Interview With a Poltergeist: The True Story of The Enfield Haunting
The Enfield Haunting: Janet Hodgson pictured mid-air after being thrown from her bed by an unseen assailant.

In 1977 single parent, single parent, Peggy Hodgson moved into 284 Green Street, Enfield, UK, with her four young children. Soon after, the family began experiencing unexplained paranormal phenomena that would last for more than a year and would eventually culminate with her 11-year-old daughter being possessed by the spirit of a man known as ‘Bill’. Despite extensive investigations by the police, press, and experts from the Society of Psychical Research (SPR), the case remains unsolved; dividing believers and skeptics alike.

Today, the ‘Enfield Poltergeist’ is widely regarded as the most fascinating ghost stories in British modern history and was recently the subject of the Hollywood blockbuster The Conjuring 2.  While we may never truly understand what took place in that small, nondescript house in Enfield, we do know it began with strange sounds in the night.

The Unexplained Begins

Peggy moved into the modest home with her four children – Margaret (12), Janet (11), Johnny (10) and Billy (7). It was not long after that the children began to complain of noises in the night that would wake them. They said it sounded like knocking coming from within the walls. Unsure of what to make of these strange sounds, Peggy put it down to the children being unfamiliar with their new home. That was until other strange events started to happen: furniture moved by itself, the children’s beds would shake and toys, such as marbles and Lego pieces, would fly through the air – often aimed at people – or become too hot to touch.

It soon became clear to Peggy that these strange occurrences seemed to center around her two daughters, and more specifically her middle child, Janet. After witnessing a chest of drawers in the girls’ small bedroom slide, on its own accord, across the room almost crushing her children, Peggy had had enough. She called the police who dispatched two officers to the home. Logically, the officers initially suspected the claims to be nothing more than a childish prank, if not by the mother, then by her three children. Their suspicions were cut short when the arriving officer WPC Carolyn Heeps witnessed a chair slide five feet across the floor, apparently on its own. Shocked, the officer told Peggy that there was little she could do for her and suggested she contact the local media.

Interview With a Poltergeist: The True Story of The Enfield Haunting
The investigation: Peggy Hodgson (center) and her children Billy, Margaret and Janet (right).

Two journalists, Graham Morris and Douglas Bence from The Daily Mirror newspaper were sent to cover the story. The group sat in the living room discussing the prior night’s events until an hour had passed and there was still no sign of strange activity. As the journalists began to pack their equipment and prepare to leave, they are stopped by a hysterical Peggy. When they re-entered the home, they were shocked by what they saw. Small, inanimate objects were flying around the room, crashing into walls and people. Morris rushed back to his vehicle to retrieve his camera and immediately began taking photographs. However, they were unable to capture any paranormal evidence on film. At a loss of what to do, Peggy turned to the Society of Psychical Research (SPR).

The Experts Are Called In

Paranormal investigators Maurice Grosse and Guy Lyon Playfair spent 13 months with the family, investigating and chronicling the supernatural events taking place within the house. It wasn’t long before the investigators become convinced by the evidence presented to them that the house was also home to a poltergeist.

During this time, among a number of incidents, there were 26 of which the investigators witnessed but could not rationally explain. These included levitations, bedclothes being pulled off, apparitions, cool breezes, puddles of water on the floor and fires that would spontaneously light before immediately being extinguished. The documented objects that disappeared before randomly appearing again at a later date and equipment failing or having interference – a BBC TV crew who visited the house later found the metal inside their machines to be bent and recordings erased.

Interview With a Poltergeist: The True Story of The Enfield Haunting
In the grips of possession: Janet is restrained by paranormal investigator Maurice Grosse.

In November, three months into Grosse and Playfair’s investigation events had started to escalate further. The loud knockings from within the walls began to increase in volume and persistence, until the investigators began to believe they were intelligent in nature, and could be a possible form of communication by the unseen force. Grosse began asking the presence to answer questions by rapping once or twice on the wall, to which it did. Around this time Janet began to fall into trance like states, acting out violently with almost superhuman strength. Concerned for her safety Janet was restrained and sedated.

Noting that much of the paranormal activity was taking place in the girl’s bedroom, photographer Graham Morris from the Daily Mirror returned to the house to see if he could capture the phenomenon on camera.  Setting up a remote controlled camera system which was set to take a photograph every 4 seconds, in a series of shots taken in the bedroom Morris caught the moment Janet was violently thrown from her bed by an unseen force. But worse was yet to come.

Interview With a Poltergeist: The True Story of The Enfield Haunting
Chaos in the night: Janet and her older sister Margaret pictured after being thrown from their beds..

As Janet continued to fall in and out of trances, she began to speak in a deep voice, like that of a man. Grosse and Playfair were present during one of these apparent possessions and began interviewing her.  Janet referred to herself as Bill who said he had died of a brain hemorrhage sitting in his favorite chair in the house some years before.  He often exhibited a cruel streak, swearing and making jokes (listen to the original recording made by Groose and Playfair below).

Interestingly, the experts were separately contacted by a man named Terry Wilkins who claimed he was Bill’s son.  Wilkins confirmed that Bill had lived in the house prior to the Hodgson’s moving in and that his father’s death the events described in the audio was accurate.

By July of 1978, Janet was admitted to a psychiatric hospital where she stayed for two months and underwent extensive testing. Unable to find anything psychiatrically wrong with the teenage girl she was released and apart from a sudden burst of activity in 1980, the haunting had seemingly ended as quickly as it had begun.

A True Haunting or a Hoax?

Two separate investigators from the SPR who spent time with the family were less convinced than Grosse and Playfair, believing that the children had been the cause of all the activity after they found them bending spoons. While both Janet and Margaret have publicly admitted this, they remain adamant that they did not fake all the incidents. In defense of the family, Grosse explained: “Of course they played tricks! They’re children! But it was nothing to the real thing.”

Much like his partner Playfair, so convinced was he by what he witnessed at the Hodgson’s home, wrote a book about the period entitled This House is Haunted. And in 2010 he welcomed the findings of research carried out by the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research which showed that recordings made at the house could not have been caused by human activity. The recordings were analyzed in detail and the sounds made in them replicated in scientific conditions, which did not produce the same sound waves as those made in the Enfield house. Playfair stated: “This is absolutely the biggest step forward in the last 30 years, and it’s easily reproducible as all scientific evidence should be … In doing this research, scientific order has been brought into a very crazy area – poltergeist activity. I don’t think it’s been done before.”

In Popular Culture

The case has been analyzed and discussed in numerous documentaries, books, and articles. It also inspired the infamous BBC ‘mockumentary’ Ghostwatch which was broadcast on Halloween in 1992 and purported to document the strange happenings experienced by a family in London who were haunted by a poltergeist known as ‘pipes’. It is so scary, it’s never been broadcast in the UK again having been banned for over a decade since its initial air date.

Interview With a Poltergeist: The True Story of The Enfield Haunting
A scene from James Wan’s horror blockbuster The Conjuring 2, which is loosely based on the Enfield Haunting.

The case still provokes fascination today, and in 2015 formed the basis of Sky Living’s three part TV dramatization The Enfield Haunting, before making its way across the pond to Hollywood. After the success of horror film The Conjuring, director James Wan based the sequel around paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren as they travel to England in the 1970’s to investigate the case of a poltergeist. While The Conjuring 2 depicts the Warrens as being incredibly involved in the investigation, according to Playfair the paranormal duo did little more than turn up to the house uninvited and stayed for just one day.

While there seems to be no agreement between experts on the authenticity of the case of the Enfield poltergeist, those who were actually affected by it seem sure that what they experienced was real and have no other explanations for the events, as Playfair concludes: “It’s been accepted as one of the classic cases, there were so many people involved and I think it was the first or second case when the investigators were there right at the start and stayed right until the end.”

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