Paranormal investigator and author DARREN W. RITSON looks back on his involvement in one of England’s most shocking paranormal cases, The South Shields Poltergeist…
Fifteen years ago a poltergeist infestation erupted in South Tyneside, North East England and subsequently became one of the most famous cases in UK poltergeist history. It was the South Shields Poltergeist.
The case, that began at the end of 2005, and lasted most of 2006, is said by some to be one of the best attested, and one of the most significant cases in over 50 years.
Alan Murdie (Chairman of The Ghost Club of Great Britain, and former head of the spontaneous cases committee for the Society for Psychical Research) carried out his own investigation into the case in 2010 and studied the evidence that we had accumulated over the course of this year long investigation.
He subsequently published his findings in the journal of the society for psychical research (JSPR Vol 74.2 No. 899 April 2010 – P129-132). Due to the nature of this extraordinarily violent and prolonged infestation, it attracted nationwide attention in the UK; it even made headline news in South Africa, Australia, and in the USA. In this write up on the South Shields case, we look back at what happened all those years ago. The third edition of the book, The South Shields Poltergeist: One Family’s Fight Against and Invisible Intruder was recently released. With an introduction from the late Guy Lyon Playfair (1935-2018) of the Enfield Poltergeist fame, and a new edition preface by Alan Murdie, the book presents the story of what actually happened when we visited the home of a terrified and troubled couple, and experienced for ourselves the bizarre antics of this utterly bewildering and unknown force.
There is certainly more to this world than we can know at this present moment in time, and that I can say with total conviction after investigating this case with Michael J. Hallowell. We saw things that most psychical researchers or ghost investigators could ever wish to see during this outbreak. What Mike and I experienced (along with dozens of other bewildered onlookers) throughout this intense investigation, changed our way of thinking and forced us to realise that reality is certainly not what we thought it was. A good example of paranormal phenomena that we witnessed was watching a child’s toy appear in the top corner of the room – that had seemingly materialised from out of thin air – then drop suddenly to the floor below. Impossible, some will no doubt say, but no, it happened I can assure you. I never thought in my lifetime I would ever see such paranormal phenomena being displayed at this particular level, but I did. Another astonishing example of what this poltergeist could accomplish was to throw a coin through the air from an empty area of the house, and have it pass through a closed glass door and land in an adjoining room. Matter through matter – it does indeed happen and it happened at South Shields on a number of occasions.
Knives, toys, and other household objects were hurled around by unseen hands and on many occasions, the investigators present were showered with coins, that seemingly materialised from thin air. Ornaments were relocated around the house, in particular an African Lady statuette that sat on a shelf in the landing was continually moved about and often left on the stairs. We were also told by the poltergeist, via a child’s message/doodle board to ‘go now’, and ‘stop it now’. We refused, simply because we had promised the family from the very outset that we would not under any circumstances cut and run, or abandon the case, simply because no one else at that time was prepared to help them. Many paranormal researchers and investigators dream of getting that ‘big case’ where they are given a good opportunity to examine and study an active poltergeist in action, and in 2006 I was given that opportunity.
Fifteen years ago, in June 2006 I was approached by a colleague of mine at work that told me that ‘her friend’s daughter has a ghost’. After making contact with the family I was able to determine that they were indeed genuinely frightened by something which may have – at this point in time – needed my attention. Over the next month or so, I kept in touch with the family in question and offered what advice and assistance I could whenever they called me to tell me what strange events had been happening at their house. I asked the homeowner if she would perhaps keep a diary of events, noting the occurrences, and keeping track of who actually witnesses them. Marianne, and her partner Marc (pseudonyms we give them to protect their anonymity), agreed to this, and began to compile a day-to-day diary of the poltergeists activities. This would prove invaluable, as it would ultimately play a great role in eventually figuring out just exactly what was going on.
One day in July 2006, I received a telephone call from a very distressed Marianne, informing me that her ‘unwelcome guest’ had been causing absolute mayhem inside her home. Objects were being thrown around, doors were opening mysteriously and slamming closed on their own, horrendous thumps and bangs were reverberating around the house, taps were being turned on, their possessions were disappearing from their original places and then re-appearing just as mysteriously, and their young child Robert (also a pseudonym) began to see ‘people’ in the house. It was quite obvious that Marianne, was now even more terrified and confused, and despite the advice and reassurance I had previously given her, she now insisted that I actually come to the house to see for myself what had been going on. I duly agreed. Arrangements were made for my first visit, and in the meantime I reiterated what I had previously told her, and asked her to bear with it, simultaneously keeping on top of the diary she had already begun. She agreed.
It was at this point, where my good friend Mike Hallowell enters the story after I had telephoned him. At that time, Mike was a leading figure in the paranormal world in Northern England and he had been actively investigating for over thirty-five years. I had known Mike for a year or so after we had both become members of the same local paranormal research society, which was based in Newcastle upon Tyne. After giving Mike the lowdown on the case, I summed up by stating that ‘if this case was indeed genuine, it might be an active and on-going poltergeist infestation’. He agreed. I then asked him if he would accompany me on my first visit to the house; he said although the accounts I relayed to him ‘sounded too good to be true’ he would indeed ‘tag’ along. Little did we know it at that time, but this proved to be a pivotal point in both our lives as soon we would be thrown headlong into a world of truly terrifying psychic disturbances of epic proportions that would ultimately change everything we had hitherto thought about in relation to poltergeist disturbances; and the nature of them.
A few days went by, and the day of our first visit was upon us. On our way to the troubled domicile, I brought Mike up to speed with the entire series of events of disturbances that had been reported to me since the outset. It was indeed correct to think, that this potential case sounded too good to be true, because in most cases, it is. Normally, in situations like this one, when the investigators turn up hoping to witness any alleged phenomena, it seldom materialises. Today, we expected the same, yet hoped that Marianne had been telling a truthful account of the events that had transpired in her home – and she had been – little did we know what was waiting for us at 42 Lock Street, South Shields.
Upon arrival we were welcomed by Marc and Marianne and subsequently invited in to the house. A cup of tea was offered, but was refused as a glass of ice water was much more alluring. Summer of 2006 was baking hot, which made the ice water all the more favourable. We had a friendly chat with Marc and Marianne essentially beginning to build a rapport with them, and I also reassured them that ‘if this was indeed genuine, we were there to support them and help them through it’. After the formalities, we got down to business; we painstakingly interviewed them in an effort to find out exactly what was happening at this normal two up two down house, and equipment such as motion sensors, video cameras and tape recorders were immediately set up and positioned in different areas around the place – all the while, hoping we would see some anomalous phenomena, or better still, catch it on film.
At this point in time the strange occurrences had been plaguing Lock Street for nigh on six months, starting in the December of the previous year (2005) and slowly building momentum over time to its [then] present level, so I was inclined to think that if it were indeed a genuine poltergeist at work, it might be fast approaching the end of its ‘shelf life’. The majority of poltergeists are usually short lived with visitations or infestations lasting anything from two weeks to two months and each respective poltergeist comes with different levels of intensity. There are however, one or two exceptions to the rule where poltergeists can infest for anything up to two years (or longer) before burning themselves out – the Enfield case of 1977-78 is a prime example of this. Lock Street was now six months in and by all accounts, it showed no signs of relenting, in fact, we did not know it at this point, but it was actually about to become a lot more intense.
It wasn’t until four long hours had passed on this first visit on that hot summer afternoon of 2006 – after much exploration of the house and all of its rooms, constantly monitoring the situation – when Mike and I were astounded to see our first ‘paranormal’ events at 42 Lock Street. We were standing in Roberts’s bedroom – myself, Mike, Marc and Marianne, when suddenly and unexpectedly from out of nowhere came a yellow plastic nut which was part of Roberts’s toy workbench and tool kit. It flew across the room with such speed and force; it then bounced off a wooden cupboard door before hitting Marianne on the backside. As she yelped in surprise – and in pain – we could do nothing but stand there utterly bewildered. As we were discussing this event, another of Robert’s toys slid off the top of the drawers and landed in the metal waste bin with a clash. Although Marc was standing close by, we could clearly see he was not responsible for this occurring. Marc jumped in fright too, and from the look of both Marc and Marianne’s faces, we fast began to suspect something really odd was indeed occurring in that house.
These were not the only incidents that occurred during our first visit to Lock Street. Another plastic nut later flew off the chest of drawers and landed on a large cardboard box. A rubber ball appeared from nowhere on Robert’s bed – the ball was actually hot to touch. A night light, that was plugged into the wall socket on the top of the landing outside Robert’s bedroom was heard to pull itself out of the wall, it was subsequently found resting on the landing floor under the sockets. Sound recordings were also made that afternoon in Robert’s bedroom after a designated period of ‘lock off’ time, which consisted of creaking and knocking, a strange pinging sound was heard, a shuffling noise that we could only describe as footfalls or movement of some sort, the sound of guitar strings being plucked, coins spinning on a wooden surface, coughing, and a very odd bloop bloop bloop noise – what it was we have no idea. Very strange to say the least, as we know for certain the room was empty throughout this period of time; we were all sitting downstairs in the kitchen area. Things were heating up; and this was only our ‘day one’ – we had no idea how bad things were going to become………….
Although Mike and I were reasonably convinced that the events we had witnessed were of a paranormal nature, we considered the possibility that Marc and Marianne somehow staged them. Fraud has to be the first avenue that investigators go down in cases such as this, and for us it was no different. But wait, we saw and heard for ourselves these objects in Robert’s bedroom, being relocated and moving around on their own. Our eyes were transfixed on Marc and Marianne, observing their every move – just in case we did experience activity of this nature. So we can say with one hundred percent certainty that it was not them responsible for these actions. Little did we know at that time within the coming months, what seemed like a friendly but mischievous playful haunting would develop into a ferocious, malevolent and terrifying poltergeist that would savagely turn against Marianne, Robert, but especially Marc.
Over the next seven months we made an abundance of visits to Lock Street and stayed over in the house many times trying to help Marc, Marianne and Robert in what way we could, all the while documenting everything that occurred there. The strength and the ability of this ‘entity’ call it what you will, seemed to grow bigger and stronger as the days rolled by, as did its sadistic desire to intimidate, terrorise and frighten. Just as Marc and Marianne were literally becoming psychical wrecks, and when they thought that things could not get any worse, it turned its attention on Marc, and began attacking him physically and with such ferocity we were left wondering, ‘just what the hell are with dealing with here?’.
From the outset, it has to be reiterated, I promised Marc and Marianne that we would stay with them, and help them through it no matter how tough it became, for them, and for us. I solemnly swore we would not abandon them in their hour of need; no, we were there for the duration. I had always suspected that if indeed this was a poltergeist infestation, eventually, sometime down the line, it would burn itself out; they always do. It was just a question of when this would happen, and could Marc and Marianne persevere until its departure? All we could do was keep telling Marc and Marianne that it would depart, and support them until it did, and with this golden opportunity that I was presented with, gather and collate the best evidence we could while it was on-going.
It was now getting extremely violent and we knew that this ‘thing’ intended to cause physical harm in whatever way it could. It had even started to throw carving knives at people. On one occasion, I actually found a large silver kitchen knife lying in situ on Robert’s bedroom floor, and it was certainly not there previously, so where did it come from? On another occasion, when Mike entered the house one day, he was welcomed by a carving knife as it hurled itself across the kitchen, bounced off the TV that was perched high on a shelf before clattering to the floor.
Things were now getting seriously out of hand at Lock Street. On a few occasions, when we thought the poltergeist may have been actually reaching its peak, it always seemed to take a turn for worse. I guess we underestimated the power of this thing, this ‘force’ for want of a better word, and it certainly wasn’t going to go without a fight. This was brutally demonstrated one night thereafter when Marc was lying in bed with Marianne. He suddenly felt a strange burning sensation on his torso, so he got up out of bed to investigate it. After removing his t-shirt to check his body, he was astonished to find that he was coming out in an angry and sore looking red rash. Suddenly from out of nowhere, and to their utter horror, cuts and scratches began to appear across his chest and across his side and on his stomach. As Marc and Marianne stood there transfixed watching, the poltergeist continued to relentlessly carry out this actual physical and psychic assault showing no mercy whatsoever. It almost cut him to pieces drawing much blood in the process, leaving the distressed couple in a complete state of fear and shock.
Marianne immediately telephoned Mike, (Mike lived much closer to Lock Street than I did), and she informed him of the situation. Half asleep, he jumped straight into a taxi and made his way down there. Upon his arrival he found Marc and Marianne in a frantic state and offered what help he could at the same time photographing Marc’s wounds for documentation. Later on, and in Mike’s presence, Marc was viciously attacked again by the poltergeist – only this time he caught it on film. Sadly, the quality of the film is not as good as I’d hoped, and that would be due to the actual camera that he used, and the lighting conditions in the room at the time. Mike’s camera was a stills camera with a ‘video clip facility’ therefore it stands to reason the quality of the film footage wouldn’t have been as clear or as sharp as say; my video camera. That said, in my opinion, the film is indeed quite watchable, and anyone with decent working eyes can see what is going on, on it. However, later in the investigation Marc would be attacked yet again by the poltergeist, but only on this occasion there would be eleven people there to witness it, and four of them had good quality video cameras – including myself – and filmed the attacks as they occurred. In total, Marc was attacked by the poltergeist on five occasions.
Another harrowing aspect of the South Shields Poltergeist came in the form of terrorising texts! The poltergeist began to utilise the telephones in the house – Marianne’s landline (which was an incoming call only line), and the mobile phones – to instil fear into the couple. At first the messages were tame in nature but they soon become sinister. I was present one day when the telephone rang at the house. Marianne picked up the phone to answer it and was greeted by an automated message. In a robotic voice the words, “Hi, Hi, Hi, Hi Hi” was heard. Back in 2006 you could text message landline phones which would convert the text message into the aforementioned ‘robotic’ voice so it could relay the message to you. This is what occurred here, only it was the poltergeist that somehow sent the message. We know this because the phone from which the message was sent, belonged to Marc – and it was right in front of us sitting on the dining table at the time.
We then decided that all present should remove their phones from their pockets, and along with the cordless home phone, we had them placed on the table in front of us – Marc’s, as just mentioned, was already on the table. We were all sitting chatting when the landline rang again. On this occasion the message simply said, “Hello, Hello”. One more message came through in this way a few moments later that then said, “Sorry”. Remember, all the phones were on the table in front of us and by now we had even removed the SIM card and battery from Marc’s phone yet the messages still came. Then, the poltergeist began to send messages to Marianne’s mobile phone. “The bitch will die today” ….. and, “Going to die today, going to get you”. I asked Marianne to sit down and reassured her as by now she was petrified, as you can well image. I promised her that these text messages, this intimidation, were nothing more than empty threats from the poltergeist in an attempt to generate fear – to either feed upon it, or worse still, because it enjoyed having this control over them – the texts, I said, were nothing more than that. Later in that day, and after our departure, the poltergeist had become so active in the house, that she decided to flee and go and stay at her mother’s for a while in the hope she may get some respite. But, on her way there, the texts began once more.
She telephoned Mike immediately in a state of distress to explain to us what was happening. While speaking on the phone expressing her concerns about the poltergeist ‘following’ her to her mothers, she received a text message that said, “Please don’t go, I will come with you bich”. Now frantic, she yelled down the phone to Mike, “Oh my god, I’m going to be frightened to go to sleep tonight” …. to which the poltergeist then immediately sent another message saying, “I can get you when you awake and I’ll come for you when you’re asleep, bich”. It was as though the poltergeist was listening in to the conversation. Mike re-iterated what I’d told Marianne earlier that day, and promised her these were nothing more than empty threats. The thought often crossed our minds, just how long would this horrendous torment would go on for; sometimes, we thought that it would never end and the poltergeist was here for good, but after a total of twelve months of living hell for Marc, Marianne and Robert – and seven months of bewilderment for Mike and I, The South Shields Poltergeist did at last, relent – but only for one month before it came back to wreak havoc for one last terrifying week; after that week, the poltergeist departed Lock Street for good, and as far as I am aware, no further polt-related occurrences have been reported by Marc and Marianne at Lock Street.
A gruelling, nasty, and malevolent encounter with a vicious and unknown force was at last over, and Marc, Marianne and Robert could begin to live a normal life once more. The South Shields Poltergeist was an extraordinary case in which the phenomena encountered matched and correlated with many other well-known documented cases that have been reported for centuries, indeed – it was a force to be reckoned with. Just about everything that occurred in that twelve-month period between 2005/2006 was documented in one form or another. We have hundreds of still photographs showing displaced objects – a large percent of them were paranormally moved while we were at the house –dictation device recordings which include anomalous voices, ghostly footfalls and the shuffling of feet in empty rooms, as well as a host of other strange sound recordings, videotaped footage of the poltergeist at work as this supernatural saga was unfolding, and we have over seventeen different independent witness testimonies (twenty two if we include the family in question) that have supplied signed statements bearing witness to what they experienced at this house – they can all be read in the new book, along with the original Society for Psychical Research case review which was first published in 2010 in the societies journal.
Both Mike and I feel that this is one of the best documented and recorded cases of a poltergeist infestation since the famous Enfield Poltergeist of 1977-78, as does Alan Murdie, who – if you recall, carried out an investigation into our findings on behalf of the Society for Psychical Research. The late Guy Lyon Playfair (1935-2018), of the Enfield Poltergeist fame and author of the book, This House is Haunted, based on his and Maurice Grosse’s intense investigation in the late 70’s, contributed an introduction to the book; indeed, it was through my case we were able to meet Guy, and become colleagues. The late Colin Wilson (1931-2013) also described the book as ‘a great classic work on the poltergeist’. In more recent years it has been suggested that the South Shields poltergeist case equals Enfield in its intensity, and sits in the top ten best authenticated poltergeist cases in British history.
Subsequently, through this case both Mike and I have travelled the country lecturing on it, and the poltergeist phenomenon in general. We have been invited to conduct talks and lectures with some of the UK’s leading academic research associations into psychical research such as the Incorporated Society for Psychical Research, and The Ghost Club of Great Britain (both based in London). Further invites to lecture on the case came from Prof. Nick Neave of the psychology department at Northumberland University in Newcastle upon Tyne, where for three years running we talked to his second year psychology students as part of their parapsychology module – and The Scottish Society for Psychical Research (SSPR) where we addressed over two hundred psychical researchers, parapsychology students and SSPR members at Glasgow University.
The South Shields Poltergeist – is a true and spine chilling account of one families fight against an invisible intruder and it is a case that I will never forget. Fifteen years on, I still sit and contemplate with an open jaw, completely bewildered at what we experienced at that house in South Tyneside.
The book, we have been told, is a welcome contribution to psychical research and a valuable addition to its literature. It is a permanent reminder of what Mike Hallowell and I dealt with in 2006; it is a story that will ultimately go down in psychical research history, and last but not least, it is a testament to the resolve and courage that was shown by one normal and everyday family in the North East of England.
DARREN W. RITSON is the author of almost 20 books on ghosts and has been a member of the Society for Psychical Research since 2006.