Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Case of the Haunted Cell

Ghost cases that rely on single witness testimony are a dime a dozen. Without corroboration of some sort, as any good lawyer will tell you, it’s hard to prove that something anomalous might have happened. At the old jail in St. Andrew’s, New Brunswick, in February, 2009, Holly and I had the kind of encounter that every ghost investigator is looking for, where you have more than one witness both experiencing something at the same time, and that experience is backed up by independent “hard” data.

Sergeant Tom Hutchings was a 21 year old Royal Air Force armourer who was convicted and hanged for the brutal rape and murder of a local girl, Bernice Connors, who was just 19 years old, while he was stationed near St. Andrew’s in the Second World War. Hutchings, who was the last person hanged in Charlotte County, spent his final days in a small, dark, cold cell in the jail, within earshot of where his executioners constructed the gallows.

By all accounts, Hutchings was a model prisoner in his final days, passing the time quietly. He made his way to the gallows without a struggle, and had nothing to say by way of a final statement. Unfortunately for him, however, the gallows had not been built correctly. Instead of the quick death that he might have been expecting, it took Hutchings eighteen minutes to be pronounced dead, a hard way to go, even for someone who deserved it. Ever since, people had reported strange occurrences in the jail, and in his cell in particular, which led to speculation that the gruesome nature of his death had somehow trapped Hucthings’ soul in this spot, destined to haunt it for all eternity.

Given the circumstances, it seemed to me that his old jail cell would be an obvious spot to try and make contact with Hutchings, although in hindsight I have to wonder what I was thinking. Making contact with benign spirits is one thing, but should a person really be trying to meet the spirit of an executed murderer who might still hold a grudge?

Just for good measure, and on the theory of “in for a penny, in for a pound,” I came up with the bright idea of trying to antagonizing the spirit of Tom Hutchings by bringing along a noose on display at the jail as a trigger item. For a laugh, as much to amuse Holly as anything else, I placed the noose around my neck as we were locked in the dark cell by the crew. Holly and I sat next to each other on the remains of Hutchings’ old bunk, with an EMF meter beside Holly, but out of my sight, and we waited to see what would happen.

After almost thirty minutes Holly and I had not experienced anything other than the winter cold and some pleasant conversation. It was at this point that I decided to turn off the low-level camera light we had set up in one corner of the cramped cell. I thought that perhaps this would encourage Hutchings to come out and say hello. I took the noose off of my neck, and plunged us into almost total darkness, with only the barest, almost imperceptible hint of moonlight coming through the slit of a window in the wall of the cell. Little did I realize what I was getting Holly and I into.

Within minutes, something happened. I felt Holly shudder beside me, and then she exclaimed, “oh f-ck.” Now, Holly is about as level-headed as they come, and doesn’t frighten easily, so for her to utter a profanity out of the blue was an indication of just how shaken she had been by what she had just seen – a feeling of something moving in front of us. My response to her was, “that’s weird,” by which she thought I was responding to what she had experienced, but I wasn’t. Instead, while she was sensing something in front of us, I had felt a tightness wrap around my throat. I turned to Holly and said, “I was sitting here and all of a sudden I felt this cold go around my throat, like colder than the cold, the freezing bitter cold that it is in here anyway. I haven’t felt that since I was in here, and it went right around my throat.”

Holly and I had both experienced something at the same time. That was interesting enough, and a step beyond a single witness account in terms of reliability. What made it even creepier, however, was the fact, unknown to me until she told me, that Holly had glanced at the EMF meter at her side as soon as she sensed the “presence” in front of us, and it was spiking above the baseline readings that she had taken when she first entered the cell.

A presence in front of us, at the same time as I felt a deathly cold wrap around my throat, at the same time as the EMF meter spiked well beyond baseline readings. We were both pretty spooked, but we decided to stick it out in the cell a bit longer to see if anything else would happen, although we weren’t quite courageous enough to do so in continued darkness, as I turned our camera light back on.

And then, just a couple of minutes later, it happened again. Holly looked down at her EMF meter and said, “It’s up again… it’s up again…it’s up….and it’s gone.” She hadn’t noticed what I had been doing, but the camera definitely picked it up. I turned to her and said, “I cannot see the EMF thing. There will be camera confirmation on that, that just before you said that look where my head went, back down, I felt the same…” I couldn’t finish the sentence, because I was so shaken – it had been the same sensation of deathly cold wrapping around my neck.

Holly knew exactly what I meant. “Are you serious?” she asked. “Yup,” I replied. “I went, the camera will confirm, before you said it, I went like this…” at which point I recreated my head pushing down into my chest so that my neck would not be exposed. I kept my neck there as I said, “I don’t actually want to expose my neck at the moment.” Holly was genuinely concerned. “I don’t think I’ve seen you like this before, Paul,” she said. All that I could say was, “Yeah, well I have this thing about strangling and necks throats and stuff. Maybe in another life I was hanged. The noose was funny, because the noose was no threat, but this - who knows?”

We were both scared, and we called out to the camera crew that we wanted out of the cell. They obliged, and we made our way out of the cell block and back to the offices in the building as fast as we could. It wasn’t any warmer there, but it sure felt a lot safer. As we recounted what had happened inside the cell, one of our witnesses, Elaine Brough, who works as a guide on tours of the jail, told us that what we had experienced was pretty much exactly what other people had reported happening to them when they went into the cell. She hadn’t mentioned this to us before we went in, because she wanted to see if we would have the same experience without knowing what to expect. The only thing that I could think of to say to her was “mission accomplished.”

Holly and I would often talk, sometimes seriously and sometimes for a laugh, about how when the season was done we would hop on a plane, fly down to Peru, journey up into the rainforest to a village where a shaman would conduct a traditional native cleansing ritual, so that we could clear ourselves of any residual “bad energy” that might have attached itself to us. If there was any one case that brought us closest to booking those tickets, it was the old jail in St. Andrews, where neither of us could shake the uncomfortable feeling that we may have run across the spirit of a very, very bad man. For our sakes, I hope Tom Hutchings is still in that cell, still suffering for the horrible crime he committed forty-five years ago.

Paul Kimball


Barry said...

Okay, this is a much more interesting case. The story is nicely told and genuinely spooky.

It is certainly suggestive.

G.Christian Larsen said...

Very interesting story!

G Christian Larsen
President Pennfield Parish Military Historical Society