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In folklore, a shape shifter is usually a creature or animal that takes on the shape of something attractive or playful. It lures you in, gains your trust and keeps its motives hidden until it reveals its true colors. For better or worse, in the quiet town of Atchison, Kansas, there's a kind of shapeshifter that isn't a living being. It's a house, a haunted house with a friendly ghost. A little girl named Sally. But behind Sally's sweet little face is a presence so dark and so powerful that it drove a young family to the brink of insanity.
This is Supernatural, a podcast original, and I'm your host. Ashley Flowers. Every Wednesday, I'll be taking a deep dive into a real unexplained mystery to try and figure out the truth. You can find all episodes of Supernatural and all other Paşa cast originals for free on Spotify. And if you like what you're hearing, reach out to us on Facebook and Instagram at par cast and Twitter at Park Cast Network. This week's episode is about the Sally House, a home in Atchison, Kansas, that is said to be one of the most actively haunted houses in the country.
But it's unclear what exactly is behind the haunting. Is it a ghost or is it something even worse? We'll dig into the mystery right after this. Stay with us. The haunting of the Sally House was first recorded by one young couple, Deborah and Tony Pickman. Deborah and Tony Pickman moved into the house on New Year's Eve 1992. Deborah was 29. Tony was 27. They were this newly married couple and expecting their first child. And this house seemed like the perfect place to start their new family from the outside.
It was quaint, a two storey white brick house with blue trim built in the eighteen hundreds. There was even this little porch. It had a basement and three bedrooms upstairs. One of them, the pigments turned into a nursery for a while after they moved in. They didn't notice anything strange, but then little things started happening. Bulbs would flicker. The oven timer would turn on and then start buzzing by itself. And the cordless phone would go dead.
And then just come back on. But, you know, this is an old house. So there might be faulty wiring and they kind of try and write things off. And by the time their son Taylor is born at the end of June, they honestly had kind of forgotten about it altogether. Until one day when they go to Tony's family house and they come home after dark, when they get the baby up to the nursery, they see something surprising.
Someone has taken all the stuffed animals and put them on the floor in a circle with their hands touching. Their first thought is that it's Tony's sister in law. She'd dropped off a high chair for them while they were gone when they call her. She says, Yeah, like I. I did go up to the nursery to see how you decorated it, but there was nothing on the floor when I was there and I didn't put anything there. But she tells them something else.
She did get a creepy feeling when she was in the house. There was this weird draught, kind of like a cold breeze as she went up the stairs. By the time she got to the nursery, she felt so uneasy that she left as fast as she could. Now, Deborah's felt cold spots in the house before especially going up the same stairs. So when Tony's sister in law asks, do you think you have a ghost? She thought.
It doesn't seem totally insane. Also, Deborah's always wanted to see a ghost. It's something she's secretly kind of wished for all her life. So the thought of having a ghost is honestly more exciting to her than scary. But she tells herself, no, it can't be a ghost. Someone must be messing with us. So she and Tony go back up to the nursery. They put all of the stuffed animals back where they were. Turn out the lights and go downstairs.
But as soon as they get to the bottom of the stairs, they see the light in. The nursery is back on. And when they look in the room again. One teddy bear is lying on the floor. This spooks them out a little bit. So they actually search the house because whoever is doing this must still be inside. But after looking in every single room upstairs, downstairs, the basement, there's just nothing. So they put the bare back where it was on the chair by the door.
And they turn out the light again. They go back downstairs and they kind of just wait to see what happens. After about a half an hour, Deborah goes back upstairs to use the bathroom. And sure enough, when she looks in the nursery, the teddy bear is on the floor again. At this point, they're terrified. So they called Tony's brother, Larry. Larry is kind of skeptical and they figure that he'll have the answer for what's really going on.
So Larry comes over. But now that he's here, nothing happens. They sit in the living room for a while, kind of waiting and watching. But everything's just calm down. And then just as Larry's about to leave, they noticed something. Another teddy bear wanted they kept downstairs has been turned around in the opposite direction, now facing the wall. This seemed to have happened while they were all upstairs in the nursery because the last time they'd been downstairs, it had been facing the other way.
Now, Larry is just as confused as the others. He tells them that he's going to speak to his boss, whose sister is actually a psychic. Maybe she'll be able to give them some kind of answers as to what's going on.
After Larry leaves, Tony actually calls his mom and tells her everything that's going on and she invites them over to spend the night at her house just so they'll feel safe. But they decide to stay put. The next day, his mom realizes something. She had a friend whose daughter lived in that house before. So she asked her friend if there was ever any weird activity in the house. And her friend says, you know, they did notice some strange things.
There had been this icky smell in the house and toys were always on the. Law, when she told her kids to pick up the toys, they blame it on someone named Sally. And at the time, they always thought that Sally was her daughter's imaginary friend. That doesn't mean too much to Tony initially until they hear back from the psychic Larry connected them with. Her name is Barbara. And she lives out in California halfway across the country. But without even visiting the house, she can pick up on a few things.
Barbara says that they definitely have a ghost. It's a little girl between the ages of five and 13, and her name is Sally. Now, this is pretty specific, especially considering that she's never even been to the house.
But it's not uncommon for psychics to be able to give readings over the phone or at least they say they can do such a thing. In any event, Barbara says, listen, you don't need to worry. Sally actually likes you and she especially likes the baby. She would never do anything to hurt you. But she says Sally is a child. So you need to lay down some ground rules with her, like telling her to put the toys back after she plays with them.
And the next time she disobeys, you need to give her a talking to. Now, Tony and Deborah don't really know what to think about this. If Tony's mom's friend and the psychic both came up with the name Sally, it seems like it can't just be a coincidence. Maybe there's something to this, too, Debra, compared to having a dangerous intruder, a playful ghost really isn't that bad. And honestly, again, she's even a little excited about it.
But Tony is skeptical. He's a practicing Catholic and he thinks ghosts are nonsense. And if they're not, he doesn't want anything to do with them.
The next day, Tony's brother George comes over and Tony tells him all about what's going on. He even shows him the stuffed bear in the living room that turned around on its own when Larry was there. While they're talking and kind of jokingly Tony picks up his camera and says, hey, Sally, if you're in here, say cheese. And right as he snapped the picture. George sees the bear turn around. He yells out that the bear has just moved right in front of their eyes.
And that's enough for Tony. He makes a beeline for the stairs and George takes a step to follow him. But he can't move. Something is trying to push him backwards. And as he stands there, he feels this cold sensation go through his body. When he finally gets control of his muscles, he's able to follow Tony up the stairs. When they tell Deborah about what happened. She agrees it's time to get out of here. As they rush out the door and as Tony struggling to get the baby buckled into the car seat, he feels something stinging him on his back.
It's literally so painful that he cries out, but there's so much commotion that he doesn't even stop to think about it. They just drive away and get out of there. It's not until later that Deborah lifts up his shirt to see what happened. And near on his back are three long, bloody scratch marks. Deborah knows Tony didn't do this to himself. He wouldn't even be able to reach that far behind. It's physically impossible. So she calls Barbara the psychic and ask, are you sure that this ghost is friendly?
Barbara decides that the best thing to do is probably to just come over and look around in person or herself. So she flies all the way out from California a couple of nights later. And after seeing the house, she's very clear. Sally is not dangerous. Barbara can actually see Sally and she says she's adorable. She's just a little girl who wants to be part of their family. But there is a potential problem. Sally doesn't like men. She may have been abused by her father or another man in her life.
Barb is not 100 percent sure. All she knows is she doesn't like men. That doesn't mean that Sally is violent, though. When she scratched Tony. She was just overexcited. She says Deborah and Tony just need to tell her that she can't do that anymore. Now, if I found out that there was a ghost in my house, friendly or not, child or not. And I was now responsible for parenting that ghost. I would probably want to get out of there as soon as possible.
But the Pitman's decide to stay. For one thing, they can't afford to move. They just rented this house and they've spent all their money getting the place decorated and furnished and whatever this thing is. It's not really harming them. Just a few scratches, sure. But it's not horror movie stuff. And Deborah is already starting to feel kind of maternal towards the ghost. Like if it's just a child, they need to shower her with love and attention, she thinks.
And so that's exactly what Deborah does. She talks to Sally. Praises her, sometimes Deborah can feel a cold spot next to her when she's sitting around, which she assumes is Sally trying to cuddle with her. One day, Debra buys Sally a doll. She gift wraps it and leaves it in the corner of the nursery for her. A few days later, when Deborah is alone in the house, she walks into the nursery and she sees the doll laying in the baby's empty crib.
But here's the thing. The box is still in the corner with the wrapping paper still on it. Somehow Sally got the doll out of the box without disturbing the paper and without making a sound. Deborah is in all of what Sally can do. Like a proud mother, almost. But Tony is not sharing the love. His encounters with Sally are always a little bit different. Sometimes he can hear something scratching from inside the walls, almost like it's trying to get out.
And he hears voices. At first they're really faint. But as the months go by, they get louder and louder. It's like there are several people in the room, all of them talking over one another. But he can't quite understand what's being said. By October, Tony's begun to feel something biting his toes, not necessarily in a painful way. Just this steady nibbling. He tells Deborah about his uneasiness. But she assures him it's just Sally trying to get his attention.
And then on Halloween morning, Tony comes home from work. And standing there in the kitchen is Sally. We'll learn more about Tony's encounter with Sally when we return.
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Now back to the story. When Tony first sees Sally in the kitchen, he thinks she's a regular little girl who followed him into the house. Then he realizes she's dressed in old fashioned clothes. She's got on a cute white lace dress with puffy sleeves and her brown hair is pulled up into a bow. And she's got these enormous, adorable blue eyes. He's startled by the sight of her. He literally drops his glass. And just like that, she's gone as far as ghost go.
Even Tony has to admit. This one's pretty cute, but she's definitely not harmless. As the months go by, Tony starts to wonder if they're dealing with something more sinister than a little girl. One night when they have guests over for dinner, something scratches Tony on his four head. It actually scratches so hard that it draws blood and everyone sees the scratches appear, but they don't actually see what caused it. Another night, Tony dreams that he's being dragged out of bed by the wrists.
But it's so vivid it doesn't feel like a dream. And when he wakes up the next morning, his wrists have blisters on them in the shape of child's fingerprints. Another time, Tony even sees a woman who at first he thinks is Deborah walking down the hall. He follows her into a room, but when he enters, nobody's there. Then he finds Deborah in a totally different room and she's not even dressed. So he knows that the woman he was following wasn't her.
Now, despite how scary all of this is, the couples still won't totally rule out a natural explanation for all of this. With a newborn baby in the house, Tony was, you know, pretty sleep deprived, which could have been causing him to have delusions or even minor hallucinations. And that's what Deborah says every time Tony has one of these episodes that he's just tired. Somehow, Deborah's own ghost sightings don't register as strange to her. Those are all totally real, apparently.
But anything violent or scary, that can't be sweet, Sally. So eventually, Tony just starts to keep everything to himself. And there's no one else he can talk to about any of this. Mind you, they're in a very conservative town. Everyone is Catholic to this point. Deborah's been his only confident about all of this stuff and now she doesn't even believe him. Which makes it even harder when things keep getting stranger. When they take their family Christmas photos, an eerie blur shows up in the prints.
They send it to Barbara. And she says that's a completely different ghost. An older woman with a domineering personality, probably the same woman Tony saw walking around in the house again. Barbara says they shouldn't worry. This second ghost probably won't do anything bad, but it's getting harder and harder to believe her. By now, the baby is waking up in the middle of the night screaming. And then one day, a toy in the nursery begins to play.
Horrible screeching, static. It's meant to record a baby's voice and then play it back to them. But it's no babble. And it's not a scream or a cry either. At least not a human one. The big question, of course, is how this thing recorded that sound in the first place. Deborah had been in the room right before it started making the sound and heard nothing. Now, that same day, Tony is trying to take a nap in the room when he sees dust particles in the air start to come together, he says.
They form into the shape of an older woman dressed in black with black hair piled on top of her head as she comes near him. Everything in the room starts to shake the dresser, the mattress, even the door slams shut. The woman sticks out one hand in a black lace glove just inches from his face and says, Gonna. And at that very moment, a blackbird appears on her finger. Tony crawls out of the bed toward the door.
But he can't open it, just as he's sure she's about to strangle him. He wakes up back on the bed the entire time. Deborah hadn't heard a thing. Not even the door slam. As things are starting to escalate, the pigments get a phone call from a television show called Sitings. Barbara, the psychic had been talking about the pigments in some of her lectures and a producer from the show heard about their story. The show wants to come to Kansas and actually film them and the pigments go along with it.
Toni hopes that maybe these people can finally help them. The sitings crew arrive in July of 1994 and things are immediately off to a scary start. The very first day of filming, while Deborah was being interviewed, Tony was attacked by an unseen force that left deep, bloody scratches on his arm. Then, in the middle of his own interview, he got scratched again on his stomach. The crew just held the camera on him for nine minutes straight as the scratches slowly appeared out of nowhere.
Over the course of one night of filming, Tony was attacked. Eleven separate times by the time they were through. He was covered in welts and scratches. This all happened in front of a parapsychologist. Who said that in all of his career, he'd never seen anything like this. There was even one occasion when Tony was scratched on his back. The wound actually came out in the shape of the initials M c, which happened to be the first and middle initials of the man who built the house.
You see, Debra had done a little of her own research by now. So she knew that the house was built around 1871 by an Irish immigrant named Michael Chrom and Finnie. Michael had died in the house the year after he built it. Leaving two sons and a daughter behind. One of those sons, Charles, became a doctor and lived in the house for a while. The sitings crew brings in a psychic who actually senses that a doctor used to live in the house, which we know is correct.
But he easily could have looked up that information. So we got to take that with a grain of salt. But he also confirms there's a ghost named Sally in the house. He thinks she may have died of pneumonia and that she may have been the doctor's patient. The psychic says Sally has been trapped in the house ever since. And she's not the only spirit here. There's a darker presence to the psychic, leads the crew to a cemetery and finds a grave for the little girl that he believes is behind the hauntings.
Sally Isabelle Hall, who died in 1985. Unfortunately, when they look into it, Sally Hall wasn't a little girl with brown hair and blue eyes. She was 34 years old and didn't match the description of either the girl or the older woman. Apart from her name, there's nothing linking this person to the alleged ghosts. So if this isn't the real Sally who is now, there's one more possibility. But the source is a local legend that has really sketchy origins in this story.
Sally was a seven year old girl who came to the doctor's house one night around the turn of the century. She was in terrible pain and her mother was frantic after taking a look at her. The doctor believed that she had appendicitis and so he had to operate immediately to remove her appendix. He tried to give her anaesthesia, but it didn't work. So when he cut into her, Sally said of screaming, the doctor didn't have any nurses or assistance to help.
He was on his own here, so he had to continue with the surgery, even though she was wide awake.
According to the legend, Sally died right there on that table in excruciating pain. Now, this is an interesting story, but it doesn't seem to be true. There aren't any records of a little girl named Sally dying in Atcheson around this time. To be fair, record keeping wasn't as accurate back then as it is today. So that doesn't necessarily mean there wasn't a Sally. But the lack of proof still leaves us back at square one after doing four entire episodes on the house.
The show is unable to explain what is actually happening. All the filling seems to have done is made the ghost angry right after the sitings crew left for the last time. The pigments, exhausted and disappointed, were approached by a medium. She offered to cleanse the house for them, and they accepted the medium identified three spirits in the house. A little girl, a threatening older woman, and another spirit who she described as a perfect gentleman. Just before she cleansed the house, she asked the pigments if they wanted to let any of the spirits stay.
Debra chose Sally even now, after everything that happened. She didn't want to abandon her ghost daughter, but something else apparently stayed behind as well. In the middle of the cleansing, Toni was attacked again by the end of the ceremony. There were eight deep scratches across his back. And things did not improve afterwards. If anything, the cleansing only made the spirits more violent. By now, Tony's mental state was seriously deteriorating. He felt angry and on edge all the time.
But he no longer wants to leave the house. It's like he's become resigned to it. It's taken him over. He'd been hearing voices at this point for months. And at first, remember, he couldn't understand a word that they were saying. But now he could. And not only could he understand, then they were telling him to do things, terrible things, things like kill his wife. One morning when Tony was alone in the house, a stray cat got into the kitchen.
Tony saw drinking milk out of its cereal bowl. And something about this was so infuriating to him that he grabbed a butcher knife and stabbed the cat to death. He then took the bull, sat down on the couch, totally unmoved. The only thing he could think was Deborah is next. When we come back, I'll look at what finally convinced the Pechman to move out before it was too late. Now back to the story. In a 2013 interview with the podcast Astonishing Legends, Tony says he doesn't remember killing the cat in his kitchen.
He says it happened while he was blacked out. But when he came into the kitchen later on and saw the dead cat lying there, he snapped back to his senses. This was a wake up call for Tony. The disturbing thoughts running through his head were completely out of his control. And if he didn't do something soon, it might be Deborah, that he killed next. Or even the baby. He made sure to clean everything up before Deborah got home so he didn't scare her.
But Tony was resolved at that point. They needed to get out of this house. Two days later, he was walking out of their bedroom. When something pushes him into the staircase so hard that he breaks three railings. He almost goes over the banister and down the stairs when he calls Deborah and tells her somehow. This is what finally gets through to her. Whatever is in this house is not cute. It's not harmless. It is trying to kill them both.
And so two weeks later, the pigments finally moved out. Today, the pigments are still married and they still live in Atcheson, just a mile or so from that house. And even though 25 years have passed, they're still haunted by their experience. They no longer believe the House is haunted by just the run of the mill ghost. They think the true culprit is a demon. Tony was actually the first to suspect this while they were living in the house.
The attacks he suffered were exactly what you'd expect from a demonic oppression, as it's called. Bruises or scratches form seemingly out of nowhere. Then there are the voices he heard and the uncontrollable violent thoughts. If you remember the episode I did on The Exorcism of Anna Eklund. Those are typical hallmarks of demonic possession. The question is, why was Tony the main target instead of Deborah? He says it was simply because he was the weaker person in the house.
But it also could have been something to do with his Catholic beliefs. Remember, demons supposedly hate anything that has to do with religion. In fact, the Catholic Church believes that demonic oppression tends to happen to people who are closest to God. It was a common thing for saints to suffer through, for example. That doesn't mean Deborah wasn't targeted at all. She believes the demon possessed her, too. It made her indifferent to the abuse being suffered by her husband, something she still has trouble forgiving herself for to this day.
But the demon isn't the only spirit in the house. There's still Sally and the older woman who the pigments believe are regular old ghosts of people who died there. They theorize that the demon is holding the spirits there against their will and using them as a front to lure people in. We saw this happen with Deborah. Sally was so cute and endearing that she completely ignored all of the darker stuff that was happening in the house. By the time either of the pigments realized that there might be something dangerous going on, the demon already had its grip over them.
And even though the pigments moved out, the spirits did not. There were a few other tenants over the next few years, but none of them stayed for long. The landlord said that one tenant saw the little girl in the house and moved out after only one week. By 2004, the house was vacant. After all, it was sort of famous from the sightings, episodes and a few other paranormal investigation shows that came through. The owner had turned it over to the Chamber of Commerce and today the city rents it out for tours.
They bill it as the most haunted house in Atcheson, which I don't think is a stretch. A lot of tourists and ghost hunters come out of the house convinced that they felt something or seen something or even been touched by something. They talk about hearing voices, laughter, footsteps, even children's giggling. And it got the recordings to back it up.
An EVP or electronic boy's phenomenon is a term for a sound that is picked up on an audio recording with no known origin. Often times they sound like human voices, saying very clear, distinct words and phrases. According to paranormal investigators, these are the voices of spirits who are somehow able to influence the recording equipment.
Needless to say, the Salleh house has created its fair share of EVP recordings, and EVP specialists named Rene Leiker was able to identify 17 different spirit voices inside the house. Men, women and children. But the way these recordings are made is a little bit unreliable when unknown sounds appear on electronic recordings. I mean, especially for using older equipment. It's usually because of mechanical problems with the device itself. Either the electronic shielding is malfunctioning and you're picking up interference or the noise reduction filter is glitching.
And creating noise artifacts, garbled sounds that weren't actually there originally. Well, you end up with can kind of sound like a human voice if that's what you're looking for.
This is what scientists call confirmation bias. If you're expecting to see something. Your brain will do what it can to make sure you see it. Or in this case, here it. For example, if a psychic comes to your house and tells you you have a ghost, you'll probably chalk up every strange noise and bizarre temperature drop to that ghost. Whereas if you hadn't spoken to the psychic, you might not even notice these occurrences in the first place.
But considering the huge range of things that happened to Tony and Deborah inside this house, it seems hard to dismiss all of this as confirmation bias. Whatever was happening was real enough to cause them to move out of their home. And there doesn't seem to be any logical explanation for how objects were moving on their own or for Tony's spontaneous injuries. Deborah and Tony stand by their experience today. In fact, they still aren't even free of this thing. Tony has woken up on the couch to find his clothes on fire.
He's seen butcher knives fly through the air, narrowly missing his face. And he still feels an unexplainable pull to go back to that house. One night he even woke up finding himself standing in front of the Salli house. He'd walked almost 10 blocks through the snow to get there in his sleep. And he's not alone in this. Some people who have visited the house claimed that a presence has followed them home and stayed with them for weeks, sometimes months, even just watching, waiting.
Appearing in the corner of their eyes, the pigment advise people to just steer clear of the house. It could lure anyone in just like it did then. But of course, this only makes the haunted tours more popular. So the next time your travels take you to Kansas, you might want to think twice before stepping inside the Sally house. It knows who you are. It knows what you want. And it has no problem showing off. Thanks for listening.
I'll be back next week with another episode. You can find all episodes of Supernatural and all other podcast originals for free on Spotify. Spotify has all your favorite music and podcasts all in one place, and they're making it easier to listen to whatever you want to hear for free on your phone, computer or smart speaker. And if you like this show, follow app podcast on Facebook and Instagram and at Sparkasse network on Twitter. Supernatural was created by Max Cutler and stars Ashley Flowers and his APAR Cast Studio's original.
It's executive produced by Max Color Sound Design by Carrie Murphy with production assistance by Ron Shapiro and Carly Madden. This episode of Supernatural was written by Joanna Philbin with writing assistants by Drew Cole. To hear more stories hosted by me, check out Crime Junkie and audio check originals.