The tales that haunt us the most are generally those based in truth. Throughout history and across the globe, terrifying paranormal occurrences have been reported in almost every culture. Victims come from every walk of life, every demographic, and every religion – there doesn’t seem to be a singular target when it comes to sinister stories of hauntings or possessions. Ghost stories are compelling on their own; most of them are guaranteed to send shivers down your spine and leave you sleepless for a fortnight. But true ghost stories – stories backed by countless witnesses and reports – are the scariest of all.
On some level, we can’t help but think… could I be next? Is that bump in the night just an old pipe, or is it really the malicious spirit of a former tenant? The following list contains no boogeymen, no zombies, no monsters; it does, however, feature some of the most terrifying paranormal occurrences ever recorded. You’ve been warned.
Anneliese Michel (1968)
Anneliese Michel was a deeply religious and troubled young woman from Leibfling, Bavaria (West Germany). When Anneliese was just 16, she endured a severe seizure that nearly took her life. She was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy, given several different medications to combat her maladies, and told she would see improvement rather quickly.
Anneliese’s condition did not improve; she quickly fell into a deep depression and began having auditory and visual hallucinations. In 1973, she claimed that she was plagued by multiple demonic entities who whispered that her soul was damned to rot in Hell. Michel worsened physically and became aggressive, injuring herself and loved ones. It is reported that she drank her own urine and ate insects. Being devout Catholics, the Michel Family appealed to the church for help. Their cries were heard and an exorcism was granted in 1975.
Over the course of 67 sessions, priests Ernst Alt and Arnold Renz battled to free Anneliese from the clutches of what appeared to be very real demonic possession. During that time, the priests determined that she was possessed by at least six evil spirits; most notable among them being Lucifer, Judas Iscariot, Nero, Cain, Hitler, and Fleischmann, a disgraced 16th century Frankish priest.
If you’re a non-believer, the photos and audio recordings from her actual exorcism sessions may change your mind.
The Bell Witch Hauntings (Early 1800’s)
The Legend of the Bell Witch revolves around the Bell family of Adams, Tennessee, and is one of the most notorious cases of American poltergeist activity. In the late 1800’s, the Bell family was reportedly plagued each night by unexplainable and terrifying paranormal occurrences. The incidents started with scratching and pounding noises in the walls but quickly escalated.
Blankets were ripped from beds and couches, family members were kicked and scratched and tormented by an unseen assailant. Bell’s middle daughter, Betsy, became the primary target; she was slapped, pinched, bruised and stuck with pins. An investigative committee was formed once the malicious spirit found its voice. From that day forward, it was seldom silent. The spirit identified itself as the “witch” of Kate Batts, a neighbor of the Bell’s. According to local records, John and Kate had been at odds over the buying and selling of slaves.
According to the family’s accounts, the disembodied voice grew stronger over time, to the point that it was impossible to ignore. It sang hymns, quoted Bible passages, berated old John Bell, and allegedly even quoted, word-for-word, two sermons that were given at the same time on the same day – thirteen miles apart. On the day of John Bell’s funeral, witnesses claimed that the witch cackled and cursed, singing songs about “Old Jack” and a bottle of bourbon.
Doris Bither (1974)
On August 22, 1974, a paranormal investigation was launched on behalf of Doris Bither and her family in Culver City, California. She claimed that she was frequently attacked both physically and sexually by spirits that inhabited her home. Doris informed paranormal investigators that these incidents would range from bumps and shoves to actual spectral rape. Investigators were initially skeptical; it wasn’t until they saw the deep, hand-print bruises across Bither’s thighs and back that they agreed to gather at her home.
The house was a wreck; it had been condemned by the city twice, and was almost uninhabitable. Bither had four children living with her; a 6-year-old daughter and three sons, ages 10, 13 and 16. Each one of the children would later corroborate her claims and report interactions with various entities within the house. They dubbed the most persistent and unrelenting spirit, an imposing and well-muscled Asian male, “Mr. Whose-it.”
In the most famous report from the Bither case, investigators encouraged Doris to provoke the spirits by cussing at them and taunting them. Roughly 30 investigators packed into Bither’s bedroom with their equipment. According to the report, lights started dancing and swirling across the room. As Doris continued to provoke the spirits, a greenish mist formed in the corner. The mist swirled and grew, taking the shape of a man’s upper torso. Investigators reported that the torso was well-muscled and quite large, although it did not display any facial features. An investigator soon fainted after seeing this. I can’t say I blame them for that one.
Roland Doe / Robbie Mannheim (1949)
The 1949 possession of “Roland Doe” is, in fact, the inspiration for the 1979 classic The Exorcist. The victim – sometimes also referred to as “Robbie Mannheim” – was never officially named in public. The church decided to protect the boy’s true identity throughout treatment and after the successful exorcism.
Roland became very close with his Aunt Harriet in his early childhood. Harriet was a known spiritualist, a woman who embraced the unknown and was fascinated by the idea of what lay Beyond. According to family members, she had various items of the occult in her possession, including a Ouija board. Roland seemed intrigued by the board, and Harriet was eager to share it with him. The two spent many days playing with the board. When Harriet passed of “natural causes” in 1949, it is believed that 13-year old Roland attempted to contact her. Which, as you can imagine, turned out to be a terrible fucking idea.
Things got weird. Here’s a quick snapshot of what reportedly happened next:
- The family started hearing scratching noises in the walls, which they attributed to faulty pipes
- These scratches escalated to thumps, crashes, and eventually heavy footsteps
- Furniture decided to rearrange itself
- Scratches and welts appeared on the boy’s body, including what appeared to be writing in his flesh
- Sacred items (vials of holy water, crucifixes, etc) were thrown from countertops and smashed
- Religious paraphernalia often trembled and rattled on the walls
- Roland’s personality and behavior changed drastically, trending from shy and timid to aggressive.
Medical professionals had no explanation for the boy’s condition. The family turned to the church for help. After a local pastor Reverend Luther Miles Schulze, the first to meet the boy, was initially unconvinced. During his initial over-night observation, Schulze reportedly witnessed inexplicable scratching and banging noises. Furniture moved about the room for no reason. Schulze concluded that there was indeed something sinister afoot, and attempted his own failed exorcism of the boy. Eventually, the family would find its way to possession expert, Rev. William S. Bowdern.
Over the next sixty days, Bowdern performed exorcisms thirty times. Walter Halloran assisted and acted as witness to the treatment. The boy spat in the faces of the would-be saviors, cursed in deep, guttural voices, and acted out violently. He even broke the nose of one witness. It is reported that at times he would speak in Latin, referring to himself as “Legion.” The words evil and hell appeared as fierce wounds on his skin. Nine priests and 39 witnesses all confirmed the reports and signed the documents verifying Roland’s condition.
While this may rank single-handedly as the most terrifying paranormal occurrence, Father Bowdern successfully cleansed the boy in the end and he reportedly went on to lead a normal life. The details of the exorcism come mainly from the notes of Raymond Bishop, a witness to the events that unfolded.
The Haunted Ebay Painting (2000)
** DISCLAIMER ** I’m not posting any links to pictures of the actual painting because when I tried to click through a gallery, my computer went absolutely haywire and started shutting down screens and cursing at me in Latin and calling itself Beelzebub. Hell, I’m not even gonna write about it.
I’m not kidding. Sure, someone may have simply hyperlinked in a malicious page instead of the pictures, but I’m not risking it. So Google at your own risk, kiddos. This one’s on you.
The Perron Family (1971)
In the winter of 1970, Roger and Carolyn Perron – along with their five adorable daughters – relocated to a quaint little colonial farmhouse in Rhode Island. Turns out the house was more haunted chic than it was quaint; the farmhouse wasted precious little time before unleashing a whole slew of otherworldly horrors on the Perron clan.
Though the entire family was subjected to terrifying paranormal occurrences, poor Carolyn seemed to have it the worst. According to the 1977 Providence Journal report, Carolyn awoke one night to the apparition of a woman in a gray dress, her head hanging off to the side, as a voice repeated, “Get out. Get out. I’ll drive you out with death and gloom.”
So, yeah. That’s pretty horrifying. But it gets scarier still; Carolyn would eventually fall victim to the spirit of Bathsheba Thayer, a Harrisville resident from the early 1800’s. Three of her four children died at a very young age, and Thayer was supposedly a Satan worshiper who sacrificed one of said children to the Devil. Yikes.
Enter the renowned ghost-hunting, paranormal incident-investigating power couple, Ed and Lorraine Warren. The Warrens witnessed increasingly malicious paranormal behavior, painstakingly detailing these occurrences over the course of their investigation. The hauntings included the permanent stench of rotting flesh, disembodied voices and threats, and angry spirits reliably accosting the family each morning at 5:15am.
Luckily, no permanent harm was done to the family – they even stuck around in the scariest house on earth for another nine years. NINE! I would’ve been out of there in about nine minutes. This 1971 case would later inspire the movie The Conjuring. And hey, guess what: The Conjuring 2 is due out in June! Hooray for scary movies based on real things!