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Come Out and Play: The Creepy Case of the South Shields Poltergeist

Poltergeist intrusions have been a pervasive and enduring fixture of the paranormal world. Much of this ghostly activity is known for being prankish, almost playful even, and although certainly deeply creepy it is on most occasions not particularly malevolent or harmful. Yet there are those cases in which a poltergeist or poltergeists will escalate their activities to a truly terrifying and intense level, running amok with ever more impressive displays of strength, ferocity, and indeed intent to do harm. There is nothing playful about these particular entities. They are mean, often cruel, out of control, violent, able to exert a surprising amount of force on our world, and they mean business. One such case that has become one of the most incredibly potent poltergeist manifestations of all time was a spooky series of events surrounding a young family in a tranquil town in England. It is a case frightening in the alleged entity’s dogged tendency towards malevolence and the startling escalation in which it demonstrated in its mischief.

Up until the winter of 2005 a young couple, usually called Marc and Marianne to protect their real identities, and their three-year-old son Robert, were living a relatively peaceful life in their terraced house in the quiet coastal town of South Shields, in northeast England. In December of that year, the family began to experience a series of steadily escalating paranormal phenomena that they could not explain. It started quite simply with things like doors suddenly opening or closing on their own when no one was touching them or strange sounds coming from the walls. After that, furniture and other objects began to seemingly move around on their own, such as chairs found stacked on top of each other upon a table in the bedroom and a large, heavy chest of drawers moved from one bedroom to another. In some cases, the mysterious movement was witnessed or heard, such as when furniture could be heard moving about and sliding over the floor of the son’s room upstairs when no one was there, as they all cowered in fear on another floor. Other weird occurrences noticed during this time were anomalous bangs, thuds, knocking, which became more and more pronounced, as well as sudden dramatic temperature drops in rooms.

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This all seems like typical poltergeist tomfoolery so far, but things would quickly graduate to even more bizarre and sinister levels when the spirit, or spirits, allegedly began to creepily turn its malevolent attention to Robert’s toys, which it would turn into instruments of mayhem to terrorize the family further. The first instance of this allegedly happened one night as the couple was settling down to go to bed. It was at that point, as she began to lay down, that Marianne reported that she felt something hit her in the head, and it was found that the projectile that thumped to the floor was, oddly, their young son’s toy dog. Since the son was not there and there was no one there to have thrown it, neither of them could figure out what was going on. It was not even clear how the toy had gotten into their room to begin with. Moments later, another stuffed toy hit Marianne, propelled by an unseen force, this time with greater impact and ferocity.

As the couple sat there in the darkened room trying to figure out just what was going on, they were allegedly set upon by other toys flying at them and pelting them from all directions, seemingly coming from nowhere and sometimes stopping in midair to continue their trajectory. As the terrified couple pulled up the covers in an effort to shield themselves, they claim that something began trying to rip the blanket away from them. As they struggled in a sort of tug-o-war with the mysterious intruder, Marc is said to have suddenly screamed out in pain. It was soon purportedly found that 13 red scratch marks had appeared on his back. Soon after that, the attack stopped as suddenly as it had begun. Oddly, the scratches are said to have completely disappeared by the following morning.

From there, the strange entity seems to have become obsessed with using children toys to frighten and panic the family. One time the family found their son’s rocking horse ominously hanging by its reins from the ceiling loft hatch, and on another occasion the couple was met by the creepy sight of a toy bunny sitting at the top of the stairs with a box cutter placed in its paws. No one could figure out who had placed these toys in such a way. Toys would also often roll across the floor on their own without warning, make eery moaning noises, or turn on by themselves. Another weird occurrence was when a sink in the bathroom allegedly suddenly seemed to fill with blood to the point of overflowing, which vanished soon after.

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One disturbingly menacing habit that this particular poltergeist had was leaving threatening messages on the son’s magnetic doodle board. These messages were typically ominous, aggressive, and peppered with profanity, saying things like “You’re dead,” “Just go now,” “Die bitch,” “RIP,” and “Go bitch now to your mam,” sometimes joined by strange arcane shapes and symbols scrawled next to them. These messages would graduate from the board to emails and SMS messages that Marianne would receive on her mobile phone, which were typically death threats or promises of violence such as “get you bitch,” and “Die now.” One such message said “Going to die today, going to get you,” and another read “I can get you when you awake and I’ll come for you when you asleep, bitch.” None of the messages could be tracked to a number or email account and they seemed to come from nowhere. Marianne’s cell phone would also be incessantly called by her home number even when she knew there was no one at home.

Other frightening incidents revolved around the young son, Robert. One time the couple found their son in another room, on the floor tightly cocooned in his blanket and with a plastic table perched on top of him, almost as if it had been carefully balanced there. The boy was described as being in a sort of a trance, with his eyes staring blankly at nothing at all. Another time, the couple claims that Robert went missing, and that they desperately searched the house only to find him stuffed into a small closet tightly bound by his blanket. This could have just been the normal acting up of a young boy, but the couple were convinced that it was the work of the malevolent entity inhabiting their home.

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All of these incidents prompted the terrified Marc and Marianne to call in someone to investigate, and soon after would arrive the paranormal researchers Mike Hollowell and Darren Ritson. For their part, at first Hollowell and Ritson were not particularly convinced by the frantic story told by the family and their wild claims. Such intensely pronounced, violent poltergeist behavior is actually quite rare, and the claims just seemed like too much. Nevertheless, they went to the home and set up their equipment, which included motion-activated video cameras, sensors, and other sophisticated gear. At this point they did not expect much to come of it, but they would soon see that they were very wrong indeed.

Whatever sinister presence was residing within the house seems to have been rather perturbed by them being there, as it began to escalate its ghostly activity with aplomb, quite often in full view of the amazed investigators. Toys began to move around, make inexplicable noises or even talk, disembodied voices emanated from an old baby monitor, their gear was often turned off or even broken by the unseen force, various toys and on one occasion even knives were lobbed at them by unseen hands. The investigators also witnessed doors open and slam closed, objects levitating, blankets on beds sliding off, lampshades swinging, strange messages appearing on the son’s board or on pieces of paper, and various household items or furniture impossibly balancing at strange angles. Some of these phenomena were successfully captured on film, such as a water bottle balancing on a table in an unnatural diagonal position.

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Perhaps the most bizarre and frightening event the two investigators witnessed was what they claim to have seen the entity in the son’s bedroom. One evening, Hollowell and Ritson claim that they saw a large, dark shape appear on the balcony and skulk around outside of Robert’s room. Marianne, who was with the investigators at the time, also saw the apparition and let out a startled shriek. The entity then proceeded to walk right through the room in front of them. Hollowell described the creepy encounter thus:

The entity walked slowly from the bathroom, across the landing into the bedroom. 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, nose or mouth, was cold and menacing. It felt like it was burrowing into my soul. It was large  –  maybe two meters in height  –  and midnight black. It was a three-dimensional silhouette that just radiated sheer evil.

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Unfortunately, although a camera had been set up in the room, the investigators were too shocked and stunned by the appearance of the entity to think to turn it on. Hollowell would later lament this, saying: “It was gutting. We all saw it, but we didn’t get the proof we needed.” The investigators would get a look at the phantom presence in action again when it began to show a rather violent tendency to attack Marc. Just a few days after encountering the apparition in Robert’s bedroom, they watched in horror as it approached Marc and attack him. During the encounter, everyone present could clearly see large, wicked scratch marks, as if from talons, form on Marc’s back. An amazed Hollowell said of the strange, unsettling incident:

You could actually watch the scratches forming. 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 Marc’s 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.

The investigators claim that this time, they caught the whole brutal encounter on tape, and although the video is quite grainy, scratches can allegedly be seen to be appearing on Marc. Several other such attacks were witnessed, always targeting Marc, sometimes leaving bruises or welts and at other times scratches, all of which faded soon after, with one such assault witnessed by several other investigators who Hollowell and Ritson had excitedly called in to invite to the plagued home. Then, just as suddenly as the poltergeist activity had started, one day it all abruptly ceased, and no more phenomena occurred anywhere in the house. All had gone quiet.

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In the end, the disturbances and various strange phenomena caused by what has come to be known as the South Shields Poltergeist were witnessed by dozens of witnesses including family, friends, and paranormal investigators. Hollowell and Ritson would go on to write a whole book on the incident called The South Shields Poltergeist: One Family’s Fight Against an Invisible Intruder, and they remain adamant that everything described really happened, and that this was an authentic haunting of an intensity and magnitude rarely seen. They have even gone so far as to call it a “Premiere League” poltergeist haunting. For their part, although there have been no more incidents since, Marc and Marianne remain traumatized by the whole ordeal, and Marianne has said:

We were absolutely terrified. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again. If I hear a noise that I cannot explain, or something goes missing, then it always makes us wonder whether it has come back again. But right now, we are just glad that it seems to have left us alone.

What was going on here? The South Shields Poltergeist has often been accused of being merely an elaborate prank or hoax enacted by the family, but investigators Hollowell and Ritson have denied this, saying that Marianne had seemed genuinely terrified and that there was no way the particular phenomena that they had personally witnessed could have been faked. Although they were suspicious of Marc at first because he didn’t seem to react strongly to the weird goings on in the house and seemed to them like someone who might play a prank, they soon ruled out a hoax with the incredible phenomena they had witnessed and remain convinced it was not faked in any way. The investigators have come to the conclusion that this was a very real entity, and speculate that it had been intentionally trying to sow fear in order to feed off of the strong emotions it was generating.

Paranormal investigators Mike Hollowell and Darren Ritson

Paranormal investigators Mike Hollowell and Darren Ritson

If it all really happened, then it certainly does fit the pattern of other poltergeist cases. In many cases the activity starts out tame and escalates in intensity and weirdness over time, although not usually to the diabolical, shockingly malevolent heights of the South Shields Case. There is also the common feature in these cases of a young child being present in the afflicted family, which has led to speculation that these forces are drawn to such children or are even mental manifestations projected by them. In the end, no one really knows what causes these phenomena. Professor David Fontana, Fellow of the British Psychological Society, has said on the poltergeist phenomena in general:

From my experience, and from the scientific literature, there’s no doubt these are real phenomena.There are various possible causes. The traditional explanation would be that they are a form of haunting  –  that they are earthbound spirits out to cause trouble. Or it could be the repressed emotions of people in the room causing psychokinetic effects.

The South Shields Poltergeist case is without a doubt one of the most bizarre, well-witnessed, and downright intensely frightening haunting cases on record, and it is often compared to the more well-known Enfield Poltergeist, which was a similarly powerful haunting which allegedly occurred in Enfield, England from 1977 to 1979 and which was the basis for the popular 2016 film The Conjuring 2. What was behind these escalating, unexplained phenomena in South Shields, and why did they grow to such potent, sinister proportions? Was this a hoax, a prank, or some mass delusion of some sort? Was it some aspect of the son’s mind lashing out at the physical world? Or was there some powerful, malignant force pushing into our world to terrorize this innocent family with such alarming vehemence? If so, what did it want and why was it so powerful and seemingly evil? Additionally, why did these incidents start and why did they stop so suddenly and completely? The poltergeist phenomenon in general is far from being understood, and we don’t really have all the answers to questions such as these. The South Shields Poltergeist is bound to remain an enigma, and an example of just how far such hauntings can go.

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