The Ouija board’s dark history
Chances are, you came across your fair share of Ouija boards as a kid, but it’s probably been a while since you used one or even thought about one. Here’s a refresher: A Ouija board consists of a board printed with letters and numbers and a small, heart-shaped plank (a “planchette”) that slides smoothly over the board – seemingly of its own volition – to relay messages from “the spirit world.” That being said, the planchette moves only with participant interaction (ie, when participants lay their fingertips on it), and manufacturer, Hasbro, markets its board solely as a “game.”
When the Ouija board was first marketed in 1890, however, it was billed as a method by which the living could communicate with the dead. This was an attempt to capitalise on the Victorian obsession with “spiritualism,” the belief that it’s possible to communicate with spirits. The Ouija board has always had its believers. In 1916, for example, a woman by the name of Pearl Curran became an overnight celebrity by writing poems and stories she claimed were dictated, via her Ouija board, by the spirit of a 17th-century woman.
The Ouija board has also always had its doubters. A few years after Curran enjoyed her wild success, her friend Emily Hutchings had a book published that she claimed had been dictated by Mark Twain (who had been dead for ten years) via Ouija board. However, Twain’s estate was having no part of it and sued the publisher, which responded by ceasing publication and destroying all copies. Although scientific studies have debunked the Ouija board’s ability to move without, at least, subconscious intervention, Ouija board historian Robert Murch takes the position that whether it’s science or spirits, Ouija boards “work.”
What Murch means is that for the past 130 years, we’ve been asking Ouija boards questions, and they have been answering; the only issue is whether those answers come from the spirit world, from our subconscious, or from deliberate manipulation. For the unsophisticated, what the Ouija board says can seem like immutable truth. The same is true for those with mental illness or cognitive deficits. That’s precisely why the Ouija board has played a role in some chilling crimes over the years.
The woman who wanted to eliminate her competition
On March 6, 1930, Clothilde Marchand was found dead at the foot of the stairs in her New York, USA, home, where she lived with her sculptor husband and young son. It quickly became apparent she hadn’t fallen but had been beaten to death. Suspicion initially fell on the husband, but it shifted quickly to a woman with whom he’d been having an affair, Lila Jimerson. As it turned out, Jimerson had recruited an acquaintance, Nancy Bowen, to murder Clothilde.
Her method of persuasion? A Ouija board, which Jimerson manipulated to convince Bowen that Clothilde was a “witch” who was responsible for the death of Bowen’s recently deceased husband…and that Bowen was next. Bowen, who couldn’t even read, simply took Jimerson’s word for it, according to Murch. She pleaded guilty to manslaughter once the ruse was revealed. Jimerson also ultimately accepted a plea to manslaughter.
The mother who used a Ouija board to kill off her husband
On November 18, 1933, 15-year-old Mattie Turley and her father, Ernest, were trying to shoot a skunk on their property when Mattie shot Ernest twice in the back. Initially, Mattie claimed she’d accidentally fired after she’d tripped and fallen. However, after her father died of his wounds, Mattie changed her story: While playing with a Ouija board with her mother, Dorothea, Mattie was “ordered” by the “spirit world” to kill Ernest so that Dorothea could marry a man who would “make her happier.” After the Oujia board had “spoken,” Dorothea assured Mattie she could not be arrested for complying with its orders.
Dorothea denied it all, but a jury found her guilty. Three years later, the Supreme Court of Arizona reversed the conviction on the grounds that the trial court had refused to allow evidence that Mattie, who spent her childhood in juvenile detention and never spoke to her mother again, was lying.
If you’re interested in spooky stuff, you’ll be fascinated by these chilling reincarnation stories.