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The Poltergeist that Sent a Family to Court (1938)

by Thanassis Vembos

An interesting poltergeist case took place at Thasos island, northern Aegean Sea. Not only it was thoroughly investigated by Tanagras and Greek Society of Psychic Research (GSPR) but, strangely, led to the court of law.

Antonios Yannakis was a wealthy man of Thasos, owner of an olive mill and a hotel. He was staying in a mansion, with his wife Theano, her sister Lissavo (Elisabeth) and Sevasti Spanakelli, a 19 year old maid from the nearby island of Samothrace. Sevasti was in the service of Yannakis family for 14 years, being ‘adopted’ in a very tender age, as it was the habit back then.

In January 1938, stones started to fall on the roof of a small shed which was protecting a lemon tree; they were falling every evening. At first it was thought to be some malevolent prank. But the days passed and the phenomenon continued. The situation was rapidly becoming unbearably frustrating, upsetting not only Yannakis’ family but the local community as well. The shed was guarded every evening by himself and friends but nobody was able to catch the offender. Then, four to five policemen guarded the place but in no avail; the stones kept on falling mysteriously.

On February 15, the stone rain ceased as suddenly as it had commenced. But then furniture movements started; the most fragile of them were damaged.

Stavros Lambrinidis, a local notable, knowledgeable of psychic phenomena, visited Yannakis’ house to investigate. The family, having possibly read all about psychic phenomena, a very popular subject in pre-war Greece, thanks partially to Tanagras’ activities, had already started to think that all these were subconsciously caused by Sevasti, the maid. In his lengthy report to GSPR, Lambrinidis described that, when he first went to the house, heard a tin jar of water falling in the middle of the room he was about to enter; he was outside with the two women of the family. The jar flew off from the table on and hit the floor two meters away. Lambrinidis put the jar again on the table and was watching carefully for the phenomenon to repeat itself. But when he started talking to Lissavo, a green salt container fell on his feet; it had flown off from the mantelpiece. Lissavo said that it was the third time the container fell mysteriously. Lambrinidis thought that the phenomena were genuine; a glass of water fell three meters away and shattered on the floor. Lissavo chided her sister who had left this glass exposed; they had hid all glassware to protect it.

Suddenly chairs started falling down one by one. Interestingly, Lambrinidis started to have a bizarre feeling of unreal. “I was filled with awe and felt that I was not in the usual environment any more but in some other space, unknown and extraordinary”. He left in a hurry; he did not even drink the coffee that they had offered him (a typical gesture of hospitality to every guest in Greek houses). In the town he met the local police commander, D. Tsivos and the magistrate V. Mastellos; he related his experience and told them to write a letter to Tanagras’ Greek Society of Psychic Research (GSPR) in order to report the happenings.

But their reaction was unexpectedly hostile. Commander Tsivos not only rejected Lambrinidis’ recommendation but he put two lawsuits against Anthonis Yannakis –one for disturbance of community peace and one for spreading of false and disturbing news. He accused Yannakis that he caused the phenomena for his own unknown reasons and his accomplices were his wife and the maid. There was a court and the three accused were condemned to 25 days in prison!

After this, Kimon Klonaris, mayor of Thasos town and other notable citizens sent a telegram to GSPR begging Angelos Tanagras to come and prove that the accusations were erroneous and unjust. GSPR, although short of funds, decided to cover all the expenses of the journey of Tanagras to Thasos, a trip long and arduous back then. Passing by from Thessaloniki, Tanagras was accompanied by Thasian physician Mrs K. Laganakou and by journalist Tahoyannis from Macedonia newspaper.

The team arrived at Thasos on March 15; lots of people waited them in the harbour and started talking to them enthusiastically. Then Tanagras and his associates went to Yannakis’ house; Tanagras and Lanaganakou examined the maid. According to the medical paradigms of his time, Tanagras concluded that Sevasti was an ‘abnormal individual with various signs of degeneration like flat feet, lack of teeth etc’. He noticed also that she was absent-minded, showed abnormally slow reaction to stimuli and was hypnotized very easily. The most important fact was that she never had a menstruation, despite the fact that she was 19. Tanagras believed that this was a crucial evidence pointing to the telekinetic interpretation. Local physician Mr Xenakis, who also came, agreed with Tanagras. Experiments were organized for the final proof.

Tanagras put various objects in the main room; a metal cup, a spool, two little stones etc. He also hanged one metal shoehorn on a nail on the wall; the hole of the shoehorn was narrow on purpose so that it could not be unhanged easily. Tanagras sat there among with doctors Xenakis and Laganakou, mayor Klonaris, notables Petropoulos, Lambrinidis and Nikoleris, journalist Tahoyannis, householder Antonis Yannakis and of course Sevasti, the maid.

Tanagras was sitting in front of them all, having the experimental objects in his left hand side. He told everybody to start conversing about irrelative things and not pay any attention to Sevasti, thus creating a relaxing atmosphere where telekinetic forces could be manifested more easily.

More than one hour and a half passed without anything happening. People started showing disappointment. Tanagras was afraid that his arrival might have created unfavorable conditions for the subconscious powers to manifest. But suddenly a sound was heard behind Tanagras; the metal shoehorn had flown from his hanger nail and had struck the wall. Physician Xenakis assured that he had clearly seen the object flying off, moving in a straight line and hit the wall across, over a meter above the floor.

Tanagras stood up and picked up the object. He pointed out that not only it had been easily and spontaneously unhanged from the wall, despite the fact that such a thing was very difficult, but it had defied the law of gravity since it moved in a straight line and had not simply fell down. Holding the undisputable evidence in hand he told the others.

“Gentlemen, this undisputable fact suffices for me to reach a conclusion. You have been present during one of the rarest experimental phenomena of its kind. Essentially my mission here is now over”.

Yet the shoehorn flight was just the beginning. Many other telekinetic phenomena followed until 2 am. Many of them were witnessed by Laganakou, Tahoyannis and most of the people present.

The next day, police commander Tsivos asked to see Tanagras; he was keen to express his objections, yet he did not dispute the scientific verification of the phenomena. Nevertheless, he insisted that his men had seen Sevasti throwing stones; he offered to send them to Yannakis’ house to prove that nothing would happen as long as they were there. Tanagras could not convince him that his objections had no basis; he had certified scientifically the phenomenon and the presence of the policemen would undoubtedly disturb the medium, therefore no phenomena would be manifested. Tsivos insisted that he was right; he claimed that Yannakis, his wife and the maid were all culprits, in an attempt to force Elisabeth, Yannaki’s older sister, to leave the house, because the latter was her property. Tanagras pointed that such actions would be stupid; if Elisabeth was annoyed and irritated by the phenomena, her most probable reaction would have been to disinherit the others. Finally Tanagras announced that GSPR was not responsible to judge the authorities’ decisions; he had been there just to verify or rebuff the genuineness of the phenomena.

Nevertheless, GSPR sent telegrams to the Ministers of Justice and Public Order and to the Police Headquarters, informing them about the situation. The next day, the second lawsuit against Yannikos family was brought in the local court. The case was a big event for the local island community and crowds of people were gathered. The policemen witnesses insisted that the phenomena were hoaxes; but many witnesses, physician Xenakis between them, testified that they were genuine. Finally the verdict was not guilty for the Yannakis family.

The case was described in two lengthy articles in Psychikai Erevnai magazine (April and May 1938) and also in Akropolis newsaper of the time.

Thasos port as it was in the 1930s

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