Posted on: October 4, 2011

This case concerns the highly disturbing events that happened at the home of the Smurl family, in West Pittston, Pennsylvania, USA.  Like Amityville it has its fair share of controversies, and accusations of fabrication and profiteering.  It was also turned into a book and film, but not so successfully.

The Smurl family had moved into their duplex apartment in 1973.  John and Mary Smurl lived in one half, and their son Jack, his wife Janet, and their two daughters, Dawn and Heather, lived in the other.  The family stressed that they were all very happy with this arrangement, and indeed the emphasis on their being a tight family unit was stressed throughout the subsequent dark events.  The family were devout Catholics, and this was also to be a factor.

From the start the family were plagued by bizarre events.  TV sets had burst into flames, pipes leaked, paintwork was found scratched, toilets were inexplicably flushed, footsteps were heard on the stairs, strange smells were detected, and the radio blared out even when it was unplugged.

In 1977 Janet gave birth to twin daughters, Shannon and Carin, which must have added pressure to an already quite tightly packed apartment.  Having strange, weird events happening on top can’t have helped.  Things were to take a turn for the worse though.  In 1985 all the rooms went icy cold.  Obscene voices were heard when no one was talking, and Janet heard her name being called in the basement.  Then in February of that year, Janet saw a huge black apparition with no face in the kitchen.  It walked through the wall, and her mother-in-law Mary said she saw it appear on the other side.  The family were to know no peace at all from that moment on.

On the night young Heather was to be Confirmed, Janet was pulled out of bed whilst she was making love with her husband, and Jack nearly gagged when he smelt foul odours.  On other occasions the family dog was lifted into the air and physically attacked by an unseen force.  Little Shannon was tossed out of bed, and the sound of hissing snakes was heard!  Neighbours reported hearing screaming from the house when the entire family was out.

Reluctantly, in January 1986, the Smurls called in controversial psychic investigators and demonologists, Ed and Lorrane Warren.  The Warrens questioned the Smurls exhaustively about their religious beliefs, and announced that the duplex was haunted by no less than four demons!  They concluded that these creatures were being activated by the approaching puberty of the eldest daughters.  The Warrens arranged a prayer session to try and coax at least one of the demons into the open.

They were interrupted by a voice growling “you filthy bastard, get out of this house!”  The TV set emitted an eerie glow, and a mirror shook.   The Warrens tried to persuade the demons to leave by playing religious music, which caused the Thing(s) to shake the furniture.  Afterwards Janet was punched and slapped.  Jack then saw the ghosts of two women dressed in Colonial costume, and things got even more dramatic (if that were possible!).  Jack claimed to be sexually assaulted by a succubus posing as a grotesque old woman.  He also said he had seen a message left on a mirror telling him to “get out”.

Grunting noises like pigs were heard throughout the house (more comparisons where Amityville here, where the daughter was said to have seen a pig-like apparition).  Although the family tried to get help from the Catholic church, they proved to be very non-committal.  However, Father Robert F McKenna did perform an exorcism.  It made matters worse.  The demons now followed Jack to work, and accompanied the family when they went camping in the countryside.  The Smurls knew that moving wasn’t the answer, as the spirits would only follow them.

After the family had appeared anonymously on local televison, the demon went mad with rage.  It levitated Janet into the air and hurled her against the wall, and Jack saw a monstrous creature resembling a pig standing on two legs.  In August 1986 the family’s story appeared in the press.  Immediately the house became a tourist attraction, which confirmed many skeptical neighbours’ beliefs that the family was hoping to benefit from a book deal about it.  Memories of Amityville must have been triggered.  The Smurls didn’t help their reputation by rebuffing the advances of scientific and psychic investigators, claiming that they preferred to work with the Church and the Warren couple.

Skeptical organisations, such as CSICOP, didn’t take kindly to this, and dismissed the haunting as being caused by broken sewers, teenage pranks, and odd noises from a nearby abandoned mine shaft.  As for Jack and his tales of being assaulted by a ghost, they put down to sexual fantasising on his part.  It didn’t help that Janet claimed she had contacted the police about their troubles, but the police said they had no record of her calls.  CSICOP chairman Paul Kurtz said outright that the haunting was a hoax, and that it could all be put down to hallucinations and brain impairments.  Indeed, Jack Smurl had confided to a reporter that he had undergone surgery in 1983 to remove water from his brain, which had been causing short-term memory loss.

Ed Warren said he had videotapes of the noises, and a dark shape filmed moving about.  CSICOP asked if they could see them.  Warren said they were in the possession of the Church.  The Church denied having them.  (A local priest had spent two nights at the apartment, but had experienced nothing paranormal).

Journalists asked if they could spend a night in the house.  Ed Warren refused them permission.  It has to be said that the involvement of the Warrens should make alarm bells ring all over the place at this stage.

The Smurls complained about media intrusion, but did little to combat it.  At one stage it was reported that prayers had restored normality, only for Janet to tell reporters that they still saw shadows and heard knocking noises.

The family eventually moved away in 1988, and have been said to have been untroubled by demons ever since.   Debra Owens moved into the cursed apartment, and said that she never experienced anything supernatural at all.

A book and a film ‘The Haunted’ followed. I haven’t read the book – written by journalist Robert Curran, it was criticised for being too one-sided, and not offering objective explanations – but I’ve seen the film, which has a few eerie moments, particularly when the ghost strolls downstairs to attack Jack.  But it enjoyed nothing like the success of ‘The Amityville Horror’, and unlike that franchise which still (incredibly) manages to trundle on even today, the Smurl one seems to have evaporated.



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