Follow-up on a Ghost Investigation

December 14, 2015

I occasionally am contacted by people who have read my books and articles or seen me on TV and have follow-up questions. Here is a recent e-mail I got that touches on the practical aspects of ghost investigations.

The Dead Files show traveled to Montego Bay, Jamaica, to investigate “one of the world’s most haunted places”: Rose Hall, said to be haunted by the ghost of an evil woman named Annie Palmer, “The White Witch of Rose Hall.” I was asked to be part of the show based on my thorough 2007 investigation into the place, which revealed that the ghost of Annie Palmer cannot possibly haunt Rose Hall, because Annie Palmer was never a real person. But I’m getting ahead of the story. According to reports:

Annie was “beautiful beyond compare; she had a rich throaty voice with black penetrating eyes… Her complexion was smooth, and she could shift from a gentle smiling creature to a haughty, cruel, sensual, cat-like woman, gracefully exuding both anger and sensuality… Annie had strength besides her cruelty. She had the power of a mind trained in sorcery. She believed in spirits and had the ability to project death fears in her slaves.” As a young girl living in Haiti she had become the favorite of a high voodoo priestess: “It was this woman who taught Annie to believe in spirits, to regard the air as charged with the supernatural, over which she could gain control. She attended forbidden voodoo orgies, summoned by eerie drumbeats in the dead of night.”

She moved from Haiti to Jamaica, and soon met and married Rose Hall master John Palmer. According to one account, “John Palmer lived for three years after their marriage. Annie claimed he drank, that the second husband went mad and the third married her for money. The slaves said poison, stabbing, and strangulation did them in one by one.” Jeff Belanger, in his book The World’s Most Haunted Places, states “Annie killed John Palmer with poison, and then she closed off his bedroom and would not allow anyone to enter it.” Another account adds that Annie brought in her paramour to make love to her next to her dying husband. She then hid her husband’s corpse, “most effectively, it seems, since it has never been found.” As for Annie’s fourth husband, he also died under murky circumstances. His fate was apparently sanguineous, for “the room in which he died received no visitors, as the blood stains could not be removed from the floors.” Annie not only left a trail of dead husbands, she also delighted in acts of unspeakable cruelty and perversion. Annie’s sadism was legendary, her wrath feared by all. She was said to enjoy watching the slaves being whipped from her balcony. Once, when a servant displeased her, Annie had the poor fellow’s head cut off and placed on a bamboo stake, left to rot in the tropical sun, the bloated flesh and horrible stench a warning to others.

It’s all very dramatic–and completely fictional. Annie Palmer is in fact the title character in a famous Jamaican novel, The White Witch of Rose Hall, published in 1929 by Herbert G. de Lisser. There was no real Annie Palmer even remotely resembling that of the White Witch. Thus Annie Palmer never existed, thus they presumably could not have found any evidence of her ghost. Rose Hall, “the most haunted house in the Western Hemisphere” and indeed one of “the world’s most haunted places” is in reality merely myth passed off by careless writers as fact.

I recently got an e-mail about that case, and the show I was on:

Hello Mr. Radford,

I recently saw an older episode of The Dead Files where you did an appearance debunking the [ghost] legend of Annie Palmer at Rose Hall. It was great stuff and I appreciate the clarification you gave! Do you happen to have any documents, writing, or anything that you would be able to send me in regards to your research on Rose Hall and its inhabitants? The only other person that I’m aware of who has debunked that legend was Geoffrey Yates and that was a long time ago. I printed his article on the subject but I would love to have your findings as well. I’ve been interested in knowing the truth about Rose Hall my entire life. (For reasons that are woo-woo and would make you palm-smack your forehead, so I won’t torture a skeptic with those reasons!). But it is my mission to know the truth about that place and I’m incredibly grateful for any info you can provide.

I replied:

Thanks for getting ahold of me, I’m glad you liked the piece. I thought it was pretty good overall! There’s a lot more to my Rose Hall investigation, you can find the story as one of the chapters in my book Scientific Paranormal Investigation. That would be the best place to look; I still have my investigation files if the info you’re looking for isn’t there, let me know and I’ll see what I have.

She answered:

Thank you Ben! I just ordered your book and look forward to reading it. I would love to know if there are records of any other female individuals who lived in the house besides Rosa, Annie, and their husbands. (Such as servants or other relatives who might be documented). And perhaps any info on how or when those other individuals died?

I gave some thought and responded:

I’d have to dig out my files (in storage) to review them, but from memory, it would be impossible to get a list of all the females who may have lived, worked, or died on or near the Rose Hall plantation over the past 270 years.

You could start with the Fannings [the original builders] through to the current owners, but establishing how or when all females who lived or worked there died would be impossible; you’re talking potentially hundreds or thousands of people (if you include slaves), and those sorts of records weren’t kept except for the main members of the families or relatives and possibly any favored servants. Even if those records existed and you could find them somewhere, it would likely literally take you years to research and even then your record would almost certainly be incomplete.

We do know that Annie Palmer could not possibly haunt Rose Hall, since she never existed, she’s a fictional De Lisser character [in the book The White Witch of Rose Hall]. Could someone else haunt Rose Hall? I suppose so, but without good evidence of a haunting it would be impossible to identify the person. One problem, of course, is that there’s no way to be sure whose ghost might haunt the place, and that depends entirely on subjective, made-up “ghost rules.” For example some ghosts are said to haunt places where they died, but other ghosts are said to haunt places where they lived or worked–not the spot where they died.

If there is a ghost at Rose Hall, how do we know he or she worked, or lived, or died there? What is the “range” of a ghost? He or she might have been killed down the road in Mo Bay [Montego Bay, nearby], or been one of the countless slaves who died along the shore miles away, or even possibly by accident or sickness in the cane fields far away. It’s all guesswork and speculation; for all we know a given ghost seen or reported there might be a suicide in Kingston from last month or a drug overdose from last June. My chapter will give you a lot more historical info to work from and a place to start, I hope it helps!

She replied in part,

I figured that might be the case. I doubted there would be records of other individuals but figured I’d ask just in case you happened to see anything random like that in your research. As for the possibility of a haunting at Rose Hall, I totally agree with what you said. I doubt ghosts would be limited to a range. Quantum theories that support the possibility of the existence of ghosts, are the same theories that r
ule out the concepts of time and space, which means that spirits would not be limited smile It means that ghost hunters do not technically even have to leave their own house to connect with the spirits they are seeking!

I was pleasantly surprised that she–who seemed clearly to be a believer in ghosts–agreed with me about the possibility of a haunting at Rose Hall. I politely concluded the exchange with:

Good to hear from you. As I noted, there might be some records about Rose Hall-dwelling families but it would take a lot of time and effort for you to locate them, and even if you did, they would be very incomplete, you could spend months and years piecing it together and you still wouldn’t know definitively who may have lived or died at the plantation or nearby. If you’re going to Jamaica, you’d probably rather spend your time on the beach instead of in library archives! You noted that “quantum theories support the possibility of the existence of ghosts,” though I hadn’t heard that. The only thing I’ve heard about physics possibly supporting the idea of ghosts comes from Einstein’s law of conservation of energy (though that’s classic, not quantum, physics and that claim has been debunked, see