The following article is for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as scholarly research or as a final authority on the subject.
Freaky Friday is upon us. As promised, the topic today–and every Friday in October–is paranormal in nature. Today’s entry is a bit long, but it’s worth your time. Follow me. It’s time to get scared.
The History of Crosby, Texas
Houston is the largest city in Texas and the fourth largest city in the United States. According to the 2010 US Census, Houston covers an area of 579 square miles (1500 km).
As Houston has grown, it has absorbed smaller surrounding towns. Those towns were sculpted into suburbs consisting of franchise restaurants, shopping centers, and housing developments. Though they may be full of new houses and buildings, each of these towns has a history.
Crosby, Texas is no diffrent. Humphrey Jackson, one of the original 300 Texas settlers, came to the area in 1823. In 1824, Jackson was granted a league and a labor of land by the Baron de Bastrop. The town was named for G. J. Crosby, a railroad engineer.
Part of modern day Crosby’s Newport Subdivision sits on land that was once owned by the McKinney plantation. Descendants of the original family held the land titles until the late 1960s or early 1970s. The new owners of the land chose to develop to accommodate the overflow from Houston. One of these developments was the Newport Subdivision.
Ben and Jean Williams’s Haunted House
In 1980, Ben and Jean Williams commissioned a custom-built house on Poppets Way in Section 8 of the Newport Subdivision in Crosby, Texas. They thought it would be their dream home. Boy, were they wrong.
A large oak tree stood on the property. This tree had strange markings–an arrow pointing at the ground with two slashes beneath it. The Williamses thought this was the handiwork of kids playing. They would later learn the markings were something else all together.
In the late 1800s, the McKinney family–the land’s original owners–hired freed slaves to work their plantation. They designated land for them to use as a graveyard. That cemetery was called Black Hope. It was in use until the late 1930s. Though the cemetery fell out of use, the bodies resting there were not moved.
The houses in Section 8 of Newport Subdivision sat right on top of the Black Hope Cemetery. The markings on Ben and Jean Williams’ oak tree were grave markers–a poor man’s tombstone.
Over time, the Williams family experienced the following…and more:
- Toilets flushed on their own.
- The house was plagued by ants, which seemed to come from the marked tree.
- Plants failed to thrive and ultimately died.
- Violent storms–occurring when the sun was out only a short distance away–came out of nowhere and brought poisonous snakes with them.
- The Williamses pets died grisly deaths. After an excursion into the woods, one cat gave birth to horribly deformed kittens. Finches pecked their young to death. Hamsters went crazy.
- An uncanny number of divorces, deaths, and mental breakdowns occurred among family members who visited Ben and Jean Williams on Poppets Way.
- Ben and Jean’s granddaughter–whom they were raising–experienced dreams that might be called death premonitions. She dreamed of a long staircase descending into fog. If she saw a person walk down the stairs in her dream, they often died in real life.
Across the street, Sam and Judith Haney noticed low spots–rectangular in shape–in their yard. Their real trouble started when they decided to put in a swimming pool. The day they were to begin digging, an elderly man approached them and revealed bodies were buried in their backyard. Digging uncovered two graves, that of a man and a woman.
The Haney’s search for the truth led to Jasper Norton. Mr. Norton buried people in the Black Hope cemetery when he was a very young man. The gravesite in the Haney’s yard was eventually identified as that of Charles and Betty Thomas.
The Haney’s TV turned on and off by itself. The family doberman acted distressed and barked at nothing. The Haneys heard disembodied voices. Worse, Judith Haney’s shoes disappeared. She found them resting on the gravesite of Charles and Betty Thomas.
This video features pictures of the area:
The Marshalls, who lived next to the Haneys, experienced freaky happenings. Their cocker spaniel barked incessantly and dug at the floor. Cracks appeared in their ceilings and walls. The sound of footsteps plagued them.
W. D. Marshall saw shadowy forms–a man, a woman, and a child dressed in overalls. Items in the Marshall home rearranged themselves. The Marshalls eventually moved elsewhere in the Newport Subdivision. Unable to keep the house on Poppets Way rented, they allowed it to go into foreclosure.
The Haneys filed a lawsuit against the developer, citing the graveyard underneath the development had not been properly disclosed to residents. A jury award the Haneys $142,000, but a judge reversed the decision and ordered the Haneys to pay $50,000 in court costs. Buried in debt, the Haneys filed bankruptcy.
Ben and Jean Williams attempted to sell their dream home but were unsuccessful. They sought compensation from the title company. The title company refused the claim saying there was no proof human remains were interred on their property. The only way to prove human remains were present would have been to excavate. Texas Law, however, prohibited such action. Ben and Jean were immobilized by a catch-22.
Desperate to prove the bodies where there, Jean began digging. When she could no longer dig, her daughter Tina took over. Tina collapsed, complaining of chest pains. Ambulances got lost finding the Williams home. They also got lost on the way out of the subdivision.
By the time Tina got the hospital, she was brain dead. Three days later, Tina was taken off life support. Ben and Jean fled to Montana and allowed their home on Poppets Way to go back to the lender.
By the time the Williamses left Poppets Way, seven of the eight original houses had been abandoned. The eighth house, which belonged to the Haneys, would eventually be abandoned.
Books and Movies About The Hauntings
Ben and Jean Williams wrote a book about their experiences called The Black Hope Horror. It is out of print but is available used. I’ve read this book and found it entertaining and creepy.
A TV movie about the incident was made in 1992. It is called Grave Secrets: The Legacy of Hilltop Drive. At the time I wrote this article, it was available for purchase at Amazon.com.
Think this story is 100% horseshit? Maybe it is. Judith Haney has made comments The Black Hope Horror and the movie Grave Secrets were mostly untrue. Click here to read for yourself.
Is Poltergeist Based On This Story?
Short answer: I sort of doubt it. Want the long answer? Keep reading.
There are a lot of online articles claiming that the events on Poppets Way inspired the film Poltergeist. They make compelling points. Which are:
- The events in the first Poltergeist film occurred because the Freeling family house was built on an old cemetery, so the basis of the story is similar to the Poppets Way story.
- The first Poltergeist film was directed by Tobe Hooper, a Texan. It stands to reason Mr. Hooper might have heard of the Newport Hauntings and decided to make a movie about it.
Everything adds up. Why am I being a grinch and saying I don’t think Poltergeist is based on the Newport/Poppets Way hauntings?
My biggest problem is the timeline.
Poltergeist came out in 1982, which means it was in production long before that.
According to Ben and Jean Williams’s account of the hauntings (The Black Hope Horror), they didn’t move in to the house on Poppets Way until summer of 1980.
But what about the other residents? Maybe the story came from them. The Williams were the first residents in this new section of the Newport Subdivision. They were alone on their new street for a little while. There were no other residents there.
Going by the account in The Black Hope Horror, the residents of Poppets Way became aware their houses were built on top of a gravesite in 1983 when the Haney family decided to excavate for construction of a swimming pool.
The Williamses and the Haneys didn’t go public with their stories of the actual ghost/poltergeist activity until the mid-late 1980s. The Black Hope Horror wasn’t published until 1991.
Could the developers of this section of the Newport Subdivision have known about the cemetery? There would have been excavation for the sewers at the very least. Did the story come from them? Maybe. But how would they have known about the hauntings?
Is it possible Tobe Hooper somehow knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who told him the story? I don’t really know. But that brings us to another issue.
Everything I’ve read says Steven Spielberg wrote the story for Poltergeist. So did he know someone who…? Again, I don’t know.
I’ve never found an interview with Tobe Hooper or Steven Spielberg stating the movie Poltergeist was based on the events on Poppets Way in Newport Subdivision in Crosby, Texas.
So was Poltergeist based on some other true story? I don’t know. I read this article which claims Poltergeist was based on events which happened in the late 1950s in Long Island, New York. However, the article doesn’t list any sources, so there is that.
(Keep in mind, however, I wrote this and all the other articles on this website with the intent of publishing them for free. Thus, the amount of research I did was commensurate with the amount of money I knew I’d get for my effort.)
True or not, what I’ve read about the Newport Hauntings makes for one creepy story. And creepy stories are my business.