|Life Magazine, December 8, 1952|
Most alleged poltergeist cases fall into patterns that are remarkably alike–to the point where reading books describing one polt account after another gets downright monotonous. After perusing virtually identical stories of bangs on walls, hurled stones and displaced furniture, you begin to get irritated with the spooks and wish they’d come up with a new act already.
Naturally, I am grateful whenever I find a case where the pesky little beings think out of the box and come up with fresh Fortean hell. Hauntings may be a dime a dozen, but you don’t find too many that close on such an unusual note as that crafted by what has come to be known as “The Runcorn Poltergeist.”
Runcorn, England, a small town near Liverpool, had its most famous brush with The Weird at the home of 68-year-old Sam Jones. Living with him was his daughter-in-law Lucy, his teenage grandson John Glynn, John’s eight-year-old sister Eileen, and an elderly lodger named Ellen Whittle. The little home was a crowded one: Sam and his grandson shared a bedroom, with Lucy and Eileen in another. The “paying guest,” Ellen Whittle, had a room of her own.
Life for the Jones family was quiet and uneventful until August 1952. The household was even more cramped than usual, due to a visit by Lucy Jones’ son and his wife. Lucy and Eileen gave the guests their bedroom, and slept in a second bed moved into the room of Sam and John. One night, the quartet was awakened by scratching sounds coming from the bedroom’s dresser. Assuming it was mice, they turned on the lights and examined the drawers. No mice were found, or any other obvious cause for the noise. As soon as they turned off the lights and returned to bed, the sounds broke out again.
This was just the opening act. Over the next few nights, the disturbances swiftly progressed to the sound of knocking on walls. The dresser began shaking violently, and its drawers would inexplicably open and close. Then other items of furniture began moving on their own.
Not knowing what else to do, the alarmed family called in the police. Three officers were greeted by the sight of a large chest merrily bouncing across the room. The policemen tried to calm the chest by sitting on it. When the item reacted by bucking violently enough to throw them off, the officers, deciding they would have a hard time justifying arresting the Jones family furniture, wished the family “good luck,” and departed.
The household then tried bringing in a psychic, Philip Francis, to conduct a seance. Curiously enough, at first it seemed that he had success in calming down whatever it was that plagued the family. For three weeks after the seance, all was normal, and the Joneses assumed their ordeal was over. But then, the nocturnal phenomena returned with a vengeance. The dresser resumed its nighttime hoppings and bangings, and objects continued to fly through the darkness. The fact that the bulk of the disturbances happened at night, when all the lights were off, naturally led to assumptions that the whole uproar was a hoax. As 17-year-old John Glynn appeared to be the focus of much of the activity, he became the prime suspect. However, several outside witnesses swore that they had seen the dresser and other household items move on their own power when John was nowhere in the vicinity. It became increasingly obvious to most observers that whatever was causing the disturbances, John–or anyone else in the household–could not have been responsible for all of them. The most curious aspect of this “haunting” was that the one non-family resident, Miss Whittle the lodger, seemed unaffected by the uproar. Her bedroom remained tranquil while all hell broke loose in the rest of the house.
Meanwhile, the “poltergeist”–which the family had dubbed “Brutus”–became increasingly destructive. Family members and visitors were pelted with items like clocks and books. It seemed that whatever was hurling the objects was deliberately aiming at them. When the household tried to sleep, they would find their pillows suddenly yanked from under them, or they would be thrown out of bed altogether. Clothing was mysteriously torn. Dresser drawers were pulled out and their contents rudely dumped on the floor. Furniture slammed into the walls hard enough to knock plaster off the ceiling. Small objects would hover in the air as though they were weightless. Perhaps weirdest of all, balls of bright light began drifting through the house.
As almost inevitably happens in poltergeist accounts, the phenomena–whether truly supernatural, human fakery, or some combination of both–petered out in December 1952. Eerily enough, according to Thomas Barrow, a friend of John Glynn’s, the disturbances began to wind down after Ellen Whittle suffered a fatal accidental fall off a cliff.
Believe it or not, it is at this point that the story really gets strange. Sam Jones worked on a local farm owned by one Harold Crowther. This farmhouse had suffered similar poltergeist activity at the same time as the Jones household. One day, Crowther saw what he swore was the ghost of his late father-in-law walking around the farm. Then, three of Crowther’s pigs died, of no discernible cause. Over the next two weeks, all 53 of his pigs mysteriously expired. Crowther and his wife began seeing a form resembling a large black cloud with “two prongs sticking out of the back” hovering over the farm. Once, it even floated through their kitchen. Crowther insisted he had seen this same “cloud” over the Jones house. Thankfully, this sinister manifestation disappeared simultaneously with “Brutus.”