In December 1965, in Jabuticabal, 220 miles from São Paulo, Brazil, a respectable Catholic family became the centre of malicious and violent poltergeist activity. To begin with, pieces of brick began falling inside the house, seemingly from nowhere. A local priest attempted an exorcism but this only made things worse.
A neighbour, Joáo Volpe, a dentist, who had studied psychic matters, became interested and visited the house on 21st December. He soon realised that the focus of the disturbances was a quiet, pretty 11-year old girl called Maria José Ferreira, who slept in the servants' quarters. Volpe thought she was a natural medium and took her into his house to see what he could do. Nothing happened for a few days, but then the bombardments of stones and eggs began, appearing from nowhere and flying round the rooms. Later Volpe counted 312 stones that had fallen inside his home since Maria arrived. Not all of these stones were pebbles, as is often the case in poltergeist disturbances - one of them weighed 3.7 kilos. On one occasion a large stone appeared and began descending from the ceiling; it then broke into two pieces about four feet from the ground. When someone picked up the two pieces, they seemed to snap together as if they were magnetically attracted to each other.
Maria began to get used to the frenzied activity, and was even able to ask the unseen presence for a sweet, a flower or some other small item, and it would immediately appear at her feet. One day while Maria was out walking with Volpe and a friend, she remarked that she would like a little brooch. Immediately a brooch appeared at her feet. Soon after, while out in the yard, Maria was showered with sugarapple fruits. The fruit had been in the house inside a bag. The 'spirits' also had a sense of humour; on one occasion a stone appeared out of thin air, tapped three people lightly on their heads, and fell on the floor. All three said that it was like being hit by a 'ball of compressed air' rather than a stone. Perhaps this partly explains why stones 'thrown' by poltergeists rarely hit or injure people directly.
But this state of affairs was not to last. For some reason the poltergeist changed its character and one day began causing mayhem in the house. For almost three weeks plates, glasses and even heavy flower vases were thrown around the house in all directions. All the tableware was broken, furniture was thrown about, and pictures were torn from the walls and flung into other rooms. On one occasion, two people witnessed a glass dish from the kitchen and a mirror from the bedroom cross in mid air before proceeding to the bedroom and kitchen respectively.
Then Maria herself became the target for vicious attacks. The poltergeist repeatedly bit her and slapped her on the face or bottom, leaving bruises all over her body. It threw chairs at her, a large sofa, and even a gas cylinder which had been wrenched off the wall. Apparently, it also attempted to kill her by suffocation while she was asleep, by forcing cups or glasses over her mouth and nostrils.Needles were sometimes found stuck deep into the flesh of her left heel, even when she had shoes and socks on. Once, fifty-five needles had to be removed at the same time. When bandages were put on her heel, they would be torn off without the knots being untied.
Things got worse. On 14th March,1966, Maria was eating her school lunch when her clothes suddenly caught fire, apparently originating from a round scorch mark that looked like it had been caused by a cigar burn. On the same afternoon the Volpes' bedroom burst into flames (see the case of Carol Compton for parallels). Maria lived with the Volpes for about a year during which the phenomena abated a little but never stopped completely for long. Finally, in a last desperate attempt to find a cure, Volpe took her to a Spiritist centre. While there a spirit came and spoke through the well-respected medium, Chico Xavier, and announced: 'She was a witch. A lot of people suffered and I died because of her. Now we are making her suffer too . . .' Back at the Volpes' house there were special prayers and appeals to spirit guides, as well as 'magnetic passes' over Maria's body, and although all this prevented any more serious attacks on the girl, it failed to stop poltergeist activity altogether, and stones, fruit and vegetables still flew around the house when Maria was present.
Thinking there was nothing more to be done, the girl was sent back to live with her mother. But there was an unexpected and tragic end to the case. One day in 1970, when she was fifteen or sixteen, Maria committed suicide by swallowing formicide mixed in with a soft drink, and died almost instantly.
This extremely sad case seems most likely to be either a case of accidental death or perhaps suicide brought on by depression. Maria may have simply taken the poison deliberately, and the poltergeist activity originated in her unconscious mind, with no-one or nothing else involved. Contemporary reports, if they are to be believed, would have us believe otherwise, citing the materialisations and the other unexplained events which took place in Marie's presence. There is certainly a similarity here with the early 19th century Bell Witch poltergeist case, where John Bell died seemingly after drinking poison. In that case, the poltergeist, known as 'the Witch', apparently celebrated at his death, and said it had been responsible for it, though the evidence for this is purely anecdotal and probably fabricated.
Another point is that it is very rare for poltergeist activity to become so actively malicious. Usually the poltergeist is characterised by the fact that, though it reported to cause serious trouble, more often than not no one is physically harmed. When a poltergeist case became violent in the past, it was often termed an incidence of 'demonic possession.', as is suggested by the contempt by the 'spirits' for exorcisms. Some have suggested that the 'spirits', whatever they were and wherever they originated, believed that Maria had been a witch in a former life? This is an extreme and rather silly suggestion, and one that is entirely without foundation; it also brings us no closer to understanding what really happened in this tragic case.
Sources and Further Reading
Playfair, Guy Lyon. The Indefinite Boundary. London, Souvenir Press, 1976, pp 242-6.
Spencer, John & Anne. The Poltergeist Phenomenon. London, Headline. 1997, pp 47-8.
Wilson, Colin. Poltergeist! A Study in Destructive Haunting. Sevenoaks, Kent, New English Library. 1982,
Compiled by Brian Haughton.
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