The Enfield Case: Hysteria, Ghost or Demonic Infestation? by Chr
In late August, 1977, Mrs. Peggy Harper, a divorcee in her mid-forties, had put two of her four children to bed. The family was living in a three bedroom, semi-detached council house in Enfield, North London.
Late one night Janet, age 11, and her brother Pete, age 10, complained that their beds were “jolting up and down and going all funny”. When Peggy entered the room all movement stopped. She was convinced the children were imagining things or playing a joke on her.
The following evening at around 9:30p.m., Peggy was called to Janet and Pete’s room when they complained something was making a shuffling noise. Janet said it sounded like one of the chairs in the room was moving, so Peggy took the chair out of the bedroom to put their minds at ease. Saying goodnight to the children once more, turning off the light, she heard the shuffling noise. She described the sound as being similar to “feet shuffling across the floor in slippers”. She turned the light on to see the furniture unmoved and the children under their covers. Turning the lights off, the noise resumed.
The family then heard four loud knocks on the partitioning wall of the house. Peggy then saw a heavy chest of drawers moving about 18 inches across the floor, well beyond the reach of her children. When it stopped, Peggy pushed it back against the wall but when she turned her back it moved back to it’s former position. This time she found it impossible to move the chest. This caused her to shake with fear, yelling at the children to get out of their beds and to go downstairs – she was convinced something unexplainable was taking place. Seeing that the neighbor’s lights were on, the Harpers, still in their pajamas, ran next door for help.
The neighbors searched the house and garden but found no one. Soon the entire group heard the knocks on the walls that continued at spaced out intervals. At 11:00 p.m. they called the police, who also witnessed the knocks. One officer even saw a chair move across the floor and later signed a written statement to confirm the events.
The following day, the events continued with small plastic bricks and marbles being hurled around the house – when picked up, they were found to be hot. This “attack” continued for three days by which time they sought help again, not only from the police, but a local vicar and a medium. But no one seemed to be able to explain or stop the escalating events. The Harpers eventually turned to the press and the Daily Mirror. A reporter, Douglas Bence and a photographer, Graham Morris, were assigned to stay in the house for several hours. The activity came to a halt and the men decided to leave – they were almost in their car when a disembodied voice wished them both “Bye, Bye!” and the blocks promptly resumed flying about the house. The men immediately re-entered the house and a toy Lego block flew across the room hitting the photographer on the forehead as he attempted to take a picture. Later, as the photographer developed his negatives he noticed they had an inexplicable hole in it and that the flying block could not be seen. Senior reporter at the Daily Mail, George Fallows, was so impressed by his colleagues’ experience that he followed up the story himself. He suggested that the Harpers call in the SPR, (Society for Psychical Research), which in turn contacted Maurice Grosse, a member and resident of North London.
Grosse arrived at the Harpers on September 5, a week after the disturbances had begun. For the next few days nothing out of the ordinary occurred. Then, on September 8, while Grosse and journalists from the Daily Mirror were keeping vigil, between 10p.m. and 11p.m., they heard a crash in Janet’s room. They discovered that her bedside chair had been thrown about four feet across the room where it was lying on its side. Janet was asleep at the time and no one saw the chair move. It happened again an hour later and the photographer Morris was poised to document on film.
Grosse claims that then he experienced the strange happenings – first a marble was thrown at him from what he described as “an unseen hand”, he saw doors open and close by themselves and claimed to feel a sudden breeze that seemed to move up from his feet to his head.
On September 10, the Enfield case made the front page of the Daily Mirror, then the story was picked up by LBC radio (a London based station) and that evening Grosse, Peggy Harper and her neighbor took part in a two and a half hour NIGHT LINE program.
The phenomena continued. There was interference with electrical systems in the house, electrical faults and mechanical failure. As soon as camera flashes were recharged they were quickly drained of power. An infrared sensitive television camera was brought in to do remote monitoring of the bedroom but as soon as it began recording the tape would jam or break. The same thing happened to the BBC Radio reporters’ tapes when tape cassettes were found to be damaged, often the recordings erased, the metal inside some of the equipment would be found bent and even some of the tape decks would dematerialize reappearing several hours later in another location.
The knocking on walls and floors became an almost nightly occurrence. Furniture slid across the floor and was thrown down the staircase. Drawers were wrenched out of dressing tables. Toys and other objects would fly around the room. Bedclothes were pulled off family members in the dark of night. Water was found in mysterious puddles on the floor. There were several outbreaks of fire followed by their inexplicable extinguishing. Curtains blowing and twisting in the wind when all windows and doors were tightly closed. There were even accounts of human levitation. Janet claimed to have been picked up and thrown about the room by an unseen entity (witnessed by neighbors passing by and looking up into the girls’ bedroom). One of the girls claimed that the curtain beside her bed twisted several times into a tight spiral and attempted to wrap itself around her neck trying to strangle her. This was substantiated by her mother who had witnessed this on more than one occasion.
Soon a gravelly, guttural male voice could be heard – coming from Janet’s throat. Janet claimed to have no control over the voice and would even appear to be in a trance-like state when the voice manifested. The voice claimed to be several identities, often speaking in obscene language. One character who did keep reappearing identified himself as “Bill” who claimed to have died in the house. Out of all the voices this was the only one that could be verified. “Bill” identified himself as a man who had allegedly died in the house, an event that none of the Harpers were aware of. Naturally, this did not verify that this voice was, in fact, the ghost or spirit of the actual Bill who died. It merely represented itself as being this individual.
Psychiatrists and local doctors were brought in to see whether this was, indeed, Janet being mischievous, a second personality developing, or if perhaps there was a paranormal “entity” present. Maurice Grosse consulted speech therapists that suspected that the voice was not coming from Janet’s normal vocal chords but by a second set of chords that all people possess but few realize exist. Actors can be trained to speak using these “false chords” to produce a deep gravelly voice, however it becomes a painful process if sustained. A recording of the “voice” soon backed up this theory on a larynograph. This machine registers patterns made by frequency waves as they pass through the larynx. However, to keep up this voice for hours on end would, naturally, have consequences on Janet’s normal voice. Janet’s voice did not appear to be affected in the least.
Grosse deemed that the source of the poltergeist activity seemed to have intelligence of some kind, since it would rap out answers to simple questions – one rap for no and three raps for yes. During a session, Grosse asked how many years ago the supposed entity had lived in the house – there followed 53 raps.
Mediums were brought in to help and Janet spent six weeks in Maudsley Hospital in South London where she underwent extensive tests for any signs of physical or mental abnormality – but none were found and during this time the poltergeist activity ceased.
Professor Hasted, head of psychics at Birkbeck College, University of London, assigned his assistant to help identify the problems in the house, especially the spontaneous metal bending and snapping which had begun to take place around Janet.
Not everyone was as willing to believe that this was entirely paranormal activity as Grosse and Playfair seemed to be – further researchers were sent by the SPR (Society for Psychical Research) – Anita Gregory and John Beloff. Gregory was convinced that all the activity stemmed from Janet’s trickery. She claimed that they were excluded from the children’s bedroom when the phenomena was said to occur and that they would hear a “thump and a squeal” from Janet’s room and upon entering they would find Janet sitting in the middle of the floor claiming to have been flung there by the “entity”. On another occasion, Gregory was allowed into the room but had to stand there with her head towards the door to allow the poltergeist activity to occur. It proceeded to throw objects at three head while she heard the children giggling. Gregory believed the voices to be muffled voices of Janet and her thirteen year old sister Rose covering their mouths with their bedsheets or averting their faces while producing these “phenomena”. During her visit, gregory caught Janet cheating – a video camera had been set up in a room next door to Janet that recorded her bending spoons and attempting to bend an iron bar by sheer force, as well as “ bouncing up and down on her bed, making flapping movements with her hands”. Janet admits to having done this. She claims that she “wanted to see if the investigators would catch her – they always did”.
Gregory also claims that Janet’s uncle, John Burcombe, had told her that he believed that Janet had taught herself to talk in a deep voice and that she had always been a mischievous child, enjoying misleading strangers. Janet was also an athletic girl who could have easily jumped from her bed to the floor when she claimed she was being thrown by the “entity”.
After two years, the events subsided and the Harper family continued their lives.
Was this genuine phenomena? If not, why did the Harpers have their household disrupted for two years, invaded by investigators, psychiatrists and mediums? What caused the chest of drawers to move at the start? What caused the blocks to fly around? What spoke to the reporters in their vehicle? Because the Harpers went to the media in the very beginning, skeptics argue this was a hoax. Did Maurice Grosse, who had lost his young daughter in a car accident only a year earlier, want to believe too easily that paranormal phenomena was occurring? Was the poltergeist activity caused by frustration externalizing? Some research points to sexual frustration as being a catalyst for causing poltergeist activity – such as Janet beginning menstruation and her mother going through menopause . Was the recent divorce of Janet’s parents a factor? Two years later, why did the activity come to a halt? It was claimed by some that Peggy Harper was trying to get to the top of the housing queue as it was becoming quite common for council tenants to have created “haunted houses” – however Mrs. Harper refused to leave her home.
It is widely believed that this case began with genuine phenomena, but soon turned to trickery. As the media demanded paranormal activity, eleven year old Janet and thirteen year old Rose, were not going to allow them to go away disappointed and reveled in the attention.
The term “poltergeist” is almost always generically used to describe overt and blatant outward manifestations which occur during a haunting. However, there is also the situation where the activity is caused, seemingly, at random and without a pattern of reason. There is evidence supporting the cause of some of this activity as RSPK (Recurring Spontaneous Psychokinesis). This type of activity manifests as aimless, unpredictable and seemingly pointless physical activity i.e. dishes flying around hitting the wall of a room. However, much of the outward manifestations in this case showed a distinct logic and purpose behind them and, it could be argued, an intelligence or reasoning as well. For example, the blocks hitting the reporter in the forehead, the drapes twisting around the neck, the tape recorders and recordings (which would be strong evidence to the events) malfunctioning, being broken or dematerializing. All of these events are designed for two main purposes: To frighten and weaken those who have witnessed the events and for the invading “entity” to maintain anonymity. After all what rational individual is about to believe someone reporting such outlandish events without photographs or recordings of some sort to substantiate their claim.
For a psychic or paranormal researcher, demonologist or scientist, this case represents a rare opportunity to study and analyze the events which took place in Enfield. A case such as Enfield is rare and represents a level of involvement many of us committed to this field spend a lifetime seeking to fulfill.