But even with all of this, there were those who felt that The Enfield Poltergeist was being made up by Janet and her older sister Margret. Psychical investigator Renée Haynes raised doubts at the SPR conference in 1978, and several other SPR investigators claimed the haunting was “overrated”, “suspicious” and “staged.” John Beloff, former SPR President, suggested Janet had taken up ventriloquism, which allowed her to speak as ‘Bill’ while not moving her lips. “I knew when the voices were happening, of course, it felt like something was behind me all of the time,” Janet argues. “They did all sorts of tests, filling my mouth with water and so on, but the voices still came out.”
Noted sceptic Joe Nickell claimed the tape malfunctions were “common” for the technology at the time, and suggested the photos of Janet levitating where nothing more than her bouncing off the bed. British author and broadcaster Melvin Harris agreed saying, “It’s worth remembering that Janet was a school sports champion.” Nickell also denounced the work of The Warrens saying, “[Ed Warren is] notorious for exaggerating and even making up incidents in such cases, often transforming a ‘haunting’ case into one of ‘demonic possession’.” In his reports, Nickell found it very coincidental that ‘Bill’ would only talk when Janet’s hand was over her mouth, and that the alleged poltergeist only acted when it was not being watched. “Time and again in other ‘poltergeist’ outbreaks, witnesses have reported an object leaping from its resting place supposedly on its own,” he reported, “when it is likely that the perpetrator had secretly obtained the object sometime earlier and waited for an opportunity to fling it, even from outside the room—thus supposedly proving he or she was innocent.”
Perhaps the most damning evidence against Janet Hodgson was when she was caught on video tape preparing some of the disturbances. “Anita Gregory, of the Society for Psychical Research, who had spent just a short time at the Hodgson home, said the mysterious men’s voices were simply the result of Janet and Margaret putting bed sheets to their mouths,” Michael Clarkson notes in his book Poltergeists: Examining Mysteries of the Paranormal. “In addition, Gregory said that a video camera had caught Janet attempting to bend spoons and an iron bar by force and ‘practicing’ levitation by bouncing up and down on her bed.” In 1980, Janet admitted to ITV News that she and her sister faked the events “once or twice”.
Guy Lyon Playfair knew that Janet and Margret were trying to trick him, but says he wasn’t duped by them. “We would catch them each time because we were watching for trickery,” he said. “They would try to bend spoons, like Uri Geller. They tried to hide my tape recorder so I would think the poltergeist had moved it. But they didn’t realise it was switched on, so I heard every word of their plot. But there were too many other things that happened that could not be faked. Usually there were too many witnesses. What about all the things that happened in empty rooms, when the kids were somewhere else? What about all the things I saw and heard? And the police officers? Children couldn’t have fooled so many people, all of whom wanted to find a rational, earthly explanation for what was happening.” Janet Hodgson admits to faking “2 percent” of the phenomena, but maintains their house was really haunted. “I remember that one,” Janet says of being caught on video bending spoons. “Maurice was annoyed with me… There was times when things would happen and times when they wouldn’t. Sometimes, if things didn’t happen, you’d somehow feel you’d failed.” She added: “You’d get bored and frustrated at all the people coming and going. I mean, life wasn’t normal.”
Both Janet and her younger brother were bullied heavily at school for the hauntings, and it caused a lot of strain on her childhood. “I’d dread going home,” she said. “The front door would be open, there’d be people in and out, you didn’t know what to expect and I used to worry a lot about Mum. She had a nervous breakdown, in the end.”
Towards the end of 1979, Playfair invited two psychic mediums to the house to make contact with ‘Bill’. “They came to the house and almost immediately made contact with the poltergeist,” Playfair recalls. “It took them 15 minutes of talking to him calmly, and the effect was remarkable.” Janet reportedly slept for fourteen hours, and life for the Hodgsons returned to some form of normality.
A few years after the press coverage had died down, Janet’s younger brother Johnny died of cancer, and her mother also passed away of breast cancer in 2003, reportedly in the same chair that Bill Wilkins died in. “I lost touch with everything, all the coverage of the case in paranormal books,” Janet, who left home at 16, laments. “My mum felt people walked over her at that time. She felt exploited.”
Though the hauntings died down, a presence could still be felt in the house. “‘Even my brother, until the day he left that place after Mum died, would say: ‘There’s still something there.’ You’d feel like you were being watched,” Janet Hodgson says. After Peggy Hodgson passed away, Clare Bennett and her four sons moved in. “I didn’t see anything, but I felt uncomfortable,” Clare Bennett told The Telegraph when they reached out to her. “There was definitely some kind of presence in the house, I always felt like someone was looking at me.” Her son, Shaka, noted, “I woke up and saw a man come into the room. I ran into Mum’s room and said: ‘We’ve got to move,’ and we did the next day.”
Janet Hodgson was not aware James Wan was adapting her story for The Conjuring 2 and has shown displeasure in his choice. “‘I wasn’t very happy to hear about the film, I didn’t know anything about it,” she says. “My dad [had] just died, and it really upset me to think of all this being raked over again.” She added: “It was an extraordinary case. It’s one of the most recognised cases of paranormal activity in the world. But, for me, it was quite daunting. I think it really left its mark, the activities, the newspaper attention, the different people in and out of the house.”
Guy Lyon Playfair, who remains in touch with Janet Hodgson, concludes, “To all those who say the poltergeist must have been a hoax I say this: I was there and you weren’t. I investigated everything at first hand and you didn’t. I know what I saw and heard.”
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast and Scooperhero News. You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen and read his weekly feature The Week in Star Wars.