In the 1950s, 17-year old Clarita Villanueva had a rather colorful yet strange life. She grew up in the streets of Manila, Philippines, without a father, and from a young age she was already surrounded by the paranormal. In order to make ends meet, her mother, an alleged psychic, would hold seances and fortune telling readings in their hovel of a home, and it was enough to get them by. Tragedy would strike, when at the tender age of 12, Clarita’s mother passed away, leaving her to fend for herself on the dangerous streets. She had no one to guide her or take care of her, so she began walking the streets as a vagrant prostitute and “taxi dancer,” meaning she would perform dances for money. It was not the way a young girl should grow up, yet things were about to get even worse. So would begin one of the strangest paranormal cases ever to hit the Philippines.
By the time she was 17, Clarita knew the streets and her trade very well, and she had taken to hanging out at bars trying to lure men in, and in May of 1953 it seems she approached the wrong guy. Her would be customer turned out to be an undercover policeman, and she was arrested right then and there for vagrancy. Her age didn’t seem to matter, as she was brought to the city’s notorious Bilibid Prison, now known as the Manila City Jail, which is a 300-year-old fortress-like structure steeped in violent history, its walls long permeated by torment and suffering. It also had a reputation for being rather haunted, and it was to this ominous, dank place that Clarita was thrown into one of the gloomy cells to languish awaiting trial. Little did anyone know that as that cage was slammed shut things were about to spiral way out into the weird.
It began with the girl screaming out in utter agony in the middle of the night, her tormented cries echoing throughout the jail to bring the guards running. They found her cowering in her cell, bloodied and sporting bite wounds on her body in places where she could not have inflicted them herself. When asked what had happened, she claimed that she had been attacked by phantom entities, one which she described as “a very big dark man with curly hair all over the body,” and the other a smaller one with “an angelic face and a big mustache.” There was no one else in the cell with her, no way that anyone could have entered and gotten out, and despite the anomalous bite marks the guards just assumed she was having a panic episode and merely left her there in the cell. However, this was not the end of it by a long shot.
Over the next week, Clarita would be relentlessly attacked by these unseen demonic creatures, with other prisoners claiming that they could sometimes see her writhing about and being tossed around her cell during these mysterious attacks, yet the assailants were invisible to them. It was all bizarre enough that it came to the attention of the mayor of Manila, Arsenio Lacson, who had the girl brought to his office to have official medical examiners look at her. As soon as she arrived it could be seen by all present that something very unusual was going on, when she flew into one of her episodes, bucking and writhing as the medical team tried to hold her down. As they did this, they claimed that they could see the indentations of bite marks appearing on Clarita’s skin as they looked on in horror, with some of the bites even inflicted on flesh beneath where the team’s hands covered. Through all of this she screamed that the entities were laughing and taking turns biting her, and no one could explain it at all. Lacson would say, “What it is is beyond me. This is something that goes way back to the dark, dim past.”
When Clarita calmed down and the episode passed, the mayor asked her to try and draw a picture of the things that had attacked her, but she was unable to do so, as every time she tried the pencil would fly from her hand to go rattling across the floor. Some reports even claim that she felt compelled to shove the paper into her mouth and chew it up, with no recollection of why she had done so. Clarita was taken to be examined by psychiatrists and doctors, and while she was found mentally sound, no one could account for how these bite marks were appearing on her body or what was happening to her. In the meantime, the story was starting to hit the news, and she would allegedly have one of her episodes during a press conference attended by hundreds of journalists and medical professionals, and this launched it into the spotlight, before long being splashed all over newspapers even as the bizarre attacks grew in frequency and intensity. Pastor Lester Sumrall, who will come into the story soon, would write of this in his book The True Story of Clarita Villanueva:
These strange demonic bitings began to occur daily, baffling all who saw it. Dr. Lara, the prison physician, appealed for help through the media and permitted many to view the strange phenomenon. Filipino, Chinese and American doctors, university professors, and other professionals were called in to analyze the situation. The news media soon caught wind of the occurrence and sent reporters out to investigate. The newspapers, radio stations and magazines found it their kind of story and began to publicize it. Even the cartoonists were soon drawing pictures of the entities from Clarita’s descriptions, as the bitings continued day by day. The UPI and other world news services began to report the phenomenon worldwide. In my travels throughout the world, I have not been in any country in which the newspapers did not give this story front-page coverage. Switzerland, France, Germany, England, Canada, the United States – everywhere this strange phenomenon was front-page news at the time.
As all of this was going on there were those trying to explain it rationally. A Dr. Zaguirre and Dr. Goduco, both from the National Center for Mental Health, concluded that it could all be explained by a nervous disorder known as a ‘hysterical fugue’ or ‘hysteria psychoneurosis,’ which they surmised was causing discoloration of the skin that was merely being mistaken for bite marks. Others tried to chalk it up to an act and magic trick the girl was putting on in order to escape her miserable life and seek attention, but there was still the fact that many had witnessed these bite marks appear, and it could not be explained how she should get such injuries in places where she could not reach, especially since she was kept in a cell by herself under constant observation. The prison doctor would say that the injuries were “the work of some unearthly being.” There were also other sinister and frightening paranormal occurrences orbiting the girl, of which Sumrall would say:
One doctor accused the girl of putting on an act in order only to get publicity. Clarita gazed at the doctor. With her snake-like eyes she said: ‘You will die’. He didn’t feel anything at the moment, but the following day the doctor expired without even getting sick. He simply died. Fear struck the city when that news was spread about. The girl was not only a harlot, they said, she was also a witch who could speak curses upon human beings and they would die. The chief jailer had a confrontation with the girl. He had kicked her for something she had done wrong while rebelling against him. Clarita looked at the jailer in cold, inhuman hate and said: ‘You will die!’ Within four days the man was dead and buried, the second person to fall victim to her curse.
By now people were talking about demonic possession, and this is what would ultimately draw Sumrall to the case. After hearing all of the stories, he made his way out to the Philippines and Bilibid Prison to see Clarita for himself, and was immediately aware of how frightened the prison staff was. He then asked the staff to describe her attackers to him, and Sumrall would write:
Who were these alien entities? The large one, Clarita said, was a monster in size. He was black and very hairy. He had fangs that came down on each side of his mouth, plus a set of buck-teeth all the way around. The doctors verified her description by the teeth marks on her body: buck-teeth solid, all the way around the bite, rather than sharp teeth in the front. The smaller entity was almost like a dwarf. He would climb up her body to bite her upper torso. Both of these spirits liked to bite her where there was a lot of flesh, like the back of her leg, the back of her neck, the fleshy part of her upper arms. They would bite deep into her, leaving ugly, painful bruises.
Sumrall was fairly sure at this point that he was dealing with some sort of demonic possession, and so he prepared himself to come face to face with Clarita herself. He was granted permission to meet with her, and when she was led into the room things would escalate very quickly, turning into a spiritual brawl between Sumrall and the evil forces accosting Clarita. Sumrall says of this confrontation:
As Clarita was being led into the room, she looked at them and said nothing, but when she saw me she screamed violently: ‘I hate you!’ Instantly I inserted: ‘I know you hate me. I have come to cast you out’. That was the beginning of the confrontation. There was a raging battle with the girl blaspheming God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Her eyes were burning coals of fire and full of hate. I commanded the evil spirit to loose her. After a three-day confrontation with the devil in her, the miracle of God came upon her. She relaxed, smiled, and said: ‘He’s gone’.
After this it seems that the case just sort of faded away and was forgotten, and it is unclear just what happened to Clarita after that. It’s all a very spectacular account, and has managed to be written of in countless articles and books since, notably appearing in Fate Magazine and in Frank Edwards’ popular 1954 book Stranger Than Science, but this is part of the problem with it. Over the years the story has been added to and sensationalized to the point that it is difficult to parse out what might be true and what is not. The original report given by Sumrall, which is where most of the available information comes from, is loaded with religious imagery and talk of devils and God, as well as much patting of his own back at how he drove away Satan and saved the poor girl, and so it is unclear how much of his account is even true or not. Even the newspaper reports all add different, sometimes conflicting details, and while here I have given the most common version of events, there are other variations as well, and so we are left to wonder just where fantasy ends and reality begins. What happened to Clarita Villanueva? Were there strange forces out to get her, and if so, why? Was she possessed or under attack by forces beyond our comprehension? We may never know the answers, and it remains a very unusual case and historical oddity.