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The Missing Person Who Joined Her Own Search Party

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One Saturday night in 2012, a search party was organized in Iceland to hunt for a woman who had apparently failed to return to her tour bus. But the twist? She had. She became part of the search party looking for her, unaware that she was the subject of everyone's concern.

The tour bus in question had stopped near Iceland's Eldgja canyon (pictured above), and the woman in question took the opportunity to go freshen up and change clothes. When she reboarded the bus, the rest of the passengers didn't realize it was her. Instead, they became alarmed that she'd gone missing. The driver waited for an hour before the police were called.

Things escalated. A search of the area took place, joined by around 50 people, some in vehicles, many on foot. The coast guard was alerted, and the search went on for several hours.

It wasn't until three in the morning that the truth became apparent: that the woman everyone thought was missing was actually helping them in the search. Once she realized she was the missing tourist, she informed the police. The search was called off.

Moral of the story? It's always worth properly counting the number of people on a tour bus. No matter what they happen to be wearing.

This story originally appeared on our UK site.

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Assault, Robbery, and Murder: The Dark History of "Bedsheet Ghosts"
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Wearing his finest black outfit, Francis Smith stared nervously at the three judges in London’s main criminal courthouse. A mild-mannered excise tax collector, Smith had no known criminal history and certainly no intention to become the centerpiece of one of 19th century England’s most unusual murder trials. But a week earlier, Smith had made a criminally foolish mistake: He had shot and killed what he believed to be a ghost.

The spectators inside the courthouse sat hushed as the prosecutor and a cross-examiner questioned about half a dozen eyewitnesses. Each person had seen Smith in the village of Hammersmith (now a part of London) the night of the crime, or they had previously seen the ghost that Smith was zealously hunting. One such eyewitness, William Girdler, the village night-watchman and Smith’s ghost-hunting partner, had not only seen the white-sheeted specter lurking across the street—he had chased it.

“When you pursued it,” the cross-examiner asked, “how did it escape?”

“Slipped the sheet or table-cloth off, and then got it over his head,” Girdler responded. “It was just as if his head was in a bag.”

“How long had the neighborhood been alarmed with its appearance?”

“About six weeks or two months.”

“Was the alarm great and general?”

“Yes, very great.”

“Had considerable mischief happened from it?”

“Many people were very much frightened.”

Girdler was telling the truth. The people of Hammersmith had reported seeing a ghost for weeks now, and they were terrified: The specter was verifiably violent. It assaulted men and women, and during its two month campaign of harassment and intimidation, it had successfully evaded capture. Rumors swirled that it could manifest from graves in an instant, and sink back into the mud just as quickly. At the time, the magazine Kirby’s Wonderful and Scientific Museum reported that the ghost was “so clever and nimble in its retreats, that they could never be traced.”

When Ann Millwood took the stand, the cross-examiner asked if she was familiar with these reports.

The Hammersmith Ghost.
The Hammersmith ghost

“Yes, I heard great talk of it,” Millwood explained, “that sometimes it appeared in a white sheet, and sometimes in a calf-skin dress, with horns on its head, and glass eyes.” That wasn’t all. The ghost also reportedly took the shape of Napoleon Bonaparte; other accounts said that its eyes radiated like glow-worms and that it breathed fire.

It must have been incredibly difficult for Millwood to describe the ghost’s appearance, especially in front of a public audience. The ghoul she characterized looked nothing like her late brother Thomas, the young man whom Francis Smith had mistakenly murdered.

 
 

In 19th century Britain, seeing a ghost—at least, a person dressed up as one—was not uncommon. Ghost impersonating was something of a fad, with churchyards and cobblestoned alleyways regularly plagued by pranksters, louts, and other sheet-wearing hoaxsters who were up to no good.

Historian Owen Davies tracks the origin of ghost impersonators in his wide-ranging book, The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts, tracing the first reports of fake ghosts to the Reformation, when critics of Catholicism accused the Church of impersonating the dead to convert doubters. (According to one account by the reformer Erasmus, a priest once fastened candles to a cast of crabs and released them in a dark graveyard in hopes of imitating the lost, wandering souls of purgatory.)

But for most ghost impersonators, candle-strapped crustaceans were unnecessary; all you needed was a white sheet. Up until the 19th century, the bodies of the poor weren’t buried in coffins but simply wrapped in fabric—sometimes the sheet of the deathbed—which would be knotted at the head and feet. Ghost impersonators adopted the white sheet as their de facto wardrobe as early as 1584, when Reginald Scott, a member of parliament and witchcraft aficionado, wrote that, “one knave in a white sheet hath cozened [that is, deceived] and abused many thousands that way.” It’s from this practice that the trope of a white-sheeted ghost originated.

Seventeenth and 18th century Britain are sprinkled with accounts of phony phantoms. Take Thomas Wilmot, a famed crook and highwayman who once disguised himself as a spirit to steal money. (His appearance—chalked-up skin and a sheet-bound head—sent a table of gamblers scrambling for an exit. Wilmot pocketed the cash they left on the table.) And by the 1760s, so many white-sheeted pranksters were prowling in cemeteries that annoyed citizens were paying bounties to get rid of them. According to the Annual Register, one ghost in southern Westminster “struck such terror into the credulous inhabitants thereabouts, that those who could not be brought to believe it a ghost, entered into a subscription, to give five guineas to the person, who would seize him.”

These pranks had consequences. In 1792, a ghost impersonator in Essex spooked a farm-worker steering a wagon; the horses jumped, the driver tumbled, and his leg was crushed by one of the wagon’s wheels. He died from his injuries. Twelve years later, soldiers in London’s St. James’s Park spotted the specter of a headless woman, an event that authorities took very seriously, if only because it was distracting—and reportedly harming—its security guards. In the 1830s, a ghost impersonator was tried for manslaughter because he literally frightened an 81-year-old woman to death.

It was dangerous for the so-called ghosts, too. In 1844, six men chased a ghost impersonator and beat him so badly that he had to visit the hospital. In 1888, a mob of 50 villagers—all armed with sticks—surrounded a “ghost” and only released him after he agreed to donate money to a local infirmary. (Some ghost-busts startled investigators for other reasons: Davies writes that, in 1834, an investigation of an unoccupied haunted house revealed “nothing more than some boisterous love-makers.”)

Like many other pastimes in 19th century Britain, ghost impersonating was a gendered activity: Women, especially young female servants, were often restricted to mimicking poltergeist activity indoors—rapping on doors, moving furniture, throwing rocks at windows—while the sheet-wearing hijinks were reserved for young men who, far too often, had scuzzy intentions.

Most accounts of ghost impersonating, both modern and historical, gloss over the fact that men often used their ghostly cover to intimidate, harass, sexually assault, and even rape women. In his precise and critical account of ghost impersonators, Spirits of an Industrial Age, the historian Jacob Middleton argues that ghost impersonating was not only the domain of juvenile pranksters, but also that of sexual predators. This was made most painfully clear during the 1830s, the height of hauntings by “Spring-Heeled Jack.”

Spring-Heeled Jack.
Spring-Heeled Jack
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Every day, London’s women had to contend not only with the persistent threat of cads and street harassers, but also with men the press dubbed “Monsters,” menaces who stalked, grabbed, groped, slashed, and stabbed women in the breasts and buttocks. These criminals were piquerists, people who took sexual pleasure in piercing the skin of women, and a spate of attacks in the 1780s put all of London at unease. In the early 1800s, these boors started to take cover by dressing as ghosts. Spring-Heeled Jack, called a “monster in human form,” was among them: Hiding in alleyways after sunset, he would seek lone women, knock on their doors, and attempt to tear away their clothes with hooks. Thanks to London’s sensationalist press, tales of Spring-Heeled Jack would bloat into urban legend.

But even before Spring-Heeled Jack, on a normal evening, the women of Hammersmith were justified in feeling worried about stepping outside after dark. Organized police forces were a relatively new idea in Great Britain, and solitary neighborhoods such as Hammersmith were protected by little more than a roving constable or watchman. Reports of the Hammersmith ghost intensified that anxiety. (The community's men weren’t much help. As the Morning Post reported, “[The ghost] was seen on Monday evening last pursuing a woman, who shrieked dreadfully. Although there were four male passengers in the stage coach, which passed at the time, not one durst venture to the rescue of the distressed female.”) It wasn’t until weeks of attacks that bands of locals, their bellies sloshing with ale supplied by the nearest public house, began taking to the streets to stop the menace.

It was at the intersection of these two sad facts that the tragedy at Hammersmith unfolded: Francis Smith went out on January 3, 1804 to catch a ghost, while Thomas Millwood went out to ensure that his wife, who was walking home alone in the dark, did not meet one.

 
 

Thomas Millwood was told he resembled the Hammersmith ghost. A bricklayer, Millwood wore a white jacket, white trousers, and a white apron, an ensemble that scared a carriage-riding couple one dark Saturday night. When the passerby exclaimed to his wife, “There goes the ghost!” Millwood turned and uncorked a few colorful and unprintable words, asking if the man wanted “a punch in the head.”

After the incident, a family member named Phoebe Fullbrooke implored Millwood to change his wardrobe at night. “Your clothes look white,” she said. “Pray do put on your great coat, that you may not run any danger.” Millwood mumbled something about how he hoped the town’s vigilantes would catch the ghost, but he neglected the advice and continued walking home in his white work clothes.

A few nights later, Francis Smith and William Girdler went ghost hunting.

Compelled by reports of the ghost’s violence, the men carried firearms. Hammersmith’s spirit had choked a man and the village swirled with rumors that it had even attacked a pregnant woman who later died of shock. According to one report, the apparition caused “so much alarm, that every superstitious person in that neighborhood had been filled with the most powerful apprehensions.” But superstitions mattered little. Ghost or not, there was undoubtedly a public menace in Hammersmith, and people wanted it gone. A bounty of 10 pounds would be awarded to anybody who caught it.

A depiction of Francis Smith hunting the Hammersmith ghost in 'The Newgate Calendar.'
A depiction of Francis Smith hunting the Hammersmith ghost in The Newgate Calendar.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

That same night, Thomas Millwood stopped at his father’s house and began chatting with his sister Ann. Sometime between 10 and 11 p.m., she suggested he leave and escort his wife, who was still in town, back home. “You had better go,” Ann said. “It is dangerous for your wife to come home by herself.” Millwood agreed and stepped outside, wearing his white bricklayer’s clothes. He didn’t know that he was walking down the same unlit lane as Francis Smith, shotgun in tow.

When Smith spotted the white figure gliding in his direction, he lifted his fowling piece to his shoulder and yelled, “Damn you, who are you? Stand, else I’ll shoot you.” The air stood silent. He yelled a second time and stared down the barrel. Not hearing any response, Smith fired.

Millwood’s sister heard the gunshot and screamed for Thomas, but, like Smith, she heard no response. She later found her brother lying face up on the dirt lane, his face stained black with gunpowder, his white clothes stained red.

 
 

The Caledonian Mercury reported the sad news later that week: “We have to announce to the public an event, in some of its circumstances so ludicrous, but in its result so dreadful, that we fear if the reader should even laugh with one side of his mouth, he must of necessity cry with the other.”

The moment the smell of spent gunpowder hit his nose, Smith knew he’d made a mistake. Millwood had been killed instantly; the shot entered his lower left jaw and exited through the back of his neck. Smith barged into the White Hart pub in visible distress, possibly in shock, and waited to be arrested. One week later, he stood trial at London’s Old Bailey courthouse. The jury deliberated for 45 minutes before returning with a conviction of manslaughter.

The three judges rejected the sentence.

“The Court have no hesitation whatever with regard to the law,” Justice Rooke exclaimed, “and therefore the verdict must be—‘Guilty of Murder’ or ‘a total acquittal from want to evidence.’” In other words, the jury could not be wishy-washy. Smith was either guilty of murder, or not guilty of murder—the jury needed to decide.

Within minutes, Smith was convicted of murder. He was sentenced to hang the next Monday; his body would be dissected in the name of science.

Reports of Smith’s trial were lurid. As the Newgate Calendar tells it, “When the dreadful word ‘Guilty!’ was pronounced [Smith] sank into a state of stupefaction exceeding despair.” His feelings were likely intensified by the admission of John Graham, a Hammersmith shoemaker who days earlier admitted to starting the Hammersmith ghost hoax. (Graham began impersonating the specter to scare his apprentices, who he complained were filling his children’s heads with nonsense about ghosts. Unfortunately, his prank appears to have inspired violent copycats to engage in what the Caledonian Mercury called “weak, perhaps wicked frolic.”)

In the end, Smith would be lucky. His sentence was sent to His Majesty King George III, who not only delayed the execution but eventually granted Smith a full pardon.

The Hammersmith ghost trial, however, would haunt England’s legal system for almost another two centuries. Smith’s case would remain a philosophical head-scratcher: If somebody commits an act of violence in an effort to stop a crime from occurring—only to realize later that they were mistaken and that no crime was being committed—is that person still justified in using violence? Or are they the criminal? British law would not be make room for this gray area until the 1980s.

Meanwhile, the tragedy in Hammersmith failed to deter England’s many ghost impersonators. Pranksters and creeps alike continued wearing bedsheets in dark cemeteries and alleyways for almost another century. In fact, the ghost of 1803 and 1804 would not be the last specter to haunt the village of Hammersmith. Two decades later, a ghost would return. But this time, villagers whispered rumors that this haunting was real, caused by the angry soul of a white-clad bricklayer named Thomas Millwood.

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11 (Supposedly) Haunted Things Put Up for Sale on eBay
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by Jenny Morrill

Everything on eBay has a backstory, and sometimes, it's a pretty spooky one—at least according to whoever is trying to offload the item. Everything is more interesting if you add ghosts, especially when it comes to bras, jewelry, and Ziploc baggies. Here are just a few of the supposedly haunted items we found that have sold or are selling on the auction site.

1. ANGUISHED MAN PAINTING

An oil painting of a screaming man
HVERAFUGLAR, eBay

The seller of this oil painting describes it as a "horrific paranormal portrait." The artist is unknown, but according to its owner, the artwork may be responsible for a number of spooky goings on around the house. "Since owning this painting, I have experienced a number of strange paranormal events that cannot be easily explained," the seller writes in the listing. "These include hearing disembodied footsteps from elsewhere in the house, the sound of bird song appearing out of the air in the living room, and finally, observing a heavy metal door latch lift by itself and the kitchen door open by itself." Even if you don't need a haunted painting for yourself, "it could make a great gift for a less-than-loved one," the listing suggests.

2. SEXY SPIRIT BRA

A white strapless bra
TONYA_ROSE, eBay

This bra reportedly contains the "spirit of a sexy woman," and wearing it will allegedly ensure not just great support, but a constant stream of admiration and gifts. Made in the 1950s, it's a size 32A, so you've got to be rather petite to harness its powers. But some of its benefits can be enjoyed even if you don't plan on wearing it. You can "place the bra by a lit white candle to see her spirit in full body apparition," the seller notes, and if you break out a red candle, you can have an erotic encounter with the spirit, according to the seller. That certainly sounds scary.

3. THE MYSTERIOUSLY SMELLY PHOTO

A historic daguerreotype is open to show a man in a suit.
THE_ASYLUM_ATTIC, eBay

This historic daguerreotype is reportedly inhabited by a “Victorian gent” named Martin. It was initially found in the eaves of an attic, and its owner would bring it out for guests to see. Eventually, people began to notice that “certain smells would mysteriously appear and just as mysteriously disappear—such as the scent of roses and cigar or pipe smoke, or even the odor of smoke from a wood fire,” the seller writes. When questioned with a Ouija board, the spirit inside “was sometimes talkative and even playful, but other times reticent." But some spooky things started happening in the house, like objects disappearing or being moved, and "footsteps and whispers faintly heard.” These strange goings-on became more frequent, until finally, the image was removed from the house and sent to a collector “who reports some continued activity.”

4. THE RING OF A GENIE QUEEN

A ring with a red stone emits a mysterious vapor
HOODOOHOUSE, eBay

The seller of this ring claims it contains the spirit of Micilia, an “omnipotent genie queen" who—just for the record—"has given permission and requested that we use her name in her listing here on eBay to help find her next master.” At least you can be sure she'd be friendly. Micilia isn't the worst spirit to keep around—she communicates telepathically and can grant unlimited wishes.

5. HAUNTED DONKEY

A small decorative brown jug with a donkey pulling it is set on a checkered tablecloth.
GRIFFEY911NY, eBay

This small decorative juice container has a surprisingly spooky backstory. According to the owner, it spontaneously fills up with water. The inherited piece of kitsch has been exhibiting the odd behavior for years, since the owner was a child. At first, they suspected that their grandmother, who owned the item at the time, was filling it with water, but once she died, they discovered that there was something else at play. One night, the seller knocked against the jug by accident, and noticed it sounded like it had liquid in it. “When I investigated I found there was indeed water in it,” they write. “I thought maybe it was a mistake,” they explain, but it has happened sporadically ever since. Writes the seller: "I'm not scared or anything but I'm just not into this type of stuff. I wish my nana well in the afterlife but just not for me."

6. THAI DJINN MASK

A Thai mask in front of lit candles
RAINBOWS*AND*FAIRYDUST, eBay

The person selling this mask claims that they personally witnessed a witch in Thailand capture a djinn (or genie) in it. Among the mask's alleged talents are the ability to bring the owner riches and the ability to keep vampires away. Both are useful skills, but they come with a price—you must make offerings of food and drink to keep the djinn happy. Not to mention the fact that for the first month you have to meditate on his name three times a day for 20 minutes each.

7. WITCH'S DYBBUK BOX

A wooden box with a classical piece of art depicting nude women on top
MAB_22, eBay

In Jewish lore, a dybbuk is a restless spirit that has the power to possess a living person. You might be familiar with the concept from the 2012 horror flick The Possession, which was inspired by the real story of a wine cabinet—supposedly haunted by a dybbuk—sold on eBay in the early 2000s. (It’s now owned by paranormal investigator and TV star Zak Bagans.) Since that initial haunted offering, more boxes reportedly haunted by malicious dybbuks have begun to surface online. 

“This spirit attached is very mischievous,” the seller of this dybbuk box writes, but will “become violent if tested or disrespected,” so they advise keeping the box in a trunk or glass case where it can’t be touched. It was reportedly found buried beneath an abandoned house where screams could often be heard “even though the house hasn’t been occupied in over 30 years.” The current owner doesn’t detail what violent events the box has unleashed—or how one might disrespect a wooden box—but it is a relative haunted bargain at just $75.

8. A "HIGHLY ACTIVE" RING

A silver ring inset with a large yellow stone
EARTHBOUND_6, eBay

According to the seller—described in the listing as “a small paranormal investigation society”—this stainless steel and stone ring is possessed by a ghost named Adain, and if you wear it or keep it close by, you’ll bond with the “highly active” spirit. The 19-year-old Adain supposedly died in a motorcycle accident, and now appears as light streaks or in visions. “He will turn lights on and off, close and open doors, [and] a faint smell of men's cologne can be [smelled] in the air when he is active,” the seller writes.

9. SHOES THAT GO TAP IN THE NIGHT

A pair of black leather girl's shoes
HAUNTED_HEARTS, eBay

Said to contain the spirit of a little girl called Lisa, these shoes were found by someone who was curating their late aunt's estate, tucked in a nursery closet alongside various Victorian clothes and toys. They suspected they were haunted, the seller writes, "since there was a lot of knocking in the nursery closet. If actually possessed, tap dancing might wake one up in the middle of the night!" The noise wasn't the only indication of the shoes' other-worldly nature. The house they were found in was rumored to be home to a number of ghosts, including that of a woman who had murdered her baby there in the 19th century and the spirit of a 9-year-old who died of sepsis.

10. THE SPIRITED SCREWDRIVER

A vintage screwdriver sits on a beige surface.
ANGEL031002, eBay

This reportedly haunted tool is, according to the seller, inhabited by the ghost of Xander, a 32-year-old who died after a car he was repairing fell on him. He appears as a “smokey white apparition” and you may hear him laughing and talking. “This is a very positive energy item,” the seller promises. Also, like any regular dude, he really loves TV.

11. THE HAUNTED ZIPLOC

A medium-sized clear plastic bag
RUSTY_RACCOON, eBay

Go ahead and banish stale bread to another realm. According to the seller of this $25 paranormal sandwich bag, the simple plastic pouch can restore or heal anything (and anyone). “There is no wrong way to use the haunted Ziploc bag of restoration,” the listing says, but it works best on snack foods: “The most effective way to use the bag, we have discovered, is to purify, decontaminate, revive, and give new life to food items such as Cheetos, sandwiches, pizza, chopped veggies, and granola.” The ad says it's haunted, but it may not actually involve a ghost. If you stick a lock of a loved one’s hair inside, it can “heal, resurrect, protect, or lessen the burden” of that person through some sort of interplanetary higher plane, the seller claims. The bags come in sets of three, six, and nine.

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