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A Haunting In Coventry: Footsteps, Spectres & Violent Episodes

Between 1972 and 1974, The Harris family from Coventry, England, claimed that several violent paranormal experiences terrified their lodgers and forced them to sell their family home.

Haunted house in Coventry
The Harris family claimed their paranormal encounters occurred between 1972 and 1974

A building on which some psychic energy is centred can sometimes display a wide variety of manifestations. This seems most commonly the case with poltergeists, and may, or may not, be the reason behind a strange series of hauntings in a large early-Victorian house in Coventry between 1972 and 1974.

The building, in the rambling style of an earlier age, was too large even for the Harris family, Jane, and Leslie, and their five children. As a result, as soon as they bought it in 1972 they let some of the rooms as furnished, accommodation, but soon became a little disturbed by the turnover of tenants, some of whom left at a minute's notice after complaining of inexplicable noises and sensations. The Harrises themselves were aware of these sounds which consisted of thudding on floors and ceilings, heavy breathing, and what appeared to be footsteps. Though these sounds were experienced fairly generally throughout the house, they were most evident in the bedroom used by Mr and Mrs Harris and those adjacent to it.

Initially, Mr Harris put these disturbances down to structural movements in the old building, but soon there were events that could not be laid so easily at the door of creaking timbers and crumbling brickwork. The first tangible incident occurred in mid-1972 when Jane Harris had gone to bed early, leaving Leslie downstairs watching television. Sometime later he was alarmed by a piercing scream which sent him dashing upstairs to find his wife frantically trying to claw something invisible from her face. When he had pacified her into coherency she explained that she had fallen asleep, but had been suddenly wakened by the terrifying sensation of fur being pressed over her nose and mouth, stifling her. They discussed the affair as rationally as they could against the background of the mysterious sounds that had been reported, but half decided that it must have been a nightmare.

However, they began to have second thoughts a few weeks later when in the middle of the night their bedroom door burst open and a terrified lodger, Ann Turner, threw herself on their bed. When she had been quietened she said that she could stay in the house no longer: for some weeks, she explained, she had been alarmed by the sound of footsteps entering her room in the night and by deep breathing at the side of her bed, but that night someone had tried to suffocate her by pressing fur over her face. Miss Turner left and two Americans who were quite unaware of any previous happenings in the house took over her room; after a few weeks, they too announced at breakfast that they would be leaving instantly as they could no longer stand the footsteps and breathing of something invisible that entered their locked room during the night.

The knockings under the floor of the Harrises' own bedroom increased in intensity gradually, and Leslie, still perhaps hoping to find a physical explanation, had the boards taken up. But the timberwork underneath was as sound as the day it had been put in, and there was no sign of anything that could have caused even a creaking, much less the heavy pounding that was now disturbing them. The only discovery was a small framed oil painting, covered in dust and cobwebs, concealed in the cavity between the floor and the ceiling of the downstairs room. The picture had become so dark that detail was almost indistinguishable, but a man standing by a tree near the banks of a river could just be made out. The painting, found to be by an early nineteenth-century French artist, was subsequently sold at Christies in 1973. Why it was hidden was never found out, but its discovery, far from placating whatever was causing the noises, seemed to have annoyed it, for although the floor now remained silent the hammering from the ceiling and from a mirror on the wall increased alarmingly. Not surprisingly, tension in the house mounted.

The first intimation that there might be a definite identity behind the manifestations came some weeks later when Jane Harris woke up wanting to go to the bathroom, but in view of all that had happened was reluctant to do so on her own. She sat up in bed; noted that the time was exactly three o'clock, and then listened intently, partly for the frightening rapping, but also for any sound from the room above where 14-year-old David slept. Soon after coming to the house, David had suddenly and mysteriously started walking in his sleep. But footsteps, phantom and physical were silent. Then out of the darkness, she heard a woman's voice calling very softly, "David... David..." Its source was difficult to pinpoint - it seemed to come from everywhere with its seductive and insistent "David... David..." Frantic, Jane woke her husband up and cried, "She's calling him... she's calling him," almost as if at the back of her mind she knew that the presence in the house was feminine.

Leslie sat up beside her, straining his ears in the stillness. He had just said that it was all imagination when they heard a muffled thud above them and then the slow shuffling steps of a somnambulist. They both raced to the top floor, where they found David groping his way along the corridor, so deeply asleep that they could not waken him. Gently they guided him back to his room and bed.

As if gaining in confidence, moving from random sounds to speech, the haunt, at last, showed itself in visible manifestation. One evening in the early winter of 1974 Jane backed the car down the drive towards the main road, but as she reached the gateway she glanced back at the house and noticed that someone had arrived at the front door. She drove the car back, got out, and approached the visitor, who, she was surprised to see, was a complete stranger. She appeared to be in her early twenties, with a very unfashionable long dark dress and a small white cap or hat on her head. Her hair was drawn back, and as Jane came near she could see that the woman seemed to be utterly miserable. Thinking that she was perhaps lost, and rather concerned about her distress, Jane went to see if she could help but to her amazement when she was about three yards away, the woman slowly faded, leaving the front path and the doorstep eerily empty in the brightness of the street lighting.

Events were now moving towards a climax, which was precipitated when Jane heard one of the tenants talking to her husband a few weeks later. The lodger said, "Don't laugh, but there's something not right in my room - it's been going on for about nine weeks now. Someone comes in during the night. I hear footsteps and heavy breathing, but when I switch on the light there is nothing there. Last night these noises woke me again, and half-asleep I called out, "Go away, I want to sleep." Then I was conscious of some power and felt a sharp pain in the lobe of my ear. Fully awake now, I got out of bed, put on the light, and looked in the mirror. There was blood streaming down my neck from a gash in my ear. On the table beside the bed was a pair of nail scissors which I had put on the dressing table the night before, and there was fresh blood on the blades."

In a very short while, although they had been there only just over two years, the Harrises put the house up for sale, but whereas most people in that situation scurry around with paintbrushes to make the place look more attractive, they brought in the Church to hold a service of exorcism. For eight hours two Anglican clergymen went from room to room, and in the eight weeks, before they moved out, the family heard nothing more. But most interesting was the behaviour of the family pets, who had obviously been most unhappy in the house, moping and sidling reluctantly when they had to move from room to room. The moment the exorcism had ended they raced up and down the three floors, extremely excited and showing a playfulness they had not shown once in the previous two years.

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