Residents of Thornton Road, Ward End, still speak in hushed tones about the police investigation that turned into a paranormal probe.Yet the trauma remains for those who lived through the nightmare – which left cops and churchmen baffled.
For three years from 1981, windows were smashed repeatedly by polished stones that seemingly rained continually from the night sky. Roofs were also damaged and frightened householders even erected barricades after what they feared were paranormal attacks. Yet despite round-the-clock surveillance by police officers who camped out in gardens, hid in trees and set-up secret cameras, the culprits were never caught. Even ballistic experts couldn’t help.In desperation, paranormal investigators and the clergy were called in.At the height of the problems, Chief Inspector Len Turley, in charge of the investigation, spoke of his frustration.
He said: “We have spent more than 1,000 man hours on this case. We are keeping an open mind about the whole thing. We don’t know why it’s gone on for so long.
‘‘If we even knew the reason for it, we would be one step nearer.”
The strange case repeatedly made headlines in national newspapers and was even aired on TV by acclaimed sci-fi author Arthur C Clarke.
Even now, householders are torn over whether they were in the midst of poltergeist activity or simply victims of vandalism.
Three homes – numbers 32, 34 and 36 – bore the brunt of the damage, with rear windows continually smashed and roofs damaged.
At the height of the trouble, residents placed chicken wire over windows and erected corrugated sheeting.
In May, 1982, the Birmingham Mail reported: “As dusk falls tonight on a Midland suburban road, frightened residents will check their barricades and prepare to fend-off yet another mystery attack on their homes.”
The colourful piece was accompanied by a picture of Evelyn Malcolm, with the tin hat she wore for protection.
Other householders wore safety helmets and laced cotton thread around their gardens to see if it would be broken by the culprits.
Amazingly, despite their properties being trashed, the cords were never snapped.
Natalie Holford was just 17 when the attacks started at her home – Number 32.
Today, she has an open mind over links with the afterlife. She told the Mail: “Nowadays, I believe very much in psychic things. I just wish I knew then what I know now.
‘‘At the time, I said there was someone who knew what was going on – but I’m more open-minded now.
“It was like being stalked, as if someone was watching us. The police would leave here at 2am and by the time they had reached the police station, there would be another attack.
“You could hear the stones rolling down the roof. It was so weird.
‘‘It always happened when you were falling asleep. I was studying for A Levels at the time and it took its toll on me. My A Levels were rubbish.
“It got to the point where you couldn’t sleep, you were just waiting for something to happen...
‘‘It was happening so regularly.
“There were police everywhere and they even put a camera in one of our rooms. My mum was at her wits’ end, it was the lack of sleep.”
The home of Geoffrey Sidebotham and sister Gwenneth Donnelly sustained the worst damage.
They still live at 36 – the home they shared with their parents.
Geoffrey, aged 67, said: “I’m still very bitter. It was an absolute nightmare and hastened the death of my mother, without a doubt.”
His mother, crippled with arthritis and emphysema, died in 1982.
Geoffrey worked nights for the Co-Op so was not present when windows were put through.
But he was sceptical about the ghostly claims. Someone – not something – did it, and got away with it.
“It upset the whole household. There were police everywhere, even in the trees, freezing,’’ he recalled.
“Windows were smashed every night by stones. As soon as you replaced one, it would be put through again.
‘‘One bed was covered in glass. We weren’t fully insured, so it must’ve cost a fortune.”
Gwenneth wept as she recalled the nightly torment.
The 64-year-old said: “It took my mother’s life. I can remember a stone coming through the window and landing right by her wheelchair.
‘‘I used to go to bed with a Bible under my pillow and prayed every night for it to stop.
“A vicar came to our house and he was convinced it was the work of vandals.”
Police never bought into the poltergeist theory, believing the culprit was using a giant catapult to bombard houses from a 200-yard distance.
In December 1981, Supt Baden Skitt vowed officers would get their man.
“We have devoted know-how and manpower of major murder hunt proportions,’’ he said.
“We are not treating it as a game.
“A very serious crime is being committed.
‘‘The culprit holds all the aces, but we will get him in the end. He will slip up.”
They never did......................
article dated 2012.