Poltergeist activity happens in five stages. One house on Berryhill, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, went through them all...

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Stage 1: The senses

Experts generally agree this is how poltergeist activity starts. People living in a house where there’s a poltergeist will start feeling, or hearing things.

It could be a cold spot in a room, a sense of being watched, a strange smell, or the sound of footsteps in an abandoned attic.

That’s exactly how it started in Berryhill.

In the quiet, leafy suburb lived the Wilkinsons.

Mr Wilkinson, who worked for the Sunray Mid-Continent Oil Company, his wife, and their 11-year-old adopted daughter, Shirley.

The year was 1957. And it was Mrs Wilkinson who noticed it first.

‘I’d feel this heat and smell the stale odour of earth,’ she later said. ‘A smell as if I were in a tomb’.

 

Stage 2: Communication

Noises and smells get more full-on, and seem to be directed towards communication, or to making a point.

In the house on Berryhill, someone, or something seemed to want Mrs Wilkinson’s attention.

‘I felt several times that someone who I could not see was laying a hand on my shoulder,’ she explained.

But still, the Wilkinsons weren’t sure what was happening.

If anything was happening at all…

 

Stage 3: The physical

Now the poltergeist wants to make its presence known. Doors will open and shut, appliances will turn on and off…

And this is when the situation at Berryhill started to get scary. Really scary.

First, there was Shirley’s electric organ. It just stopped working.

Mr Wilkinson took it back to the local shop, and the repairman found the organ’s interior electrics had been crushed.

‘It was like a bear had walked through it,’ he said.

No-one could understand what had happened to the organ. Mr Wilkinson put it down to an electrical surge.

Which can happen – but it didn’t really make sense.

The Wilkinsons hadn’t felt an electrical surge at any point. Neither had their neighbours.

And that wasn’t the only thing.

One night, the motor in the family’s fridge blew up for no reason.

The Wilkinsons unplugged it.

And the next morning, Mrs Wilkinson spoke to a solicitor. She and her husband were convinced there was some electrical fault at the house, and they wanted compensation from the electricity board.

Maybe an electric field had been created around the property by a leak in a transformer.

But when the utility company investigated, no such field was found.

There was nothing wrong with the house’s electrics.

And that didn’t explain why the family’s vacuum cleaner had started turning itself on at night. Or why the vacuum, kept in a cupboard downstairs, had started sucking its way into little Shirley’s bedroom…

 

Stage 4: Deception

The poltergeist wants to know what scares people, what pushes them over the edge. It’s tailor-making its terror. Especially for you.

During this stage, objects will disappear only to reappear elsewhere, furniture will shake, windows and mirrors will break.

Which is exactly what happened at the Wilkinsons’.

Their appliances were still turning on inexplicably. A clock fell off the mantelpiece.

The cords of their appliances starting twisting and bending. And a pan of hot water fell off the stove when there was no one in the kitchen.

By now, it felt certain.

There was a harmful presence in the Wilkinsons’ home. A presence that was gearing up for the final stage in its campaign of terror…

 

Stage 5: Peril

This is when the poltergeist means business.

One night that summer, the Wilkinsons were all in bed. The vacuum started up…made its way upstairs to Shirley’s room.

Then, slowly, the cord wrapped itself around the sleeping child, tighter and tighter and tighter…

Suddenly, she woke. And she screamed.

Her parents came rushing, wrestled Shirley free.

The Wilkinsons had taken enough.

The following night, they slept in their car.

Soon afterwards, they moved to a new home a few blocks away.

 

End Game

In the safety of their new home, Shirley made a startling revelation.

‘Grandpa did it,’ she said. ‘He didn’t like me playing the organ, so he broke it. He cut the wires and pulled out the strings.’

Shirley’s grandpa never liked her much.

‘He didn’t take much to the idea of our adopting a little girl,’ Mrs Wilkinson admitted.

Case closed?

Well, except for one thing.

Grandpa had died four years earlier.

Reviewing the events in the Wilkinson home, experts agree it meets all the criteria of poltergeist activity.

It’s unknown who lives in the house now, or what they’ve experienced.

Once a poltergeist has reached the final stage of its activity, it will go dormant.

It will bide its time, waiting for the perfect moment. And when that moment comes, it will begin the cycle again.

Stronger and with more power than before.

Whatever it was in the Wilkinson’s house could still be there, waiting to strike again, to begin…the end game.