“THE CRAZY CASE TRUE CRIME LOVERS MUST HEAR” and More True Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: What do you get when you mix auto theft, disappearances, amnesia, murder, and far too many tattoos? You get one of the craziest true crime cases you’ll ever hear. It’s the disappearance and apparent murder of James Eugene Harrison, but just wait for the twist. (The Man Who Wasn’t Murdered) *** The first witch trial in the Americas took place in 1626 – and I’ll tell you the story of how poor Joane Wright came to be accused, and what the verdict came down as. (America’s First Witch) *** In 1938, 34-year-old Alma Fielding reported objects mysteriously flying around her home. In 2017, Kate Summerscale, author of the true crime classic “The Suspicions of Mr Whicher”, set out to investigate the unexplained case of the Croydon poltergeist. (The Housewife, The Ghost Hunter, And The Croydon Poltergeist) *** When you hear a knocking in the closet, or footsteps in the attic. When you hear a door to the basement creak open, or a plate crash to the floor in the middle of the night… is it a ghost? An intruder? Or could you be dealing with a darkling? (The Dark Darklings)
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Welcome, Weirdos – I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.
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Coming up in this episode…
The first witch trial in the Americas took place in 1626 – and I’ll tell you the story of how poor Joane Wright came to be accused, and what the verdict came down as.
In 1938, 34-year-old Alma Fielding reported objects mysteriously flying around her home. In 2017, Kate Summerscale, author of the true crime classic “The Suspicions of Mr Whicher”, set out to investigate the unexplained case of the Croydon poltergeist.
When you hear a knocking in the closet, or footsteps in the attic. When you hear a door to the basement creak open, or a plate crash to the floor in the middle of the night… is it a ghost? An intruder? Or could you be dealing with a darkling?
What do you get when you mix auto theft, disappearances, amnesia, murder, and far too many tattoos? You get one of the craziest true crime cases you’ll ever hear. It’s the disappearance and apparent murder of James Eugene Harrison, but just wait for the twist.
While listening, be sure to check out the Weird Darkness website. At WeirdDarkness.com you can sign up for the newsletter to win monthly prizes, find paranormal and horror audiobooks I’ve narrated, watch old horror movies for free, plus you can visit the “Hope In The Darkness” page if you are struggling with depression or dark thoughts. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!
STORY: THE MAN WHO WASN’T MURDERED==========
No life of a true-crime enthusiast would be complete without hearing this next story, as it is so incredibly nuts, yet unbelievably true.
At the center of our weird little saga is James Eugene Harrison of Indian River City, Florida. He was the owner of a successful window sash plant, happily married, a father of two young children. A perfect example of a solid middle-class citizen.
On October 7, 1958, the 32-year-old drove to Cocoa Beach, about fifteen miles away, to conduct some routine business. And promptly disappeared. When he failed to return home that night, his wife Jeanne immediately knew something was very wrong, and she phoned police. However, their investigation found no trace of Harrison.
No clues emerged regarding Harrison’s disappearance until a week later, when police in Jacksonville, about 150 miles from Indian River, found his abandoned station wagon. It had been sitting there since the morning after Harrison had last been seen. Ominously, the front seat was saturated with blood. “Somebody was murdered in that car,” a Jacksonville officer concluded. When the blood was found to match Harrison’s Type O, the natural conclusion was that the “Somebody” was the missing man. It was presumed that Harrison had been unlucky enough to pick up a hitchhiker who robbed and murdered him, then buried him in some obscure place and ditched the car. However, the only fingerprints found in the car were Harrison’s.
Poor Jeanne Harrison was naturally distraught, and at a loss what to do next. As she had no idea how to run her husband’s business, she felt she had no choice but to liquidate everything, and she and her children went to live with James’ mother in Miami. To support her children, she took a job as a receptionist while waiting in an agonizing limbo, not knowing if her husband was alive or dead.
On January 18, 1959, Mrs. Harrison finally received news about James. Unfortunately, it was the worst news imaginable. A Californian named Roy Victor Olson, who had just been convicted of the murder of television announcer Ogden Miles, confessed to killing James Harrison, as well. According to Olson, before stabbing Miles he had murdered a Seattle man named John Weiler. After the Miles murder, Olson fled to Florida, where he fell in with a young Kentuckian, James Leach. The pair spent several days hitchhiking together.
Olson went on to say that on October 7, 1958, he and Leach were walking along Highway 90, between Lake City and Jacksonville, when they were picked up by a man in a station wagon. He seemed like someone who would have money on him, so when the driver stopped to stretch his legs for a few moments, the pair attacked him.
Olson told his interrogators, “I stabbed him while Leach stood by with a rock in his hand. We robbed him of $500. We took a shovel we found in his car, dug a grave, and put him in it with his business cards. We filled it in, then drove up to Jacksonville and left the car. His name was Harrison.” Olson did not know Leach’s current whereabouts but said he shouldn’t be hard to find, saying, “He’s just about the most tattooed fellow in the country.”
Under further questioning, Olson added more details. He and Leach covered their victim’s body with two bags of “something” they found in the car–”I think it was lime” he said. He described minutely the wooded area south of Jacksonville where they buried Harrison. Olson concluded with, “Well, that’s that. I wonder how many more I’ve killed?” He was, in the words of Jacksonville officer Roy Sands, “the coolest killer I’ve seen in 17 years of police work.”
Everything the police found corroborated Olson’s horrifying story. Harrison had bought two bags of fertilizer just before he disappeared. He did indeed carry a shovel in the car identical to the one described by Olson. Two fertilizer bags were found in the area where Olson said the body was buried. To wrap up this murder case, all that was needed was to find the body… and, of course, the other murderer, James Leach.
The FBI issued a warrant for the tattooed Kentuckian. Florida Governor Leroy Collins sent extradition papers to California to bring Olson back to the state. On January 23, Leach was apprehended in Knoxville, Tennessee, and his captors quickly noted that Olson had not been exaggerating about his cohort’s body art. Leach had the words “The Kentucky Kid” tattooed on his right leg. The phrase “Six months I lived and lost,” was tattooed on his right arm. His chest sported a panther and the word “Crime.” His left shoulder read, “Born to raise Hell.” His left arm was adorned with “Born to lose,” and “Death.” His left leg featured a skull wearing a top hat.
Give Mr. Leach the prize for “Suspect least likely to be overlooked in the identification parade.”
The 21-year-old Leach–who previously had never been found guilty of anything beyond vagrancy–protested his innocence. He admitted that he had spent a few days hitchhiking with Olson, but he had no idea the man was a murderer, and he himself certainly had no role in killing anyone. “I have no idea why he implicated me in something neither of us did,” he declared.
Given what the police had uncovered, it was small wonder no one believed him.
It was then that this seemingly straightforward murder took a bizarre twist. In Phoenix, Arizona, on the same day Leach was arrested, a well-dressed, freshly-shaved man stopped a car backing out of a residential driveway, and asked the driver to take him to the police station. This driver, understandably wary of this odd request, declined, but agreed to telephone the police to come and get the man.
The Arizona man did contact police, informing them that either a robber or a lunatic was standing in his driveway. When officers arrived, they found a man, seemingly in a great state of confusion, muttering, “How did I get here? How did I get here?”
At the station house, he informed them that he was James Eugene Harrison of Indian River City, Florida – you know, the guy who was supposed to be dead and buried? The guy whose car was left behind, covered in his blood type? He was stunned to find that it was now January 1959, not October 1958, and he had no idea at all how he came to be in Arizona.
According to Harrison, “yesterday–at least I thought it was yesterday–I was driving to Cocoa Beach.” When he stopped at a traffic light, a man with a gun forced his way into the back seat. This man said, “I want to go to Jacksonville. Take me there and you won’t get hurt.” When they arrived in Jacksonville, the gunman ordered him to pull into a parking lot. After that, he said, “The lights went out.” He explained that “I woke up just a little while ago…I was lying on a parkway beside a street. My clothes were dirty and this T-shirt (I was wearing) wasn’t mine…I never wear them. My $300 was gone. So was my watch and my Masonic ring. I found I was still wearing my wedding ring and I had 67 cents in my pocket. I started walking…I thought I was in Jacksonville…”
The police, eyeing the man’s dapper appearance, felt a bit skeptical of his story. They warned Jeanne Harrison that this Phoenix oddball was almost certainly a fraud. However, as soon as she spoke to the man on the telephone, she began screaming in joy. “It’s Jim! It’s Jim!” she cried.
Still unable to believe the man’s story, investigators showed her a wire photo of the mystery man. “It’s Jim!” Jeanne insisted. “I don’t care what happened as long as he’s alive.” The ecstatic woman wired her husband the money to fly home. “It will be like starting our life all over again,” she said.
Law enforcement saw their nice, tidy murder case suddenly turn into an inexplicable muddle. Somebody had left all that blood in Harrison’s car, and, judging by the quantity of it that was found, that somebody just had to be dead. But who was this person? Did Harrison kill his carjacker? Or did his assailant attack Harrison and steal his wallet and papers, only to be murdered by Olson?
As for Olson, he now repudiated his confession, claiming that he only admitted to killing Harrison in order to get “a free trip to Florida.”
As the erstwhile murder victim enjoyed the reunion with his family, authorities began compiling a long list of questions for Harrison. His whole story struck them as, in a word, fishy. They noted that Harrison bore no signs of any injuries, old or new. Police also found it odd that he had a reddish streak in his hair that appeared to be dyed. However, his family insisted that the red spot was natural, and Harrison himself maintained that he had no memory of what had happened to him.
Harrison’s return from the dead forced police to drop the murder charges against Leach. However, they continued to investigate his confession, along with the riddle of Harrison’s disappearance. During the three months when everyone assumed he had been murdered, where was the Window Sash King, and what had he been doing? No one could say. Although his photograph was published in newspapers across the country, no one came forward claiming to have seen Harrison during the period when he was missing. When asked to take a lie detector test, Harrison declined, stating that “I’ve been pushed around enough.” He and his family went into seclusion, refusing to say any more to anyone about the whole ordeal.
On February 4, a Phoenix woman who had seen one of the published photos of Harrison contacted police. She claimed that he had been her seatmate on a bus trip from Los Angeles to Phoenix. This witness said that she had chatted with him, and he seemed perfectly rational, showing no sign of distress or confusion. The man carried no luggage with him, and left the bus in Phoenix on January 23, just a few hours before Harrison went to the police.
Frustratingly enough, there the matter rested. And the main questions surrounding this mystery have never been resolved. Police never learned how or why Harrison vanished, or where he was for those three missing months. If–as authorities continued to suspect–Harrison knew more than he was saying, the Floridian kept his secrets to himself. The identity of the person who left all that blood in his car was fated to remain equally mysterious.
Police were able to validate at least one part of Olson’s confession: he had indeed murdered a Seattle restaurateur named John Weiler. (It was said that “perverted sex acts” figured in the stabbings of both Weiler and Ogden Miles.) He was sent to Washington state long enough to be tried and convicted, after which he was transferred to California’s Folsom Prison. In the 1970s, he was paroled, only to begin serving his 75-year sentence for the Weiler murder in Washington. In the mid-1990s, Olson–who had a religious conversion in prison and claimed to be a reformed character–was released on parole. He seems to have lived a law-abiding life until his death in 2001.
In 1960, the skeleton of a man was found near the Jacksonville Expressway, in the general area where Olson claimed to have buried his victim. It was speculated that this man–who was never identified–was the victim stabbed to death in Harrison’s car, but that, of course, was impossible to prove.
All in all, this story is like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle when you’re missing most of the pieces. And the pieces you have are drenched in Type-O blood.
In 1938, 34-year-old Alma Fielding reported objects mysteriously flying around her home. It became known as the Croydon poltergeist.
But before that – the first witch trial in the Americas took place in 1626 – and I’ll tell you the story of how poor Joane Wright came to be accused, and what the verdict came down as.
These stories and more when Weird Darkness returns.
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STORY: AMERICA’S FIRST WITCH==========
American witchcraft has a long–if not particularly proud–heritage. In fact, colonial history gives the strong impression that the minute passengers stepped off the “Mayflower,” they couldn’t wait to start accusing each other of sorcery.
America’s first witchcraft trial took place on September 11, 1626, in front of the General Court of Jamestown. The woman unfortunate enough to star in this historical milestone was Joane (or Jane) Wright, a midwife who lived in the community of Elizabeth City, Virginia.
Goodwife Wright’s chief accuser was one Lieutenant Giles Allingtone. He claimed that a Sergeant Booth reported that Wright had asked Booth to share some of his meat with her. When Booth declined, Wright put a curse on him that completely ruined his skills as a hunter. In fact, Booth had not been able to so much as wound a deer ever since, despite having “very fayre game to shute at.”
Allingtone went on to say that when his wife went into labor with their latest child, he had brought in Wright to act as midwife. Mrs. Allingtone was not happy with this, as she had heard rumors that Wright was a witch. When she realized that–the horror!–Wright was also left-handed, she insisted on a new midwife. Wright, Allingtone added ominously, left their home “very much discontented.”
The birth of the Allingtone baby did not go well. The mother’s “brest grew dangerouslie sore of an Imposture,” her husband came down with a strange illness that lasted for weeks, and, most tragically of all, the infant sickened and died after only five weeks of life.
You guessed it. Their discontented former midwife had obviously placed a curse on the household.
Further trial testimony revealed that Goody Wright had a disconcerting habit of declaring that certain people would soon die–and many of these predictions “came to pass.” (A prediction that anyone will die will inevitably come true, but never mind that.) After quarreling with a neighbor’s servant girl, Wright threatened she would make the girl “dance stark naked.” (Regretfully, it is not recorded whether this “came to pass” as well.) When a neighbor refused to sell Wright any of his chickens, “shortly after the chickens died.” Wright’s husband, Robert, took the stand, but all he had to offer was the old, “How should I know if my wife’s a witch?” defense.
Court records recorded more of Goody Wright’s diabolical doings. She herself boasted that back in her hometown of Hull, England, she was acquainted with a witch, who had taught her all manner of magical spells. Wright boasted of using her powers to keep a woman’s hand stuck inside a butter churn for hours. On another occasion, she had sickened a rival sorceress. (If you’re curious, this particular spell involved throwing a “red-hotte” horseshoe into urine.) After she emigrated to Virginia, Wright made no secret of her magical practices, relishing the fear and awe she was able to inspire among her neighbors. According to one witness, Wright “was a very bad woman, and was accompted a witch among all.”
Given all this testimony, Wright was considerably luckier than most accused witches. Although surviving records are vague on how she was punished, it is believed the court did nothing more than impose a small fine. (By way of comparison, some years earlier she had been publicly flogged for improperly hemming a shirt.) The court ruled that Wright was not really a witch, but only “a contentious woman.”
Unfortunately for her, Wright’s folk magic was not enough to make her prosper in the New World. Robert Wright was repeatedly jailed for debt, and he died in poverty in 1629. What became of Joane Wright after her trial is not recorded, which is a shame. America’s first official witch deserves a larger place in history.
STORY: THE HOUSEWIFE, THE GHOST HUNTER, AND THE CROYDON POLTERGEIST==========
O n 20 February 1938, the Sunday Pictorial carried a report of a haunting in Croydon. A 34-year-old housewife had called to tell them about strange events at the home she shared with her husband Les, her son Don and their lodger, George Saunders. “Come to my house,” Alma Fielding implored the Pictorial’s news desk. “There are things going on here I cannot explain.”
The Sunday Pic, as it was known to its readers, dispatched two reporters to Croydon. As Alma opened the front door to them, they saw an egg fly down the corridor to land at their feet. As she led them to the kitchen, a pink china dog rattled to the floor and a sharp-bladed tin opener cut through the air at head height. In the front parlour, a teacup and saucer lifted out of Alma’s hands as she sat with her guests, the saucer spinning and splintering with a “ping!” as if shot in midair. She screamed as a second saucer exploded in her fingers and sliced into her thumb. While the wound was being bandaged, the reporters heard a crash in the kitchen: a wine glass had apparently escaped a locked cabinet and shattered on the floor. They saw an egg whirl in through the living room door to crack against the sideboard. A giant chunk of coal rose from the grate, sailed across the room, inches from the head of one of the reporters, and smacked into the wall.
The Fieldings’ house seemed to be under siege from itself. Les, Don and George were at home but, as far as the Pictorial men could tell, none of them was responsible for the phenomena: the objects were propelled by an unseen force.
The Pictorial published its piece the next morning, under the slogan: “This is the most curious front page story we have ever printed.” In an ordinary terrace in Croydon, it declared, “some malevolent, ghostly force is working miracles. Poltergeist … That’s what the scientists call it. The Spiritualists? They say it’s all caused by a mischievous earth-bound spirit.”
In January 2017 I visited the Society for Psychical Research archive in Cambridge to look up some references to the ghost hunter Nandor Fodor, who had investigated the case of Alma Fielding and the Croydon poltergeist. I didn’t expect to find anything directly relevant: Fodor had been working for a rival organisation, the International Institute for Psychical Research, whose papers were said to have been destroyed by German bombs. But when the documents were delivered to the university library’s manuscripts room, I discovered that they were Fodor’s original records. The SPR must have acquired the International Institute’s archive when the smaller organisation was disbanded in the 1940s.
To my delight, one of the files turned out to be Fodor’s dossier on Alma, mistakenly catalogued as a holding on “Mr” Fielding. The manila folder contained transcripts of Fodor’s interviews and seances with Alma, lab reports, X-rays, copies of her contracts, scribbled notes, sketches, photographs of the damage wrought by the poltergeist in Alma’s house and on her body. From Alma’s story Fodor had deduced, to the horror of his colleagues, that repressed memories could generate terrifying physical events.
A Jewish-Hungarian émigré, Fodor had thrown himself into the 30s supernatural scene. He joined the Ghost Club and the London Spiritualist Alliance, befriended members of the Faery Investigation Society, contributed articles to the spiritualist weekly Light. Spiritualism was big business in Britain. The faith offered “something tremendous”, said Arthur Conan Doyle, “a breaking down of the walls between two worlds … a call of hope and of guidance to the human race at the time of its deepest affliction”. After the terrible losses of the first world war and the influenza pandemic of 1918, thousands of spiritualist seance circles had been established by the bereaved. In effect, a seance was a voluntary haunting, a summoning of ghosts, at which the dead would speak through mediums, rap on tables, sometimes even let themselves be touched, smelt or seen. These forms of contact seemed hardly more outlandish than methods that had become commonplace since the war. Soon, predicted Fodor, “the mechanism of psychic communication will be understood and used with the same facility as the wireless and the telephone”.
Scores of seances and private consultations were advertised in the spiritualist press, along with lectures at psychical research societies, books and pamphlets on the occult, displays of clairvoyance and levitation. Some spiritualists believed that there was so much supernormal activity because the dead were straining to come closer. “The boundary between the two states – the known and the unknown – is still substantial,” wrote the renowned physicist and radio pioneer Sir Oliver Lodge, who had lost a son in the war, “but it is wearing thin in places, and like excavators engaged in boring a tunnel from opposite ends, amid the roar of water and other noises, we are beginning to hear now and again the strokes of the pickaxes of our comrades on the other side.”
But Fodor, having read the work of Sigmund Freud, was becoming sceptical about spiritualism. He believed that supernormal phenomena might be caused not by the shades of the dead but by the unconscious minds of the living – and he sensed that Alma Fielding was the perfect subject on whom to test his theories.
When Fodor took Alma to the International Institute in Kensington, he and his colleagues saw a diamanté brooch materialise from thin air, then an ancient oil lamp, a white mouse, a scarab beetle, a Javanese sparrow. She seemed able to astrally project herself from Croydon to Kensington and back again, and to open herself to spirit possession. To assess her powers, Fodor used all the modern methods at his disposal: voice recorders, telephones, cameras, X-rays, chemical analysis, hypnosis and word-association tests. He gathered witness statements and transcribed Alma’s dreams, sent investigators to track her movements. He laid traps. If Alma’s phenomena were tricks, he wanted to know how she was pulling them off. If not, he needed to understand the psychic mechanisms by which they were generated.
“There is a door which leads from the mind we know to the mind we do not know,” he told the Daily Mirror in March 1938. “Now and again that door is opened. Strange things happen. There are manifestations, queer phenomena, transfigurations.” As the door to the unconscious swung open, Fodor reasoned, a suppressed feeling might escape its human host in material form. He speculated that mediums discharged electromagnetic rays from their fingers and toes, or extruded invisible, semi-metallic psychic rods, or ectoplasmic threads like cobwebs. “There are, it is plain, strange forces about us of which we know practically nothing,” he said, “just as once we knew nothing of electricity.”
Fodor noticed that Alma often seemed detached from herself when a weird event took place, and he wondered if at such moments her buried life surged to the surface and broke out. He was intrigued by the phenomenon of mental dissociation, which had been observed both in mediums and in victims of shellshock. The subject fascinated novelists, too. Agatha Christie featured characters with split consciousness or dual personality in her short-story collection The Hound of Death. The protagonist of Patrick Hamilton’s novel Hangover Square is helplessly besotted with a woman who spurns him, and at a “click!” in his head (“or would the word ‘snap’ or ‘crack’ describe it better?” he wonders), his yearning, humiliated self is replaced with a numb, implacable avenger. Fodor wondered whether Alma’s psyche had fractured under pressure of a forbidden emotion. Perhaps she underwent spells of amnesia in which she unconsciously carried out supernatural tricks. Or perhaps her estranged alter ego was escaping her body altogether, snapping and cracking itself into being as an external, physical force. Ping!
In March, Fodor arranged a day trip to Bognor Regis with Alma and four members of the Institute. Alma, in skittish spirits, agreed to see if her poltergeist could spirit a ring from the local branch of Woolworths. At the jewellery counter in the Bognor Woolies, Fodor and his party watched Alma select a ring with two stones on a curved bridge, examine it, then return it to the assistant; it was the nicest ring there, Alma said, but she did not want to buy it today. The shop girl eyed them suspiciously as they moved away. “It looked fishy to her,” wrote Fodor. “She followed us. We began to feel uncomfortable.” As the group turned into a road near the shop, Alma said that she heard a rattle in the box that she was carrying. Fodor took the box from her, opened it, and found the ring she had handled. “My flesh creeped,” he said. Everyone was staggered. All swore that they had seen the ring still on the jewellery counter as they left.
“The experience was rather alarming,” Fodor said. “We had committed psychic shoplifting!”
A few of the hauntings that Fodor investigated took place in crumbling old manor houses with creaking stairs and hidden priest holes, but most were in ordinary towns and suburbs such as Bognor and Croydon. He had become familiar with the consumerist, aspirational working-class culture of postwar Britain. “This is the England of arterial and by-pass roads,” wrote JB Priestley in English Journey, “of filling stations and factories that look like exhibition buildings, of giant cinemas and dance-halls and cafes, bungalows with tiny garages, cocktail bars, Woolworths, motor-coaches, wireless, hiking, factory girls looking like actresses, greyhound racing and dirt tracks, swimming pools, and everything given away for cigarette coupons.
“You need money in this England,” Priestley added, “but you do not need much money. It is a large-scale, mass-production job with cut prices.”
Poltergeists were a Woolies brand of phantom, vulgar copies of the ethereal phantoms of old. According to the Daily Mail, they were “altogether different from the honest, upright ghosts of decaying castles and ancient halls”. They displayed “low cunning and nasty intention” and “mean, underhand ways”. Poltergeists were domestic hoodlums: destructive, subversive, uncouth.
Fodor’s fellow ghost-hunter Maude Ffoulkes said that she longed for ghosts in the same way that she yearned for the “unspoilt country of yesteryear”, a land untainted by roadhouse pubs and electricity pylons, but Fodor was not bound by the snobbery or nostalgia of his adopted country. Far from sneering at poltergeists, he liked them. And where others might see Alma as typical of her class and gender – irrational, opportunistic, sly – to Fodor she was ingenious, complex and fun. He guessed that she sometimes faked phenomena in order to retain the researchers’ interest, but he forgave such lapses. He had no doubt that her terror at the original poltergeist activity was genuine, and he understood why an imaginative working-class woman might resort to supernatural hoaxing.
Alma’s days were a repetitive round of domestic chores, relieved only by forays to the shops and cups of tea with friends. She had to dust and polish, to darn, sew and knit, launder and iron, cook meals for her family, sweep hearths and floors, fetch coal and lay fires, scrub pots and pans. British women had enjoyed a spell of freedom during and immediately after the war, when many of them went out to work, but the popular press now encouraged them to keep to the home. They were urged to tend to their appearance (“What men hate about your hair” the Mirror revealed in March) and their family’s health. The Daily Mail warned female readers against having too lively a relationship even with their belongings. “Don’t wear a necklace if you’re tempted to twiddle it,” advised the paper. “Keep your hankie in your bag; it’s not meant to be twisted.” The ideal woman was contained, composed, restrained. But for a woman with psychic powers, different rules applied. A medium could undertake extravagant feats of mobility – astral projection, transfiguration, time travel, levitation – and in doing so escape the constraints of her gender and her class. Alma’s poltergeist not only twiddled necklaces but sprang them from shop counters; it whipped saucers across rooms, upended eiderdowns, spun rings on to fingers. It took gifts to the researchers at the institute, as if to charm or trade its way into their world.
The American writer Charles Fort noted that poltergeists often emanated from those who had no direct power – women, servants, adolescents, children. In the event of a world war, Fort suggested in Wild Talents(published in 1932), a squad of poltergeist girls might be deployed against enemy troops. He imagined the scene – both futuristic and archaic – in which the girls combined their violent gifts: “A regiment bursts into flames, and the soldiers are torches. Horses snort smoke from the combustion of their entrails.”
It struck me that Alma’s haunting, like other supernatural events of the 30s, was an expression of national as well as personal dread. The poltergeist story of 20 February 1938 shared the front page of the Sunday Pictorial with a giant photograph of Adolf Hitler, so that the headline seemed to issue from the Führer’s shouting mouth: “‘GHOST’ WRECKS HOME” it read; “FAMILY TERRORISED”. Every week that spring, the press carried warnings about Hitler and Mussolini’s belligerence, and reports of the British government’s frantic efforts to shore up the country’s defences. The threat of war touched everyone. Alma’s husband Les had been injured in the last conflict – he still woke in terror from “trench dreams” – and their only son, Don, was likely to be called up in the next.
As summer approached, Fodor intensified his efforts to unearth the childhood trauma that might explain Alma’s poltergeist. In his desperation, he stepped up his surveillance, and he resorted increasingly to deception. He was convinced that a repressed memory was responsible for the storm of violence in Alma’s home. Supernatural events, he believed, embodied the splintering and contradiction of a traumatic experience – a ghost conjured the uneasy sense that something both was and was not real, that an event recurred as if it were outside time, undead.
Fodor’s colleagues were appalled when they learned of his conclusions about Alma’s haunting. In the autumn of 1938, they expelled him from the International Institute and confiscated his papers. These were the papers that I found in the Cambridge archive. The fat folder of evidence seemed to me a wonderful object: a documentary account of fictional and magical events, a historical record of the imagination. Some of Fodor’s methods were troubling, but I was moved by his refusal to condemn Alma as a maniac or a fraud.
By the time that Fodor’s book about the Thornton Heath poltergeist was published, in 1958, psychical research was no longer taken seriously by most scientific thinkers. Yet his ideas about poltergeist psychosis found expression in fiction. In The Haunting of Hill House, a novel of 1959, Shirley Jackson explores the possibility that a disturbed individual can trigger supernormal events. She describes a ghost hunt conducted under the aegis of the psychical researcher Dr John Montague, in which weird incidents seem to emanate from a young woman called Eleanor Vance. When Fodor was invited to serve as a consultant on the film adaptation of the novel, in 1963, he asked Jackson if she had read his work, and she confirmed that she had.
The film-makers proposed to Jackson that they present the events in her novel as the hallucinations of a woman in a mental asylum, but she discouraged this approach: the story was about real supernatural happenings, she said. Like Fodor, she chose not to explain away psychic experiences as madness or lies. Fodor wrote an article about The Haunting of Hill House shortly before his death in 1964, in which he observed that Jackson had adopted “the modern approach” to the supernormal: “The creaks and groans of furniture, the imbalance of a spiral staircase and the abnormally cold spots are objectifications of the mental anguish and chill of Eleanor’s soul, the violent slamming of doors are explosive manifestations of inner conflicts.”
This strand of psychological gothic emerges again in Stephen King’s novels Carrie, in which a humiliated teenager’s suppressed feelings erupt in supernatural violence, and The Shining, in which ghosts are awakened by the obsessions of the living. It runs through books and films such as Barbara Comyns’s The Vet’s Daughter, Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black, Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger, Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook. To the question of whether a haunting was real or fantasised, psychological or supernatural, the answer given by such stories was: both. A ghost could be imagined into being, from a feeling repressed so forcefully that it acquired uncanny power. “Our irrational, darker selves,” wrote Elizabeth Bowen, “demand familiars.”
When Weird Darkness returns…
When you hear a knocking in the closet, or footsteps in the attic. When you hear a door to the basement creak open, or a plate crash to the floor in the middle of the night… is it a ghost? An intruder? Or could you be dealing with a darkling?
Plus we’ll step into the Chamber of Comments.
<WEIRD DARKNESS STORE>
<WEIRDO WATCH PARTY>
STORY: THE DARK DARKLINGS==========
I have heard many things in my life and probably you have also. Strange sounds like crashes in the attic, to sound of plates and dishes crashing in the darkness. But in my extensive search through out my home that night and the next day nothing is found damaged or destroyed.
Was it a Darkling come to call?
I often think it’s a small earth quake rattling the dishes in the closet. We cannot predict earthquakes in the sense of being able to tell exactly where, exactly when and how big. Even a tiny one that we can’t feel will vibrate or knock something over. When it happens too many blame it on a real ghost not understanding that the earth moved.
“Movement disorders are complex phenomena that frequently create confusion among mental health clinicians working in the field of dual diagnosis. Some of the confusion arises from uncertainty about whether movements are voluntary or involuntary. Because abnormal movements are exacerbated by stress or other anxiety provoking situations, wax and wane in severity and are associated with other disruptive behaviors, they are frequently confused with other repetitive behaviors as well as primary psychiatric disorders. This first segment of a series of Ask the Doctor provides a basic overview of the neuropsychiatry and behavioral pharmacology of abnormal movements.” [Mental Health Aspects Developmental Disabilities 2008;11(4):133-137]
I tell myself after I read things like that. Hey, that could be the truth, but what if it was really a ghost? Or something actually worse?
Like, the …DARK!
We fear the dark because we never know what lurks in the blackness. The fear of the dark is a common fear among children and to a varying degree is observed for adults. The pathological fear of the dark is sometimes called nyctophobia, scotophobia, or lygophobia.
Some researchers, beginning with Sigmund Freud, consider the fear of the dark as a manifestation of separation anxiety. In the 1960s scientists conducted experiments to discover molecules responsible for memory. In one experiment rats, normally nocturnal animals, were conditioned to fear the dark and a substance, called scotophobin that was apparently responsible for remembering this fear was extracted from rats’ brains. Subsequently these findings were debunked.
The fear of the dark is heightened by imagination: a stuffed toy may appear a monster with many teeth and bulging eyes in the dark. Nightmares contribute to the fear of the dark as well: after waking up because of a nightmare the child may refuse to go to bed without lights on. Fear of dark is a phase of child development. Most observers report that fear of the dark seldom appears before the age of 2 years. Fear of the dark is not fear of the absence of light, but fear of possible or imagined dangers concealed by the darkness.
The dark, in the mind of some is actually a creature a monster of unlimited proportions. It has the power to scare us, unnerve us, set us on edge. The dark can scare you, it will drive you to madness and take away any hope of tomorrow.
Darkness is technically the absence of light. Scientifically it is only possible to have a reduced amount of light. The emotional response to an absence of light has inspired metaphor in literature, symbolism in art, and emphasis.
Today many in the world enjoy researching and exploring Dark tourism – travel to sites associated with death and suffering, ghost and the paranormal.
As a poetic term, darkness can also mean the presence of shadows, evil, or depression.
Darkness can have a strong psychological impact. It can cause depression in people with seasonal affective disorder, fear in nyctophobics, comfort in lygophilics, or attraction as in gothic fashion. These emotions are used to add power to literary imagery.
Religious texts often use darkness to make a visual point. In the Bible, darkness was the second to last plague (Exodus 10:21) and the location of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:12) The Qur’an has been interpreted to say that those who transgress the bounds of what is right are doomed to “burning despair and ice-cold darkness.” (Nab 78.25) In Greek Mythology, three layers of night surround Tartarus, a place for the worst sinners as far beneath Hades as heaven is high above earth.
The Hindu goddess Kalí (black, dark colored) is also closely associated with darkness and violence, though she is equally associated with motherhood and benevolence.
In Chinese philosophy Yin is the feminine part of the Taijitu and is represented by a dark lobe.
The use of darkness as a rhetorical device has a long standing tradition. Shakespeare, working in the 16th and 17th centuries, made a character called Satan, the “prince of darkness” (King Lear: III, iv) and gave darkness jaws with which to devour love. (A Midsummer Night’s Dream: I, i) Chaucer, a 14th century Middle English writer, wrote that knights must cast away the “workes of darkness.” Dante described hell as “solid darkness stain’d.”
Even in Old English there were three words that could mean darkness; heolstor, genip, and sceadu. Heolstor also meant “hiding-place” and became holster, genip meant “mist” and fell out of use like many strong verbs, it is however still used in the Dutch saying “in het geniep” which means secretly, sceadu meant “shadow” and remained in use. The word darkness eventually evolved from the word deorc, which meant “dark”.
“The Dead’s Great Inconsolable Grief”: In many cultures, wearing of dark colors shows grief and attracts it.
In the dark objects that are familiar to us take on different shapes and sizes. They also reveal the qualities in them that are truly paranormal, and actually supernaturally in their nature.
Call it evil, or the work of the devil but the inanimate becomes alive…in the black of night. The darkling’s, the shadows, the dead sneak near to you as you breath evenly and sound asleep.
Accounts of “THE DARK” as a being typically describe them as being deep non reflective black humanoid or creature like silhouettes. Some times with no discernible mouths, noses, or facial expressions, though at times those features might be all that you actually see in the darkness.
Many lurid accounts also exist of these entities being child-sized humanoids or shapeless masses that sometimes change to a more human like forms or animals. The eyes are usually not described as being discernible but in some reports glowing red, white or blue eyes are mentioned. The color of the eyes, if any, is typically given as red. Their specific form is described variously as two-dimensional shadow to a vaporous or distorted three-dimensional body (as though made out of smoke, fabric, water like or steam).
Movement is often described as being very quick and disjointed. Some witnesses describe this movement as though the shadow entities they have seen “danced” from one wall to the next, or as moving around the room “as if they were on a specific track”.
Rarely, they are seen “standing” in the middle of doorways or off the wall. Often they are described as being seen staring at the floor. Some accounts describe what appears to be the outline of a cloak, and in some instances the outline of a 1930s style fedora hat. This last type is referred as the ” Dark hat-man” or “The Darkling King”.
The Dark has also been called “The Wight”, from Old English word wiht, is a Middle English word used to describe a creature or a living being. It is akin to Old High German wiht, meaning a creature or thing.
The evil of the darkling’s over the centuries are based on Shadow people, (also known as shadow men, shadow folk, or shadow beings) are supernatural shadow-like creatures of both modern folklore and traditional native American beliefs. These creatures are known to pull you and your bed at night violently. Strangle you rape you.
The Darkling’s can also bite you, hit you, hurt you, and are known to poke your eyes out as you sleep. They have been known to kill infants as they sleep in their mothers arms or suckle at their breast.
The can scratch you to the boone, and tales of them even stealing kidneys, (thought to be what they love to eat) from sleeping victims. A darkling is best known to take the shape of cats, especially large black cats. They can roam highways, and slip into to your home and kill all that live their.
In the darkness they are the strongest paranormal entity you can encounter. They can change shape and even talk to you in the thick black night.
According to folklore, they appear as dark forms in the peripheries of people’s vision as they begin to haunt them. If they find no reason to haunt you then they seem to disintegrate, or move between walls, when noticed.
Reports of shadow darkling people occupy a similar position in the popular consciousness to ghost sightings, but differ in that shadow people are not reported as having human features, wearing modern/period clothing, or attempting to communicate.
Witnesses also do not report the same feelings of being in the presence of something that ‘was once human’ is what a shadow person entails. a darkling has never walked the earth as a human. Some individuals have described being menaced, chased, or in some rare instances, attacked by shadow darkling’s. There have also been reports of huge menacing darkling’s appearing in front of witnesses and lingering for several seconds before disappearing. Witnesses report that encounters are typically accompanied by a feeling of dread.
Darklings have been known to hide at the sign of any type of light. their favorite spots to hide in are dark cracks, or inside a child’s toys (bears. dolls, stuffed animals) or closets.
Robert The haunted Doll is thought to be a Darkling trapped in a stuffed body by a voodoo hoodoo spell.
In New Orleans Voodoo Darkling’s are creatures that prowl the city looking for innocents to possess. They will take a person and make them act and turn into someone they are not. They who are possessed by a Darkling have been known to kill or hurt their family members during daylight hours. They are aptly called since the late 1800’s “The Dark Darklings”.
The great voodoo Queen Marie Laveau described them as the evil thoughts that good church people have that they don’t act upon, come to life. They carry out evil deeds no sane man would do!
The actual belief is that the darkling enters a person through their mouths as they sleep, and are trapped inside them until they fall asleep again.
The person is like a zombified demon acting only on it’s primal instincts. Kill or be killed. Marie Laveau is said to have used ground up monkey and cock statue powder, red brick and a secret ingrediant to chase them off.
Small children between the ages of 3- 9 are more apt to encounter these beings and see them clearly. Though those who have psychic powers have been known to see them as sparkling dark shapes in the blackness.
We’ll step inside the Chamber of Comments in just a moment. But if you made it this far, welcome to the Weirdo Family. If you like the podcast, and you haven’t already subscribed, be sure to do so now so you don’t miss future episodes! And also, please – tell someone else about the podcast. Recommend Weird Darkness to your friends, family, and co-workers who love the paranormal, horror stories, or true crime like you do! Every time you share the podcast with someone new, it helps spread the word about the show – and a growing audience makes it possible for me to keep creating episodes as often as I do. Plus, telling others about Weird Darkness also helps get the word out about resources that are available for those who suffer from depression or dark thoughts. So please share the podcast with someone today. Now… let’s step into the chamber….
CHAMBER OF COMMENTS==========
Here in the Chamber of Comments I answer your emails, comments, podcast reviews, letters I get in the mail, and more. You can find all of my contact information, postal address, and social media links on the CONTACT page at WeirdDarkness.com. While you’re there, you can join the very active “Weird Darkness Weirdos” Facebook Group, and hang out with me and the rest of our Weirdo family! And you can drop me an email anytime at: darren @ weirddarkness.com.
(Email from Wilhelmina regarding the episode “The Rental”, which I will link to in the show notes): I just listened to the episode when the guy name Jack rents a cottage by the ocean to finish writing a book. I was wondering if you are able to get in touch with the author of that story and encourage him to sell it to a movie studio. I would love to see that turned into a movie! As I was listening I could picture what certain scenes would be like as a film. It`s very engaging and the false sense of security at the end when fake Garret comes to get Jack is impactful and would be fantastic played our on screen! It`s rare to come across something that is suspenseful and thrilling, but is also easy enough to follow so that you don`t get lost in the flash and glam. –Wilhelmina
REPLY: I’m glad you liked the story, Wilhelmina! I’m sure authors of most all of the stories I share are doing their best to get known by book publishers and movie producers. I actually included links to the author’s Reddit and Facebook in that episode’s show notes so you can drop him a note yourself to let him know how much you enjoyed the story. I’m sure he would love to hear from you!
(Comment from Charzi Puddin): Thank you so much for including Hawaii time for the watch party, Darren!
REPLY: You are the only one who has ever said you are from Hawaii – so that’s pretty much just for you. LOL!
(YouTube comment from Someone Somewhere regarding the episode “The Queen Mary: The Grey Ghost With a Haunted History”): I remember the smell from the lower haul of the Queen Mary. The stench of dead troops haunts the haul and it comes and goes, very creepy.
REPLY: Wow, Someone Somewhere – that is freaky! It’s great to hear from a listener who has actually been on the Queen Mary and experienced that themselves. That would be truly creepy! I’ve linked to that episode in the show notes for anyone who hasn’t heard it or wants to hear it again.
(YouTube comment from Christopher Wright, referring to an episode I dedicated to medical workers): Just the intro has put me off. CDC is a toxic Ngo privately owned with even a patent on diseases. If you have so much faith in a alapathic medical tyranny your not far off being “processed” as ignorance is no excuse.
REPLY: Woooooooow ,Chris. That escalated quickly. To be honest, I don’t believe 100% of what I’m seeing on the news about the coronavirus/Covid-19, I’ve heard they are reporting deaths by Covid even if the person died of a heart attack but they tested positive for COVID so it’s marked as death by COVID. I’m guessing the truth is somewhere in-between what we get on CNN and MSNBC, and what we might hear from The Blaze and MRCTV… because everybody has an agenda. But here’s the thing… I’m not dedicating episodes to the government or the CDC – just to those people who are stuck working on the front lines dealing with the public and whatever that public believes. Even if things aren’t as bad as the mainstream media is making it out to be, the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others in the medical industry are still the ones who have to deal with the panic of those who do believe it. Or on the flip side, those medical personnel have to listen to the heated opinions of those who say the CDC is a toxic NGO privately owned with a patent on diseases. And everything in-between. They get it all slung in their faces from people of all walks of life and all political and social leanings, and have to deal with it as best they can without flipping out themselves. That takes a special kind of self-control and patience, which is why I give them the props they deserve.
(YouTube comment from Vastal Bisht): Should i tell you something more creepy than your stories in your podcasts? “The stories and content in Weird Darkness can be disturbing for some listeners and is intended for mature audiences only, parental discretion is strongly advised” That creeps me out!
REPLY: So the disclaimer creeps you out, Vastal? If you can’t get past the disclaimer without getting weirded out, Weird Darkness might not be the podcast for you! Ha ha! But hey, at least you’re not creeped out by my dedicating an episode to medical workers, so you got that going for ya.
(YouTube comment from Jessica Kyle): I love your videos but you talk a little too much like for the intro.
REPLY: The intro? I talk through the whole thing, Jessica. It’s a podcast – that’s what I do, that’s what a podcast is. If I don’t talk you don’t have a podcast to listen to – that’s how it works. And you are purposefully tuning in to a podcast because you say you love the videos – which ironically aren’t really videos on YouTube, they are just audio, but they get posted to YouTube. Wow, Weirdos – I think I just received a YouTube comment from someone in a parallel dimension! Cool!
(Message from a new patron, Kelly S.): Hi Darren, After listening to Weird Darkness for a while I’ve actually taken the plunge and signed up on Patreon. It’s great because on my side I don’t have to listen to advertising, and on your side… well, you get money! Also, belated happy birthday! Kind regards, Kelly.
REPLY: Thanks, Kelly! Yes – and you have no idea how much I appreciate you patrons! I was actually replying to an email that Patreon sent to me this morning about a completely different topic, but I was telling them that Patreon is a kind of safety net for me. If I were to lose my full-time radio job, or if my podcast were to somehow lose the advertising revenue it receives – for whatever reason – I already know in the back of my head I would immediately switch gears and just move everything over to Patreon for a subscription-only show. I’ve never in my life had a backup plan, but you patrons have given me one, and the peace of mind that brings me means more than you can possibly know! Especially to someone who works in radio and knows that there is no such thing as job security, especially in an industry that often struggles to remain relevant!
I’ll answer more of your emails, comments, and letters next time! Again, you can find all of my social media and contact information on the CONTACT page of the website, or drop me an email at darren @ weirddarkness.com.
SHOW CLOSE, CREDITS, A LITTLE LIGHT, AND A FINAL THOUGHT==========
Thanks for listening.
Weird Darkness made it to the #5 spot this month on Podcast Magazine’s “Hot 50”. Thank you to everybody who has been voting! Please vote every day and let’s see if we can make Weird Darkness reach #1 in next month’s Podcast Magazine! To vote visit WeirdDarkness.com/vote.
Do you have a dark tale to tell of your own? Fact or fiction, click on “Tell Your Story” on the website and I might use it in a future episode.
All stories in Weird Darkness are purported to be true (unless stated otherwise), and you can find source links or links to the authors in the show notes.
“America’s First Witch” from Strange Company
“The Housewife, The Ghost Hunter, And The Croydon Poltergeist” by Kate Summerscale for The Guardian
“The Dark Darklings” by Mason Felinity for Haunted American Tours
“The Man Who Wasn’t Murdered” from Strange Company
Weird Darkness theme by Alibi Music.
WeirdDarkness™ – is a registered trademark. Copyright ©Weird Darkness 2020.
If you’d like a transcript of this episode, you can find a link in the show notes.
Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 4:6
And a final thought… “Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out.” – Unknown
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.
<HOPE IN THE DARKNESS>