Monday, April 11, 2011

The Poltergeist Case in St Catharines, Ontario

In two earlier blogs, I have discussed the possibility that poltergeist cases are real, perhaps manifestations of a psychic tantrum, incredible mental powers unleashed to move chairs and beds by frustrated young people.

Let’s center on one of the best documented, yet least publicized, cases I know of, involving an 11-year-old boy in 1970 in an apartment building in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. His pseudonym will be John Mulvey because, 41 years later, he is still worried that people will find out he was involved in a super-natural or paranormal event. This stigma attached to poltergeist activity by the mainstream public, mainstream media and, of course, mainstream science is just one interesting facet of this many-layered case.

Indeed, it’s almost spring, 2011, and the cherry blossoms will be out in St. Catharines, the garden city of Canada’s Niagara region. Overall, life is pretty sweet for Mulvey, a successful 52-year-old businessman, father of two and a national award winner in his profession. Mulvey has a solid support network of family, friends and colleagues to ease his pain and remind him what a successful and traditional life he is leading.

He is definitely a role model and seems to be Mr. Straight Laced. Or is he? On the surface, there is nothing to suggest to those friends and colleagues who do not know his past that four decades earlier, Mulvey had been called a monster by some people in the case. As the 40th anniversary of that weird story was relived last year in the city’s newspaper, the St. Catharines Standard, Mulvey managed to keep his identity, his very dark secret, intact.

It all began with strange goings-on in the Mulvey apartment, where John lived with his parents and younger brother. It was said to be an old-fashioned home where the children were to be seen and not heard. Furniture reportedly began shifting and paintings were crashing down – seemingly under their own power. The Mulveys, who had lived there for many years without such problems, summoned the city’s engineering department to check for structural failings, yet nothing was found.

As the occurrences continued, the provincial gas company got involved, but there were no faults in the gas furnace. Next came the fire department and the public utilities commission. They found nothing out of the ordinary.

John’s parents were embarrassed about strangers walking through their apartment; however, the presence of two Roman Catholic priests was somewhat soothing. It was only as a last resort that they summoned the St. Catharines Police Department.

The Mulveys asked for a media ban on the story, but leaks sprung up within the police department and parts of the strange tale got into the paper and radio stations. Over the next two weeks, an entire shift of police officers said they witnessed unbelievable events in the apartment -- a chair allegedly sliding across a room to the boy’s bedside, a footstool turning upside-down, a framed photo of young John and his parents becoming a moving picture. As well, an officer was sitting in a chair when an unseen force reportedly flipped him onto his behind.

“At first, I thought the family must be mental, but, believe me, what I saw was not done by human hands,” said Constable Robert (Scotty) Crawford, a burly, no-nonsense cop.

The first four officers submitted reports to their superiors, but a fifth refused to hand one in because he worried they would have thought him crazy. Other witnesses were two doctors, two priests, several neighbors and two pinstriped lawyers. During all of the occurrences, little John Mulvey was present in the room, but no one caught him cheating or moving things with his body.

A sampling of some of the reported occurrences:

· February 4 – A bed reportedly moved away from a wall, was pushed back by Father Melvin Stevens, but the bed almost immediately moved back by itself.

· February 7 – Crawford found a heavy bed had reportedly been raised two feet off the floor by an unseen force. “Not believing my eyes, I summoned Constable (Dick) Colledge, who was outside the apartment,” Crawford said.

· February 10 – For about the 12th time in almost two weeks, Constable Bill Weir said he saw John Mulvey tossed off a chair. “I attended in the morning and was assisted by Constable Eddie Batorski,” Weir wrote in his report. “I witnessed some phenomenal occurrences which I have attached to this report. . . my only solution to these occurrences is that the boy (John), whom all the occurrences surround, has been inhabited by a spirit of a poltergeist.”

What Weir didn’t report, but later told Constable Harry Fox, was that the force picked up a chair Weir was sitting in and “tipped him on his ass.” If little John had done that physically, it would have been a tough sell back at the police station – burley cop overpowered by an 11-year-old!

Although the case was not as publicized as many other poltergeist events, it did make the wire services and comedian Johnny Carson made a joke about it on the Tonight Show.

Fox told me the case “was goddam scary, one of the scariest things I’ve ever been involved with. At least in your normal work, if you’re confronted with a big man, you can defend yourself. But this was different, unpredictable. I think it was some sort of invisible energy which you couldn’t see.” Later, the level-headed Fox lectured about the case to his supervisors as the Ontario Police College. “As it turned out, I think the spirit was playful, not harmful,” Fox said.

But was it a spirit? During the events, some parapsychologists, including poltergeist hunter William Roll, were kept away from the apartment by the family, but theories abounded. A parapsychologist in nearby Hamilton, Ontario, Nellie Nielson, speculated John had unleashed a type of psychic energy because he was entering puberty and was feeling frustrated, perhaps at his family.

“These youngsters, when they are reaching puberty have a lot of emotion and energy, which may vent itself on the surroundings if the child is under pressure or frustrated,” Nelson said. “Frustrations can only aggravate the situation.” (A London parapsychologist, Guy William Playfair, believes that as children enter puberty, they may be filled by their pineal glands with an unusual sexual and creative energy, which manifests itself in moving objects in rare cases.)

Many others had their own theories about what was responsible in the Mulvey case, from the devil to ghosts to little John himself, because some of the events seemed pranks a youngster might attempt, and yet the police had kept a close eye on him and believe he could not have repeatedly fooled an entire shift of cops, trained in being observant during stressful situations and fast action.

Overall, the events lasted several weeks until the family went to Montreal for a vacation to get away from it all. When they returned, the poltergeist activity had stopped – not unusual in a typical case, according to the 75 cases I have reviewed. They usually last just several weeks.

In 1980, John came to visit me, to relieve some of his frustration which lingered long after the events. He did not give details of the 1970 occurrences, although he said he remembered them well. “I was an intelligent kid; I could read when I was five. The papers didn’t get the story right – they were guessing.” Many media reports at the time inferred that a ghost or demonic possession was to blame. “Since then, I’ve done some reading, some investigating of my own. I have my own theories,” Mulvey told me.

Yet, he refuses to go public because “everything today is for a buck.” In 1970, some authors, museum officials and some of his neighbors had tried to make money on the strange happenings, he said. “I thought about telling my story, but it’s not worth the price.”

While researching my book, The Poltergeist Phenomenon, I discovered that at least 51 police officers around the world, in 17 cases since 1952, had reportedly seen poltergeist action up-close. The most recent was in a police station in India in 2008 when cops were reportedly tossed off tables and chairs by an unseen force.

Many of these cases, including the Mulvey case, were not thoroughly investigated, many because the families were reluctant to co-operate.

A few years ago, when I told parapsychologist Maurice Grosse of London, England, about the Mulvey case, he was sad. “Society…” he sighed. “There is so much to know and find out, but we can’t study these phenomena properly, because of the stigma.”

The good thing is that, in 2011, John Mulvey’s life seems to have turned out well. But one can imagine the stress brought on by keeping a lid on his fascinating story.

The Poltergeist Phenomenon is available at your favorite bookseller.

Michael Clarkson is a non-fiction author and professional speaker who has spent 37 years as a print journalist, winning numerous awards for his investigative pieces, including the Canadian National Newspaper Award twice. He was a finalist for the U.S. Health Care Award in 1995 for his investigation of prescription drug abuse in Alberta, Canada.

As a police reporter, he was twice nominated for the Michener Award for public service in Canada and in 1980, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his story about reclusive author J. D. Salinger, who he met twice in New Hampshire. Clarkson has also been a sports reporter interviewing famous athletes such as basketball legend Michael Jordan and golfer Tiger Woods.

Three of his books are on fear – Competitive Fire,Intelligent Fear and Quick Fixes for Everyday Fears, which have been published in the United States,Canada and in Europe. His latest (2010) is The Secret Life of Glenn Gould, about a famous classical pianist.

He has been interested in poltergeist cases for many years, and has interviewed many witnesses, parapsychologists and skeptics for this book. He has also studied the body’s fight-or-flight system for years and believes it may contribute to the poltergeist phenomenon.

Clarkson was born in Preston, England, but has lived in Canada most of his life, including Calgary, Niagara Falls and Toronto. He currently lives with his wife, Jennifer, in Fort Erie, Ontario, near Buffalo, N.Y. and has two sons, Paul and Kevin.

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