In all the annals of the investigations of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), whose history stretches back almost 150 years, there is no account as chilling as the affair of the Enfield Poltergeist. This is the name given to a period of apparent poltergeist activity in the Enfield borough of London at the end of the 1970s. Poltergeist is a term of German derivation literally meaning ‘noisy ghost’ and refers to a paranormal phenomenon which consists of events alluding to the manifestation of an imperceptible entity. Such manifestation typically includes inanimate objects moving or being thrown about, sentient noises (such as impaired knocking, pounding or banging) and, on some occasions, physical attacks on those witnessing the events. Poltergeists have traditionally been described in folklore as troublesome spirits or ghosts which haunt a particular person, although no conclusive scientific explanation of the phenomenon exists. The Enfield case exhibited all of the classic hallmarks of poltergeist activity, including furniture reported to have moved by itself, knockings on the walls, and items said to have been thrown around and to have been too hot to touch when picked up.
The Hodgson family who lived at the house in question, 284 Green Street, consisted of a single mother and her four children. So terrifying did the paranormal activity become that the frightened Mrs Hodgson, fearing for her children’s lives, called in the professionals. Whilst they were initially disbelieving, first the police and then the media eventually became convinced that an entity of supernatural origin was plaguing the lives of the Hodgson family. A police constable signed an affidavit to affirm that she saw a chair move and a photographer reported being hit on the forehead with a Lego brick. It was at this point that the real professionals, the SPR, were called in and it is their account of the events which took place at 284 Green Street that has captured the imagination of, and terrified, the wider public ever since then.
Put simply, so widespread, complex and varied was the phenomena that, in the view of the SPR investigators, it simply could not have been faked. Examples included moving furniture, flying marbles, interference with bedclothes, cold breezes, pools of water on the floor, apparitions, physical assaults, graffiti, equipment malfunction and failure, disappearance and reappearance of objects, apparent levitations, and fires which spontaneously ignited and extinguished themselves. Most chilling of all were the eyewitness accounts of Mrs Hodgson’s teenaged daughter speaking using a markedly different, male voice for hours on end while she was apparently possessed by another entity – an individual named ‘Bill’ who had once died in the house of a brain haemorrhage. It was believed that the girl was able to speak in another voice by using her false vocal folds – something which had previously been thought medically impossible. Although recordings were made at the time of the Bill persona speaking – often making obscene jokes and exhibiting a vicious temper – they were mysteriously unusable because the metal inside of the recording machines was found bent with the recordings erased.
It has to be said that the Enfield case has met with a fair degree of scepticism, especially since a couple of Hodgson children later admitted that they had faked some of the phenomena, for example bending spoons themselves. It has also been speculated that the SPR investigators at the heart of the case might have been at the very least willing dupes, if not actively involved in constructing the hoax themselves. Mainstream commentators have drawn parallels between the Enfield Poltergeist and the famous American case of the Amityville Horror, both of which, it is largely believed, were fakes with evidence that was manufactured and witnesses that were misrepresented. Interestingly, however, to the end of her days Mrs Hodgson publicly stated that although she believed that her children might well have faked some of the alleged paranormal activity to begin with, they could not possibly have been responsible for all the reported phenomena – in particular the manifestation of ‘Bill’, who was actually a real person (and one whom there was no obvious way the children could have found out about).