The Smurl haunting refers to claims made by Jack and Janet Smurl of West Pittston, Pennsylvania who alleged that a demon inhabited their home between 1974 and 1989. The Smurls' claims gained wide press attention and were investigated by demonologists who encouraged the Smurls' supernatural beliefs, and clergy, psychologists, and scientific skeptics who offered more parsimonious explanations. The Smurls' version of their story was the subject of a 1986 paperback titled The Haunted and a 1991 made-for-TV movie of the same name released by 20th Century Fox.
The Smurls claimed that beginning in 1974, their double-block home located at 328 Chase Street in the city of West Pittson, Pennsylvania was disturbed by a demon that caused loud noises and bad odors, threw their dog into a wall, shook their mattress, pushed one of their daughters down a flight of stairs, and physically and sexually assaulted Jack on several occasions.
In 1986, the family brought in a pair of demonologists, Ed and Lorraine Warren. According to Ed Warren, the demon that inhabited the Smurls home was "very powerful" and that it shook mirrors and furniture after they tried to persuade it to leave by playing religious music and praying. Warren claimed he felt a drop in temperature and saw a "dark mass" form in the home, and the demon once left a message on a mirror telling him to "get out". After months of investigation, Warren alleged that he had a number of audiotapes containing knocking and rapping caused by the demon.
Paul Kurtz, State University of New York at Buffalo philosophy professor and then chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal said the Warrens weren’t objective, independent, or impartial investigators and characterized the Smurls' claims as “a hoax, a charade, a ghost story.” Kurtz said that the Smurls' claims were possibly due to delusions, hallucinations or brain impairment, and advised that they submit themselves to psychiatric and psychological examinations. According to The Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, Smurl told a reporter he had "surgery to remove water from his brain in 1983 because he had been experiencing short-term memory loss due to a case of meningitis in his youth." Allentown psychologist Robert Gordon commented that “people often look at demonology to explain many tensions that they experience as individuals and within their families”.
Spokespeople for the Roman Catholic Church, Diocese of Scranton said they were unsure what might be causing the disturbances. St. Bonaventure University theology professor Alphonsus Trabold, OFM, said there might be other "less demonic" explanations. The home was blessed by several priests who said they saw "no harmful activity while on the property." Janet Smurl claimed an unidentified priest performed three “unsuccessful” exorcisms, and that the demon avoided the rites by "moving between the double-block home" and following the family to other locations. In 1986, a priest from the local diocese spent two nights at the Smurl home and said "nothing unusual happened" during his stay there.
In 1986, the Smurls told the press they were tired of the constant bombardment of reporters and TV cameras; however within a few months, The Haunted, a paperback version of their story authored by Scranton newspaper writer Robert Curran was released by St. Martin’s Press. The book was criticized by reviewers such as Times Leader staff writer Joseph Marusak who wrote, “Robert Curran forsakes the principles of his trade to give readers a one-sided account of what did or didn’t occur over several years in Jack and Janet Smurl’s former home”. Reviewer Mary Beth Gehrman wrote that the book was poorly written, adding that “it is hard to conceive of a supposedly sophisticated objective and (as far as I know, at least until now) credible reporter like Curran taking their story seriously given the complete lack of any empirical or physical evidence to support it.”
Also in 1986, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in West Pittston, Rev. Joseph Adonizio, said the Smurls felt that after intense prayers, "things are back to normal.” In 1987, Janet Smurl told reporters that they still heard knocking and saw shadows. After the Smurl family moved to Wilkes-Barre, Debra Owens moved into the former Smurl home in 1988 and told reporters she "never encountered anything supernatural while living there."
In 1991 a two-hour made-for-TV movie entitled The Haunted was released by 20th Century Fox, written by Robert Curran, Jack Smurl, Janet Smurl, Ed Warren and Lorraine Warren, and starring Jeffrey DeMunn as Jack Smurl and Sally Kirkland as Janet Smurl.
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- The Skeptical Inquirer 11, Winter 1986-87
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- The Haunted, Movie, 1991
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