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Sunday, March 07, 2010

The St. Catharines Poltergeist

stcatharinesstandard - The weathered building in St. Catharines' downtown houses a pizza parlor and a 40-year-old mystery.

For about 10 days in February 1970, a series of strange occurrences is said to have plagued 237 Church St, Apt. 1. Pictures flying off walls. Bookcases crashing to the floor without cause. A police officer sitting in a chair that was picked up six inches off the floor.

The kind of spooky stuff made for movies. The root cause of this otherworldly chaos?

Video - The St. Catharines Poltergeist

Legend has it, an 11-year-old boy, Peter, who remains anonymous to this day, was taken over by a poltergeist.

At the time, the paranormal tale made headlines across Canada and the United States. Even former Tonight Show host Johnny Carson mentioned it in his monologue back then.

Decades later, the story of a ghostly presence wreaking havoc in the modest downtown apartment has endured.

“I think it’s been unshaken, as far as the evidence goes,” said Michael Clarkson, a former reporter who wrote a 2006 book called Poltergeists: Examining Mysteries of the Paranormal.

“I’m not a devotee of the paranormal, but I can’t think of a case that still stands up after 40 years. The witnesses ... no one’s come forward to say it’s a hoax.”

Forty years later, retired police officer Richard Colledge is still a believer.

Now 70 years old, Colledge was one of a handful of officers from the former St. Catharines Police Department to visit the Church Street apartment.

He remembers going into the unit after reports of things moving around on their own. He was 30 at the time. A constable with five years experience who had spent six years before that with the Canadian Armed Forces. And he was skeptical—until it happened.

Colledge said he was standing in the kitchen in front of the sink when a picture came flying off the wall in the adjoining bedroom.

“All I know for sure is when it came off the wall it didn’t fall down on the single bed that was underneath it. It came out and landed on the floor, and I watched it,” Colledge said with a laugh. “I thought it was violating the laws of psychics and gravity.”

He didn’t stay much longer after that.

Colledge wasn’t the only police officer to witness strange goings on at the second-story apartment. Several police notes written by his colleagues at the time chronicled the events.

Const. Bill Weir wrote about witnessing phenomenal occurrences during a visit to the residence on Feb. 10, 1970. He was there with his buddy Const. Bob Crawford.

He called in the city building inspector to see if the odd movements could be explained by structural problems. No luck.

“My only solution to these occurrences is that the boy Peter, whom all the occurrences surround, has been inhabited by a spirit of a poltergeist,” Weir wrote in his investigation report.

“This is the spirit which inhabits the body of a young child about to enter the phase of puberty and has been described as a mischievous spirit that does not generally seriously harm anyone. Briefly, this boy can’t sit on a chair without being thrown off and items are hitting him for no apparent reason. I the writer (Weir) witnessed the boy being thrown on at last a dozen occasions. “

Two days later, Const. Robert Richardson reported visiting the residence with four other officers and a raft of tape recording and movie cameras.

He joined a circle of people in the living room that day. The paranormal-plagued boy, his eight-year-old younger brother, the boy’s parents, two doctors, a local priest and the family lawyer.

Then, the unimaginable.

“At this time, the chair that (name blacked out) was sitting on lifted abruptly about six inches off the floor, and then slammed down again. On examining the chair, there was no explanation for this happening,” he wrote.

Doug Croft was just seven years old when his police officer father, Lebert, told him about his experiences at the Church Street residence. Croft grew up in east St. Catharines, just a few blocks from the cursed apartment.

At the time, most of the guys tried not to broadcast their chance encounter with the dark side. They were worried people would think they were crazy, he said. And they were frightened of what lurked behind the felled bookcases and picture frames.

“They were scared to death,” said Croft, who is a 47-year-old police officer with the Niagara Regional Police.

“At first it was kind of like, ‘Geez I hope I get a call there to see what the hell’s going on. You guys are shooting a line of s---or something.’ But guys came out of there, they were scared to death. It was something weird.”

Clarkson’s brush with the supernatural started with a simple Halloween spook story.

He wrote about the Church Street poltergeist investigation for The Standard in October 1980. Soon after he got a call. It was the boy, then 21 years old.

He was plagued. Not by ghosts, but by family problems. His family was upset that Clarkson had drudged up the past with his story. The memories were painful. During the media storm of 1970, the family was forced to leave town for a few weeks. Embarrassed by the events, the family didn’t want to relive the past. Clarkson had opened old wounds.

The poltergeist-riddled-boy-turned-young-man called Clarkson from a pay phone on Halloween night 1980. He asked if he could come to Clarkson’s Niagara Falls home.

Before long, they were face to face in Clarkson’s office. He was not what the young journalist expected.

“I thought there would be something strikingly different about him,” said Clarkson, a Toronto freelance journalist.

“When he came to my house it seemed to me, initially anyway, that he was like the boy next door. Very clean cut, well dressed, very well spoken, quite sure of himself. The young man didn’t discuss what happened to him that February in 1970. He was there to protect his privacy, his future in St. Catharines. He was worried about what other people in the community, a very conservative community like St. Catharines, might think about him, especially when he’s dealing with young people.”

Over the years, Clarkson saw him a few times. Walking downtown, hand in hand, with a girl. In the pages of The Standard. On a golf course.

Clarkson said the boy has gone on to become an upstanding man in the community. He works with youth.

For all these years, Clarkson, who worked as a daily newspaper reporter for 38 years, has kept the man’s secret.

But decades later, Clarkson, who highlights the St. Catharines case in his Poltergeist book, can’t shake the eerie legacy of that downtown Church Street apartment. His skepticism enduring, Clarkson calls the Garden City poltergeist case one of the best examples of a true ghostly encounter.

“Nobody has been able to shake the facts of the case,” Clarkson said. “In this day and age when so many things have been revealed as hoaxes, this stands up as a real mystery.”

Video - The St. Catharines Poltergeist

NOTE: though I was only a young teen at the time, I happened to be in nearby Hamilton, Ontario around the time of this incident. It truly was a media frenzy, especially for Ontario. BTW, St. Catharines, and for that matter Hamilton, is a super nice place. I spent several summers in the area when I was younger...Lon