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Poltergeist Scribbler: The Bizarre Case of Matthew Manning

Joe Nickell, PhD, is CSI’s senior research fellow. As a historical-document detective, he has worked on many famous cases (he was on the American forensic team that proved the Jack the Ripper diary a forgery), and he is author of such books as Pen, Ink, and Evidence and Detecting Forgery.

What has been called “one of the most extraordinary outbreaks of poltergeist phenomena” of the twentieth century began with an English schoolboy, aged eleven and a half years, Matthew Manning (Harrison 1994, 9).

Like many other disturbances labeled poltergeist (from poltern “noisy” and geist “spirit”), the events began with rapping sounds, objects thrown about, heavy furniture moved, objects disappearing (but sometimes reappearing in other rooms), and so on. The activities not only centered around Matthew and his home at Queen’s House, Linton, Cambridge, but they followed him to boarding school. Many of today’s paranormal believers suggest the phenomenon, once attributed to the devil, is caused by psychokinetic (“mind-overmatter”) energy from pubescent children with repressed hostilities (Guiley 2000, 293–295). However, proper investigation typically shows the effects are simply due to the mischief of clever children. I have therefore termed the phenomenon the poltergeist-faking syndrome (Nickell 2012, 325–331; Bartholomew and Nickell 2015, 129, 136–137).

The phenomena at Queen’s House that began in February 1967 soon waned but then were renewed more violently beginning at Easter 1971 and continuing through the summer. On July 31 a new phenomenon appeared and continued for a week. The effect, shown in photographs (Harrison 1994, 70–72) is remarkable.

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