Ghosts of the Prairie
THE INDIANAPOLIS POLTERGEIST
Throughout the history of ghost research, traditional hauntings and poltergeists (noisy ghosts) have commonly been blamed for any violent or destructive activity in a haunting. In the past, researchers believed that all such activity at a haunted location was the work of the spirits, or an outside force, but this is not always the case. During a poltergeist outbreak, there can be a variety of phenomena taking place. There are reports of knocking and tapping noises, sounds with no visible cause, disturbance of stationary objects like household items and furniture, doors slamming, lights turning on and off, fires breaking out and much, much more. While in some cases, this activity can be connected to ghosts, in other cases it probably isn’t. It certainly remains paranormal though and because of this, it is also unexplained and very controversial.
One of the current theories behind this Poltergeist-like phenomena is that the activity is caused by a person in the household, known as the "human agent". The agent is usually an adolescent girl and normally one that is troubled emotionally. It is believed that she unconsciously manipulates physical objects in the house by psychokinesis (PK), the power to move things by energy generated in the brain. The presence of the energy is almost always an unconscious one and it is rare when any of the agents actually realize that they are the source of the destruction around them. They do not realize that they are the reason that objects in the home have become displaced and are usually of the impression that a ghost (or some sort of other supernatural entity) is present instead. The bursts of PK come and go and most poltergeist-like cases will peak early and then slowly fade away.
And while all of this makes for a convenient explanation (as does the idea that the house is haunted by traditional ghosts!), what of cases that exist for which no easy explanations apply? How do we attempt to solve the cases during which such bizarre events occur that are so baffling that they remain unsolved four decades later? You will be pondering these questions in the pages ahead as you hear about bottles smashing, glass flying, “phantom bites” and even the victims of the poltergeist outbreak being arrested for causing the disturbance! Indianapolis was a strange place to be in March 1962!
The outbreak began on Sunday night, March 11 at a few minutes past 10:00 PM, according to Mrs. Renate Beck, a divorced woman who resided in a house at 2910 N. Delaware Street in Indianapolis. She shared the large two-story house with her widowed mother, Mrs. Lina Gemmecke (61) and her daughter, Linda (13). Their later accounts stated that they had experienced nothing odd in the house that day until that evening, when a heavy glass beer mug somehow moved on its own. It happened in the kitchen and the mug lifted out of the sink and fell behind a flower pot. Both Mrs. Beck and her mother were in the room at the time but neither of them had been close to the glass. Then, about 10:37, this strange incident was followed by the sound of a loud crash from upstairs.
Because of a number of robberies in the neighborhood, Mrs. Beck first assumed that a burglar may have broken into the house. However, when she and her mother and her daughter went to investigate, they found a large piece of German crystal lying on the floor about four feet from the bookcase where it had been sitting. The crystal was broken into pieces. “I don’t see how it could have gotten off the bookcase in the first place,” Mrs. Beck said, “nor how it landed four feet away.”
Although disturbed by the incident, they thought little more about it until a few minutes after 11:00, when a heavy glass ashtray was hurtled across a downstairs room! Half an hour later, another piece of crystal was inexplicably shattered and too unnerved to stay in the house, they left and checked into a hotel for the rest of the night. Little did they know however, the strange events had just begun!
Before continuing with the chronicle of events, it would be worthwhile to take a closer look at the family involved. As already mentioned, researchers often point to the relationships within the family when trying to determine the cause of poltergeist outbreaks and the Beck family was far from a peaceful and contented group.
Renate Beck (32) was the divorced wife of a former U.S. Embassy officer whom she had married in her native Vienna. She was well-educated and spoke English fluently, although with an accent. Her daughter, Linda, was described by investigators as being shy and uncommunicative but the biggest detriment to tranquility in the household seemed to be the presence of Mrs. Lina Gemmecke, the mother of Mrs. Beck. Mrs. Gemmecke was the wealthy widow of a German newspaper publisher who had moved to Indianapolis in 1959, following the death of her husband. Friends and neighbors later told investigators that the family did not get along very well and that noisy and unpleasant fights could often be heard coming from the house.
As the events of March 1962 began to unfold, there were others who became involved in them. Most prominent were Mr. and Mrs. Emil Noseda, friends of the Beck family. Noseda was a respected Indianapolis businessman who operated the city’s Sheffield Inn for many years. After the strange activity at the house began, Mrs. Beck telephoned Mr. Noseda and the police - in that order.
The police became involved in the case on the second day. Not surprisingly, the police reports (and subsequently what appeared in newspapers at that time) differed greatly from the eyewitness accounts of the events and the accounts that were given to investigators who looked into the outbreak. In fact, the “official” version of the story even offered a solution to the problem after some amateur “ghost busting” by one of the police officers!
After fleeing to the safety of the hotel room for the night, the three women returned home about 1:30 the following afternoon. They found nothing had been disturbed while they were away, but within 30 minutes after their arrival, they again heard the sounds of shattering glass. The women ran from room to room to find bowls, vases and glassware lying broken and cracked. When Mrs. Gemmecke stood up from a chair where she had been sitting in the kitchen, a coffee cup that had been lying in the sink on the other side of the room suddenly flew and smashed against the wall, just above the chair where she had been seated just moments before. Bewildered and very frightened, the family did just what so many other families in similar circumstances have done - they called the police.
Sergeant John Mullin was the first officer on the scene. When he arrived, he found three very nervous and agitated women and a house that was littered with broken glass, plates and assorted objects. He ventured that the damage had been done by the sounds from a “hi-fi stereo” or by a “pellet gun”. This was rather silly considering that the house contained only one small record player (unplugged at the time) and intact storm windows, which would have made firing a gun of any sort through them impossible.
Even with the police present though, the activity did not cease. Patrolman Ray Patton was in the house and heard the sound of something falling in Linda’s bedroom. He investigated and found the glass figure of a swan, broken into a number of pieces, lying on the floor in the middle of the room. No one had been in the room at the time this occurred.
Other officers soon arrived and they brought with them high frequency sound gear to detect any movement that might be causing the objects to fall, fly through the air and break. During the time the gear was being tested, the house was surrounded by hundreds of neighbors and curiosity-seekers. The word was out that something strange was happening on Delaware Street and everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of it! Finally, more officers had to be dispatched to keep the street open for traffic. The listening equipment was later removed when nothing out of the ordinary was detected with it. During the time it was in use, no activity occurred.
Not long after though, Mrs. Beck realized that something had vanished. She searched fruitlessly for her purse, which contained $125 (the operating fund for a small restaurant that she had recently opened near her home), but it was nowhere to be found. Police officers and reporters scoured the house for some trace of the bag but it had simply vanished. Was it by supernatural hands though? On March 25 (two weeks after glass began to fly at the house) the purse reappeared. Mrs. Beck told police that her mother found it when she felt the bag nudging against her leg. Only $35 of the original amount remained in the purse when it was found.
Before that occurred however, police officers were baffled by a new angle in the strange case. It seemed that bizarre punctures (or what appeared to be “bites”) began to appear on the hands and arms of two of three women. In each case, the marks consisted of tiny puncture wounds, like those made by a bat, according to the police record. But how could a bat have been flying around a house in Indiana in the middle of the winter? This part of the case remains unexplained, even by the debunkers!
Another puzzling incident took place on Monday night, March 12, around 8:30 that evening. It was a short time after the mentioned officer, Ray Patton, arrived as an observer. He accompanied the women on a tour of the house, which was still littered with broken glass and crockery. Mrs. Beck showed him a smashed mirror, which was lying on the floor. She told him that it had been shattered by a heavy glass ashtray that had flown across the room from a night table next to the bed. She also showed him a set of three matched glasses, of which their had been six matching pieces the day before. Three of them had been mysteriously broken over the weekend. For safekeeping, Mrs. Beck had placed the three remaining glasses under her hat on the dresser in her bedroom. This is where they were when Patton last saw them.
The room was empty when Patton left it but as the officer left the room and walked out into the hall, one of the glasses that had been hidden under the hat struck him in the back and broke into several pieces. The glass flew with such force that it left him bruised and sore for days afterward. A moment after he was struck, he heard the sound of more breaking glass. Patton crossed back into the room and found another glass lying broken on the floor. He raised the hat where the three glasses had been placed and he found that only one of them remained intact! The room had been completely empty at the time and there had been no one else nearby but the officer - a witness that even a skeptic would have to find as a reliable source!
As it happens with many such cases, the phenomena at the house peaked and then subsided by March 22. The place on North Delaware was left was left in a disastrous state with broken mirrors, glasses and pottery scattered about. Feathers had been torn from pillows, pictures had been ripped from their frames, walls and woodwork were dented from where objects had been violently thrown against them. The three women were left with no answers or causes for the events as they began cleaning up. But the Beck family was not yet out of the news!
On March 25, Mrs. Beck’s purse was mysteriously returned but the police would not be called back to the house until the following day, March 26. A call from one of the neighbors summoned officers back to North Delaware Street and when they arrived, they found Mrs. Gemmecke lying on the floor, apparently semi-conscious. One of the officers was on a stairway landing when he saw the women throw a heavy smoking tray against the wall and saw her overturn a piano bench. Based on the events that had so recently plagued the house, he arrested the woman on charges of being “disorderly”. She was immediately under suspicion for causing the other recent incidents, despite the eyewitness accounts of other officers who had been on the scene.
Mrs. Beck protested the arrest. She stated that her mother was a diabetic and in shock and needed medical care. The older woman was taken to the hospital, where she was examined, and then on to the city jail for the night. In court the next day, the judge proposed holding her for a mental examination but agreed to dismiss the case if Mrs. Gemmecke returned to Germany within 10 days. She agreed and was released into the custody of her daughter.
The newspapers once again had a field day with the case! They immediately charged that the poltergeist activity at the house had not been the work of the fantastic, but rather the physical actions of Mrs. Gemmecke. And they were aided in reaching their conclusions by “research” done by Lieutenant Francis J. Dux of the Indianapolis police department. He reported to the papers that he had “tried to get the spirits to come out and play, but they wouldn’t”. It seems that Lieutenant Dux sat everyone in the Beck household down for an hour and a half to observe what might happened. When nothing occurred, he reached the immediate conclusion that the activity only happened when one member of the family was out of sight and away from the others. Thanks to this 90 minutes of research, he dismissed the paranormal aspects of the case entirely!
This charge was quickly answered by Emil Noseda, the respected businessman and family friend who had been on the scene (virtually day and night) for all 16 days of the outbreak. The newspapers had tired of the occurrences after six days, when no explanation was in sight, and only offered more coverage when it appeared that Mrs. Gemmecke was the culprit. The police had been in keeping with the attitude that “if you can’t explain it - ignore it!” This could not be said of Mr. Noseda, who had searched for answers to the outbreak since the beginning. For this reason, his account of the events differed greatly from those in the newspapers and official reports.
He had been on the scene since the second day and explained that the phenomena had developed selectively. First, only glassware was affected and then the activity seemed to target plates and china. When most of this had been broken, cutlery and glass jars began breaking. Finally, furniture began moving about, sometimes violently. One night, a wall lamp was pulled off the wall and Noseda reattached it with a larger nail. A few minutes later, it came down again, this time breaking, but no one was near it at the time.
On another evening, Noseda, his wife and the Beck family were all in the living room and together, they heard a loud “racket” in the kitchen. They went to see what was going on and found three steak knives lying on the floor in the shape of a cross. They were put back in the drawer and the group returned to the living room. The sounds were repeated a few minutes later and they again found the knives on the floor and again in the shape of a cross. “I have never seen anything like it,” Noseda said, “- never!”
He also reported about the so-called “bat bites” that affected the three women. He saw them literally appear several times on the family, as did many of the others who were present. One day, Mrs. Gemmecke was sitting on the couch and all of them were discussing the case when the older woman suddenly grabbed her throat and cried out that she was being choked! Noseda and a nearby policeman both grabbed her hands and pulled them down. On her throat were two tiny sets of punctures that looked like small teeth marks. They formed a triangle on either side of her throat. The policeman examined Mrs. Gemmecke’s hands to see if she could have inflicted the wounds herself, but she was not wearing a ring and there was nothing in her hands.
“Altogether,” Noseda reported, “Mrs. Gemmecke was bitten nine times and Mrs. Beck was bitten twice. The flesh around the bites, or punctures, turned black and blue. But the women said the injuries caused no pain and they had no after effects.”
Noseda also added that the phenomena had stopped before Mrs. Gemmecke had been arrested and he stated for certain that from what he had seen and heard in the house, there was no way that Mrs. Gemmecke (or any of the others) could have done all of the things that had taken place. He was sure that something else was involved - a force that had deliberately broken objects in other parts of the house while all of them were seated together in another room.
Along with the police reports that would seem to agree with this, there are also first hand reports from the man who is likely the country’s eminent researcher into poltergeist phenomena, Dr. William Roll. He was present in the Beck house, literally living there, between March 16 and March 22. He witnessed first hand the appearance of many of the “phantom bites” and was impressed with Mrs. Beck’s no-nonsense accounting of the events, which he noted was much less dramatic than the newspaper’s. Her was also present for many of the unexplained disturbances and chronicled 110 movements and incidents in all!
He was also able to rule out Mrs. Gemmecke as a suspect in the case, although more scientifically than Mrs. Noseda was able to do. In order to observe everyone involved, he enlisted the aid of Dr. David Blumenthal, a clinical psychologist in Indianapolis. He had first brought the case to Dr. Roll’s attention and was glad to help out when needed. The two men divided their time observing members of the family and this became crucial when they began to suspect that a strange knocking sound might have been the work of Mrs. Gemmecke. The sound had come from the direction of her bedroom and could have been duplicated by the movement of a large picture above her bed. Late one evening, Dr. Roll was in the kitchen with Mrs. Beck, Linda was in bed and Dr. Blumenthal was in the bedroom, holding onto the hands of Mrs. Gemmecke. A series of knocks came again - and no one present could have caused them!
Dr. Roll detailed the case in his 1972 book called “The Poltergeist” but even this well-known researcher could not find an explanation for what had taken place in the Indianapolis house. Despite ruling out every natural cause and possible hoax that he could think of, the case remained unsolved. It still remains so today and leaves a mark on the map of Indiana as a place where the unexplained made an appearance - if only for a little while!
©Copyright 2002 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.
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Roll, William G. - The Poltergeist (1972)
Edwards, Frank - Poltergeists in Indianapolis, Indiana (Fate - July 1962)
Contemporary Newspaper Accounts
Personal Interviews and Correspondence