During January of 1996, I became aware of some unusual disturbances. This time, not in an old building, but a supermarket. Funny enough, this was not the first time I had been involved in alleged paranormal disturbances in a large store. Casting my mind back, I had investigated strange goings on in a Woolworth's store in Burnley Town Center, Lancashire.
The location was Booths supermarket situated in Knutsford, Cheshire. They had reported a number of strange and unsettling disturbances which had somehow found their way to the local Knusford Guardian newspaper. I decided to jump on this quickly and deployed a couple of investigators to the scene.
On arriving investigators met with Pauline the store manager who had a number of things to tell us. She and other members of staff confirmed that there was an overwhelming smell of strong coffee that would often appear to emanate around the store at night, even long after the cafe had closed. Many of the staff were also unsettled due to a number of them catching sight of a tall grey figure that would suddenly disappear from sight. Checkout operators had also given up trying to work on till No.13. It would regularly go faulty for no apparent reason. Pauline had been forced to get engineers out to it on several occasions and each time the engineers could find no problem with it, yet it continued to play up, it would occasionally input numbers for no reason and even when powered of it would regularly spew out reels of receipt paper. The final straw was when check out operators kept reporting how cold they were whilst working that particular till. Finally Pauline had no choice but to close till No.13 permanently.
Security officers also had some interesting stories to tell. During the night, whilst the store was closed they would often hear whistling coming from one of the isles. They attempted to locate the sound several times and could not find where the whistling was coming from. On one particular occasion, a security officer and the store manager arrived to open up the store early in the morning. On entering they were both shocked at the sight. A large and heavy indoor plant had been taken down from a shelf situated approximately 9 feet above an isle and it had been dragged up and down several isles. Apart from it being difficult to reach off the shelf, it was also very heavy due to it being the only real plant in the store. All the other similar looking planets were artificial. How strange... why that particular plant? The clean up caused a delay in opening the store that morning and Pauline (the store manager) decided not to put the plant back up, in case of a similar occurrence happening.
The sound of shuffling and walking about had also been reported by three members of staff that regularly stock up the shelves in the evening. Again, on investigation, nothing was seen.
As for the apparition, it had only been seen three or four times by staff. After the initial press release a number of residents suggested that the strange activity may have something to do with the fact that the supermarket was built directly over the old Knutsford Gaol. Could it be as simple as that...? Was the supermarket being haunted by the inmates of a former Gaol?
Some research was going to be required. Investigators managed to obtain old plans of Knutsford Gaol and discovered to their surprise, the local residents were correct. The supermarket did in fact sit upon the old Gaol courthouse and Hallows. Only 8 felons were apparently hung at Knutsford.
The first being Owen Mcgill who was aged 39, an Irish born farm labourer who had beat his wife to death at Birkenhead. He was eventually hung for his crimes on February 22nd 1886. The next unlucky felon was that of Thomas Henry Bevan aged 20 who was an apprentice iron moulder from Crew. Thomas was charged of battering his aunt to death and was hung on August 8th 1887.
Richard Davies aged 18 was convicted along with his 16 year old brother George for murdering their bullying father on the outskirts of Crewe. Both were sentenced to death, but shortly before their executions, George was reprieved on the account of his young age. The hangman James Berry recalled later that the face of Richard Davies repeatedly came back to haunt him. Davies was hung on the cold spring morning of April 8th 1890. Felix Spicer, and elderly man was the next to be hung. He had murdered two of his children and was caught in an attempt to kill his wife whilst living in New Brighton. Spicer was hung with grief on August 22nd 1890. Followed by William Hancock's aged 35 who had stabbed his daughter to death and was caught fleeing his home in Birkenhead. Hancock's was hung in family audience on August 9th 1905.
Edward Hartigan was captured after battering his wife to death in brothers home in Stockport. Hartigan was hung at the age of 58 on November 27th 1906. James Phipps was convicted of a despicable crime. He was caught after sexually assaulting and murdering a young girl. Phipps was rather disliked and members of the community from Winsford visited Knutsford Gaol so to curse him as he was led to the gallows. Phipps pleaded innocent even though found guilty by witness and was hung on November 12th 1908. The last execution to take place in Knutsford was that of John Williams, a 38 year old farmer from Birkenhead. He had pleaded guilty to murdering his wife after an argument and was hung on March 19th 1912.
So... A nasty bunch of felons. But was any of them responsible for the strange goings on in the supermarket? It true to state that only 8 felons were ever hung at Knutsford, not a lot considering the crimes of the day. I would presume many prisoners were relocated whilst Knutsford Gaol tried to concentrate on lesser crimes.
It is interesting to note that investigators came across some written accounts from inmates which had written about one particular gaol officer. He had apparently made it a ruling that no whistling was ever aloud, and so to mock the prisoners, he would often do his rounds whistling loudly. It is possible that the supermarket was not haunted by the felons of Knutsford Gaol, but that of the gaol officer himself? Maybe we'll never know...
After conducting several days of research and discussing our findings with the local press, it was decided that we move on with the investigation. It was now time for us to arrange a visit to the store at night so to take environmental readings and monitor of any possible disturbances. However... This is where we came to a stand still.
We met with Pauline on February 9th 1996 and she was quite happy for us to carry out our active investigation. Pauline just wanted rid of this thing. Unfortunately, word had come down from above putting the brakes on our proceedings. After three days of discussions, it was clear we were not going to be aloud to advance with our active investigation. Someone wanted to keep this quiet, even though it had already reached the local press before our involvement.
Our last resort was to write to Mr. Booth himself, granting us permission to carry out an on site investigation.... Unfortunately... We were denied. As to what exactly is going on at Booth's supermarket is anyone's guess. The staff and security officers certainly seemed sincere and we had certainly discovered some interesting historical information. I guess we will just have to leave it with them and see how they go on. But just remember, when shopping at Booth's in Knutsford, keep an ear out for someone or something whistling...
The Newsclippings can be seen in full on our Newsclippings Web Page.
Special thanks to the Knusford Guardian, David Tierney and Alicia Leigh.
Steve Mera BSc.