Uncanny: Danny Robins Meets A British Model Terrorised By A Poltergeist In Brooklyn
In the sixth instalment of Danny Robins' paranormal podcast series, 'Uncanny', we hear from Charlie Howard, a model who moved to a small apartment in New York where she seemed to be under siege from a supernatural stalker.
Danny describes Charlie as "pretty successful and pretty cool," he tells us this because he thinks it shows just what a huge impact her strange experiences have had on her. He said, "basically if you are successful and cool, the last thing you want to do is go around telling people you've had a poltergeist."
It all started when Charlie moved in to an apartment off of Marcy Avenue in Brooklyn, an area that Charlie tells us has a lot of crime and poverty which she describes as "really rough". Charlie instantly felt at ease with her housemate, Amy and her cat. The apartment on Ellery street was very long and thin, Charlie said, "it felt a bit like a train carriage. So there's like no light, really, there's no air, but that was all I could afford."
However, Amy's boyfriend was not very friendly. Charlie described Matt as being "about six foot four" and remembers hear him yelling all the time. She said, "one day he got really angry with me because I hadn't washed up a bowl or something like that." This resulted in Charlie mostly keeping to herself while at home.
Charlie tells Danny about the day the strange activity began after getting home from a shopping trip, "I was unpacking the plastic bag and I open the cupboard put the Cheerios in and to my right, very clearly there was an outline of a male figure." She added, "if you imagine just a black shadow, but more solid than that. That was what was really clearly in the corner of my eye. About six foot tall, I guess and it blocked out the light that was coming from my bedroom into the kitchen."
At first she thought the shadow was Matt but quickly realised no one was there. Then a few days later Charlie started to hear knocking sounds in her bedroom at night, something that would become very common. Charlie said, "at two o'clock, there was a banging on the wall and it was quite clearly going across the wall. It wasn't just one space, it was like someone was banging it, but there was nothing on the other side of the wall." This started to happen every single night at the same time. Charlie's room was two storeys up and the sounds were coming from the other side of the external wall.
Charlie also felt like she was being watched in her room, "I had a little chair that was in the corner of the room facing towards my bed and it genuinely felt there was someone watching me from it. I cannot explain why, I cannot explain how, but it was very much like a pair of eyes were looking at me. So I kind of look out of the corner and there'd be no one there."
At this point Charlie asked Amy if she was aware of any strange happening and eventually learnt that the last girl who lived in what was now Charlie's bedroom also reported strange happenings in the form of books being thrown at her, unexplained knocks and bangs, and even a sinister handprint appearing on a steamed-up mirror while she was showering.
Charlie then found out that Amy and Matt had experienced something odd too while trying out Apple's voice assistant, Siri, for the first time on an iPhone. She said, "they were mucking about on it and they were in their room and they were asking Siri weird questions, and they said a voice came over on Siri on the phone and said 'get out'." Charlie clarified that this wasn't Siri's voice, but another voice saying "get out."
The model continues telling her story, she told Danny a little more about her housemates, "Matt and Amy had a bit of an obsession with going to flea markets and buying antique stuff." This included two large antique mirrors that were hanging side-by-side in the kitchen, "this one night, it was about seven o'clock, I was having dinner on my bed but all of a sudden there was this bang," after running out to investigate Charlie found the two mirrors had both fallen down at exactly the same time. Charlie remembered, "it was the first time that Matt had genuinely looked a bit freaked out and I said 'was that the cat that jumped up?' And he said 'no, no, the cat was in our room'."
As you might expect from a story labeled as a poltergeist case, these mirrors weren't the only things to move as Charlie explained, "the cupboard doors were just open and plates and bowls would just fly out, knives and forks, my Cheerios. It was just really weird." Perhaps more disturbing still, Charlie spotted something odd about the front door, "I started to notice every time when I would come home, on our apartment door it appeared that there was scratch marks on it, and these were like claw marks."
At the top of the stairs outside the apartment door, Matt and Amy had a knee-height statue of the Virgin Mary. One night at 2am, Charlie heard a crash and found that the statue has been smashed. She said, "the whole of Mary was completely obliterated, down the whole of the stairs into dust, like just dust, but the only thing left was her face."
This incident drove Charlie to go to a witchcraft shop in the city for help. The man working in the store told Charlie that it sounded like she was dealing with a demon and gave her some advice on how to rid the home of it.
Back at the apartment with Amy, now armed with a candle and some sage, the girls performed a mini exorcism, but it didn't start according to plan. "I then lit the candle, and I s**t you not, the candle started burning blue and purple" Charlie, says, "I'd lit another candle and I'd never seen a flame like it, the flames were burning completely sideways, 90 degrees."
Charlie continued with the makeshift ritual, "I plucked up the courage and I got the sage and I just started going around corner-to-corner going, 'this is our flat now, please leave'." As they were doing this, all of a sudden they heard a sound from Amy's room, "these books, as heavy as a Bible basically, threw themselves on the floor."
Charlie eventually had enough and decided to move in with her boyfriend, but as she was packing to leave she experienced one last scare. She told Danny, "I was packing all my stuff to leave and it was just me home alone, turning around and in the corner of my eye, just like in that second week after moving in there, was the outline of the man in the doorway." Charlie said, "I just grabbed my stuff and I just legged it out there and I just thought, there is no way in hell I'm ever stepping foot back into that apartment."
What The Experts Think
This week Danny is joined by writer Deborah Hyde, who is a former editor of The Skeptic magazine, and somebody very familiar with those whole follow Danny's work, Evelyn Hollow, who featured in his previous podcast series, 'The Battersea poltergeist'.
Deborah kicked things off by sharing some insight about the apartment itself, "the idea of this long thin apartment, some psychologists think that being in long, thin environments can actually increase nervousness and anxiety because there are very few places to run. If you're attacked by an assailant, chances are the assailants coming from one direction, you've only got the other one to run in."
Danny then speaks to Evelyn about the knocking sounds, something which he describes as being the classic early stage of a poltergeist case. Evelyn said, "the only thing I can think of is, is there a fire escape on that wall? Because it could be there's something roosting on it like pigeons or birds or moving the wings but even then, the noise of that clanging off of something metal, maybe some pipes, is very different from banging in a wall." Evelyn added, "I think the paranormal explanation for why the sounds of poltergeist cases occur in a pattern is that it's something trying to get attention."
Deborah isn't so convinced about the banging, she said, "we love a story, human beings are story machines and it's how we convey our meanings. So perhaps this noise could have been 20 minutes, half an hour either side and yet in the narrative it got condensed down into exactly the same time every night. We certainly know that if we form a narrative, then you start looking to get it confirmed. You could understand how any minor noise, even noise of a slightly different pattern, would fit the bill and it would fit the narrative."
Danny then mentions the previous lodger's experience of hearing bangs, seeing objects move and the creepy handprint on the bathroom mirror. Evelyn said, "it's something, you know, straight out of a John Carpenter movie. We seem to find that poltergeists tend to latch themselves on to someone and really wear them down, like you know the paranormal equivalent of psychotic obsessive exes or abusive domestic partners."
Danny then shares his thoughts on the case, "it's striking I think how often in these cases we have a young female victim being haunted by something that they feel is male. I wonder, we're living at the moment in this age where we're very sadly realising that a lot of women live in fear of men." He then asks Deborah if she thinks that Charlie could be assuming that what ever it in her apartment is male, because it is threatening.
Deborah says, "she always saw it out of the corner of her eye and we can't perceive things very well out of the corner of our sight, so the fact that the details that she filled in, were very specific - this thing was big, it was male, and it was malevolent - for me it mirrors the way she felt about Matt. She may be projecting our inner fears onto this moment. It's referred to in psychology as top down processing where you interpret the world in the light of what you already know."
Moving on to the strange coloured flame that Charlie encountered during her attempt to move on the entity, Deborah said, "if I was running an occult shop, I think I would probably make sure the wicks of my magical candles were dipped in different chemicals to produce funky effects, and I certainly remember from chemistry lessons that if you burn potassium, it comes out purple. So that could well be an explanation for that bizarre experience."
Later Danny said, "we've talked about aspects of this case that could be in Charlie's imagination, but those scratches on the door, they're very real." Deborah wondered if somebody had a dog in the building, "there was a cat behind that door, so perhaps the dog was scratching trying to get to it. We could come up with all sorts of explanations. The point is, we don't know and neither does Charlie, but she integrates it into her narrative." Deborah's hunch is correct, from what Charlie told Danny earlier in the episode, we know that the lady living upstairs did have a dog which barked when the statue was smashed.
In Danny's final minutes with Charlie he says to her, "I'm thinking with my sceptic hat on, I'm looking for answers and what if it was Matt and Amy, what if they were behind all of this?" But Charlie says, "I don't know how they could be, because like I said the flat was so long and thin and they were on the complete other side."
Danny adds, "I just keep thinking about that strange symmetry, you've got Matt, and then you have this kind of shadow version of him." He questions, "what happened in that rundown Brooklyn apartment? Just that word, demon takes you into the world of Hollywood horror movies, but is it possible that there was some kind of menacing threatening energy there?"
Danny tells us, "this is a live investigation and we'll be coming back to it and our other cases very soon." This and more coming up in a new instalment of 'Uncanny'. All episodes so far are available on BBC Sounds now and will also be broadcast on Saturday nights at 11:30pm on Radio 4 from October 23.
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