It was a bleak, drizzly January morning and not a coffee shop was open at 7:50am in Guyra, a small highland town about 30 minutes north of Armidale in NSW. I was a couple of days early for the town’s main drawcard – the annual Lamb and Potato Festival (which actually starts today) – although I wasn’t here for that. I was here to investigate Australia’s most famous poltergeist incident, which rocked this tiny town and gained worldwide attention almost 100 years past.
According to the Sunday Times, printed on the 17th of April 1921, the trouble started, curiously enough, on April Fools’ Day of the same year. The Bowen family were subject to “tremendous thumping” on the walls, before stones began flying and smashing the windows of their modest weatherboard home about a kilometre outside the town of Guyra.
It is believed the attacks were aimed directly at one of the three Bowen children, 12-year-old Minnie, as stones would crash through her window and onto her bed. Minnie even said she was chased across the paddock by a man, “more than once”, who pelted her with stones.
As the attacks continued, the Bowen family became the centre of a media frenzy, the town became spooked and around “60 to 80” volunteers formed a wall around the home, night after night (when the attacks generally occurred). The stone throwing ceased, although thumping on the walls continued and came, it was believed, from the inside.
By this time, the folk of Guyra were afraid and slept with loaded guns at the ready. In one case, a woman slept with a revolver under her pillow, which was found by her son who put a bullet into his sister’s head, believing it was a toy.
The police suspected Minnie Bowen was behind the disturbance. Although one night under close watch from a sergeant, who was sitting a yard from Minnie, the thumps on the house continued and were, as he stated, “sufficient to shake the cottage to its foundations”. They were also audible to those standing 100 yards from the house. After nights of this, preparing traps and finding nothing, the sergeant finally broke under the strain and left for a rest.
He became convinced that some “supernatural agency” was at work. Furthermore, a journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald described Minnie as “tall, thin and dark, with peculiar dark, introspective eyes that never seem to miss any movement in a room. When she speaks to you she never smiles. She seems to look beyond or through you”. He continued, “she has a rather uncanny aptitude for anticipating questions almost before they are asked, and answering them.”
The disturbance had reached the level where it attracted outsiders such as Mr. H. J. Moors, a businessman with an interest in psychic phenomena who was a close personal friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Moors spent time with Minnie in her home, set up traps, lookout posts and concluded “the strange occurrences were not the product of trickery”…“but the result of poltergeist activity”.
As all efforts to prove otherwise had been exhausted, a “spiritualist from Uralla”, Ben Davies, was brought in. Placed with her mother in a room in front of a crowd of onlookers, Minnie was prompted to speak to her dead sister May, who died tragically just months before the disturbances began. Minnie allegedly spoke to her dead sister, who said she was happy and it was concluded, after the disturbances ceased, that a poltergeist had been responsible.
However, late in April, following intense pressure from the police to crack the case, Minnie Bowen ‘confessed’ to the stone throwing on three occasions, to frighten her sister-in-law, she said, but she denied involvement in the numerous other disturbances. The case was put to rest, however the folk of Guyra remained unconvinced and as the disturbances began again, the Bowen family sent Minnie to her grandmother’s house in nearby Glen Innes in desperation.
While the family were having dinner in Glen Innes, a stone smashed through the dining room window. A constable was then requested and remained in the house, reporting many stones being thrown against the walls and roof. The constable believed “the noises emanated from inside”, while a neighbour stated she saw a stone fall directly onto the roof and that it was impossible it had been thrown from the ground.
Minnie was then moved back to Guyra and the disturbances faded away. She ended up, by all reports, living a relatively normal life from then on. She eventually moved to Armidale, got married and became Minnie Inks. And in a Hollywood ending to the life of this seemingly unusual girl, she was allegedly run over and killed by a car just outside of Armidale on Grafton Road in the late 1980s.
A film based on these events, entitled The Guyra Ghost Mystery, was made in 1921 and features the Bowen family.
Author and paranormal investigator Paul Cropper, who recently co-wrote a book on the subject, concluded: “my own feeling is that the Guyra haunting was the real thing, and that young Minnie was unconsciously the focus – and possibly the source – of some genuinely strange events.”
I drove from Glen Innes to Guyra, after traversing the Old Glen Innes Road, and tracked down the original Bowen residence where the tumult began. The house still stands and is occupied, allegedly free from disturbance. It was a rainy, misty morning when I peeped my camera over the fence – somewhat guiltily – and fired off a shot. Curiously, just several metres away lies a street which, much later, gained Hollywood acclaim as a horror film.
I will be back in Guyra in the next week or so, although under more pleasant circumstances – for the annual Lamb and Potato Festival.