32 Coxwell Road was not, even by the standards of council houses in 1950s Birmingham, England, anything special to look at. But for the family of 31-year-old ex-paratrooper Frank Pell, it was a palace compared to their previous lodgings--a house so dilapidated it was officially condemned. The three-bedroom home was newly decorated, on a quiet road close to all necessary services. And the rent was cheap! Mrs. Pell, in particular, was overjoyed to live in such clean, spruce surroundings. The house “seemed the answer to our prayers,” she later said. After the young family brought in their local priest, Father Francis Etherington, to bless their new home--the Pells were devout Catholics--they settled in for what they expected to be a long and happy stay.
Such hopes did not last long. On the first weekend after moving in, the Pells were abruptly awakened by the sound of banging doors. When Frank went to investigate, he saw nothing. The family began hearing loud, inexplicable thuds from the ceiling above the kitchen, and strange smells, like garlic and burning rubber. The Pells dismissed such occurrences as “odd, but nothing to worry about.”
Then, in June 1955, just three weeks after moving into 32 Coxwell, they were hit by a mysterious tragedy. The Pells woke up one morning to find that their one-month old baby daughter, who slept in the same bed as her parents, had died during the night. An autopsy showed that the baby, who had been in perfect health, had died from suffocation.
The stricken parents could not fathom what had happened. As it had been a hot night, they had thrown back the bedclothes. There was not a mark on the baby. Surely, the Pells reasoned, if one of them had rolled on top of the child in their sleep, there would have been signs of bruising on the tiny body.
More strange occurrences intruded themselves on the grieving family. Every night, at about 10:30, loud taps continued to come from the kitchen ceiling. Towards dawn, they heard the noise of banging doors. The temperature of the bedroom over the kitchen would inexplicably fluctuate. The unpleasant odors of garlic and burning rubber periodically wafted throughout the house. In the upstairs rooms, the Pells began to hear an eerie whispering, like someone speaking softly into a microphone.
Then, four days after their child’s death, the Pells were hit with one of the creepiest “haunted house” incidents on record. Their four-year-old son Alan suddenly asked, “Did baby go with the little white dog?”
Frank and his wife, understandably stunned, asked, “What dog, Alan?”
“Why, the little white dog who comes and sits on my bed sometimes. I saw him sitting on baby’s face the night baby left us.”
Mrs. Pell became hysterical. Frank sent for the police. The house was thoroughly searched, but nothing out of the ordinary was found.
Out of desperation, they sent for Father Etherington to conduct an exorcism on the house. As he stood in an upstairs room, armed with his rosary and Holy Water, the priest heard the eerie tappings and whisperings. Afterwards, he advised Frank that although he had done all he could, the Pells should leave the house, for their own safety. It was a very bad place. However, Frank Pell was a very brave man, and a very determined one. He vowed to fight back against whatever it was that was trying to drive them from their home.
This resolve lasted for two weeks. One morning as Frank was shaving, he heard the uncanny whispering--this time, from right behind him. As he knew his wife was the only other person in the house, he ran to the stairs to see if she had been making the sounds. He found her standing at the top of the stairs. Her mouth was open as if she was screaming, but she made no sound. Frank began climbing the stairs, but he suddenly had to stop. There was an invisible barrier between him and his wife. Using all his strength, he finally broke through the wall. When he did, he immediately heard his wife screaming and sobbing. She told him the sinister voices had been whispering to her, as well.
The Pells could take no more. They were terrified about what might happen next. The family fled, not even bothering to pack. Frank’s niece and her fiance volunteered to go to the house to collect their belongings...until they began hearing the tappings themselves. After that, they couldn’t be persuaded to go near the place.
|“The People,” July 17, 1955|
Birmingham Council sent their technical staff to make a full investigation of the house, but apparently no physical reason for the sounds and smells which plagued the Pells could be found. In the meantime, the Council agreed to rehouse the family. They acknowledged that whether the house was haunted or not, the Pells genuinely believed it was.
There was one more odd occurrence, which, in retrospect, might have been a warning. Soon after the Pells moved into 32 Coxwell, Mrs. Pell cleared out the home’s loft. Among the assorted junk was a newspaper dated July 12, 1917. It was folded so that the headline read, “Watch your children…”
Mrs. Pell found this right before her baby died.