The Enfield Poltergeist true story

The Conjuring 2 Inspiration

Janet Hodgson, 11, and her younger brother Johnny, 10, are jolted awake when their beds begin wobbling. Immediately, they yell downstairs for their single mother Peggy, who assumes her children are just trying to get out of having to go to sleep. She shouts to them from the main floor of their home and tells them to quit their antics. The children quell their fears and fall asleep, but the eerie events have only begun to torment the Hodgson family.

The following night, Janet and Johnny hear an unsettling shuffle in the dark as they tuck themselves into their beds. The rattled children sit up and call for Peggy, who reluctantly decides to investigate for herself and entertain her children's prank. As she predicted, she hears nothing when she enters their room. She exits, but just as soon as she leaves, the irksome noise returns. This time, it’s not just a sound from the shadows. As Janet and Johnny sit frozen in their beds, a chest of drawers slides across the floor from one side of the room to the other. The children holler for Peggy once more, who darts into the room and shoves the chest back to its original place. As soon as she does, however, it begins travelling again and for this round, Peggy is no match for the force that powers it.

Deeply unnerved, Peggy grabs the two children, as well as her other two kids, 12-year-old Margaret and seven-year-old Billy, each in separate rooms, and runs downstairs. As they descend onto the main floor, a haunting knocking begins that seems to emanate from all areas of the house. Peggy rushes next door and retrieves neighbor Vic Nottingham, a burly builder, who cannot make sense of the terrifying racket. The decision is made to call the police and officer Carolyn Heeps arrives on the scene. She is similarly distraught, though, when she witnesses a chair lift up into the air on its own and fly across a room. A local news outlet is called to document the events and soon thereafter, reporter Doug Bence and photographer Graham Morris of The Daily Mirror arrive. As Graham enters the home, a flying LEGO brick strikes him in the head.

“It was like when you are in the Grandstand at Lord’s cricket ground and you watch a fast ball coming down,” Graham later said in an April 2015 interview with The Daily Mirror.

In addition to the toy bricks hurtling around, marbles also swoop about. At this point, the individuals at the Hodgson residence infer that an inexplicable energy is making itself known and to calm the chaos, the knowledge of an expert is required.

The events described occurred in August 1977 at the Hodgson family home, located at 284 Green Street in an area of north London called Enfield. The episodes Doug and Graham witnessed were conveyed in a story that was published on the front page of The Daily Mirror the day after they first visited the home.

Britain was swept away by the story, entirely enthralled by what was reported. When the decision was made to seek aid, Maurice Grosse of the world’s oldest paranormal research organization, the Society for Psychical Research, was contacted. He was assigned to the case, along with his partner Guy Lyon Playfair, and for six months the pair investigated the distressing happenings, or as the force would be referred to, the Enfield Poltergeist.

Maurice was the first person to use the term “poltergeist” when describing the events that happened in August 1977 and carried on until the autumn of 1978. He said that when he picked up the LEGO pieces and marbles that had been tossed around, they were hot, which he called, “relevant to poltergeist activity.” The word "poltergeist" is German for “noisy ghost.”

Throughout the investigation, Maurice and Guy reported several shocking incidents. Sofas levitated and tipped over, tables and beds spun around and flipped, coins dropped from the air, dogs could be heard barking where no dogs existed, a fireplace was wrenched from the wall, cold breezes wafted through the home, cups randomly filled with water and oven gloves ignited.

But the majority of what transpired at 284 Green Street revolved around Janet, who would enter into violent trances and claim she was frequently thrown from her bed at night.

“I was in bed and I felt cold hands, like a force, pulling me out,” Janet would reveal in a 2012 on-camera interview.

A photo from the period shows Janet mid-air as if she were being thrown from her bed (skeptics say it's a photo of her leaping from her bed). Cameras were left running in her bedroom to capture the moments.

It's said to be routine for poltergeist activity to target a female on the cusp of adolescence. This rings true for Janet, who became a vehicle for a spirit trapped in the home.

In an April 2015 interview with The Daily Mirror, Guy said, "Janet in particular was affected and produced this deep-voiced growl which said it was a man called Bill and said ‘Just before I died, I went blind, and then I had an ‘aemorrhage and I fell asleep and I died in the chair in the corner downstairs.’ It turned out there had been someone who had died in the same circumstance – how could a child know that?”

The man who was apparently communicating through Janet was an elderly man named Bill Wilkins. When Janet uttered his words, Bill’s son Terry was contacted to confirm the statement regarding Bill’s death. He provided the validation needed: Bill died in the manner Janet expressed.

The gruff voice can still be heard on recordings. It’s a chilling and disconcerting sound that emitted even after Janet’s mouth had been taped shut (skeptics say Janet was an adept ventriloquist).

Years later, Janet told The Daily Mail, “It felt like something was behind me all of the time. They did all sorts of tests, filling my mouth with water and so on, but the voice still came out.”

Guy, who would publish a report on the poltergeist in 1980 called This House is Haunted, later expanded on the events endured by Janet, adding that a curtain once wrapped itself around her neck and began strangling her.

Janet would address the frightening event, as well as the times she was lifted from her bed, in April 2015 when she said, “The levitation was scary, because you didn’t know where you were going to land. I remember a curtain being wound around my neck, I was screaming, I thought I was going to die.”

As a result of the poltergeist activity, Janet found herself on the front page of The Daily Star accompanied by the headline, “Possessed by the Devil.” She was also dubbed “Ghost Girl” and her brother Johnny was called “the Freak Boy from the Ghost House.” According to Janet, people would spit at Johnny in the streets.

The frightful events took a toll on Janet. When speaking about the incidents to The Daily Mail in 2015, she said, “It was an extraordinary case. It’s one of the most recognized cases of paranormal activity in the world. But for me, it was quite daunting. I think it really left its mark, the activities, the newspaper attention, the different people in and out of the house. It wasn’t a normal childhood.”

Janet left home at the age of 16 and married young.

According to her, the events began to quiet in late 1978 after a priest visited the family home. However the strange occurrences didn’t completely subside.

Following Peggy’s death from breast cancer in 2003, the Bennett family took over 284 Green Street. They lasted two months before fleeing on account of a perturbing presence.

Janet said the poltergeist, “is a lot calmer than when I was a child. It is at rest, but will always be there. It lived off me, off my energy. Call me mad if you like. Those events did happen. The poltergeist was with me and I feel that in a sense he always will be.”

The events that plagued the Hodgson family transfixed Britain, but were met with resistance by some skeptics. Academic Anita Gregory was one such non-believer, who said the evidence gathered at the house was “questionable, greatly exaggerated and pathetic.”

Deborah Hyde, managing editor of The Skeptic Magazine, is another doubter. She challenged Janet during a 2012 Good Morning interview that also featured Guy, insinuating that the Enfield Poltergeist was (and is) a hoax. She said, "...humans are remarkably bad at remembering things accurately and seeing this accurately." Deborah attributes the entire ordeal to an innocent misunderstanding any untrained individual could have fallen victim to.

Suspicion began encircling their tale when Janet revealed that she and her sister Margaret fabricated certain stories to appease the public.

“There were times when things would happen and times when they wouldn’t. Sometimes, if things didn’t happen, you’d somehow feel you’d failed,” Janet admitted during a May 2015 interview with The Telegraph. But when asked how much of the Enfield phenomena she and her sister manufactured, she said it was maybe two per cent. Skeptics believe it was 100 per cent manufactured.

Regardless of the skepticism, the poltergeist residing at 284 Green Street spurred the interest of Ed and Lorraine Warren, two American demonologists, whose past work has been adapted into the 2013 hit thriller The Conjuring . The Warrens learned of the Enfield Poltergeist and traveled across the Atlantic to investigate. Ed’s interpretation of the events was documented in Gerard Brittle’s book The Demonologist: The Extradordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Ed said, “…take a case Lorraine and I began investigating this past summer (1978) in Enfield, England, where inhuman spirit phenomena were in progress. Now, you couldn’t record the dangerous, threatening atmosphere inside the little house. But you could film the levitations, teleportations, and dematerialisations of people and objects that were happening there – not to mention the many hundreds of hours of tape recordings made of these spirit voices speaking out loud in the rooms.”

The invisible presence that lurked in the shadows of the Hodgson home, dragging furniture across floors and producing disturbing knocking sounds on walls and demonic voices from a young girl, is the subject of James Wan’s The Conjuring 2 . Reprising their roles from The Conjuring , Vera Farmiga plays Lorraine Warren while Patrick Wilson portrays her husband Ed. Frances O’Connor appears in the part of Peggy Hodgson and Franka Potente plays Anita Gregory.

The Conjuring 2 isn’t the first adaptation of the Enfield Poltergeist to hit the screen. In 2015, Britain’s Sky Living ran a three-part series based on the events called The Enfield Haunting. In the role of Maurice was Timothy Spall, who was apprehensive about taking the part and in a 2015 RadioTimes interview said, “It frightened the life out of me.”

~Matthew Pariselli

The Enfield Poltergeist as seen in

Inspiration

The Conjuring 2

Genre:  Horror
Running Time:  133 min.
Release Date: June 10, 2016
DVD: September 13, 2016
Blu-ray: September 13, 2016
Netflix: April 30, 2018

Current rating: Rating: 4.00
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Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O'Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente, Lauren Esposito, Benjamin Haigh, Patrick McAuley, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Shannon Kook

Inspiration: The Enfield Poltergeist