“There is no shortage of good evidence for poltergeist activity, much of it provided by sceptical scientists, professional police officers, and hard-nosed reporters” wrote Lyall Watson in his book Supernature (1973) (Watson, 1973). As those familiar with poltergeist literature will know, particular credence is often given to testimony coming from police officers, (Clarkson, 2011) and since the 19th century numerous poltergeist cases have been recorded which feature police officers either witnessing phenomena, or trying to make sense of a seemingly endless and repetitious collection of unsolved incidents where no human culprit can be detected (Tizane, 1951). However, with the book Paranormal Intruder: The True Story of A Family in Fear (2013) we have what I believe is an original contribution to this voluminous literature of police-witnessed manifestations – the first account published by a serving British police officer who found a poltergeist erupting inside her own home in 2010. It is an interesting and illuminating self-published account revealing what it is like to be at the centre of a poltergeist outbreak, and it is a book which many practical investigators may benefit from reading.
Whilst poltergeists as a paranormal phenomenon remain controversial, there is no disputing that such outbreaks exist as social facts; claims of ghost-shattered homes from around the world are reaching the SPR on an almost weekly basis. Poltergeist reports are typically gleaned from accounts of widely varying quality, supplied by outside observers, appearing as either news bulletins or, more rarely, in detailed reports and books issued by investigators and scholars, often heavily influenced by pre-existing beliefs and theories. The more detailed reports, such as those supplied by parapsychologists (Roll, 1976), may on occasion provide extensive details of physical measurements and dislocations of objects, but contain correspondingly less information as to the mental and physical well-being of the household and the personal impact that manifestations have on the lives of the people at the centre of the disturbance. In particular, it is rare to be presented with any detailed account of the thoughts, feelings and opinions of those most directly and intimately involved. However, with this book we are presented with such a family-witnessed account, by the author who is a trained observer and who explains in a highly readable way precisely how the distressing and bizarre events in their house on the Essex coast affected herself, her husband Neil and their four children, over the course of many months.
As with many eye-witness accounts of poltergeist activity, events are described very much from a personal perspective, with an emphasis on the baffling and threatening aspects of the manifestations rather than upon their mechanics, thus starkly revealing the heavy emotional toll that a poltergeist may inflict. Describing the struggle of herself and her husband to try and make sense of the occurrences, Caroline Mitchell’s account details their feelings and reactions throughout the haunting, and successfully conveys the fear and profound sense of isolation which swiftly engulfs a family beset by seemingly random and frequently terrifying happenings.
Many of the manifestations related here will be familiar from other recorded cases, including thumps and banging noises, coins, glasses and other objects being thrown, foul smells, the appearance of pools of liquid, the disturbance of beds, spontaneous fires and examples of what appears to be an increasingly common trick of modern poltergeists - interference with mobile telephones. Not surprisingly the family swiftly gained the impression that a rudimentary and malicious intelligence was behind the disturbances.
Destructive manifestations and their aftermath were witnessed by family members, friends, and colleagues of the author, together with some witnessed by investigators invited to the property including Mike Hallowell, co-author of The South Shields Poltergeist: (Hallowell and Ritson,2006) who appears to have had considerable luck in observing some spontaneous events at first-hand; he provides a forward to the book.
I noted with particular interest incidents such as that described on pages 155-156
“The floorboards creaked as footsteps could be heard walking around. Paul decided to take the lead. ’Want to check it out?” he said, his eyes alight with curiosity…Neil wearily followed him up the stairs. They looked around, but nothing could be found. All they heard a cluck…cluck…cluck noise. Then silence. It was the entity’s party piece”.
This is reminiscent of a phenomenon noted in earlier cases by Sacheverell Sitwell in Poltergeists (1940):
“But there is a parallel which is more extraordinary still. The spirit of Ringcroft  cried out ‘Kick, cuck’; the mongoose of Cashen’s Gap greeted Mr Northwood with a cry of ‘Charlie, Charlie, chuck, chuck, chuck’; the Poltergeist of Willington Mill called in the children’s bedroom, ‘Chuck, chuck, chuck,’ and made a noise like a child sucking” (Sitwell, 1940).
As Andrew Lang stated over a century ago, “It is the extraordinary uniformity in the reports, from every age, country, and class of society, the uniformity in hallucination, that makes the mystery”.(Lang,1903) Certain events and situations in this book are consistent with details in earlier and often obscure accounts of poltergeist effects; similarities that provide examples of what in law is termed ‘similar-fact’ evidence.
A remarkable aspect of the events is the degree to which Neil and certain friends felt they were followed by manifestations. This included to a local pub wand where the managed to engage in some séance-style proceedings and eventually gaining some control over the manifestations, to the extent that they could apparently communicate by way of raps. This effort was so successful that, if accurately reported, it has similarities with the ‘Philip Experiment’ conducted Iris Owen and the Toronto New Horizons Foundation in the 1970s (Owen and Sparrow, 1976).
Earlier generations of researchers would have labelled Neil as an unconscious physical medium, but perhaps the close proximity of certain other people, or an aspect of group dynamics provided a trigger for effects.
Like most lengthy outbreaks there were many incidents which have not been incorporated in this book, but short testimonies from some of the principal witnesses are also given in addition at the end might be seen as providing some potential corroboration, certainly if it proves possible for a researcher to follow them up. Ultimately, phenomena seem to have abated after an exorcism and the reduction of certain tensions in the house, though the author states she is left with the feeling that they feel they may never be completely free of a presence, although the completion of this book may be seen as partly an attempt to place some closure on the experiences and restore a sense of control and normality to domestic life.
For psychical researchers, the account presented in the book also demonstrates how public agencies, organisations and psychic investigators called to the scene of a poltergeist outbreak are frequently at a loss in knowing how to respond or cope with such situations. In reading this book I was reminded of the comments over half a century ago by Dr Donald West: “It is a human failing among investigators that each one thinks himself the right man to look into a spontaneous case. The task is in practice a delicate one, requiring not only skill in understanding and handling different temperaments, but also a critical judgment of evidence.” (West, 1962). This book details how the family suffered from both a lack of understanding of their plight and a surfeit of conflicting advice and information. Many who visited the house, including individuals from a number of churches and religious groups as well as paranormal investigators appear to have soon found themselves out of their depth, whether sceptics or believers. Consequently, I think there are some valuable lessons here for the conduct of future research in domestic environments. With the complex and multi-faceted situation presented by a poltergeist haunting, there is clearly a need for more integrated approach, involving both academic and professional specialists in different disciplines, giving support to field investigators who actually meet and interview witnesses and examine the actual locations where the is reported.
This book demonstrates that it is unrealistic to expect one or two individuals to be able to respond effectively to a poltergeist on a part-time basis; what is needed is a dedicated specialist team who can engage in full-time surveillance and provide support which is also sensitive to the needs of the focus family. Accordingly, a story such as told in this book provides some important and telling lessons for the conduct of future investigations.
Book: Paranormal Intruder: The True Story of A Family in Fear (2013) by Caroline Mitchell. 249 pp. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (7 Dec. 2013)
This review first appeared in Journal of the SPR Vol. 78.4, No. 917
Clarkson, Michael (2011) The Poltergeist Phenomenon. USA. New Page Books.
Hallowell, M and Ritson. D.W. (2006) The South Shields Poltergeist: One family’s fight against an invisible intruder. London. Sutton.
Lang, Andrew (1903-05) ‘The Poltergeist Historically Considered’ ProcSPR Vol 17 305-326
Owen, Iris and Sparrow Margaret (1976) Conjuring up Philip: an adventure in psychokinesis. Fitzhenry & Whiteside. Canada.
Roll, William G. (1976) The Poltergeist; Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press.
Sitwell, Sacheverell (1940) Poltergeists; London, Faber and Faber Ltd
Tizané, E. (1951) Sur la piste de l’homme inconnu. Paris.
Watson, Lyall (1973) Supernature. London. Hodder and Stoughton Ltd.
West, D.J. Psychical Research Today (1962) London. Penguin Books.