Marc and Marianne undressed themselves and quickly slipped under the duvet. Although the heating had been on for many hours, it was unusually cold in their normally snug bedroom. Soon they hoped to be as warm as toast and drifting off to sleep after a hard day looking after their boisterous three-year-old son Robert.
Seconds later, Marianne was hit on the head by their son’s toy dog. She sat bolt upright in bed with a bemused look in her eyes. The cuddly toy was clearly aimed at her but who - or what - could have thrown it?
Moments later another stuffed dog hit her on the head. She hardly saw it move. It seemed to have appeared on the edge of vision a fraction of a second before hitting her. And this time it hit with far greater force and, if she was honest, malevolence.
Soon the air was thick with flying toys. All seemed to appear in mid flight, apparently from nowhere, and were hurled with great force at the petrified couple.
Marc and Marianne hugged the duvet closer to try and protect themselves from the flying toys. The poltergeist had the same idea. An invisible hand grabbed the far corner of the duvet and pulled in the opposite direction. Soon they were involved in an ethereal tug-of-war. In such a battle there could be only one victor and the poltergeist was determined to win.
But then, just as quickly as it had started, the tugging stopped only to be replaced by something even more sinister.
"Marianne, my body feels like its burning," said Marc in a panic-stricken voice. “What’s happening to me?”
All across his back, scratches started to appear and grow like a virulent, evil, stigmata. In the space of a few minutes, thirteen separate scratches appeared across Mark’s back. They burned intensely and felt like a powerful beast was slowly drawing its claws across his body. But just as quickly as the scratches appeared, they disappeared.
Over the following few months, Marc and Marianne’s family suffered numerous assaults by a violent ghost known as the “South Shields Poltergeist”. Cuddly toys came alive with evil malevolence, ghostly text messages inexplicably appeared on mobile phones, and toilets flushed with blood.
“I was too scared to go to sleep and too frightened to stay awake,” says Marianne. “I felt that we just couldn’t escape from it. No matter what we did we couldn’t get away.”
The full story of the South Shields’ Poltergeist can only now be told following the completion of a book by two paranormal researchers who spent the summer of 2006 studying the haunting. So disturbing are the events surrounding the poltergeist that the couple asked the Daily Mail not to reveal their true identity to avoid ridicule. They want to sell their home, move away from the area, and begin rebuilding their lives
The South Shields’ Poltergeist may be an extreme haunting, but it is by no means unique. Earlier this week it was revealed that Easington District Council in County Durham paid an exorcist to drive a poltergeist away from a house.
Sabrina and Martin Fallon and their two young daughters were apparently haunted for several months late last year. Objects flew through the air, furniture inexplicably moved of its own accord, and the family was subjected to the relentless sound of whispering and banging in their loft. On one occasion, they saw a nightie float through the air. On another, the ghostly figure of a young girl walked across their landing.
"It was like ice even with the heating on,” said Sabrina. “It was dull no matter how bright the lights were and there was a horrid smell. It was like living in a mortuary."
The council initially played down the goings-on until one of its employees ‘felt’ the poltergeist’s presence. Another council employee confided with the couple that there had been a grisly murder in the house 50 years previously.
“They said a man had killed his wife on the landing using a fire poker,” said Sabrina. “It seems he then hanged himself.”
The council eventually drafted in the exorcist Suzanne Hadwin to cleanse the house. And so far at least, it appears to have worked.
Whilst many will be quick to scoff at the idea of poltergeists, and some will be annoyed that tax-payers’ money is being used to exorcise them, many researchers claim that ghosts really do exist.
Professor David Fontana, Fellow of the British Psychological Society, has investigated similar hauntings. He says: “From my own experience, and from the scientific literature, there is no doubt that these are real phenomena.
“There are various possible causes. It could be that the repressed emotions of people in the room are causing psychokinetic effects. The traditional explanation would be that they are a form of haunting - that they are earthbound spirits out to cause trouble.”
Whatever scientists regard as the most likely cause of a haunting, Marc and Marianne were left in no doubt that an evil spirit had taken possession of their home.
One of the first signs of the poltergeist infestation was a series of disturbing messages left on their son’s doodle board.
“Die bitch”, “RIP”, and “Go bitch now to your mam” appeared unbidden on the message board. They were followed by the appearance of arcane Satanic-looking symbols. The family is adamant that the messages were not hoaxes left by them. And since no one else had access to the doodle board, their origin remains a mystery.
Messages from the poltergeist soon became even more sinister. One day Marianne wrote out a prayer for Robert on a large piece of paper. When she re-read the prayer a few hours later, the words “Your God can’t help you now!” had been scribbled across it in jagged multi-coloured letters.
Chilling text messages then began appearing on Marianne’s phone. One warned her: “Going to die today, going to get you.” Another read: “I can get you when you awake and I’ll come for you when you asleep bitch.”
All appeared to be from the poltergeist and arrived seemingly from nowhere. None could be traced to a mobile phone, computer or landline. Once again, there appeared to be no ‘rational’ explanation.
“When I was outside the house it would continuously call my mobile from our home phone even though I knew for certain that nobody was in the house,” says Marianne. “It sent me death threats by text. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get away from it.”
The family was forced to turn to professional help. Mike Hallowell and Darren Ritson are seasoned paranormal researchers who have investigated a range of seemingly inexplicable phenomena such as UFOs, poltergeists and psychic mediums.
“We were initially very sceptical,” says Darren Ritson. “You have to be. If you don’t work on the principle that someone may be trying to trick you, then you can very easily be conned.”
Darren and Mike were soon convinced that the haunting was genuine and set to work with gusto. The house was quickly kitted out with motion activated video cameras and sophisticated sensors. If the poltergeist should appear, the investigators were determined to capture it on film. They did not have long to wait.
One evening when Mike was working at the house, he saw a dark shape appear on the landing outside Robert’s room. Marianne saw it too, and screamed.
“The entity strode slowly but purposefully from the bathroom and walked across the landing into the master bedroom,” says Mike. “As it passed the door to Robert's room, it paused and stared icily at me. Its face, devoid of all features such as eyes, was cold and menacing. It felt like it was burrowing into my soul. It was large – maybe two metres in height – and midnight black. It was a three-dimensional silhouette that radiated sheer evil.”
Mike was so stunned by what he saw that he didn’t manage to switch the camera on in time.
“It was gutting,” says Mike. “We all saw it but we didn’t get the proof we needed.”
A few days later they were given a second chance when the poltergeist once again attacked Marc. And just as before, Marc felt the entity approach him and start drawing its talons down his back.
"You could actually watch the scratches forming", says Mike. "First an elongated red patch, then sharply defined scratches within it. Cuts started to appear on the right-hand side of his back. They immediately bled. Then his skin started to change colour. It went dark, almost as if it was sunburnt. I've seen film and stills of poltergeist scratches appearing before, but nothing like this. You'd have thought he'd been given the cat o' nine tails. It was horrendous."
The investigators frantically checked their video cameras and this time they’d caught the attack on tape. Although the quality was poor, they could see the scratches appearing on Marc’s back.
The poltergeist appeared again later that evening. The first sign was a bottle of mineral water that slowly levitated from a table. Again, it was caught on film.
“My skin started to tingle and the hairs on my arms stood on end,” says Mike. “The entire room was filled with static electricity. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.”
That evening was to prove the beginning of the end for the poltergeist. Shortly after, Mike carried out a Native American Indian ceremony to banish evil spirits. He also had a hunch that the poltergeist may be haunting not Marianne’s family, or their house, but their TV, hi-fi and mobile phones. When these were switched off at night, the intensity of the haunting slowly diminished, and eventually stopped altogether. It was almost as if the entity had been ‘feeding’ of electricity and magnetic fields.
Many people will undoubtedly argue that the poltergeist was a hoax or a collective delusion. Others will retort that the video footage shot by Mike proves beyond reasonable doubt that there was a poltergeist in the house. But is it really proof? Dig a little deeper and doubts begin to emerge.
On one occasion Marc admitted faking a minor incident. He later retracted his admission claiming that he had made the confession to put Marianne’s mind at rest during a particularly harrowing day at the hands of the poltergeist. While Marc’s admission casts obvious doubts on his honesty, it is also, perhaps, a reasonable excuse. Claiming responsibility for the relatively trivial incident ensured that Marianne got a good night’s sleep that evening. And that was a rare treasure in such a haunted house.
In addition, the poltergeist was witnessed by dozens of people – and its chilling antics captured on film. On one occasion a group of six paranormal investigators witnessed an attack on Marc. They also saw levitating crockery, ornaments teleporting from room to room, and ghostly sounds emanating from a baby monitor. Several of these incidents were captured on stills cameras.
Some experts, however, remain unconvinced. Professor Chris French, a parapsychologist at Goldsmiths College, University of London, says: “Since recorded history began these kinds of things have been reported. On the basis of the quality of the evidence that’s available, I would bet against them being the result of ghosts and poltergeists. But, I could be wrong.”
It is only sensible to take hauntings with a pinch of salt, but does that mean that they are all hoaxes or delusions? Certainly not. Professor David Fontana, the esteemed research psychologist, has investigated similar poltergeist infestations.
He says: “I know of accounts of poltergeists pulling people’s hair, causing objects to disappear before returning them in the most unlikely places, starting small fires, throwing water about, upsetting furniture, scribbling on walls, breaking objects and generally discomforting the hapless owners of the property they choose to haunt.”
Perhaps the last word should go to Marianne. Eager to sell her home and move on with her life, she is still shocked by the intensity of the haunting.
“We were absolutely terrified,” she says. “I don't think I'll ever be the same again. If I hear a noise I cannot explain, or something goes missing, then it always makes wonder whether It has come back again."
“Right now, we are just glad that It seems to have left us alone.”
Compiled by Danny Penman.
The South Shields Poltergeist - Book is available at Amazon.
Wrote by Michael J. Hallowell and Darren W. Ritson.