Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The Darlaston Poltergeist(s)

From The Archives...

" All the time you are sitting there and you are thinking: these things don't happen - well, at least they don't happen to me! These things happen on T.V.; these things happen in cinemas; these things happen in videos - they don't happen to me. This isn't real, it can't be real…. You know it's there, you know it's happening, but you don't want to believe it".

Mr. Thomas Whatmore


In early June, 2002, the Ghost Club learned of two poltergeist hauntings which took place in Darlaston during the mid-1990's.

What is remarkable about these hauntings, from a research point of view, is the fact that there are not just similarities between the hauntings, but certain elements within the cases would appear to undeniably link the two outbreaks together…….?

The accounts presented in 'Part 1' and 'Part 2' are constructed from interviews with Mr. Tom Watmore and Mr. Ray Selman (respectively) - key witnesses in both of the cases concerned. Information pertaining to the death of Andrew Lees, found in 'Part 3', is derived from newspaper reports contemporary to the dates concerned.

Part 1: "You cannot touch it or feel it, but you know it's there…"

At the time of the Whatmore poltergeist outbreak, the family were living in a council house in Herberts Park Road, Darlaston. The family consisted of Mr. And Mrs. Whatmore and their three daughters.

In hindsight, Mr Whatmore now believes that some form(s) of minor paranormal activity may have actually been occurring for up to two years before the main (brief) effect. However, as these events were mainly limited to such matters as small object movement - putting something down and finding it in a completely different place when you came back for it, etc - he tended to regard such occurrences (at the time) as sheer absent mindedness.

The first incident that actually caused concern for Mr. Whatmore was when a lightbulb fell from an overhead socket and landed on him as he lay in bed one night. Upon going to put the bulb back the next day, he found that it had already been replaced. No one in the house admitted to having touched it.

This innocent enough incident would seem to have been the precursor for what Mr. Whatmore terms the 'Violent' or 'Frightening' period and, over the next one and a half months, the family experience a wide range of disturbing activity.

Within a short period, knocking noises and disembodied voices - those of a man and a woman - were heard about the house. Often, these voices would appear to be arguing, though the conversation was invariably muffled and you could never quite make out what was being said. If you were downstairs, you could hear the conversation upstairs and vice versa. Sometimes, the voices could be heard calling out the names of people within the household - always a male voice calling a female name and a female calling a male. Mr. Whatmore suggests that the voices were unfriendly; something in their tone held an air of nastiness.

The T.V., radio or downstairs lights were often found to have been inexplicably switched on after the family had gone to bed at night and strange smells - some pleasant, some like rotting vegetables - regularly flooded the house. An unnatural darkness would envelop a room, even on the brightest days, and extreme temperature changes turned the air icy cold.

Family members and visitors to the house began reporting varying degree's of physical contact from something invisible.

A friend of the family was once pushed into a bath full of water while visiting the toilet. Despite the fact that they were drenched from head to foot, the bath was found to be completely dry upon investigation. Some while later, the same friend reported the sensation of someone stroking her hair. Mr. Whatmore says that you could actually see the girls hair moving, as if something were touching it. Another family friend fled the house after feeling someone touch her on the shoulder and both Mr. Whatmore and his eldest daughter found themselves violently shoved against walls and pushed to the ground.

Somewhat typical of even the most vicious poltergeist effects, some of the phenomena experienced could be uncharacteristically playful or helpful. Following an argument over which family member should make a drink, Mr. Whatmore entered the kitchen to find a piping hot pot of tea already waiting for him! No one had been into the room for some time and he admits to having immediately emptied the pot straight into the sink! (The poltergeist also enjoyed making tea disappear from freshly made cups!)

On another occasion, the Whatmores eldest daughter asked for a school blouse to be ironed for her. Although no one touched the blouse, it was found waiting for her, freshly ironed, as she left for school the next morning.

One amusing incident occurred as Mr. Whatmore was idly flicking through the T.V. channels one day when he came across a programme featuring Elvis Presley. Mr. Whatmore absolutely hates Elvis, but his wife is an avid fan! As Mrs. Whatmore was upstairs at the time - out of earshot - he quickly changed channels again, intending to say nothing about the matter. Only seconds later, Mrs. Whatmore came back downstairs and, as she stepped into the living room, the television suddenly changed stations of it's own accord…… back to the channel with Elvis on it!!

As well as poltergeist effects, some 'apparitions' were also seen around the house. Mr. Whatmore saw an old woman in their kitchen one night and his wife once saw the figure of a man in the same area. When she came to describe the latter mentioned to her husband, Mr. Whatmore believes that the man's appearance fitted that of his father who had died when his son was only 19. Mrs. Whatmore had never met, or so much as seen a photograph of, Mr. Whatmore Snr.

One particular apparition that Mr. Whatmore was understandably most reticent to mention was that of a half man-half horse creature that he saw snarling at him from the corner of the living room one night. Mr. Whatmore points out that, at this point in time, he was already at his wits end from the effect of the haunting and, as a result, almost constantly in a confused state of mind…….

One of the younger Whatmore daughters - a mere toddler at the time - was often heard holding long conversations with someone. Her parents constantly asked who it was she was talking with and the girl would simply reply: 'friend'….

It is only recently that the Whatmores daughter has actually described her visitor. She claims that a young boy - apparently covered in blood - used to sit at the foot of her bed and speak with her. (If this image sounds rather unbelievable - see 'Part Three' at the end of this section).

Two visits from the (then) Vicar of Darlaston brought no relief to the Whatmore family and an attempted blessing ended prematurely when a sound like 'furniture being thrown around' was heard from upstairs during the early stages of the rite. The Vicar is said to have abruptly left the premises. (Previously, a bottle of Holy Water, which had been brought to the house by a family friend, inexplicably shattered of it's own accord).

As matters worsened, the Whatmores took to sleeping downstairs in the living room. (Mr. Whatmore admits that he didn't even dare to visit the toilet by himself for some while). One night, Mr. Whatmore detected the now familiar sound of a muffled altercation taking place, seemingly on the landing at the top of the stairs. As he listened, he suddenly heard a sound - like that made by an object travelling very fast - and something struck him hard, just above the right eye.

Initially thinking that his wife or eldest daughter had thrown something at him, his first reaction was to cross his arms in front of his face. As he peered out from behind his arms, he saw what he can only describe as a 'black cloud', that seemed to stretch from floor level to only a few inches below ceiling height. Mr. Whatmore says that this is a sight that will remain with him forever and, at that point, he actually believed the form would kill him….

This turned out to be the final straw for Mr. Whatmore and he and his family fled the house that night. For the subsequent 3-4 weeks, they stayed at the home of friends. The Whatmores still visited their house on a daily basis, but only to check the property over and occasionally retrieve clothing and other essentials.

Still, even during these brief calls - always made in company, never alone - some form of activity usually occurred. On one such occasion, the visitors were approaching the house when they saw the bedroom curtains 'billowing' into the room of their own accord. Mr. Whatmore and his eldest daughter were violently pushed against a wall while retrieving food from their deep freeze and a neighbour saw an 'unnatural darkness' at the top of the stairs. Mr. Whatmore went to the house one day with a group of friends and was pushed to the living room floor while one of his companions fought with the front door which seemed intent on closing itself……..

While staying with their neighbours, a friend of the family suggested that they contact a 'Born Again Christian' group from the Walsall area for help. Remarkably, this advice turned out to be something of a positive step for the family as certain advice proffered by the group proved to be of benefit. Mr. Whatmore says that he now became able to take control of some of his fears - a step which made him feel more relaxed and positive about their situation.

Whether as a result of Christian guidance - or the simple fact that the activity may now have run it's course - the effect itself appears to have soon begun losing momentum. (Generally, poltergeist effects are fairly short lived affairs). The Whatmore family eventually moved back into their home and remained in the property for a further 6 - 12 months. Mr. Whatmore admits that things were much better after they returned, but, quite understandably, he always had the feeling that something was still there - waiting. As with such cases, the local Council would not recognise the Whatmores problem and, because of this, refused to re-house them. As a result, the family eventually sought private accommodation and Mr. Whatmore currently resides in the Dudley Port area.

Part 2: "Now you tell me there was no sort of malicious intelligence behind that…!"

Ray Selman and his wife had lived on the 10th floor of Great Croft house, Darlaston, for 6-7 years when they first started noticing 'odd happenings' around their flat.

Remarkably, at the time that Mr. Selmans activity began, he had only just recently struck up a friendship with Mr. Tom Whatmore. Mr. Selman had only previously visited the home of his new friend on a couple of occasions and a third visit happened to correspond with the virulent period of the Whatmore activity. Upon being informed of the latter mentioned, Mr. Selman actually joked with his friend, saying that he 'hoped no ghosts would be following him home that night'….

Almost immediately, Mr. Selmans own 'odd happenings' began.

Objects were found to have been inexplicably moved around the flat - or blatantly hidden - while the Selmans experienced a constant feeling of being watched. Doors closed of their own accord, inexplicable noises were heard, and a pile of loose change left lying on a sideboard was found to have been neatly stacked up in a vertical column.

Mr. Selman was cooking one day, when his wife suddenly burst into the room and angrily accused him of almost scaring her to death. Her husband evidently had no idea of what she was talking about. Mrs. Selman explained that she had been watching television, when, from her peripheral vision, she suddenly became aware of a head poking through the kitchen / living room partition. As she turned to look at it fully, the head quickly withdrew into the kitchen. Mr. Selman maintains that he had been busy cooking at the time and had, at no point, looked through the partition.

On one occasion, Mr. Selman once had a pen bounce off the top of his head as he lay on the floor watching T.V. one night. The pen in question had been resting on top of the television set only seconds earlier and had to travel some feet 'across' the room in order to land where it did.

While some physical interaction was light, almost playful at times, Mr. Selman also found himself suffering inexplicable scratches on his arm and, one morning as he lay in bed, something slapped him hard across the face.

Unfortunately, life in the flat was becoming increasingly disagreeable and Mr. Selman eventually turned to the Church for help. (He was advised to contact the vicar of Darlaston by Mr. Whatmore). Unlike the Whatmore outbreak, the blessing actually seemed to have a positive effect on the troublesome activity and it abruptly stopped.

Sadly, this respite was not to last however and, only a month later, Mr. Selman claims to have witnessed an exceptionally tall, dark, transparent form float across his hallway from the living room to the kitchen area. This proved more than enough for Mr. Selman and he sought alternative accommodation immediately.

Having soon cleared his former home of all furniture and belongings, Mr. Selman took one last look around the flat with a friend. As they made to leave, the friend pointed out that a front door alarm had somehow been overlooked during the removal. Endeavours were made to unscrew the device, but, with all of the tools having been taken from the flat, their ministrations were in vain. Angered and frustrated, Mr. Selman admits that he finally ended up taking one of his shoes off and smashing the alarm to pieces. Upon finishing, Mr. Selman decided to take one last glance around the flat. There - sitting dead centre in the middle of the bedroom floor - they found a solitary screwdriver…..

Part 3: Speculation And Potential Foundation Stones?

The concept of 'paranormal activity as a form of contagious effect' is quite rare, but certainly not unknown. (Members of the W.M.G.C. may have experienced a mild form of this kind of influence during our 1997 investigation of Northycote Farm). Believers in this type of occurrence maintain that the 'contracted' phenomenon somehow becomes 'attached to' - or somehow 'rubs off on' - visitors to the haunted site in question. Both Mr. Whatmore and Mr. Selman are convinced that this sort of effect was the cause of the Great Croft house outbreak. This 'residual' activity is generally restricted to poltergeist manifestations, though instances where other ghostly phenomenon has been 'transferred' have been recorded. Invariably, the 'residual effect' is considerably weaker than the original activity, as with the Whatmore / Selman outbreaks.

Both households were experiencing considerable levels of 'stress' prior to their respective hauntings - a state constantly associated with poltergeist outbreaks. (Sadly, Mr. Selmans marriage broke up while he was still living at Great Croft House and Mr. Whatmore separated from his wife following their move).

The general area in which the Whatmore family lived has something of a chequered past. The canal which runs within 20 yards of the former Whatmore home has no less that three separate female ghosts associated with it; the first at Wards Bridge (300 feet from the house in Herberts Park Rd), the second at the rear of the old Moxley Isolation Hospital (approx. 0.75 miles distant) and the third at the Broken Bridge in nearby Bradley. (Around 1.5 - 2 miles away).

On Saturday the 14th May, 1977, eight year old Darlaston schoolboy, Andrew Lees, was discovered lying in some bushes on a piece of waste ground known locally as 'Wardies'. He was found to have been savagely beaten about the head with some heavy, blunt object, resulting in horrific injuries. (The 12 yr. old Bentley schoolboy who found him said that he couldn't actually see Andrews face because he had been bleeding so badly from his head. *See section of 'Part 1' concerning the description of the 'ghostly friend' who allegedly visited the Watmore's youngest daughter). The boys hands had been tied behind his back, a rope placed around his neck, and he had been covered over with his own duffle coat.

Still alive when he was discovered, Andrew was rushed to Walsall Manor Hospital, but died four hours later from a brain haemorrhage caused by depressed fractures to the skull.

The ensuing manhunt lasted just under a month and a local 15 year old was eventually charged with killing Andrew. (The implement used had been a hammer).

The patch of land known as 'Wardies' lies only 100 yards distant from Herberts Park Road and the Lees family lived next door to the house occupied by the Whatmore family some 20 years later.


The W.M.G.C.


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Makes you wonder sometimes about fate and "The Cosmic Joker". I was playing in Berry Ave and Stanbury Ave that afternoon as I generally did on a Saturday afternoon. My grandparents lived at 54 Berry Ave (Ketland) and my great-grandmother lived at 21 Stanbury Ave (Bliss). This was within 200 yards of Wardies where the murder took place. I was 8 years old, the same age as Andrew Lees, and my Christian and middle name is Lee Andrew! I remember being approached by a man who asked me about some sweets I had just purchased from 'John's' little open-all-hours-style shop in Wiley Avenue at the bottom of Berry Ave. Turns out he had nothing to do with the murder and I didn't see or hear anything out of the ordinary but it still concerns me about how it could have so easily have been me that was murdered.I did not know Andrew Lees. As an aside, my mother swears to this day that she saw a ghost standing at the top of the stairs at 54 Berry Ave when she was growing up.

W.M.G.C. said...

Thank you very much for your comment Anonymous! I knew Andrew in passing, as we went to the same primary school (Pinfold Street)..... though I don't think that I ever really spoke to the lad. (There was a year or so difference in our ages). Over the years, Wardies Pool and the surrounding area has been a frequent 'play area' for myself and friends and, while I always found the site to be a little depressing, the ramifications of being over there had never really hit home with regards to past events, etc. It is interesting to see your comment about a ghost being seen in Berry Avenue by your mother, as I've now (in quite recent times) heard of a couple of haunted properties around that region. Could I possibly ask for more information on the sighting please? Feel free to contact us via our email address at wmghostclub@yahoo.co.uk

Steve Foster said...

The one thing that stuck out for me while reading this is the mention of the 'canal'. Water is a known source of energy. Water, limestone,quartz etc. I would reallly like to know what the geology of the area is. The idea of finding a screwdriver after clearing out the house seems like the same pointless 'humour' that a poltergeist loves to display.

W.M.G.C. said...

Hi Steve,

Thank you very much for your comment.

The entire region concerned is a heavily mined area - primarily for coal.

Yes - I thought the 'screwdriver' detail was fantastic, to be honest! Laugh!!

Maggie said...

This is my family, I'm now nearly 30 years old and completly remember the boy who used to visit. He used to come from the airing cubord at the bottom of my bed. I was too young to remember all the events we used to chat all the time and I remember threatening my sister with him (bad of me really) but wow didn't realise my dad did this i remember being in the chat magazine to years back to do with this story.

Maggie said...

I remember this vaigly as I was so young but I'm the girl who used to talk with the boy. He used to come from the airing cubord which was also in my room at the end of the bed I used to threaten my sister with him (bad of me really) im now nearly 30 years old so wouldn't remember all the details. I remember being in the chat magazine also when I was younger about the same story. Didn't realise my dad did this ��

W.M.G.C. said...

Hi Maggie,

Thank you very much for your recent comment!! I would love to be able to speak to you further on this matter, if at all possible? Please feel free to email me at wmghostclub@yahoo.co.uk if you would prefer.....


West Midlands Ghost Club

Valerie Tromans said...

My family lived in Stanbury Avenue at the time Andrew was killed. I was 11 but I remember Andrew very well. We went to the same primary school and my younger sister was in Andrew’s year. He was a troubled little boy. He did not have a happy home life and was always into mischief but really he was just seeking attention and Friendship. I often used to sit and chat with him. I saw him a few hours before he was murdered. He had been fighting with another boy and I separated them. I made a statement to the police to this effect. Andrew didn’t deserve the end that came his way and I truly hope he is at peace. I also knew the boy that was charged with his murder. His sister was in my class at school, lovely girl. I have nothing nice to say about him but his family suffered for what he did and they moved away.

W.M.G.C. said...

Hi Valerie - thank you very much for your comment! I too attended Pinfold Street School at the same time (though I believe I was the year below Andrew, if I recall correctly?) I remember him being regarded as 'naughty'..... but, as you say, a lot of his problems stemmed from his home-life sadly......

I can't pretend that I don't have very strong issues with the way matters went, following the discovery of the identity of the killer.... and I certainly, purposefully, use the word 'murderer' when referring to the person concerned!! Needless to say, this wasn't found to be the case, of course, and I believe a terribly lenient sentence was handed down.

Thank you again for your comment Valerie.

Best wishes,