A few days ago I was passing through the tiny town of Guyra in northern New South Wales, Australia. This is an old mining town that is today known for its annual Lamb and Potato Festival, but during the 1920s the town was notorious for being the scene of the legendary Guyra Ghost, Australia’s most infamous poltergeist.
On the night of 8th April, 1921, the Bowen family awoke to “tremendous thumpings” in their little cottage. Over the coming days this developed into the usual poltergeist phenomena. There were knockings on the walls while stones were thrown onto the roof and outer walls of the building. Soon, nearly all of the windows in the cottage were smashed. No one could identify the source of the activity, although it seemed to center around twelve-year-old Minnie Bowen.
The occupants held séances to contact the “poltergeist” who was believed to be the restless spirit of “May”, Catherine Bowen’s daughter from a previous marriage. Minnie allegedly received the following message from her deceased half-sister, “Tell mother I am in heaven, and quite happy. Tell her it was her prayers which got me here, and I will look after her for the rest of my life.”
The poltergeist rocked the town of Guyra. The police arrived on the scene and kept vigil over the house although the phenomena continued. One policeman was frazzled by the activity and was sent away for a rest. The locals were so terrified that they armed themselves and began sleeping with their weapons. This resulted in an accident where a five-year-old boy stumbled across a pistol on a bedroom table that sat in wait for “a ghost”. The boy believed it was a toy and he picked it up and shot at his six-year-old sister. She survived the incident but was left with a bullet in her skull that couldn’t be removed due to its dangerous position.
The Guyra Ghost even attracted international attention, including a visit from a businessman by the name of Mr. H.J. Moors who happened to be a personal friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Moors and his five assistants set up traps and created lookout posts but couldn’t find any evidence of trickery. They concluded that the phenomena were caused by a poltergeist. The events were so stressful for the family that Minnie was sent to stay with her grandmother in nearby Glen Innes. Miraculously, the phenomena ceased in Guyra, although it followed Minnie to her new home. The people of Glen Innes soon had enough of the activity and the attention, so Minnie was shipped back to Guyra.
By the end of the month the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Minnie had made a confession to the police. On several occasions she had thrown stones and rapped on the walls when she was not being watched. She admitted that she knocked on the walls “for a joke” and threw the stones to “frighten her sister-in-law”. This confession laid the matter to rest for the police who declared the whole matter a hoax.
The phenomena ended as quickly as it began. Minnie grew up, married and became Mrs. Inks. She moved to nearby Armidale (where I went to university) and never seemed to speak about the Guyra Ghost again. In the late 1980s, she was crossing the road when she was struck and killed by a passing car.
Today, the ‘Guyra Ghosts’ is the name of the local rugby team but otherwise, the locals don’t like to talk about the story that draws attention to their peaceful town, even though those involved have long since died. However, there are some who are still reluctant to accept that the poltergeist was a hoax. As the local newspaper the Guyra Argus claims, “Historically, Guyra is probably most famous as the home of the Guyra Ghost which made national news in April 1921. The mystery of who, or what, haunted a local residence remains unsolved and the subject of much speculation.” After all of these years Minnie Bowen’s confession is forgotten (or ignored) in favor of keeping the Guyra Ghost an unsolved mystery.
Dr. Karen Stollznow is a linguist, author, skeptical paranormal investigator and a research fellow for the James Randi Foundation. You can follow Karen on Twitter here.