This tale originally appeared in Episode 009 – A Haunting in Cognac.
The Enfield haunting started in August of 1977, at 284 Green Street, Brimsdown, Enfield, London, the home of single mother Peggy Hodgson and her four children. The first sign of something odd came as two of the kids, Janet and Johnny, complained that something kept shaking and moving their beds around at bedtime. Peggy told them to knock off the foolishness and go to sleep.
The next night, as the commotion from their room started again, Peggy went to the kids’ room only to find the door obstructed by a chest of drawers. She pushed her way in and squeezed into the room, and shoved the drawers back against the wall, only to have some unseen force push them back towards the door while still in her grip. It was at this point Peggy knew something truly bizarre was at play. The family huddled together and went to a neighbor’s house, the Nottinghams, to wait out the night. Vic Nottingham, a large builder, went over to the Hodgson’s house to try to suss out the issue, but instead found himself shaken by knocks on the walls and ceilings for which he couldn’t determine the cause.
This was just the start of what would become an 18-month marathon of torment. Not just from paranormal activity, but also from a never ending queue of reporters, investigators, lookie-loos, skeptics, believers, debunkers, and rigorous scrutiny that still echoes through on to today. By the time all was said and done, over 30 individuals would claim witness to the incidents in Enfield.
The Hodgson family would be beset by beds lifting, furniture moving, and chairs being overturned. The knocking would race up and down the halls or fade in and out so much that soon nobody felt comfortable sleeping without the lights on. Objects would often launch themselves across the room. Eventually whispers and voices would start making themselves known, and the children themselves would be picked up and tossed around.
The first major witness to the activity was a police constable. She sat and watched as a chair wobbled and moved on it’s own accord. Inspection of the chair revealed no wires or strings or anything else to explain the phenomenon. Though the police sympathized with the family, they had to leave explaining that it wasn’t a police matter since no real crime was being committed.
As Peggy Hodgson continued searching for help, eventually her case reached the ears of the Society for Psychical Research, and investigators Maurice Grosse and Guy Lyon Playfair arrived to try to make sense of things. Shortly after arriving, Grosse saw a t-shirt fly off of a table right next to him. The two men, over the coming months, would come to see furniture move and spin, find small objects like marbles and Legos tossed around the room (and commented that the tossed toys would be hot to the touch), and eventually captured tape of phantom voices and photos of children reportedly levitating. Grosse remarked, “It’s smarter than we are. Look at its timing–the moment you go out of a room, something happens. You stay in the room for hours, and nothing moves. It knows what we’re up to.”
Grosse and Playfair’s investigation found the activity to be focused primarily on the two girls: Margaret, age 13, and Janet, age 11. Margaret, tried to go up the stairs, in one incident, only to claim something wouldn’t let her leave, and had a hold of a leg that was held aloft in the air behind her. It reportedly took several people to free her. When the girls were separated and sent to stay in different homes for the night, incidents would occur in both places.
But Janet was deemed to be the epicenter of the haunting. Janet was tall and athletic for her age, and seemed to be a favorite target. Grosse and Playfair noted right away “curious whistles and talking coming from Janet’s general direction”. She would often be levitated about against her will or go into trances from which she couldn’t recall any details, and sometimes talk in a deep gruff voice of a man calling himself ‘Bill’.
“I knew when the voices were happening, of course,” Janet said in a 2011 interview, “it felt like something was behind me all of the time. They did all sorts of tests, filling my mouth with water and so on, but the voices still came out.
“The levitation was scary, because you didn’t know where you were going to land. I remember a curtain being wound around my neck, I was screaming, I thought I was going to die.”
Bill claimed to be the former resident of the home, and that he had died while sitting in a chair in the living room, suffering a hemorrhage in his sleep. Records and conversations with the former tenant’s son confirmed these claims.
Janet said, “I felt used by a force that nobody understands. I really didn’t like to think about it too much. I’m not sure the poltergeist was ever truly ‘evil’. It was almost as though it wanted to be part of the family.
“It didn’t want to hurt us. It had died here and wanted to be at rest. The only way it could communicate was through me and my sister.” She also admitted to playing with a Ouija board shortly before the incidents began.
But as the activities and phenomena became more grand so did the scrutiny, and holes in the claims started to emerge. First off, Bill would only talk if Janet and Margaret were together and in another room, separate from everyone else with the door closed. And Bill’s conversations were peculiar in that he would often change the subject mid-conversation, a habit that Janet had as well. He also seemed oddly interested in things a girl Janet and Margaret’s age would deal with in puberty, like menstruation.
Once one loose thread is pulled, others quickly unravel around it. An article about Matthew Manning torn from a magazine was found in the house and raised suspicions, as many of the earliest occurrences seemed to parallel the Manning case. The famous photographs of the girls levitating were pointed out as easily being well timed photos of children jumping on their bed. Even Grosse and Playfair, though never denying an actual haunting was at work, would see evidence of foul play at times. They had on occasion caught Janet banging on the walls or ceiling with a broomstick, or trying to hide Playfair’s tape recorder. Playfair would admit, “Janet was all energy, big for her age, jumping up and running around on the slightest pretext, and talking so fast that I had some difficulty understanding her. She had an impish look and I can understand why some visitors in the later months would suspect her of playing tricks.”
Playfair believed that though the haunting was real, the girls became enamored of the attention and would (sometimes clumsily) create activity for their own benefit, especially on camera. In interviews Janet would often wave excitedly at the camera, but then put her hands over her mouth “in shock” when mysterious voices or noises occurred. When BBC Scotland visited to do a story on the haunting, the girls were asked, “How does it feel to be haunted by a poltergeist?”, to which Janet responded, “It’s not haunted,” only to have Margaret silence her by quickly whispering, “Shut up!” Indeed, one video even caught Janet bending spoons and attempting to bend an iron bar when she thought she wasn’t being watched.
Experts from other disciplines observed the behavior and were left unimpressed. Ventriloquist Ray Alan said all the voices and whispers could easily be done with vocal tricks. Stage magicians Milbourne Christopher and Joe Nickell visited the family as well: Nickell observed that objects only seemed to move or be thrown when no one was looking at them, while Christopher watched Janet retreat to her room, only to see her peek her head out the door as if to see if anyone was watching her, and seemed genuinely flustered to find that someone was. Christopher attributed the haunting to, “a little girl who wanted to cause trouble and who was very, very clever.”
The girls were blamed for wanting the attention, especially from two doting male investigators so recently after their father had left the family (by coincidence, Grosse had lost his own daughter, also named Janet, in a motorcycle accident the year before). Their mother Peggy was accused of trying to scam the Housing Council into finding the family a better place to live. Janet was bullied in school, getting called ‘Ghost Girl’. One brother was called ‘freak from the ghost house’ and spit at in the street. Many psychiatrists and health professionals thought that the whole incident would just end if Grosse and Playfair would leave the family alone. Eventually Mrs. Hodgson got to the point that, with the exception of Grosse and Playfair, she refused to welcome others into her house.
Despite the deep cuts Ocham’s Razor seemed to be leaving everywhere, Grosse and Playfair continued to be convinced of the haunting’s genuineness at its core. They had seen too many things they considered to be unexplainable to throw the whole case away on a couple of childish pranks. Indeed, at one point Janet and Margaret even admitted to faking the whole thing, but were convinced by Grosse and Playfair to recant their confession. Playfair said, “It almost seemed that the poltergeist were out to incriminate her (Janet), by proliferating third-rate phenomena in the presence of first-rate observers.”
According to Janet, a priest visited in 1978. The activity calmed down after that, but never totally subsided. Janet left home at age 16, and married young. She says, “I lost touch with everything, all the coverage of the case in paranormal books. My mum felt people walked over her at that time. She felt exploited.”
Her brother Johnny tragically died at the age of 14 from cancer, shortly after the press attention drifted away. Bobby, the youngest, felt watched up until the day he moved out. Janet’s mother, Peggy, passed away in 2003 from breast cancer, and still lived in the home at the time. Janet says the presence in the home never fully went away. “Years later, when Mum was alive, there was always a presence there — something watching over you. As long as people don’t meddle the way we did with Ouija boards, it is quite settled. It is a lot calmer than when I was a child. It is at rest, but will always be there.”
After Peggy’s death, a new family moved in, a mother with four boys. They reported constantly feeling watched and regularly hearing whispers and talking from downstairs at night. The night before they moved out, the 15-year old was woken in the night to see a shadowy man enter his room. He ran to his mother’s room and told her, “we’ve got to move.” The following tenants asked not to be informed of the home’s history, hoping their children’s ignorance of the past would keep them hidden from the haunting’s attention.
The haunting was dramatized in the film “The Conjuring 2”, a film series circling around the lives of demonologists and paranormal investigators Ed & Lorraine Warren. While the film portrays them as heroes of the haunting and does a decent job of fitting many of the reported incidents into the narrative (despite a classic Warren climax that always ends up attributing the incident to ‘demons’) , in reality they were only on the scene for a day and quickly left. Playfair later reported that Ed Warren told him that, “someone could make a lot of money off this story”. The Warrens’ own organization, NESPR, makes no claims that the Warrens played a significant role in the Enfield haunting.
Janet later did admit that the girls tried to fake some of the phenomena, but says that every time they tried Grosse or Playfair would catch them. When asked how much of the phenomenon they were responsible for, she said, “about 2-percent.”
“I didn’t want to bring it up again while my mum was alive,” Janet says, “but now I want to tell my story. I don’t care whether people believe me or not, I went through this, and it was true.”