A Cheltenham Poltergeist Investigated

I have only the vaguest recollection of this case now! From the mid-90’s…

A Local Poltergeist?

Tonight I have been privileged to investigate a possible poltergeist case, albeit of a minor nature, which has been troubling a personal friend. I was informed of the case some two weeks ago but owing to other commitments was unable to give it much attention until tonight. I will use a fairly self-explanatory structure in this report, which unfortunately must use pseudonyms.

Persons Present

The Garden (basement) flat (above ground level in the main, from the rear of the house) is home to two students. Cathy, aged 22ish is a English student, and Tom, about the same age is a mathematics- and science-orientated teacher trainee. They share the kitchen of their flat with Simon, who is also a student and does bar work at a local pub, but who has a room in the main (upstairs) part of the house which is occupied by the [[ B]] family. The [[B]] are a couple in their fifties, who live upstairs with their 18 year old daughter who Cath describes as a “sporty type”, quite happy and pleasant enough. The events are as far as we are aware confined to the downstairs flat, Cath having not broached the subject with her landlords.

Cath has been resident in the flat since September ’93, and after a troubled relationship with another girl, who left the flat in February ’94, lived there alone until September ’94 when Tom moved into the house. Relations between Tom and Cath are very good, the couple enjoying a strong platonic relationship. Simon is not communicative with Tom, while not hostile. Apparently he got on better with Cath before Tom moved in.


The flat consists of four rooms: kitchen, Cath’s room, bathroom, Tom’s room. The kitchen is shared with Simon. All of the rooms connect via Cath’s room, and during the daytime Simon must walk through first Tom’s and then Cath’s room to get to the kitchen, and Tom must pass through Cath’s room to leave the house or enter the kitchen or bathroom. At night Simon walks around the outside of the house to use the kitchen. All the same Cath must get very little privacy, although she does not seem to overly resent this.

The “Haunting”

When Cath first moved into the flat Simon (already resident upstairs) said that he could feel a presence in her room, sitting in a chair. He later admitted this was only to tease and frighten her, in which he succeeded, Cath being fairly timid about such things.

No futher mention was made of the “ghost” until Cath had a schizophrenic friend called Mary come to stay. While Cath was in the toilet and Mary was on the bed in Cath’s room Daphne, Cath’s then flatmate wandered through to the kitchen. On her return she looked startled and asked Mary if she had been on the bed all the time, insisting she had looked and failed to see her there on her way to the kitchen. This amazingly trivial incident seemed full of psychical significance to Mary and Cath who discussed it at great length. I would say it was evidently a perfectly normal case of misperception.

From this point nothing occurred until the Christmas vacation ’93/’94. The next incident was related to Cath and Tom by Simon. Tom and Cath were away, and the [[B]]’s were leaving so Simon would be alone in the house. The building has a burglar alarm which is set and turned off by a key, although the [[B]]’s own two copies. Just before they left they discovered one key was missing.

On New Year’s Eve Simon was working at the pub. On his return in the early hours of New Year morning he was astonished to see the missing key on a table with the container which held the other one, in plain sight. He was sure it was not there when he went out, but he was the only inhabitant in Cheltenham at the time.

At the risk of casting Simon as villain in this suburban melodrama, there is a perfectly rational explanation. Simon is, as we shall hear again, prone to fiddle with things and distractedly carry them about. Is it not likely that he was carrying the other key all the time, having forgot to replace it? He may have been too embarrassed to admit to the family he was still carrying it, but as they asked him to look around for it in their absence he did not need to invent such an extraordinary story. “It was down the back of the sofa!” would have done just as well. Then again, conscious deceit is far from necessary. He could easily have used it to disarm the system without thinking, and then noticed two, not one keys, in front of him. I don’t think I’m too harsh if I say barmen are not renowned for their sobriety in the early hours of New Year’s Day. Then again perhaps this really was Small Object Displacement.

On January 9th Tom and Cath both returned back to the flat. Tom immediately noticed that his set of three juggling balls was missing from it’s usual place on top of the piano. He assumed that Simon had borrowed them and absent mindedly forgotten to return them; Cath also noticed evidence that Simon had entered her room and played some of her music tapes. Two of the balls have since been located; one appeared in the kitchen, and the other on Tom’s bedroom floor. Both were placed in plain sight. Cath believes this piecemeal return makes Simon’s involvement unlikely; he would just have returned them all. Tom is not convinced.

The spot where the balls normally “live” in plain sight is marked with a J on the sketch map. They are just to the right of Tom’s door through which Simon must pass to reach the kitchen, and on top of the upright-style piano are at roughly chest height. The compulsive twiddler Simon probably picked them up absently as he wandered in and out. I have a theory that Simon is not sneakily returning them but simply playing with them as he wanders down to the kitchen and discarding them en route, without thinking. I suspect the missing ball will be returned or another vanish soon. This theory is strengthened by the fact that Cath and Tom have not liked to ask Simon if he’s seen them!

Poltergeist Effects?

The case however, even if we discard the apparent Small Object Displacement must surely be proven or disproven in the two most dramatic incidents, which share several things in common. Both objects apparently moved, both were items of personal significance to Cath and both were in Cath’s room at the time.

The first object may be presumed to have moved during Cath’s absence during the vacation. The item which moved was a photograph of Cath’s mother, which was in a relatively inaccessible postion on a shelf some 6′ off the ground and standing behind two other photo’s which were untouched.

The photograph weighs the 3g and moved about 6″ upwards and 6″ to the left. Although Simon had apparently entered her room and played tapes, etc, etc, during the vacation Cath finds it highly unlikely that he would move a photo of her mother. If he wished to consult the photo albums it is unlikely that he would move the photo; this was simply unecessary. However, I would like to suggest that this explanation, while highly improbable, could be seen as less improbable than invoking poltergeist activity!!!

The relationship between Cath and her mother is at the moment very good, and is generally amiable. Cath noticed the photo had moved shortly after her return, and believes it probably moved during the vacation. Cath is unable to state if she noticed the occurrence on the day of her return or the next day.

The photo (which resides in a cardboard frame) could not have fallen to the face down position in which it was found without having:-

1. Previously been moved to the top of the albums, and then fallen. Cath denies she did this, and that seems reasonable enough.
2. Been physically picked up and moved, presumably by Tom, Simon or Cath. There are no cats or other pets to confuse the issue!
3. Performed a strange and “paranormal” flight!

I personally have to come down in favour of option (b) but do acknowledge that option (c) is interesting. If (c) is the case then I would suggest two further immediate possibilities, being (1) PKE (or psycho-kinetic energy, whatever that may be) generated by a human agent, or (2) a disembodied spirit. Before we consider these options let us look at the two further incidents of “haunting” reported to me.

Perhaps one or two nights after her return Cath was startled awake at 4 a.m. by feeling something falling on her bed. She was frightened by this, not unreasonably, and on turning on the light to investigate found it was a plastic cow wristband which makes a “moo!” sound when a button is depressed. This novelty item was given to Cath just before her return, and was sitting on her bookshelf. It weighs exactly 1 oz and had travelled some twenty inches, in a downward curve (I estimate 8″ horizontally, 12″ down).

The bookcase is open at the back, more of a shelving unit really, and is relatively stable. I bounced up and down all over the floorboards without disturbing anything on it! The “moo-er” had been sitting on a pile of books, and Cath demonstrated that if it had slipped off naturally it would have fallen on the floor. By experiment we discovered the “paranormal” flight could be replicated by pushing it hard from the other side. If this was done the “ghost” would then have had to dash into Tom’s room (door closed), the bathroom (door closed) or the kitchen. In any of these eventualities Cath would have noticed as she was startled awake.

The cow-thing incident is hard to explain, but it is possible that the object merely slipped and that the flight path was more natural than myself or Cath realised. I wouldn’t like to rule out a natural or paranormal explanation for this one….

The next incident is undoubtably the most curious, and pushes back my personal boggle threshold another millimeter or two. On Thursday, 12th January Cath was suicidal. Her depression is rooted in stress of college work and uncertainty as to her direction in life more than any problem with her personal relationships, although she had just chosen to end a relationship with a chap she had been seeing as a “partner”, although neither particularly emotionally or sexually entangled with the aforesaid male. Presumably she had washed her hair, for she was drying her hair when she noticed something extremely odd. The hairdryer was plugged in but the switch was at the off position. The hairdryer continued to function when she unplugged it, completely isolating it from the power supply. She eventually turned the device off, puzzled. Despite many attempts she has never managed to repeat this.

What happened? Well two possibilities immediately spring to mind. One; the incident never happened except in Cath’s mind. Her depression caused her to hallucinate the episode in some way, and this false memory provided a stimulus and mystery which eventually helped jolt her from her ennui and depression. It is of course possible Cath was lying; I have only her testimony for almost all the events although Tom certainly doesn’t believe this to be the case, and neither do I. I think we can rule out conscious falsehood, if only because most of the incidents were of such a trivial character and Cath remains interested in getting to the bottom of them.

That leaves option two; that the hairdryer was operating while disconnected from any obvious electrical current. Rational explanations do not spring readily to mind. Was there a secondary power supply based on batteries, which ran flat before her second attempt? I only briefly examined the offending device, but could find no battery port. Does the hairdryer have capacitors or backup power supply internally? I can’t say but if so would expect Cath to suceed in her attempts to reproduce the effect. Could Cath have been in contact with an exposed wire and powering the hairdryer herself? She should have noticed a continual 240V shock, to say the least! No obvious source for such a “live” wire (literally!) theory could be found….

This does not necessarily invalidate the idea of a (nonlocal) power source. My stereo when sitting idle though plugged in frequently comes to life with taxi cab radio messages. While extremely unlikely, I can not rule out a remote power source.

So what are the possibilities of PKE being behind the events? Cath returned from her vacation on January 9th. She had been staying with a penpal (male) with whom she has a warm relationship via mail, although she finds it harder to communicate in person. The penpal’s home is over one hundred miles from Cheltenham, so if Cath was creating PKE effects during the vacation then the energy decay curve for psycho-kinesis is to say the least interesting! [Roll, 1977 is probably the best authority for this; under his theory this is an impossible action]. There is some evidence that a PKE-field or battery can be created and discharge itself when the focus is no longer present. If forced we could invoke this; however there is no proof that the object moved during the vacation. It could have occurred before Cath left or since she returned.

Now let us consider the well known agent theory for poltergeist activity for a moment. There seem to be three immediately obvious agents for a poltergeist focus, but if the “paranormal” hypothesis is correct who is it?

Is it a) Tom, the mild-mannered flatmate?

If Tom was at the centre of the occurence then why did Cath’s objects move? If he is unconsciously using PKE to apport or SOD objects he is unaware of this latent gift. Tom is highly intelligent, sociable and shows signs of diverse tastes in his reading matter, amidst which I was happy to note H.H. Munro (Saki) and M.R. James. He is scientifically inclined and puts the “haunting” down to Simon fiddling with things. He stated that he was under no particular stress at the moment, though he has been helping Cath through her bad patch.

So what about b) Cath, the sweet student eco-guerilla?

Cath is also highly intelligent, and has a strong interest in things occultish and paranormal. Before you ask, attention seeking can be safely ruled out; I can only offer my personal testimony on this but feel I am the last person Cath would try to demonstrate preternatural abilities to, being well known to her for my cynicism and scepticism. She takes a rational stand on matters paranormal, although she does possess a crystal ball and tarot cards. She is amused by how unpsychic she seems to be, and perhaps a little disappointed.

She offered me the chance to investigate in casual conversation, and in the two weeks before I contacted her made no attempt to raise the subject again. She was happy to participate in the study, and did not seem at all miffed by the fact I remained dubious of paranormality in this instance. She is furthermore a friend of my girlfriend and previous partner and very much part of my social “scene”, and took a risk of ridicule by allowing the investigation to occur at all from these two formidably sceptical ladies.

Cath was following the vacation in a state of deep depression, and college stress was undoubtably partly to blame. She has reached a kind of intellectualised nihilism in which all meanings are negated, and on the day of the hairdryer incident was suicidal. Tom talked her out of this mood. Following this her mood has fortunately improved drastically. She believes that her mental unbalance and depression may underlie the “poltergeist”, and is amused and interested by this.

I have frequently referred to poltergeist activity as a “nervous breakdown taking place outside of the head”, and Cath thinks this is the most likely cause. I am disinclined to agree simply because Simon seems such a perfect villain, but am willing to accept this as a possible cause.

So what of c) the villainous Simon?

Does Simon act as a poltergeist agent? I feel not, although he does certainly have a habit of fiddling with things. I myself have observed Simon pick up and play with small objects as he moves around the flat, and on one occasion he moved a “Cuddly frog” toy from Cath’s bedroom to the kitchen while wandering through. This and other “SOD”, “JOTTLE” or apport type events were ascribed to Simon because he was seen doing it. However Simon was the only person present throughout the time when the purportedly paranormal events, and if we are going to invoke the agent theory of the PKE poltergeist then we really must consider Simon as a primary suspect.

What about the other possibility? It is of course possible that a disincarnate spirit or “ghost” is behind the events. I personally feel it unlikely and offer the following points against:-

1. There is no evidence of an attempt at communication on the part of the ghost, unless it’s mind is totally alien to us.
2. There is no known legend of the house being “haunted” until the comparatively recent events, exceptions noted above.
3. No easy identity can be provided for the apparition, and there is no known person who may wish to haunt the property.
4. There are no sightings of, or sounds of, a “disincarnate” visitor.

I admit that the above is largely negative evidence, and I may well be proved wrong. The “haunting” at first glance seems to be focussed on Cath, but events have also happened to Tom and Simon. I personally believe that it is unlikely that all the events are misperceptions, Simon or other normal causes. It is however extraordinary unlikely that a poltergeist is involved – so I must favour the former. I leave the individual reader to judge for themselves and would welcome comments.

cj x

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Filed under Poltergeist Cases, Poltergeist Investigations

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