Tuesday, August 25, 2015

'Scared to Death'


I'm sure we have all heard the phrase 'scared to death.' Well, here is a vintage account that was printed in the London St. James Gazette and Evening Review - September 18, 1889:

Mr. Coroner Carttar and a jury were for several hours on Monday night engaged in holding an inquiry into the death of Ann Georgina Hanks, aged eighteen, of 11, Frederick street, Greenwich. The court was crowded, considerable interest being manifested in the proceedings on account of the rumour that the deceased girl had been frightened by ghostly signs. An extraordinary story was told to the jury by Mary Ann Robinson Maxstead, aged fourteen, sister to the young man with whom the deceased was “keeping company.” She said that on Wednesday evening last she went with deceased to her bed-room. The witness carried a paraffin lamp. The deceased got an apron out of her box in the back bed room, and with her left hand felt round the corners of the box. When she got to the last corner, something like white thick smoke came up about six inches, startling witness.

When the smoke left her hand the deceased fell on the floor. When she moved her hand the smoke was with it, and when she fell the smoke dispersed in front of witness. There were light sparks in it. She called to her brother downstairs, but when he came the smoke had gone, where she did not see. She was frightened, and went downstairs with the light. There was no noise when witness saw the smoke, and no smell. She could not tell what it was. Evidence was given to show that shortly after falling to the ground, the deceased started screaming, which continued for half an hour. She never spoke again, or recovered consciousness, dying at half-past eleven on Saturday night. The coroner's officer and another witness searched the box for anything to account for the alleged smoke, but could find nothing. The witness Maxstead’s brother said that next morning she told him of the fire in deceased’s left hand, and of the cloud in front of her. He put down the cloud as a sign of death, but could not account for the fire. Asked by the coroner, "What put this in your head and your sister's head?" Maxstead could not say, and the coroner remarked that there had been a story of a Greenwich ghost, which was said to have manifested itself at a house near where the deceased lived.

It was stated that she had been employed at the lead-works of Messrs. Pontifex and Wood, Millwall, and it had been suggested that death was due to lead-poisoning; but this Dr. Hartt found was not the case, the actual cause of death being syncope, following an epileptic fit. Fright, he said, was a common cause of epilepsy, and the screaming referred to might have been epileptic. The post-mortem appearances were such as one would expect to find after severe functional disturbance. Epilepsy might have been produced by sudden excitement. He could not account for the alleged smoke at all. Phosphorus paste might cause it, but it would have to be handled. The Coroner thought some of the girl Maxstead’s story was imaginary. Ultimately the jury found a verdict of Death from syncope following an epileptic fit.

The following story was forwarded to me several years ago and has been posted before...but it is definitely a head-scratcher:

Hello Sir - your email contact was forwarded to me by a relative who thought you or your colleagues could help answer some questions regarding an incident I witnessed a few years ago. You have my permission to use this story but I do ask that my name be left out. Since I no longer live in the area where this occurred you may use those details. I would ask that you call me first. (NOTE: I did call and talk to the writer. I was given permission to add other facts to her account...Lon).

It was the summer of 2004. At the time I was selling real estate in Warren County, Virginia but mostly in the Front Royal, Virginia area. The vicinity is known more for the Shenandoah Valley as well as it's history during the American Civil War. It seems that most of the older property has a story behind it and it's usually tied to the Civil War.

I moved there in 2000, not long after I graduated from college. Real estate sales was not my first choice for a career but I was doing well, so I decided to see how far I could go.

In March 2004 a house with many acres of farm property was listed for sale. The former resident had recently passed away and the family was selling it. From what I gathered, none of the relatives wanted to take over the property and it was decided that it be sold as soon as possible.

On the day I first toured the old place it was obvious that the previous owner took very good care of it. It was quite a nice house with an old barn, a smokehouse and a large greenhouse. A nephew of the former owner accompanied me during the inspection. He assured me that there would be no attempts by any family member to impede a sale and that everything in the house was to be sold 'as is.' All furniture, appliances, tools, etc. were to be included in the sale. I explained to him that they would most likely realize more profit if the items were removed for sale in an auction but he insisted it must be sold 'as is' and that the buyer would be responsible for the contents. I thought this was quite odd, but I promised that I would do as the sellers wanted.

To my surprise, the property was listed for only 3 weeks. The overall housing market was starting to get very tight and large properties were difficult to sell. But, in fact, I made the sale to a couple from Washington D.C. who was the second party that showed interest. They made a counter-offer which was quickly accepted by the sellers. Everything went quite smooth though the day of settlement was a bit strange. The nephew and his sister were representing the sellers. Their demeanor was very distant and cold during the entire procedure. At one point, the buyers asked the nephew if there was any property in the house that he would like to keep. The nephew gave them a glaring look and told them that he 'didn't care if they burned it all.'

Several weeks later the new owners invited me for dinner in their new home. They were quite proud and wanted to tell me about the history of the place. It was once owned by a former British officer who had defected and fought with the colonists during the Revolutionary War. Later it become a working farm and remained so until the 1950’s when it was purchased by a Baptist preacher and his wife (NOTE: I later discovered that the preacher was Pentecostal...Lon). The couple was considered quite eccentric and the preacher never had a large congregation. The new owners were told by an attorney who lived nearby that the preacher held worship services in the barn because there was never a church. There were many rumors of strange rituals being performed during these services.

It was a very enjoyable evening and we agreed to get together again. I really did like this couple. They were very intelligent and quite polite. The husband worked for the Federal government and the wife was a pharmaceutical representative. They had grown tired of the urban lifestyle in Washington D.C. and wanted a home where they could relax. One thing I did notice was that much of the furniture and appliances left in the house remained and was being used by the new owners.

On the July 4th weekend, the couple invited me to join their cookout. My boyfriend was staying with me for the week so he decided to come along. I hadn’t seen the couple in over a month and was very interested to know how life in their new home was going. When we arrived, instantly I knew something was wrong.

We started walking towards the back of the house and noticed that no one other than the couple were there. I asked if we were the first to arrive and was told that none of their friends accepted the invitation. We sat down in the lawn chairs and started to talk. They both looked worried though I didn’t understand what was going on. I’m a very direct person so I asked if there was anything wrong. The wife looked at me and explained that none of their friends would come to the house anymore and that they had all had bad experiences when visiting. She started to get more specific and said that they thought the property was haunted. I tried not to laugh but the smile quickly came to my face. I looked back at both of them. They were deadly serious and not smiling.

They said that something tried to push people down the stairs and that a bad odor would permeate the living room for a few minutes then fade away. They also heard screaming sounds outside at night and thought it may have been coming from the barn. As well, they were both having dreams about dead bodies buried in the greenhouse and barn. I had never experienced anything paranormal while on the property so I simply dismissed it.

The day went by without an incident and, in fact, it was quite enjoyable. It was starting to get late and I needed to get up early the next morning so we thanked them for their hospitality and drove home. I really didn’t think much about what I was told and quickly went to sleep that night.

The next morning I woke early and got myself together because I had several homes scheduled to show that day. I needed to first stop by the office so I could pick up the newest listings. When I arrived at the office, I noticed a police car in the parking lot. I walked into the office and was immediately approached by the office manager and told that the authorities wanted to talk to me.

I introduced myself to the police officers and asked what was going on. One of them handed me a photograph of the couple. They were lying on the ground, side-by-side and obviously dead. They were both very pale, like all the blood had been drained. I acknowledged that I had sold them the property and that we had socialized the previous day. He explained that their bodies were found by a police officer the previous night after a 911 call was placed for a disturbance and that they were found laying in the barn as seen in the photo. The only information I could provide was what they told me and that they thought the property was haunted.

Over next few days I was told that they both died from natural causes and that there would be no further investigation. That’s all I was ever told and that’s all I would ever find out. I asked a physician if it was possible that two people could be scared to death at the same time. The look he shot back at me was of utter bewilderment, which was followed by laughter. He said that it was practically impossible to scare a person to death, let alone two people at the same time.

Since that incident I moved to the west coast and no longer sell real estate. I know their deaths will haunt me for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t feel so bad if I hadn’t dismissed what they said so quickly and so out-of-hand. I feel that something on that property frightened them so bad that it resulted in their deaths. J.L.

NOTE / UPDATE: I had checked into the circumstances described in the story. I told the writer that I was going to do this and she agreed, under the condition that her name was left out of the process. A few years later, I found out that the barn was razed and replaced by a new two-story structure...after talking to the current owners. They asked that I keep their location private. They did acknowledge that they knew of the circumstances reported in the story...Lon

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