The spade bit into the soft topsoil, and I didn't know whether to laugh or
cry. Here I was, with several fellow investigators, turning over someone's
garden when my own was in dire need of a major overhaul. We were acting on
information received from a psychic during a vigil at a haunted house. "I'm
getting an impression," she said, "of a box, a small box, buried in
the garden, behind the shed."
Now we were digging it up, searching for a box about the size and shape of a
small coffin. The neighbors looked on and took it all in stride. They didn't ask
too many embarrassing questions and they supplied us with beer and coffee.
Unlike on The X-Files, real-life paranormal investigators usually
arrive weeks, months, or years after an incident. When I was asked to lead an
investigation into a poltergeist case, I never expected to be in the thick of
It began when members of the Northern Anomalies Research Organization (NARO)
spotted an item in a local newspaper. The story described a family in Rochdale,
Lancashire, who was plagued with water dripping from the ceiling of their prefab
bungalow. The complaint had been investigated by the council, which was unable
to discover the cause.
Investigator Alicia Leigh arranged an interview with the Gardener family. She
consulted me, as chairman of NARO, and, with investigator Stephen Mera, we went
to the house in Hill Top Close on August 31, 1995.
Jim Gardener, Vera's second husband, explained what had been happening.
"It started about ten months ago when we noticed a damp patch on the wall
of the back bedroom." This was occupied by Vera's 33-year-old daughter,
Jeanette. "It began to seep water, and we called the housing department.
They examined the attic but couldn't find any leaks. We left it, and at first it
stopped -- then it began on the ceiling."
The Gardeners wondered if the moisture was caused by condensation. They were
later astounded when water flashed across the ceiling. "It would start
dripping in one place then shoot from corner to corner," Jim said.
The phenomenon ceased in the bedroom and moved to the kitchen. Men from the
town council, who rented the bungalow to the Gardeners, re-examined the attic.
An electrician dismantled the light fittings while Mr. Gardener watched,
sheltering beneath his umbrella. "It was coming down just like rain!"
Because there were no leaking pipes in the attic, the council decided that
the explanation was either condensation or fraud.
"Two council officials accused us of turning a hose pipe on the ceiling,
so they would move us out," Vera Gardener said. "That's ridiculous!
I've lived here 14 years and was perfectly settled until this started. Now I
can't wait to leave."
The housing department installed an extraction fan in the kitchen, and then
one in the bathroom, because water had begun dripping there, too.
The phenomenon moved back into Jeanette's bedroom for four or five months.
The bedding and carpet were regularly wet and had to be dried out. The continual
dripping was becoming too much for the family.
They moved Jeanette into the front bedroom. No sooner was this done than it
started dripping there. After they complained again to the council, a hygrometer
was left overnight to measure the water-vapor content of the air. Officials
claimed the results indicated condensation, but Jim disagreed.
"I told them you don't get condensation in the middle of summer,"
he said. "Even during the heat wave it's been dripping, and we've been
mopping up almost every day!"
Suddenly it stopped, and for a whole week nothing happened. Jeanette moved
back into her bedroom. Jim put the carpet back down. Within ten minutes water
started dripping from the ceiling.
There were other strange happenings. One evening Jim and Vera watched the
handle of the door leading to the hallway turn slowly. When the door swung open
no one was there.
The smell of cigarette smoke often pervaded their bedroom, with a distinct
aroma of licorice. Jim smoked a pipe, but Vera's first husband, Geoffrey, had
smoked cigarettes rolled in licorice papers.
"Last Friday night," Jim related, "we went to bed as normal.
There was no one else in the house. We hadn't been in bed ten minutes when we
heard a coughing in the corner. I got up and checked through the house, but we
couldn't explain it."
At this point the interview was interrupted. Jeanette, who had gone to use
the bathroom, reappeared. Her shoulders and hair were wet. We rushed out into
the hallway, and saw water dripping from the ceiling near a light fitting.
There was an irregular damp patch some six inches across from where droplets
were forming and falling to the carpet. Eighteen inches away was a trap door
leading into the attic.
The air in the attic was hot and dry. Dust pirouetted in the yellow beam of
the flashlight as it probed the darkness. The attic was well insulated, but the
fiberglass layers were disturbed where council officials had searched for
leaking pipes. They had done a thorough job. I removed the insulation from over
the place where water was now falling. The attic floor was bone dry. I pulled up
some of the surrounding layers but there was no evidence of moisture.
How was it I was standing here, in broad daylight, on a warm summer's day,
watching water form and drip from a dry plasterboard ceiling? But this was only
the beginning. Alicia's shoulders had become wet even though she had not been
standing under the water dripping from the ceiling. Her body temperature fell
suddenly. She complained of a pressure on her chest and became nauseated. After
a few minutes she began to recover.
We attempted to resume the interview but Jim called us into the kitchen.
"It's started in here now!" A large area of the ceiling was dripping.
Were the Gardeners throwing water about when our backs were turned? Alicia
stared incredulously at the open door.
"I saw that the bottom of the door was wet," she said. "As I
was about to alert the others, thousands of tiny droplets suddenly, and
instantaneously, covered the entire door."
We began to search the house. Water was dripping from the ceiling of the back
bedroom and had collected on the walls and door frame. Once again we continued
our interview with the Gardeners, but Stephen, who was standing in the doorway
behind the living room and the hall, suddenly called out to us.
Water had flashed across the ceiling in the hallway, just as Jim Gardener had
described. The evidence was there for all to see. In front of the original wet
patch was a boomerang-shaped area of moisture which began to drip.
"It was as if the ceiling was the floor, and someone had thrown a cup
full of water across it," he said. The phenomenon had defied gravity!
Jeanette called us into the living room where she had been sitting alone. On the
wall were several painted masks strung on nails. One of them had apparently
fallen off the wall onto a wooden unit, although no one had heard anything. It
rested face up, with the nail neatly beside it. Suspicion was cast on Jeanette.
Had she pulled the nail out of the wall?
I picked up the nail and found the hole. The plaster around the edges was not
cracked as one would expect if the nail had become loose or someone had
deliberately waggled it free. In fact, the hole made a tight fit. It would not
receive the nail without the aid of a small hammer.
Photographs were taken and samples of the suspect water were collected along
with a control sample of tap water. Arrangements were made for a team of
investigators to carry out a night-time vigil on the property the following
week. The family agreed to leave the premises for the evening.