Thornton Heath Poltergeist

The Thornton Heath Poltergeist is a case involving a house in London haunted by a most unusual Poltergeist in 1938. The poltergeist activity was centred on Mrs. Forbes, the mistress of Thornton Heath, who was described by an investigator, Nandor Fodor, as suffering from “poltergeist psychosis.” Fodor asserted that the psychosis was an episodic mental disturbance of schizophrenic character, and that Mrs. Forbes’ unconscious mind was responsible for the activities finally determined to be fraudulent. Fodor eventually identified the cause as sexual trauma that had occurred in Mrs. Forbes’s childhood, and had been repressed.

The full story, however, was not told until 1945 when Fodor, director of research of the International Institute for Psychical Research, gave a lecture at the Association for the Advancement of Psychotherapy and published it in the Journal of Clinical Psychopathology.

The delay was the result of public and professional criticism directed at Fodor as a result of his emphasis on the psychological aspects of the case. Matters became so intolerable to Fodor that he successfully sued some of his critics for libel. Eventually, however, Fodor was vindicated by winning recognition for his theory.

Mrs. Forbes, a woman of 35 years, lived at Thornton Heath with her husband and son. From his very first day of observation, Fodor entertained the notion that Mrs. Forbes could be causing the activities by normal means, despite her visible signs of distress in reaction to the activities, and his lack of proof.

At first, Fodor was the sole eyewitness to the many poltergeist incidents taking place in the house. He suggested that Mrs. Forbes should be studied at the Institute where he and his colleagues would keep an eye on her. Precautions included having her undress for a body check and having her wear special clothes for easy viewing of any sleight-of-hand tricks.

But the perplexing incidents continued at the Institute. Dishes floated and crashed to the floor, glasses flew out of Mrs. Forbes’s hand, objects from Thornton Heath mysteriously appeared in the Institute (10 miles away) and clattered to the floor. Objects suddenly appeared in Mrs. Forbes’s hand or inside a box.

At the same time as he was gathering evidence of the poltergeist activities, Fodor was investigating Mrs. Forbes’s psychological background. He found enough material to conclude that she was a neurotic with a disorganized psyche. Her past was replete with incidents of hysterical reactions and a dissociated personality which included hearing voices, having visions and signs of lapsing unconsciousness.

Mrs. Forbes was even believed to be bent on self-punishment, and she revealed physical signs of her self-destructive attempts. One alleged experience with an apparition at Thornton Heath that tried to strangle her with a necklace left her with burnlike marks on her neck. Another time she reportedly was clawed by a phantom tiger which left five long weals on her arms. Still another time she claimed that a VAMPIRE had visited her during the night, bit her, and left two puncture marks on her neck.

Fodor and other eyewitnesses at the Institute watched Mrs. Forbes as she appeared to be choked by some unseen hand which also left marks on her neck. Fodor explained this phenomenon as Mrs. Forbes intensely wishing the death of a man she saw in a vision. In her imagination she identified so strongly with him that she had him hanged in her own body.

But Fodor was certain that Mrs. Forbes was using trickery, hiding objects in her clothing that she would quickly retrieve while seeking to distract her observers with another activity. Once Fodor requested that she be stripped in daylight so that she could be examined for secreting these small objects that seemingly appeared from nowhere and fell to the floor.

Nothing was revealed, but Fodor knew that no proper conclusions could be made without either a medical or X-ray examination. Initially objecting and then agreeing, Mrs. Forbes had the X-ray and thereby proved Fodor to be correct. Two small objects were seen to be held under Mrs. Forbes’s left breast. They later appeared in her hands after she had allegedly collapsed.

This event convinced Fodor that Mrs. Forbes was fabricating the hauntings. At the same time, she Demonstrated hysterical reactions, such as abdominal swelling, to being prevented from revealing the objects from their secret places under her clothing. Fodor further became convinced that Mrs. Forbes knew what she was doing and took a great deal of delight in fooling her observers.

Yet, he believed that such a case Demonstrated the need for a new departure in psychical research, one that sought to understand the mental processes that go before, or along with, such practices, no matter how fraudulent. In Fodor’s opinion, Mrs. Forbes’s choice of objects, her obvious signs of distress before she revealed them, and many of her monitory hallucinations, all pointed to the unconscious nature of her behaviour.



  • Fodor, Nandor. On the Trail of the Poltergeist. New York: The Citadel Press, 1958.


The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits– Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007


In an averagely-sized house in Thornton Heath, England, a poltergeist terrorized a family by exhibiting violent paranormal activity ranging from simple levitation of things to moving furniture, from loud footsteps to physically attacking the members of the family. The poltergeist was apparently the ghost of a mid-1800s farmer who once lived in the same spot as the family’s house. For their peace of mind, the family decided to have their house blessed, only to be welcomed by worse poltergeist activity.

The First Paranormal Activity

In 1972, a family in Thornton Heath in England, whose names were not revealed to the public for their own privacy, was living a rather normal life. However, during one November night, they were suddenly awoken by a very loud garbling that they later realized to be their radio.

When the father checked, the radio was broadcasting a foreign station blasting a foreign program. The volume was on maximum so that it woke up the whole family. Thinking it was only one odd and isolated incident, the family ignored it. However, they were shocked to have another odd event occur a few days after the radio happening.

While the family was taking a rest, the lampshade in their living room was knocked down but an unseen force. According to them, the lampshade did not simply fall down, it seemed like it was forcefully pushed. No matter how many times they erected the lampshade, it would still fall down of its own accord.

Christmas and New Year Hauntings

On Christmas, the father was sitting on the couch when an ornament from the Christmas tree allegedly flew straight at him. The Christmas ball hit him straight in the face with such an incredible force that he fell on the floor. As he was trying to stand back up, the whole family witnessed their large Christmas tree moving violently as if someone was taking hold of its trunk and shaking it.

The terror of the poltergeist did not leave them even after the New Year. The poltergeist activity in the house only increased tenfold. Loud footsteps were often heard all over the house especially in the dead of the night. On one occasion, loud footsteps were heard in the master’s bedroom even if all of them were together in the living room.

The son was awoken one night by a feeling that someone was watching him. When he eventually opened his eyes, he saw a man in his 50s or 60s standing at the edge of his bed. The man wore old-fashioned clothes and was looking at the boy with such contempt and anger. In his fright, the boy stayed in his bed until the apparition disappeared.

Probably one of the scariest paranormal activity in the house was during one particular night when the family invited a number of guests for dinner. They were having a peaceful meal when loud pounding on the door startled the group. When the father stood up to open the door for the rather impatient visitor, the door burst open and a strong gust of air blew in. Almost at the same time, the lights all over the house lit up.

Mr. Chatterton’s Ghost

Disturbed by the activity in their house, the family decided to call for the help of a priest. After some investigation, the experts found out that the poltergeist in the house was the ghost of a farmer named Mr. Chatterton. Historical files were found and reviewed and indeed, a man with the surname Chatterton once lived in the same spot as the house during the middle of the 1800s. It is said that the farmer was angered by the ‘trespassing’ of the family on his property and that he wanted them to leave the place.

Increasing Poltergeist Activity

A number of religious rituals and blessings were done in the house; the exorcism of the house did not seem to take effect. However, the opposite happened and the ghostly activity continued to worsen. The loud sounds coming from different parts of the house added to the loud footsteps. There were noisy rappings on or seemingly inside the walls and crashing sounds at odd times of the day. There was a time when an earsplitting smash was heard; as if heavy furniture was slammed onto the floor of the bedroom.

When they came to inspect, the room was as peaceful as they left it. Random things from all over the house, especially kitchen utensils, would often levitate and sometimes be thrown at the family members.

Almost ironically, just after the house was blessed, the whole family saw the apparition of what seemed to be Mr. Chatterton’s wife. The family described her as a middle-aged woman with a gray hair bun. She would appear in parts of the house and when one laid their eyes on the apparition, she would slowly fade away until she completely disappeared.

The increasingly violent activity of the ghosts in the house drove the family away and they decided to leave the house for good. Up to this day, the identity of the family who experienced the haunting is still kept a secret.