sjhstrangetales

This is probably one of the most intriguing hauntings that I’ve ever come across. Rathaus is the German expression for Town Hall, and the Neues Rathaus serves as town hall for the town of Celle in North Germany. Previously Celle had been more familiar to me as the birthplace of Sophia Dorothea, the wife of King George I of Great Britain, who was put under lengthy house arrest by her royal husband after she had been caught having an affair. Sophia was eventually buried at Celle. The haunting which concerns us here though is nothing to do with the unfortunate royal prisoner of centuries ago.

The Neues Rathaus is a massive 5-storey 300-room building, and was built in the mid-19th century as an army barracks, large enough to hold over a 1000 soldiers. Its history seems to have been pretty unremarkable until we get to World War 2, when it was taken over by the Nazi’s. Celle became notorious in the closing days of the war for the Celle Massacre. On 8 April 1945 people being transported by train to nearby Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp were caught in an Allied air-raid. Thousands were killed. Survivors tried to flee into the Neustadt Wood, only to be pursued by SS officers, who opened fire on them. Victims of the “hare hunt”, as it was nicknamed afterwards, are thought to number between 200-300.

When British and American soldiers took over the Rathaus in the Spring of 1945, they found that the Nazi’s had flooded the 5 basement levels which lay below the main building. This was curious to say the least. It was known that the Nazi’s had looted many priceless works of art, and may have hidden them below ground. It was decided to send a team of military divers down to try and ascertain what the Nazi’s had gone to such great lengths to keep hidden. And so it was on 15 April 1945 that things took a very strange turn indeed.

Three divers were sent below, at different locations, each tethered by a line. Half-an-hour later only one diver resurfaced. He was in a terrible state, and had seen things which had shaken him to his core. Now bear in mind this was a military diver, so not someone who was going to be easily rattled. He said that on the first two levels he had found pentagrams and Occult symbols carved into the walls and floors. It was to get even more disturbing. On the third level he found mutilated bodies strapped to chairs. Some had been subjected to amputations, and some had even had heads of goats grafted onto their bodies (it’s hard not to be reminded of the grim tales of Nightmare Hall at Dulce Base here). To add to the horror even further, he said that some of these poor victims seemed to still be alive, and were writhing in their chairs, as though trying to break free. He said he had also been pursued by a dark shape as he returned to the surface.

This unfortunate witness was never the same again after this experience, and he refused to ever dive again. Shortly afterwards he was given a medical discharge. He was still luckier than his two colleagues, whose bodies were never found, even though the ropes securing them were retrieved.

A few days later, on 21 April, the Americans handed over control of the Rathaus to the British Army, who decided to seal the 5 basement levels with concrete. This seems a pretty extreme thing to do by anyone’s standards. It is said that the tops of stairways were left poking out of the concrete. What the Nazi’s were getting up to in the basement is anyone’s guess. We know that they often had an obsession with the Occult*, and grotesque human experiments weren’t exactly unknown to them. Was this yet more horrific medical experiments on innocent victims? Such as the ones Dr Josef “Angel Of Death” Mengele had practised at Auschwitz Concentration Camp? Or some sick Occult ritual? And if so to what end? (*More rumours of Nazi Occult practices can be found in association with Castle Houska, which I blogged about a few years ago.)

In the years after WW2 the Rathaus became both a refugee camp for people misplaced during the bombing, and as a rotating barracks for British and American forces during the years of the Cold War. Rumours of ghostly phenomena began to circulate during these years. One British infantryman, Stephen Dailey, said he had been woken up by the sound of men marching past his bedroom window. Not so unusual in a barracks you might think. Except Dailey’s room was 10 feet off the ground. He also said he heard snatches of ghostly German voices whispering in locked rooms. A Sergeant Major was out in the grounds one evening when he saw a phantom German Panzer column move silently past him.

Even more disturbingly, years later, some soldiers dared each other to spend the night in one of the rooms. It is said that a rash of suicides were the result. Mental health problems aren’t unknown in the military, but some blamed the dark, oppressive atmosphere of the Rathaus and surrounding area for the spike in medical discharges which occurred in the 1980s. Of course robust banter in the Army isn’t unknown either, and how many rookie young recruits were freaked out by lurid, sensational tales of the building’s dark past?

At the end of the Cold War the Rathaus was turned into the city hall, and also doubles as a hotel. Surprisingly, no one has ever decided to investigate what lies beneath the concrete. And it all stays firmly in place. The Rathaus seems to be doing well these days, and rates a solid 4 out of 5 stars on Google. Some of the reviews do allude to the haunting still going on, although it has to be said that it is often hard to know whether to take reviews like this seriously or not. A review posted by one man about 3 years ago mentions hearing a noise like a marching band in the middle of the night, plus moans, screams and chain links dragging on a floor (he certainly got his moneys worth!). Any complaints though seem to be the more down-to-earth complaints you usually get about a local administrative department. A sceptical post on Reddit dismissed the whole thing as just a lurid tale from WW2.

Certainly the diver’s story does almost sound too good to be true. It has everything you would want from a creepy tale. And as I mentioned earlier, the stuff about goats heads being sewn onto human bodies does sound remarkably similar to the gothic tales about Nightmare Hall at the USA’s Dulce Base. I would not be so crass as to dismiss it all out of hand though. The Spring of 1945 was a time of huge chaos, and fresh horrors were being revealed all the time, as the world had to come to terms with the full extent of the Nazi’s cruelty and depravity. That they were quite capable of carrying out sadistic experiments on their fellow human beings is without doubt. But until someone decides to drill into the concrete, the mysteries of what happened below the Rathaus will stay exactly that … mysteries.

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It is a little known fact in the annals of True Crime that one of America’s most prolific serial-killers was a woman. The idea of the female mass murderer is one that, even these days, many people find hard to comprehend. In the history of crime female killers were usually acknowledged as falling into a small number of categories: the crime of passion, killing for financial security/gain, or disposing of an unwanted husband / lover / burdensome family member. Even the mass poisoners, like the UK’s Mary Ann Cotton, were usually doing it to get their hands on the insurance money. The idea of a woman killing for the sheer pleasure of the act itself would have been inconceivable.

And yet the female psychopath has always been there. I suspect that for many of them they were simply limited in their range of opportunity. Many would have been restricted to bullying their families or the immediate neighbourhood. Even women born into the aristocracy or royalty probably had less freedom than their working sisters. The historical ones which stand out, such as Hungary’s blood Countess Bathory, or Russia’s She-Devil Darya Saltykova, only had the freedom to indulge their cruelties because their husbands were conveniently away somewhere fighting endless battles, or died early and left them as rich, powerful widows. Both Bathory and Saltykova had complete power over their servants and local serfs, and were able to indulge their cruel vices as much as they wanted. But, as I said, it was rare for a woman to find herself in such a position.

In the past couple of hundred years the female psychopath was able to gravitate towards what are normally thought of as the caring professions, such as teaching or nursing. The classic archetype of this was the sadistic Victorian governess, like the one who made life a misery for the children of King George V. King George and Queen Mary had so little to do with the day-to-day upbringing of their children that it was 3 years before the nursery abuse was brought to their attention. This miserable upbringing left Albert – later King George VI – with a lifelong stammer and painful shyness, and his elder brother, who would eventually become the Duke Of Windsor, wanted women who would sexually dominate him, be the strict nanny with him. Wallis Simpson of course would go on to fit that bill.

It was nursing which was often the allure for the female psychopath. Here she could have complete life-and-death control over the most vulnerable in society, sick children, the frail elderly etc. They would also have the egotistical pleasure of being regarded as “angels”. Some may have deliberately caused problems, so that they could then rush in as the avenging angel, out to save the day. Often it would take a long time for people to realise if an unnaturally high level of deaths was occurring on a particular nurse’s watch.

One such “angel of death” was Jane Toppan. She was born Honora Kelley on 31 March 1854, in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of poor Irish immigrants. Mental instability seemed to run in the family. Her alcoholic father was nicknamed Kelley The Crack(pot), because he often did eccentric stunts, such as sewing his eyelids closed whilst working as a tailor. Her mother, Bridget, must have had a wretched time of it. Bridget died of tuberculosis when Honora was very young. In 1860 6-year-old Honora, and her elder sister Delia (who was 8) were taken by their father to the Boston Female Asylum, and unceremoniously left there. They never saw him again.

When she was only 8-years-old Honora was placed as a foster daughter-cum-servant at the home of Mrs Ann Toppan, of Lowell, Massachusetts. This was a strange sort of hybrid situation, not unusual in late Victorian times. A family would take in a child, adopt them, but the child would firmly know their place, and have to work to pay for their keep. There was no evidence whatsoever that Honora was treated badly by the family, and she got on well with Mrs Toppan’s daughter, Elizabeth. She was given the name Toppan, and Honora was changed to “Jane”, because … well it was less Irish doncha know. But having to work her way must have still rankled, and Jane often resented Mrs Toppan’s preferential treatment of her real daughter.

In 1885 Jane, as she now was, was offered the chance to stay on in the Toppan household, or be pensioned off with $50 and find her own way. Jane took the latter option, and she began work as trainee nurse at Cambridge Hospital. At first Jane was well-liked. She was bouncy and hearty, and cheerful, and she earned herself the nickname Jolly Jane. Jane’s dark side was already manifesting itself though. She enjoyed a good gossip, but she got a reputation for spreading scurrilous rumours about her colleagues, which resulted in some dismissals. Jane relished watching autopsies, frequently pushing herself to the front of the class, so that she could get a better view. Her superiors found her preoccupation with death unsettling. In true psychopath fashion Jane also liked to make up grandiose stories about herself, including that her father was a round-the-world sailor, and her brother was decorated at Gettysburg by Abraham Lincoln. She bragged that her sister had married into the English aristocracy, whereas poor Delia in fact worked as a prostitute, and would end up in a lunatic asylum. Delia died at a young age of the family curse of alcoholism. Toppan also claimed that no less than the Tsar of Russia had offered her a job.

More seriously, Jane seemed to regard her patients as her own human guinea pigs. She relished experimenting on them with doses of morphine and atropine, just to see what effects the doses would have. Jane got a sexual thrill out of seeing her patients die. She would climb into bed with them, and practically orgasm as they died in her arms. She said she liked seeing their souls leaving their eyes. Toppan would also falsify the medical records of the patients, to ensure that they stayed in hospital for longer. One patient, Amelia Phinney, said that she lost consciousness on one occasion in 1887, after being given a dose of medicine by Jane. She came round to find that Jane was in bed with with her, and kissing her all over her face.

Four years later Jane was transferred to the Massachusetts General Hospital. Her stint there resulted in the deaths of several patients, and Jane was fired a year later, for administering drugs recklessly. She decided to become a private nurse, and was able to make a reasonably good living out of this, earning $25 a week, which was a pretty good wage for a woman at that time. In her off-duty hours she enjoyed drinking beer, telling dirty jokes, and turning her friends against each other. Her killing career began in earnest in 1895, when she poisoned her landlord Israel Dunham, and his wife. There was no stopping her then. Jane later confessed that her ambition was to kill “more people – helpless people – than any other man or woman who ever lived”.

Jane didn’t just limit herself to killing though. She would also dose patients with opium, and then nurse them so that they would make a miraculous recovery, and she would get all the credit. (Strong shades of Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy). She once poisoned a housekeeper so that it would look as though the housekeeper was drunk, resulting in her getting fired, and Jane taking her job. She even poisoned herself on occasion so that she could get sympathetic attention from men.

Jane’s foster sister, Elizabeth, was by now married to a Colonel Brigham, but was suffering from depression. Elizabeth invited Jane to join them on a family holiday at Buzzard’s Bay in the Summer of 1899. Jane decided to take Elizabeth for a picnic on the beach. How lovely. The picnic consisted of cold corned beef, and mineral water laced with strychnine. Jane delighted in holding her loving foster sister in her arms until Elizabeth “gasped her life out”. After that, Jane targeted the grieving widower, Colonel Brigham, with her unwanted attentions, even trying to claim that she was pregnant by him. The Colonel didn’t want anything to do with her, and ordered her out of the house, and so Jane made a dramatic play of attempting suicide by taking an overdose of morphine. I can’t imagine it fooled anyone.

In 1901 she moved to Cataumet and bumped off a lady called Mattie Davis. She then moved in with Alden Davis, the bereaved husband. Jane soon cut a swathe through the rest of the family as well, killing off Alden, his sister Edna, and two of his daughters, Minnie and Genevieve. Not surprisingly, surviving family members became suspicious and alerted the police, who put Toppan under surveillance. She was finally arrested on 29 October 1901. Jane doesn’t seem to have been thrown by this turn of events at all. She cheerfully confessed to the deaths of at least 31 people, although hints were offered that the true figure was around the 100 mark. Toppan said she didn’t want to be found insane at her trial, as she knew exactly what she was doing each and every time, and she hoped that if she was found sane, she would eventually be released, and be able to start killing all over again.

No doubt to her disappointment, Jane Toppan was found Not Guilty By Reason Of Insanity on 23 June 1902, and was committed to Taunton Insane Hospital for life. Where by all accounts she was a model inmate! The only moments of note in her long incarceration was when she stopped eating, because (irony) she thought the nurses were poisoning her. On another occasion she called an attendant into her room, and cheerfully exclaimed “get me some morphine, dearie, and we’ll go out into the ward. You and I will have a lot of fun seeing them die”. Needless to say the attendant didn’t take her up on the offer. Toppan died on 22 August 1938, at the age of 84. She was described by the staff at the hospital as “a quiet old lady”.

Fortunately Jane Toppan didn’t achieve her aim of becoming the biggest killer in history, but she does rank high on the leader board of the USA’s most prolific serial-killers, particularly as the true extent of her crimes remains unknown. She is of interest to us today because she is an absolutely textbook definition of an extreme psychopath.

I’ve had an interest in Astrology for most of my life, although I admit that these days I tend to be a bit more sceptical about a lot of it. I do think it is an interesting way of analysing a person’s character, but I don’t really have much time for all the forecast/horoscope stuff anymore. All too often people put too much reliance on it. And we should know by now that Fate can turn on a sixpence. The idea that someone’s life is mapped out for them in intricate detail for years ahead is at best a bit silly, and at worst, downright sinister.

Anyway, I first got interested in Astrology when I was in my teens in the early 1980s, and I read a book called Sun Signs by an American lady called Linda Goodman. Now I had no idea who she was, but from the rather sultry and glamorous author photo on the back cover she seemed like a fascinating woman. Sun Signs was first published in 1968, and I have to say that when I first read it in 1980, it already had a dated vibe. For instance, in the chapter on the Taurus male, she writes about how Taurean men don’t like bolshy women, and may even resort to physical violence to shut her up. Goodman gave the impression that she didn’t see anything wrong in this because … hey! … he’s a Taurus male doncha know. [Just for the record, I’m not setting out to offend any Taurean males reading this, and implying you’re all wife-beaters, I’m just pointing out what was in the book].

Very recently I came across a reference to Linda Goodman on an astrology website, where someone mentioned what a colourful and tragic life she had had, so I thought I’d do some looking into it. Linda Goodman was born Mary Alice Kemery on 9th April 1925, in Morgantown, West Virginia. Mary/Linda could often be quite paranoid about giving out her date of birth, as she didn’t want other astrologers drawing up her chart, although at the same time she was proud of being an Aries, and drew comparisons between Aries women and Scarlett O’Hara. People who knew her well said that she was an archetypal Aries, a forceful, opinionated pocket rocket of a woman. She hated giving her real age, and would assert that she was any age between 435 and 450.

During World War 2 she had her own radio show, called Love Letters From Linda, in which she read out love letters between GIs and their sweethearts in between records. From then on she decided to adopt the name Linda as her own. She was married twice, to William Snyder and Sam Goodman, and had two children from each marriage. Both marriages ended in divorce. It was during her marriage to Sam Goodman in the early 1960s that she developed her interest in Astrology. Her fascination was stoked when she picked up some Astrology booklets from a grocery store. Her interest became an obsession. It was around this time that her husband had a potential job offer fall through, and Linda decided to write an Astrology book. For nearly 4 years she threw herself so wholeheartedly into this project that she devoted herself entirely to it. She lived in her nightdress, and only stopped long enough to eat and sleep. Her husband said she would spend 20 hours a day researching Astrology.

Her hard work paid off. The result was Sun Signs, which became a massive bestseller when it was published in 1968, and made her a millionaire virtually overnight. She was credited with ushering in The Age Of Aquarius. There were a number of reasons for the phenomenal success of the book. One was that Linda was able to capture the zeitgeist of the moment. This was the peak of Flower Power, the dawning of New Age interests, anti-war protests. Scott McKenzie’s song San Francisco – Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair had been a massive hit the year before, and became the anthem of the era. 1967 had been the Summer Of Love. This dreamy yet volatile era would culminate in the iconic Woodstock Festival in August 1969. Only a few days before that though the Manson Family had gone on their bloodthirsty killing rampage in Los Angeles, which effectively tarnished the Peace & Love movement.

Linda had also made Astrology accessible to the ordinary person. Apart from daily horoscopes in newspapers and magazines (which had been a thing since the early 1930s), Astrology had largely been seen as a niche, somewhat obscure interest. By drawing on her own life experiences and people she had met, Linda put Astrology into everyday situations that her readers could identify with. What signs made the best bosses or the best employees for instance, or what somebody would be like as a spouse or a parent or a child. She removed the mystique from it.

Although her career was now judged a great success, all would not be well in her personal life. She was divorced from Sam Goodman, and had a mysterious affair with a marine biologist, 26-year-old Robert Brewer. He eventually ran away to Mexico in the early 1970s, but Linda vowed that “he will be back”. Her forecast was off with that one, as he never returned. It is said that Linda still continued to set a place for him at the dinner-table for a long time afterwards.

An even bigger tragedy was about to strike though. Her daughter Sarah (usually known as Sally), from her first marriage, was an aspiring actress. She committed suicide in New York in 1973 at the tender age of 21. Linda said she hadn’t heard from Sally for some while, and when the police were finally alerted, they found Sally had taken an overdose of Demerol, an opiod painkiller.

Linda went into huge denial, refusing to accept that her daughter was dead, and refusing to go and identify the body. She stoutly asserted that there was nothing in her daughter’s chart to signify her death, refused to believe the police, claimed everything about her daughter’s fate was a government cover-up, and spent a small fortune trying to prove that Sally was still alive. During this time in fact she spent so much money trying to trace her daughter, that for 10 days she even ended up sleeping rough on the steps of St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

Eventually she moved to Cripple Creek, Colorado, and published the gargantuan Love Signs in 1978. Love Signs was a massive doorstep of a book, which detailed every possible relationship between the signs of the Zodiac. Although that too is now somewhat dated in parts, it is also beautifully written and can be very funny. In Sun Signs she had headed each chapter with quotes from Alice In Wonderland, with Love Signs, she included clips from Peter Pan. Interest in Love Signs was so intense that the paperback rights sold for a phenomenal record-breaking $2.3 million. Linda spent $400,000 of her earnings from this book still trying to prove her daughter was alive. She hired private investigator Anthony Pellicano – who would later work for Michael Jackson. Pellicano concluded that Sally had taken the overdose shortly after talking to her mother on the telephone. Linda flatly refused to accept this, and Pellicano could only sadly conclude “She was a wonderful woman, but she obviously had serious guilt problems about the death of her daughter”.

In Cripple Creek Linda became reclusive and immersed herself even more fully into the Occult. She studied colour therapy, numerology, karma, miracles and immortality. Her book Star Signs, published in 1987, was her most eccentric one yet. She said people should give away half their earnings, recommended that everyone live on an entirely fruit diet, and claimed that she was immortal. Another of her beliefs was that Marilyn Monroe, Howard Hughes, and Elvis Presley were all still alive, but living in hiding. It was all part of her belief that Death isn’t real.

She said her house in Cripple Creek was haunted, and that she was often kept awake at night by ghostly music, as well as people talking, laughing, and a baby crying. (From what I can gather, this house is now a bed-and-breakfast establishment). In the house she had a large stained glass window depicting St Francis of Assisi.

Linda’s offbeat beliefs and her trust in her own immortality would sadly be her undoing. She distrusted conventional medicine, believing that all illnesses and diseases could be cured by the positions of the Moon and the stars. This ultimately led to her contracting diabetes, which resulted in her having a toe removed and part of her leg amputated. On 21st October 1995, she died from complications of diabetes at the age of 70.

Much about Linda Goodman’s life reflects the mid-to-late-20th century. From her wartime radio broadcasts, to her growing interest in esoteric matters in the early 1960s, to her being at the forefront of the New Age movement during the hippy era, to the distrust of mainstream medicine in the 1980s, to being an eccentric old lady of the 90s. She was a spirited, generous woman (part of her financial problems was apparently her willingness to give her money, and expensive gifts like cars and jewellery, away to anyone whom she felt needed it), and a gifted writer, but her beliefs were her own undoing. There is nothing wrong whatsoever in delving into the hidden mysteries of the Universe, but it left her unwilling to accept the harsh realities of life, whether it be her daughter’s tragic death, or her own health. In many ways she was indeed a classic Aries woman, like so many I have known. Wonderfully warm-hearted and generous, but also with a fierce temper, and a stubborn belief in her own infallibility.

This is also often fairly typical of people with strong New Age beliefs. They can be the most wonderful people who mean well, and genuinely want the world to be a better place. I’ve met some lovely ones over the years. The problem is that at the same time they also have trouble accepting just how bad reality can be. In recent years this has led to a whole dangerous cult of New Age Denialism, an extreme form of which is those that refused to accept that Covid is a real thing.

I once knew a woman very like Linda Goodman. She was a person who genuinely wanted to enhance life, she believed passionately in Love as the thing that would save us all, and Positive Thinking is all we need. When the Covid19 pandemic hit though in 2020, she became an ardent denialist, refusing to accept that it was real, and claiming everything was a government conspiracy. Even when Lockdown eased, she refused to come out, and wouldn’t even go out window-shopping [I’m not quite sure what the logic is there, if Covid really doesn’t exist, as she claims, then why was she afraid to go out? Duh!]. It was hard to watch someone have such a complete personality change, like watching a loved one getting brainwashed by a religious cult. I can only hope she comes out of it one day, or, like Linda, she will end up becoming more and more reclusive and detached from reality. There is nothing wrong with having Love as your guiding force, or having a healthy distrust of politicians (that’s just plain commonsense), but at the same time mainstream science and medicine is not your enemy. In fact, it’s often there to help.

Even after all these years it is still nigh-on impossible to figure out whether Madeleine Smith, the well-to-do-daughter of a prominent Glasgow businessman, really poisoned the hapless Emile l’Angelier, by putting arsesnic in his cocoa during their clandestine assignations at her bedroom window. She has left us with a question-mark which endures to this day. The uniquely Scottish verdict of Not Proven was probably the only course of action the jury had at the time. Yes, she did buy arsenic during the final weeks of Emile’s life, but there is no firm evidence she actually put it in the poor man’s cocoa. In the 1950 David Lean film Madeleine, starring Ann Todd, she is shown washing her hands in it, and arsenic was used as a beauty remedy by wealthy Victorian ladies at that time. And then there is Emile’s strange behaviour in the run-up to his death. In the last month of his life he began keeping a daily diary, something he had never done before. Some have argued he did this to deliberately frame Madeleine (sort of “oh I was so ill after accepting that cup of cocoa from her last night”), or was he really worried that Madeleine was trying to bump him off, and was making notes connecting his random bouts of illness with visits to her?

This book is divided into two parts. The first half is largely taken up with the notorious love letters between Madeleine and Emile, which so scandalised polite Victorian society at the time, as well-to-do young ladies like Madeleine weren’t expected to express passion for their boyfriends in quite the way she did, even referring to herself as his “wife” and signing the letters “Mimi”. For many months Madeleine was absolutely besotted with him, and put up with what would be called these days “red flag behaviour” from Emile. Some observers have suggested they may have had a sado-masochistic relationship. From all these years on it’s hard to judge, as we’re talking mid-Victorian times here, when women were fully expected to be completely subservient to the men in their life. But Emile does go full-on 50 Shades Of Grey at times, issuing orders as to what Madeleine can and cannot do, even banning her from going for a walk on Saturday afternoons! When they do finally make love, Emile turns on her afterwards and blames her entirely for it, implying she was a bad woman for giving into him, and that her parents must have brought her up badly. (It takes two, mate).

But then, at the beginning of 1857, Madeleine found herself being pushed towards marriage with the respectable William “Billy” Minnoch, and Madeleine found she wasn’t averse to the idea at all. Perhaps by then even she was getting tired of Emile’s controlling behaviour, and their furtive assignations at her basement window. A respectable, public relationship – with the full support of her family – with a nice, normal man would have seemed quite relaxing by comparison. From that point on, she had a complete personality change where Emile was concerned, going from adoring handmaiden to ice queen, brusquely demanding the return of all her love letters.

The second half of the book concerns the trial and the aftermath. It is the aftermath which fascinates me, and the question of “did she, or didn’t she?” becomes all-consuming. When the verdict was read out to a cheering courtroom, Madeleine’s advocate, John Inglis, sat with his head in his hands. Surely he should have been rejoicing? He later made the curious remark that he would “rather dance with her than dine with her”. Madeleine tried to pick up her old life in Glasgow, but found that people weren’t feeling too friendly towards her, so she upped and moved south to London, where she married an artist called George Wardle, by whom she had 2 children, and become something of a Bloomsbury society hostess, where she did the revolutionary act of holding dinner parties without – sharp intake of breath – putting a tablecloth on the table!! She also become involved in politics, joining the Fabian Society, where she met the likes of George Bernard Shaw, who later swore he found nothing “sinister” in her behaviour at all.

Curiously, Madeleine and George divorced after 28 years of marriage, which is somewhat unusual for that time. George went to Italy. For a while Madeleine settled in Staffordshire, but then suddenly upped and emigrated to New York, where she married again at the ripe old age of 80. When she died at the age of 92, she was described as looking no older than 64 (perhaps that arsenic had an effect then?!).

Several years ago I wrote a short story about Madeleine called Blythswood Square. I think in those days I was more sympathetic to Madeleine, on the grounds that Emile was becoming a complete pain in the neck towards the end, and I could quite see him being vengeful enough to kill himself and put all the blame on her. Emile had been known to make random comments like that in earlier relationships, with romantic ideas about himself as The Wronged Lover. These days I’m not so sure.

The trial had a terrible effect on the people closest to Madeleine. Billy Minnoch, who stuck by her all through the proceedings and said he would marry her when it was all over, changed his mind and never saw her again. Madeleine’s mother took her to her bed, and refused to leave it for the rest of her life. Madeleine’s two younger sisters, Bessie and Janet, never married. In fact, Bessie didn’t live for long afterwards.

I found an interesting article about Madeleine on a site called Old Glasgow Murders. In it the author relates an interesting anecdote from the author W Somerset Maugham, who in 1907 found himself living next door to a “quiet, prim old lady”. When Madeleine realised he had worked out who she really was, she said to him “I suppose you want to know whether I did it or not. I did, and what’s more, if it were to happen again, I’d do it again”. It is also said that the jury at the trial were convinced she was guilty, but felt that the Prosecution hadn’t presented enough evidence to convict her.

The author of this book, William MacGowan, does an admirable job of largely staying neutral, but it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that Madeleine was very lucky she never had to face the hangman’s noose.

Back in 2010, on a visit to Glasgow, I made a point of visiting Blythswood Square, and seeing the basement windows where Madeleine and Emile had had their fateful assignations. At that time (and still is, as far as I know) the Smiths old apartment was a solicitor’s office. I have heard rumours that it is haunted, with mild ghostly activity going on there. All I can say, perhaps avoid drinking cocoa whilst you’re there.

Perhaps it’s because of this never-ending Lockdown we are in here in the UK, but very recently I found myself watching Escape From Alcatraz, a 1979 film starring Clint Eastwood, and based on the true story of the only men who ever managed to escape from the infamous Rock, the island prison of Alcatraz, in the bay of San Francisco. Alcatraz, which had operated as a highly secure prison since the turn of the 20th century, was virtually thought to be escape-proof. Even if by some miracle you managed to chisel your way out of your cell and the fortress building itself, you would still have to brave the icy shark-infested waters and strong currents of the bay. Alcatraz was regarded as the “last resort” of prisons. It was where men were sent who were deemed too troublesome for other prisons, or who had tried too many escape attempts. It was described as “the great garbage can of San Francisco”, and nicknamed “Hellcatraz”. It was home to some famous inmates, such as gangster Al Capone, and Richard “Birdman Of Alcatraz” Stroud, who was immortalised on film by Burt Lancaster.

There had been several escape attempts in its dark history, but all the previous escapees had either been shot during the attempt, or had drowned. The difference with Frank Morris, and his fellow escapees the Anglin brothers, is no one knows what happened to them.

Frank Morris was a child of the Depression era. He was born in 1926 in Washington DC, and had a troubled upbringing. He was orphaned by the age of 11, and farmed out to foster homes. He began his life of crime at the tender age of 13, and embarked on a low-life existence of possession of drugs and armed robbery. By his late teens he was serving his first jail sentence. By the time he was sent to Alcatraz in January 1960 his list of crimes included Burglary, Possession of Narcotics, Breaking & Entering, and Bank Robbery. He had previously escaped from the Louisiana State Penitentiary whilst serving a 10-year sentence for bank robbery.

He began formulating his plan to escape from Alcatraz in December 1960, when he found himself sharing adjacent cells with like-minded souls, John and Clarence Anglin (brothers, both in for bank robbery), and Allen West (who was doing time for car theft). Frank was very much the brains of the outfit. He had an IQ of 133, and as Clint Eastwood would later point out, if he had channelled his energies in a different direction, he could have made a success out of life. For the next 6 months they used a variety of tools, such as discarded saws, a drill fashioned from a vacuum cleaner, and spoons taken from the mess hall, to widen the ventilation ducts beneath the sinks in their cells. By the 1950s inmates had been granted various privileges not known to previous residents, such as being able to have musical instruments in their cells, and Frank would use an accordion to cover up any noise made by their work. They concealed their work with cardboard and paint every morning.

They were then able to climb up to an unguarded utility corridor, where they began to store things, such as raincoats, and DIY life preservers, which they copied from pictures in Popular Mechanics magazine. They also constructed their own life raft. To conceal their absence from their cells, the men constructed papier mache heads, made realistic by snatching hair from the barber-shop floor. They would place these on their bunks to make it look as if they were sleeping to any guard who happened to pass by. These crude efforts managed to buy them valuable time when they escaped.

On 11 June 1962 the great day dawned, and the men plotted their escape. Unfortunately West’s attempt was aborted when he found that the concrete around the ventilation hole in his cell had hardened, leaving the grill in place. By the time he had managed to get out, the others had gone. West managed to reach the prison roof before giving up and climbing back down to his cell. (West would get treated leniently by the authorities for co-operating fully with their enquiries). Meanwhile Morris and the Anglin brothers managed to climb down a kitchen ventilator shaft, and then clamber over the perimeter fence. They then inflated their makeshift portable life-raft by using a concertina! The men had made their escape soon after 10 PM. The papier-mache heads left behind in their cells meant their disappearance wasn’t detected until several hours later, the following morning.

And, as the old saying goes, they were never seen again. The only traces of them that were found were a paddle floating south of nearby Angel Island, a wallet wrapped in plastic containing details of the Anglins’ relatives, shreds of raincoat material, and a deflated life jacket. Bodies often surfaced in the waters in that area, but the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is a notorious suicide hotspot, so that makes things even more complicated.

Relatives of the Anglin brothers claimed to receive letters, postcards and Christmas cards from the elusive men over the years. One of their brothers, Robert, said he sometimes received phone calls in which he could only hear breathing at the other end. He also said that when their father died, two mysterious bearded men turned up at the funeral, weeping quietly as they stood looking at the casket, before leaving again. It was also said that at the funeral of their mother, two unusually tall women turned up. A photograph taken of two bearded men in 1975 hints strongly that they eventually made it to Brazil.

Of Frank, no trace has ever been found. It is often believed that a man of his IQ would be too darn smart to go round telling anyone willy-nilly that he had escaped from Alcatraz, and I can quite imagine that he was able to successfully take this secret with him to the grave.

The FBI believed at the time of the escape that all 3 men must have drowned in the icy waters, but the Anglin brothers were seasoned swimmers, who had perfected their skills in Lake Michigan as children. Frank Morris also had plenty of opportunity to build up his physical fitness in the 6 months they were planning their escape. Although undoubtedly difficult, many people (including a 9-year-old boy) have swum the same distance, and it is thought now that the prison guards at Alcatraz hammed up the horror stories of the icy ocean currents to deter would-be escapees.

The case was officially closed by the FBI in 1979, but in 2013 a letter was submitted to the San Franciso Police Department, claiming to be from John Anglin, which asserted that the 3 men had “barely” made it to the shore on the night of their escape. He went on write that Frank Morris had died in 2008, and Clarence had passed away in 2011. He went on to say “I’m 83 years-old and in bad shape. I have cancer”. He offered to go to prison for a year, if it meant he could get medical treatment. Law enforcement officers though refused to believe it was genuine, even though letter-writing experts said the handwriting bore similarities with the letters sent to the Anglin family.

Harsh as it may sound, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that the Authorities were desperate to promote the story that all the men had drowned on that June night. A successful escape from a fortress like Alcatraz was incredibly embarrassing to them. Not just the escape itself, but the way the men had managed to work on their plans, completely undetected, for 6 months! (And there was me thinking that Andy’s escape in The Shawshank Redemption was too far-fetched!) At the end of the film Escape From Alcatraz, Patrick McGoohan, as the Prison Governor, is heard insisting that they had drowned. Well after all, no one could escape from Alcatraz could they …

BUT if they did survive, how did they live? Their faces would have been national news at the time, flashed up on every TV screen and front page everywhere. As career criminals they would have had no trouble stealing cars, food and clothes to survive, but this would very likely lead to their arrest and capture. It’s often a feature of prison break stories, that the escapee is usually undone when he or she goes to commit a petty crime soon afterwards. They would have to completely keep their heads down, and not draw any attention to themselves at all. This would be difficult enough to do for a short time, but for decades afterwards?

It’s not to say it can’t happen though.

Alcatraz Prison itself closed down a year later in 1963, largely due to the ruinous costs of keeping it going, and the salt water damage caused to the buildings. To this day it still exerts a baleful influence over the public imagination, and is a popular tourist attraction. It is also reputed to be very haunted, with many visitors claiming to have had disturbing experiences there, but perhaps that is a story for another time.

Several people are staying in a huge hotel in a Swiss forest when The Bomb goes off. They are all sitting at breakfast one morning, when a woman looks up from her phone and says “they’ve bombed Washington”. The one thing everyone dreads has happened, World War 3 has broken out. This is a compelling opening.

Jon – the narrator of the story – is an American academic, who has been attending a conference in the hotel. The story is told in his diary instalments. I don’t normally have a problem with stories told in diary format, but in this instance it did make it quite difficult to get into. The first few entries skip by, sometimes with barely a paragraph to them, and the story only really begins in earnest around the Day 50 mark, which is where they find that a murder has been previously committed at the hotel. The body of a young girl is found in a water tank on the roof.

This was an interesting choice of location, and I can only assume the author is familiar with the real-life story of Elisa Lam, who was found in the water tank at the Hotel Cecil in Los Angeles in 2013. Elisa’s story is one of the most puzzling unsolved mysteries of our age, and the author took parts of the Hotel Cecil’s history – its dodgy past clientele, including serial-killers for instance – and incorporated it into her novel.

Unfortunately it was at this point that I first began to lose patience with the story. A bunch of nuclear war survivors holed up in a corporate hotel is quite enough story to be going on with, but this one decides it will then veer off in direction of an Agatha Christie-style whodunnit, with Jon taking it upon himself to assume the Hercule Poirot role and interrogate his fellow guests (this was as dull as ditchwater). It began to feel as if this story was being too greedy with its plot. Either the nuclear war story, or the Elisa Lam-inspired story, would have made great subjects for a thriller/horror on their own, but splicing them together just didn’t work for me. In a post nuclear war situation you would be too busy just surviving, or trying to work out a way to get back home, or find loved ones, and, to be brutally frank, probably would not be unduly concerned about someone you’ve never met who ended up in a water tank a while back.

There is the occasional eerie moment, but I couldn’t make out what this story wanted to be, and it was extremely hard to care about the characters. Some made no impact at all, and it became difficult to work out who was meant to be who. Sasha, Mia, Dylan, Nathan, Peter … all seemed interchangeable at times. It also didn’t help that the two women Jon became closest to were called Tania and Tomi, which made it a nightmare at times trying to decipher them apart. The characters are all pretty unsympathetic, and selfish and cold-bloodied. You don’t get any impression these people had a past life, and most of them don’t seem that bothered about what’s going on in the outside world. They hide in their rooms, only to emerge at meal-times. Perhaps some people would be like that in that situation? I don’t know, I hope I never have the chance to find out. I did wonder if that might be the point, that these are sociopaths who have been lured here to be punished for their sins, And Then There Were None-style, or were in some kind of Purgatory, like the characters holed up together in Jean-Paul Satre’s play No Exit. Unfortunately it wasn’t as interesting as that.

But what is this situation anyway? We are assuming a nuclear war has happened, but it doesn’t seem to make much impact, and no one seems overly concerned about radioactive air, fallout, or a nuclear winter, etc. Some of the guests still go out jogging as if nothing has happened! Also I got thoroughly confused about the Internet situation. I assumed that, post-Bomb, the Internet would vanish, but somehow Jon is still checking people’s posts on Facebook and Twitter! Admittedly the posts haven’t been updated, but how did he access those sites anyway?? It felt more as if there’d been a power-cut, where you can still see Internet sites but they haven’t updated, than the all-out collapse of civilisation-as-we-know-it*. As one reviewer on Amazon put it: “if Facebook is still there, then civilisation is still there” [I’m not sure about that to be honest, but I get his point!]. *UPDATE: I have been told that the Internet, when it was first invented, was built to withstand even a nuclear war. OK.

I kept with the story pretty doggedly until about a 100 pages before the end, when I finally lost patience. I skipped several pages (sorry!), and went straight to the end to see how it would all pan out. Now don’t worry, I’m not going to give Spoilers, I know how irritating it is when people do that, but let’s just say the ending left me even more baffled, and with a feeling of What The Heck Was That All About?

There are also some technical problems. For instance, at one point Jon says that he goes to answer his room door, but carrying “a candle in one hand and a knife in the other”, so how did he open the door then? With his teeth? Awkwardly, with his elbow? Did he quickly put the knife in the candle hand, and then hurriedly take it back again when the door was opened? And why am I analysing this so much?

Inevitably any hotel-based thriller/horror is going to draw comparisons with Stephen King’s The Shining, but I was also reminded of John Christopher’s 1965 book The Possessors (which I’ve reviewed elsewhere on this blog), about a bunch of people isolated at an Alpine hotel, with soul-taking aliens lurking outside. I found that one much more satisfying as a read than this.

I don’t want to be too hard on it, as the story did have its moments, but it felt too much as if the author was trying to bung every Plot she could think of in, and left no time or energy for fleshing out characters, or giving the background story more thought. It was also relentlessly grey and dreary. Now OK I know a book about nuclear war isn’t exactly going to be a laugh-a-minute, but people are still people, you would still have flashes of humanity amongst the survivors, but with this … well all I can say is what a dreary, boring bunch they are.

I fully expect this to be made into a movie at some point, and I hope it works better there.

The Dancing Plague is often regarded as one of the weirdest outbreaks of mass hysteria ever recorded. It began on 14th July 1518, when a woman, a Frau Troffea (or Trauffea) suddenly began to dance frenziedly in a street in Strasbourg. She kept this up, ignoring her husband’s pleas to stop, until she collapsed from exhaustion. After resting for a short while overnight she resumed her frenzied activity the following day, in spite of having sore feet. After a few days several more people began to join in. Within a week more than 30 people had become afflicted with the mania, and seemed oblivious to any injury they suffered as a result.

Local leaders, both civic and religious, decided that MORE dancing was the answer, thinking that the victims would dance themselves free of it. They opened public buildings, built outdoor stages, and hired musicians for the dancers. This only made the situation worse. Onlookers saw what was happening, and believed that St Vitus was angry with them. Regarding themselves as all being sinners, they simply joined in. Over the next 2 months about 400 people became afflicted with the craze, and it was said that some died from strokes, heart attacks and exhaustion. A local man, Johann Schilter, wrote: “In the public market, in alleys and streets / Day and night; and many of them ate nothing / until at last the sickness left them”. It only began to fade at the beginning of September.

It is has been said that it stopped when the victims were bundled into carts taken to the mountaintop shrine of St Vitus to pray for absolution. In my opinion, I suspect it was more likely that, whatever hysteria had possessed them, had simply run its course. Like a physical fever. Was a change of season anything to do with it? I find it interesting that this began at the height of Summer. As I wrote a while back in my Dog Days piece, high Summer has always notoriously been a time for people going “crackerdog”. Did people calm down when the mellow, less intense, days of Autumn came on? There might have also been practical answers. The local authorities decreed that all the platforms and stages were to be taken down, and all music and dancing be banned for the month of September. No small thing, considering how much communal dancing was a major part of life in those times, a bit like banning television or the Internet would be now.

Many explanations have been put forward to account for the mania. At the time it was put down to demonic possession or overheated blood. In more recent times historians have cited eating bread contaminated with the fungal disease, ergot, which could produce insanity. Others have argued that Frau Troffea started dancing to embarrass her husband, and that other disgruntled wives, on seeing what she was doing, joined in. It has been said that initially it was largely young women who joined Frau Troffea in her dancing. There might well be an element of truth in this. This era was the height of female suppression after all. A wife had virtually no human rights at all. I think of it as the era of the Scold’s Bridle (although the first recorded use of this device was in Scotland in 1567), where a stroppy wife could be locked into a device which stopped her from speaking, and be paraded around the town by her husband in it as a public humiliation. Onlookers would often throw rubbish at her to add to her shame. It’s easy to imagine wives seeing Frau Troffea causing her husband acute embarrassment, and deciding to join in (I can’t help thinking of the video from about 20 years ago of the Kelis song I Hate You So Much Right Now!). Others have dismissed the Rebellious Wives theory as misogynistic nonsense.

I’m more inclined to agree with the mass hysteria explanation. There have been many outbreaks of mass hysteria right throughout history. Arguably the most famous was that which afflicted the nuns of Loudun in France in 1634, which were immortalised in the controversial Ken Russell film The Devils in the early 1970s. Outbreaks of mass hysteria have continued well into recent times. Outbreaks of hysterical giggling or fainting have been reported at girls schools all over the world, from the UK to Tanzania to Indonesia. In the Tanzania outbreak (which occurred in 1963) the girls took their hysteria home with them, and “infected” their families. Whole villages became consumed with it. In the 1970s hysterical fits frequently overtook workers at a Singapore factory, which had them screaming, going into trance states, and showing acute fear.

MASS HYSTERIA GRIPS A FRENCH TOWN … OR DOES IT?

And then there are the strange events of August 1951. On the morning of the 15th several residents of the French town of Pont-Saint-Esprit went to their local doctors complaining of stomach aches, nausea, and vomiting. It didn’t stop there. Residents also began to hallucinate. Postman Leon Armunier, whilst out on his rounds, said he had a terrible feeling that he was shrinking, and had serpents coiling round his arms. The police took Armunier to an insane asylum in Avignon, where he was put in a room with three teenagers from Pont-Saint-Esprit, who were also suffering from terrifying hallucinations. That day was to see more horribly unsettling events. One man jumped out of a window in his house, and broke his legs. One man tried to walk over the town’s bridge using the bridge cables, because he believed he was a tightrope walker in a circus. A girl ran through the streets claiming she was being chased by tigers. Other people were committing assaults on family members, believing they were demons. Very strangely it wasn’t just humans who were affected. A dog broke its teeth chewing on rocks. Some people though were having an enjoyable time of it, claiming to feel blissed out, and hearing wonderful music and seeing bright colours. By the time this whole strange phenomenon was over, 7 people were dead, and 50 had been put into asylums. It affected more than 250 people in total.

Police blamed a local bakery, saying that a bag of flour had become contaminated with ergot. Ergot poisoning has occurred throughout history. It is a fungus which, if eaten, can send the victim on something very similar to an LSD trip. Some strange outbreaks of hysteria in early Medieval times have been put down to ergot poisoning. Sceptics of this theory said that the amount of ergot found in the bread could not possibly have induced such a widespread and dramatic case of mass insanity. Others have put it down to mercury in the water. An even more unnerving theory was that the CIA were secretly dosing civilians with acid, and monitoring the effects. The point of this experiment would be to see if a civilian population could be made helpless this way, and then an army could invade with little opposition. Opponents of this theory said that LSD would not cause some of the physical ailments, such as the vomiting and stomach cramps that the townsfolk suffered.

Anyway, back to the dancing mania. It has been pointed out that dancing mania outbreaks weren’t unknown in the Strasbourg region, or Europe generally. There had been one as far back as 1374. In 1278 over 200 people gathered to dance on a bridge over the River Meuse in Germany, causing the bridge to collapse. The 1518 outbreak though has largely been considered the worst. Could they have all been down to ergot poisoning?

But if it wasn’t ergot poisoning, what else could have caused people to react in such a strange way? Well, at the risk of sounding a bit trite, it was a very difficult time. Religious controversy was sweeping Europe for one thing, and at a time when people were deeply religious and profoundly feared the supernatural, this must have been very traumatic. On Halloween the year before Martin Luther had nailed his Ninety Five Theses to the church door in Wittenburg, effectively challenging the corruption of the almighty Catholic Church, for its controversial sales of Indulgences. This might not sound much to us in the 21st century, but to ordinary people of that era it would be akin to us being told now that the entire World as we know it is a total lie and a fabrication. This was combined with famine and plague outbreaks. It must at times have felt as though The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse had descended.

In these current troubled times in which we live, there has been a lot of focus on mental health issues, and probable outbreaks of mass hysteria. The mind is a very powerful organ, and can influence us, whether we like it or not. Many of us have been concerned that a day-by-day constant drip-feed about Covid-19 could ultimately have a devastating effect on the human psyche. Back in the Spring of 2020, I remember seeing some people behaving in a “squirrel-y” fashion, dodging about frantically in public places, holding scarves to their faces, looking terrified if they came too close to anyone. Now, as I update this in the Summer of 2021, it is clear that the mental health issues caused by the whole pandemic are not likely to go away in a hurry.

UPDATE 1st August 2022: I saw an article in the Mirror (a UK tabloid newspaper) about a “mystery illness” which has been affecting teenage girls. This is said to be a worldwide phenomenon. Previously healthy teens are suffering uncontrollable ticks, twitching and swearing. I must admit I was a bit confused by the swearing thing, because that doesn’t tend to be a sign of illness on its own. I can only assume it’s like a Tourette’s version of swearing, whereby somebody does it randomly. But anyway, doctors are perplexed about what is happening, and have suggested that it might be down to a combination of Covid Lockdowns and using social-media apps like Instagram and TikTok.

I have to be honest, when I first saw this I thought I had got the date wrong, and that it was an April Fools Joke I was only just seeing for the first time. But no, it is apparently a very ill and distressing thing. One girl, Michaela, aged 14, was suddenly found by her mother laying on the floor, with an arm and leg flaying about. Fifteen-year-old Nicole has been suffering from this from the age of 12. Curiously, it began when she shouted “I am Madeleine McCann, I’ve been kidnapped” in public. (Nicole must have been born the same year Madeleine went missing, in 2007).

Professor Russell Dale, a paediatrics neurologist, said some symptoms had been triggered by seeing other people’s symptoms on social-media. Girls were coming out with bizarre sentences, but using similar phrases, which suggests social-media as the link. This suggests some form of mass hysteria, and fits in with some of the other forms of it throughout the years. Someone starts acting in a strange way, or a weird rumour spreads – like the Monkey Man Mania in India in 2001 – and before you know it, everyone is picking up on it.

Platforms like TikTok are largely seen as simply a bit of fun. I was once in a coffee shop when a bunch of children all suddenly leapt up and started dancing at once for no apparent reason. It turned out to be inspired by a TikTok video one of them had been watching. Of course all that is perfectly harmless, but at the risk of sounding like a total killjoy it’s hard not to wonder about some of the possible dark sides of all this. As someone who has been using social-media for several years, I’ve seen how easy it is for lies to take root and become accepted as truth. During the pandemic, particularly during the First Lockdown in 2020, I saw people refusing to go outside because they believed the air was literally raining Covid! Children now in their early teens had their schooling and their social lives interrupted by it, and probably relied on social-media to keep themselves in touch with everyone else, and we all know what a heated atmosphere of rumour and exaggeration that can fuel. Even as an adult it’s been hard not to get caught up in all the neurotic mayhem. Sometimes these days I only have to be in a crowded room to start inwardly obsessing over whether I’ve got a sore throat and a cough coming on! Lord knows what it’s been like for children.

Social media can be fun (when it’s used rightly), and I have no wish to stop anyone getting good things out of it, but the dark side does need to be kept an eye on. Of course, as we’ve just seen, outbreaks of mass hysteria were occurring long before the advent of social media. I’ve only just found out about a case from 1983, when a small group of teenage Palestinian girls all began fainting. A few days later the total of girls feeling dizzy and fainting had risen to over a 1000. Claims that the girls had fallen victim to a chemical attack from Israel were proven to be unfounded, and doctors concluded the girls had been suffering from mass hysteria.

THE GHOST DRONES OF GATWICK

In his book Bizarre True Crimes Ben Oakley cites the curious case of the Ghost Drones, which occurred at Gatwick Airport, London, at Christmas 2018. An off-duty security officer spotted a drone hovering above a vehicle at Gatwick, and reported it. There were fears that a drone could smash the cockpit window of a jumbo jet. Soon afterwards he spotted a second drone moving alongside the perimeter fence. Within a few hours half-a-dozen sightings had occurred, five from police who had been called in to investigate. The decision was made to shut down the airport, and all flights in and out were cancelled. This was on the 18th December, the run-up to Christmas, one of the busiest times of the year.

By the early hours of the 19th there were concerns that the drones may be Terror-related. Five police forces and anti-Terror units were all put on maximum alert. By the end of that day over 200 sightings had been noted, many coming from security and airport workers. By the evening of the 19th the Army had been called in. They installed an anti-drone system on the roof of the main terminal. It seemed to work. By the early hours of the 21st sightings of the drones had decreased enough for the airport to be re-opened.

The hunt was on for the culprits behind all this. A local couple, known to be enthusiasts who might be into all this type of technology, were arrested and detained. The tabloids whipped up vitriol against them, calling them the morons who ruined Christmas. After 36 hours the couple were released. It was found that neither of them even owned a drone, and both had been at work during the incident. They were later awarded £55,000 in compensation by the police. The disturbing truth was starting to emerge that the whole thing might have been an incident of mass hysteria. No drones were found (a small damaged one found lying in the fields had not been flown over the airport that day), and no drones were caught on CCTV or security footage. The military anti-drone system on the terminal roof did not detect a single drone.

Britain has been on high Terror alert for several years now. It’s entirely understandable that anything suspicious and out-of-the-ordinary would be treated with the required urgency. The days running up to Christmas are a particular cause for concern, as everywhere tends to be busy, with people coming and going. A Terror attack on a major airport would be a frightening prospect. Police and airport workers would be right in the frame for dealing with any consequences of such an appalling attack, so it would only be human to be jittery. In 2020 Guardian journalist Samira Shackle concluded that it had been an instance of “mass panic” when people attribute sinister causes to ordinary objects, and that the original drone could have been anything, such as a a bird, a plastic bag, a balloon, or a paper lantern.

On a tiny footnote, I have my own strange incident to the bizarre case of the Ghost Drones Of Gatwick, my very own Mandela Moment if you like. When reading about this case I thought “yes, I remember reading all about the drones on Twitter when it happened”. Except I wasn’t on Twitter at the time! For 8 months of 2018 I took a break from social media, and only rejoined Twitter in January 2019. This might be a simple case of confusion, or old age coming on, I don’t know. According to Wikipedia there had been another random unconfirmed drone sighting at Gatwick at the end of April 2019, so perhaps I was getting confused with that. All I can say is we are so relentlessly stuffed with information these days that it wouldn’t surprise me if I’d got my wires crossed!

There have been countless tales throughout history of people who have risen to great heights, only to be cruelly cast down again.  Few come more extreme than the story of Elizabeth “Baby Doe” Tabor.   In her time she was a legend, and her story has inspired operas, movies, and even a chain of restaurants.

Elizabeth would have probably been described by her fellow Victorians as “an adventuress”, a woman who relied on her looks and her intelligence to get what she wanted, and who brazenly crashed through societal conventions.   She was born in 1854, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the daughter of an Irish immigrant, Peter McCourt, who owned a clothing store supplying garments to local lumbermen.  Elizabeth was the fourth of 11 children.

Although Elizabeth’s background was respectably middle-class, her mother noted her little girl’s beauty from an early age, and encouraged her to set her sights on marrying a wealthy husband, or even becoming a celebrated actress.  She said Elizabeth should take care to preserve her looks, and excused her from domestic chores for this reason, although it is said that she occasionally helped out in her father’s store.  At the age of 22 Elizabeth entered a skating competition, and caused a stir by wearing a costume which showed off her legs.  This understandably caught the eye of Harvey Doe, who came from a family of wealthy mine-owners.  They married and the couple moved to Central City, Colorado.

I think it’s safe to say that no one in Central City knew what had hit them.  Elizabeth’s striking looks earned her the nickname Baby Doe, although there doesn’t seem to have been anything effete about this gal.  Although she was a great party-girl, she also showed a hands-on interest in her husband’s mining activities, and was even known to put on men’s clothes and  work alongside the miners.  Elizabeth’s couldn’t-give-a-stuff attitude to conventional late 19th century must have been her an endless source of gossip.  This was exacerbated in 1880 when she and Harvey divorced, due to Harvey’s drinking, gambling and habit of visiting brothels.  It was Elizabeth seeing him with a prostitute which put the death-knell on their marriage.

Elizabeth dusted her hands of him and moved to Leadville, where she duly married Horace Tabor, a silver magnate twice her age, who was one of the USA’s wealthiest men. He was said to mine $2000 worth of silver on a daily basis.  They married in secret in 1882, but there was a problem in that Horace was still married to his devoted wife Augusta, who had stuck by him for 25 years.  The record was set straight the following year when Horace and Elizabeth had a more public wedding, and this time they did it in style.  It was attended by the President himself, Chester Arthur, and Elizabeth wore a wedding gown said to be valued at over $7000 (probably about £70,000 in modern money), and a $90,000 necklace (probably about a cool million now, sort of reminiscent of Elizabeth Taylor’s diamond ring) which had once belonged to Isabella, Queen of Spain.

The couple moved to Denver, Colorado, but found themselves completely ostracised by polite company.  Elizabeth gave birth to two daughters, Elizabeth Bonduel Lily, and Rose Mary Echo Silver Dollar, and occupied herself in such Victorian ladies pursuits as scrapbooking, giving generously to charity, having her hair done, and the burgeoning women’s suffrage movement.  Elizabeth was as lavish with her children as she was towards herself.  Their Christening robes were priceless, and they even had diamond-encrusted nappy pins (diapers, if you’re American).  The Tabors were able to live in great luxury and comfort for several years, when suddenly calamity struck.

What became known as the Panic of 1893 was triggered by the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.  Its repeal caused silver to become drastically demonetized, and plunged many mine-owners into debt, virtually overnight.  This is where we see the best of Elizabeth.  She was a staunch supporter to her family, handling her husband’s business affairs in Denver, and trying to turn the whole thing into an adventure for her little daughters, especially when the power was cut off at their mansion.  Horace was reduced to literally raking muck in a Cripple Creek mine.  It wrecked his health and he died in 1899, leaving Elizabeth as a widow in her forties, with two young daughters to support.

Elizabeth returned with her daughters to Leadville.  It is thought she took simple low-paid domestic work to get by.  Eventually her daughters set out on lives of their own.  The eldest, Elizabeth, moved to Wisconsin, and the younger, Rose Mary Echo Silver Dollar, became a reporter for The Denver Post, and would send  part of her wages back to her mother.  Silver Dollar had aspirations to become a novelist, but was hindered by a growing drink problem.

At this point Elizabeth Baby Doe’s life took a turn for the downright gothic, and it is still not known why she made the decision she did.  Some have argued that Horace, on his death-bed, urged her to hang onto the Matchless Mine, as “it will make millions again”, but this has been disputed.  Whatever her reasons, Baby Doe moved into an old decrepit tool-shed near the Matchless Mine, which was disused and flooded.  She was to live there for the rest of her life, the next 35 years, earning herself a reputation in the neighbourhood as a mad woman.  Like Baby Doe, Leadville had also lost its former prosperity, and had become a desolate place of empty streets.  Sometimes Elizabeth would be seen walking through this ghost-town, wearing a crucifix and with rags on her feet.

She returned to the Catholic beliefs of her Irish ancestry, and inflicted daily penances on herself, to atone for her former decadent lifestyle.  She lived off scraps of bread, and, when not inflicting punishments on herself, would record all her thoughts and dreams in her journal.  She was sighted in 1927 wearing men’s corduroy trousers, and a bandana tied round her head.  Her eyes were described as still beautiful.

During the bitterly cold Winter of 1935, neighbours became concerned when they hadn’t seen any smoke rising from the chimney of Elizabeth’s cabin.  She was found dead, lying frozen on the floor.  She was 81 years old.

It was a tragic and lonely end for a woman whose sins weren’t exactly huge on the great scale of things, and who certainly added colour to things.  She is often held as an example of the boom-and-bust lifestyle of late 19th century America, when fortunes could be made overnight, and lost just as easily.

Her youngest daughter, Rose Mary Echo Silver Dollar, who sounds a right chip off the old block, also went on to have a dramatic, and ultimately tragic life.  She moved to Chicago, where she became a dancer, and a gangster’s moll.  In 1925 she was found scalded to death in a boarding-house.  Because she had been living there under the name of “Ruth Norman”, Elizabeth refused to believe that it was her, saying “I did not see the body they said was my little girl”.

Boleskine House, which now sits in charred ruins overlooking Loch Ness, has to be one of the most mysterious houses in Britain. It is mainly famous, or perhaps infamous, for being the home of Aleister Crowley, self-styled Wickedest Man In The World, during the Edwardian era. Crowley specifically wanted Boleskine as somewhere isolated and private whereby he could carry out the lengthy Abramelin Ritual, an exhausting process which would take several months and involve much physical and mental hardship, such as fasting and sleeplessness.

As with all these kind of rituals, the Abramelin came complete with tedious little details which had to be strictly adhered to, such as the necessity of having a door which opened north. Boleskine fitted the bill. The house itself had been originally built at the end of the 18th century as a shooting lodge for an aristocrat (as so many of these country houses were). It was unusual in that it had just one storey. Some like to pinpoint all the dark legends surrounding Boleskine as coming from Crowley’s tenure, but the house already had a sinister reputation before he took up residence. Local legend had it that it had been built on the site of an old church, which had burnt down, engulfing an entire congregation in the flames. There was reputed to be an underground tunnel connecting the house to the graveyard across the road.

The rumours surrounding Crowley and the Abramelin Ritual at Boleskine have been repeated so many times that I don’t feel much inclination to repeat them here. Many seemed to have been put about by Crowley himself, to show what a wild old thing he was. After a while Crowley became disenchanted with working on the Ritual and closed up the house to go off on his world travels. Some argue he simply became bored with the whole thing. The Ritual was long and involved a huge level of commitment. Others argue that even Crowley himself became spooked by what he was unleashing, and he recklessly abandoned the house to its own devices. Whatever the truth of the matter, Crowley had very little to do with the house from then on.

But Crowley’s antics were to live on, thoroughly saturating the atmosphere concerning Boleskine. Odd happenings were reported at the house. Such as darkness in the rooms on bright, sunny days, shadowy figures seen, and objects and rugs being moved. From 1945 onwards it becomes a nightmare trying to sort out who owned the house when, and what went on there. Things become extremely muddled. For instance Wikipedia, completely erroneously, states that the house was bought by American actor George Raft after World War 1. Raft was famous for his hard-boiled gangster roles, and was reputed to have underworld connections in real life. Wiki states “Raft was involved in a scandal involving selling shares for a pig farm on the grounds of Boleskine – except the farm didn’t exist”.

It wasn’t George Raft though (I’m trying imagine Raft in the Highlands of Scotland), but another actor called George entirely. George Sanders. Sanders was the kind of actor who seemed born to play suave rogues. The upper-class Englishman who was not to be trusted at all costs. He even named his autobiography Memoirs of A Professional Cad as a nod to his screen persona. Sanders wasn’t English though. He was actually Russian by birth, born in St Petersburg in 1906. His family fled to England at the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917.

Sanders turned to acting in the 1930s and had a long, respectable career. He is probably most famous now for playing the sarky sociopath Addison deWitt in the Bette Davis hit All About Eve. He also became one of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s numerous husbands. He would later go on to marry Magda Gabor, Zsa Zsa’s big sister. Keeping it in the family.

In 1962 Boleskine House was bought by a real-life rogue called Dennis Lorraine, who was the sort of character that Sanders would have probably played on film. Either that or Dennis Price or Terry-Thomas. It was Dennis Lorraine who got Sanders involved in a scam which would become known as The Great Sausage Scandal. Trying to unravel the details of this has been a complete nightmare in itself. Dates are all over the place for one thing. Ignoring Wikipedia placing it after World War 1, we have others claiming it happened in the 1950s, and others saying it took place in the Profumo era of the early 1960s. Whatever the timing, the scam was that Dennis would set up a company called Loch Ness Foods, and claim he was rearing pigs on the site. Except that no pig farm existed. And this is how he managed to dupe George Sanders into getting involved. I’ve also read that the firm was called Cadno, in honour of Mr Sanders. The whole thing became a monumental embarrassment, and Noel Coward joked at that he wanted to write about The Great Sausage Scandal.

Dennis Lorraine reputedly bought Boleskine after his wife Molly had seen a portrait of a woman called Mary Lorraine in an Inverness art gallery. Mary Lorraine had been the wife of the previous owner of Boleskine (are you still with me?), a Major Edward Grant, who had fatally shot himself in the head in his study at the house in 1960 (Wikipedia has this as happening in 1965. You decide). Why on earth that should be an incentive to buy a particular house is beyond me, but I guess there’s nowt so queer as folk. According to an article on a blog site called English Heretic Molly had a circular bed, complete with black sheets, installed in what had once been Crowley’s oratory.

Boleskine would weave its own dark magic on this couple, as it seems to do to everybody. The Lorraines both descended into alcoholism, and the pig farm venture was a complete debacle. The story goes that the unfortunate pigs, who were all housed in a field next to the house, starved to death. The Lorraines must have moved out, but I have no idea what happened to Molly. Dennis Lorraine spent his final years destitute in London. He was said to constantly sleep with a revolver under his pillow.

Wikipedia, after saying that Edward Grant shot himself in 1965, writes that “a newly married couple moved into the house. The wife was blind, and after a month the man walked out, leaving the woman wandering around unable to see”. I have no idea what the truth is behind this upsetting story, or who the couple were.

And so we come to Jimmy Page, of Led Zeppelin, buying the house in 1970. Page had a lifelong interest in Crowley, so it’s perfectly understandable that he would be interested in the house, although how much time he actually spent there is open to question. Shortly afterwards Page invited cult film-maker, and author of the notorious Hollywood Babylon books, Kenneth Anger, to stay at Boleskine. Anger was making a short film called Lucifer Rising, with Page to provide the soundtrack. This all feels very late 60s/early 70s, an odd time in human history, to be sure. People get very nostalgic about that era. I do too, simply because that was my childhood, and we all get nostalgic about the era in which we had our childhood, but there is no denying that it was a very odd time. A look at some of the smaller, low-budget films from that era bears this out.

I’m not going to go deeply into the whole Jimmy Page/Boleskine thing, as there is already plenty of information out there about his long tenure of the house. If you are interested I can recommend the book The Led Zeppelin Curse: Jimmy Page and the Haunted Boleskine House by Lance Gilbert. I started this piece mainly to write about George Sanders’ connection with the house, but, as is probably not surprising with anything to do with Boleskine, it all got terribly complicated.

Mr Sanders himself was a sad figure in his final years. As a true professional, he kept working right to the end, and even tried to hide his fragility, as he didn’t want to cause problems for the other actors he was working with, but he suffered from loss of balance and dementia, causing depression. His final film was Psychomania (1973), which was about a bunch of psychopathic bikers who make a deal with the Devil to achieve immortality. Sanders was popular with the younger actors, who liked the way he enjoyed a good laugh on the set. The Black Magic subject matter of the film though has not been lost on some Boleskine/Crowley enthusiasts, with one even tying it in with Ted Holiday – a Nessie expert – having a possible Men In Black sighting at the Loch around this time. The entity was reputedly dressed all in black, with a black helmet, like a Satanic biker.

In his memoirs, David Niven recalled that Sanders had told him back in 1937 that he would kill himself from a barbiturate overdose when he reached the age of 65. On 23 April 1972 he checked into a hotel near Barcelona, and swallowed 3 bottles of Nembutal. He left behind a suicide note which read: “Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck”. He was indeed 65.

A couple of years ago we were stuck in a traffic jam in the village of Storrington, West Sussex. I glanced over at the house near the side of the road and saw a blue plaque on it, citing that George Sanders had lived there. I don’t know why, but it made my day.

On 23 December 2015 fire swept through Boleskine House. Fortunately the occupants, a Dutch family, were out shopping at the time. The fire was believed to have started in the kitchen. Reduced to ruins, the building was put on the market in April 2019, with hopes to turn it into some kind of New Age spiritual centre. But another fire swept through the site in July 2019, and this time police believed the fire was started deliberately.

In July 2018 the Daily Express had carried a rare interview with Boleskine’s owner, reclusive millionaire Trudy Piekaar-Bakker. She said that she was dismayed by looters who constantly raided the ruins, and said no good could possibly come of it. She also mentioned a weird stranger, going by the colourful name of Mordechai Moshe, who had been squatting in the ruins. He had tried to claim that the owner had invited him there, but she refuted this, saying she had no idea who he was. The police managed to evict the squatter, who, since then, seems to have completely disappeared without trace.

What happens to Boleskine House now? I don’t know, but I can’t help thinking of the last line of the 1963 version of The Haunting, when Russ Tamblyn says every trace of the house should be destroyed, and the ground sewn with salt.

PS: I read today 5/1/2020 that the new owners of Boleskine are selling bags of its charred remains at £49 a pop on eBay. This is apparently to raise funds to build a new spiritual centre on the site. I can’t help feeling that being sold as bags of burnt rubble on eBay is the end that house deserves.

Recently I was compiling a Halloween playlist on my YouTube channel, and finding a whole horde of paranormal documentaries from years ago.  In the Comments sections were some fascinating stories and inputs from viewers.  Now I haven’t a clue what the Copyright laws are regarding YouTube Comments section (if there are any), but I did want to put people’s words here verbatim, and not just have me regurgitating them in my own words.  If anyone at YouTube does a Prince Harry and violently objects, then I will simply mothball this piece, so read it whilst you can.  I have deliberately NOT included people’s usernames, as I don’t want any innocent person being trolled or hassled because of something I’ve written.  I have also left out the ubiquitous comments you often get on YouTube of “dude put down the crackpipe”, “look at my privates”, “this is the End Times, make Jesus your friend”.  Any comments I’ve made are in square brackets.

Borley 

Borley Rectory, which burnt down in 1939, was described in its time as The Most Haunted House In The World.  Even though the house is long gone, and has since been built over by a small housing-estate, it still acts as a magnet for ghost-hunters and thrill-seekers.

.  “I live locally to Sudbury and been many times, never seen nothing at the Borley Church itself but have seen a figure in a white cloak in about 1998, that came out of a field crossed in front of the car to a field opposite about 1/4 of a mile away.  Me and two of my mates turned the car around and shone lights in the field and couldn’t see a thing.  Totally vanished … For sure it sent shivers up our spines and goose pimples”.

.  “I am the mother of 3 children whose great grandmother was Marianne, she said it was not true” [Marianne Foyster was the wife of the Revd. Lionel Foyster, who lived at the Rectory in the early 1930s.  Marianne is a very controversial figure in Borley folklore.  Legendary ghost-hunter Harry Price, who extensively investigated the haunting, was sceptical of her involvement.  Many years later Marianne, by then an old lady, was tracked down in the United States.  She admitted that she had made up much of the story of the haunting to make her life in a quiet English village more exciting].

Dakota Building, New York 

The Dakota Building fascinates me.  There is something wholly mysterious about it.  Whenever I hear about it I always think it sounds like one of those creepy buildings which is really a doorway to another dimension!  Anyway, it has had many famous residents over the years, including Lauren Bacall, Judy Holliday, and John Lennon.  Tragically, it was outside the Dakota where Lennon was gunned down in December 1980.  His widow, Yoko Ono, still lives there.  The exterior of the building was also used in the cult horror film Rosemary’s Baby, a movie which has many cursed and strange tales about it.  Very recently, Top 5s did a fascinating piece about the many haunted stories about the Dakota.  Sadly, the Comments section didn’t yield very much in the way of personal anecdotes, & seemed to have an above-average amount of attention-seeking dickweeds in it, but one tried to pull all the connections together:

.  “Rosemary’s Baby was filmed at the Dakota. The director was Roman Polanski.  Charles Manson was obsessed with Rosemary’s Baby and that’s why he killed Sharon Tate, Polanski’s wife [I’m not sure about that one, I always thought Manson was simply after somebody famous to kill, and sadly Sharon was there].  He was also obsessed by and inspired by The White Album and the song Helter Skelter, made by John Lennon and The Beatles”.  [Interesting, but I remember watching an interview with Manson years ago, & he disowned the Helter Skelter connection, saying he was not from The Beatles generation, and they weren’t relevant to him, although in truth he was actually only 6 years older than Lennon].

Ghosts On The Underground

This was an excellent British documentary, made (I think) in the mid-Noughties, and put onto YouTube by The Hampshire Ghost Club.  Absolutely crammed with spooky tales of the London Underground.  Paranormal film-making at its best, focusing on credible witnesses, and not full of annoying, smug hipsters loaded to the teeth with technology and infra-red cameras, bursting into buildings like the SAS and screaming at anything spectral that might be there.

Part of the programme focused on Bethnal Green Station.  During WW2 it was the site of a horrific tragedy, with strong shades of Hillsborough, when 173 people were crushed to death.  It was the biggest civilian fatality incident of the War.  One comment said: “The scientist [in the programme] talks about feeling breathless in the station office.  If Bethnal Green Station IS haunted by people who were crushed in a stampede during WW2, then they might have been projecting that feeling of not being able to breathe as they were crushed onto him, that’s creepy and incredibly sad”.

.  “A friend of mine worked on the Underground back in the 70s.  His first night on duty was at South Kensington and his co-workers set him to be at one end of eastbound platform on the District Line at 12:15 AM.  The staff supposedly heard footsteps coming towards them from the tunnel at this time every night.  He was scared stiff by his encounter and swore that was so”.

.  “My father worked on the Underground in the early 90s at Temple Station and he quit after just 3 days because he saw a girl screaming at the end of one of the long tunnels and then she started walking towards him, he has never gone back”.

.  “I wonder why they chose to leave out the story of the crying woman at King’s Cross?  A man saw a woman in jeans and a t-shirt and reaching out in distress, he went to offer her some assistance but as he did so he saw another commuter walk through her.  This was in 1996”.

.  “Even walking through the Underground with hundreds of people around, it has an eerie presence” [agreed, I can think of few places more genuinely eerie and atmospheric than the London Underground.  When I came to do the cover for my book Strange Tales 4, I wanted to use an Underground station for the illustration.  I was recommended to try Regents Park station, as it’s often quiet there during the day.  Something about peering down into those cold dark tunnels can be quite spooky, that old 1970s horror film Death Line has got a lot to answer for!  “Mind the doors!”]

.  “Green Park Station … that station is eerie big time”.

Guitar Shop Haunting 

Very recently – the end of October 2019 – Top5s did a video about ghostly images caught on CCTV camera.  One of the places featured was GAK Guitar Shop in Brighton, where a strange misty shape had been caught on camera, as well as mild poltergeist activity occurring out-of-hours.

.  “I’ve lived in Brighton all my life and spent many a day in GAK playing guitars and synths.  The upper shop that sells guitars has always had a creepy vibe about it, especially upstairs.  Not surprised strange activity has been caught on CCTV”.

.  “I hear a lot of stories about Brighton, UK, a lot of dark secrets.  Max Spiers [an arch conspiracy theorist who died suddenly in 2016] spoke of it too in his claims”.

.  “I was in that GAK on 3rd May this year [2019] buying a guitar … I was there about 3 PM-ish.  I felt two taps on my left shoulder, turned around expecting to see a member of staff or another customer but as I turned around I felt a cold gust of air across my face and nothing was there!  It was a very strange experience.  Never felt anything before or since this”.

Hotel Cecil

The Hotel Cecil in Los Angeles has an extremely lurid history.  It has been the haunt of serial-killers, Elizabeth Short (aka the Black Dahlia) was supposed to have stayed there before her unsolved murder in 1947, and in more recent years it became the site of the equally unsolved death of Elisa Lam, a young Canadian girl who disappeared at the hotel in 2013, and whose body was subsequently found in the hotel’s water tank.  There is unsettling footage of Elisa in the hotel’s elevator, in which she acts in a quirky, disturbed fashion, and which has fuelled many theories as to why she was acting the way she was.  I’ll return to this after the following comments, which were underneath a video the popular channel MostAmazingTop10* did about scary hotels in October 2018.  [*although by god, they do have some spectacularly annoying and me-me-me shouty presenters, I’d much rather listen to the soft-voiced guy who narrates the Top 5s videos, the presenters on Beyond Creepy and SecureTeam10 also have pleasingly low-key voices].

.  “I once experienced a haunting at the Hotel Cecil.  Woke up one night, feeling afraid and sweating profusely.  Someone banged on the door, shouting ‘housekeeping’.  It was freaking 2 in the morning.  The banging persisted for about 3 minutes.  The next day, I got to know that a housekeeper had died there, of fright, when he discovered a man who had hanged himself in one of the rooms.  The Cecil truly is a freaky place”.

.  “My husband and I stayed at the Cecil Hotel back in 2008.  I remember the weird feeling we got as we entered the lobby, even questioning if we were in the right hotel.  When we went up to our room, the oppressive air that hit us as the lift doors opened made us think we had been transported into another hotel entirely!  We had an absolute blast though and only stayed there because we needed a cheap room for a few nights whilst driving the Californian coast”.

Now one of the theories about Elisa’s strange behaviour in the elevator was that she was playing something called The Elevator Game.  I Googled this, and it looks horrendously complicated.  The game originated in Japan and South Korea, and it seems to revolve around pressing different buttons, and things like if someone gets in, then you go back to square one, or some such nonsense.  It’s like a complicated board game but involving elevators, and I doubt there is any way I would be able to remember it all!  All you need to play it is a public building with at least 10 floors, and an elevator which isn’t in constant use by a lot of people, because otherwise you will have to keep restarting the game.  I think part of the appeal of the game (and there seem to be YouTube videos where people have played it) is that it has some very spooky elements to it, such as if a woman enters the elevator on the 5th floor, you must not look at her face or speak to her, or she will claim your soul for her own.  Good grief, Monopoly was never like this.

What is the point of The Elevator Game, you may well ask?  Do you get a prize at the end, do you get £200 if you pass Go?  Well apparently if you follow all the rules correctly, it will transport you into another world.  How will you know you are in this other world?  According to a fansite I found it said that the other world is identical to ours.  Uh-huh.  But electronics will not work there, all the lights will be off, and the only thing you will be able to see from the windows is a red cross in the distance.

Now I am adopting a jokey tone, because … well I like to do that, but there are many who take this game very very seriously.   I found some comments on Reddit which seemed to be very sincere in how dangerous this game is.   The reason people think Elisa Lam may have been playing the game are because of her odd behaviour in the elevator.  She is constantly pressing the buttons, and stepping out to look up and down the corridor outside.  She also seems to be talking out loud, as if speaking to someone invisible, and making strange gestures.   Whatever the truth of the matter is, I hope she is at peace now.

The Hotel Cecil has recently had a name change, but somehow I doubt that will be enough to bury its shady history.  Out of curiosity I found some old online reviews from people who had stayed here a few years ago.  Although some gallantly tried to defend the Cecil, there is no doubt that staying here was a mentally scarring experience.  Hordes of 1* reviews speak of communal shower rooms, no air-con, doors with four locks on, one door looking as if someone had attempted to kick it in, people screaming in the corridors or out on the streets, homeless and druggies in the lobby, a sink falling off the wall when someone put their hand on it, and – the absolute piece de resistance – crap (literally) in the foyer area.  One woman said she lived here for a while because it was only $85 a week.  She said her neighbour across the hallway was a drug dealer, but he seemed “a nice guy”.  With all that going on, any ghostly happenings would probably be pretty unnoticeable!  But one reviewer, who said he was a skeptic, reported his bathroom door opening and closing by itself.

The Mannequin People

This is a truly bizarre phenomenon, in which witnesses see people who appear to have no faces at all, like shop-window mannequins, particularly the ones we get these days, which have no features at all.  This phenomenon was featured in a Beyond Creepy video.

.  “I was driving off the road in the desert south-west when I had a similar encounter.  I noticed a car with 2 people standing outside the car.  As I approached, I decided to slow down and ask if they were ok.   I got about 20 feet to them and noticed they were turned with their back to me and neither of the two moved at all.  Then as I got right next to their car I stopped and yelled out the window “are you guys ok?” The closest one to me turned his head only toward me and I almost passed out when I saw his white featureless face, just like a mannequin, its head moved fast and jerky and it nodded no at me, just kept nodding faster and faster.  I punched the accelerator, drive right past them and kept looking back.  They remained motionless except the one kept nodding his head real fast”.

There were several cases like this, and curiously, as one Commenter pointed out, they all seemed to involve cars.  Many had theories, ranging from crash helmets, to people (for whatever reason) wearing stockings over their heads, to severe burn victims, to experimental Artificial Intelligence.  I’m not out to disparage anybody’s experiences here, but I had a similar experience once many years ago.  It was a bright July day, and I was walking down a street in a nearby town.  A girl was sitting on the side of the pavement.  She turned to look at me as I approached, and I was freaked out because she didn’t appear to have a face at all.  As I got closer I realised that the sun was at an awkward angle, and gradually her features appeared.   So sometimes I guess it can just be a simple trick of the light.  Even so, that experience has always stayed with me.  It was a very odd moment all round.  At the same time as this was happening, a man (whom I didn’t know at all) ran past me, carrying two funeral wreaths and cheerily yelling “hello! hello!” at me.  Sometimes life can be very dreamlike and surreal.

Men In Black

The Men In Black are one of the weirdest aspects of the whole UFO phenomenon.  A couple of years ago Beyond Creepy did a video about this subject.

.  “About 3 days ago, I was at my house for lunch.  About 3 minutes after I got home there was a knock at the door.  There was a woman who I got a strange feeling from.  She claimed she needed to do some measurements around the house for an allstate inspection [I have no idea what this is, I’m assuming it’s an American thing].  For some reason I said Okay go ahead.  I don’t know why.  But I called allstate and they said they had no one in my area that day.   I have the creeps about what she was doing.  I have a cold chill thinking about it.  I can’t remember her face.  It was almost dreamlike.  Like I was an autopilot or under her control.  Fuck I wish I’d gotten her plate number”.  [Some YouTubers sensibly replied that the woman may well have been a burglar casing the joint (to use some old slang there), and that you should ALWAYS ask for a person’s ID before letting them in.  Agreed.  An elderly woman once told me of a strange thing that had happened to a friend of hers.  Her friend – another elderly lady – got a knock on the door, and a woman asked if she could urgently use her bathroom.  The old lady let her in, and the woman went upstairs.  After a short while, she reappeared, walking back down the stairs … dressed as a man!  The visitor promptly walked out of the house without another word].

Moon Madness

This was a documentary about the idea that people begin acting even more crazy around the time of the Full Moon.  (Although these days we seem to be permanently in Full Moon mode).  The theory that the Moon affects people has been around for centuries, and the words “lunatic” and “lunacy” of course come from Lunar.  Many of the comments under this video came from people who worked in professions where they had to deal with members of the public, and are very interesting.  I should add one guy did say he’d worked on a mental health ward for years and hadn’t noticed anything special about Full Moon times, but there were numerous ones who had a different view.

.  “I worked as a mental health nurse for 35 years and in one place the manager kept a diary of the Moon and behaviour for years and it definitely seemed to effect some people.  It draws the ocean so the brain being made up of fluids seems it could be effected.  I definitely feel there is a connection”.

.  “Anybody that has interacted with the public over extended periods of time knows it’s a fact people are weird, agitated, if not criminal during Full Moons.  They don’t always involve 911 [the US emergency number, equivalent of the UK’s 999], so much of it is undocumented.  Try working at an airport or Disney sometime”.

.  “I used to bartend and we always hated Full Moons it does bring out the crazy”.

.  “I’m a nurse, I don’t know if it’s truly worse or if we are just more aware of the stuff that comes in, but I hate working on Full Moons”.

.  “My father worked in a hospital and he used to dread the Full Moon night shifts”.  Someone replied to this that his mother worked in a hospital and she dreaded it too, “she calls it the Hell Moon”.

.  “I worked with folks with behavioural disabilities.  Full Moons certainly raise stress levels”.

.  “I worked as a vet assistant and the moon madness is very real, more dogs and cats run away, get hit by cars … and just generally get ill or agitated.  And if it does this to animals, people must also be affected in some ways”.

.  “Working as a dentist for 30 years I have noticed that patients are about 40% more active requiring emergency treatment that they had put off for months.  Most make a big deal about their issues, wanting extractions asap”.

.  “Try being a cop, or work in a hospital, it is true, domestic violence, killing, accidents, all increase”.

. “Horses go a bit more bonkers during Full Moons and police always say that people are more volatile and weird.  I’m a skeptic but there’s something to this theory”.

.  “I have never worked in a hospital or an emergency services, but I have worked in several hotels as a general manager and desk clerk and we used to dread a Full Moon.  It was especially bad if it fell on a weekend or God forbid Friday the 13th.  I think the Friday the 13th was more of a subconscious association with the day, but it made for some freaky coincidences”.

.  “After working for 22 years with dementia patients I can tell you the Moon DOES affect people.  A couple of days/nights before a Full Moon, a good portion of them would start acting, the only way I can explain it, would act squirrely [this word was new to me, I had to look it up in Google’s Urban Dictionary!  It means to act eccentric, or to rush around like a squirrel].  Not normal.  If you can call dementia normal anytime.  So yes I am a firm believer”.

Pluckley 

Pluckley in Kent is often cited as the most haunted village in England.  These comments were under a segment from Strange But True Encounters filmed in 1995.

.  “I visited once, it seemed like a nice village, but there were a couple of spots where it was weirdly cold, and this was a day in the middle of August”.

.  “I live in Pluckley, the rumours are true.  I’ve witnessed various encounters some still haunt my dreams 5 years on”.

.  “A village with two faces, the day face is picturesque and a postcard of England but at sundown heck that place is dark and oppressive”.

.  “I live literally 10 minutes from Pluckley, I have never seen or experienced anything paranormal, but I did crash my car right in the middle of the woods for a completely unknown reason … I braked and slid across something in the road but it was completely dry.  Had I died, I would be on that ghost map”.

.  “I did witness someone entering the Gents in the pub, just ahead of me.  When I went in there I discovered I was alone in there.  I cannot explain that at all”.

Pontefract Poltergeist 

This is quite a famous case in the annals of poltergeist phenomena.  From what I recall it erupted in the 1970s, and was extensively investigated by Colin Wilson, amongst others.  I thought it had long since vanished into history, but apparently this unassuming semi-detached house in West Yorkshire can now be rented out by ghost-hunters.  I must admit this did send my bullshit detector into overload.  I’m always dubious about this kind of thing.  The channel Unexplained Mysteries did a short 3-minute video about the house.  Several people commented that they, or someone they knew, had stayed in the house and experienced nothing.  Someone else said they grew up in the area and thought the whole thing was “bullshit”.

.  “A friend of mine did an overnight there 2 weeks ago [in the Summer of 2019] with her paranormal group.  They have a vicar in the group and said protective prayers before they entered, my friend still got scratched”.  Someone replied that it sounded like a jinn had taken up residence.

.  “The neighbours next door have been caught banging and playing recordings and running through the attic.  It’s £120 to spend 18 hours there”.  This comment was queried by someone who wrote “The neighbours don’t get the money though.  I worked there for 2 years [at the house?] and while something we could tell was noise from next door, we witnessed so much activity and captured so much evidence that certainly wasn’t”.

The Stickman Phenomenon 

The development and rise of the Internet over the past 3 decades has to be one of the most extraordinary inventions in our entire human history.  It has transformed everything about the world and how it functions.  Even in the paranormal world it has had a marked effect.  One of which is a rise of stories that seemed to begin with the popularity of the World Wide Web taking off in the mid-1990s.   We have had urban legends such as the Shadow People, Slenderman, the Black-Eyed Children, and this one, the Stickman.  Whenever I hear about the Stickman, I keep thinking of the opening credits to the old TV series The Saint.  Now much as I loved Sir Roger Moore, those opening credits used to freak me out a bit when I was a small child!  In recent months BeyondCreepy loaded a video about the Stickman onto YouTube.  The jokesters were out in force with the comments on this one, but I repeat below some of the more serious ones I read:

.  “I think it possible, from the supposed air displacement or disturbance, they may be dimensional and only appear to be stick figures because they are being squeezed by our atmosphere and gravity and the density of our dimension … They could always be there, but we cannot sense them …” [this was an interesting theory from one viewer, someone else pointed out that Stickman images can be found way back in cave paintings and aboriginal drawings].

.  “I saw a black figure at the end of the hallway when I was about 4.  It had no facial features and it was just black but the shape was like someone wearing a cape or robe.  It terrified me, it permeated evil.  Someone I grew up with saw a shadow figure crossing the road, he said it just seemed to stretch across the road, merging with the dark shadows and disappeared.  It had a perfectly round head and was jet black but it didn’t have a cape/robe, it was like a stick figure.  I didn’t tell him what I saw”.

.  “These kind of creatures reminds me of what we call a ‘mantiw’, in the Visagan folklore (central Philippines)”.  [I Googled some artistic images of this creature, and it certainly does resemble descriptions of the Stickman].

.  “I remember when I was smaller maybe 5 my Mom was inside and told me to go play in the back yard.  The back yard is backed by forest and I think there was a stick person in the forest … it walked weird and it left and I never saw it again”.

.  “Three years ago a friend and I were driving to my cottage, rounding a turn … both my passenger and myself shouted out in shock as there appeared to be a thin black figure standing on the edge of the road.  Matches the description perfectly.  It was a weird one.  But I’m glad I had someone with me!  That’s the only time I’ve ever seen such a thing”.

Unexplained Mysteries covered the same subject in August 2019:

.  “I’ve seen one back in like 2014 standing next to a tree above the hillside it look like it was around 9 feet tall had no detail no face nothing and just recently like 4 months ago me and my son seen one around the same spot again here in Albuquerque New Mexico”.

.  “Holy crap!!  This is what I saw!!  So glad I’m not the only one.  Thought I was crazy.  It was completely silent, over 6 feet tall and solid black.  I’ve always described it as completely dark, solid, tall … saw it during an investigation of an old slave cemetery in Charlotte, NC”.

The Stocksbridge ByPass 

The Stocksbridge ByPass in South Yorkshire is often regarded as one of Britain’s most haunted roads.  Numerous tales abound about it, including ghostly monks and little children dancing around an electricity pylon singing ‘Ring O Ring O Roses’.  I’ve seen a few videos on YouTube about it, including a truly creepy segment from Michael Aspel’s Strange But True series in the early 1990s.  Much more recently the MostAmazingTop10 did a video about Cursed Roads, and Stocksbridge featured in the No.1 position.

.  “I went with my boyfriend and we parked up.  I remember him telling me the whole monk and little children story, and I just immediately felt weird – honestly it’s one hell of a creepy road.  DON’T GO THERE”.

.  “The weirdest my husband and I witnessed but is apparently common is balls of light.  At first I thought there was a motorcycle behind us … but it got closer and closer.  I was driving and told my husband to take a look behind.  The stretch we were on had no lights at that time (there are lights now) he said he couldn’t see a biker, or hear one.  But it got closer and closer until it passed right through the centre of the car!  I was now following it … so I slowed, wondering whether it was a ghostly warning?  But as suddenly as it appeared, it shot up into the air and out over the hills, we then saw a super bright light, it just lit up all of the sky behind the hills for a second and was gone”.  [she then went off onto a rant about speed-cameras on the road].

Strange Trumpet Noises/Bournemouth

In recent years, since about 2012, there has been a spate of weird noises heard from the sky worldwide.  These have been described as ranging from industrial machinery type noises to heavenly trumpets.  There are numerous videos on YouTube about this phenomenon, but one of the eeriest I’ve ever seen was a short 2-minute vid loaded by a guy in Bournemouth in January 2017.  The uploader said it came from the direction of the sea. These are some of the Comments underneath.

.  “Medstead Hampshire – walking the dog the other day in woods – this was the same noise we heard for about 20 minutes.  It is not the first time nor in just one location!  Really loud and weird!”

.  “OK 1:20 AM (12.06.18) in Somerton, Somerset.  Me and my partner was woken up by a loud sound that sounded like a huge road sweeper coming from the sky.  Along with it was an organ sound from a church which was in a high note sound, this was extremely prominent”.  [this one was particularly interesting for me personally, because I once heard the “huge road sweeper” sound myself a few years ago, here in Oxfordshire.  It must have been a Summer night because we had the window open, and it was getting light early.  The noise was extremely loud, but I couldn’t see anything out of place, or what could have been causing it.  At the time it sounded like somebody sluicing the roads with a big hose, but I couldn’t see anything, and I can’t imagine why they would be doing that in the middle of the night! This must have been towards the end of the Noughties, there wasn’t much publicity about strange noises from the sky then, and I only had a crappy old BlackBerry  phone at the time, so not much good for filming.  I would put the time it happened at around 4 in the morning.  A random thought’s just come in my head that it might have been some insomniac watering their garden, but it sounded way too loud, and almost industrial, for that].

.  “I’ve heard this twice before in Norfolk”.

.  “Bournemouth again, 2 years later at 5:46 AM I’m here, Googling the noise I’ve just heard and it’s the same thing as in your video.  Went on for like 15-20 minutes and couldn’t find anything else.  My cat was going mental while it was on, as it stopped she is fine”.

.  “I keep hearing this exact same thing in West Yorkshire.  Usually around 3 AM”.

.  “Heard similar this Summer and reported it to local press but had a more beed Bass sound to it … and a friend 2 miles away heard the same thing at 2 AM.  I live in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire”.

.  “I’ve heard this noise tonight or something similar in Elgin, Scotland … I can’t explain what I heard apart from a weird humming and screeching sound also dogs barking and car horns and stuff extremely strange”.

Vampires In Seattle

Beyond Creepy posted a fascinating video about the so-called real-life Lost Boys of Seattle, regarding a bunch of friends who were menaced by some peculiar black-eyed youths whilst out one evening.  It’s a relatively long video for this sort of thing (about 25 mins), but well worth a watch.  The Black-Eyed Kids phenomenon, like the Stick Men, seems to have grown with the Internet over the past 20+ years.  I’ve blogged about them on here a couple of times myself.  There was some debate in the Comments as to whether the Black-Eyed Children are vampires or not.  All I can say is there are strong similarities to both legends, most particularly them having to ask to be let in when they knock on your door.

.  “Could be one of the reasons for the missing 411 cases … Technically Seattle is one of the darkest cities in the country with the least amount of total sunshine over the year” [this comment set me off thinking about the quiet sun of the past few years.  What I mean about that is the fact that the Sun seems to have unnaturally inactive for quite some time now.  At the beginning of 2018 it was reported in the British press that right across Europe, including parts of Russia, there had been remarkably little sunlight, even by the usual standards of January in the northern hemisphere.  One French newspaper had even headlined it “mort de la soleil”, death of the Sun.  I’m not quite sure what all this has to do with the vampires of Seattle, but the comment about the city being dark reminded me of it].

.  “I live in Seattle and have had one very strange incident. This was in the mid-1980s. I was driving east on NE 55th St … I was right by the cemetery between 30th & 35th … there was a man, straggly long hair, wearing a trench coat, walking towards me on the sidewalk.  I was looking right at him, then he looked right back at me & proceeded to disappear right in front of my eyes”.

.  “My adult children lived in Seattle for a while.  It’s beautiful, and we felt a creepy supernatural element there”.  [I am definitely getting a whole new view of Seattle, thanks to this story, I thought it was all about Bill Gates, high tech, Facebook, & 50 Shades of Grey!].

***

I enjoyed doing these, and re-visiting some old favourite stories.  If I find anymore I’ll add to it.  One comment was particularly thought-provoking:  “It does seem that paranormal activity and events have greatly increased over the past few decades, as if there is something happening that breaks down the natural borders between the worlds or universes?  The thing is when will this development be reversed, or what might happen if it keeps on occurring even more often, in even more places than before?” 

This is an interesting comment.  The mainstream media occasionally runs stories that fewer ghostly happenings or UFO sightings are happening these days, but this is blatantly cobblers.  It really doesn’t help that when they occasionally venture into the paranormal world, such as in the run-up to Halloween every year, they constantly rehash the same old stories that have been doing the rounds for aeons.  The big question is, are there actually more paranormal events happening than ever before, or, because of the Internet, are we simply hearing about them more?  These days people can get their stories out to a much bigger audience.  In pre-Internet days it was probably limited to telling family members, or the local newspaper who were desperate to fill up their pages.  If you were really unlucky rags like the Sunday Sport might be interested.   But otherwise it would be a case of “my gran saw a ghost in her house once”, that sort of thing.

I would like to believe that people are generally more open-minded these days, and although you always run the risk of being jeered at, whether it’s on the Internet or In Real Life, you are less likely to be dismissed by society at large as a total nutter.  There is more awareness of undercurrents.  In previous decades there would have been more an attitude of “I don’t want to know about such things, I just want to keep my head down and avoid any trouble”.   Reformed drug addicts are more prepared to be open about what they have seen.  I read a comment by a an ex-meths addict, who said he saw the Stickmen when he was still using it.  This isn’t terribly surprising.  Over the centuries artists, musicians and poets often took to drugs to force open the doors of their subconscious, and delve into what lay below the surface of things.   The decade from 1962-1972 is often called the Creative Revolution, when suddenly all limits were lifted, and an avalanche of creativity and new perspectives came tumbling out.  I read an interview several years ago with one actor who talked about his battles with alcohol.  He said he didn’t regret his drinking days, as it gave him special insights into life which he wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not remotely advocating that everybody goes out and becomes an alcoholic or a drug addict.  Far from it.  Forcing open the doors of the subconscious carries untold dangers, and you can make yourself vulnerable to God knows what.  Aleister Crowley once raged at people who dabbled in dark forces “for fun”, saying that they had no idea what they were opening themselves up to.  These aren’t things to be trifled with at all.  To be honest, you can open up your awareness simply by researching the subject, being open-minded, and being prepared to push creative boundaries.  Powerful music and imagery can do wonders for visualisation, for instance.

I do actually think there has been some kind of spiritual shift in recent years, and it is obvious that Something is going on.  We can only hope that ultimately it is for the good of the human race.

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