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The strange case of the teenage sisters and the Enfield Haunting

A new Sky Living series looks at the phenomenon.

Source: K TOMO/YouTube

IN 1977, A council house in Enfield in North London, England became the focus of some very unusual activity.

A growling voice; strange knocking; objects said to have been propelled by an unseen force.

A poltergeist had arrived at the door of the Hodgson family in number 284 Green Street. It appeared just after Margaret (13), Janet (11), Johnny (10) and Billy (7)’s mum Peggy and father divorced. The family was in turmoil, and the house soon was too.

Most of the activity over the following 18 months focused on Janet, who seemed to suffer from trances.

The police were called to the home by mum Peggy, setting in motion an investigation that has now been turned into a three-part series by Sky.

The series looks at what happened when Society for Psychical Research members Maurice Grosse and Guy Lyon Playfair arrived at the house to investigate what on earth was going on.

enfield 1 Janet (left) and Margaret Source: K TOMO via YouTube

Today, there are those who believe the whole phenomenon was a hoax, and those who maintain it was genuine.

In an interview with The Telegraph years after the fact, Janet – now a married mum of three, who has kept incredibly quiet about the incidents since her childhood – told Will Storr that it all began after she and her brother Johnny (who she shared a bed with) heard a shuffling noise.

Their mother was annoyed at first, but when they saw a chest of drawers move, things got more intense. Then the knocking started, and the neighbours were called in to see if burglars were inside.

Nothing was found. The police were called to help find the source of the knocking, which was coming from a few locations.

“It came off the floor, ooh maybe a half inch I should say”

The two beat constables who attended reported back that they had seen an armchair levitating off the living room floor.

enfield haunting Source: K Tomo via YouTube

In an interview with Nationwide that year, WPC Carolyn Heeps described what happened:

It came off the floor, ooh maybe a half inch I should say. And I saw it slide off to the right, about three and a half or four feet, before it came to a rest. I checked to see whether or not it could possibly have slid along the floor. I placed a marble on the floor to see if the marble would go in the same direction as the chair did and it didn’t, it didn’t roll at all. I checked for wires, under the cushion of the chair, and I found no explanation at all.

After the baffled police came the media. The Daily Mirror visited, though there wasn’t much activity until after they left. But when their photographer visited later on, he was hit with a Lego brick in the face.

Next came the aforementioned Society for Psychical Research’s Maurice Gross and Guy Lyon Playfair.

maurice gross Maurice Gross in the children's bedroom. Source: K TOMO via YouTube

In that same Nationwide interview, Gross (an industrial designer by trade) described how he challenged the poltergeist to talk.

On the tape which he plays for the show, barking and whistling can be heard.

“I then said to it, if you can whistle and bark and groan, then you can talk. And I asked it to say my name.”

maurice gross

That was the first time they heard the voice, which Gross said got “louder and louder”.

“All we need now is the voices to talk”

The voices started in December 12, as Janet recalled for the Nationwide.

What she said about the voices is pointed to as suggesting that the behaviour was not that of a spirit, but of young children doing what was suggested to them:

“One night Mr Gross was talking about it… he said all we need now is the voices to talk. That night we went to bed, I can’t remember exactly what happened.”

The girls also told Nationwide how Gross would ask if there was ‘anyone there’, could they knock once for yes and twice for no.

“It doesn’t always do it in order,” said Janet.

enfield 3 Source: Ghostbusters via YouTube

Asked what the noises emerging from Janet were, the girls said they were “spirits”, and Margaret said they speak through them.

Janet would go through trances. She said she was being pulled out of her bed, and that she would feel the voice through the back of her head. At one stage, she said a curtain was wrapped around her neck.

One of the main voices emerging from was, she said, that of Bill Wilkins, who used to live in the house. He died in an armchair in the house.

Why did the sisters they think he was visiting them? “To annoy us,” said Janet.

In 2012, Janet made a rare appearance on This Morning to talk about the case.

Source: enfieldpoltergeist/YouTube

She described how hands would pull her from her bed, throwing her in the air.

The interview also featured Playfair, who said: “It’s not supernatural if it takes place in nature. It’s natural – it’s just not understood”.

He recalled seeing an armchair sliding across the floor and flipping over, right after Janet got out of it.

Was it real?

In her interview with Will Storr, Janet told him that sometimes she did fake things:

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 told him 2% of the phenomena at Enfield was faked, and Gross told Storr that he knew the children “played tricks” because “they’re children”.

Gross himself said that films like Ghostbusters owed a debt to the case. Years on, he still listened to the reel-to-reel tapes he made of the voices coming from Janet’s voice.

“We found on analysis the voice was not made by the larynx, the voicebox, but by the false vocal fold, which is above the larynx. And you only use that when you lose your voice and you talk like that. Well if you talk like that for more than couple of minutes you start getting a sore throat,” he said years later.

The fact that Janet didn’t seem to tire even as this voice spoke through her seemed, to Gross, as evidence that it wasn’t really ‘her’ speaking.

In the paranormal world, poltergeist activity is believed to centre around adolescent females, significant given the ages of the sisters.

Gross said he believes poltergeist activity is caused by very high levels of stress, and occasionally you’ll get paranormal activity interacting with this.

Skeptic Deborah Hyde said on This Morning: “it’s a fascinating story – and that’s why people remember that part of it, rather than all the people at the time who disagreed”.

Looking back on it in history now, it’s very difficult to say this happened that happened exactly. What we do know is this stuff isn’t replicable under controlled conditions for the most part. That people in the SPR had issues, that other people had issues, but we remember this story because it’s the best one.

Telling the story again

The story has re-emerged thanks to the Sky Living three-part series about the case.

Source: Sky Living/YouTube

Janet’s buck-teeth are gone, her bob have been replaced by flowing locks, and Gross’s green car is replaced by a flashier sportscar.

But the era is faithfully rendered with the garish terry bedsheets, the posters of David Soul, with a (nostalgia-derived) sepia tint to each scene.

enfield haunting 2 Source: The Guardian

The series, directed by The Killing’s Kristoffer Nyholm, has been lauded for its creepy rendering of what occurred.

The cast is a great one – Timothy Spall plays Gross, Mathew McFadyen is Playfair, and Juliet Stevenson is Betty Gross.

But rather than focus on the purported hoax element, it suggests there was a demon involved – though it’s told through the eyes of Playfair, and is based on his book about the case. 

Was the case real? Those who were living in the house in Enfield say yes. Many say no.

 

Perhaps the last word from Janet Hodgson to skeptic Deborah Hyde sums up her position:

Come up with something. I don’t think so you wasn’t there love, you don’t know you don’t know what I went through or how I feel today. It will always be with me [taps head] in here.

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