Throughout our investigations, we’ve touched on the odd ghoul-induced death – from the supposed victims of King Tut’s curse to the unfortunate gentleman who apparently met their end in Berkeley Square – but can a ghost really do you any harm, or is just another tall tale from the realms of the unusual?
Let’s discuss a small handful of frightful phantoms who are said to be responsible for a real life demise.
The Hammersmith Ghost
During the first few years of the 1800s, the Hammersmith area of London was overrun with frightful sightings of a ghostly apparition. It was said to be very tall and dressed in a white shroud, but some reports included reports of horns.
The ghost himself was said to be the spirit of a recently deceased gentleman who committed suicide and was thus buried in Hammersmith church ground. At the time, it was believed that the victims of such tragic demises could not be buried on consecrated ground, as this would not allow their souls to rest.
This was far from the usual spectre however, as locals began to report supposed attacks from the creature. According to legend, and as reported in The Newgate Calender, 1980, at least one woman was physically accosted by the ghost and was so scared that she later died of fright.
As more ghostly visitations were reported, the people of Hammersmith took it upon themselves to organise patrols of the neighbourhood to intercept the figure. A man named Francis Smith was amongst them, and when he happened upon the ghost one night, he did the apparently reasonable thing, and shot it.
Unfortunately for Smith – and his victim – this was not a ghost at all, and was instead a bricklayer named Thomas Millwood.
Mr Millwood had just left his parent’s house and was still in his bricklaying attire, consisting of, “linen trousers entirely white, washed very clean, a waistcoat of flannel, apparently new, very white, and an apron, which he wore round him”.
As bad luck would have it, Millwood had been mistaken for the ghost before, leading to his wife begging him to wear his great-coat when wandering the streets to avoid the exact situation he was to find himself in. Had Mr Millwood had the sense to listen to his wife, he may not have met such a tragic end.
As for Francis Smith, he was beside himself at the whole affair, and certainly didn’t mean to shoot a living, breathing, white-clad man. He was charged with murder and trialed, with the jury returning a verdict of manslaughter. However, the Judge, Lord Chief Baron Macdonald, refused to receive the verdict, and told them they must either find Smith guilty of murder, or acquit him. The jury then found Smith guilt of murder, and he was sentenced to be hanged and dissected after death.
It wasn’t all bad news for Smith, however, as Macdonald approached King George III to have the sentence commuted to a year’s hard labour.
The publicity following the whole incident caused the real Hammersmith Ghost to come forward. He was non spectre at all, and was instead an elderly shoemaker named John , Graham, who had taken to wearing a white sheet around Hammersmith to frighten his apprentice, who’d been scaring the bejeezus out of Graham’s grandchildren by telling them ghost stories. Graham was never punished for the whole affaire.
The Bell Witch
We briefly touched upon The Bell Witch Case back in part one of our Around The World In 80 Ghosts series, but to recap, a disgruntled spirit, who became known as The Bell Witch, haunted the Bell family from 1817-1821.
The entity claimed to be the ghost of Kate Batts, a deceased neighbour who had an ongoing feud with the Bells. The spirit was blamed for a series of poltergeist like activity, was able to speak and was sometimes seen in the form of a dog-like creature.
The activity seemed to centre around the youngest Bell daughter, Betsy, and her father, who the spirt had a particular disdain for. Throughout the haunting, the spirit claimed it would eventually kill John Bell Sr. making threats and cursing at him.
The witch apparently made good on her claim on December 20, 1820, when, at the age of 70, John Bell Sr. died. According to the witch, she’d given Bell a dose of poison in the night, and even went so far as to interrupt his funeral by singing drinking songs.
With her work apparently finished, the witch left the family after Bell’s death, but promised to return in seven years. Keeping this promise, she is said to have visited Lucy – the Bell family matriarch, who the witch was allegedly particularly fond of – but this activity faded after a few months.
Carl Pruitt and his Cursed Gravestone
The tale of Carl Pruitt is one that originates in eastern Kentucky.
Legend goes that in June of 1938, Pruitt returned home to find his wife in bed with another man. In a fit of rage, Pruitt strangled his wife with a length of chain he apparently had to hand, before committing suicide. The lover is said to have escaped through a window.
After the burial, folks began to notice something strange about Pruitt’s gravestone – a strange series of discolouration began to appear in the shape of a chain. Spooky.
Locals were quick to believe this was some kind of curse, and kept their distance from the strange stone. That was until a boy named James Collins decided to show the world how brave he was, and threw rocks at the gravestone, chipping it in several places. Riding home on his bicycle, the chain inexplicably snapped, wrapped itself around the boy’s neck and strangled him to death.
Or course, this death only furthered rumours of the cursed gravestone, with many locals believing Carl Pruitt’s vengeful spirit would do harm to those who tampered with it. Jame’s Collins’ mother, however, ignored these warnings and in her own fit of rage, took a small axe to the gravestone, hacking it to pieces.
The next day, while hanging her washing on the line, Mrs Collins seemed to slip, and became entangled in the line – made up on a thin chain – and was strangled to death.
Next, a local farmer and his family drove past the cemetery one their horse and wagon. After announcing he ain’t afraid of no ghost, the farmer took his shotgun and fired at Pruitt’s gravestone. This spooked the horses, who bolted, and although the family were able to jump to safety, the farmer was thrown forward and his neck met one of the chains between the horses, and – wouldn’t you know – he was strangled too!
With all this talk of cursed gravestones and vengeful ghosts, the police were sent to examine the stone, with one officer proclaiming it was all a bunch of nonsense. Of course, on their way home, the officers lost control of their car, leading to the doubtful officer almost decapitated by a chain.
This wasn’t the end of Pruitt’s violent curse, as once again, another local man named Arthur Lewis took to the cemetery with a hammer and chisel, and proceeded to chip away at the cursed stone. Upon hearing screams coming from the cemetery, locals went to investigate and found Lewis dead – having been so frightened by something that he got himself wrapped up in the chains of the cemetery gates and was strangled.
The gravestone was found undamaged – just as it had been after every attempt to destroy it. In 1958 however, the cemetery and tombstone were destroyed as the city expanded, and Pruitt’s murderous spirit crumbled away with it.
Although this is the most frightening story on our list, and one that’s often noted as the best examples of death-by-ghosts, it’s likely entirely fictional.
I’ve searched through records and news articles to find no reference to any Pruitt murder-suicide in Kentucky, nor any obituaries for the named characters of our story. The image of the supposed Pruitt is actually a migrant worker from Missouri, awaiting the start of orange picking season in California. Similarly, an image of the alleged Pruitt gravestone that is sometimes associated with this story (despite it being supposedly destroyed, eventually) is from a North Carolina cemetery.
That being said, there’s many more gruesome tales of murderous ghosts out their to be terrified of.
Got your own spooky story? I want to hear it!
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