Monday, June 28, 2010

FIRESTARTERS: Two Illinois Cases Hint At Pyrokinetic Poltergeist Phenomena

In March of 1988, Karen Gallo and her family began noticing frightening and unexplainable occurrences in their split-level home in the Chicago suburb of Orland Hills. Events that would culminate in a ritual cleansing of the property.

It began as a white haze or mist that would fill the home, reeking of sulfur. The family, fearing a fire or gas leak of some kind, called the fire department. However, after a thorough examination of the home, the firefighters could find no cause for the described mist. Not long after the men had left did the draperies and furniture begin to catch fire. The fire department returned, dousing the blaze without immediately realizing that neither the walls nor floors of the home were in anyway damaged by the conflagration.

It seemed that the fires emanated from the electrical sockets, but their odd manner gave veteran firemen pause. How could flames shoot out from a wall socket as if from a blowtorch?

The family's insurance company ordered a rewiring of the sockets and, later, a total rewire of the house. Still the flames appeared, objects caught fire, and no one was any closer to understanding the mystery. Most puzzling of all was that fact that the very sockets that spat out these mysterious infernos were completely undamaged.

Soon all sorts of specialists were converging on the home to analyze the soil, air, the mysterious sulfur-smelling mist, the paint, the drywall, carpeting, woodwork, and even blood taken from those who had been exposed the longest to the phenomenon. Repeatedly, tests came back inconclusive. Investigators could only urge the family to relocate until the enigma could be solved.

When all else fails, the mind turns to other explanations - and many did. Talk soon arose of demonic forces, ghosts, and poltergeists. Over time, the home became a circus of curious onlookers who would park in the yard, stand in the street, and sit on the sidewalk and wait for something strange to happen.

One day, as law enforcement officers stood in the kitchen talking with Karen Gallo's 14 year old daughter (whose bus still dropped her off at her former home), a smoke detector erupted somewhere upstairs. At that same moment, the young girl began to scream as she dashed wildly about the house, perhaps trying to escape another barrage of flames.


One officer grabbed a fire extinguisher, raced up stairs, and discovered the girl's room filled with an eerie smoke the inexplicably stopped at the doorway to her room. Nothing - not even the wispiest of tendrils - snaked free of the room. Peering cautiously inside, the officer marveled at the large blue flame venting from the wall socket like rocket exhaust. He tried to use the extinguisher but found it strangely empty, knowing that it had been charged only a short time before.

Others joined him and together they raced to collect flammable items from the room. The mattress had already burst into flames as one man tossed it to the ground below. So hot was the fire that the bed - springs and all - was reduced to a mangled mess only 1/8 its former height. Most often in a mattress fire, a skeleton of springs and frames is all that remains afterward. Not so this time.

When additional personnel arrived, the blame was immediately - if not illogically - placed upon the girl, who they pointed out was the one element present at each fire. Somehow, they were convinced she had been starting the fires all along, perhaps in an attempt to garner attention.


One officer spoke up, defending the young, frightened girl. "How could she?" he demanded. "She never went upstairs and she was in our sight the whole time before the fire." And he demanded an answer as to how she could have made the strange flames that shot from the wall like a blowtorch. They had no answer.

No one did.

The fire marshal once again examined the home, determining the cause had been electrical in origin. This astounded the officer who quite heatedly pointed out that Com-Ed had pulled the plug - quite literally - on the whole house: the main power cable stood coiled in the yard near the street.

Anything that could be removed from the home - the remaining furniture, carpets, clothes - was taken away in hopes of quelling future outbreaks. No one wanted to dwell too much on the unsettling but obvious fact that the house itself (for whatever reasons) would not burn. Still, the flames kept coming.

The family left for good, the investigators gave up, and in October, the insurance company paid of the Gallo's and ordered a demolition of the home. It was everyone's hope that this would somehow put an end to this unsettling series of events.

At the demolition, scores of onlookers and the press congregated to watch as bulldozers reduced the house to rubble, cleared the land, and carted off the debris. Not surprisingly, more than one person sprinkle holy water on the ground and said a prayer over the seemingly accursed site.

"All of this talk about a haunted house is ridiculous," Karen Gallo herself said as she watched the demolition. But after 7 1/2 months of looking into arsonists, pranks, electrical problems, natural gas, methane deposits, sewer gasses, and more, the experts in Orland Hills might not have agreed with Gallo's assessment.

At first glance, it might seem (assuming all rational explanations had been excluded) that the psychokinetic manifestation commonly referred to as a poltergeist was somehow at work in this home. However, the obvious locus in these cases (a troubled adolescent) had been gone from the home for some time when subsequent fires erupted. It certainly doesn't fit the pattern. And solely pyrokinetic manifestations aren't a common aspect of poltergeists. These are usually marked by apports, autokinesis, and sometimes disembodied voices.

So what did plague the Gallo home? We'll probably never know. It could be that some strange, unknown earthly force was at work. Or it could have been a frustrated psyche expressing anguish through latent pyrokinetic powers. The continued presence of this phenomenon after the family had left may attest to the creation of what Tibetan mystics refer to as a Tulpa. Also known as a thought-form, these entities are created by the mind but manifest themselves into our reality. If powerful enough, a Tulpa can take on a life of its own, spawning like in return. Perhaps someone in that home created something. Something that would not go away.

Knowing more about the family and what their life was like could help. Sadly, for such a baffling and high-profile case, I can't find much research or documentation. I did find reference to another Illinois case referred to as The Macomb Poltergeist.

This strange story took place in Macomb, IL in 1948 when Wanet McNeill went to live with her father after her parent's divorce. The pair moved to the farm of an uncle, Charles Willey, west of Macomb. Wanet was unhappy about the situation. It is said that from this despair, Wanet unwittingly manifested the spontaneous ignition of fires throughout the farm with only her thoughts. As the phenomenon intensified, neighbors and relatives began standing vigil at the "haunted" home with buckets of water and garden hoses, ready to douse any flame.

As in the Gallo case, the Willey farm was visited by the fire fighters (including the State Fire Marshal) and even experts from the National Fire Underwriters Laboratory. They too had no explanation. The U. S. Air Force looked into the mystery, positing that radiation might be responsible.

Like the Gallo girl, eventually Wanet herself was blamed. While this might have been true (from the viewpoint of a parapsychologist), nuts-and-bolts firefighters believed that she was doing so with simple kitchen matches while no one was looking. So numerous were the fires that the quantity of matches, coupled with the state of hypervigilance (all those nervous bucket-holders at the ready), makes this an unlikely explanation. How could no one - in all the time these events transpired - have noticed that she had been striking matches? The noise? The smell?

The girl's confession seems to have been coerced by the Fire Marshal and State's Attorney who questioned her privately for over an hour. This seemed to satisfy all.

Only not quite.

Some reporters and investigators didn't buy it. Later, in his book "Mysterious Fires and Lights", famed anomalist Vincent Gaddis concluded that this was a classic poltergeist case.


Anonymous said...

My mom sent me a newspaper clipping from the 1988 Orland Hills incident, which I still have. The details in the article are essentially the same as written here, without the poltergeist speculation of course.

Cullan Hudson said...

It's pretty fascinating. I encountered something similar in researching this. The article I found from the time (much of this is from later interviews written up in a book) didn't touch too much upon the supernatural aspects. Makes one wonder if the story didn't come to life more AFTER the "events" than during.

Dora Canal said...

I was cleaning out some boxes in the garage today and came across a 10/15/88 Columbus (OH) Dispatch newspaper article about the Orland Hills house. I had saved it because it was such an unusual article. As kmbailey said in a comment above, the details were essentially the same as described on this web site. It would be interesting to know if anything was ever built again on that lot, or if the family that moved had similar experiences elsewhere. We could find out the former, but as to the latter, we'll probably never know.

seo said...

I live in orland hills and im just hearing about this now? ...Moved there is 1992. Do you have the actual street address in orland hills? Everything i could find said 169th street...but no house number.

seo said...

Does anyone have the actual street address number..all i can find is 169th st..which is the steeet i grew up on. I am curious of tje house number...thanks.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

The Macomb case was actually to the South of town, not West. I have access to historic plat maps, and found Charles Wiley's property along the county line near the current Hwy 67. There is also a grave in a local cemetery with the fire chief's name that has years lived matching the event, but I cannot confirm it's the same person. Either way, I can confirm Charles Wiley really was a McDonough County resident.

kirsten said...

Address is 8800 169th street

Unknown said...

I have lived in Orland Hills since 1988 and the property is just down the street from my home. It is on 169th And is a few houses off 88th Avenue. There is a new house that was built on the property after the demolition. I know some of the persons involved and there is more than was reported. Very strange stuff!

Cullan Hudson said...

Thanks for the feedback. Blogger finally fixed their comment bugs and I can once again publish and respond to comments.