Oakland Poltergeist Poltergeist case centring on a 19-year-old man in the office of a court transcription firm in Oakland, California, in 1964. The case is reminiscent of the Rosenheim Poltergeist in that it involved the malfunctioning of the telephone system and other equipment.
Phenomena began in January 1964. The telephones did not appear to be receiving all of the firm’s calls, and conversely, they would ring and the buttons would light up when no one was calling. Moreover, calls placed in the office did not always connect with the intended party. The frequency of these problems increased until by March it was difficult to conduct business.
A telephone repairman could find nothing mechanically or electronically wrong with the phones. He tried to trace the incoming “no-party” calls with a monitoring device but failed. He suggested that the misdirected outgoing calls might be due to someone in the office jiggling the on/off button while the call was placed, but no one was ever observed or even suspected of doing this. At the end of May, the firm had the telephone system replaced, after which only occasional “no-party” calls were received.
The firm’s electric typewriters were the next to be affected, in early June. Keys on several machines in succession failed to work. A repairman found that the springs on the keys, which normally lasted for the life of the machines, had come loose. The springs were duly replaced but then would detach again—on occasion immediately after the repair, without the machine having gone unobserved in the meantime. The service company replaced the firm’s machines, but the new machines malfunctioned in the same way. Finally, the firm moved their typewriters to a different office on the floor below, where they worked fine and where they stayed for the remainder of the disturbances.
In the week before the typewriters were moved, other strange things began to happen. Telephones inexplicably fell to the floor; one employee got so tired of picking hers up that she finally just left it there. Once all eight telephones in the suite fell at the same time. Glass ashtrays also slid from desks and tables, usually breaking when they hit the tile floor, and fluorescent lightbulbs broke loose and fell with the same result. One employee heard a noise and looked into one of the rooms, where he saw coffee dripping from the ceiling beams and a cup lying shattered on the floor.
After a couple of days of this, the firm notified the building manager, who called the police. An officer responded, talked to the staff and looked around the office. He paid particular attention to a closet in which several objects had fallen off shelves; he pushed a glass vase and pitcher to the back of one shelf, behind the door jamb. While he continued with his interviewing, there was a crash, and both the vase and pitcher were found shattered on the floor outside the closet.
A newspaper reporter and photographer then arrived. The reporter, James Hazelwood, was witness to several other phenomena. He kept a log of events, which occurred every few minutes for the hour he was in the office. He would hear a sound, investigate, and find something lying, often broken, on the floor. In the first incident, he found a Dictaphone pedal that was normally stored in a closet, its connecting cord wrapped securely around it. The device was lying beside a counter, the edge of whose top appeared to have been recently struck by something hard. In another incident, Hazelwood found an aerosol can lying on the floor about 8 feet from the closet in which it was normally kept.
Almost from the beginning of the disturbances, suspicion centred on the youngest member of the staff, 19- year-old John O. He was often in the room or nearby when things happened. Sometimes cups or ashtrays flew off desks as he walked past them. At one point, disturbances occurred also in the suite of an insurance firm, on the floor immediately below that of the court reporting firm, when John happened to be visiting there. However, although he was closely watched, he was never caught doing anything intentionally. The police took John in for questioning but released him.
Arthur Hastings, then at Stanford University, was called. He learned that John was under considerable stress. Besides being the firm’s youngest employee, he was the newest, having only been working there about one month when the disturbances began. He was also recently married and was buying a new car, on which he was making double payments. Hastings concluded that John was probably responsible for the phenomena through unconscious Psychokinesis (PK), brought about by the stress of his life and pressures of work in the office. He suggested that John be allowed to work at home, and this was arranged.
John would pick up material in the morning, type it up and bring it back before the close of work. He kept to this schedule for four days, during which no disturbances occurred in the office. Then he returned to work in the office—a mistake, because by that afternoon ashtrays and telephones were once more landing on the floor. This was enough for the police, who were still investigating the case, and they took him in for more questioning.
This time, John spent three hours in the police station and finally confessed to being responsible for everything. A press conference was called, and he made a public statement. He said that a file cabinet and water cooler had fallen after he had pushed them; he had then rushed into the next room where he pretended to be as confused as everyone else by the sound of the crash. He had unscrewed lightbulbs, hid them behind his back, then threw them when no one was looking; other phenomena were contrived in the same way.
Reporter Hazelwood was out of town on the day of the police interrogation and news conference, but when he returned, he asked John why he had said the things he had said. John told him that the police were so sure that he had done it all purposefully that confessing was the only way he could get them to leave him alone.
Neither Hazelwood nor the employees at either the court reporting or insurance firms who had witnessed phenomena believed John was responsible for them by normal means, although all (including John) agreed that he was somehow connected to their occurrence. In any event, the police interrogation and John’s “confession” brought the phenomena to an end. John continued with the court reporting firm, doing his work at home for another month, when he quit and moved back to his former home on the East Coast.
- Hastings, Arthur. “The Oakland Poltergeist.” Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research (SPR)72 (1978): 233– 56.
- Hazelwood, James. “Poltergeist Wrecks Business Office.” In C. Fuller and M. M. Fuller, eds., Strange Fate. New York: Paperback Library, 1965, pp. 65–71.
- Pratt, J. Gaither. ESP Research Today. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1973