Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Cursed the Bell Witch: Episode Three--Keystone Cops Meet Google Maps

Anyone else getting the feeling that there's not one single person involved with this show that has a single clue regarding the history of the Bell Witch, paranormal research, ghost hunting, or what the woods sound like at night? Boy, I am sure am. And even though we left off last week with a modicum of hope that this ongoing weekly shipwreck was finally getting out of the iceberg field, tonight's episode ripped a big gash into that theory before the first ten minutes passed. I was so angry that I only wrote half this post during the show and had to rewatch it today to see what happened in the second half of the show.

Gentle readers, only for you would I torture myself that way.

First off--how about the shortest ghost hunt in history? You know, experienced--and even amateurs who watch paranormal shows--investigators spend the entire night, usually, searching for evidence, using as much technology as they can carry. These two fellows don't seem to have even watched a ghost show before. They were in and out of that cemetery in minutes, not hours. What makes that even more bizarre is the trek through the woods to get there, totally ignoring the perfectly easy to navigate trail in the woods that goes from the old Edens' property and site of the cave to the private graveyard of John Bell and some of his family or, for that matter, the dirt road to access the site from the opposite side. So we get to watch them going through those woods--cause, you know, woods are scary and stuff--instead of driving the whole two minutes on the trail.

And once the real investigator's camera goes kaput--fairly standard around the old Bell homestead--these two police officers resort to the next best investigative tool. 

Pendulum divining.

Since the investigator told them that using something intensely personal would be best to use as the pendulum, they choose--

An amulet that the strip mall witch Tish had given them the day before. 

Dude, that's just...wow. Really?

So the first question he asked over the grave of John Bell Sr, was "Is this the grave of a Bell family member?" Apparently the amulet knows how to read, as it was in perfect agreement with the easily read block letters that read JOHN BELL SR not even six inches behind it. Then they asked if John Bell shot John Black, to which the amulet also agreed. Then they asked if a member of the Bell family had caused the curse, to which the amulet also agreed...none of which, I'm sure, had anything to do with the air current rustling through all those scary wood trees. 

A very agreeable amulet. And then the car alarm goes off, and our brave policemen rush off to deal with a broken out tail light and END THE INVESTIGATION.

Do what?

Let me also toss this out there regarding the 'bash and run' of the car. "Somebody's messing with us!" John declares, like Adams is sooo heavily populated. Well, let me show you how possible it was to "mess" with these guys in the middle of nowhere. 

Exhibit A: The satellite view of the area of Adams around the cemeteries.

The big public cemetery, Bellwood, is in the bottom left hand corner. The site of John Bell's burial is in the top right hand corner. You'll note there's not even a house in sight, and the tiny road that leads to both the private Bell graveyards dead ends before it reaches the main road. Oh, and want to take a look at the bustling metropolis of Adams as a whole?

Exhibit B.

The red x's mark Bellwood Cemetery and the John Bell burial site. You'll note the absolute lack of people in the area who could potentially be running around in the middle of nowhere breaking out the tail lights of a random truck in the woods. And let's be very specific here--I have a difficult time believing the good people of Adams are going to break out the tail light of a guy's car. What reason would they have to do that? Whereas someone involved in the production, say, might have every reason to up the tension of the episode. And all you have to do is take a look at the map, and you'll realize that if someone had broken that tail light and ran, all they would have needed to find the perp was flashlights. There's nothing in any direction to provide any realistic kind of cover, no buildings to hide in, nowhere to run without being seen. And the fact that they didn't even bother to look? That, to me at least, negates the possibility of this being a random act of violence from the evil, voodoo-practicing, inbred natives of Adams this show is trying to make you believe in.

Feel free to go check out Adams and the surrounding area on Google Maps yourself. It's definitely going to help you understand the community, its size, and the absolutely ludicrous suggestions A&E seem to expect you to buy into.

That being said...

Regarding the 'investigation' at the John Bell cemetery evidence--Chad, you tell us that it's a light on a tree. You're there in the middle of nowhere with flashlights and a FILM PRODUCTION CREW. Of course there's a damn light on the tree. 

"Is this curse caused by a member of the Bell family?" -- and they hear a female voice say "Betsy" on the EVP. Okay...well, let's try on this for size. 



Apparently, our pair of intrepid tree-fearers did manage one bit of Bell Witch research, however. They watched the truly abysmal 2005 movie An American Haunting, starring Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek, which was so accurate and factual that they even filmed the darn thing in Czechoslovakia. Somehow, they're going to attempt to demonstrate that a girl who was 12 or 13 years old when the haunting started, did so because she wanted revenge on her sexually abusive father--and managed to create ALL the inexplicable events that took place in multiple places (some of which she wasn't even present at the time) in front of literally hundreds of witnesses without ever ONCE GETTING CAUGHT. Does anyone else see any problems with this theory?

Look, let's discard for a moment our relative beliefs in whether the paranormal is real or some elaborate, mysterious psychological kind of self-deception that some people can generate without even being aware of it. Let's just examine the logic of this claim. In order for Betsy Bell to devise and implement this plot at the age of twelve means that she was an absolute psychopath. And a damn genius for that matter. I'm pretty clever and I write books with some pretty spectacular murders in them. I research those fictional crimes from every single angle I can think of, looking for not only ways to pull off such an act but also for the single clue that will/must eventually trip up the murderer. To commit and get away with murder, the act needs to be as swift and as simple as possible because that reduces the odds of actually leaving any evidence behind. And to somehow arrive at the conclusion that a child in 1817 was capable of creating such an elaborate hoax, terminating in a murder four years later, without getting caught is beyond ridiculous. It's flat out stupid. 

Especially considering the show's entire premise is based upon the viewer's belief in the supernatural actions of an entity with the power to 'curse' an entire family. So question--if Betsy Bell was responsible for the murder of her father, using poison which is a completely realistic premise for law enforcement--doesn't that NEGATE the existence of any sort of supernatural curse? 

John Calleach demands that we, the audience, buy into his belief that all the alleged misfortunes of his family are the result of a supernatural agent--a curse, attributed to a supernatural entity. He demands that anyone who watches this show must suspend their disbelief on this point, because that one element is the premise for the entire show. Okay, fine. We do that, right?

So he CANNOT subsequently discard the supernatural element at will without compromising the veracity of the show and its claims.

If the curse is real, then so too must be the haunting, the entity, the entity's power, the witch family--you'll hear all about them only too soon--the continuing paranormal activity in Adams AND most importantly for this particular element the return of the entity to the Bells remaining on the original homestead in 1828, when Betsy Bell Powell was no longer there. All this tedious 'research' regarding the potential murderer is nothing but a red herring, because in order for us to believe in the curse, the show has to establish without the shadow of a doubt that the supernatural activity in Adams--and therefore the curse--are real. 

But instead, after Cate Batts and the Jack Black murder turn into--as I predicted--dead ends, these two men who are tasked with solving crimes in the real world have now arbitrarily decided that "The old man was doing something he wasn't supposed to" with his youngest daughter, and she killed him for it. 

See, here's the thing guys--and I can't believe NO ONE at A&E brought this up--you cannot investigate the Bell haunting as if it were a modern crime scene. It's not. And it's long been established that John Bell Sr. was poisoned. That was the contemporary conclusion as well. But there's more than just arsenic that turns flames blue. Just for a partial list: ethanol, methanol, alcohol, cooper chloride, lead compounds, and butane in addition to arsenic. So naturally, arsenic becomes the weapon of choice, even though John Bell's symptoms as described do not line up with the abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, vertigo, dark urine, and delirium. Long term arsenic poisoning would lead to darkening or discoloration of skin, wart-like protrusions, redness, swelling, and Mees' lines (white lines) in the fingernails. Then, too, during the 19th century, arsenic was used in all sorts of things from rat poison to an oral treatment for clear skin. So just because the fire turned blue and arsenic can do that doesn't make the symptoms line up for John Bell being poisoned by arsenic. And all respects to the chemist from my alma mater, but her comment about mixing the arsenic with ethanol betrays the fact that she, at least, mentioned other possibilities for the blue flames that were probably edited out. 

Just saying...

And let's just rein that 'easy availability' of arsenic in frontier Tennessee. Nothing was easily available on the frontier. Such supplies would either come in on the flatboat's return from New Orleans after selling their crops, or from a trip to a town--like Nashville, which was still tiny and beyond the reach of a 12 year old girl. Port Royal was the nearest 'town' and was little more than a couple of buildings, while Clarksville, my hometown, was a long day's ride in a wagon. We're not talking about Britain, where the average person could go to a 'chemist' and buy arsenic. We're talking the western edge of the American frontier.

Could she have run into arsenic in the barn? Of course, if there was some. But frontier folk had no reason to stockpile tons of arsenic. They had cats for the mouse problem. And according to several articles I took a look at today, arsenic as a poison wasn't really in use at that time. A method for detecting arsenic wasn't even created until the 1830's, and I'm reasonably certain the Bells didn't eat seafood or have Paris Green wallpaper. 

As for Bob Bell's call about his psychic secretary seeing 'a girl with black hair' following them into the funeral home? One thing the contemporary sources are ALL agreed upon is the fact that Betsy Bell had blonde hair--especially evidenced in Charles Bailey Bell's book The Bell Witch of Tennessee and verified by both Richard Williams Bell and John Bell Jr, Betsy's brothers.  There IS however a tradition of the girl with black hair, and a post in my blog series soon will be about the 'witch family' of which the black-haired girl is one. So this was sort of a hit, but a huge miss in saying it was Betsy Bell, the arsenic patricide. 

And finally, after John nearly makes the 'curse' a self-fulfilling prophecy by driving like an idiot, we reach Mississippi and Betsy Bell Powell's gravesite.  Can I just say here that anyone who does twenty investigations at one poor woman's grave--especially one like Betsy Bell--is more than likely disturbing a soul that kind of deserves to sleep in peace now? Especially since during her lifetime, Betsy never could sleep alone in a dark room again, and had to sleep on the inside of the bed facing the wall? That particular story is, by the way, something I've heard before. 

Chad--you're in Mississippi. Things buzzing in your ears are more than likely the mosquitoes the size of dinner plates you guys grow down there. And that's probably what your poor dog is nervous of too. I've seen those skeeters down there--they sound like buzz saws.

And so now we're going to take a medium to really torture poor Betsy's soul and wake her up? Lovely. And oh, so nice. Perhaps the 'curse' originates from torturing your forebears, John-whose-last-name-is-coincidentally-Gaelic-for-witch.So now they're setting up for what promises to be another fifteen minute investigation, especially if they're attacked by more of that scary wood. 

"I don't carry sophisticated equipment"--and then she whips out a K2 meter. Good lord, woman. 

This medium has the absolute worst grammar knowledge I've ever seen on any TV show except, perhaps, Mountain Monsters.

And then we find out that--according to a flashlight (and she's never had that much action on her K2? Why bother carrying it?) Betsy knows there is a curse and it's still going on. The medium smells perfume--even thought they're in a CEMETERY where there are, you know, FLOWERS. And then the dog leads them to scary woods and they run away and begin to hear things...

And that's, thankfully, the end of the episode. And I see in the preview that NEXT week, they appear to be going into the Bell Witch Cave--which makes me happy. Why, you ask?

Kate has a longstanding history, one spanning two centuries, of being incapable of tolerating either stupidity or someone badmouthing the Bells. These two have been guilty of both things. The most concentrated activity in Adams is in that cave, and I'd be willing to bet that--whether they show it or not--the bumbling crusaders will not enjoy their weekly fifteen minute investigation in that cave.

Because it's surrounded, by more mean scary woods--where Kate, the Bell Witch haunts and is just waiting for them to dare the cave. Finally, I can't wait for next week's episode, because I bet good money that it'll be outright hilarious.