While ghosts are reported from throughout the world, the phenomena are rarely known for being particularly violent or harmful towards eyewitnesses. In more cases than not, ghosts seem to merely lurk in the scary places of the world on the fringes of our perception and indeed frighten us, but usually without causing injury or much destruction. They are mostly an innocuous, albeit creepy feature of a larger hidden world that we may not fully understand. Yet this is not always the case, for there are more sinister incidents in which ghosts seem to reach out to violently lash out at us, with a terrifying power to make contact with our physical world and, perhaps even more disturbingly, with the destructive malevolent desire to harm us. Such is the case with an unsettling series of events which unfurled in a remote town in Australia, where if reports are to be believed a poltergeist held one family, and indeed the whole town, under siege with a relentless rain of rocks and malicious intent.
It was April 8, 1921 in the rural community of Guyra, in New South Wales, Australia, located in the Northern Tablelands. The night started just like any other for the Bowden family, which consisted of William Bowen, his wife Catherine, and their three young children, who all lived crammed into a tiny, four-room weatherboard cottage in a very rural area just outside of town. It would have been intensely quiet out there at this secluded house, separated from the rest of the town and surrounded by bushland and fields, with no sounds but for perhaps the sounds of the insects singing. Yet that night, as the children settled into bed, this silence was suddenly rudely shattered when there came thunderous thumping sounds from somewhere outside of the house, as if something powerful was crashing into it over and over, with some of the impacts hitting with such force that the tiny shack of a house actually vibrated with the impact. The frightened family reeled in terror as it soon became apparent that, in addition to the banging sounds that reverberated through the structure, the house was also being violently pelted by a hail of rocks and stones, some of them large enough to inflict a good amount of damage on the humble abode, knocking loose paneling and leaving scratches and dents. Although it was too dark to see outside enough to ascertain who could possibly be behind it, the father would later proclaim that the strange rock shower was from “no human agency.”
Even more terrifying than the mysterious rocks that were being hurled from the black of night to brutally pelt the home was that it was soon found that whatever was behind it seemed to be focused on the Bowdens’ daughter, 12-year-old Minnie Bowden, whose room seemed to be bearing the brunt of the phantom assault, with stones crashing through her windows and even smashing through the flimsy ceiling of her room as the girl cowered in fear on her bed. Far from a single freak occurrence, the next evening the barrage of rocks returned, and indeed seemed to follow Minnie around the house, hitting with particular intensity and force wherever she happened to be until every single window in the house was smashed in from the barrage. It got to the point where the Bowdens dreaded the coming of night and its phantom rock throwing assailant.
After several nights of this, the upset Bowdens reached out for help from their fellow townsfolk, who at first thought it might be the work of a prankster or a prowler. Local men armed with rifles came to keep watch on the house through the night, and even as they were there the rocks came hurtling out of the night from unseen intruders, smashing into the house and ricocheting off of the walls even as the armed men searched in vain for who could be responsible. They found no one in their hunt of the surrounding area even as they were barraged with rocks seemingly from all directions, and it at times seemed almost as if these rocks were just appearing out of thin air. In addition, loud rapping or thumping sounds started to emanate from the walls within the house as well, seemingly not caused by the stones. The local people started to become quite unsettled by the mysterious phenomena, especially in light of another strange thing that had happened in the area just prior to the whole bizarre scene. Just a few days before, on April 5, an 87 year-old local woman, known only as Mrs. Doran, had been seen walking in her field holding a potato in each hand only to top a ridge and simply vanish. A subsequent massive search had not turned up the missing woman, and the shaken townspeople started to think that this rock throwing incident and the mysterious disappearance of Mrs. Doran might be somehow related. As word got out about the odd stone hail hitting the Bowden residence, panic within the town of Guyra began to spread, and rumors began to be whispered that the culprits were everything from tricksters to bandits to ghosts. It was not uncommon for the townspeople to start sleeping with rifles nearby, which led to disastrous results when one young boy of 5 got a hold of one of these guns and accidentally shot his 6 year-old sister in the head.
When outside authorities started to understand how out of hand things were becoming in Guyra, additional police were sent in, as well as detectives from Sydney to investigate what was going on. Additionally, up to 80 armed volunteers and police at a time began performing double lines of patrols around the house and two policemen were assigned to keep a constant nightly watch over Minnie in her room. Even when double cordons of armed men patrolling around the house were put into effect, the rock throwing continued night after night unabated, with some of the would be defenders actually being injured by the flying stones, most of which were around the size of a walnut or larger. The two policemen keeping watch over Minnie would also describe how loud, violent thumps pounded on the walls hard enough to shake the whole house and how rocks would come sailing in through the windows. Oddly, it was noticed that to the people outside of the house, these loud bangs and thumps seemed to come from within, while for those inside the mystery noises were perceived as coming from outside. Throughout the ordeal, not a single suspect was caught and it was a complete mystery as to where the rocks and noises were coming from or who could possibly be behind them. Yet the phantom assaults continued, and one police sergeant allegedly became so unnerved by the strange unexplained events unravelling around him that he was sent away on leave.
In the meantime, the whole weird case was starting to circulate heavily in the media and pick up a good deal of international attention. This buzz also began to draw interest from those who speculated that the phenomena were not caused by pranksters, but rather by supernatural forces. The first of such individuals to arrive was a spiritualist by the name of Ben Davey, from the nearby town of Uralla. Davey had learned that Minnie Bowden had had a half-sister by the name of May who had died three months before, and it was his theory that the disturbances were perhaps caused by the dead child’s restless spirit. When he arrived at the Bowden residence, Davey went about trying to get Minnie to make contact with the dead May, which resulted in an inexplicable sudden knock on the wall. According to Minnie, she succeeded in hearing May’s voice which, while no one else heard anything, was claimed to have said “Tell mother I am in heaven, and quite happy. Tell her it was her prayers which got me here, and I will look after her for the rest of my life.” Davey would later explain what happened to The Sunday Times thus:
I said to the girl, ‘If the knock comes again, ask if that’s your sister May.’
She replied, ‘I can’t speak to my sister – she’s dead.’ I coaxed her, saying, ‘Speak, dear. Even if your sister can’t speak she might knock again.’
I hardly spoke the words before the knock came again. I can tell you my hair stood up on end. But I continued to coax the girl, and about five minutes later a third knock came. Then the little girl crossed and blessed herself, put her hands up in supplication, and said, ‘If that’s you. May, speak to me.’ She was silent a moment and then began to cry.
I asked her, ‘Did May speak ?’
She said, ‘Yes, May spoke.’
I said. ‘What did she say ?’
She said, ‘I can’t tell you. The message is for mother.’
She then went over and laid her head on her mother’s lap, crying. Her mother said, ‘Well, tell the gentlemen what she said’
The little girl looked up and said the message she received was this : ‘Tell mother I am perfectly happy where I am, and that your prayers when I was sick brought me where I am, and made me happy. Tell mother not to worry, I’ll watch and guard over you all.’
After this, the house experienced a brief respite from the apparent ghostly activity, but it would resume a couple of days later, when the Bowdens returned from their field in broad daylight to find the heavy shutters and battens that had been nailed over the jagged broken windows had been pried off and left in a twisted heap upon the veranda. That night, the stone throwing continued with a vengeance, and two policemen who arrived at the scene were allegedly viciously targeted by the mysterious rocks. It was apparent that whatever was causing the mysterious assault was not gone, and another paranormal investigator would arrive on April 18, this time a well-known close friend of Robert Louis Stevenson & Arthur Conan Doyle by the name of Harry Jay Moors, along with five of his assistants. The team went about inspecting the roof of the house and its foundations in a search for answers to the inexplicable noises, as well as setting booby traps around the surrounding area to catch any intruders, yet the strange phenomena continued the whole time without any indication of what caused them and without any of the traps being sprung. At times, the team wasn’t even able to tell if the stones were being lobbed from inside or outside of the house, such was the relentlessness and chaos of it all. After three days of carefully investigating the house, Moors became convinced of the family’s credibility and that the culprit was not trickery or even the dead half-sister May, but rather malicious poltergeists. Upon leaving Guyra on April 21, he informed the locals to keep him posted on any new developments. He would not have to wait long, as on April 22nd he received a telegram from a local businessman by the name of Alex Hay, of Hall Bros. Ltd, reading:
Nothing happened Wednesday night, but several loud knocks heard last night. Writer was the only outsider present beyond the detectives and police and family. All members household closely watched by detectives whilst knocking occurred; bright moonlight outside, where several police stationed at vantage points. No man seen near house, neither were supposed stones found near walls. Detective made public statement that he was perfectly satisfied that no member of the family was responsible. Mystery deepens. Guyra public opinion now overwhelmingly favours your theory.
The police by now were under an incredible amount of pressure to get to the bottom of the whole thing. To this end they heavily interviewed numerous locals, including Minnie Bowden herself. On April 25th, after a lengthy interrogation by police, Minnie broke down and confessed to having occasionally thrown stones at the house and knocking on the wall a few times in order to scare her younger sister, but denied full responsibility for all of the odd occurrences. Nevertheless, the police jumped on this as a breakthrough in the case, and local media widely declared the whole affair solved, despite the fact that it was unlikely that such a small child could have created rock storms of such violent intensity as she sat in her room under watch, nor could she have created the foundation shattering banging on the house. By all indications she was obviously just telling the police what they wanted to hear, guilty of nothing other than a minor copycat prank on her sister, and the townspeople didn’t believe a word of the so-called “confession,” yet the authorities bafflingly considered it case closed despite the fact that the strange phenomena continued. The mysterious thrown rocks would not abate until Minnie’s parents, fearing for her safety and with no further help from law enforcement, sent the girl to stay with her grandmother 60km away in the town of Glen Innes.
With Minnie’s absence, the town of Guyra returned to a semblance of normal and there were no new rock throwing incidents, but for Glen Innes it was another story, as whatever dark force was menacing the young girl seemed to have followed her there. On the night of Minnie’s arrival, as they were all having dinner, stones could be heard bouncing off of the outside of the house. The local constable was summoned to the residence to investigate, and as he walked around the perimeter of the house searching for perpetrators a rock flew through one of the windows to smash the pane and become entangled in a curtain, after which it was found to be of a type identical to the rocks on the footpath in front of the house, yet no one responsible for throwing it could be found. As the constable kept watch on the front of the house, there were four or five sudden jolting noises that sounded like something heavy banging against iron, but he could not ascertain how far away they were or indeed even whether they originated from inside or outside of the house. More rocks could be heard all throughout the night, as well as ever more powerful knocks against the house, some of which dislodged heavy wall ornaments and frames, and the entire time Minnie was in full view of everyone and obviously had nothing to do with it.
For the next month the nightly assault of rocks and anomalous banging noises would continue and Minnie was continually warned to stop playing pranks or she would be asked to leave town, to which the girl responded with adamant denial of her involvement in any of it. Finally the family decided to move her away from the more populated town of Glen Innes, with its concerned and frightened citizens, and back to the rural outback of Guyra, where it was hoped the phenomena could at least be contained and kept away from others. It is not clear exactly why, but Minnie’s return to her hometown signaled a change in the ghostly activity. The incidents started to decrease in frequency and intensity until they suddenly just faded away to nothing. Whatever strange forces had been hovering around Minnie Bowden seemed to have been sated, and they would appear no more.
At least for the Bowdens. Bizarrely, towards the end of 1921 a series of similar incidents were reported from all up and down the east coast of Australia, including the big city of Brisbane. In every case, houses would be pelted with rocks for a few nights before whom or what was responsible moved on to its next target. One notable case among all of these strange accounts involved a residential area in a suburb of Wooloongabba, on Trafalgar Street. In this case, several houses near each other experienced a rain of rocks over several nights, which prompted a police investigation. Four police officers were assigned to patrol the neighborhood every night from 6PM to midnight, but at first were unable to apprehend any culprit. One night, on November 25, 1921, they finally managed to nab someone in the act of throwing stones at a house, a local man by the name of Frederick Joseph Cook. Cook would confess to throwing rocks in this particular instance, but denied any involvement in the other incidents, and in fact he had been one of the local volunteers who had been keeping a vigil for rock throwing intruders in the opening days of the attacks. He was ultimately fined for a broken window and released with a warning, and it is unknown just what part Cook had to play in the greater phenomenon that had been gripping the region.
Although relatively unknown outside of Australia, the case of the “Guyra Ghost” is one of the country’s most well-known and heavily documented cases of alleged poltergeist activity, and has been the focus of a good amount of paranormal investigation. It is considered to be significant because so many people witnessed the events, including many baffled law enforcement officers, and the phenomena occurred in front of numerous, often armed, witnesses. If this was all the work of pranksters, then it has never been adequately demonstrated how they could have caused all of the reported phenomena even under the watchful eye dozens of people and police officers. Investigator Paul Cropper, one of the authors of the book Australian Poltergeist, said of the case:
It’s a fascinating case, and it contains almost all of the characteristics of these kinds of cases worldwide. My own feeling is that the Guyra haunting was the real thing, and that young Minnie was unconsciously the focus – and possibly the source – of some genuinely strange events.
So was this a case of genuine poltergeist activity? The case indeed seems to share several features of other poltergeist cases. For instance, many accounts of poltergeist activity seem to revolve around a person who has undergone a good deal of emotional stress or trauma. In the case of Minnie Bowden, her half-sister had died not long before the events began, and the cottage they lived in was crowded. The death of her older sister had also left the family with the young woman’s orphaned 18-month-old baby, which Minnie was mostly charged with caring for. Another common feature of poltergeist cases is the inability to pinpoint exactly where the anomalous sounds originate, just as with the Bowden case. There was also the fact that Minnie was considered to be a rather detached, odd girl to begin with, who never smiled and was often described as sullen, introspective, and with a habit of sort of looking through people rather than at them. She was also believed to have some capacity for clairvoyance even before the stone throwing began, with a reportedly unnerving ability to anticipate questions before they were asked. Could these various features have somehow brought about the series of strange phenomena that would keep the family in the grip of fear for nearly four months? Tony Healy, Cropper’s fellow investigator and co-author of the book has said of the matter:
An adolescent child is often at the very center of the (poltergeist) action and it’s usually a girl. In the modern cases where we’ve seen these people and interviewed them ourselves the child is placed under a lot of stress and somehow they trigger the phenomenon. There are some mischievous and disembodied spirits that can bring about physical activity by channeling and using the angst of the child and in this case Minnie was the target.
Interestingly, there have been some accounts that Minnie Bowden possessed some faculty for telekinesis as well. One local by the name of Diana Brady claimed that Minnie had the ability to make a piano play or to move furniture about the room or lift objects without touching them, but that she kept this mysterious talent largely secret even from her own family. This is an interesting detail, but it is unclear whether Minnie had had this power of telekinesis all along , only after the poltergeist events, or indeed if she had ever had it at all. Nevertheless, if she did indeed have even a latent telekinetic ability, then this could have surged to the surface in light of her increased stress and spilled over uncontrollably to cause the rains of stones and the jarring thuds heard throughout the whole bizarre ordeal, even without her awareness that she was doing it. In the end, no one knows for sure just what went on here, and we probably never will. Minnie Bowden would move to Armidale in New South Wales, go on to get married and live to a ripe old age without any further word of ghostly activity until 1989, when the elderly woman was hit and killed by a car on Grafton Road, just outside Armidale. Whatever mysteries Minnie Bowden may have possessed are now forever lost to time, any secret knowledge she had of the Guyra Ghost incident taken along to the grave with her, and we are left with a puzzling case that is certainly very strange and poses more questions than it answers. Tony Healy summed up the case of the Guyra Ghost thus:
If the Guyra case was the only time something like this was to ever happen in history then maybe the police missed something but when you’ve read hundreds of cases and experienced this sort of thing yourself you see that this Guyra poltergeist fits the pattern of every other weird event.
Today, the former Bowden residence still stands, although no further reports of rocks striking its walls have ever been reported from there. What was behind the case of the Guyra Ghost? Was this all some sort of elaborate hoax or trickery that managed to fool a whole police force and numerous witnesses; indeed a whole town? Was it the rampaging telekinetic wrath of a quiet young girl whom stress had pushed too far? Or was this an attack from supernatural forces with inscrutable ends and from which we are helpless to defend ourselves? Despite all of the unanswered questions orbiting this case, it nevertheless remains one of Australia’s most famous, and indeed most violent cases of alleged ghostly activity, and it continues to perplex even to this day. With the Guyra case we see that often rational explanations are difficult to find, and that if ghosts are indeed behind phenomena such as this, then they are not always relatively harmless specters hiding in the shadows, but rather formidable phantoms that have the power and insidious will to inflict harm upon us.