Who - or what - was terrorising this seemingly innocuous family home in North London?
August 31 1977 was a balmy summer evening like any other.
Apart for the residents of a council home on Green Street in Enfield, North London.
Voice full of fear, thinking the house was perhaps being robbed, single mum-of-four Penny Hodgson said two of her children, Janet, 11, and Margaret, 13, had heard knocking sounds on walls and the sound of something shuffling about…
A police constable, Carolyn Heeps, who was dispatched to the house, wrote in her police report that she’d seen no burglars, but instead had witnessed a chair sliding around, but couldn’t determine if it had actually been pushed by somebody or not.
Was this the first sign that the Enfield poltergeist was haunting the Hodgsons’ home?
Paranormal investigator Maurice Grosse, from the Society of Psychical Research, and journalist Guy Lyon Playfair, who had investigated poltergeist activity in Brazil, went to the house to find out.
From that day on, the activity intensified. The children’s toys, such as Lego bricks and marbles would fly across the room.
Grosse said they were hot to the touch, which is ‘relevant to poltergeist activity’.
Sofas would float and tip over, a chest of drawers would spin round on the spot, a sound similar to a barking or growling dog would resonate round a room with no dog in it and coins would fall out of the air.
Many poltergeist experts say these ghosts will centre around a young girl on the cusp of adolescence.
And the worst was yet to come – starting on 15 December 1977, the day Janet started her period and the beginning of her life as a young adult. She went into violent trances, talked in a low throaty voice and said she was thrown out of her bed repeatedly in the night.
A media sensation
The house became a media sensation, making headlines in the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail. Recordings of the sounds made by Janet were played on the BBC.
A picture of Janet, dressed in a red nightgown and floating in the air above her bed while her terrified siblings looked on became iconic.
She started to hurl insults in the poltergeist’s voice, and most frightening of all she said she was a ‘man named Bill, who had a haemorrage, then I fell asleep and died in the chair downstairs.’
Chillingly, subsequent research showed a man named Bill Wilkins had previously lived in the house, and died that way in a living room chair.
How could a young girl like Janet have known this?
Still, there are skeptics who believe that it was an elaborate hoax.
They claim the noises ‘Bill’ made was just Janet using her false vocal cords to speak in a lower tone, a common acting technique, as ‘Bill’s’ vocabulary was limited and child-like.
The photos of Janet levitating or bouncing on the bed were also debunked by some as just simple childhood gymnastics. Janet herself was a school sports champion.
And even Grosse and Playfair caught Margaret and Janet trying to fake events, by pushing each other over, moving themselves into strange positions or making strange sounds.
Janet and her siblings confessed that while they made up some of what happened, the bulk of it was real, and that it had happened after she’d used a Ouija board in the house.
She said she remembered the main events, and that they ‘left scars’, claiming only about ‘1-2% of it was faked.’
‘I don’t care whether people believe me or not,’ she says. ‘I went through this, and it was true.’
Like Janet, Playfair is also adamant what he witnessed was true.
‘One hundred percent genuine’
In his 1980 book This House is Haunted, he said he believed an entity was responsible, though at times he thought the girls were exaggerating or playing tricks.
And recently, speaking to a journalist from Vice, he said: ‘It was all absolutely one hundred percent genuine.
‘The family were scared out of their wits because of what had happened the night before…They didn’t know what was going on, and that’s something you can’t fake.
‘And why would you? What would be the point?’
Overall, there were over 30 witnesses to the events.
In 1979 the activity seemingly calmed down following a visit from a local priest – and with it much of the press interest.
Janet left home aged 16 and tried to put the events of 1977-79 behind her. But she noted every time she visited her mum, who stayed there, she felt as if she was being watched.
After Penny died in 2003, a woman called Clare Bennett and her four sons moved into Green Street. They moved out just after two months after experiencing a ‘presence’ in the house.
These days, the house is occupied by an owner who doesn’t want to be identified. She says: ‘I’ve got children, they don’t know about it. I don’t want to scare them.’
Hoax or not, it seems this story still has the power to shock, almost 40 years on…
Popular TV show
The activities at the Hodgson’s home have also been the inspiration for a Sky Living three-part drama series, The Enfield Haunting. Starring Timothy Spall, the popular series focused on a paranormal detective who was dispatched to the house to look into the terrifying events surrounding the Enfield poltergeist.