The Birmingham Poltergeist
The urban sprawl of Birmingham holds many mysteries, some of which I've written about before. It's fair to say that that most of them are rooted firmly in history but one tale emerged during the modern era that still fascinates and baffles today.
Thornton Road is an unremarkable residential street in the Ward End area of the city. One night in late 1981 the semi detached suburban peace was shattered, literally, when dozens of large stones began crashing through the windows of three adjoining houses. Numbers 32, 34 and 36 were targeted, and the windows at the rear of the houses seemed to have been yhe focus. The police were called out and a case opened, but the attack was put down to a random act of vandalism by passing youths.
The following night it happened again. The same three houses, the same windows, newly replaced, and the same huge, rounded pebbles. The residents rushed out into the streets themselves, furious at this outrage, but could find nothing, no clue as to who had done this. A few nights went by and once more the windows were replaced. All seemed quiet – then the rocks came showering in again. This time the police stayed around for some time, making efforts to check along alleys and in parks and sat in the houses to see if anything further would happen. Finally they gave up for the night, but as the detectives and patrolmen arrived back at their station a call came though – the houses were under attack again!
Residents began to install chicken wire across their windows for protection from the onslaught, as it became a constant occurrence, two, three, four times a week, occasionally a week's gap then it was back. The poor homeowners quizzed their children and each other, did someone have a grudge against any of them? Was this revenge for something? After a year of this unbearable campaign of terror the police finally took it seriously and devised an operation to catch the vandals. Plain clothes detectives began regular nighttime patrols, lurking along alleys and crouching in gardens. Cameras were set up and even a ballistics expert was called in to advise on the possible trajectory and direction the stones were coming from. One of the strangest observations of the case came out of this surveillance, a police officer lay prone on a roof neighbouring the three cursed properties. He said the stones were not coming in as if they were thrown from a distance, he was adamant they were falling straight down...as if from the sky.
Other officers concurred, and predictably the local press took full advantage of this. The stones were now the work of aliens, or dropped from another dimension, but the angle that stuck gave the case it's name today. The Birmingham Poltergeist. National outlets lapped it up and the story was even featured on an episode of the classic paranormal series Arthur C Clarke's Mysterious World. A local vicar came out to both console the residents and to allay their fears of the supernatural, but no exorcism. Chief Inspector Len Turley seemed open minded about the possible identity of the culprit or the source of the stones, describing his officers' accounts of rocks from the sky matter-of-factly and keeping one of the offending objects on his desk as a paperweight. He was stumped though, and after another year of weekly attacks but no progress on the case he delegated the case to Superintendent Baden Skitt.
After a total of three years investigation, Skitt was no closer to solving the mystery, now following the theory that someone was using a giant catapult or trebuchet to launch the rocks from a great distance. The stones themselves were very uniform in size and shape, around the size of an average potato and all of them clean and completely free of any dirt. This led some to theorise that a freak weather phenomena was at work here, sucking the stones up from a beach or even the sea and depositing them down, or that a wormhole existed in space above the houses that connected them to a beach far away. Experts advised that the stones had a definite earthly origin and were typical of the geology of the gardens of Birmingham.
The besieged residents were by now in states of nervous exhaustion, sleeping with bibles under their pillows and desperate for peace. Selling up was out of the question – who would move in to such a house? The exasperated police noted that they had solved six complicated murder cases and solved over a thousand other crimes during their investigations into the Birmingham Poltergeist, but after over 3500 hours of work they had absolutely nothing, and the paranormal theory seemed to be the only answer. After four years of near weekly bombardment, the apparent poltergeist began to cease it's work. Whoever or whatever had been plaguing those three specific houses stopped, but for people like Geoff and Gwen Sidebotham, brother and sister who carried on living their after their parents passed away, the memory never fades. Both have remained open minded but blamed the attacks for hastening the deaths of their parents. They finally sold up recently and no original residents live in Thornton Road now.
I drove along the street to take a couple of pictures but a very large family group were gathered right in front of the middle of the infamous three houses, so pictures are limited on this post– or my car would likely have ended up as if the poltergeist had returned!
Aerial view of the area, with Thornton Road at the red balloon, the police had this entire area under surveillance
An image of some of the actual stones that dropped on the houses
32, 34 and 36 Thornton Road - very different today to how they appeared in the 1980s
Thornton Road, Ward End, Birmingham