Uncanny: The Ghosts That Threatened To Kill Journalist Hannah Betts

December 16, 2021 1:00 AM ‐ PodcastsParanormalGhostsRadioLong Reads

This article is more than two years old.

Uncanny - Case 9: I will kill you all
Danny Robins returns with another episode of 'Uncanny' and this time the paranormal podcast explores a classic haunted house on the outskirts of Birmingham that terrorised its inhabitants in the 1980s.

In the episode, which is available now on BBC Sounds, we meet Hannah Betts who moved into the three-storey Victorian villa when she was 16. Now she's a journalist who's written for the likes of The Telegraph, The Guardian and The Times. Danny likened her case to the type of story you'd find in a Hollywood movie, like 'The Conjuring' or 'The Amityville Horror'.

Danny said, "we've all seen those films where a family moves into a sprawling old house, hoping it's gonna be their dream home, and we know what happens it becomes a haunted nightmare." He continued, "but it's fiction, right? It does not happen in real life. It's certainly does not happen in the leafy suburbs of Birmingham, Britain's second biggest city, and yet maybe it does because Hannah's story is one of the most frightening that I have heard this series."

Hannah's Story

Speaking on the podcast, Hannah tells Danny, "our house was about three miles from the city centre. This big Victorian villa, ivy-strewn, it was hidden behind trees, very high ceilings, corridors, three floors, and lots of bedrooms." Hannah moved in with her parents and four siblings. They soon learnt about the house's local reputation, but as a rational and skeptical family, they didn't entertain these stories.

Hannah then told Danny about the local legends related to the house, "it boasted three ghosts, a woman who I think mainly walked on the ground floor where there were beautiful Victorian tiles. And then there was supposed to be a doctor who was looking for dying grandson that he'd run home to try and save. And then there was also supposed to have been a murder in the house. Legend had it that there was a blood stain on the stairway." Hannah revealed to Danny that the family once found the stain under carpet, but dismissed it as a story made up by the people who live there before.

It wasn't long before the weird goings on started, as Hannah recalls, "the most striking thing at first was that every night at 4am, someone or something would charge up the stairs and rattle doors, push doors to open them and then finally end up in my mother's room in the master bedroom."

What started out as phantom footsteps, soon got much more threatening. Hannah says, "there was an oven on the third floor from when it had been used as a flat and we came home and all the rings were on full blast. So we turned it off. Then we came home and it happened again. So we had it disconnected, but it still came on." Hannah said that they would also find all the taps turned on upon returning home. Even Hannah admits, "it sounds like such a stereotype of a bad movie with a poltergeist. I remember the physical feel of trying to turn it on. A real force had wrenched those on."

The next significant happening was when Hannah's mother started behaving very oddly. Hannah said, "she was a bit pensive, secretive, I guess. So we interrogated her and she finally admitted that one night she got up to have a pee and as she went into the small lavatory room, she saw what she described as a dead child. She said it was a dead child dressed in Victorian clothing, visible from the knees."

The room next to this lavatory soon gained the reputation as being the most terrifying room in the house. Hannah remembers that the room, which was always cold, was the bedroom of her youngest brother who was having difficulty sleeping. Hannah said, "we asked him why he wasn't sleeping and he said, 'every night it's the same. There's a lady with a big bottom.' And later on, we wondered, is this some sort of big Victorian dress? 'And she's there with two men, the men are fighting and then one man hurts the other and the lady screams.'"

Hannah's brother was soon moved out of the room, but her grandmother and mother both later spent nights in the room and neither would tell them rest of the family about the terrors they witnessed there.

Danny tells us that the family are soon forced to confront the situation. Hannah tells him, "we're sitting having coffee at sort of 11 in the morning, and everyone was scared." But it was about to get scarier, as Hannah explained, "there and as we were finally talking about it, an old mirror suddenly sprang off the wall. It sort of projected off the wall and smashed very violently and on the back of this mirror where the numbers 666 repeatedly etched, as much as if with a knife or a nail or a screw along with the message, 'I'm going to f**king kill you all'." Luckily, no one died and the activity did carry on, but not with the same intensity.

Hannah then revealed one last detail about the haunting that happened when she was 16. She told us, "I woke up, I heard this god-awful crushing noise. I mean, it was so loud. And the wooden thing that was blocking up the old fireplace had crashed open. So stuff had come out of the chimney and I looked and there were newspapers, lots of old newspapers stuffed up the chimney. So I read them and they had stories about a murder in the house."

Danny asked, "so that murder that people told you that taken place in the house, the blood stain on the stairs, had actually happened?" Hannah said, "it did seem that way."

What The Experts Think

Hannah's story is an interesting one, but we shouldn't get too excited about it. After all, it's just the testimony of one person. In this case there are no other witnesses we know of so far. Hannah does mention that the house's reputation was known locally, but this was in the mid-80s, so that hyper-local legend might have been lost over time - either way, it's impossible to validate without knowing specifically where the house is.

Hannah has been recounting her story since at least 2013 and the details of her account haven't altered in all that time, but her tale does raise some questions. What happened to the papers Hannah found in her fireplace? If the murder in the house was in the local news, then surely details of it must be in the public domain and verifiable? What about her brothers and sisters, would they back her story? Do they remember it the same way?

Danny's experts were on hand to answer some of these questions and others. He starts by speaking to Peter Laws, an ordained Reverend and writer on the supernatural. He tells Danny, "what I find really interesting about this family in particular, is that they sneer at people who believe in ghosts, and then when they start to see things they can't explain, they are reluctantly finding themselves in the role of those that they mocked before and you can hear in the way Hannah describes it, telling us 'look, I know this is ridiculous, and yet this is what I saw.' I think this gives a ring of authenticity to her account."

Danny's other guest, skeptical blogger, Haley Stevens, reminded us that even rational people can have paranormal experiences. She said, "I think it's important to remember that just because you don't believe doesn't mean that you're not primed to have these experiences." The blogger added, "not believing doesn't necessarily make you immune from reaching for those conclusions when something a bit weird happens."

Danny asks Peter if he thinks that the repeating sound of someone running up the stairs every night could be due to the fact the family lived in on old house that could be making noises. Peter said, "not in my opinion." He added, "we're not just talking about noises or creaks or even bangs. We're talking about regular at 4am in the morning, thunderous movements, all in this kind of pattern that always ends up in the mother's room."

Hayley says there's another factor that needs to be considered, "part of me wonders if perhaps people were moving around and causing footsteps but didn't want to admit it and then it's just sort of been embellished his phantom footsteps, or whether it could be more of a structural cause."

Hayley also talked about cases in which electrical equipment has seemingly turned itself, like the oven in Hannah's story. In Hayley's case, it's mostly been kettles. She said, "it's not that the cases that I've investigated with these kettles have ghosts which are obsessed with kettles, it's the appliances themselves that are causing the issue."

But Danny wonders, "I guess the question is, can it still happen even when the appliance is disconnected?"

Danny continued to ask Peter about the apparition of the dead child that Hannah's mum saw. Peter thinks there are two possible explanations, either she's making it up or she really did see a ghost, but Hayley said these are not the only two options. She explained, "she genuinely could have seen something in that room, but it doesn't necessarily mean it was a ghost."

Peter offered up another possible explanation for the sighting, the controversial stone tape theory. He describes this as "the notion that a place or a building can retain events from the past and play them on a loop." But Hayley isn't convinced, she says, "when you trace stone tape theory back through the years it actually originates from a movie called 'The Stone Tape' by Nigel Kneale from the early 70s, and people I think were convinced by the ideas in this fictional movie and apply them to real life cases of paranormal phenomena with no real evidential basis to that."

Danny asked Hayley about that terrifying room in the house. The blogger said, "fear is a strong response to an environment and there has been research that shows if you're under psychological stress, this can actually change your cognitive processes. So when people report that they have a sensation of somebody being in a room with them, that can often be something to do with maybe stresses that they're under in their everyday life."

As for the satanic message on the mirror, which Danny describes as being like something from a Hollywood horror movie, Hayley said, "I wonder if we're in the realms of a Hollywood horror movie, or if we're actually in the realms of a prank."

More episodes of Radio 4's 'Uncanny' are available on BBC Sounds now and will also be broadcast on Saturday nights at 11:30pm on Radio 4.

Next week Danny will drop the show's Christmas episode, which will be available a day earlier than normal on the night of Tuesday, December 21. Danny will be hosting a live listen-along on Twitter that evening at 9pm. You can get involved and share your thoughts and theories using the hashtag #UncannyListenAlong.

Danny teases, "it's one hell of a Christmas ghost story as two young climbers spend the night in an old cottage in the Scottish Highlands."

Case Update: January 2022

Early in January, Danny returned to this case with an update in Episode 12 of the podcast.

Danny said, "Hannah's family were such ardent skeptics that they found it hard to talk to each other about what was happening in the house, but Hannah's interview has made the siblings finally confront their memories and Hannah's sister told her about a couple of incidents that Hannah herself had not previously been aware of."

In the update, Hannah said, "I spoke to my sister about it really for the first time ever, and she said two things that really unsettled me and one was that my father saw a woman on the stairs and he was really scared that he didn't tell anyone." She continued, "my mother came up with the genius idea of using a baby monitor which she could put in the hallway outside my sister and brother's room, so she wouldn't have to keep running up and down stairs. Only every time the monitor was plugged in, it picked up a very, very weird, loud, angry sounding Victorian church sermon, but with a kind of furious male voice."

A listener of the podcast, John McIntyre, later discovered that according to the 1891 census, there was a vicarage right next door to Hannah's house in Victorian times.

Danny summed up, "I think what's particularly striking is the idea of a 19th century voice coming through this new technology, the baby monitor. It reminds me of the rowing machine in Hannah's mum's room, a modern invention, seemingly haunted by Victorian ghost."

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