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The Haunting of Esther Cox

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Esther Cox, you are mine to kill.

Hailed by many as the scariest poltergeist in Canadian history, the strange case of Esther Cox has perplexed believers in the supernatural and scientists alike. Whether it is viewed as evidence of supernatural activity, something for scientists to get their teeth into and explain logically, or just a scary tale to tell by the fire on a dark night, it is a truly disturbing case.


Born on 28 March, 1860 in Amherst, Nova Scotia, Canada, Esther Cox was an ordinary girl. In her late teens she lived with her sister Olive and brother-in-law Daniel and their two small children, along with Daniel's brother and Esther's siblings Jennie and William, in a two-bedroom house on Amherst's Princess Street. Esther was popular in the local community, had many friends and was a regular attendee at church. Although their small but happy home was crowded, they regularly took in paying boarders, including a man named William Hubbell, a part-time actor. Mr Hubbell was witness to some of the strange events which came to surround Esther and later wrote a book entitled The Great Amherst Mystery.

When Esther was 18, shortly before the alleged manifestations that haunted her began, she was attacked at knifepoint by the man she was dating, local shoemaker Bob Macneal. He attempted to rape her whilst they were out together, but was interrupted by a passing carriage and quickly took a shaken Esther home. Esther did not tell her family of the attack and Macneal left town soon after.

Strange Occurrences

Some people believe the attack by Macneal opened Esther to further, psychic attack, whereas others consider her to have suffered from post-traumatic hallucinations. It has even been suggested that Esther's pent-up anger at Macneal was the source of the manifestations, as they stopped shortly after she began talking about the incident. Whatever the case, the Amherst mystery now began.

The occurrences began quite mildly with Esther and Jennie claiming to hear strange noises in the night, but soon escalated to moving and disappearing objects. On the third night after the first strange noises, Esther claimed to feel unwell and went to bed early. Shortly after Jennie joined her she allegedly jumped out of bed screaming and tearing at her night clothes. Esther then cried out, 'What is happening? I'm dying.' Jennie fetched a lamp and was terrified to see that Esther's skin seemed to be swelling unnaturally and she was very red. As Esther began to choke and struggle for breath, Olive came to help Jennie get her back into bed. Her skin was very hot to the touch and her eyes were bulging. This only stopped after a loud, unexplained bang was heard three times from under the bed.

Four nights later these events happened once more, again only to cease with the mysterious banging. After this second incident, Daniel called for a local doctor called Dr Carritte to see Esther and explain what was happening to her.

The Doctor Calls

Esther remained in bed for a time and it was there that Dr Carritte came to examine her. While he was at her bedside, the doctor witnessed a number of things he could not explain. He saw Esther's pillow move beneath her head, untouched by hands. He heard the loud banging the family had reported and watched her bedclothes thrown across the room by nothing. All attempts by the doctor to find a cause for the phenomena failed. Finally he heard a scratching noise he described as being like metal on plaster, looked up and saw letters about a foot high seemingly scratching themselves into the wall, above Esther's bed. When the scratching stopped the letters read: 'Esther Cox you are mine to kill'.

Despite this frightening incident, Dr Carritte returned to Esther again the following day. Unfortunately, more strange incidents were to come. The deafening bangs now seemed to be coming from the roof of the house, but on investigating, the doctor found no one there. Also, objects including potatoes were thrown across the rooms of the house. There was nothing the doctor could do for Esther or to help settle the home. The haunting carried on and became even more threatening.

No Escape

The experiences grew more and more frightening for Esther and her family. Loud slapping noises would be heard, followed by the appearance of red fingermarks on Esther's face, unexplained fires started in the house, furniture flipped and slammed itself into walls, pins would fly from their cushions to stick in her face and on one occasion a pocket knife flew from a neighbouring child's hand and stabbed Esther in the back. Mr Hubbell saw money in Esther's torment and attempted to put her on the stage. Unfortunately for him, the money did not roll in and the show was soon stopped. Esther tried several times to escape her ordeal but the occurrences followed wherever she went, even to a church where strange banging became so loud it drowned out the sermon, causing her to leave.

She attempted to spare her family her horrors by moving in with a neighbour, but was forced home again by the occurrences which followed her. Olive and Daniel's landlord was understandably worried about his property and threatened to have the family evicted. Esther would not allow this and again moved out, this time finding work on a nearby farm. However, when one of the farm's barns mysteriously burnt down Esther was arrested and imprisoned for arson. She served one month of a four-month sentence.

Peace at Last

After her time in prison there were minor incidents with the poltergeist for a while, then the haunting ceased completely. Esther was 19. Esther went on to marry twice, having a son in each marriage, and she lived to the age of 53. Hubbell published his book after Esther's death, with an affidavit signed by 16 witnesses of the events at Amherst.

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