Burr family. In early 1973 Mrs. Burr contacted Old Town’s Whaley House, a reflex action for San Diegans who want to find out about ghosts.
The most unusual haunting in recent San Diego history occurred in a rather unlikely location—suburban Mira Mesa, one of the newer sections of San Diego. The Burr home does not fit the stereotype. A neat, ranch-style house with garage and a well-kept front yard is not what we have been led to expect. The house is no different from its suburban neighbors; maybe the yard is better tended. Several schools and a church are nearby. A priest lives on the corner.
When the haunting began, Mrs. Burr, then 48, her mother, two daughters aged 14 and 15. and young son, nine, were terrified. At its worst, after the knockings on the walls of the house became unbearable, or a dark face appeared at the window, Martha Burr and her family would be forced to flee. She would send her daughters to get the sleeping bags then unlock the four heavy-duty locks on the inside of her front door and lead her frightened family to the station wagon in the driveway. Once, while they loaded their things in the car. the horn began to honk. After they got inside, knockings began again, on the side ol the car. Mrs. Burr started the engine. As she drove away the door handles began flipping wildly and the seats pushed forward and backward, rocking each passenger as if someone or something had wedged against each seat and pushed back and forth. The handles stopped flipping and the seats stopped rocking when Mrs. Burr turned onto the freeway.
The family was haunted for three years. So were their neighbors across the street, a Puerto Rican couple who moved out of the area after strange black shapes began peering in their windows. The neighbors in back heard the noises and saw the figures. They moved also.
The Burr home was built in the 60s. but no one had any problem with ghosts until —appropriately — Halloween night, 1971. Knockings outside the house came first. Mrs. Burr thought it was Halloween pranksters. “We were sitting around eating popcorn. The knockings began on our living room wall, the one with no windows. We couldn’t see out so it was a logical place for pranksters. And it was late enough, say 9:30, that most of the trick-or-treat kids had gone home.” She asked her neighbor to watch the house to see who was knocking. He heard the knockings, but told her they were coming from inside her house.
Over the next weeks the knockings continued at all hours throughout the week, growing louder. Then one night the front door flew open. Mrs. Burr bought two more locks. “We couldn’t believe it. I knew I had locked the door. Before this was over we ended up with several different locks on the door. We even took wire and tried to wire it shut. We used wood wedges and rope, too.” Occasionally someone in the family would see a dark figure flit past a window. Mrs. Burr hired an electronics expert, a friend of the family who worked at the Naval Electronics Laboratory, to check her house. He found nothing.
After that, silverware began flying through the kitchen, light bulbs and brass knobs “heavy enough to hurt” crashed in the hallway; money, jewelry, and perfume disappeared. Mrs. Burr began to feel “a terror you can’t fight.” Poltergeist activity became frenetic, and the family began keeping a log. recording thumps on the wall and flying objects. Often in a ten-minute period 20 or 10 thumps, bangs, or crashing objects would be recorded. One panic-filled night the entire family climbed into Mrs. Burr’s bed, huddling together, terror-stricken. Her queen-size bed began twisting in circles faster and faster. The children hugged her and each other tightly as the bed spun and spun.
In desperation Mrs. Burr turned to the police. Money was often missing and she knew it couldn’t be her children taking it despite the ugly rumors some neighbors spread. Neighbors who didn’t know them said the thumps and noises were made by her children. Even the priest, who didn’t know them well, seemed to want to remain uninvolved. They thought something was wrong with the Burr family. “The guy next door was hit by a rock,” Mrs. Burr says. “A house was egged. It was our fault; we developed a reputation."
Mrs. Burr filed a report of theft (over the course of the haunting she would lose several hundred dollars besides getting her walls chipped by flying objects), and the police made the first of several appearances at her home. They were dubious. “One sergeant kept saying he'd been in college and he knew these things didn’t exist.” remembers Mrs. MacArthur. Martha Burr’s mother. “I told him Martha had been in college. No one believed us. They all thought we were crazy.” After checking the neighborhood and picking up some of the rumors, the police filed a routine report and disappeared.
The next time she called the SDPD someone had thrown blood on her door. The police examined it and concluded it was “Vampire Blood." a product sold in drug stores for Halloween fun. “They said it must have been kids,” says Martha Burr. “Evidently we had pretty much of a name by then. I don’t know if they keep a nut’s file at police headquarters, but if they do I’m afraid we’re in it.”
After this incident, police cooperation deteriorated. With nowhere else to turn, Mrs. Burr appealed to the FBI. A man was polite with her on the telephone but no agents ever showed up to investigate. “At this point,” she says, “I still thought this was a criminal plot or something. You know, with someone, for some reason, trying to scare us out of here.” In the end nothing came of the FBI connection.
But the SDPD ultimately sent her a letter. Captain V Nyhus signed it for Chief Ray Hoobler. An extract: “On two occasions our officers and your neighbors have witnessed the knockings of which you complain, originating from inside the house. While my officers are an efficient force, they cannot solve such problems when they are caused by members of the family and arc not of a criminal nature.” The police “determined the problem to be of an internal nature,” according to the letter. “I got so mad after that.” says Mrs. Burr, “that I wouldn’t call the police again. I don’t know what it would take to make me call the police.”
Meanwhile, the haunting grew more bizarre. Bar stools from the kitchen would materialize on the stereo in the living room. Black men dressed in sweat shirts and funny hats would dance on the patio or throw dirt at Mrs. Burr’s son. Once a black man knocked him off his bicycle and he raced inside, shocked. “He came running back inside and I could tell he was scared. He didn’t like to go back out in the yard for a long time ... he was afraid to play there for a while." Mrs. MacArthur, Mrs. Burr’s octogenarian mother. moved out of the house, and when the family became completely terrified and unable to cope any longer they would flee to Mrs. Mac Arthur’s house in Pacific Beach.
Mrs. Burr continued to seek help. In early 1973 she contacted Old Town’s Whaley House, a reflex action for San Diegans who want to find out about ghosts. (The Whaley House is reputed to be haunted.) Then she got in touch with the California Parapsychology Foundation, an organization interested in ghosts and hauntings. For the first time, the Burrs were talking to people who could intelligently assess their claims, who didn't automatically believe they were crazy. Alma Clarke, secretary/treasurer of the foundation, was one of those who visited the Burrs.
“She (Mrs. Burr) called one day when she was beside herself. She couldn't sleep; she and the kids were all in bed together out of fear, and the house was just getting turned upside down.
“But before it all started, she was very unaware of psychic phenomena. It wasn't until much later, after being rebuffed by the authorities, that she came to the conclusion that it might be something psychic, and she called us. She was beginning to feel like she was losing her mind.”
Mrs. Clarke says she and her associates investigated as much as they could, but very little happened while they were at the Burr home. Then, one time when she and a couple of others were at the Burrs’, trying to psychically “tune in” to whatever it was, two pennies appeared in mid-air.
“A lot of money had been stolen,” says Mrs. Clarke, “and these two pennies just appeared out of thin air and fell to the floor right in front of us. John Petrowski, an electrical engineer who was with us, picked them up. They were hot, very warm to the touch, and they remained hot for several minutes."
Though subsequent visits didn’t prove so eventful. Mrs. Clarke was convinced. “I honestly believe that they had these phenomena. They were very scared and very sincere.”
As word filtered through the local ghost hunting fraternity, some interesting people began to show up at the Burr home. Ghost hunters explained how to live with ghosts. National Enquirer turned up and offered money for the story. Mrs. Burr refused. (She is genuinely not interested in publicity. The writer had to beg her for permission to write this article. False names have been used to protect her family from harassment.)
Even as some neighbors became convinced that the house with the knockings was full of psychopaths, the poltergeists grew more mischievous. They especially liked to harass the dog. Pokey, occasionally dressing it in bikini pants from the girls’ bedroom. “They teased the dog a lot. Sometimes they sailed records at him. When they put the bikini pants on they also put a bow in his hair and he would come running into the kitchen, so frightened.”
But no one was ever hurt. The psychic researchers, regular visitors by now, assured Mrs. Burr that almost all known or recorded hauntings were harmless. The researchers tape recorded thumps on walls and measured family members for “bioplasmic energy.” (Bioplasmic energy is related to the aura, the electrically charged atmosphere around each human body.) Everyone. especially the teenagers and the dog, rated high in bioplasmic energy. A graduate student from US1U held a water-and-salt ceremony in the front room to exorcise the ghosts. Dr. Laird, pastor of a parapsychological church in Encinitas. went into a trance and told Mrs. Burr the ghosts were Mexicans. He said one of them looked like Red Skelton. Often when psychic researchers got up to leave, pillows off the couch would fly up and hit them in the back.
Familiarity bred contempt, and Mrs. Burr began to berate her poltergeists. Friends visited often for a nighttime ghost watch, and as she prepared coffee one evening in her empty kitchen she asked her spirits why they couldn't do something useful like Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie, and fix the coffee. Instantly, all four burners on the stove flashed lit.
“After a point you could accept it,” says Mrs. Burr. “We were all in shock for the first year. After a point you could even get mad. But we worried about what the neighbors were thinking. Everyone thought my children were doing these things.”
After the Burrs had been haunted for two and one-half years, the ghosts began to talk. Researchers began predicting an eventual materialization. Two ghosts. Charley and Juan, identified themselves. Both spoke English in the same raspy voice. Charley told Mrs. Burr that he had committed suicide at the age of 23. and that Juan had murdered his sweetheart. Charley said the poltergeists at her home were in “limbo.” purgatory. She asked him what he looked like. He told her he looked like Red Skelton.
Charley the ghost and Martha Burr were soon on a first-name basis. He told her that she looked better in red and the he didn't like her taste in music. During her shower Charley told her. “You’re not bad for an old lady.” Other family members objected that he played with the cold water.
“Once he brought me a paper umbrella,” Mrs. Burr recalls, “like the kind that decorate cocktails. He sang 'Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ his his raspy voice. It was popular then. A cold chill spread out around the room. Whenever he talked this cold chill would come into the room.”
Mrs. Burr began to question him. Why did he thump walls? “Because I wanted to talk to you.” Why had the black man pushed her son off his bike? “That was his guardian angel.” said Charley. “He was trying to warn him about bicycles because of something that will happen in the future.”
Juan remained a distant prankster. stealing perfume and frightening whomever he could frighten, frustrated. Charley said, because his murdered sweetheart would not forgive him. Charley became a family friend. Once Mrs. Burr went Vo sleep after a tiring day and Charley woke her with a gentle thump. “Martha. You forgot to let the dog in.” She woke up sleepy. “That's all right.” said Charley. “I'll let him in.” Immediately the dog was beside the bed.
Finally. Mrs. Burr leveled with Charley about the thing that bothered her most. “Please.” she pleaded. “People think we’re nuts. Let us tape-record your voice.” Charley agreed and Mrs. Burr borrowed a tape recorder from her boss. That night she talked with Charley. Every time she flipped the button to “on.” it would flip off again. “Charley.” she said. “I thought you said I could tape you.”
“I changed my mind," said Charley.
In late 1974. Charley told Mrs. Burr he was leaving to visit a friend in Kentucky, and that Juan was graduating to another world because he had spent long enough in this one. “How long will it take you to get to Kentucky?” asked Mrs. Burr.
“I'll be there in a minute.” said Charley. She told him to have a good trip. Later that night Charley returned. “Hi Martha.”
“I thought you said you were leaving?” said Mrs. Burr.
“I can't leave without saying goodbye.” He said goodbye to the cat and the dog and the Burr haunting was over as suddenly as it had begun.
“In the end we missed them.” admits Mrs. Burr. “We kept expecting them to return. At least Charley." “After they left,” says Mrs. MacArthur, “all the fun was gone.” The children never talk much about it. They are afraid people will think them crazy. One of Mrs. Burr's daughters is married now. She was afraid to tell her husband about the haunting until well after the wedding, afraid of what he would think.
Mrs. Burr is a brave, level-headed woman. She never believed in ghosts before; now she says. “I think people are ignorant if they can't accept them. Often it’s a matter of awareness. People aren’t cognizant . . . . During the haunting I thought about taking some classes to find out more about ghosts. Then someone told me that people who study hauntings tend to attract ghosts, so I decided against taking the classes.” Mrs. Burr knows quite a bit about ghosts already. She knows, for instance, that Frederick the Great of Prussia once had a haunted house dismantled brick by brick.
“At first we thought of moving, but then they told us that the ghosts might follow us anyway. Now that it's over I suppose it did bring our family closer. But the important thing is to get this known so the next time someone has to face this, people won’t act like they’re crazy."
Mrs. Burr is surely not crazy, nor a liar. Her experiences are corroborated by her family and independent witnesses. If ghosts did not exist in Mira Mesa then the Burr family has suffered one of the strangest hallucinations in local history.