The Grosse/Playfair Tapes
The ‘Maurice Grosse Collection’ belonging to the SPR and housed at Cambridge University Library contains much of the background information for this case and I quote directly from Playfair’s notes therein as follows:
Mrs Hodgson appears to be a very capable woman who is working under extreme difficulties through lack of money. The house is in a bad state of repair and the furnishings are very poor. The children however are well cared for and they appear altogether to be a happy unit. Mrs Hodgson has been divorced for about three years. Mr Hodgson is partially spastic with paralysis on his right side. He has been in Claybury Hospital a few times with treatment for a mental (?) condition. Mr Hodgson was mentally disturbed. Margaret appears to be quite a normal child but inclined to be over-emotional. She cries very easily. She goes to special classes as she has been rather backward in her school work. Janet appears to be a reasonably bright child but rather excitable with a strong imagination. She went to a new school at the beginning of September and showed a great deal of apprehension in having to start. She took a couple of weeks to settle down, but, considering all the upsets caused by the disturbances, she’s settled in very well. This girl appears to be the epicentre. Johnny was only in the house on one day when I was called in on the case. He goes to a special school – boarding – at Wavendon, Milton Keynes. He is a mentally disturbed child. Billy appears to be a normally intelligent child but he has a bad speech defect. He runs his words together and he is very difficult to understand. He is receiving speech therapy.
The house is a small semi-detached council house built in the late twenties or early thirties. Four different sets of people have lived in the house but there is no available history of the families that have lived there. There do not appear to be any cases of unusual deaths taking place in the house. Some of the furniture and curtains in the house originally came from a house where a small child of four was murdered by her father. Mr Hodgson was friendly with this man and when he eventually committed suicide, Mr Hodgson bought some of the suicide’s furniture into his own house.
There is a budgerigar and a goldfish in the house. The budgerigar was given to the family by Mr Richardson and it had belonged to an old lady who had died. The phenomena did start shortly after the bird came into the house.
The relations involved in the case are as follows. Mr John Burcombe, brother to Mrs Hodgson, and deputy head-porter in the hospital: a down-to-earth intelligent man who appears to have a well-ordered mind. Mrs Sylvie Burcombe, his wife, a housewife, with rather a nervous disposition, but alert. Their son, Paul, aged 12 – a lively intelligent boy – and their daughter Denise, 15, (?) also a lively intelligent girl. The neighbours directly involved in this case are the people living in the house next door. Mr Nottingham, about 40, well-built, helpful with a good disposition. Mrs Peggy Nottingham, a key figure in this case, about 38: a strong, rather dominant type, competent and extremely helpful, highly critical and sceptical witness. Their son Gary, late teens: a well-built, healthy-looking individual. Mr Richardson, Mrs Nottingham’s father, who was in temporary residence with her: aged 72, physically ailing but mentally alert.
There were no recordings made of the events that occurred at the Hodgson family home on 31 August 1977, so there is no audio evidence as such. According to Playfair’s book This House is Haunted sounds of knocking were heard and a “heavy chest of drawers” moved of its own accord along the floor. The next-door neighbours, Mr and Mrs Nottingham, were alerted, but could find no natural explanations so they called the police who attended promptly. WPC Heeps and her colleague arrived and Heeps, the Hodgson family and the Nottinghams witnessed a chair sliding across the floor several feet. Over the next few days the family were bombarded with flying marbles and bits of the plastic toy Lego from an unknown source. Mrs Nottingham phoned the Daily Mirror to see if they could help and the reporter Douglas Bence and photographer Graham Morris duly turned up on 5 September.
Further reporters and photographers followed who were suitably impressed by the genuineness of the family’s assertions, especially when they witnessed various phenomena themselves. It was suggested that the SPR should be contacted since the organization had a long history of knowledge in such matters. After receiving a phone call from George Fallows the Society’s secretary Eleanor O’Keefe contacted a new member who had expressed an interest in undertaking investigative work. He was a successful inventor who conveniently lived in London and was able to travel to Enfield without too much difficulty. His name was Maurice Grosse and he had joined the SPR after the tragic death of his daughter in a motorbike accident. After Grosse had experienced what he believed to be poltergeist phenomena himself at the Enfield house, he asked at a monthly SPR meeting, coincidently devoted to poltergeist studies, whether anyone would be interested in helping him with the case and Lawrence Berger (a London dental surgeon) volunteered. A few days later Guy Lyon Playfair (an author and experienced investigator) decided to join Grosse and lend his support. From this time onwards Grosse and Playfair spent many hours at the Hodgson household and recorded hundreds of hours of audio-information taking the form of an actual soundtrack of the phenomena as well as first-hand reports by many of the people who experienced incidents there. The rappings and knocking sounds from Enfield and other similar phenomena were later analysed by Barrie Colvin (2010) and he provided detailed information about the differences between intentionally produced raps and alleged paranormal examples. In the ‘Discussion of results’ from his report he concluded that there appeared to be “reasonable grounds for concluding that unexplained rapping effects … exhibit an unusual acoustic waveform pattern” and that the “… generally recognised description of the rap-like sounds often reported at poltergeist investigations [were] not actually raps at all.”
What follows is an account of what was actually recorded by Grosse and Playfair between September 1977 and 1997.
The first recording was made by Playfair on 19 September “just after 10:00 p.m. when the first bit of Lego had been thrown”. There were no recorded sounds other than creaks and miscellaneous noises that were probably caused by normal household activity. Playfair narrated that a chair had turned over but in a different room and was therefore not picked up by the tape recorder. There were only a few more taped sessions up until the end of the month, but one particularly dramatic episode on 21 September concerned the sound of a fairly large chest of drawers turning over seemingly by themselves since no immediate previous sounds were heard: e.g. creaking floorboards as if someone was approaching them and then manually turning them over. Grosse and Playfair both taped the accounts of Mrs Hodgson and John Burcombe of what they claimed to have witnessed including the movement of other furniture and a pillow from the bed.
October was a busy month for recording testimonies and phenomena, most of which happened at bedtime for the family after 9:00 p.m. and sometimes stretching well into the night/early morning. The month started with the arrival of the medium Maisie Besant and her directing partner E. Butler who undertook mediumistic sessions. She spoke as if in a trance but failed to provide any verifiable information. During the first half of the month there were numerous witnesses to a wide range of different phenomena. They included Mrs Nottingham who discovered an unexplained pool of water; a bathroom light swinging; the movement of a toilet brush and the toilet flushing of its own accord. Mrs Hodgson, who had been advised by Grosse to keep a diary of incidents, related “noises being heard”; objects falling over; a drawer opening of its own accord and, on several occasions, a bedroom lamp being thrown. Furthermore, she felt as if there was something like a cat pressing down on her legs when in bed. She complained of a headache just before things started to happen, but “not like a normal headache”. She suggested that mice might be responsible for some of the activity, but certainly not all of it. Grosse witnessed a slipper flying through the air, which, he believed, was impossible to have been thrown by anyone present and he also heard the collapse of a camp bed, which was in use. He was not in the room at the time but outside. When he and Playfair were worried about their tape-recorders being tampered with, both Janet and Margaret strenuously denied any involvement. Billy was present for many of these incidents and he seemed worried about them. Screams from the girls were frequently emitted immediately after something had been thrown. John Burcombe added his own list of witnessed phenomena including loud “dull thuds” and a light, which seemed to have a mind of its own that actually scared him at the top of the stairs in the house.
On 3 October a meeting was held at Janet’s school with the headmaster, members of the local authority, Mrs Hodgson and Grosse, which he taped, with their permission. It was stated that Janet was so tired, at times, that she had to sleep in the school medical room. It was also mentioned that she might be taken into care as a ‘holiday’ for a week. Janet was showing an abnormal amount of stress at the entry into her new school.
The phenomena continued unabated throughout October. A list of incidents witnessed multiple times by some or all of the family as well as the Nottinghams from next door and members of the Burcombe family included:
• Furniture turning over (chairs, a stool and a heavy sofa and armchair); drawers opening of their own accord and a camp bed collapsing.
• Bedroom objects “flying over” including a lamp and slippers several times.
• Kitchen objects moving (crockery, a teapot and a washing basket) and “cream crackers jumping”.
• Bathroom objects moving (a toothbrush, beaker, toilet brush) and unaccounted quantities of water appearing on the floor.
• Unaccounted knockings, rappings, bangings etc.
• The appearances of shadowy figures and “what looked like an old lady at the window”.
• A doll’s house roof split; a jigsaw puzzle that “shot off the top of a cupboard”.
• Crying, whimpering and whispering sounds were also heard.
At various times throughout the investigation Grosse interviewed everyone present, and especially the girls, about the incidents and he was occasionally suspicious about what was going on. Janet could be heard giggling and Grosse would complain about her “sliding out of bed” and with her hand being seen just before a slipper went flying. Both he and Mrs Hodgson became understandably irritated at these times and the girls were threatened with dire consequences if they were “fooling around”.
A new direction was instigated by Grosse to try to achieve some sort of communication with whatever was causing the knockings and he tried question and answer sessions via tapping. This produced a communicator referring to itself/herself as “Mrs Haylock”. John Burcombe and Grosse attempted to clarify what the actual identity or source of the knocking was, but without much success other than the ‘entity’ saying it was looking for a glass ashtray that was in the house when it/she lived there. The rappings sometimes transformed into the rhythms of TV themes and such-like and were accompanied by objects (a doll, a box of toys, slippers etc.) being thrown across the room amidst a general commotion. In desperation Grosse attempted gentle hypnosis to try to get Janet, in particular, to go to sleep. This ended October 1977. [The Enfield council arranged for the family to take a week’s holiday at Clacton-on-Sea from 29 October to 5 November and details of paranormal activity were not recorded, if they happened, while they were there.]
November’s taping started on the fifth and, subsequently, there were some occasional background sounds from the celebrations traditionally held on that date. The bangs of fireworks are very different from the rappings that persisted and Grosse continued to attempt communication via the knocks. His patience must have been tested considerably when the raps replied with such rhythms as / and then the “spirit contact” changed from being “Mrs Haylock” to “Mrs Oakland” and the ashtray sought became wooden when it was previously stated as being made of glass.
Amongst the large number of objects thrown, moved or tipped over, one was of particular importance to Grosse, which is clearly recorded on tape. One must remember that many of the incidents were either recounted to the investigators or occurred in a different room from where they were positioned. However, on 5 November between 10:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Grosse asked whether the spirit was “having a game with him”. Immediately a ‘whooshing’ sound was heard as a box was hurled across the room at him and hit him on the head. He was suitably shocked and, if one listens to the exclamations from the several witnesses, so was everyone else! The remainder of the evening continued with a picture being pulled off a wall behind where Grosse was positioned; a pillow was thrown; the kitchen table was “thrown over”; the laundry basket was upturned; the kettle “jumped across the kitchen” and bedclothes were repeatedly pulled off the bed.
7 November brought some new events into the chaotic household, namely Janet’s being seemingly thrown out of bed with claims of levitation. From the eyewitness descriptions and a dramatic photograph taken by Graham Morris it appeared that she was repeatedly thrown anything from four and a half feet to six feet in the air. Later on in the month Margaret also claimed to be “pulled out of bed”. When some of these events happened, Janet looked as if she was asleep and, at times, all three children (the two girls and Billy) were “seemingly dreaming simultaneously”.
Mrs Hodgson’s “frontal headaches” continued when incidents were about to happen and she experienced a multitude of events herself ranging from hearing footsteps and feeling gusts of wind from unknown sources to the appearance and disappearance of food as well as all the (by now) commonplace movements. Grosse had desired written communication from the entity or spirit and Mrs Hodgson found a note written on Janet’s writing pad that said “shit Mr Grosse from Mrs Haylock”. She had thought it was Janet’s writing and threw it away. A further written message concerned keeping Mrs Burcombe away – Janet didn’t like her. Grosse also believed that, on this occasion, Janet was responsible and he was disappointed that as soon as he was told to leave the room by Janet the pillow and bed clothes were thrown, which was inevitably suspicious.
On 9 November the first mention was made on tape of “growling” noises, which were to become very significant later on during the investigation and on 12 November the family was visited by some leading authorities on psychical research, namely Tony Cornell, Bernard Carr and Alan Gauld. Gauld and Cornell’s presence was particularly welcome since they were to produce the highly informative book devoted to poltergeists two years later (Gauld & Cornell, 1979). Unfortunately, this case was not written-up in time to be included in their book. Frustratingly for them the phenomena did not manifest except when they were out of the room whereupon the pillow jumped and Janet was lifted out of bed and over Margaret before being dropped. With everyone present and amidst considerable laughter, Cornell clambered into bed with Janet and Margaret and then invited the ‘entity’ to move him out! Nothing happened and he withdrew. Once they were out of the room the activity started up again and Gauld set up some equipment with comments by Carr concerning “radiation”. There were no significant results. An ‘experiment’ organized by Cornell involving water-filled balloons being placed beneath a bed, backfired when the balloons were discovered and thrown across the room leading to their bursting and water dripping through the ceiling into the downstairs room.
Later in the month the girls and Mrs Hodgson complained about having tickling sensations in bed and, on more than one occasion whilst he was sitting on one of the beds, John Burcombe was pushed off by an unseen “force”. Events started to take on a more sinister turn from 13 November onwards. Janet became very “disturbed” and “violent” whilst what was described as being in a “trance”. The combined forces of Mrs Hodgson, Grosse, Mrs Edwards (a family friend) and the Burcombe family all had difficulty in holding Janet down to stop her from hurting herself and they were unable to wake her up. The tape has disturbing footage of Janet who was “convulsing and banging her head on the headboard” and she was also said to be “… displaying a very strong grip like a grown man” whilst “… laughing, screaming, crying, yelling and kicking out”. Grosse was kicked by Janet and she almost broke his thumb while she was “flaying around in bed”. Nevertheless, Janet displayed natural behaviour during this turmoil notably by trying to keep her nightclothes pulled down to cover herself whilst frantically moving around. She then resumed strange behaviour by tying her socks together and imitating a Moslem’s prayer position on the bed and rocking backwards and forwards. What followed was her being violently sick. Meanwhile Margaret had started “moaning” and was also “thrown out of bed” almost at the same time as Janet. After more screaming and “fighting” amidst what could only be described as pandemonium finally the activity calmed down and sleep was attained.
After these dramatic scenes the tapes do not reveal any further commotions until 26 November. In the interim period, Mrs Hodgson had talked about the difficulties both she and the girls experienced when her ex-husband visited with the maintenance money and, especially, when he brought his new girlfriend with him. The girls’ relationship with their father was openly discussed, which did not appear to be very loving. Also, during the latter part of November, the author John Fuller and his wife visited the family and discussed the phenomena with Mrs Hodgson. However, 26 November was another dramatic night with the photographer Graham Morris as well as Mr and Mrs Burcombe and Grosse present. Janet became hysterical again and started screaming and acting violently with “fantastic strength” during which time she accidentally assaulted John Burcombe. The doctor was finally called for and he gave her an injection of Valium that calmed her down leading to sleep. [Not recorded on the tapes that night was the taking of the photograph showing Janet perched on the radio and being held by John Burcombe.]
28 November contained further incidents and activity including a brush being thrown; the settee turning over backwards and the fridge door being thrown open so violently that it dented the door. Mrs Hodgson commented that events often seemed to happen at twenty-five minutes to the hour. Bedtime introduced the return of forceful action with Janet crying and biting Grosse’s jacket. She also started to swear, which was to become very common later on. She exclaimed, “you are fucking hurting me”. She was thrown out of bed several times and Grosse tried to demand the expulsion of whatever was affecting her.
Apart from a visit by the Portuguese mediums Luiz and Elsie Gasparetto who talked to the family and to Playfair (in Portuguese on the tape) the bedtime events for the remainder of November were similarly harrowing. Margaret was thrown out of bed several times; various items were thrown; and Janet was alternately crying or screaming. The commotion was also upsetting Billy. One strange conversation was recorded between the girls whilst they appeared to be asleep. Margaret spoke in a false-sounding monotonous voice, weirdly dramatic in its own way, saying to Janet “you mustn’t sling that anymore or I’ll tell Mr Grosse”. The last part [edited] of the 30 November tape provides a feel of what was actually going on:
… Peggy Nottingham holding Janet down; MG narrates: “it’s dead”; Janet: “no, it’s fucking alive”… girls shouting [like a dramatic scene from a film or TV programme] … Margaret awake; Janet crying and screaming uncontrollably; swearing … Billy jumping around; Billy dreaming; chaotic … Mrs Nottingham holding Janet down; “it’s fucking alive”; MG says all gone; Margaret with fake voice; Janet says she’s a witch; MG says their eyes are turned up.
Outside of Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve there was hardly a single day during December that either Grosse and/or Playfair didn’t visit the Hodgson household and make extensive recordings. A wide variety of occurrences happened during this time, which increased in variety and quantity and included frequent whistling, which the girls denied being able to replicate. On at least one occasion Mrs Hodgson and Mrs Nottingham believed they were actually doing it but without realizing it.
The month started with something of a curiosity since Janet appeared to be genuinely very upset by a door opening and closing by itself when she was alone “next door” and then being “thrown up the stairs”. However, the month’s activities very quickly resumed, at least initially, with the common practice of flying objects; flying bed sheets; and Janet and Margaret being thrown out of bed.
Playfair quoted an account by Mrs Hodgson and a subsequent incident that he claimed was picked up “perfectly” by his tape-recorder, but the quality of the recording has deteriorated subsequently and it is difficult to hear.
[Mrs Hodgson] … It feels just as though there’s a great big hand going like that … You pinch me! You dare pinch me! You know you really are the limit. Now you go away! It’s taken a fancy to my skirt … [Playfair continues] … my notebook jumped off the spot where I had carefully placed it, swished through the air and landed on the floor about three feet away … This took place literally under my nose, in a strong light … (Playfair, 2007, p. 108-109)
What can be heard on the tape is the sound of dragging followed by a “swish” as the notebook fluttered through the air and landed as if it had initially moved along a flat surface before taking off and falling.
All these incidents were witnessed by numerous people including Mrs Hodgson’s ex-husband, but with Mrs Hodgson as the main observer. She again reiterated the headaches she experienced just before the activities started and that twenty-five minutes to the hour seemed to be a focal time for them.
During this period the girls also started having simultaneous dreams/conversations/fantasies, which sometimes became quite crude with the emphasis on “dogs” and “shit”. At times this was quite amusing to the extent that Grosse could be heard suppressing laughter in the background. When Grosse left the room, Janet was transported onto a chest of drawers in the room and Margaret was “thrown out of bed”. Janet then became “violent” and it was difficult for the adults present to stop her from hurting herself as she thrashed around. On one occasion Margaret related in a monotonous voice whilst asleep “Wilkins died on chair downstairs”. When she spoke of wanting to play a game called “Ten Ghosts” Grosse tried to coax the girls into attempting automatic writing while they were seemingly asleep, but the results were not conclusive other than that Janet wrote about “a ghost in the bedroom; it died in 1952; transistor radio has been buried at bottom of the garden”.
5 December saw the arrival of David Robertson a physicist who had been asked to investigate the occurrences by Professor Hasted, the head of physics at Birkbeck College, and Hugh Pincott, a leading Council member of the SPR. Robertson set up measuring equipment, but the girls seemed to be in a playful mood. A laughing Janet was thrown out of bed and the adults were told to leave the room. The sounds of a bouncing bed were recorded and further girlish laughter with Janet accusing Margaret of “doing it”. Other comments from the girls were “bugger off”; “it’s great fun here”; miaowing sounds and a denial when Pincott and Grosse accused them of “messing about”. Comments were made about being “bionic” and general childish and animal noises were made with Billy also joining in.
An altogether different atmosphere was achieved the following night (6 December) as Janet became violent again and Billy was upset by a dream he had experienced. Both girls were also thrown out of bed. Grosse admitted to being suspicious of some of the activity, but nevertheless consoled Janet when she was distressed at the implication that she was moving on purpose “like a gymnast”.
As the upheavals showed no signs of abeyance, with Mrs Hodgson and Janet’s permission, Playfair brought in a hypnotist to investigate. Dr Ian Fletcher was highly experienced in clinical hypnotism and a member of the SPR. In a relaxed hypnotised state Janet accused her siblings of “doing things deliberately”, but she wouldn’t tell her mother because she would “get the blame”. She believed in ghosts and talked about being “OK” about Grosse and Playfair being there. After he had departed [the tape isn’t clear here] the commotion started up again with bed shaking; Janet being thrown out of bed; Billy crying and wailing and persistent whistling. Grosse tried, in vain, to make communication with a knocking system of his own invention.
At 6:35 p.m. on 10 December “a growling voice heard near Janet” was recorded. This may have been the start of what was to follow when the ‘Voice’, or more precisely the ‘Voices’, became an integral and dramatic part of the investigation. Amidst the screaming and leaping out of bed, which had become commonplace, Janet started barking like a dog! This had occurred previously during the family’s brief holiday when Janet had thought that Johnny was “barking” and he had thought she was – presumably this was some childish fooling around. Grosse asked for his name to be “barked” out and a number of barking sounds and names followed, which according to Margaret came “from under the bed”. These included “Joe” and Grosse’s name accompanied with “woof, woof”, “fuck off”, “shit” and one (or more) girls laughing. Grosse attempted to make verbal communication with the ‘Voice’ but was mainly unsuccessful as were his attempts to explore the whistling that had also become part of the activity. He did claim that at one stage whistling was heard near the tape recorder when no one was there.
The next visitors to arrive at the Hodgson household were John Beloff, Professor of Psychology at Edinburgh University and Anita Gregory, an experienced SPR member. Gregory asked several questions of the ‘Voice’ which was using different names (“Charlie” and “Joe”) but the replies were mainly either abusive or of a growling/rasping/barking nature. She asked, “are you enjoying yourself?” and received the reply “yes, very much” followed by laughter.
Publisher: White Crow Books
Published June 2019
Size: 5 x 8 inches / 203 x 127 mm