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Mental Health, Religion & Culture
ISSN: 1367-4676 (Print) 1469-9737 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cmhr20
The Dr. John Hall story: a case study in putative
“Haunted People Syndrome”
Ciaran O'Keeffe, James Houran, Damien J. Houran, Neil Dagnall, Kenneth
Drinkwater, Lorraine Sheridan & Brian Laythe
To cite this article: Ciaran O'Keeffe, James Houran, Damien J. Houran, Neil Dagnall,
Kenneth Drinkwater, Lorraine Sheridan & Brian Laythe (2019): The Dr. John Hall story: a
case study in putative “Haunted People Syndrome”, Mental Health, Religion & Culture, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/13674676.2019.1674795
Published online: 17 Dec 2019.
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The Dr. John Hall story: a case study in putative “Haunted
, James Houran
, Damien J. Houran
, Neil Dagnall
, Lorraine Sheridan
and Brian Laythe
Department of Psychology, Buckinghamshire New University, London, UK;
Instituto Politecnico de Gestao e
Tecnologia Escola Superior de Gestao, Portugal;
Integrated Knowledge Systems (IKS), Dallas, TX, USA;
Department of Psychology, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK;
School of Psychology,
Curtin University, Perth, Australia;
Institute for the Study of Religious and Anomalous Experience,
Jeﬀersonville, IN, USA
Research suggests a “Haunted People Syndrome (HP-S)”deﬁned by
recurrent and systematic perceptions of anomalous subjective and
objective anomalies. Such signs or symptoms are traditionally
attributed to “spirits and the supernatural,”but these themes are
hypothesised to morph to “surveillance and stalking”in reports of
“group-(or gang) stalking,”We tested this premise with a quali-
quantitative exercise that mapped group-stalking experiences
from a published ﬁrst-hand account to a Rasch measure of haunt-
type anomalies. This comparison found signiﬁcant agreement in
the speciﬁc“signs or symptoms”of both phenomena. Meta-
patterns likewise showed clear conceptual similarities between
the phenomenology of haunts and group-stalking. Findings are
consistent with the idea that both anomalous episodes involve
the same, or similar, attentional or perceptual processes and
thereby support the viability of the HP-S construct.
Received 28 June 2019
Accepted 23 September 2019
Content analysis; delusions;
Within the literature on anomalous experiences is a sub-set of intriguing reports about
“haunted people”(for reviews, see e.g., Houran & Lange, 2001;O’Keeﬀe & Parsons,
2010). This terminology is deceptively simple, because the questions of “Who is haunted
and also How and Why?”are bigger and thornier than might be assumed. Whatever the
ultimate answers, these enigmatic occurrences span diﬀerent cultures and historic eras
(Maher, 2015; Roll, 1977) and seemingly represent an enduring facet of human experience.
Moreover, they are clinically relevant in their capacity to foster intense sensations, percep-
tions, or reactions that can disrupt the daily functioning of aﬄicted individuals and those
within their social milieus (Hastings, 1983; Montanelli & Parra, 2002-2005; Rogo, 1982).
For example, the Doris Bither case was an alleged paranormal “haunting”that occurred
in Culver City, California in the 1970s (Taﬀ,2014). Doris Bither, a mother of one daughter
and three sons, claimed that she was repeatedly monitored, harassed, attacked, and even
raped by invisible entities she believed were the ghosts of three men. In addition to Doris’
© 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Ciaran O’Keeﬀe ciaran.okeeﬀe@bucks.ac.uk
MENTAL HEALTH, RELIGION & CULTURE
assault claims, all four children reported seeing apparitions with the most prominent being
nicknamed “Mr. Whose-it.”Moreover, Doris’middle son later stated in a media interview as
an adult that all his siblings also experienced some form of attack, such as pushing, pulling,
biting, and scratching (Ortega, 2009). This disturbing episode inspired De Felitta’s(1978)
book The Entity, which was made into a 1982 ﬁlm of the same name.
UCLA-based psychologists investigated the events at the time and identiﬁed numerous
clinical factors likely at play, despite apparently no ﬁndings of outright psychopathology.
Doris reportedly had a history of physical and substance abuse, endured multiple abusive
relationships, and suﬀered a traumatic childhood. The family’s circumstances also
appeared stressful and dysfunctional from the perspective of “systems (ecosystem or biop-
sychosocial) theory,”i.e., environment-person bidirectional inﬂuences (Mash, 1989).
Indeed, the investigators observed poor relationships between Doris and her children,
there was ﬁghting among the siblings, and their house was in poor physical condition
and even said to have been condemned twice, although the middle son later disputed
this assertion in an interview with Ortega (2009). The son further claimed in this same
interview that he and his siblings were psychic, noting that in diﬀerent environments
throughout their lives they had occasionally seen “shadows and spirits”–although it
was only at their Culver City residence that such anomalies became negative and physical
for them. The frequency and intensity of the mysterious attacks apparently decreased over
time, and Doris died in the late 1990s of natural causes.
While the Doris Bither case was extreme and sensational, its phenomenology under-
scores why the relation between paranormal ideations and psychological wellness or
symptom perception is an important and burgeoning area of study (e.g., Dein, 2012;
Mathijsen, 2016; Rabeyron & Loose, 2015; Sar, Alioğlu, & Akyüz, 2014; Sharps et al.,
2010; Simmonds-Moore, 2012). We even argue that research increasingly suggests the
possibility of a Haunted People Syndrome (HP-S)
—a moniker proposed here that was
inspired by the title of an early parapsychological book by Carrington and Fodor (1951).
The term “syndrome”refers to a set of signs and symptoms that occur together to charac-
terise an abnormality or condition (British Medical Association, 2018), therefore the
concept of HP-S most obviously encompasses percipients within the general population
who invoke labels of ghosts or other supernatural agencies to explain a speciﬁc set of
anomalous events that often are perceived recurrently.
Investigators often designate these anomalies as either Subjective (S, internal or psycho-
logical) or Objective (O, external or physical). Subjective includes sensed presences, hearing
voices, unusual somatic or emotional manifestations, and perceptions of human forms.
Objective comprises apparent object movements, malfunctioning of electrical or mechan-
ical equipment, and inexplicable percussive sounds like raps or knockings (for reviews of
these S/O anomalies see e.g., Dagnall, Drinkwater, Denovan, & Parker, 2015; Drinkwater,
Dagnall, Denovan, & Parker, 2019; Houran, 2000). We should also emphasize that paranor-
mal attributions by witnesses to these “signs or symptoms”are not surprising given the
prevalence of “ghosts”as both beliefs and memetic cultural narratives (Bader, 2017;
Booker, 2009; Goldstein, Grider, & Thomas, 2007; Hill et al., 2018,2019).
However, context eﬀects can produce diﬀerent interpretations or attributions for nearly
identical S/O anomalies. To be sure, reports of apparitions and poltergeists resemble, and
might equate to, accounts of other “entity encounter experiences,”such as angels,
demons, extraterrestrials, Men in Black (MIBs), shamanic spirit guides, and folklore-type
2C. O’KEEFFE ET AL.
beings (Evans, 1987,2001; Houran, 2000;Huﬀord, 1982,2001). Such studies imply the
existence of an underlying experience or phenomenon that changes its appearance in
accordance with the situation or sociocultural context in which it manifests. For instance,
Musgrave and Houran (2000) outlined similar structures and contents between Medieval-
era experiences, known as the ﬂight to the Witches’Sabbat, and modern-era accounts of
Likewise, Lange and Houran (2001a) have further contended that the phenomenology
of ghostly episodes strongly parallels cases of mass psychogenic illness whereby individ-
uals suﬀer from mysterious contaminants, pathogens, or even man-made stimuli (Balarat-
nasingama & Janca, 2006; Chen, Yen, Lin, & Yang, 2003; Colligan, Pennebaker, & Murphy,
1982; Wessely, 1987,2000).
To illustrate, both outbreaks comprise ambiguous stimulants
that trigger a sudden onset and cessation of often dramatic symptoms (psychological or
physical), many times in young females, and during times of psychosocial stress (Boss,
1997; Lange & Houran, 2001a). Other times, similar experiences induced by suggestion
have been misattributed to mainstream technologies (e.g., O’Mahony, 1978; Radford &
Bartholomew, 2001). Finally, both haunts and psychogenic illness involve psychological
contagion, or the instigation of successive (episodic) experiences in individuals or
groups due to expectancy eﬀects (Houran & Lange, 1996a,1996b; Lange & Houran,
2001a,2001b; Laythe, Laythe, & Woodward, 2017;O’Keeﬀe & Parsons, 2010).
Haunt and poltergeist accounts might therefore represent merely one portrayal of an
adaptable “core”phenomenon that we denote as HP-S. We further presume this core
experience is produced via “the right people in the right settings”(Laythe, Houran, &
Ventola, 2018, p. 210). Speciﬁcally, Rasch (1960,1980) scaling studies suggest there is a
probabilistic hierarchy of 32 “base”anomalous events (Houran et al., 2019a,2019b).
These manifest typically in psychosocial or physical environments linked to physiological
arousal (Houran, Kumar, Thalbourne, & Lavertue, 2002; Jawer, 2006). Moreover, individuals
higher in transliminality (thin mental boundaries) tend to report these experiences to a
greater extent (Laythe et al., 2018), which implies a heightened susceptibility to high-
arousal or “dis-ease”states (Evans, Lange, Houran, & Lynn, 2018; Ventola et al., 2019).
Group-Stalking - A Haunt by another name?
We suspect that the concept of HP-S might help to explain contemporary accounts of
reputed “group (or gang)-stalking”—or what Hall (2014) described as “organized stalking”
(p. 47). Seminal research by Sheridan and James (2015) suggested that this phenomenon
diﬀers from stalking cases involving lone-culprits and is arguably delusional in nature.
Here, victims state that they are being targeted by coordinated groups of people.
Paullet, Rota, and Swan (2009)deﬁned it more formally as stalking that “involves the
use of multiple individuals to stalk, harass or threaten the victim”(p. 640). Additionally,
the stalking being the apparent work of a social system acting in concert, it is usually
not possible for alleged victims to identify the lead person responsible for directing or
implementing the activities. Likewise, the victim is generally unable to provide any evi-
dence as to who is behind the stalking, although the person may attribute it to a
speciﬁc source like an ex-partner or covert government agency.
Based on his interviews with many alleged “targeted individuals (or T.I.s),”Hall (2014,
p. 69) proposed six phases to the group-stalking phenomenon: selection,surveillance,
MENTAL HEALTH, RELIGION & CULTURE 3
stalking,defamation,attack, and monitoring. This is reminiscent of certain patterns noted
in parapsychological studies. First, T.I.s mirror the concept of “focus persons”in haunt-
poltergeist outbreaks, that is, living individuals around whom the anomalies tend to
centre (see e.g., Roll, 1977; Laythe et al., 2018). Next, experiences in haunt-poltergeist
accounts often appear episodic. Like some illnesses, Nisbet (1979) proposed that polter-
geist-like episodes have an incubation period before anomalies manifest. The S/O events
then apparently progress in stages over time (for a discussion, see e.g., Houran et al.,
Table 1 shows that Sheridan and James’(2015) signs or symptoms of group-stalking can
be categorised as S/O events. Furthermore, Table 2 aﬃrms that the themes in these events
resemble, at least superﬁcially, those reported in accounts of ghostly episodes (cf. Houran
et al., 2019a; Houran & Lange, 2001). However, T.I.s, interpret these core symptoms as
clearly non-paranormal. More precisely, the traditional religio-cultural constructs of
“spirits, spooks, and the supernatural”ostensibly morph to the modern techno-concepts
of “satellites, surveillance, and stalking.”For example, consider a detailed description
from an online poster who addressed the question, “How do you know if you’re being
In my case …it all stopped just as suddenly and unexplainable as it had all started. The ﬁrst
symptoms I noticed …Things would be moved, there was evidence of breaking and entering.
This progressed to my place of employment …Then I was assaulted in my sleep.Myfood
and/or drink was most likely poisoned while I was gone from my house.
There were …individuals following me, and an over saturation of law enforcement near my
home and job …There were strange phone calls at all hours and inappropriate times. There
were “street theatre”incidents and coincidences that were just not mathematically possible.
Table 1. Symptoms of group-stalking (Sheridan & James, 2015:Table 1, pp. 9–10) categorized by
subjective (psychological) vs. objective (physical) experiences.
Covert Behaviours (aligns to Subjective Experiences)
.Lies spread about victim
Unwanted Communications (aligns to Objective Events)
.Unsolicited telephone calls
.Unsolicited text messages
.Left unwanted items
Direct Interference with Homes/Property (aligns to Objective Events)
.Victim’s pet abused
.Home broken into
.Other property vandalised
.Other stalking method(s)
*Not cited but reported in some cases:
.“Street theater”(objective events)
4C. O’KEEFFE ET AL.
Table 2. Common group-stalking symptoms and Hall’s(2009) speciﬁc experiences mapped to the hierarchical Survey of Strange Events (SSE).
Rasch Hierarchy of Haunt-type Experiences (descending order -
common to rare events: Houran et al., 2019b)
Group (or gang)-Stalking “Signs/
Symptoms”(Sheridan & James,
2015) Hall’s(2009) Group-Stalking Experiences
# of Reported
Events in Hall
I had a sense of déjà vu, like something was vaguely familiar to me
about my thoughts, feelings, or surroundings.
Ch. 22 (p. 94) 1
I had the mysterious feeling of being watched, or in the presence of an
invisible being or force.
Ch. 4 (p. 20), Ch. 8 (p. 35), Ch. 16 (p. 68) 3
I heard mysterious “mechanical”or non-descript noises, such as
tapping, knocking, rattling, banging, crashing, footsteps or the
sound of opening/closing doors or drawers.
Ch. 8 (p. 35, 37), Ch. 11 (p. 48), Ch. 14 (p. 59), Ch. 18 (p. 76), Ch. 20
(p. 87), Ch. 22 (p. 94)
I felt a mysterious area of cold.
I felt a breeze or a rush of wind or air, like something invisible was
moving near me.
I saw with my naked eye a non-descript visual image, like fog, shadow
or unusual light.
I heard mysterious sounds that could be recognized or identiﬁed, such
as ghostly voices or music (with or without singing).
.Lies spread about victim Ch. 3 (p. 14, 16, 17), Ch. 10 (p.42, 43, 44), Ch.11 (p.46), Ch. 13
(p. 55), Ch. 15 (p.64), Ch. 16 (p. 69), Ch. 18 (p. 76), Ch. 20 (p. 85),
Ch. 22 (p. 96), Ch. 23 (p. 101), Ch. 24 (p. 104, 105)
Electrical or mechanical appliances or equipment functioned
improperly or not at all, including ﬂickering lights, power surges or
batteries “going dead”in electronic devices (e.g., camera, phone,
.Unsolicited telephone calls
.Unsolicited text messages
Ch. 5 (p. 23, 24), Ch. 8 (p.35), Ch. 21 (p. 89, 90), Ch. 23 (p. 100, 102),
Ch. 24 (p. 105)
I had a negative feeling for no obvious reason, like anger, sadness,
panic, or danger.
Ch. 6 (p. 28), Ch. 9 (p. 40), Ch. 24 (p. 104) 3
I was mysteriously touched in a non-threatening manner, like a tap,
touch or light pressure on my body.
I saw with my naked eye an “obvious”ghost or apparition –a misty or
translucent image with a human form.
I saw with my naked eye an “un-obvious”ghost or apparition –a
human form that looked like a living person.
Ch. 3 (p. 36), Ch. 9 (p. 40), Ch. 10 (p. 42), Ch. 11 (p.47, 48, 49), Ch.
12 (p. 53), Ch. 14 (p. 60), Ch. 17 (p. 73), Ch. 18 (p. 76, 77, 78, 79),
Ch.20 (p. 86, 87), Ch. 21 (p. 92), Ch. 22 (p. 94, 96)
I felt odd sensations in my body, such as dizziness, tingling, electrical
shock, or nausea (sick in my stomach).
Ch. 5 (p. 24, 25), Ch. 10 (p. 45), Ch. 12 (p. 52, 53), Ch. 13 (p. 58), Ch.
16 (p. 69), Ch. 17 (p. 73), CH. 18 (p. 79), Ch. 20 (p. 80)
I experienced objects disappear or reappear around me. .Left unwanted items Ch. 20 (p. 87), Ch. 23 (p. 100, 102) 3
MENTAL HEALTH, RELIGION & CULTURE 5
Table 2. Continued.
Rasch Hierarchy of Haunt-type Experiences (descending order -
common to rare events: Houran et al., 2019b)
Group (or gang)-Stalking “Signs/
Symptoms”(Sheridan & James,
2015) Hall’s(2009) Group-Stalking Experiences
# of Reported
Events in Hall
Pictures from my camera or mobile device captured unusual images,
shapes, distortions or eﬀects.
Ch. 21 (p. 90) 1
I smelled a mysterious odor that was pleasant.
I communicated with the dead or other outside force. Ch. 4 (p. 19), Ch. 10 (p. 43, 45) 3
I saw objects moving on their own across a surface or falling.
I had a positive feeling for no obvious reason, like happiness, love, joy,
I heard on an audio recorder mysterious “mechanical”or non-descript
noises, such as tapping, knocking, rattling, banging, crashing,
footsteps or the sound of opening/closing doors or drawers.
Ch. 13 (p. 56, 57) 2
I heard on an audio recorder mysterious sounds that could be
recognized or identiﬁed, such as ghostly voices or music (with or
Ch. 11 (p. 49), Ch. 13 (p. 56, 57), Ch. 14 (p. 59, 60), Ch. 17 (p. 74),
CH. 20 (p. 85, 87), Ch.22 (p. 95)
I smelled a mysterious odor that was unpleasant. Ch. 17 (p.73), Ch. 23 (p.101) 2
I was mysteriously touched in a threatening manner, such as a cut,
bite, scratch, shove, burn or strong pressure on my body.
.Victim’s pet abused
Ch. 12 (p. 54), Ch. 15 (p. 63), Ch 16. (p. 69), Ch. 18 (p. 78, 79), Ch.
24 (p. 104, 105), Ch. 25 (p. 112)
I saw objects breaking (or discovered them broken), like shattered or
cracked glass, mirrors or housewares.
.Home broken into
Ch. 2 (p. 13), Ch. 6 (p. 28), Ch. 8 (p. 35), Ch. 9 (p. 40), Ch. 10 (p. 42,
44, 45), Ch. 12 (p. 52), Ch. 14 (p. 59), Ch. 17 (p. 73), Ch. 19 (p.81),
Ch. 20 (p. 87), Ch. 23 (p. 100, 102), Ch. 24 (p. 104)
I saw objects ﬂying or ﬂoating in midair.
I felt a mysterious area of heat. Ch. 5 (p. 24), Ch. 16 (p. 69), Ch. 23 (p. 101), Ch. 24 (p. 104) 4
I felt guided, controlled or possessed by an outside force. Ch. 9 (p. 41), Ch. 10 (p. 42, 45), Ch. 11 (p. 49, 50), Ch. 12 (p. 52), Ch.
13 (p. 58), Ch. 18 (p. 79)
Plumbing equipment or systems (faucets, disposal, toilet) functioned
improperly or not at all.
I saw beings of divine or evil origin, such as angels or demons.
I had a mysterious taste in my mouth.
I saw folklore-type beings that were not human, such as elves, fairies,
or other types of “little people.”
Fires have started mysteriously.
6C. O’KEEFFE ET AL.
There were encounters with people in public that I would see dressed diﬀerently or under a
diﬀerent guise at various places …
There was the constant knowledge that I was being watched. There was a constant echo or static
only found in wiretapping on all my phone calls. There were random people that would show up
at my job and just hand me a piece of paper with nothing on it, and quickly leave. I saw the same
sets of people on websites or random online pages.
My computer was obviously and carelessly hacked …There was a constant parade of clear
human shadows on my bedroom walls at night …the more you try to explain this phenomena
(sic) to friends and family, the more they withdraw from believing that anything at all is hap-
pening to you. Then I woke up one day after approximately 5 years of constant terror and being
victimized, and poof! It stopped (emphasis in original).
The Dr. John hall story
There is an active and worldwide sub-culture of people devoted to public awareness of
reputed group-stalking, similar to the prevalent groups of paranormal enthusiasts and
“ghost-hunters”(Hill, 2017). Google the phrase “victims of group-stalking”and over
nine-million entries emerge. Many lay-organizations and individual activists within this
vast community identify John Hall, a Texas-based anesthesiologist, as among its most
credible and authoritative ﬁgures (McPhate, 2016).
Notwithstanding legitimate controversies about some covert surveillance programmes
as famously discussed by Edward Snowden (e.g., Burrough, Ellison, & Andrews, 2014), or
the exploitations of personal-data mining by technology companies (e.g., Zuboﬀ,2019),
satellite-stalking and related claims might sound like science ﬁction to many people.
Yet, Hall (2009,2011) ardently believes that it is the future of criminal assault due to his
ﬁrst-hand experiences and ongoing research, as documented in two books to date. An
oﬀ-handed comment to Hall by an academic colleague who claimed to have an important
connection with an ex-FBI agent (ironically known as “The Ghost”) was the apparent cat-
alyst to mysterious events and intrusions that next unfolded in Hall’s life. This onslaught
started with what Hall deemed to be regular “druggings,”as well as break-ins to his
house and those of people close to him.
The chronology of Hall’s(2009) personal experiences lacks ample detail for robust time-
series analyses on potential psychological “contagion”eﬀects (cf. Lange & Houran, 2001a,
2001b), but his published narrative is amenable to a content analysis. In this respect, we
explore two hypotheses: (i) the discrete experiences or events in Hall’s stalking narrative
will reliably and substantively correspond to the base experiences that deﬁne witness nar-
ratives in ghostly episodes, and (ii) the overarching phenomenology of Hall’s set of experi-
ences will most align to the meta-patterns exhibited by spontaneous (“sincere and
unprimed”) accounts of ghostly episodes, as opposed to control accounts that derive
from fantasy, deliberate deceit, or types of priming conditions.
Spontaneous case data
Data derived from Hall’s(2009) 127-page, commercial book, which the publisher described
on its back cover as “Dr. Hall’s narration …based on true-life events.”It is uncertain to what
MENTAL HEALTH, RELIGION & CULTURE 7
extent this text represents Hall’s own words or those of a copyeditor. Also, we made no
attempt to corroborate any of his claims. Instead, our analysis focussed only on identifying
the presence and pattern of themes within his broad narrative. Thus, this source data is
similar to previous content analyses of paranormal accounts (e.g., Harte, 2000; Houran, 2000).
The Survey of Strange Events (SSE; Houran et al., 2019b) is a 32-item, “true/false”Rasch
(1960/1980) scaled measure of the overall intensity of a “ghostly account or narrative”
via a weighted checklist of base events (psychological and physical) inherent to these epi-
sodes. We refer readers to our previous papers for details on the development of this
instrument (Houran et al., 2019a,2019b). Rasch scores range from 22.3 (= raw score of
0) to 90.9 (= raw score of 32) (M= 50, SD = 10), with a Rasch person reliability of .87.
Higher scores correspond to a greater number and intensity of anomalies that deﬁne a
percipient’s experience. Furthermore, supporting the SSE’s content and predictive val-
idities, Houran et al. (2019b) found that the phenomenology of “spontaneous”accounts
(i.e., sincere and unprimed) diﬀered signiﬁcantly from “control”narratives derived from
primed conditions, fantasy scenarios, or deliberate fabrication.
Content Category Dictionary (CCD)
CCD is used to retest existing categories, concepts, or models in new contexts (Catanzaro,
1988). We designed and implemented a two-tier, deductive protocol using a categoris-
ation matrix based on the SSE measure described above (cf. Column 1: Table 2). An
experimentally-blind rater reviewed Hall’s(2009) self-reported group-stalking experiences
and coded their alignment with the SSE categories. To decrease bias and increase
reliability, we presented Hall’s(2009) experiences anonymously (i.e., without context).
The rater examined the transcripts and recorded the items from the categorisation
matrix based on whether they were present or not. To optimise the accuracy of the
ﬁnal codings, another independent rater with expertise in anomalistic psychology sub-
sequently cross-checked the classiﬁcations against the source material.
Table 2 shows that the raters who studied Hall’s(2009) account as a “T.I.”reliably identiﬁed
18 out of the 32 base anomalies characteristic of haunt narratives, i.e., a ∼56% correspon-
dence in themes. This tally converts to an above-average Rasch scaled score of 58.5 (SE =
2.6) on the SSE, which agrees with the idea that group-stalking experiences signiﬁcantly
overlap with speciﬁc anomalies in accounts of ghostly encounters.
Hall’s(2009) group-stalking incidents skewed towards Objective (physical) events (n=73
discrete events with ten themes) compared to Subjective (psychological) experiences (n
8C. O’KEEFFE ET AL.
= 48 discrete events with eight themes). Thus, Hall’s narrative appears to be composed pri-
marily of tangible (60%) versus private (40%) information. Our next step was to scrutinise
the meta-patterns in the 18 themes that manifested across the 121 discrete experiences.
Yet a confound arises with qualitative data from commercial books or other modiﬁed
sources. Particularly, the veracity or completeness of details are unknown with copyedited
text, as opposed to witness interview transcripts or aﬃdavits.
One solution is to consider only the obvious and important dominant themes in an
account rather than include minor (or incidental) themes that could be unreliable for
several reasons. Taking this approach ﬁrst, we inspected Hall’s dominant themes as
deﬁned by those SSE items with an above average (> 7) number of associated experiences
(Column 4: Table 2). This vetting pinpointed eight dominant themes within Hall’s(2009)
account (cf. Table 3).
Table 3 compares meta-patterns in Hall’s themes to those in Houran et al.’s(2019b) Rasch
(1960/1980) models of haunt accounts. Our goal was to assess whether the phenomenology
of Hall’s(2009) dominant themes closely matched one of the ﬁve types of haunt narratives
(i.e., spontaneous, primed, lifestyle, fantasy, or illicit). Speciﬁcally, it might be expected that
Hall’s(2009) themes with higher frequencies of experiences (Column 2) should correspond
to haunt-type anomalies with lower logit-values (Column 3) (i.e., “easier”endorsement, or
relatively more common experiences). Likewise, anomalies with higher logit-values for
haunt experiences (i.e., “harder”endorsement, or relatively rarer experiences) should corre-
late to themes in Hall (2009) with comparatively lower frequencies. To reiterate, lower cor-
relations in this exercise indicate greater levels of overall compatibility between the
phenomenology of Hall’s experiences and speciﬁc haunt narratives.
To clarify, a logit is the unit of measurement in Rasch scaling that indicates the point
along an interval-level continuum where a given item (or theme) is positioned, and thus
the likelihood of being endorsed, relative to other items (or themes) along the common
dimension. Note that Houran et al. (2019b) found that logit-values for some items (experi-
ences) shift in haunt accounts from diﬀerent contexts, i.e., speciﬁc experiences were under-
or over-reported in narratives derived from “spontaneous, primed, lifestyle, fantasy, or
illicit”conditions. Thus, these narrative-speciﬁc hierarchies potentially have diagnostic
Table 3 suggests that the dominant phenomenology of Hall’s(2009) group-stalking
experiences most closely approximates spontaneous ghostly episodes (r=−.37), with
the next closest parallel being fantasy haunt narratives (r= .17). Nevertheless, this
interpretation alters when Hall’s(2009)collective phenomenology is considered, i.e.,
minor themes are also included in the calculations. In this scenario, the Pearson product
moment coeﬃcients (r) between the frequencies of Hall’s speciﬁc experiences and their
respective logit values from Houran et al. (2019b) change as follows: spontaneous = .12,
primed =.36,lifestyle = .21, fantasy =−.15, and illicit =−.12. The collective phenomenology
seems most aligned to the “fantasy”condition, although it also has characteristics consist-
ent with “illicit”narratives.
It is diﬃcult to resolve these patterns and nuances decisively based on the available
data. None of the ﬁve narrative structures clearly or consistently emerges as the preferred
match, which might suggest that Hall’s(2009) account is an amalgam of narrative types.
For example, we could speculate that Hall experienced some anomalous and legitimately
spontaneous events that subsequently encouraged the development of fantasy elements,
MENTAL HEALTH, RELIGION & CULTURE 9
with some or all their accompanying details perhaps embellished (unwittingly or deliber-
ately) later by him, a copyeditor, or other source. Taken altogether, we essentially
conﬁrmed Hypothesis 1. On the other hand, ﬁndings only partially supported the predic-
tion that Hall’s(2009) experiences would align to the meta-patterns of “spontaneous”
ghostly episodes (Hypothesis 2).
This was a preliminary and limited exploration of the hypothesis that group-stalking
accounts involve the same, or similar, attentional or perceptual processes inherent to
Table 3. Dominant themes in Hall (2009) compared to phenomenologies of various haunt-related
narratives from Houran et al. (2019b).
I felt guided, controlled or
possessed by an outside
8 .84 .16 −.21 .22 −.08
I was mysteriously touched in a
threatening manner, such as
a cut, bite, scratch, shove,
burn or strong pressure on
8 .44 −.29 −.29 −.08 −1.56
Electrical or mechanical
appliances or equipment
functioned improperly or not
at all, including ﬂickering
lights, power surges or
batteries “going dead”in
electronic devices (e.g.,
camera, phone, etc.).
8−.62 −.04 −.46 −.58 −20
I heard on an audio recorder
mysterious sounds that could
be recognized or identiﬁed,
such as ghostly voices or
music (with or without
9 .24 −.60 −1.79 −1.07 −1.52
I felt odd sensations in my
body, such as dizziness,
tingling, electrical shock, or
nausea (sick in my stomach).
10 −.47 −.16 −.11 .66 1.02
I saw objects breaking (or
discovered them broken),
like shattered or cracked
glass, mirrors or housewares.
15 .51 .63 1.08 −.91 −1.61
I heard mysterious sounds that
could be recognized or
identiﬁed, such as ghostly
voices or music (with or
16 −.62 .15 −.20 −.50 .26
I saw with my naked eye an
apparition –a human form
that looked like a living
18 −.47 .41 1.04 .87 .09
r−.37 .69 .67 .17 .37
Note: Lower logit values = more common/ “easier”to endorse; higher logit values = less common/ “harder”to endorse
10 C. O’KEEFFE ET AL.
reports of haunts or poltergeist-like disturbances. By extension, this includes the assump-
tion that group-stalking is another personiﬁcation or interpretation of the “encounter
experience”(cf. Evans, 2001; Houran, 2000;Huﬀord, 2001). Although our analysis cannot
conclusively establish whether ghostly episodes and group-stalking are diﬀerent
expressions of a core experience or phenomenon, our results appear reasonably consist-
ent with this premise. Our conclusion fundamentally equates Hall’s(2009)“group-stalking”
account to Doris Bither’s“paranormal persecution”narrative.
Three added conceptual similarities bolster the hypothesis of a core HP-S phenomenon
in the present context. Firstly, persecutory thoughts, feelings, and physical violations that
deﬁne group-stalking accounts exist in many ghost narratives other than the Doris Bither
case. For example, subtle or passive forms arguably include reports of “sensed presences,”
or an inexplicable sensation of being in the company of an invisible force that is akin to
feeling “under surveillance.”This anomaly bridges many encounter experiences (e.g.,
Houran, 2000;Huﬀord, 2001), and other times narratives also can refer to the sudden or
mysterious onset of unsettling feelings (Harte, 2000; Houran, 2002).
More overt or threatening forms of “paranormal persecution”appear as nighttime “Old
Hag attacks”which likely represent episodes of sleep paralysis (Huﬀord, 2001). According
to Powell (1997), the term nightmare described this phenomenon before it acquired its
modern, generalised meaning. Powell (1997) described it speciﬁcally as “a phenomenon
during which a person senses the presence of a malevolent agent, is unable to move, is
consciously aware of the surroundings, experiences a sense of fear or dread, and often
feels a pressing or strangling sensation. In addition to these core elements, auditory
and visual hallucinations and respiratory diﬃculty are common”(p. 588). Although
much rarer, some haunt-poltergeist accounts have also referenced bodily eﬀects during
waking states that mimic aspects of the Doris Bither case. These materializations
include anomalous bites, cuts, scratches, welts, and perceived possession by outside
forces (e.g., Amorim, 1990; Mulacz, 1999).
Beyond the threatening nature of some S/O anomalies on a tangible level, we imagine
that themes of fear, dread, threat, or persecution in haunt or poltergeist narratives relate,
in part, to proxemics and speciﬁcally the sense of intrusion into one’s personal space that
these anomalies might stimulate. By way of explanation, social scientists recognise four
levels of psychological space, i.e., intimate, personal, social, and public. Personal space is
the region surrounding individuals that they regard as their psychological territory and
physical domain. Most people value their personal space and feel discomfort, anger, or
anxiety when this space is encroached (Hall, 1966). Broadly speaking, we hypothesise
that the more proximal S/O anomalies are to one’s personal space, the more intense or
prevalent the corresponding perceptions of threat or persecution.
This assumes there is no prevailing context that otherwise normalises these anomalous
experiences for individuals. Without this, we suspect that the proximity of anomalous
events, combined with their inherent ambiguity (Lange & Houran, 2001a) and aberrant sal-
ience to percipients (Irwin, 2014; Irwin, Schoﬁeld, & Baker, 2014), collectively induce a type
of functional paranoia. This cognitive–aﬀective state might be characterised as experients
striving to resolve a personal conundrum grounded in Trickster-Theory, “Who did what to
whom and if so, why (if at all)?”(Brantley, 2009, p. 1). This speculation agrees with Banerjee
and Bloom (2014) who found that religious and paranormal belief signiﬁcantly predicts the
propensity to perceive the world in terms of agency purpose, and design.
MENTAL HEALTH, RELIGION & CULTURE 11
Secondly, group-stalking accounts often reference “gaslighting”(Hall, 2009,2014),
which typically denotes the determined eﬀorts of an inﬂuencer to cause an intended
target to doubt his/her own experiences, or even sanity (Knight, 2006; Thomas, 2017).
Sheridan and James (2015, Table 4, pp. 15–17) found related eﬀects in the reported reac-
tions of people close to the T.I.s they surveyed. For instance, T.I.s often endorsed state-
ments such as “Others said they were overreacting/being paranoid (74.0%)”,“Family/
friends did not take me seriously”(60.2%), and “The police did not take me seriously”
(40.6%). They also found that 51.2% of the group-stalking claimants “Thought they were
going mad”(p. 12). Similarly, “paranormal witnesses”are often aware that their anomalous
experiences are unconventional and therefore they sometimes rationalise them with
orthodox beliefs when discussing them publicly or when faced with skepticism (Drink-
water, Dagnall, & Bate, 2013; Ohashi, Wooﬃtt, Jackson, & Nixon, 2013; Schmied-Knittel &
Schetsche, 2005; for a discussion see: Drinkwater, Laythe et al., 2019).
Thirdly, occurrences of so-called “street theater”among the frequent complaints of T.I.s.
This refers supposedly to premeditated actions or skits that take place in public settings
and which are designed to unnerve or harass victims by inﬂicting sustained levels of
stress and anxiety. However, T.I.s claim that these exhibitions are crafted such that unin-
formed observers are likely to dismiss them as random examples of bad luck or a series
of unfortunate events. These happenings can therefore be viewed either as blatant mani-
festations of Trickster Theory (e.g., Hynes & Doty, 1993; Jung, 1956,1969) or Murphy’s Law
(i.e., “anything that can go wrong will go wrong,”see Spark, 2006).
This “street theater”echoes some incidents frequently reported during investigative
probes of ghostly episodes. Particularly, researchers can feel exasperated during
ﬁeldwork studies when instrumentation malfunctions unexpectedly (Laythe & Houran,
2019; cf. Kruth & Joines, 2016), or anomalous events often remit once investigations
ensue (Roll, 1977). Other times, experients or participants in ﬁeldwork studies can publicly
disrupt or even sabotage proceedings with marked emotional or mental states associated
with the perception or report of S/O anomalies (see e.g., Houran, Wiseman, & Thalbourne,
2002; Terhune, Ventola, & Houran, 2007).
Assuming the present ﬁndings and interpretations are valid, we must still be careful to
distinguish between etiologies of anomalous experiences versus the attributions imposed
on them (see e.g., David, 2010; Lange, Ross, Dagnall, Irwin, & Houran, 2019). Some of the
base S/O events might be grounded in ontological realities (Houran, 1997; Houran &
Lange, 1996b), but the corresponding interpretation(s) can still be erroneous or delusional.
Clinically speaking, we posit that HP-S reﬂects the tendency of some individuals to adopt
implausible or esoteric explanations for recurring anomalous experiences due to improper
or biased consideration of evidence (see e.g., Irwin, Dagnall, & Drinkwater, 2012; Prike,
Arnold, & Williamson, 2018; Ross, Hartig, & McKay, 2017; van Elk, 2015; for a counterpoint
see: Laythe & Owen, 2012).
This supposition aligns in important ways to the Threat Anticipation Cognitive Model
(Ben-Zeev, Ellington, Swendsen, & Granholm, 2011; Freeman, Garety, Kuipers, Fowler, &
Bebbington, 2002) that suggests persecutory ideations result from emotional processes,
anomalous experiences, and reasoning biases. Advocates of this view speciﬁcally argue
that a person’s emotions give signiﬁcant meaning to strange, ambiguous, or coincidental
experiences, whereas reasoning biases induce paranoia or delusions of persecution.
However, we do not imply that every ghostly episode or potential expression of HP-S is
12 C. O’KEEFFE ET AL.
automatically a negative experience. In particular, S/O anomalies would seem to foster
comfort, wonder, or awe when their interpretation is grounded in terms or beliefs that
are non-threatening to one’s personal space. These could include pleasant notions of
angels or mystical forces (Houran & Lange, 1997; Lange & Houran, 1996), shamanic
power animals (Houran, Lange, & Crist-Houran, 1997), or deceased loved ones (Evrard, 2017).
More rigorous studies are now needed to determine whether our ﬁndings and con-
clusions generalise across group-stalking reports. Methodologies like Rasch scaling (e.g.,
Lange, 2017) or computerised Latent Semantic Analysis (e.g., Lange, Greyson, & Houran,
2015) seem more powerful to evaluate big-data sets than rudimentary content analyses
as used here and elsewhere (e.g., Drinkwater et al., 2013; Simmonds-Moore, 2016).
Additionally, investigating the nuances and commonalities between ghostly episodes
and group-stalking might provide further insights about whether (i) each are variants
on recognized forms of “mass (contagious) psychogenic illness”—which Wessely (1987)
proposed as two discernible syndromes, i.e., “mass anxiety hysteria”and “mass motor hys-
teria”(cf. Ali-Gombe, Guthrie, & McDermott, 1996), or (ii) each reﬂects some potential
hybrid of these two syndromes.
Other considerations are personality or social factors that promote attributions of
group-stalking versus supernatural agency (Hill et al., 2018,2019). Anecdotes from Sheri-
dan and James (2015) might oﬀer insights here. Although their survey documented nega-
tive eﬀects on T.I.s, group-stalking accounts often also speciﬁed positive impacts.
Illustratively, many narratives (∼50%) indicated that being targeted conﬁrmed their
beliefs along the lines of “I have always stood out”or “I have always been special/
diﬀerent.”Accordingly the psychology of T.I.s might be rooted in neuroticism, narcissism,
superiority, or grandiosity, or a sense of disconnectedness or loneliness.
Moreover, research should also examine if the psychometric proﬁles of focus persons in
ghostly episodes apply to self-described T.I.s. Many studies on paranormal belief and
experience strongly suggest there is an “encounter-prone personality”grounded in a per-
meable (or thin) mental boundary structure (e.g., Houran, Kumar, et al., 2002; Parra, 2018).
This proﬁle might even capitalise on the potential biological basis or genetic predisposi-
tion for anomalous experience (McClenon, 2004,2012; Winkelman, 2004,2018).
All told, we think that the proposed syndrome model (i.e., HP-S) characterises the phe-
nomenology of these anomalous episodes more accurately than blanket terminology like
“(entity) encounter experiences.”And, studies might well uncover other novel or surprising
personiﬁcations of HP-S and thereby establish that the core phenomenon is more preva-
lent or malleable than current surveys even suggest. Research must now test the validity of
this hypothesised construct, one which many readers might regard as controversial. We
likewise sympathise with the reservations of researchers and practitioners over the inven-
tion of new terms, labels, or concepts that seemingly pathologize meager descriptions of
certain attitudes and behaviours. Psychiatrist Peter Bregging eloquently summed up this
concern with his observation that, “In reality, psychiatric diagnosing is a kind of spiritual
proﬁling that can destroy lives and frequently does”(Breggin, 2010, para. 2). Consequently,
we intend for the HP-S moniker to be behaviourally descriptive versus medically diagnostic.
Lastly, this study helps to corroborate the utility of the SSE measure for various quali-
quantitative studies of ghostly episodes and kindred experiences. We hope that our
approach motivates wider investigations of other “everyday”cases or phenomena in clini-
cal or abnormal psychologies masquerading as parapsychological events or vice versa. In
MENTAL HEALTH, RELIGION & CULTURE 13
contrast to hypnosis (Noble & McConkey, 1995), experiments using structured or simulated
settings with non-clinical samples (French, Haque, Bunton-Stasyshyn, & Davis, 2009; Laythe
et al., 2017), quasi-experimental tasks with clinical patients (Caputo, 2014; Freeman et al.,
2015), or neuroimaging (Blackwood et al., 2000; Kossowska, Szwed, Wronka, Czarnek, &
Wyczesany, 2016), the study of anomalous experiences as exempliﬁed here oﬀers an
alternative, innocuous, and ecologically-valid way to research the formation or mainten-
ance of delusional ideations (pathological or non-pathological) that are otherwise
diﬃcult to investigate from a behavioural science perspective due to their private nature.
1. We use “HP-S”vs “HPS,”because the latter acronym is already prevalent in the clinical litera-
ture to reference many diﬀerent disorders or medical topics
2. Early investigators surmised that “hysteria”was sometimes involved in haunt-related cases
(see e.g., Grasset, 1903-1904), so Lange and Houran’s basic hypothesis is not wholly new or
3. “Carol Carmel, Armed Recovery Agent,”Updated Aug 22, 2017. Retrieved October 31, 2018
from. https://www.quora.com/How-do-you-know-if-youre-being-gang-stalked.Note: empha-
sis added to denote symptoms of stalking that seemingly map against those for haunt-polter-
geist accounts. This account has a raw tally of nine types of anomalous “ghostly”events that
equates to a Rasch score of 48.6 (SE = 2.8) on the SSE measure, which has a M= 50.
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the authors.
James Houran http://orcid.org/0000-0003-1725-582X
Neil Dagnall http://orcid.org/0000-0003-0657-7604
Kenneth Drinkwater http://orcid.org/0000-0002-4015-0578
Lorraine Sheridan http://orcid.org/0000-0002-8705-0531
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