2. It started on Sunday when the Birmingham Mail reported on “paranormal investigator” Lee Brickley’s attempts to investigate sightings of black-eyed children at a beauty spot in Cannock, Staffordshire.
The paper interviewed Brickley, who said an unnamed woman told him she had seen a spooky child whose eyes were “completely black, no iris, no white, nothing”.
He claimed that black-eyed children sightings were prevalent in the 1980s, citing a time his aunt and friends saw one on Cannock Chase in 1982. He also said there have been other recent sightings too.
3. The Birmingham Mail then went one step further and joined Brickley on his “nightly vigil” to catch a “glimpse of the unkempt anaemic infant” on Cannock Chase.
The report said says that there have been sightings of Slender Man – a bogeyman invented by people on online forums – as well as a creature Brickley refers to as The Pig Man.
5. The paper followed up on Wednesday with this front page about a pub in Cannock that’s haunted by various scary ghosts including a black-eyed child apparition.
The story says the pub, The Four Crosses, is for sale and can’t attract a buyer – not because running a pub is increasingly difficult in the UK and many of them lie empty, but because it’s haunted.
As well as the demonic child, old English ghost-sighting mainstays such as a roundhead soldier and a “jilted woman called Emily who sobs in the toilets” also hang out there and do spooky stuff, the paper said.
6. And today the trilogy of bonkers Star front pages is complete, with a tale of how sightings are increasing around the world.
The paper reported that “frightened Daily Star readers have called in to say they’ve also seen the creatures in Liverpool, Scotland, and the southwest”.
7. Other papers and broadcast stations covered the story this week. But where does this story actually come from? Brickley wrote a blog post last year about his auntie’s sighting, which was then included in this book.
In UFOs, Werewolves & The Pig-Man, which came out last year, he writes about several supernatural folk tales and contemporary sightings on and around Cannock Chase.
Several papers have referred to the historic sightings of the children, writing that the children are being seen in the UK “for the first time in 30 years” – but the only source for this appears to be Brickley’s auntie.
The book recounts that she was 18 years old and hanging out with some friends at a beauty spot. She then heard a “little girl shouting ‘help mommy help’”, before seeing a child aged 6–8 and running after her.
The child gave her the slip. The next day the police were called and a search was launched (it didn’t find anything).
8. Brickley writes that no one thought this girl was anything spooky until later on, when his auntie learned about some child murders nearby in the 1960s.
At the time, no one really had any reason to believe anything paranormal was going on, the girl certainly appeared to be of flesh and blood. It was only later, when discussing the incident with a neighbour, that my auntie was made aware of Raymond Morris’s 1960s child killings in the area. Sufficed to say, this revelation really spooked her.
Although there have been many other sightings of this nature in the area, and I certainly don’t completely rule out the theory that they are indeed the ‘ghosts’ of children murdered by Morris, to me it seems that, as these children often appear to be completely solid and never really show any unusual qualities, their origin could lay squarely in the realms of the occult.
9. In a twist to the tale, on Tuesday Brickley told the Birmingham Mail that people who spot the ghosts could be hallucinating, possibly because of a chemical leak.
He said: “There are two theories. The Black Eyed Child is linked to the Cornovii, a Celtic tribe known for their blood sacrifices.
“The other is that we are dealing with some kind of mass hallucination. Something, some substances, has made people see this apparition.
“There were all kinds of weird, covert military stuff going on here during the years, there still is. Could something left behind have caused all these sightings?”
So that “something” that’s causing hallucinations could be a chemical leak – which could have been the reason his auntie saw the ghost back in 1982. Where the chemicals are supposed to have come from and how the leak has lasted for 32 years is unclear.
So is the ghost hunter behind this story now saying it might not be real?
Brickley contacted us to say that – despite the Birmingham Mail’s story – the chemical leak angle was entirely invented by the press and wasn’t a theory that came from him.
11. BuzzFeed News contacted Brickley for his reaction to this week’s media frenzy – but far from being the publicity-seeking supernatural expert he may appear, he told us he was fed up of the coverage:
Can I just make a point of saying that I’ve not sold the story to any newspapers, and they have been using me to make money all week. All I did was publish a report from a family member on my blog over a year ago, and the press have taken it upon themselves to lift the story and put me all over their front pages.
As a result of that, I have been contacted by hundreds of reporters and radio shows, and up until yesterday I was doing my best to help them out with interviews, quotes, and a couple of new sighting reports that have come in.
They have not been reporting on the story accurately, and they keep placing my name next to their own theories about the origin of these sightings. I have never once said they have anything to do with the child murders on Cannock Chase, and yet they keep running this line.
12. So despite the story appearing around the world this week, with Brickley as the main source, he describes himself as a sceptic.
I too am very sceptical, and as I said in a video interview for the Birmingham Mail, my personal opinion is that people are hallucinating. I draw that conclusion because the people I have interviewed seem very genuine.
They appear to ‘think’ they are telling the truth. To be honest, I’m getting a little sick of the attention, and so I’ve already decided to stop talking to the press about the subject. It’s not like I stand to benefit financially from the story, and I’ve hardly slept this week trying to keep everyone happy.
It’s just turned into a bit of a frenzy, and everyone seems to be making money off my investigations. Everyone except me, that is.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to get money from the press. All I ever set out to do was publish some interesting cases that have not be discussed before. I have no desire whatsoever to become a ‘celebrity paranormal researcher’ and have only ever wished for people to know my name for being a writer and author.
13. However, the genesis of the black-eyed child myth appears to predate Brickley’s blog post and book and to have originally emerged in a story posted by Brian Bethel, from Abeline, Texas, on a ghost-related online mailing list in 1998.
He described how a couple of children approached his car and asked to be let in – a trope borrowed from vampire stories – before he realised they had black eyes and hastily drove off.
Beneath the story on the archived version, there is a similar story in the replies from a poster in Portland, Oregon.
14. There is an entry on “black-eyed people” on the Creepypasta wiki, a directory of scary stories that originate online.
Creepypasta is derived from the online term “copypasta”, which refers to any chunk of text that gets copied and forwarded to lots of people. The site covers a wide genre of chain e-mails, online forums, and messageboards that grew up in the 2000s where people went to share creepy things.
15. Getting images of the ghost kids is difficult – mainly because they are entirely fictional – so newspapers have made do with images like the one on the left, which is a crudely edited version of a creative commons image.
16. Either that or people take stills from the 2013 film Sunshine Girl and the Hunt for Black Eyed Kids, which was funded with a $9,500 Kickstarter campaign.
The filmmaker, Canadian Nick Hagen, said before it was released: “Black-eyed kids is an urban legend that’s been floating around on the Internet for years now. I always thought it was fascinating.”
The film features elements of the myth that go back to Brian Bethel’s 1998 version, such as two boys approaching a house or car asking to be let in.
17. So, urban myth? Mass hallucination? Ancient bloodthirsty ritual? Or just a bunch of stuff that people have made up on the internet?
Or how about a fun spooky ghost story in the run-up to Halloween that gets readers excited and freaked out in equal measure? In any case, it seems the black-eyed children myth is one borne of internet culture rather than ancient folklore.
And it’s all too easy to be misquoted when you write a book about supernatural events.