There are some cases of ghostly unexplained phenomena that seem to defy any sort of classification. These are the baffling cases for which we ask ourselves if they are caused by ghosts, demonic possession, strange powers of the mind, or something else entirely. One such case from a small town in Pennsylvania has long eluded any sort of clear answer, and indeed has managed to escape the bounds of any sort of rational explanation. It is at once a tale of paranormal phenomena and perhaps a glimpse into the unknown powers of the human psyche which potentially lurk within every one of us. This is the case of the Stroudsburg Rain Man; a bizarre account mixing equal measures poltergeists, demons, and super powers, and which has gone without a satisfactory explanation to this day.
The whole bizarre tale starts on February 26 of 1983, in the peaceful, quiet town of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, when a young man by the name of Don Decker stood out in the cold winter air looking upon the casket of his dead grandfather, James Kishaugh, as others mourned around him. This was a rare taste of freedom for Decker, as he was in the middle of serving a 4- to 12-month prison sentence at Monroe County Correctional Facility for receiving stolen property, and the only reason he was able to stand here amongst his family members was because he had been granted a furlough for the purpose of attending the funeral. Yet while all of the relatives cried, paid their respects, and made statements expressing their love for the deceased man, Don did not look upon the corpse of his grandfather with love or sadness, but rather a seething hatred that had long roiled within him. He did not mourn the man who had been his grandfather, but was instead happy that he was gone, for unbeknownst to the others, Don had been abused by Kishaugh from the tender age of 7. These tormenting feelings of anguish and fury that churned within him clashed with the outward sense of mourning he tried to convey.
Adding to Don Decker’s problems was the fact that he did not get along with his mother and they barely ever spoke. In fact, she would not even allow him to stay under her roof, and so when the disgusted Don finally decided he’d had enough of pretending to mourn for the demented man who had been his grandfather, he had nowhere to go but the house of some friends of the family by the names of Bob and Jeannie Keiffer. It was here that the case would begin to take a turn for the decidedly bizarre. While he was in the restroom that evening, Don felt a profound chill creep over him and suddenly felt faint. He collapsed to the floor and it was as he laid there on the bathroom tiles that he went into a trance-like state and saw what he would later describe as the apparition of his dead grandfather looming over him, and would claim that scratches appeared on his forearms and wrists.
When the panicked Don snapped out of his trance, he went downstairs, arms bleeding from the gashes he had received, and told Bob Keiffer about what had happened to him. It was as he frantically explained the disturbing incident that there were abrupt loud banging noises that originated somewhere upstairs. Precisely when these inexplicable noises started, water allegedly started to mysteriously drip down the walls and from the ceiling, gradually becoming more intense until it was almost as if it were raining there in the living room upon the horrified Keiffers, who noticed that Don had slipped back into a trance. Not knowing what to do, Bob called his landlord, Ron H. Van Why, and explained the weird situation to him. When Van Why arrived to inspect the house, the dripping started to get even worse, with water bubbling up through the floor right in front of the startled landlord’s eyes. Van Why was not able to figure out what was going on either, since he knew that the pipes for the house were not even located where the water was coming from, but rather all the way on the other side of the house. He would later say of the situation:
We’d decided maybe it was the plumbing, but there were no pipes in the front end of the house to leak. There was basically nothing there that the water could have come from. After watching it for a while, I discovered that it wasn’t only coming from the ceiling down. It could come from the wall over or from the floor up. There was no basic direction that it was coming from. It could come from anywhere.
Baffled and at a loss as to the origins of the mysterious water, the frightened landlord called the police, and not long after, two officers arrived by the names of Richard Wolbert and John Baujan. If the two policemen were expecting just some sort of routine call for malfunctioning water pipes, then they were about to get much more than they’d bargained for. As soon as officers Wolbert and Baujan entered the house they were immediately drenched with the mysterious water, which was still falling and showed no signs of abating. Not only was the water still dripping from the walls and ceiling, but it was also behaving in ways that seemed to defy the laws of physics, with droplets of water travelling horizontally past them to continue on into the next room, hovering in midair, or floating upwards from the floor. The whole scene was incredibly surreal, and the officers immediately knew that this was far from a simple problem of leaky pipes. Officer Baujan would later say of the bizarre events unfolding before their eyes:
I literally had a chill going up my spine, made the hair stand up on your neck. That’s how I felt. This was a situation where things were happening that I never, ever dreamed could possibly happen. And there was no way of explaining what was going on.
Not knowing quite what to do and noticing that Don Decker was still in a trance and looking extremely pale and ill, the two police officers told the Keiffers to take Don to a pizzeria across the street and let him rest there while they went to explain the situation to their superiors, and Van Why remained to continue to try to figure out what was going on. The officers left and the Keiffers went about helping Don to his feet and taking him over the restaurant, which was owned by a Pam Scrofano, who had earlier gone to the house and seen the strange rain phenomenon for herself. Weirdly, as soon as Don was out of the house, the strange deluge of water that had besieged the house abruptly stopped. After a few moments of puzzling over this odd new development, the Keiffers continued on to the restaurant with the entranced Don. When they entered the pizzeria and sat down, the owner, Pam, noticed that Don was in an almost vegetative state and thought the whole thing was a little strange and almost ominous. Things got even stranger when water began to drip down from the ceiling and walls right there in the restaurant, just as it had back at the house. Remembering what she had seen earlier at the house, Pam got it into her head that Don was possessed by an evil spirit and allegedly grabbed a crucifix to press to his flesh, reportedly leaving a burn mark in the process and eliciting a reeling reaction from Don that completely snapped him out of his trance. Pam would later say of the incident:
You looked at Donny and he was like in a trance. He would look at you, but not knowing you were there. I said to Jeannie, ‘He’s got to be possessed.’ We’re sitting there. Couple of seconds later, there’s water all over the pizzeria, too. I’ve never seen anything like that happen. I went in the cash register, I had a crucifix there, I took it out, put it on him. And the minute I put it on him and it touched his skin, he got burned. There’s no way that anybody could have played a joke like that. This was real. Donny was doing it himself. He was doing it without realizing he was doing it.
As water continued to fall in pizzeria and began to spread across the floor, the Keiffers decided to take Don out of there and back to the house. As soon as they left the premises, the water stopped, and when they returned to the house it started once again, further perplexing all of those who were present. Shortly after the water began to flow again, things took a turn for the weirder when pots and pans in the kitchen could be heard rattling even though no one was in there. They all went into the kitchen to investigate, along with Don, who had totally regained lucidity in the aftermath of his trance, and saw various pots and pans rattling about with such force that some were falling off of countertops onto the floor. The landlord and his wife, Romayne, then began to think the whole thing was suspicious and that Don and the Keiffers were somehow playing some sort of practical joke. Ron and Romayne began to accuse the couple of orchestrating some sort of prank and the exchange became more heated. It was at this point, during the confrontation, that Don was suddenly lifted off of the floor and was dramatically thrown back against the wall by some unseen force, stopping everyone in their tracks as they stared at the man who was starting to seem as if he might really be possessed after all. Don himself would later speak of the incident thus:
The pots and pans over the stove started rattling. That’s when I got levitated off the floor. I was just like floating. Then it was like a push. It wasn’t like somebody taking their hand and pushing me. It was like feeling it all over your body at once. I’m a big guy, you know, I’ve always been assertive, and that made me feel like a newborn. You know, I’m scared right now just talking about it, really.
Not long after this strange series of events unfolded, officers Baujan and Wolbert returned to the house, this time with their highly skeptical police chief, Gary Roberts, in tow. With the water still falling profusely from the ceiling and flying about the room at odd angles, the chief too saw first hand what he must have thought was all some sort of joke. After a cursory inspection of the room, all the while being pelted with drops of water that were still seeming to defy gravity, the police chief unbelievably bluntly proclaimed it a water pipe leak. In addition, the two officers were told to not file a report on the matter and just sort of act like nothing had happened. They were also told to not investigate the matter any further, nor were they to ever return to the house. However, Baujan and Wolbert were not convinced by any of this, and felt like it was merely an attempt to cover up and deny a situation which had obviously left the police chief shaken, no matter what he told them.
The following day, officers Baujan and Wolbert defied their orders and returned to the Keiffer residence, this time with two additional policemen, officers Bill Davies and Lt. John Rundle. By this time, the mysterious rain had stopped and things seemed to have returned to some semblance of normal. While they were there, a curious officer Davies, having heard of the crucifix incident the previous day, allegedly gave Don Decker a gold cross to hold and Don immediately complained that it was so hot he had a hard time holding onto it. Although Davies was skeptical, this skepticism faded somewhat when Don once again levitated off of the floor and was thrown across the room right in full view of the four police officers, as well as incur a strange set of wounds that appeared to be from claws. Lt. John Rundle would go onto say of the strange event:
All of a sudden, he lifted up off the ground and he flew across the room with the force as though a bus had hit him. There were three claw marks on the side of his neck, which drew blood. I have no answer for it whatsoever. And, I just draw a blank, even today.
Also dumfounded by the whole affair was the landlord, Ron Van Why, who began to call around to priests and ministers all over the city and implore them to help out with Decker’s plight by performing an exorcism. Since exorcisms aren’t just done on demand without a good deal of evidence, deliberations, and prodding the Catholic Church, he was turned down by practically everyone. However, one local Evangelical preacher decided to come and see what was going on. The priest sat with Don and when they prayed together it was reported that he went into convulsions and rolled into a ball at first, but gradually reached a state of almost meditative calm. By the time they had finished praying, Don reported that he felt much better, as if something had “released its grip” on him. Indeed, this would prove to be the last time that rain would fall within the Keiffer residence. Soon after, Don’s furlough came to an end and he was summoned back to prison to complete his sentence.
In the following days, Don found himself pouring over the inexplicable events that had transpired and at one point began to muse about whether he had the power to actually control the mysterious rainfall on a whim. He reportedly began to concentrate on doing this, not really expecting anything to come of it, but to his surprise the water once again began to seep from the walls right there in his cell. A perplexed prison guard came into to see water all over the place and demanded to know what was going on, to which Don replied by explaining that he had literally made it rain in the cell. The guard perhaps not surprisingly was not convinced, and in fact scoffed at the whole thing. He sarcastically challenged Don to make it rain in the Warden’s office, which Don accepted. The guard then went over to the office of the warden, who was at that time a LT. David Keenhold, who didn’t know anything about Don’s weird experiences or purported rainmaking abilities. When the guard reached the office, he found an unsettled warden examining the front of his shirt, which had suddenly been soaked with water. Keenhold would later say of the baffling occurrence:
I was sitting at the desk, writing a report. I was all by myself in the administration area. Nobody else was around. It was approximately 8:00 in the evening. At the time, I didn’t feel anything, but my shirt was drooping down. And right about the center of my sternum, about four inches long, two inches wide, I was just saturated with water. I was startled. I was scared. The officer was frightened at that particular time, and I just didn’t have an explanation why it happened.
The mystified Keenhold soon learned of everything that had transpired with Decker, and this, along with the odd case of his wetted shirt, convinced him that Don was under the influence of some demonic force. The warden contacted the prison minister, a Reverend William Blackburn, and implored him to come take a look a look at Don as soon as possible. Blackburn for his part was highly skeptical after being briefed on all of the strange phenomena and all of the weird events that had surrounded Don Decker up to that point, and when he entered the cell to see Don he was convinced that the whole thing was some sort of prank and that Don was making the whole thing up. Nevertheless, Blackburn listened to Don’s story of how he could make it rain at will and how crosses burned his flesh, upon which the reverend bluntly replied that it was all in his head. However, as the two talked, odd things began to happen. First, Don seemed to go into one of his trances again, closing his eyes and rubbing his fingers together, then the air was suddenly pervaded by an incredibly foul stench that seemed to come from nowhere and invaded the room like an evil cloud as the rain began to appear again. Not knowing what else to do, the terrified Blackburn took out his bible and began to perform an impromptu exorcism, frantically reading from his bible in an effort to hold back what he now understood were sinister supernatural forces. After a time of intense praying, during which the bible oddly was the only thing in the cell not getting wet, whatever was going on seemed to lift, the rain stopped, and Don Decker returned back to normal. After the harrowing affair was over, Don and Blackburn embraced in relief, a newfound sense of peace coming over them. The reverend would later say of the whole bizarre incident:
All of a sudden his demeanor changed and this smell came into the room. Nurses and doctors, medical people, say when you walk into a room where someone is dying with a cancer or something, usually there’s a smell. You can tell when you walk in the room. I smelled a smell like that multiplied five times at least. Evil, foreboding. He raised his hand and rubbed his fingers together. And all of a sudden, it started to rain. It was like the devil’s rain. It was a mist. I was in the presence of evil. I opened up the Bible and started to read to him. But the pages never got wet. So help me, it was a frightening thing. I think I was praying more for me than him. I prayed, and it was only a brief period, and the rain stopped. He subsided and you could feel a peace. He said thank you. He got tears in his eyes. We hugged and prayed together. He was possessed. There was no doubt in my mind. There’s no way a human could do what he did in that room. There’s no way that he did anything, but what he did was spiritual, and it wasn’t of God. Guaranteed, it was not of God.
This would mark the last time that the mysterious rain would appear, and Don’s life returned to a somewhat normal state, even as the story of what had happened began to become a media sensation. It would go on to be featured in many TV programs, including the show Unsolved Mysteries, on February 10, 1993, in which many of those involved appear to talk about the strange events, and more recently on the program Paranormal Witness in November of 2011. In total, nine witnesses, including the four police officers who witnessed the phenomena first hand and the prison warden, have come forward to go on record to say what they saw, and none of them have any sort of rational explanation for it to this day.
The Don Decker case is interesting in that it was witnessed by so many people, including very reliable witnesses such as police officers, prison guards, and the prison warden, whose stories remain remarkably consistent even after the passage of decades. In some cases, the witnesses had nothing to gain from coming forward with such a strange story, especially the police officers, who risked ridicule and even their jobs by doing so, and they were furthermore not paid for the TV interviews they did. It is a case that has baffled both experts and paranormal investigators alike, and has managed to elude any concrete answers. Two investigators who have spent years analyzing the Decker case, a Chip Decker (no relation to Don) and a Peter Jordan, believe that the case contains some credibility thanks to so many solid testimonies. Jordan said of the case:
I think what makes this case very unique is that all of the witnesses are so credible. We’re dealing with very good, well-seasoned police officers that were obviously rather frightened and shaken by this, but also had the powers of observation. The Donald Decker case is by far the singularly most fascinating and important case I have ever personally been involved in. That does not mean I believe that it necessarily is proof positive to me of demonic infestation. But it is the case, in my own personal experience up to this point, that comes the closest to that hypothesis.
What happened to Don Decker? Is this all a hoax perpetrated by everyone from the Keiffers to law enforcement officials? Or was there perhaps really some supernatural force at work here? Could this have really been some sort of bizarre demonic possession? For his part, Don Decker has always believed that it was the angry spirit of his dead grandfather coming back to further abuse him from the grave, still unwilling to give up the life of evil, abuse and violence he had imposed upon the young Don. Others have speculated that Don’s pent up anger and frustration that he had kept buried over the years during the abuse at the hands of his grandfather suddenly came bursting through upon his tormentor’s death, resulting in an outburst of psychokinetic energy, which in turn was responsible for the poltergeist activity and other phenomena associated with the case. This is an interesting theory in that it has long been speculated that poltergeist activity comes not from ghosts, but from the very person around which the strange phenomena revolves, a sort of uncontrolled deluge of telekinetic energy. Many cases of poltergeist activity indeed seem to be centered on those who have experienced great emotional distress, particularly sexual abuse, as was the case with Don Decker. The weird occurrences started immediately upon the death of Don’s grandfather, so could this stress and bottled up anger have frothed to the surface spurred by the death and somehow accounted for the mysterious phenomena? Another notable correlation to the poltergeist theory is the presence of water in this case, which is a feature of some other poltergeist cases as well, such as “sweating” walls and the unusual case of Jackie Hernandez of San Pedro California, in which a strange substance later found to be human blood plasma was found to be leaking from the walls of the apartment.
Of course for others, the story is simply too strange to be true, and there has been a good amount of skepticism aimed at the Don Decker case in recent years. One particularly vocal skeptic has been New Zealand researcher Robert Bartholomew, who has published several articles trying to debunk the case. According to Bartholomew, most of the events can be explained rationally. The trances experienced by Don, for instance, could have been caused by stress rather than ghostly forces, or even faked. The fact that no one sought medical attention and instead resorted to exorcisms is seen as highly suspicious by the skeptic. As for the rain, Bartholomew pointed out that a report issued by the Manufactured Housing Research Alliance stated that Pennsylvanian homes are particularly at risk for winter moisture problems such as “ice damming,” in which warm air enters the attic of a house and melts snow on the outer surface of the roof, leading to pools of water which can leak into the house. As for the other eyewitnesses who saw the various strange phenomena surrounding Don Decker, Bartholomew believes that it was more or less all in their minds. He says:
Human perception is notoriously unreliable even under ideal conditions. Stress can alter perceptions, and it is difficult to imagine few events more stressful than believing you are in the presence of a man who is possessed by demonic forces.
Perhaps the most damning thing towards the credibility of the case according to Bartholomew is the lack of any photographic evidence provided. If the events were truly so bizarre and so dramatic, then why didn’t anyone take the time to photograph or videotape any of these occurrences, or to call in a news crew to do so? It is a good question to be sure, and one that is repeatedly pointed out by the skeptical researcher. In the end, Bartholomew thinks that this was a perfect storm of weather phenomena, unreliable accounts from unreliable eyewitnesses with inclinations to believe in ghosts or the devil, and perhaps even downright fakery. In the end, Bartholomew says of the whole case:
I want to believe in the paranormal. I would describe myself as an open-minded researcher who follows where the facts lead, and in this instance, it’s an indictment of TV docudramas. I do not think those involved are lying. I think it is a classic case of social delusion. If these events happened the way people claim they did, over several days, it is beyond belief that no one took photos.
In the end, we are left with a rather bizarre case for which we have no concrete answers nor even really a clear classification. Is this all stress, weather, and delusion? Was it all an elaborate hoax? Or is there any possibility that strange powers of the mind or even more sinister forces from beyond our understanding were at work? Since the phenomena have not occurred since, and we have only the testimony of those involved to go on, it is unlikely we will ever know for sure what was behind the case of the “Stroudsburg Rain Man,” and it is likely to remain one of those puzzling cases that will forever be debated by believers and skeptics. It remains one of the weirdest poltergeist/possession cases out there. In an odd turn of events, in recent years Don Decker was arrested for arson for setting fire to a restaurant in the Poconos, a charge he was later released on bail for. Perhaps he thought he could make it rain and put out the fire again. He couldn’t, and it remains unclear if he was ever really able to at all.