From 1974 to 1987, the Smurls claim they were at the mercy of ghosts. Their story involves journalists, demonologists, and the Roman Catholic Church. It caught the attention of the media, which resulted in several published articles, a book, a TV movie, and even attracted infamous paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. This is the Smurls’ story.
After flood damage forced them from their Wilkes-Barre home, Janet and Jack Smurl, along with their young daughters and Jack’s parents, moved into a Chase Street duplex in West Pittson, Pennsylvania. A bit of a fixer-upper, they put their efforts into repainting, retooling, and repairs. It was at this time that the eerie activity began.
Initially, the episodes were benign. Tools went missing then reappeared; old wall stains seeped through fresh coats of paint. Then the kitchen appliances caught fire even though they were unplugged, and awful odors overwhelmed the house, only to disperse moments later.
Still, the Smurl family soldiered on. Jack was promoted at his job and doubled as his daughter’s softball team coach; Janet became pregnant and helped organize an anti-drunk driving group at the local high school. The girls excelled in their studies and the in-laws were happy. But like all good ghost stories, their luck was about to change.
Soon, the Smurls were struggling to make ends meet. Mary, Jack’s mother, suffered a heart attack. The ghostly visits, meanwhile, intensified. Mary and Janet claimed to have perceived voices that sounded like one another: Janet thought she heard her mother-in-law calling her name, while Mary thought she heard Janet and Jack in the throes of an argument laden with expletives. Ominous black masses formed and floated through the home. Janet said she was visited in the dead of night by a malevolent force that molested her in her sleep.
Then Jack joined the club. Lying in bed with Janet, he heard someone whispering, a young woman it seemed. When he turned to face his wife, he watched the shadowy figure run up her leg.
After that night, life in the Smurl house grew darker.
A light fixture fell from the ceiling, cutting one of the daughters on impact. The family dog was thrown against the wall. Janet said she was picked up by an invisible presence, dangling some six feet in the air, and then tossed across the room. Jack claimed a succubus entered the living room and raped him while a baseball game played on the TV. Even neighbors reported hearing screams from the house while the family was out.
Terrified, the Smurls contacted self-taught demonologist duo the Warrens. After inspecting the house, Lorraine Warren, a clairvoyant with several well-known paranormal investigations under her belt, concluded that the Smurls shared their home with four spirits: a harmless elderly woman, a young and possibly violent girl, a man who suffered and died in the home, and a demon that used the other three spirits to destroy the Smurl family.
Group prayer sessions and exorcisms were conducted, yet the attacks continued. So the Smurls took their story public in hopes that someone might hear of their plight and know how to help. But the family got more than they bargained for; the press latched on and, like a malicious spirit, refused to leave.
Oddballs camped out in front of their house. Cameras flashed, and reporters flooded their lawn. Cars of onlookers cruised by hoping to catch a glimpse of something from another dimension. The Smurl family found themselves at the center of a media circus.
Representatives from the Roman Catholic Church in Scranton were uncertain as to what might be causing the activity. Multiple priests visited the Smurls to bless their home; they reportedly encountered “no harmful activity” while on the property. In 1986, an area priest actually moved into the household, hoping to witness the demonic forces first-hand. But nothing stirred. After two nights without issue, he left.
That same year, the Smurls expressed exhaustion over the incessant media scrutiny. In 1987, the family packed up and left their Chase Street duplex.
Supernatural phenomena reportedly followed them to their new home, until a church-sanctioned exorcism in 1989 cleared the house of its activity. Since then, experts, priests, television producers, and journalists have all scrutinized the Smurls’ story—including journalist Robert Curran and the Warrens themselves, who chronicled the Smurl case in . Many reviewers regarded the book as one-sided, echoing skeptics who saw rational explanations behind the otherworldly claims of the Smurl family. The subsequent owners of the Chase Street duplex say nothing unusual has ever happened in their home.
Were the experiences legitimate or was it all a fabrication? Only the Smurls truly know. Still, whether a spiritualist or skeptic, one can’t deny the strangeness of their tale.