The Briefing: The home of Jack and Janet Smurl in West Pittston, Pennsylvania, was the scene of a horrific and terrifying haunting from 1985 to 1987. The case received wide attention in the media. Although the house went through three exorcisms and investigations by demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, the demon refused to leave. The hauntings were chronicled in a book and portrayed in a movie both named "The Haunted".
The Smurl family in back of home. Front row are twins Shannon and Carin. Back row from left to right are Dawn, Jack, Janet and Heather
The Story: The house involved is a duplex, built in 1896 on a quiet street in a middle class neighborhood. After hurricane Agnes flooded much of north-eastern Pennsylvania in 1972, the Smurl family was forced to leave their home in Wilkes-Barre. Jacks parents, John and Mary Smurl, bought the house in West Pittston in 1973 for $18,000. They lived in the right half and Jack, Janet and their first two daughters, Dawn and Heather, moved into the left half. The Smurls spent much time and money redecorating and remodeling, doing much of the work themselves.
The Smurls say they are a close, loving family. Both Jack and Janet grew up in the area, meeting in 1967 and marrying in 1968. Jack served in the Navy, becoming a neuropsychiatric technician. Both Smurls were raised in Catholic homes and had strong religious beliefs. They enjoyed living with Jacks' parents and had no trouble sharing the duplex with them. The first 18 months on Chase St. were happy ones...
But strange things began to occur after that. In January 1974, a strange stain appeared on a new carpet, Jack's television set burst into flames, water pipes leaked even after repeated re-soldering. The new sink and bathtub in the remodeled bathroom were found severely scratched, as if a wild animal had clawed at them. Freshly painted woodwork in the bathroom also showed similar scratches. In 1975, their oldest daughter Dawn repeatedly saw people "floating" around her bedroom.
By 1977, the Smurls realized their house was in some way... spooked. The toilets flushed without anyone using them, footsteps would be continuously heard on the stairs, drawers would open and close on their own accord, radios would blare although they were unplugged and empty rocking chairs would mysteriously rock and creak as if someone were actually sitting in them. As time went on, they began to smell sour and vile smells throughout the house and on several occasions, Jack felt the touch of an unseen hand caress him. By now there were 2 more Smurls, twins Shannon and Carin, and the family was growing frustrated and fatigued by the increasing phenomena.
In 1985, what had started as annoying disturbances became frightening experiences. The house now often became ice cold. John and Mary heard loud, abusive, and obscene language coming from Jack and Janet's side of the house although Jack and Janet were not even arguing. In February 1985 Janet heard her name being called while in the basement doing laundry, after searching for the unseen caller, she realized she had been alone the entire time.
Two days later, icy cold again was felt in the house but this time a black, human shaped form with no facial features appeared to Janet in the kitchen. It de-materialized through the wall and appeared to Mary on the opposite side of the house. From that point on, the haunting activity increased in both frequency and magnitude. A large ceiling fan crashed down inches from Shannon, nearly killing her, on the night her now 13 year old sister Heather was to be confirmed into the Catholic religion. As activity increased Jack and Janet had, on occasion, levitated. Janet was violently pulled off her bed after making love to her husband while he lay paralyzed, gagging from a foul odor. The family's German shepherd, Simon, was repeatedly picked up and thrown. Terrible rapping and scratching noises were continuously heard in the walls. One night while sleeping, Shannon was tossed out of bed and down the stairs. Even neighbors were not spared; several heard screams and strange noises coming from the house when the Smurls were not even home. Most of the neighbors were sympathetic as the Smurls vowed to fight.
In January 1986, Janet heard about Ed and Lorraine Warren, psychical researchers and demonologists from Monroe, Connecticut. Although skeptical but having no where else to turn, she called the Warrens. The Warrens arrived shortly thereafter, accompanied by Rosemary Frueh, a registered nurse and psychic. They began the investigation by quizzing the Smurls carefully about their religious beliefs, the happiness of their family life, whether they had ever practiced satanism, occultism, used a ouija board or in any way invited the supernatural into their home. Then the Warrens and Frueh walked through the house, identifying the bedroom closet as the crossover point between the two sides of the duplex. The team said they detected the presence of 4 evil spirits. 3 were minor but the fourth was a demon.
Without any evidence of family dysfunction, occult invitation or tragedy, the Warrens could only surmise that the demon must have been dormant, probably for decades, and had arisen to draw on the emotional energy generated by the girls' entrance to puberty.
The Warrens tried twice to provoke the demon to expose itself by playing tapes of religious music and confronting it with prayer. The demon reacted by violently shaking a mirror and dresser drawers and yet another instance by spelling out "You filthy bastard, get out of this house." Only Holy Water and prayer seemed to stop the manifestations.
The situation began to turn more serious as Jack was raped by a scaly succubus posing as an old woman with a young body. Her eyes were red and her gums were green. Ed Warren was choked and then began to suffer from terrible flu-like symptoms. An incubus sexually assaulted Janet and pig noises (a sign of serious demonic infestation) could be heard in the walls.
The Smurls said they tried several times to obtain support and action from the church. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Scranton said it would consult with experts but official involvement would be unlikely. At one point in time, Janet thought she was getting help from a priest named Father O'Leary but discovered no such priest existed. The Warrens brought in Father (now Bishop) McKenna, a traditionalist priest who refused to abide by the changes in ritual mandated by the Second Vatican Council. He said mass in Latin and had performed more than 50 exorcisms for the Warrens. He conducted the ancient rite which did nothing but infuriate the demon.
Jack points to the wall where psychics say an earthbound spirit named Abigail was standing The haunting continued. Daughter Carin fell seriously ill from a strange fever and nearly died and Dawn was almost raped by the evil presence. Janet and Mary had slash marks and bites on their arms... everyone was depressed. Ed Warren explained they were in the second demonic stage, oppression, which follows infestation and is followed by possession and death.
Bishop McKenna performed a second exorcism in late spring but to no avail. The demon even accompanied the family on camping trips in the Poconos and harassed Jack at work. The family now knew they could not move to another house because the demon would just follow them. After repeated refusals by the church to help, the Smurls decided to appear on television. Remaining anonymous behind a screen, they were interviewed by Richard Bey on a local Philadelphia show called "People are Talking." The demon retaliated. It levitated Janet and then hurled her against the wall. It later appeared to Jack as a monstrous creature resembling a pig on two legs. A human hand came up through the mattress and grabbed Janet by the back of the neck. And again Jack was raped.
In August 1986, the Smurls felt the risk of ridicule did not outweigh the need to tell their story to a wider audience and granted an interview to the Wilkes-Barre Sunday Independent newspaper. Almost immediately, their home became a tourist attraction for the press, curious on-lookers and skeptics who wished to investigate. Some skeptics, who included some of the Smurl's neighbors, said they believed the family was concocting the story to profit from book and movie contracts.
The Smurls contacted an medium, Mary Alice Rinkman, who examined the house and corroborated the Warrens' findings of 4 spirits. She identified one as an old woman named Abigail and another as a dark, mustachioed man named Patrick who had murdered his wife and her lover and had then been hung by a mob. She could not identify the third but the fourth was a powerful demon.
Press coverage finally pushed the Scranton diocese into action and they offered to take over the investigation. The Warrens had also planned a mass exorcism with several priests . prayer groups came to the house to give comfort. Bishop McKenna came a third time to exorcise the house and this time the ritual seemed to work, there were no disturbances for about 3 months.
Shortly before Christmas 1986, Jack again saw the black form, beckoning him to the third stage of possession. He clutched his rosary and prayed, hoping this was simply an isolated incident. It was not, the banging again started, as well as the putrid smells and violent acts of aggression.
Frustrated, tired, and hopeless, the Smurls moved to another town, shortly before the release of a book concerning their ordeal, "The Haunted", went to press. The church performed a fourth exorcism in 1988, which finally seemed to have given them peace. A movie version of "The Haunted" was released in 1991.