Stories of paranormal presence exist in all part of the world. The following story happened in north London in the seventies.
The event that took place is now known as The Enfield Poltergeist.
Peggy Hodgson was tidying up her semidetached council house while her four children were upstairs getting ready for bed. As she busily scooped up their possessions, Peggy could hear her 11-year-old daughter Janet play fi ghting with her elder sister, Margaret, 13.
Their brothers, Johnny, 10, and Billy, seven, were also upstairs.
But as the girls rolled around giggling on the bed, something peculiar happened. A chest of drawers began sliding slowly across the floor towards them. They said later it was as if a pair of powerful, but invisible, hands was dragging the oak furniture across the room towards the door.
Downstairs, Peggy, a single mother who had recently divorced from her children’s father, could hear a shuffling noise as well as the children shouting and screaming.
She rushed up the staircase and burst into their room. When the girls told her the chest was moving she told them not to be so silly. And then she saw it with her own eyes.
She grabbed it and shoved it back against the wall. In terror she watched as it once again began sliding across the room, much faster this time, but this time she found it much harder to move. The terrified woman grabbed her daughters, and fled the bedroom in panic.
Peggy later explained that it was as if there was an inhumanely strong force in the room.
These events on August 31 1977 were just the start. For more than a year a series of bizarre happenings took place in Peggy’s house at 284 Green Street in what was to become one of the most intriguing and unsettling cases of haunting to occur in Britain.
Even now, nearly 40 years later, the suburban poltergeist that lived with them for a year continues to cast a shadow across the life of the family. “It lived off me,” says Janet Winter, as she is now called.
“Off my energy. Call me mad, or a prankster if you like. Those events did happen.
The poltergeist was with me – and I feel in a sense that he always will be. It wasn’t a normal childhood.”
Janet’s story has now been made into a three-part drama series called The Enfield Haunting.
Starring Timothy Spall and Juliet Stevenson, it recreates the events of autumn 1977 when Lego and toys flew across the girls’ rooms, pieces of furniture levitated, strange voices were heard, a fireplace was ripped from a wall and family members were dragged from their beds by an invisible of force.
Janet seemed to be the centre of the activity. Eerie photographs appear to show her being flung across her bedroom. “The most frightening thing was when a curtain wrapped itself around my neck by my bed,” says Janet. “There were times when it was fascinating to see, but when it was happening to you – like the levitation, the voices – it was frightening.”
There were cold breezes, graffiti, physical assaults, water appearing, and fires on oven gloves. There were even accounts of matches spontaneously lighting even though they had not been touched.
It was a case that held the nation spellbound, puzzling the police, psychics and even occult experts.
But many questioned whether it was all a hoax. And the case continues to baffle and disturb in equal measure.
Janet was convinced she was possessed by a former resident of the house in Green Street, a grumpy old man called Bill Wilkins who had died there many years before.
Speaking through her, a deep eerie voice – which can still be heard on audio tapes on the Internet today – said: “Just before I died, I went blind and then I had a haemorrhage and I fell asleep and I died in the chair in the corner downstairs.”
Bill Wilkins’ son Terry has confirmed that this was indeed how his father had died.
Listening to recordings of the ‘Bill’ persona being interviewed by scientists certainly suggests the possibility that Janet was indeed possessed by another entity. ‘Bill’ habitually makes jokes and exhibits a very nasty temper. He uses an adult vocabulary. His unsettling, rasping deep voice certainly does not sound like one an 11-year-old girl could easily make or sustain, nor does the use of words such as “dematerialise” sound like something a child in the 1970s would say.
“It felt like it was behind me, not within me,” says Janet. “At one point my mouth was fi lled with water and taped up and the voice still came out.” A speech therapist called in to verify the voice fled from the house and refused to return.
All this may sound to the sceptic quite absurd. But what makes the Enfield case so remarkable is that the events were exhaustively investigated by researchers, and witnessed by more than 30 independent observers.
When Peggy called in the police, WPC Carolyn Heeps recorded that: “A large armchair moved unassisted four feet across the floor.” She checked for wires but could find no more the police could do as there was no evidence of a crime.
Desperate for an explanation and a way to stop the chilling events, Peggy contacted the Society for Psychical Research, an organisation that investigates paranormal happenings from a scientific perspective.
They sent two investigators, Guy Lyon Playfair and Maurice Grosse to examine the evidence. The society also engaged the services of a barrister, Mary Rose Barrington, to verify their findings. After witnessing a vast array of inexplicable phenomena, the team were disturbed by the sound of Janet screaming. She was then dumped at the bottom of the stairs. OTHER recordings showed Janet being flung across the room from her bed. Sceptics said that she was simply jumping, but Janet has always denied this. “I felt cold hands. It was like a force that pulled me out of bed and up into the air,” she says.
One incident of levitation was seen by a lollipop lady in the street outside, as well as a passing baker. “The lady saw me spinning around and banging against the window. I thought I might actually break the window and go through it. All children fantasise about flying, but it wasn’t like that.
When you’re levitated with force you don’t know where you’re going to land,” says Janet.
Events culminated in the morning that Playfair heard a “tremendous vibrating noise”. To his total disbelief, he discovered that a heavy cast iron Victorian fi replace had been ripped out of the girls’ room. “It was so heavy even I couldn’t pick it up,” he recalls.
“The children couldn’t have possibly ripped it out of the wall. We caught the incident on audio tape.”
But Margaret and Janet have also claimed that they did fabricate “about two per cent” of the paranormal happenings in a bid to play tricks on the researchers. However, Playfair dismisses suggestions that the entire episode was a hoax. “You think an 11-year-old girl could have convinced me for over a year?” he laughs.
Janet’s life since has not been an altogether happy one. Her brother Johnny died in 1981, aged 14, her mother in 2003, her 18-year-old son in his sleep, and her father recently. She left home at 16, married and moved to Essex. Today she prefers to stay out of the limelight, saying she doesn’t want to rake up traumatic events, but she remains in touch with Playfair.
Janet remains sincere in her beliefs that she was indeed in touch with a supernatural entity. “I’m not sure the poltergeist was truly ‘evil’,” she says.
“It was almost as if it wanted to be part of our family. It didn’t want to hurt us. It had died there and wanted to be at rest. The only way it could communicate was through me and my sister.”
After Peggy died, Clare Bennett and her four sons moved into the house.
She reportedly said: “I didn’t see anything but I felt uncomfortable. There was definitely some kind of presence in the house. I always felt like somebody was looking at me.”
Bennett moved out after just two months. The house is currently occupied by a family who do not wish to be named.