The Enfield Poltergeist: Part Two

“Just before I died, I went blind, and then I had an ’emorrhage and I died in the chair in the corner downstairs.”—Joe Watson, ghost


Shortly after Janet began showing signs of possible episodes of spirit possession, she started to produce drawings while in a semi-trance state. All of them were somewhat gruesome, and one of them depicted a woman with blood pouring from her neck. Janet wrote the name “Watson” underneath it. When Peggy Hodgson was asked if that name meant anything to her, she replied that Watson was the name of the elderly couple who had owned the house before her. A little checking revealed that Mrs. Watson had died from throat cancer.

Janet having a seizureIn December of 1977, the poltergeist began making whistling and barking sounds. While auditory manifestations are rare, these are often precursors to actual speech. Perhaps with this in mind, Maurice Grosse asked if it could say his name. What followed this is a bit unclear. Some reports make it sound as if the voice came from out of the air, and the gradual buildup from random noises to actual speech would be consistent with this. However, Janet later stated that the voice spoke through her. She says that she was aware of what was going on but was unable to control it. She also said that it felt like there was a presence standing just behind her during these episodes. Could it have been a combination of both: a disembodied voice that later switched to using Janet as its conduit? That’s sort of the impression that I originally got, but now I doubt it. Janet was probably the ventriloquist’s dummy all along. 

In any case, the reply to Grosse’s request to say his name was a halting “Maurice…O.”  When asked to give its own name, it spoke right up and said “Joe Watson.” Asked if he knew that he was dead, the response was an unenlightening “Shut up!” Requests for him to leave the house were met with profanity. Since the voice would only speak while Grosse and Playfair were out of the room, they were naturally suspicious that Janet might be having a laugh at their expense, but the voice was guttural and had the unmistakable tone of an old man. It also had an oddly electronic sound to it, which is typical in these atypical cases (see The Bell Witch and Gef the Talking Mongoose). Another paranormal investigator who was a friend of Playfair’s listened to a recording and said the voice reminded him of another tape that he had of a computer singing “Daisy, Daisy.”*

Eventually, Joe became a little more forthcoming. He confirmed that his wife had died from a tumor in her throat. He also confessed to knowing that he was dead and informed them that he had died from a hemorrhage while sitting in a chair in the living room, which turned out to be accurate. Shortly thereafter, the voice changed and now identified itself as one Bill Wilkins and claimed to have a dog named Gober the Ghost, although no canine related ghostly manifestations were ever reported. When asked where he was from, he replied “From the graveyard.” More specifically, he later clarified that he was from Durant’s Park, which was a nearby cemetery. Some checking revealed that there was a William Wilkins buried there and that he had lived in the neighborhood. I’m not sure if they were ever able to confirm the existence of Gober.

When he was asked why he was there, he answered that he was looking for his family, but that they were no longer there. As to why he shook Janet’s bed and threw her out of it, he said that he was trying to sleep there and wanted her out. When Janet asked why he played games with them, he said “I like annoying you.” Since he obviously knew that he was dead, he was asked why he didn’t just move on. His reply was “I don’t believe in that,” and “I’m not a Heaven man.” Tapes of these conversations reveal that the voice spoke haltingly, producing words one at a time and in a breathless fashion, as if speaking aloud was a laborious process.

When Grosse’s son Richard paid a visit to the house, Bill (or Janet?) seemed to take a liking to him. They had a lengthy conversation, and Richard was even allowed to be in the same room at the time. However, if he looked Janet in the face, the voice would immediately stop speaking. Then he noticed that all he had to do was think about looking at Janet and it would also stop, as if it could somehow read his mind. This sort of thing has also been reported in other poltergeist cases.

It also liked investigator David Robertson and allowed him to be in the same room for their conversations. But when he asked the spirit to levitate Janet and have her draw a circle around a light on the ceiling, it would only do so if he left. He went outside and then heard what sounded like Hodgson and Nottingham houseJanet bouncing on the bed, followed by a loud gasp. When he tried to go back in, the door wouldn’t open. When it did open, he found that a red circle had been drawn around the light fixture, and Janet claimed that she had passed through the wall into the Nottingham’s bedroom (the house was a duplex). She described the room as being all white. The Nottinghams happened to be there at the time, and Mrs. Nottingham asked her to try to do it again. She then went home to see if Janet would show up. She didn’t, but the spirit’s favorite book, Fun and Games for Children, was already there. It had been in Janet’s room only moments earlier.

Rather than assuming that Janet had physically passed through a wall, Playfair notes that some who claim to have had out-of-body experiences have also reported seeing a lack of color while in that state. He believed that this was what Janet experienced and that this explanation accounts for why she described the room as being “all white.” How the book got there is a different matter. There was also a pair of complete strangers who happened to be walking by the house that night and saw Janet floating around her room through the window. Maybe they’re all liars? If so, there certainly was a lot of lying going on in Enfield back then, including some by the police, the press, the neighbors, and at least two disinterested bystanders who just happened to be strolling by at the right time.

After this, some of the manifestations became more hostile. Some curtains wrapped themselves around Janet’s neck and her mother had to tear her loose. A knife allegedly chased Janet around the house one night. Bill Wilkins claimed that these instances were the work of another spirit named Tommy. They also began finding feces smeared on the walls and floor and there were several fires that appeared to have been started inside of drawers. These all burned out quickly without causing too much damage.

Another psychic, this one named Gerry Sherrick, came to the house and proclaimed that the whole family had all been together in previous lives and that the girls had been involved in witchcraft. (Interestingly, two friends of Playfair’s who were visiting from Brazil made a similar claim months earlier. They said that Janet had been a witch in another life and had caused much suffering. According to them, the haunting was the work of spirits that she had harmed then getting back at her in this life.) Sherrick felt that the spirit of a rather unpleasant old woman was involved in the haunting and that she had lived next to a nearby market. He then asked if they had experienced the smell of rotting vegetables in the house. The family replied that the house had been filled with a stench like rotten cabbages several times in the previous few weeks. Sherrick then went into a trance and announced in the voice of an old woman “I come here when I like…I not bleedin’ dead and I’m not going to go away.” So another psychic found yet another spirit. What are we to make of that?

Alleged psychics do tend to be a rather “hit and miss” bunch. Skeptics attribute all of their “hits” to being nothing more than vague generalizations, picking up on certain mundane clues, and/or plain old lucky guesses or outright lies where applicable. I, of course, wonder a bit. Doubtless there are plenty of frauds out there, but one counterfeit $20 bill does not prove that all $20 bills are fakes. Some of them might be legit. Enter Dutch clairvoyant Dono Gmelig-Meyling.

Janet found sleeping on top of a stereoIn the summer of 1978, Janet was admitted to the Maudsley Psychiatric Hospital for an evaluation. They found nothing wrong, but the rest and time away seemed to do her good after nearly a year of living in constant turmoil. Playfair expected that all unusual activity in the house would cease in Janet’s absence, but he was mistaken, although it was somewhat diminished. For the most part, it remained that way even after Janet returned home, with one notable exception.

The night before Gmelig-Meyling’s first visit to the house was an active one. Furniture was overturned, there was persistent knocking, footsteps were heard along with the sound of heavy breathing, and feces was smeared on the floor. A Dutch journalist who was interested in the case showed up the next day with Gmelig-Meyling in tow. He looked around the house, then returned to his hotel where he later told Playfair that he went on an astral trip, the impression being that he was gathering information about the spirits in the house on another level. According to Playfair, upon his next visit to the house, Gmelig-Meyling told him that he was confident that he could bring an end to the haunting by an intervention on the astral plane. He then went up and sat alone in Janet’s bedroom for a time. When he came down, he spoke to Playfair again and implied that it was all over. And he was right. All unusual activity in the house came to a sudden halt. Colin Wilson later reported that he did this by convincing the entities in the home that they were dead, although at least two of them had claimed to already know that but were still unwilling to leave.

This marked the end of the Enfield poltergeist story…for the most part. Margaret and Janet both stated much later that they could still feel a presence in the house, but there were no more paranormal disturbances. Their youngest brother Billy remained in the house until their mother’s death in 2003 and confirmed to them that the feeling of someone else being there with them never went completely away. The family that moved in after this, also a single mother with several children, stayed in the house only two months. They apparently had some experiences much more tangible than simply feeling a presence, but nothing on par with what the Hodgson family endured. Clearly they were of less hearty stock, or perhaps they had more options. The next family to move in, yet another single mother and her kids, remained there at least a few years. This mum has declined to speak publicly about their situation or the house’s past for fear of frightening her children. Can’t say I blame her.

At some point, Janet and Margaret both confessed to having dabbled with a ouija board, which they say coincided with the beginning of their troubles. In Janet’s most recent interview, she stated that while she thinks that there has always been and will always be an unsettling presence in the house, it was their experimentation with the board that brought about the physical manifestations. Needless to say, neither woman advocates the use of any sort of spirit communication device, particularly in their old house.

My biggest question about this case is the one that everybody just sort of skims over (if they bother to mention it at all), perhaps because they don’t know the answer: Who was Dono Gmelig-Meyling, and how exactly did he put a stop to all of this? You can look him up online if you want, but you’ll find precious little information. For those who say that psychics are all frauds looking for money and/or notoriety, I know that he didn’t get any money in this instance. As for fame, as I said, you can look him up online, but what you’ll find is no more than what I’ve already told you. As far as I know, he has never spoken publicly about this case to anyone. He just got on a plane and went back to Holland.

Janet and Margaret HodgsonThe other question that I would ask of those who believe that this was all a hoax is why they would have smeared their own walls and floors with feces? Surely an effective fraud could have been perpetrated without resorting to such disgusting measures. I suppose that the answer could be that Janet was a far more deeply disturbed individual than anyone suspected, but I’ve found nothing concerning her life subsequent to these events to back up such an assumption. One would think that the skeptics would have been quick to point these out had her life since then been plagued by a continuing pattern of instances of disturbing behavior. It’s not like they don’t know who she is. The fact that she agreed to be interviewed by a reporter in 2007 clearly demonstrates that she can’t be that hard to track down and check up on.

The End


*Conversely, a magician who was given a tape to analyze disagreed. He thought that this voice could have been fairly easily produced by an adolescent girl, but stage magicians are some of the most notoriously harsh and condescending critics of all things paranormal. I think it’s because they do tricks that everyone knows aren’t real for a living, and for some reason, they take it as a personal affront to their craft and their self-worth that actual “magic” (aka the supernatural) might exist. That’s your free psychological evaluation of occupational personality traits for the week. Take it for what it’s worth.

†Some sources completely omit Joe Watson and only mention Bill Wilkins, saying that he was the former resident of the house. I’m pretty certain that this is the result of sloppy reporting on their part, and I mention it only to avoid any possible confusion. Also, determining the actual names of the people involved is somewhat difficult in some cases. Playfair appears to have used pseudonyms for almost everyone involved (he changed the family’s name from Hodgson to Harper in his book), and these two men have also been referred to as Frank Watson, Bill Haylock, and Bill Hobbs by various writers.

and all the devils are here









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