steps, whereas Janet had no normal means by which she could have had that information.

And Christopher goes on to claim (dubiously) that he caught Janet on the staircase on the verge of faking a paranormal event later that night. But if Janet was monitoring people's presence on the stairs by looking for shadows, how did she not notice Christopher's shadow on that occasion? (He claimed that Janet was starting to go down the steps while he was on his way up.) So, not only does his appeal to shadows fail to explain the incident Playfair referred to, but Christopher isn't even consistent in applying his reasoning about Janet's alleged monitoring of shadows.

In his notes on Playfair's tapes, Melvyn Willin mentions that there's a partial transcript of the tape under consideration here in the archives of the SPR at Cambridge University. And Berger had a tape recorder with him when he visited the Hodgsons' house on the night in question, so there's a chance that he also taped the discussion with Christopher during the ride to the hotel. Playfair's transcript and Berger's tape, if such a tape exists, could shed further light on the discussion.

Shortly before his death, Christopher was interviewed by Michael Dennett for the Skeptical Inquirer. The interview took place in 1983 and was published shortly after Christopher's death the next year. Enfield came up during the interview. Keep in mind that Christopher was a prominent magician, had practiced magic for about half a century, and was active in studying the paranormal and speaking out against it as a skeptic for decades. Here's the entirety of the discussion of Enfield during the interview:

SI: What was the most intriguing case of an alleged paranormal phenomenon you have ever been involved in?

M.C.: Possibly the Enfield case in England. I was there when the "strange" things started happening in this little suburban section of London. It was one of the few alleged poltergeist cases in which I was involved where the strange things happened when I was in the house. Normally, when I go to a poltergeist house the "haunting" influences disappear immediately. But there I had a chance to observe the techniques.

SI: What were the techniques?

M.C.: A little girl who wanted to cause trouble and who was very, very clever.

SI: In Colin Wilson's latest book, Poltergeist, he mentions the Enfield case. Mr. Wilson does not make any reference at all to you regarding this incident but does rely on the research of Guy Playfair.

M.C.: I think it would be illogical that Wilson would mention me. I should add that Playfair wrote an entire book on this one case.

SI: Wilson makes Playfair the hero of his latest book and strongly implies that Playfair's research is sound.

M.C.: My feelings are just the reverse of Wilson's. I have no confidence in Playfair's writing at all. When I was in England I spent most of one night with Playfair on the Enfield case and came to the conclusion I already mentioned. I should add that there were many others who were critical of the Enfield case. (The Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 9, No. 2, Winter 1984-85, "A Final Interview With Milbourne Christopher", 161)

Keep in mind that Christopher made those remarks a few years after Playfair's book was published, in which Playfair makes some negative comments about Christopher. But it's striking that he brings up Enfield on his own initiative as the most intriguing case he worked on. It's also striking that when asked for the techniques by which the case supposedly was faked, after he made a reference to such techniques on his own initiative, he evasively refers to "A little girl who wanted to cause trouble and who was very, very clever." Janet was only twelve years old at the time, without much education and living in a lower-class home. Christopher not only doesn't name any techniques she allegedly used to perpetrate a fraud, but even refers to her as "very, very clever". He also acknowledges that allegedly paranormal events happened when he was at the house and how that scenario contrasts to what he typically encounters when investigating a case. Why did Enfield stand out to Christopher as the most intriguing case, why did Janet seem so clever to him, and why couldn't he name any techniques by which she allegedly faked what happened? Most likely because the case is genuine. And some of the genuine events that make it a genuine case occurred the night Christopher visited, sometimes right in front of him.

Anita Gregory

What I said earlier about Beloff's visit to the Hodgsons' house on December 10, 1977 is largely applicable to Gregory as well, since she went to the house with him and handled the visit similarly to how he did. She returned a couple of times later that month, and she makes a highly significant comment about one of those later visits in her doctoral thesis:

"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." (166)

Given how critical Gregory was of the Enfield case, it's significant that she acknowledges that Janet's hand didn't seem to be moving at the time when the curtain moved. For somebody as skeptical as Gregory to acknowledge having witnessed such an event is nearly the equivalent of a smoking gun. I was struck by that passage when I first read it in Gregory's thesis in the spring of 2018, though I wondered why she would admit something so important and against her interests. I got an answer about a year later.

In the spring of 2019, Melvyn Willin published a book on Enfield. One chapter in the book features individuals who were involved in the case in its earliest years discussing what they thought of the case forty years later. One of the participants was Hugh Pincott, who visited the Hodgsons' house multiple times while he was serving as a secretary of the SPR. He was with Gregory on the night when the curtain incident happened:

"On 20 December [1977] I visited Enfield again, with Anita Gregory, who had a pillow thrown at her, and we both witnessed the curtains moving unaided." (The Enfield Poltergeist Tapes [United States: White Crow Books, 2019], 123)

Notice that Pincott had no need to mention Gregory, much less to mention her by name. He also had no need to add the fact that not only did he witness the curtain movement, but so did Gregory. I suspect Pincott recognized the significance of Gregory's having witnessed the event and decided to go out of his way to make it known that she saw the event and that he saw it as well. So, it looks like Gregory knew there was a credible witness with her (Pincott) who could recall what she'd seen and tell others about it. She probably mentioned the event in her thesis (briefly and without saying anything about the significance of it) because she thought she'd be leaving herself too open to criticism if she didn't make any public acknowledgement of what happened. But burying that acknowledgement in her thesis so many years later, without ever acknowledging the event anywhere else as far as I know, and without applying the significance of the event to her comments about Enfield elsewhere, was irresponsible. Since Gregory knew there was such good reason to believe she'd witnessed a paranormal event herself, she ought to have scaled back her skepticism about the case. She didn't. Instead, she spent several years publicly denouncing the case and its defenders in absurdly strong terms.

It should be added that this curtain movement occurred at a time when the poltergeist was showing a lot of interest in moving curtains, often with good evidence for the paranormality of the events. See my post here on the choking incidents that were prominent in late 1977 and early 1978, which often involved curtains. So, we have a few independent lines of evidence for the paranormality of the incident Gregory witnessed. She herself says that Janet's hand didn't seem to have moved around the time when the curtain moved, Pincott says that both he and Gregory saw the curtain move "unaided", and the event occurred in a larger context that involved a lot of paranormal activity with curtains. It seems very likely that the incident Gregory witnessed was a genuine paranormal event.

One of her later visits to the house occurred on February 17, 1978. On that occasion, Peggy recalled a paranormal event she'd witnessed (MG77B, 13:19). She saw some pieces of cotton move by themselves and tie themselves around a slipper. Gregory, with a high-pitched voice that makes it sound as if she's surprised and impressed, asks for confirmation that Peggy actually saw it happen (14:00). She confirms that she saw it. Grosse asks for further confirmation and asks her if nobody could have faked the incident (14:14). She confirms, again, that she saw it herself and that nobody could have faked it.

Gregory's interaction with Peggy is reminiscent of how Beloff asked Paul Burcombe whether he saw Janet being thrown during an incident on December 10, then said nothing further about the event after Paul confirmed that he'd seen the event and that it was genuine. Notice that Beloff and Gregory both acted as though it would be significant if these witnesses reported seeing these paranormal events themselves, yet, when the witnesses did report it, neither Beloff nor Gregory said anything further about the events. Instead, they went on being skeptical about the case and kept acting as though they had no reason to believe that anything paranormal had occurred. They initiated the discussions with Paul Burcombe and Peggy Hodgson. When they got the testimony they asked for, which they suggested would be significant, they disregarded it.

In the surrounding context of Peggy's description of the cotton incident, she and Grosse describe some other phenomena Peggy had recently experienced. Grosse had called some guests, including Gregory, into the room to hear about some "rather extraordinary" events that had recently occurred (12:01). Grosse and Peggy then told them about the cotton incident and some other recent paranormal episodes. Yet, in her doctoral thesis, Gregory claimed, "In my experience…[Peggy] made virtually no claims and rather passively and miserably treated each new manifestation with mildly unhappy resignation, as yet another misfortune" (195). Nobody listening to the February 17 tape I've just discussed could reasonably conclude that Peggy made "virtually no claims" in Gregory's presence, nor does Peggy come across on the tape as passive, miserable, resigned, etc.

On page 197 of her thesis, Gregory writes, "E. Grattan-Guinness, a trained singer and herself in charge of several choirs, thought there was nothing in the least paranormal about the voices (128)." Enid Grattan-Guinness was with Gregory during the February 17 visit discussed above. An exchange she had with a few other people at the house, including Gregory, was taped. Grattan-Guinness does say that she's unimpressed with the voice that manifested through Margaret, but she repeatedly comments on how impressive the voice was when manifesting through Janet. She doesn't know how Janet could have produced the voice by normal means: "But I don't know that I could keep it up the way that Janet was keeping it up." (GP97B, 12:20) She and her husband go on to refer again to how impressive the voice was when it came through Janet (13:26, 14:47). The two of them and Grosse mention various details that impress them (no movement of Janet's lips, the position of her neck, etc.). You can hear Gregory talking at 14:30. It seems that she was part of the conversation and heard the previous portions of the discussion that I've highlighted above. She not only heard what was said, but also raised no objections to the comments being made about how impressive Janet's manifestation of the voice was. As with Milbourne Christopher, it's noteworthy how Gregory's skepticism after leaving the house contrasts so much with how she behaved while there.

In an interview shortly before his death, Grosse was asked about Gregory (Will Storr, Will Storr Vs. The Supernatural [New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006], 218-20):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'You want my honest opinion?'


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

'I know she's dead,' I say, 'but … '

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

'She was a liar,' he says. 'No question about it.'


We're often told that we shouldn't be too quick to conclude that something is paranormal, but there's also danger in being too slow to do it. We should try to avoid erring in either direction.

Even the witnesses who eventually came to believe in the paranormality of the Enfield case often began as skeptics, and many of them had doubts after they began thinking the case was genuine. In his book, Playfair noted that one of the reasons he tried to get so many investigators to come to the house was that he knew how overly skeptical people often are (71). So, the more witnesses you can get, the better. And he knew that there would be some people who would witness paranormal events, yet later conclude otherwise based on later doubts about what they'd experienced. In fact, Playfair noted that he himself had doubts at times and wanted further documentation for his own benefit. He commented on how "we all seem to have an instinct for rejecting experiences which we cannot explain" (72). He mentioned the famous example of skeptics who saw some of Eusapia Palladino's phenomena and came to believe in the genuineness of the events, yet experienced some doubts afterward. He cited Everard Feilding's reference to how the paranormal events he and his colleagues witnessed "seemed to roll off our minds".

The SPR's committee who reinvestigated the Enfield case (John Stiles, Mary Rose Barrington, Hugh Pincott, and Peter Hallson) concluded that the case was authentic (see here). However, the three members of the committee who visited the house together one night in January of 1978 (Stiles, Barrington, and Hallson) said that they didn't experience anything they considered paranormal (see pages 78-79 and 92 in Melvyn Willin's book cited earlier). But if you listen to the tape recordings of their visit, it seems that there were some paranormal events on that occasion.

I've written about some choking incidents, in which the poltergeist wrapped a curtain or some other object around somebody's neck. One of those incidents occurred while Stiles, Barrington, and Hallson were visiting. They weren't in the room when it occurred, but the event was caught on tape and sounds authentic (MG61B, 18:52). The sound of the curtain coming down, the speed of it, and the reactions of the people in the room (Janet, Margaret, Billy, and Peggy) suggest the event was genuine. Shortly after the event, Stiles, Barrington, and Hallson enter the room. They question Peggy and Margaret about what they saw. (Janet was the one choked.) Peggy apparently didn't see the whole incident, but it's unclear whether she saw a portion of it. Margaret saw the whole thing. Peggy comments, "But you can tell, the way they've been pulled by the wire on the curtain. That's evidence enough alone, I think. You couldn't do that with your hands, because that's too tough." (22:50) So, it seems that Peggy thought the way the curtain was removed from what was holding it in place was evidence for the genuineness of the event, since Janet couldn't have pulled it loose in the manner in which it was pulled loose. None of the SPR committee members present express any objections. To the contrary, Hallson says "Yes" while Peggy is commenting on the subject, though it's unclear whether he means "Yes" in the sense of understanding what she's saying without expressing agreement or in the sense of expressing agreement. Either way, neither Hallson nor the other committee members express any disagreement with Peggy's reasoning. Shortly after, Hallson takes the initiative to say that he sensed a presence in the bedroom, which he couldn't explain (24:14). He presumably didn't know that a sensed presence was reported by a few other witnesses as well around the time of previous choking incidents. On one of the tapes, 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 (MG57B, 56:06). Burcombe refers to it as "a horrible feeling" (56:16). Peggy Hodgson refers to how she had a sense of somebody following her as she walked to the bathroom downstairs.

It seems that there were paranormal events that occurred when the SPR committee members visited the house in January of 1978, and there's good evidence that one of them experienced something paranormal firsthand (Hallson). Yet, all three of them later concluded that they couldn't affirm that anything paranormal happened when they visited.

Douglas Bence was a reporter for the Daily Mirror who covered the Enfield case in its earliest days. Go here to watch a segment in a documentary in which Bence refers to how he and Graham Morris "debriefed" one another on their ride back from the Hodgsons' house after their first experience with paranormal phenomena there. They wanted to be more confident that they'd actually experienced what they thought they'd experienced.

But a desire for more evidence isn't equivalent to a need for it. And skepticism often crosses the line from being healthy to being unhealthy. Grosse thought Anita Gregory was a liar. Even if you don't agree with his assessment of her, there's more than sufficient evidence that she was at least substantially careless and wrong about Enfield. (And if Grosse saw her personal notes on the case, as he claimed, and had other information about her not available to the public, then we need to take that into account and allow for the possibility that his assessment of Gregory is more accurate accordingly. For a defense of his claim to have seen Gregory's personal notes, see the closing section of my evaluation of Gregory's doctoral thesis here.) Just as believers can distort things because of their biases, so can unbelievers. Given what people like Gregory and Beloff actually experienced when they went to the Hodgsons' house, it's not adequate for Enfield critics, like Chris French, to cite the conclusions of people like Gregory and Beloff without further argumentation regarding what those individuals really experienced. (See here for French citing Gregory and Beloff in the documentary discussed above.) The same goes for Joe Nickell citing Milbourne Christopher's evaluation of Enfield, Deborah Hyde citing the experiences of Gauld, Carr, and Cornell, etc.

What stands out about these skeptical researchers who went to the house isn't that they didn't experience anything paranormal. What stands out is that paranormal events did happen in their presence, that those researchers had no good argument against the authenticity of the case, and that their successors haven't come up with one either after nearly half a century.


  1. Jason you've clearly spent a very considerable amount of time and energy researching and writing about the Enfield case.

    I'm curious, there's usually a motivation or "trigger" if you will to such a diligent, narrow focus on a very specific topic, so I can't help but wonder about your motivation.

    Maybe you've stated your motivation elsewhere. Clearly it's more than a passing interest for you. I can see some apologetic benefit such that most atheists are also committed to naturalism such that strong evidence of the supernatural is a good counterpoint, but in your writings I don't see much in the way of apologetics, rather it's more along the lines of "straight reporting" or informing the reader.

    What's the purpose of your deep study and meticulous reporting of this topic?

    Again, just curious. Have you personally experienced supernatural phenomena, or did you perhaps grow up around family members who dabbled in or were comitted to occult practices? I know from personal experience in my extended family there was some of both that I was exposed to while growing up, and I think this definitely impacted my views on naturalism vs. supernaturalism.

    1. Coram Deo,

      I've sometimes discussed my reasoning about the significance of the Enfield case, but those comments were often brief and scattered in a lot of different places. I'll probably put it all together in one place and discuss the topic in more depth in the future. I'll make several points for now.

      I've had some experiences of the supernatural, such as answered prayer and coincidence miracles. Those experiences have some relevance to my interest in the paranormal, but I'm also interested in the paranormal for a lot of other reasons. My family doesn't have any occult background that I'm aware of. I've been studying a variety of paranormal issues for decades (near-death experiences since the 1990s, for example).

      The issues are important for a lot of reasons I've explained on other occasions, but they're also neglected by our culture and by Christians. One of the consequences of that neglect is that people don't realize how numerous and how deep the connections are between the issues they're neglecting and other matters they're more concerned about (e.g., how accounts of paranormal experiences within families and in popular culture influence how people view God, salvation, the afterlife, and other such topics; how those beliefs in turn affect those people in contexts like their priorities and ethics).

      Poltergeists involve a large collection of phenomena. In that sense, poltergeists are more significant than an isolated phenomenon like near-death experiences or telepathy.

      Within the category of poltergeists, the Enfield case is exceptional for a large number of reasons: its duration, the number of paranormal events, the quality of those events, the number of witnesses, the quality of the witnesses, the amount of audio recordings, the media attention the case has received, etc. I consider it the most important poltergeist case in history. But even for those who disagree with me on that point, I think it would be very difficult to deny that the case is at least high on the list.

    2. Melvyn Willin and I have listened to the entirety of Grosse and Playfair's tapes. I don't know of anybody else currently alive who has. Melvyn has published a book on the tapes, but it goes into less detail than what I'm doing in these posts. (But his book covers some Enfield material I haven't addressed, he has significant credentials and connections within the field that I don't have, and his work has other advantages over mine.) I'd expect more researchers to eventually listen to the tapes, if more haven't already, and maybe the SPR will release the tapes to the public someday. For now, I seem to be the only person who's discussing the content of the tapes (and some other aspects of the case) in so much depth, so that raises the issue of being the only source people currently have for some of what I'm providing.

      And doing the work sooner rather than later is important. Many of the witnesses involved in the case are still alive and, therefore, available to provide further information. That will change as time passes (Playfair died in 2018, so did John Rainbow, Mary Rose Barrington died earlier this year, etc.). Since I consider my view of the case correct, obviously, I'd prefer to address the case from my perspective before other people have an opportunity to use the tapes and other material to portray the case differently. That's especially true with regard to the people whose views I consider the most inaccurate. I can anticipate what they'll say about the tapes if they get an opportunity to do so, and I want to address their potential claims and arguments preemptively.

      The case matters a lot for the people most involved in it (their desire to understand what they went through, their reputations, their legacies, etc.), it matters a lot to other people who go through a poltergeist or something like it, and it matters a lot to the general public. There are physical illnesses that far fewer people experience than the number of people who experience phenomena like those involved in the Enfield case, yet those physical illnesses get much more attention and funding, their victims get much more sympathy, etc. Given the significance of poltergeists and the individual phenomena involved and how little we currently know about them, a case like Enfield has a lot of potential to be used for a lot of good.

      If, say, an American historian got access to archives of the Bush family or the Clinton family that few or no other historians had access to, he'd probably give those archives a lot of attention over many years, publish articles and books on the subject, etc. It's a privilege and a responsibility. It's also an opportunity to encourage other people to do the same. Christians ought to be doing far more than they are doing to research important subjects, preserve records, fund the work other people are doing in such fields, and so on, not only in the context of the paranormal, but in other contexts as well (missions, Bible translation, philosophy, theology, etc.). However, the level of neglect, relative to the importance of what's at stake, is much worse in the context of the paranormal than it is in many other areas that get far more attention (Matthew 9:37, Romans 15:20).

    3. That makes a lot of sense. Thanks for your detailed reply.

  2. Another assiduous piece on the case. This is timely, as I'm in the middle of Cornell's excellent book 'Investigating the Paranormal'. Though I am impressed by his careful, skeptical approach to psychical phenomena, sometimes he appears a little too skeptical. There is only one (unflattering) reference to Guy Playfair in the book, when Cornell states that Playfair - in his own book 'The Haunted Pub Guide' - "sustained the fiction" about alleged paranormal phenomena that Cornell had investigated to a degree some decades earlier at an inn. The implication of the remark seems to be that Playfair wasn't as rigorous as he should be.

    Despite his skepticism, Cornell was clearly discombobulated by a most disagreeable stench which invaded part of his home in the 1950s, and which he has to conclude was paranormal in nature. It has to rank as the strangest ghost story I've ever come across.

    1. Thanks, Anthony!

      I've read Cornell's book on poltergeists, authored with Gauld, but I haven't read the other book you referenced. I, too, have often found Cornell's work helpful, despite his mishandling of the Enfield case.

      It seems that he's more responsible than Playfair for how their relationship degenerated (e.g., how Cornell behaved when he was at the Hodgsons' house, his later behavior at the SPR's symposium referred to above, his comments to the media about Enfield). But I think Playfair's book is overly negative about Cornell (and Gauld and Carr). Playfair's relationship with Gauld and Carr improved over the years, thankfully, but I don't know if there was an improvement with Cornell. Playfair did at least include a recommendation of Gauld and Cornell's book on poltergeists in the last edition of This House Is Haunted, which was good to see.

      I don't think I'd ever heard of the experience Cornell had with his house in the 1950s. That helps explain why he accepted the paranormal to some extent, despite being so overly skeptical at times.

  3. Hi Jason. I haven't yet read Gauld and Cornell's book on the poltergeist, though it seems to be regarded as a significant work in poltergeist literature. What do Gauld and Cornell have to say in it about Enfield?

    Cornell's 2002 book, which is a summation of his life in psychical research, does show how rational explanations can be found - provided investigators think about events calmly and objectively. Cornell opines that 'poltergeist disturbances can even be a mixture of deliberate fraud, unconscious fraud and phenomena not amenable to any ordinary explanation. Deliberate fraud is sometimes difficult to detect but it usually becomes evident in time'. He also notes that the psychical investigator can also find themselves playing the role of a social worker.

    On that note, have you done any research on the sociological and psychological context of the Hodgson family? Clearly, life was somewhat chaotic and a struggle, but I've never found much information about the nature of the mother's divorce and the ill-feeling it caused; who the children's father was and what he made of the events; and what physical or psychological problems one of the boys had. There is also the tragically early death of one of the boys, which I am assuming no one has ever sought to connect with the baleful legacy of the poltergeist.

    1. Because of the Blogger limit on how much can be posted at once, I'll have to break up my responses. And your comments and the comments of others will start going into moderation now. That happens automatically with every thread. Posts start going into moderation after three days. We have it set up that way to avoid having advertisers posting inappropriately in old threads and so on. But you can keep on posting. I'll check the moderation folder periodically and try to get your comments published as soon as possible.

      Gauld and Cornell's book on poltergeists doesn't discuss Enfield. My understanding is that the book originally came out in 1979. They may have finished writing it in 1978, perhaps even earlier, and the large majority of the research behind it surely was done earlier yet. I suspect they also wanted more time to think about Enfield, do further research on it, and see what developed with the case more broadly. And there are advantages to avoiding a discussion of recent cases that are so controversial. So, they probably had a series of reasons for not including Enfield in their book. Once Grosse and Playfair's willingness to take Gregory to court over her doctoral thesis became known to Gauld and Cornell, that could have provided further incentive to leave out any discussion of Enfield in their book in any future editions. But that may not have been much of a factor, if any. As far as I recall, the book was never updated to include more recent cases in general, so Enfield wasn't being singled out in that regard.

      But since the issue of litigation has come up, and it's relevant to other points you've raised, I might as well use this as an opportunity to address the subject further. Regarding the other book by Cornell that you've referenced, Gauld commented:

      "Tony later wrote from his notes a long and valuable account of his visit [to the Hodgsons' house], and of his then and subsequent views on the case, which has never been published. It was eventually included as a couple of chapters in his book, Investigating the Paranormal (2002), but was excised by the publisher for fear of possible legal repercussions, probably unnecessarily, but there were also other times in the case when hints of litigation seemed to hang over it." (in Melvyn Willin, The Enfield Poltergeist Tapes [United States: White Crow Books, 2019], 129)

      I don't know if Gauld's "excised by the publisher" comment means that the two chapters were never published or that they were published, then were removed from later editions. I suspect the chapters were never published. I looked for a copy of the first edition of the book online some months ago, but I don't recall finding anything reliable. From what I remember, some of the sellers seemed to be offering the first edition of the book, but the information was ambiguous enough to produce too much doubt. So, I didn't buy any of the copies I came across. I may try to get a copy of the first edition of the book at some point in the future (by buying it or getting it from a library), but it's something I've put off for now. And I wasn't able to find any contact information for Gauld.

    2. But there are at least a few individuals I know of who have read some form of Cornell's unpublished comments on Enfield (Gauld, Willin, and Gregory). If Cornell produced any significantly good arguments or evidence against Enfield, they aren't reflected in anything I've read from Gauld, Willin, Gregory, or anybody else. In fact, Willin supports the authenticity of the case, and Gauld has been at least highly open to it.

      I suspect Cornell raised some valid concerns based on his visit to the house, went into a lot of detail, provided substantial documentation (e.g., the floor plans Gregory says he drew), and so forth. But there's only so much you can conclude from one overnight visit to the house. And there's the issue of Cornell's problematic behavior while at the house, at the SPR symposium the following March, and in his interactions with the media. That pattern of behavior lowers my expectations for the quality of his unpublished material. It's important to note that Willin quotes Cornell saying, in his unpublished comments, that he "had no doubts about [Grosse and Playfair's] sincerity or honesty" (ibid., 77).

      To Gauld's credit, he comments that the book publisher's fear of legal repercussions for publishing Cornell's material was probably unnecessary. As far as I know, most Enfield critics (Beloff, Nickell, Hyde, etc.) didn't face any lawsuits, or even threats of lawsuits, while Grosse and Playfair were alive.

      It seems that they only took legal measures with the critics (and others) they considered the most irresponsible and/or influential. But even with Gregory, I don't think there were any legal threats over her opposition to the case in the earliest years, and her negative comments on Enfield were published in the SPR's journal and in other public places for a long time. It doesn't seem that Grosse and Playfair were trying to shut down her criticism entirely, but rather were more focused on her doctoral thesis in particular. As I recall, when Playfair heard about the production of The Conjuring 2 and what shape the movie was taking, he wrote a brief letter saying something to the effect of "If I'm portrayed, I'll sue." Sure enough, he was left out of the movie. Given how problematic the movie turned out to be in some ways, in terms of departing from the actual events of the case and how the Warrens were portrayed, for example, it's understandable that Playfair wouldn't want to be associated with the movie. And threatening a lawsuit is an effective way of getting that done. So, I think the way Grosse and Playfair handled legal issues was somewhat justified.

      But I also think they were wrong to an extent. I think it's highly likely that their legal threat against Gregory was a mistake. Her doctoral thesis isn't that difficult to refute, and it offers some significant corroboration of the authenticity of the case. By keeping the thesis away from the public, Grosse and Playfair created a situation in which people overestimated the thesis and were more doubtful of the Enfield case accordingly, and people like Beloff were given an opportunity to make their skepticism seem more justified than it was. In Will Storr's book I discussed earlier, Storr reports that Beloff cited Gregory's thesis when asked about his view of Enfield (157). If Grosse and Playfair had written a refutation of the thesis when it came out in the 1980s, as I think they should have, they would have cut the legs out from under Beloff and a lot of other critics.

      My sense is that they viewed Gregory as unethical and a waste of their time, saw her thesis as the culmination of years of that sort of behavior, and decided that burying the thesis by means of a legal threat was the most efficient way of handling the situation. That was a miscalculation.

    3. The criticism of Grosse and Playfair for being too litigious is somewhat accurate, but it's also somewhat inaccurate. They were too litigious, but I think less than often suggested, and the reasons for being so litigious are different than is often implied.

      Playfair's been dead for more than two years now. I haven't heard anything from anybody about good arguments against Enfield that Gregory, Cornell, Beloff, or anybody else conveyed to them in private, but that they were afraid to talk about because of legal concerns. Neither Grosse nor Playfair is alive to sue anybody. So, why aren't we hearing about good arguments they allegedly suppressed? It didn't take long for somebody, whoever it was, to get Gregory's doctoral thesis out to the public after Playfair died. I found her thesis online just after Playfair's death, and I doubt the timing was a coincidence. So, why hasn't anything else been published since Playfair's death? As I argued in my response to Gregory's thesis a couple of years ago, her case against Enfield doesn't amount to much. And I'll be providing more evidence to that effect in future posts. (My 2018 response to her thesis was written before I listened to Grosse and Playfair's tapes. Those tapes contain a lot of evidence against Gregory's thesis.) Some researchers' comments on the Enfield case were submitted to the SPR confidentially, and the comments haven't been made public. But I don't know that any of that confidentiality, much less all of it, can be attributed to concerns about legal action by Grosse and Playfair. And there presumably would be means of making those comments public now that Grosse and Playfair are dead, if concerns about being sued by them were what kept the comments private.

    4. Regarding the family background of the Hodgsons, the father's name was Tony. The family retained his last name. Peggy's maiden name was, of course, Burcombe. There's a substantial amount of information about Tony on the tapes, but I want to avoid discussing some of it, at least for now. If it's made public by some other source, then I'd be willing to repeat what's already been made public, but I think it's best not to say some things. I don't have any legal concerns about discussing the issues, but there are ethical reasons to avoid that sort of discussion. Tony died not too long ago (within the last several years), and it seems that he was on at least somewhat good terms with his children at that point. A lot could have changed in the decades between the 1970s and his death, and I'd want some overriding justification to bring up details that would significantly damage his legacy and upset people close to him. On the other hand, there is a valid public interest in getting some additional information about Tony. It's difficult or impossible to know where to draw all of the lines in this kind of situation, but I'll try to keep an appropriate balance.

      Anita Gregory has already publicly referred to "[Peggy Hodgson's] ex-husband's disgraceful treatment of her" (page 195 in Gregory's doctoral thesis). My impression is that the divorce was either entirely or primarily the fault of Tony. I don't say that to be negative about Tony, but to be positive about Peggy. She deserves that, since divorce can cast a cloud of suspicion over both individuals involved. I won't go into many of the details of Tony's behavior, but I do want to note that, as far as I can tell, he wasn't physically abusive to other members of the family or anything like that. His behavior was unusually bad, but not in the worst sort of way people often think of in this type of context. In his book, Willin quotes some of Playfair's notes on Tony, where Tony is referred to as mentally ill (2). Willin also quotes Playfair's comments on one of the tapes about how Tony was "convicted of child-molesting when he was fifteen years old - an event which [Tony] had told the girls about" (39).

    5. Tony doesn't appear on any of the tapes. There are some descriptions of his visits, however. He seems to have witnessed some paranormal events. There's a reference to a brush hitting him in the face (MG33A, 4:23). He's said to have laughed afterward, and Peggy Hodgson refers to his laughing about the poltergeist on at least one other occasion (GP52B, 42:38). I don't think there was necessarily anything wrong with his laughing, though Peggy suggests he didn't take the poltergeist seriously enough. On the particular occasions in question here, the first one involved his being hit with a brush, so the laughter could be self-deprecating or unproblematic in some other way. And the second occasion was the one in which the poltergeist wrote "I've got your pork pie" on the bathroom mirror, an incident likely to be authentic, which I've discussed elsewhere. Tony was the one who discovered the writing. And it's understandable that he found the situation amusing, since it was amusing. Peggy noted that when Tony arrived for his weekly visit on December 3, 1977, it was about half past 10:00 in the morning. Peggy made a comment to Margaret about how the poltergeist often becomes active at 25 minutes until an hour, and paranormal events started at 25 minutes to the hour just after Peggy made that comment (GP20A, 2:34). So, Tony not only witnessed the events, apparently, but also heard Peggy anticipating the time when the events would start.

      My impression is that the paranormal phenomena didn't seem to be centered around Tony's visits to the house. That raises doubts about the hypothesis that the psychological problems he caused within the family were what originated the poltergeist. The most significant events in the case, as well as the large majority of the events in general, occurred during times and days of the week when Tony wasn't around. The events I'm aware of that happened when Tony was present seem to me to be of too little significance to support the notion that his behavior brought on the poltergeist.

    6. Regarding problems surrounding one of the boys, I'll just provide an overview here. It's often said that one of the boys had a mental problem, with the implication that the other boy didn't. But, if I'm remembering correctly, there's been some inconsistency in which boy is named as the one with the mental illness. Billy had a severe speech impediment, but Margaret and Peggy (with Grosse seeming to express agreement) refer to how there's nothing wrong with him mentally (e.g., MG74B, 12:29). My impression is that the majority of references to a mental problem with one of the boys involve Johnny being identified as the boy in question, and he's the one who went to a boarding school, so I think it's likely that he had the mental issue. Playfair referred to Johnny as "mentally disturbed" (page 2 in Willin's book), but that doesn't tell us much about the nature or extent of the problem. He doesn't appear on the tapes much, but on the occasions when he does, I don't remember ever getting the impression that he had any mental problems. Maybe the problem he had was of a lesser nature or only manifested under certain circumstances, not all of the time. Playfair commented, in a discussion with Hans Bender, that Johnny is "slightly abnormal" and that it's reported that he sometimes gets "very wild" (GP39A, 39:15). But Playfair comments on how normal Johnny seemed to him. Apparently, he never witnessed any of Johnny's "very wild" episodes.

      To complicate matters further, Gregory suggested in her doctoral thesis that Johnny was sent to boarding school for misbehavior (173), and I don't recall her saying anything about his being sent to the school because of a mental problem. I heard somebody (I forget who, but I think it was somebody on Grosse and Playfair's tapes) raise the possibility that the misbehavior in question is something the poltergeist did, which Johnny was wrongly blamed for. Gregory refers to excrement being found in the Nottinghams' yard, and there was suspicion that Johnny was responsible for it. That occurred shortly before the Hodgsons realized there was something paranormal going on in their house. Poltergeist activity sometimes involves excrement, and this particular poltergeist was involved in that sort of activity on multiple occasions. And there's good evidence that the poltergeist was active prior to the time when the Hodgsons became aware that something paranormal was going on. So, there's a reasonable chance that Johnny was blamed for something the poltergeist did.

    7. He died of cancer in 1981. When Grosse was driving back to his house after attending Johnny's funeral, "his car was seen by a neighbour to be leaking petrol in a manner which, he believed, was not possible." (page 98 in Willin's book) There were multiple other occasions when the poltergeist seems to have done something to a car in connection with Grosse, including Grosse's own car. I've discussed those events elsewhere. So, there's precedent for the poltergeist doing that sort of thing. There were other reports of ongoing paranormal activity until the time of Peggy's death in 2003, and the family that moved in afterward reported paranormal events in the house.

      On the one hand, there were significant psychological problems in the Hodgson family (as with many families, the vast majority of whom never experience a poltergeist). On the other hand, the persistence of the paranormal activity after the Hodgsons had all moved out of the house along with some other factors involved suggest that the poltergeist was an entity independent of the Hodgsons. But the family's psychology is relevant, for a variety of reasons, even when an independent entity is involved.

      Aside from Tony, who never appears on the tapes and who I know much less about, I've found all of the Hodgsons likeable. Even if Johnny had some sort of significant mental problem, it might have been something he would have outgrown over time, as people often do.

    8. On the issue of litigation, a couple of other factors should be kept in mind. I'm only aware of a few lawsuits or threats of lawsuits that occurred over a few decades. That isn't much, though there may be more that I'm unaware of. And we should keep in mind that Grosse and Playfair had some people in their close circles who were lawyers, most notably Grosse's son. One or more of those lawyers may have encouraged them to take a legal approach toward these situations. That doesn't excuse any misjudgments Grosse and Playfair made, but it is a mitigating factor.

  4. I decided not to include something in my material on Milbourne Christopher above, but I want to bring it up here in the comments section. Grosse and Playfair's tapes of Christopher's visit were recorded on the upper floor of the Hodgsons' house and in the car in which Christopher was being driven back to his hotel. But Playfair wrote about something not recorded on tape, which apparently happened downstairs just after Christopher arrived:

    Much to my surprise, however, Christopher had only been in the house about fifteen minutes when he began to do some conjuring tricks for the children, who sat on the floor and watched wide-eyed.

    'Oh yes, Mr White's [a pseudonym for Christopher] a pretty good amateur magician,' I said hastily, wondering what on earth he was up to. He was, of course, no amateur but a highly skilled professional, and using no props at all except for some torn pieces of paper, he performed a rapid succession of sleight-of-hand tricks that left the [Hodgsons] spellbound.

    'Cor, do that again!' Janet exclaimed as a piece of paper vanished into thin air and reappeared on the floor beside her. I asked him later why he had given this brilliant performance after specially asking to be incognito.

    'I wanted to test their reactions,' he replied. I am not sure what he deduced from their reactions except perhaps that the children were just like any other children.
    (This House Is Haunted [United States: White Crow Books, 2011], 159)

    Notice a few things. There's no reason to doubt Playfair's account, and his description of the children's behavior is consistent with how they behaved on other occasions (Janet's being easily excitable, etc.).

    Either the children were putting on an act or they weren't. If they were, then this is yet another occasion on which a fraud hypothesis requires us to think one or more of the children were good at acting and had the knowledge and other characteristics required to discern that they needed to put on such an act on such short notice. On the other hand, if they weren't putting on an act, why would they be so impressed with such magic tricks? If Janet was "very, very clever", as Christopher put it, and she and her siblings faked as much as some critics allege, why would they be so impressed with tricks like Christopher's?

    Keep in mind that Christopher originated the idea of "testing their reactions" in this manner. He had to have seen some kind of connection between the particular tricks he was playing and the Enfield events. And it seems likely that what he was looking for, to support the fraud hypothesis he had in mind, was familiarity with such tricks on the part of the children. Instead, their reactions suggest unfamiliarity.

    Furthermore, the children not only saw Christopher perform some magic tricks and heard Playfair describe him as an amateur magician, but even saw tricks Playfair describes as "brilliant", leaving the Hodgsons "spellbound". Isn't that the sort of context in which you'd expect the children to have refrained from faking events nearby Christopher, perhaps even refrain from faking events that night altogether, since they knew there was such a skilled magician monitoring them? As Christopher himself acknowledged, that sort of failure of any alleged paranormal events to occur was his usual experience when he visited the site of a poltergeist. Yet, not only did many events occur when Christopher was nearby that night, but some even occurred right in front of him. In fact, during the bed shaking incident described in my original post, Janet called attention to the event while it was still going on. Why would she call the attention of somebody she knew to be a highly skilled magician to an event she was in the process of faking?

    The best explanation isn't that Janet was very, very clever. The best explanation is that Christopher's fraud hypothesis is very, very wrong.

  5. Thanks Jason, most interesting.

    There is also another link with a psychological disorder as I seem to recall that Playfair mentions Tourette’s Syndrome in relation to the voice phenomenon towards the end of his book on the case.

    One agrees with your comment that many families have significant psychological problems, and yet do not experience poltergeists. However, it is notable how many families that are forced to contend with poltergeists do – more often than not – have one or more family member with personal troubles of one kind or another. It might just be pent-up stress or resentment – whether it be some of the Hodgson children’s distress at the separation of their parents, or the bitterness of the shop manager in the Tony Cornell poltergeist case ‘The Antique Shop Spuk’. The fact that there is invariably some sort of discord among the participants - and that it is somehow linked to the paranormal phenomena – is one of the very few aspects of the poltergeist phenomenon of which we can be sure. But of course, why this pattern of negative emotions should engender or contribute to poltergeistery in only some instances is yet another mystery. Plus, if it is argued that the phenomenon is purely the creation of negative emotion – a tulpa, if you will – then this argument does not account for how the phenomenon can operate and seemingly display intelligence when the person or persons responsible for generating it in the first place are not present when it is active.

    I wasn’t aware that Cornell planned to include the Enfield case in his book. He may also have decided to omit the case from the book because he is usually the chief investigator of the cases he does include in the book. As I said, his sole reference to Playfair in the book isn’t flattering. As far as I was concerned, there is only one edition of ‘Investigating the Paranormal’, and that is the paperback version which came out in 2002 and which he doesn’t seem to have updated before his death in 2010. It is also curious as to why Cornell did not visit Green Street on many more occasions, if he was being assured that the case was a highly active one. In the cases included in his 2002 book, he is quite willing on occasion to travel over a hundred miles to investigate phenomena.

    1. There's a good chance that Cornell did want to return to the house, but he apparently couldn't. Playfair mentions on page 79 of his book that Peggy Hodgson didn't want Cornell (or Gauld or Carr) to come back. And there's corroboration of that on the tapes. On the other hand, given how Cornell behaved while at the house, he may not have intended to come back. Either way, the combined effect of being viewed so negatively by Grosse, Playfair, and Peggy, with those negative sentiments being made public in Playfair's book (and wherever else on a smaller scale), surely influenced how Cornell viewed and addressed the Enfield case over the years. What's harder to judge is the degree to which those factors influenced him. Hopefully we'll be able to see his unpublished material on Enfield someday.