The Enfield Poltergeist: The true story that inspired The Conjuring 2

James Wan’s horror sequel The Conjuring 2 was scaring up the box office with nearly $200 million worldwide (and a new spin-off movie announced), but there are some out there who have criticized the filmmakers for publicizing and choosing a ‘haunting’ that has been deemed a ‘fake’ by so many. Though there are claims to the contrary, several experts in the field have said The Enfield Poltergeist is little more than an elaborate hoax by two teenage girls.

So what’s the true story behind The Conjuring 2?

The Hodgson’s

The story begins in 1977 when single mother Peggy Hodgson moved into a semi-detached council house in Enfield, North London with her four children, Margret (12), Janet (11), Johnny (10) and Billy (7). In August, Peggy was awoken by her daughters screaming from their room and when she went to investigate, found their chest of drawers moving away from the wall by an invisible force as if to trap them in the room. “It started in a back bedroom, the chest of drawers moved, and you could hear shuffling,” Janet Hodgson told Channel 4 several years later. “Mum said: ‘I want you to pack it in’. We told her what was going on, and she came to see it for herself.” Peggy adds in the interview, “I pushed the chest back against the wall, but it slid towards me again. I tried, but I couldn’t stop it. I wondered if my two younger boys were playing pranks, because they also slept upstairs, but they weren’t anywhere near the room.” The children had complained about their beds shaking and voices coming from other rooms, prompting Mrs. Hodgson to call the police. During their visit, the police officers reported that a chair moved across the dining room and informed the Hodgsons this was not a police matter. WPC Carolyn Heeps noted in her report, “[The chair] came to rest after about 4ft. I checked it for hidden wires or any other means by which it could have moved, but there was nothing to explain.”

“She was astounded,” Janet says. “We were all astounded.”

With the police unable to help, Peggy Hodgson called in the media. Graham Morris, a photographer for the Daily Mirror commented, “It was chaos, things started flying around, people were screaming.” Morris was also quoted that a LEGO brick was thrown at him from across the room which nearly hit him in the face. Morris captured several of the disturbances on camera, whereas the BBC camera crew found their tapes tampered with and twisted.

The investigators found themselves caught in a maelstrom of apparently psychic activity, with every poltergeist trick thrown at them

All this media attention caused the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) to come in and investigate, sending Maurice Grosse and Guy Lyon Playfair to report back. “When I first got there, nothing happened for a while,” Playfair recalls. “But then I experienced LEGO pieces flying across the room, and marbles. And the extraordinary thing was, when you picked them up they were hot, which is relevant to poltergeist type activity. I was standing by the table in the kitchen and a t-shirt leapt off the table and flew into the other side of the room whilst I was standing by it. I thought, ‘Well that’s good. Now I’ve really seen something’.”

Over the following months, Grosse and Playfair noted other paranormal activity, including sofas and beds tipping over, coins dropping from the ceiling, dogs barking in empty rooms and Janet Hodgson levitating above her bed. “The levitation was scary, because you didn’t know where you were going to land,” Janet recalled later. Playfair adds: “On subsequent visits I experienced cold draughts, graffiti, water puddles appearing from nowhere, bad smells, and chairs and tables moving of their own accord.” He also recalls an experiment where they removed all of the furniture in the bedroom to see what the poltergeist would do, only to discover it had ripped the fireplace out of the wall. “It was one of those old Victorian cast iron fires that must have weighed 60lb,” he said. “The children couldn’t have ripped it out of the wall, but in any case they weren’t there.”

“I remember a curtain being wound around my neck, I was screaming, I thought I was going to die,” Janet adds. “My mum had to use all her strength to rip it away. The man who spoke through me, Bill, seemed angry, because we were in his house.”

The ‘Bill’ Janet is referring to is Bill Wilkins, the former owner of the house in Enfield who passed away in the living room blind and alone. One of the more peculiar occurrences from the 18-month haunting was Bill communicating through Janet Hodgson, distorting her young voice to that of an old, bitter and angry man. “My name is Bill,” the raspy voice says in one of the recordings. “Just before I died, I went blind and then I had a haemorrhage and I fell asleep and died in the chair in the corner downstairs.” Bill’s son, who heard the recordings played on the radio, confirmed that his father did indeed die in the chair. “I felt used by a force that nobody understands,” Janet recalled. “I really don’t like to think about it too much. I’m not sure the poltergeist was truly ‘evil’. It was almost as if it wanted to be part of our family. It didn’t want to hurt us. It had died there and wanted to be at rest. The only way it could communicate was through me and my sister.”

Janet Hodgson, aged 11 at the time, appeared to be possessed. It could have been a scene from the film The Exorcist – but it was real

The Hodgson’s story was corroborated by Ed and Lorraine Warren, portrayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in Wan’s The Conjuring 2. “Lorraine and I began investigating this past summer [in 1978] in Enfield, England, where inhuman spirit phenomena were in progress,” Warren notes in Gerard Brittle’s The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren. “Now, you couldn’t record the dangerous, threatening atmosphere inside that 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.”

But even with all of this, there were those who felt that The Enfield Poltergeist was being made up by Janet and her older sister Margret. Psychical investigator Renée Haynes raised doubts at the SPR conference in 1978, and several other SPR investigators claimed the haunting was “overrated”, “suspicious” and “staged.” John Beloff, former SPR President, suggested Janet had taken up ventriloquism, which allowed her to speak as ‘Bill’ while not moving her lips. “I knew when the voices were happening, of course, it felt like something was behind me all of the time,” Janet argues. “They did all sorts of tests, filling my mouth with water and so on, but the voices still came out.”

Noted sceptic Joe Nickell claimed the tape malfunctions were “common” for the technology at the time, and suggested the photos of Janet levitating where nothing more than her bouncing off the bed. British author and broadcaster Melvin Harris agreed saying, “It’s worth remembering that Janet was a school sports champion.” Nickell also denounced the work of The Warrens saying, “[Ed Warren is] notorious for exaggerating and even making up incidents in such cases, often transforming a ‘haunting’ case into one of ‘demonic possession’.” In his reports, Nickell found it very coincidental that ‘Bill’ would only talk when Janet’s hand was over her mouth, and that the alleged poltergeist only acted when it was not being watched. “Time and again in other ‘poltergeist’ outbreaks, witnesses have reported an object leaping from its resting place supposedly on its own,” he reported, “when it is likely that the perpetrator had secretly obtained the object sometime earlier and waited for an opportunity to fling it, even from outside the room—thus supposedly proving he or she was innocent.”

Most of the activity centred on 11-year-old Janet. She went into violent trances, which were awful to behold

Perhaps the most damning evidence against Janet Hodgson was when she was caught on video tape preparing some of the disturbances. “Anita Gregory, of the Society for Psychical Research, who had spent just a short time at the Hodgson home, said the mysterious men’s voices were simply the result of Janet and Margaret putting bed sheets to their mouths,” Michael Clarkson notes in his book Poltergeists: Examining Mysteries of the Paranormal. “In addition, Gregory said that a video camera had caught Janet attempting to bend spoons and an iron bar by force and ‘practicing’ levitation by bouncing up and down on her bed.” In 1980, Janet admitted to ITV News that she and her sister faked the events “once or twice”.

Guy Lyon Playfair knew that Janet and Margret were trying to trick him, but says he wasn’t duped by them. “We would catch them each time because we were watching for trickery,” he said. “They would try to bend spoons, like Uri Geller. They tried to hide my tape recorder so I would think the poltergeist had moved it. But they didn’t realise it was switched on, so I heard every word of their plot. But there were too many other things that happened that could not be faked. Usually there were too many witnesses. What about all the things that happened in empty rooms, when the kids were somewhere else? What about all the things I saw and heard? And the police officers? Children couldn’t have fooled so many people, all of whom wanted to find a rational, earthly explanation for what was happening.” Janet Hodgson admits to faking “2 percent” of the phenomena, but maintains their house was really haunted. “I remember that one,” Janet says of being caught on video bending spoons. “Maurice was annoyed with me… There was times when things would happen and times when they wouldn’t. Sometimes, if things didn’t happen, you’d somehow feel you’d failed.” She added: “You’d get bored and frustrated at all the people coming and going. I mean, life wasn’t normal.”

Both Janet and her younger brother were bullied heavily at school for the hauntings, and it caused a lot of strain on her childhood. “I’d dread going home,” she said. “The front door would be open, there’d be people in and out, you didn’t know what to expect and I used to worry a lot about Mum. She had a nervous breakdown, in the end.”

Towards the end of 1979, Playfair invited two psychic mediums to the house to make contact with ‘Bill’. “They came to the house and almost immediately made contact with the poltergeist,” Playfair recalls. “It took them 15 minutes of talking to him calmly, and the effect was remarkable.” Janet reportedly slept for fourteen hours, and life for the Hodgsons returned to some form of normality.

A few years after the press coverage had died down, Janet’s younger brother Johnny died of cancer, and her mother also passed away of breast cancer in 2003, reportedly in the same chair that Bill Wilkins died in. “I lost touch with everything, all the coverage of the case in paranormal books,” Janet, who left home at 16, laments. “My mum felt people walked over her at that time. She felt exploited.”

Though the hauntings died down, a presence could still be felt in the house. “‘Even my brother, until the day he left that place after Mum died, would say: ‘There’s still something there.’ You’d feel like you were being watched,” Janet Hodgson says. After Peggy Hodgson passed away, Clare Bennett and her four sons moved in. “I didn’t see anything, but I felt uncomfortable,” Clare Bennett told The Telegraph when they reached out to her. “There was definitely some kind of presence in the house, I always felt like someone was looking at me.” Her son, Shaka, noted, “I woke up and saw a man come into the room. I ran into Mum’s room and said: ‘We’ve got to move,’ and we did the next day.”

Janet Hodgson was not aware James Wan was adapting her story for The Conjuring 2 and has shown displeasure in his choice. “‘I wasn’t very happy to hear about the film, I didn’t know anything about it,” she says. “My dad [had] just died, and it really upset me to think of all this being raked over again.” She added: “It was an extraordinary case. It’s one of the most recognised 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.”

Guy Lyon Playfair, who remains in touch with Janet Hodgson, concludes, “To all those who say the poltergeist must have been a hoax I say this: I was there and you weren’t. I investigated everything at first hand and you didn’t. I know what I saw and heard.”

source: Flickering Myth

 

 

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