The Bothell Hell House: Poltergeist of Washington State (2nd Ed.), by Keith Linder
Reviewed by Chris Jensen Romer
Every book review calls for decisions and raises new issues for the reviewer; this book has done so more than any I have previously looked at. If your interest is simply “should I read this book?” my answer is yes; if you have an interest in hauntings and psychical research you must – but it is not an easy read, and the case it deals with is extremely controversial.
In short, the book tells the story of Keith Linder and his girlfriend Tina who moved in to a house in Bothell, a suburb of Seattle, Washington in 2012 and experienced a prolonged bout of poltergeist type phenomena. In the book Linder records in exhaustive detail the case and how it developed. I am reminded of This House is Haunted (Playfair, 1980) - the difference is that this book is written by the person at the centre of the case, so we gain an insider view of events, not that of an outsider ‘expert’. During the many months I spent reading and assessing the book, I was repeatedly approached by very different individuals who encouraged me to give up, to protect my reputation, to not further a ‘known hoax’ and to avoid the case. I had never previously experienced such prejudice against a case before, but I continued to read the book.
It is normal in a review to retain a certain distance, and objectivity, from the author. In this I have failed: Keith Linder the author contacted me (not knowing I had been asked to review his book) as he has contacted so many individuals in the field, seeking answers. I have not discussed this review or his book with Mr Linder, but he has updated me on the case, and has sent me voluminous quantities of information, video, recordings and data to review. And here at the outset this reviewer’s situation reflects a very real dilemma we face in much spontaneous case work; the client seeks a ‘therapeutic’ intervention, to resolve their ‘haunt’ and minimise distress - they seek to understand, and end the events. The researcher wants to witness, record, and understand the phenomena – and as such their motives appear to be directly opposed to the percipient. In this case both needs can be met; Mr Linder desires to understand the situation and help others too, and much of our interaction has been my referring him to resources and books on modern parapsychology.
Another difference between the percipient and the psychical researcher is that the latter is concerned with being hoaxed, and may find it hard to believe the claims made by the witness – the phenomena may exceed their “boggle threshold” to use that useful phrase of Renée Haynes. Yet nothing in this book strikes me as unusual for a poltergeist case, barring the duration of the phenomena. There are no adolescents present – but there are no adolescents present in the majority of cases (Gauld & Cornell, 1979). As I went through the book I compared each different occurrence with the tables of phenomena given in Chapter 12 of Gauld and Cornell’s (1979) magisterial survey (reprinted last year by White Crow Books), an arduous but useful task. Almost all of it matches, and while some phenomena are relatively rare – wall writings appear in only 5% of cases – generally the phenomena reported are exactly what we would expect from the historical poltergeist record. If we turn to Table 37.4 (p. 291) in Linder’s book, we find his proposed “five levels of activity” reflect many of the categories found by Gauld and Cornell in their careful analysis of the literature. So while this by no means proves the case is authentic – Linder is a highly intelligent man who could have consulted the literature carefully before fabricating a narrative, it certainly does suggest that one of the objections I have seen, namely that the case’s wildly sensationalist and over the top in comparison with ‘genuine’ cases simply is not valid. Ditto the objection that poltergeist cases are almost always short lived. In 25% of Gauld and Cornell’s cases the phenomena lasted more than twelve months, and in fact the Bothell case appears to have had periods of activity followed by long periods of relative calm
The Bothell Hell House sets out the story from when Keith and his girlfriend Tina move in to the house, through the increasing phenomena, the escalating tension between the couple, and their repeated attempts to find help from both the paranormal community and the Church. In the first instance, the ghost hunting groups who come to the house provide to my British perspective an almost comical array of solutions, from smudging (walking around the house burning sage) to having the ‘demon’ possess a group member and leave with them. Generally, however these groups seem to appear, find the situation is both serious and real, and depart hastily. I can imagine a lot of well meaning ghost hunters might start to feel they are in over their heads when something blatantly supernatural manifests, and more sceptically inclined groups may find the easiest explanation is that the phenomena is actually being hoaxed by the couple.
The critical point in the narrative is when the house is visited by the US popular entertainment show Ghost Adventures (Season 10, Episode 12), and an episode was filmed in the house. I have not yet viewed this episode, but the book tells us that the Ghost Adventures team found nothing, talks at length about the shortcomings of their approach, and explains how the episode can be construed as suggesting that Keith and Tina were behind the phenomena. To this reviewer a negative assessment by Ghost Adventures is no more compelling than the positive report given by British investigators Steve Mera and Don Philips – though one has to applaud the latter’s willingness to fly to Seattle and investigate. I feel it would be extremely useful if more members of the British parapsychological community could travel to the house, or if Keith Linder could come and present his research and evidence at conferences in the UK.
Soon after the Ghost Adventures episode Keith and Tina split, which is both obviously very sad, but also deprives us of a second voice and supporting witness to events in the house. Very few people seem to remain on cordial terms with their ex-partners, and I have seen nothing to suggest that Tina would be amenable to being contacted about her time at the house. Yet that does not leave us without witnesses; it would be entirely possible for a dedicated team to track down perhaps a score of people named in this book, and ask them to confirm or deny what is said about their experiences at the house. At a time when many of those involved with the Enfield case are gone or unavailable, and where endless discussions and critiques of the Borley Rectory case seem to be breaking little new ground, it seems incredible that we have a percipient sitting in a purportedly highly haunted house with blatant and easily measurable physical phenomena, and so few are willing to go look. Enfield attracted all manner of experts, yet Bothell appears to attract nothing but derision.
Almost as hard to understand as the lack of interest of the scientific and ghost hunting communities is the endless evasions and apparent lack of interest on the part of the Church. There are honourable exceptions, but most of the time Keith finds himself waiting for calls that are never returned or for help that never arrives. Eventually some ghost hunters on the East Coast begin to remotely monitor the house, and Mera and Phillips arrive from the UK, but most of the book is a chronicle of ever-growing frustration. Everyone seems keen to impose their ideas on Keith, but few people seem to listen to what he has been saying, or review the huge quantities of evidence he has put forward. Has anyone tried an acoustic analysis of the rappings he recorded, in light of Colvin (2010)? Has anyone tried to look at the microscopic analysis of the wall drawing Linder provides? What of the strange heartbeat sounds he has recorded in the house? Throughout the book there are links to YouTube footage, and there is far more in the way of recordings and documentation available in the cloud for researchers to engage with. So why aren’t we? Why are so few of us comfortable with a current, well evidenced case? What can we learn about the psychology of psychical research from apparent resistance to engaging with the alleged evidence?
Of course some of it is politics, and personal distaste for other researchers or ideas different to our own. No case ever seems to provide a united opinion – Enfield, Scole, Borley, all have varying positions held by the experts who were deeply involved. That is no bad thing – but we must not let it blind us to the potential value of the case. We can dismiss the case as “not a poltergeist” - but apparitions are seen in poltergeist cases. There was another witness to phenomena, tragically now dead, a previous tenant who also had terrible experiences in the house. And one of the strangest features of the whole case is the landlord, who appears to be the most laid-back landlord in the history of renting, completely calm in the face of his or her tenant reporting extreme and damaging phenomena from the house.
There is a great deal to address with this case, and the place to start is by asking Keith Linder how we can access the evidence, and then by assigning people to work diligently in reviewing it. The SPR made an excellent start with their evening session on the Bothell case (March 6, 2019; see also Sugg, 2018a, 2018b), and I know an Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP) team are appraising the case, but I firmly believe the place to start is by carefully reading this book, which has much to tell us not only about the alleged phenomena in Bothell, but about the state of psychical research at this time.
Colvin, B. G. (2010). The acoustic properties of unexplained rapping sounds. Journal of the Society
for Psychical Research, 74, 65-93.
Gauld, A., & Cornell, A. D. (1979). Poltergeists. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Playfair, G. L. (1980). This House is Haunted. London: Souvenir Press.
Sugg, R. (2018a). Paranormal Report: Keith Linder and the Washington State Poltergeist, Part 1.
Paranormal Review, 87, 20-21.
Sugg, R. (2018b). Paranormal Report: Keith Linder and the Washington State Poltergeist, Part 2.
Paranormal Review, 88, 22-23.