Scared to Death by a Ghost

After my last post about the Cock Lane Ghost, I’m doing a quick follow-up from a quick fact they mentioned in the Cock Lane article (in the Christmas 2015 issue of Fortean Times). I’ve supplemented this a bit with my own research.

“In 1857, a farm servant called John Percival spent three months in prison after impersonating a ghost and frightening a 15-year-old to death. Percival was acquitted in part because the law could not decide if posing as a ghost was actually a criminal offence“.

John Percival was charged with manslaughter, after he wore a white tablecloth over his head and started moaning when the 15-year-old John Mitchell passed by.

John Mitchell just about shit himself in fear (I can’t say that I would have been any better), so John Percival quickly threw off the tablecloth and reassured the young boy that it was only him, no ghosts around, etc. etc. However, Mitchell went home still trembling in fear, and the next day was vomiting, hallucinating, and refusing food.

Four days later, he was dead.

When the case came to trial, Mitchell’s doctor testified that the boy had a weak constitution anyway, and Percival couldn’t have reasonably expected that wearing a tablecloth on his head and moaning would result in death. On top of that, the jury wasn’t sure if pretending to be a ghost was a crime or not, so . . . they gave him a three-month sentence and called it a day.

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