Most ghosts are seemingly passive or even benevolent, appearing to scare people only by accident, never by intent. Ghosts that are violent (also known as poltergeists), however, are in a class by themselves. Stories suggest that some of these malevolent spirits have actually killed people. The most famous cases of violent hauntings have inspired multiple books and movie adaptations. This list looks at some of the most vicious "true" hauntings around the world and throughout history.
Most people think of hauntings as something ghosts do, but the entity haunting 50 Berkeley Square in London, England, has paranormal enthusiasts and experts a bit baffled. By all accounts, it seems to be something other-worldly, but precisely what is still up for debate.
The earliest verified account of the horror dates from the 1840s, when 20-year-old Sir Robert Warboys took a dare to spend the night in the supposedly haunted upstairs bedroom of a house surrounded by scary rumors for years. He went in with a gun and a candle, and a bell system for alerting the landlord, just in case. He never came out alive. Just an hour after he entered the bedroom, the landlord heard the bell ringing frantically, followed by a gunshot. When he got to Warboys' room on the second floor, he found the young man dead, with a look of horror on his face and a bullet hole in the wall opposite the body. It seemed he had perished because of fright, but due to what, no one could ever figure out.
After a series of residents, many with stories of hauntings, the home was left to sit vacant. A second, better-documented incident occurred a few decades later in 1887. This time, two sailors - Edward Blunden and Robert Martin - found themselves without a place to stay on Christmas Eve and decided to crash in the empty house on Berkeley Street. Martin fell asleep but was awakened in the night by the sound of Blunden fighting something. Martin awoke to a scene that caused him to flee the building in terror: Blunden was being strangled by a brown, formless shape that had tendrils, one of which it was using to strangle Blunden. (These tentacle-like appendages have led some to suspect the entity is not a ghost, but a "semi-aquatic, predatory, cryptid phenomenon" that surfaces from the London sewer system.)
Martin ran from the house and returned with a police officer, only to find that Blunden had been thrown from the second story of the house and crushed on the street below. (In another version of the story, Blunden's mangled body was found in the basement, at the foot of the stairs.)
The house is still there today, complete with an antiquarian bookshop on the first floor. By police order, no employee or customer of the store is allowed to explore the building's upper floors, though they do report strange noises from that part of the house.
It's probably for the best, since the creature - or whatever it is - that lives upstairs has reportedly claimed at least two lives so far.
If you've seen The Conjuring 2, this story may sound familiar. Loosely based upon the Enfield haunting, the movie embellished some of the details for dramatic effect. Nonetheless, the Enfield haunting remains one of the most widely debated and, if true, most violent episodes of ghost activity in the 20th century.
The trouble started on the night of August 30, 1977, when two of the Hodgson children witnessed a wardrobe inexplicably sliding across the floor and loud banging noises. After alerting their mother, Peggy, she called the police. Once there the police reportedly witnessed a chair sliding across the room by itself. All were left to conclude that some invisible force was at work in the house.
Before long, the Hodgson family's youngest daughter, Janet, became the focus of paranormal activity in the house. It seems she became possessed by the ghost of the house's previous resident, Bill Wilkins, who died of a brain hemorrhage in the home before the Hodgsons moved in.
Janet was levitated by the alleged spirit, and she also spoke through her in a creepy male voice, sharing details of his passing. Objects flew through the air, family members and visitors were physically assaulted, and matches were spontaneously lit by the restless spirit.
Some people dismissed the case as an elaborate hoax, but several eyewitnesses came forward with stories to corroborate their claims. One of them was a policewoman who signed an affidavit attesting that she had seen a chair levitate and move on its own in the house.
The alarming activities eventually subsided. Family members said they continued to feel a presence, but active haunting stopped. A subsequent family to live in the house reported hearing voices and feeling a presence, but nothing as extreme as those reported by the Hodgson family. The public and countless experts continue to debate whether the haunting the Hodgson family reported was a hoax or real. The surviving Hodgson children continue to maintain that the events truly happened.
Maria Jose Ferreira was just 11 years old when she became the target of a malicious poltergeist - and she did not survive the ordeal.
It happened in Jaboticabal, Brazil, in 1965. The angry spirit manifested stones and bricks out of nowhere and targeted little Maria with various physical assaults, including scratches, slaps, and bites, leaving her constantly battered and bruised. A visit by an exorcist did little to help; in fact, it seems to have provoked the spirit even further, to the point where it was setting Maria on fire in public places, in full view of many witnesses unconnected to the case.
A visit to a spirit medium revealed the source of the poltergeist's animosity: Maria had apparently been a hurtful witch in a previous life and was now being tormented by the spirits of people her previous incarnation had sent to their deaths with black magic.
The medium beseeched the spirits to leave the innocent girl alone, but to no avail. Maria returned home and continued to be tormented until she took her own life with pesticides. After her passing, the manifestations stopped in the Ferreira home.
The legend of the Bell Witch has been described as America's greatest ghost story, and some versions of the tale even involved a future US President. That last bit is likely an embellishment, but some claims about the story have been documented.
In the early 1800s, the Bell family settled in what would one day be Adams, TN, near the Red River. John Bell and his wife, Lucy, had three children: Elizabeth (Betsy) was born in 1806, Richard in 1811, and Joel in 1813.
Beginning in 1817, John and daughter Betsy became the targets of violent attacks by an invisible entity that eventually spoke to them. "Kate," as the spirit came to be called, would slap, bite, scratch, and otherwise assault everyone in the family from time to time, but seemed to hold special animus towards Betsy and John.
Before long, the spirit's manifestations became accompanied by curses, one of which supposedly slayed John Bell in 1820.
The Bell Witch legend was so famous in its own time that the family's quest for help is said to have reached the ears of future US President Andrew Jackson, who came to visit the home with his men, armed with silver bullets to protect themselves. But like all others who tried to help the Bells, they were driven away by the vengeful spirit.
Eventually, "Kate" gave up her vendetta against the Bells and is said to have retreated to a cave on their old property, where hauntings and bizarre occurrences continue to be reported to this day.