Poltergeists and Paranormal Hoaxes: Cats and Chicanery Through History

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A cat was responsible for the Dean Manor ‘poltergeist’ activity. Image by bluekdesign

Parapsychologist and psychotherapist Nandor Fodor was one of the leading experts about poltergeists, hauntings and mediumship. He pioneered the theory that poltergeists are physical manifestations of conflicts within people’s subconscious minds as opposed to independent entities with their own minds.

Fodor theorized that human’s emotional stress caused poltergeist activity and compared reports of these incidents to hysterical conversion symptoms resulting from people’s psychological tension. This led to his investigation of the haunted Dean Manor House, in the county of Kent, England, in late fall of 1936, with an amusing discovery. He also investigated the Thornton Heath poltergeist two years later.

Dean Manor Poltergeist

The lone activity in the Dean Manor House was a kitchen door that opened by itself. Fodor, armed with a camera, went into the dining room and saw a cat on a sideboard. The smart feline pushed down on the latch to the kitchen door. When the door opened, the animal entered the aroma filled kitchen and went under the table. The staff never connected the cat with the door opening and all in the household thought a ghostly poltergeist caused the activity.

According to Fodor, the only paranormal activity he encountered was the kitchen door opening by itself, so this case teaches people not to overlook the obvious.

Thornton Heath Poltergeist

The Thornton Health Poltergeist hoax occurred in 1938, and involved a Mrs. L. Forbes who claimed a vampire bit her and a ghost tried to strangle her with a necklace. She submitted two puncture wounds and marks on her neck that resembled rope burns as “evidence” of the incidents. She said a tiger clawed her, and showed Fodor five wounds on her arm to prove it. Mrs. Forbes added that there was also poltergeist activity.


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Fodor sensed chicanery caused the phenomena, and wanted to examine Mrs. Forbes in his laboratory at the International Institute for Psychical Research, where he was the Director of Research, to study her behavior, along with his colleagues. The ladies’ committee at the institute made a one piece robe-like garment for Forbes to wear during the tests.

During the testing, dishes crashed on the floor. Glasses flew out of Forbes’ hands. Amazingly, objects from Thornton Heath were apported to the Institute – appearing to have been paranormally transported from one location to another. Fodor was still convinced that Forbes was physically creating the phenomena, and wanted to x-ray her.

Finally, Mrs. Forbes agreed to being x-rayed. The plate from her first x-ray revealed that she attached three objects from her belt. In the end, Forbes was debunked by science.

Psychology of the Hoax

Fodor concluded Forbes was neurotic and had a disorganized mind. She showed signs of dissociation – separating emotions, thoughts or experiences from each other either consciously or subconsciously – as well as hysterical reactions and auditory and visual hallucinations. He believed the ghost, vampire and tiger episodes were attempts at harming herself – a criterion for borderline personality disorder.

This case further convinced him that investigators must consider the psychological in parapsychological research. Mental processes involved in psychic phenomena, or psi, needed study even if investigators discovered fraud behind the phenomena. He believed the events surrounding Forbes indicated the subconscious nature of the poltergeist chicanery.

Paranormal Hoaxes: Lessons Learned

When debunking hoaxes, investigators must consider motives. Are they scams to make money, games for the perpetuators’ enjoyment, the workings of minds with psychiatric disorders or unintentional?

The Thornton Heath case involved complex psychological issues that caused Mrs. Forbes to perpetuate the hoax. It’s highly like that she had Munchausen syndrome, a psychiatric disorder in which people have a profound need for attention and purposely pretend that they are sick, become sick or suffer injury. They fake symptoms, including hurting themselves for sympathy and concern.

American actor, writer and director Orson Welles, as a Halloween treat, decided to broadcast H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, a science fiction novel about a Martian invasion on Earth in 1938. He wrote the script so it would sound like an authentic event, peppered with newscasts. There were announcements before the realistic broadcast that it was fiction. Some listeners missed the announcement and panic ensued. This “hoax” was unintentional.

Of course, the cat didn’t mean to create a hoax. The clever little animal figured out how to open the door when s/he smelled food, then hide under the table, hoping some tasty tidbits would fall to the floor.  Like this debunked poltergeist tale, other stories claiming authenticity in the realm of the paranormal require investigation and skepticism.

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© Copyright 2013 Jill Stefko, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Past

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