The rasping male voice sent a chill through the room. Hauntingly, it delivered a message from beyond the grave, describing in graphic detail the moment of death.
‘Just before I died, I went blind, and then I had an ’aemorrhage and I fell asleep and I died in the chair in the corner downstairs.’
The eerie voice — which can still be heard on audio tapes today — is purportedly that of Bill Wilkins. The recording was made in Enfield, North London, in the Seventies, several years after his death.
Most horrifying of all, however, was that the voice was coming from the body of an 11-year-old girl, Janet Hodgson. She appeared to be possessed. It could have been a scene from the film The Exorcist — but it was real.
What was going on? This was the case of the Enfield Poltergeist, which held the nation spellbound 30 years ago, puzzling policemen, psychics, experts in the occult and hardened reporters alike. It involved levitation, furniture being moved through the air, and flying objects swirling towards witnesses. There were cold breezes, physical assaults, graffiti, water appearing on the floor, and even claims of matches spontaneously bursting into flame.
A policewoman even signed an affidavit that she had seen a chair move. There were more than 30 witnesses to the strange incidents.
Most inexplicably, the young girl at the centre of the events seemingly acted as the mouthpiece for Bill Wilkins, a foul-mouthed, grumpy old man who had died in the house many years before. His son contacted investigators to confirm the details of his story.
The events unfolded for more than a year behind the door of an ordinary-looking semi-detached council house, on a suburban street filled with similar houses, and left those they touched permanently scarred.
Naturally, many questioned whether it was all a hoax — but no explanation other than the paranormal has ever been convincingly put forward.
The story, as the Hodgson family told it, begins in 1977. Peggy Hodgson was unusual, at the time, in that she was a single mother to four children — Margaret, 12, Janet, 11, Johnny, ten, and Billy, seven — having split from their father.
It was the evening of August 30, 1977, and Mrs Hodgson was keen to get her children into bed. She heard Janet complaining from upstairs that her and her brothers’ beds were wobbling.
Mrs Hodgson told her daughter to stop mucking around. The following evening, however, there was an altogether more bizarre disturbance.
Mrs Hodgson heard a crash from upstairs. Cross, she went to tell her children to settle down.
Entering their bedroom, with Janet’s Starsky & Hutch posters on the wall, Mrs Hodgson saw the chest of drawers move. She pushed it back, but found that it was being propelled towards the door by an invisible force.
It seemed as if some supernatural presence was trying to trap the family in the room with the heavy oak chest.
Many years later, Janet would tell a Channel 4 documentary: ‘It started in a back bedroom, the chest of drawers moved, and you could hear shuffling. Mum said: “I want you to pack it in.”
‘We told her what was going on, and she came to see it for herself. She saw the chest of drawers moving. When she tried to push it back, she couldn’t.’
Janet’s sister Margaret explained how the activity increased.
‘There were strange little noises in the house, you couldn’t make out what was going on. None of us could sleep.
‘We put on our dressing gowns and slippers and went next door.’
The family appealed for help from their neighbours, Vic and Peggy Nottingham. Vic, a burly builder, went to investigate.
He says: ‘I went in there and I couldn’t make out these noises — there was a knocking on the wall, in the bedroom, on the ceiling. I was beginning to get a bit frightened.’
Margaret adds: ‘He said: “I don’t know what to do.” I’d never seen a big man like that looking scared.’
The Hodgsons called the police, who proved to be similarly mystified. WPC Carolyn Heeps saw a chair move.
She said at the time: ‘A large armchair moved, unassisted, 4 ft across the floor.’
She inspected the chair for hidden wires, but could find no explanation for what she had seen.
Eventually, the officers left, telling the family that the incidents were not a police matter, as they couldn’t find anyone breaking the law.
Next, the Hodgsons contacted the Press. Daily Mirror photographer Graham Morris, who visited the house, says: ‘It was chaos, things started flying around, people were screaming.’
Some of the events were captured on camera, and the images are disturbing. One shows Janet’s elfin form apparently being thrown across the room.
In others, her face is distorted in pain.
The BBC went to the house, but the crew found the metal components in their tape equipment had been twisted, and recordings erased.
Next, the family sought help from the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). It sent investigators Maurice Grosse and Guy Lyon Playfair, a poltergeist expert who subsequently wrote a book, This House Is Haunted, about the affair.
The author Will Storr spoke to Grosse, who has since died, when researching his own book Will Storr vs The Supernatural, which also features the case. Grosse told him: ‘As soon as I got there, I realised that the case was real because the family was in a bad state. Everybody was in chaos.
‘When I first got there, nothing happened for a while. Then I experienced Lego pieces flying across the room, and marbles, and the extraordinary thing was, when you picked them up they were hot.
‘I was standing in the kitchen and a T-shirt leapt off the table and flew into the other side of the room while I was standing by it.’
The investigators found themselves caught in a maelstrom of apparently psychic activity, with every poltergeist trick thrown at them. Sofas levitated, furniture spun round and was flung across the room, and the family would be hurled out of their beds at night.
One day, Maurice and a visiting neighbour found one of the children shouting: ‘I can’t move! It’s holding my leg!’ They had to wrestle the child from what all involved insisted was the grip of invisible hands.
The ongoing knocking was one of the most chilling aspects of the case. It would run down the wall, fading in and out as it apparently played an unnerving game with the family — who became so scared that they slept in the same room, with the light on.
Most of the activity centred on 11-year-old Janet. She went into violent trances, which were awful to behold. On one occasion, the iron fireplace in her bedroom was wrenched from the wall by unseen forces.
Family members also claim to have seen her levitating — floating clean across the room.
She told Channel 4: ‘I felt used by a force that nobody understands. I really don’t like to think about it too much. I’m not sure the poltergeist was truly “evil”. 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.’
Some cast doubt on the events, however. Two SPR experts caught the children bending spoons themselves, and questioned why no one was allowed in the same room as Janet when she was using her gruff voice, apparently that of Bill Wilkins.
Indeed, Janet admitted that they fabricated some of the occurrences.
She told ITV News in 1980: ‘Oh yeah, once or twice (we faked phenomena), just to see if Mr Grosse and Mr Playfair would catch us. They always did.’
Now aged 45, Janet lives in Essex with her husband, a retired milkman.
She told me: ‘I wasn’t very happy to hear about the film, I didn’t know anything about it. My dad has just died, and it really upset me to think of all this being raked over again.’
She describes the poltergeist activity as traumatic.
‘It was an extraordinary case. It’s one of the most recognised cases of paranormal activity in the world. But, for me, it was quite daunting. I think it really left its mark, the activities, the newspaper attention, the different people in and out of the house. It wasn’t a normal childhood.’
Asked how much of the phenomena at Green Street was faked, she says: ‘I’d say 2 per cent.’
She also admitted playing with an Ouija board with her sister, just before the activity flared up at the house.
She says she was unaware that she went into trances, until she was shown pictures.
‘I recall being very distressed by the photos when I was a child, I was very upset.
‘I knew when the voices were happening, of course, 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.’
She says: ‘It was hard, I had a short spell in the Maudsley Psychiatric Hospital in London, where they stuck electrodes on my head, but the tests proved normal.
‘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.
'My mum had to use all her strength to rip it away. The man who spoke through me, Bill, seemed angry, because we were in his house.’
The situation had a huge effect on the family.
Janet says: ‘I was bullied at school. They called me Ghost Girl and put crane flies down my back.
‘I’d dread going home. The front door would be open, there’d be people in and out, you didn’t know what to expect and I used to worry a lot about Mum. She had a nervous breakdown, in the end.
‘I’m not one for living in the past. I want to move on. But it does come to me now and again. I dream about it, and then it affects me. I think why did it happen to us?’
Her brother was called ‘freak boy from the Ghost House’ and people would spit at him in the street.
Janet herself was on the front page of the Daily Star with a headline: ‘Possessed by the Devil.’
She left home at 16, and married young.
‘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.’
Shortly after the Press attention drifted away, Janet’s younger brother Johnny died of cancer, aged just 14. Janet’s mother then developed breast cancer, dying in 2003, and Janet suffered the loss of her own son, in his sleep, when he was 18.
She rejects any suggestion that the whole story was faked in pursuit of fame or money.
‘I didn’t want to bring it up again while my mum was alive, 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.’
Asked whether she believes the house is still haunted, she says: ‘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.’
Janet reports that it was a priest’s visit to Green Street that resulted in the incidents ‘quietening down’ in autumn 1978, although the occurrences did not stop entirely, she says, with her mother continuing to hear noises in the house.
Janet says: ‘Even my brother, until the day he left that place after Mum died, would say: “There’s still something there.” You’d feel like you were being watched.’
Janet said she continues to believe in the poltergeist, saying: ‘It lived off me, off my energy. Call me mad if you like. Those events did happen. The poltergeist was with me and I feel that in a sense he always will be.’
Who lives at 284 Green Street now?
After Peggy Hodgson died, Clare Bennett and her four sons moved into the house.
Last week, she said: ‘I didn’t see anything, but I felt uncomfortable. There was definitely some kind of presence in the house, I always felt like someone was looking at me.’
Her sons would wake in the night, hearing people talking downstairs. Clare then found out about the house’s history. ‘Suddenly, it all made sense,’ she says. They moved out after just two months.
One of her sons, Shaka, 15, says: ‘The night before we moved out, I woke up and saw a man come into the room. I ran into Mum’s room and said: “We’ve got to move,” and we did the next day.’
The house is currently occupied by another family, who do not wish to be identified. The mother says simply: ‘I’ve got children, they don’t know about it. I don’t want to scare them.’
Though cynics may scoff, the story of the Enfield Poltergeist has clearly lost none of its frightening power.