Witchcraft & Superstition in Modern Italy - The Case of
The case of Carole Compton, the
'nanny they called a witch' as the newspapers dubbed her, is now considered by many researchers in the light of poltergeist
activity, and a kind of uncontrolled psychic
or mediumistic ability, rather than having any connection with witchcraft.
Carole worked in three
different homes, and over a period of 23 days, five fires and various other poltergeist
phenomena broke out in the houses. The evidence for her
arrest was circumstantial, and the Italian authorities were
when Carole was brought to trial amid
claims that she was a witch with the supernatural power to start fires by intention
alone (known as pyrokinesis).
May 1982 twenty-year-old Scottish girl Carole Compton went to work in Italy to
be with the Italian man she had fallen in love with in her home town
of Ayr. She found a job as a nanny in Rome caring for the children of the wealthy Ricci
family, while her boyfriend was doing his military service. For the first few
days all went smoothly, then one day a
small religious picture fell off the wall and smashed on the floor while
Carole was walking past it. The superstitious
maid of the house, Rosa, made Carole cross herself and hurridly said a short prayer.
afterwards Carole accompanied the family
to their holiday home in the Italian Alps. After a day or two a fire broke
out and the whole of the second floor of the house was
Fireman thought the fire must have been caused by an electrical fault,
perhaps some wires sparking under the floorboards; there had been a blaze in
the house next door quite recently. Over the next few days there were two
further fires, one a minor fire in a rubbish bin, and the other in the bedroom of the Riccis? two-year-old
son, Emanuela. The family were becoming suspicious of Carole and she was told she
was no longer needed, although she left them on friendly terms.
the end of July, 1982, Carole obtained another nanny job with the Tonti family, who had previously
employed another Scottish
girl, and went to stay with them in their grandparents house on the island of Elba. The superstitious grandmother
took an immediate dislike to Carole. After a few days there was a fire in a
mattress. The wiring and electrical points in the bedroom were checked, but the
family couldn't find
anything wrong. Later that day a little statue fell to the ground when no-one
it. The next morning Carole was woken up by a loud noise and saw a silver cake-stand lying on its
side on the floor; this was followed minutes later by a
vase made of blue glass falling to the floor and smashing itself to pieces. The
vase had been standing on a
small table next to the television set, well out of Carole's reach. From
then on the grandmother took a violent dislike to Carole, muttering the word strega ('witch')
behind her back.
type activity continued when Carole heard a faint scratching, crackling sound in
the house, but couldn't tell where it was coming from. This was followed by
another fire in the cot mattress of her three-year-old charge, Agnese. This was
enough for the grandmother who accused her of starting the fires and persuaded the family
to call the
the police arrived they immediately took Carole away, handcuffed, to a prison at Livorno.
She had no idea what was happening. She was interrogated and put in
prison for attempted murder, as under the Italian legal system a person can be
imprisoned (sometimes for years) without being charged. Although she was not charged with witchcraft, this formed the basis of the
accusations against her, and in prison she was avoided because of the witchcraft
rumours which had begun to circulate. News of the case was now spreading, mainly
due to various Italian papers branding Carole a 'witch' and a 'sorceress'. In
Britain, too, the case cause sensational headlines such as 'THE GIRL THEY CALL A WITCH'.
However, the media coverage did provide some help, raising money to
pay for Carole's lawyer and for her mother to travel to Italy.
was attracting some interest from the parapsychology community as well. Paranormal experts
Guy Lyon Playfair and Dr. Hugh Pincott offered to help Carole through her
lawyer Sergio Minervini, as the incidents in her case reminded them of certain poltergeist
cases. She was also visited in prison by the foremost authority on poltergeist
phenomena, Dr. Hans Bender. However,
Carole wanted to avoid the idea that anything 'paranormal' was involved. She
didn't believe she had any psychic abilities and couldn't understand how she
could be an inconscious focus for the phenomena.
was finally brought to trial in December 1983, after 16 months in prison. At
the trial she was made to sit inside a huge steel cage. Although Compton had
no motive, and she had never been caught or seen starting the fires, and denied having
done so, the Prosecution
maintained she was a liar and
demanded a sentence of seven years imprisonment.
During the trial it was
revealed that forensic experts had tried to recreate
the pattern of the
fires without success, and one forensic scientist
testified that a burnt mattress could never have been set alight in the
way claimed, as it had unaccountably burned downwards, rather than
scientific tests came up with no scrap of proof of inflammatory substances
or anything else. Teodoro
Comploi, Chief fire officer from Ortisi, where some of fires had occurred, stated 'I've been a fireman for thirty-eight years,
but I've never seen fires like those before.' A Professor Vitolo gave
evidence, stating that he was sure the fires were not caused by a naked flame, but by intense heat.
the end, Carole was found not guilty of attempted murder, but guilty on two charges of arson, and one of
attempted arson. She received a sentence of two and a half-years imprisonment, but because of the time
she had already spent in prison, the sentence was suspended and she was free to go.
1990 she published a book about her ordeal Superstition: The True Story of The Nanny They Called
A Witch, which included evidence from experts who suggested she was the unwitting victim of a
poltergeist. She is now married with a family and living in West
In 2003 a
film Superstition, starrring Charlotte Rampling and Sienna Guillory, and
based on Carole's story was released. Despite one or two interesting moments,
however, it suffered from a basic lack of understanding of poltergeist and
related phenomena and offered precious few insights into the case.
Professor Hans Bender, and many others, believed
that Carole's case could be explained in terms of psycho-kinetic exteriorization, in
other words a poltergeist attack. However, although there are many parallel cases to support this,
sceptics insisted that citing PK as the origin for the fires is using one
unexplained to explain another. PK has never been proved to exist.
At the time of Carole's case there were reports about a sixteen-year-old Italian
boy called Benedetto Supino, who was supposed to make fuse boxes explode and
newspapers catch fire whenever he was near.
during poltergeist activity have been widely reported since the earliest cases
(see the Fire Starters article on this site for some
19th century examples)..
Whilst investigating the controversial Enfield (London) poltergeist case in 1977, Maurice Grosse
visited another home in Holloway where poltergeist activity had been reported.
Firemen had been called seven times to the council flat belonging to a couple,
without children, where spontaneous fires involving a dishcloth, a bedspread,
a sweater, and a pile of newspapers, had broken out. A box of matches that had
been scorched did not catch fire. There was also a burn mark found on a
wall, with a melted plastic beaker next to it. Bedcushions were also flying through the
air and fruit lifting itself from the bowl. The fires had erupted many times. but
the firemen found no explanation, one fireman
told Grosse 'In my six years' experience I've never seen anything like it.'
was soon after this visit that the first fires broke out at Enfield. Smoke was
seen to come from a cupboard; inside, a box of matches was found charred, but as in the Holloway
case, the matches had not burned. Pieces of paper, clothes and
money were also found burned.
Suzano, S?o Paulo, Brazil, a total of sixteen fires
broke out spontaneously in a family home. Mattresses, a sofa, clothing inside a
wardrobe and the wardrobe itself were burnt. Some of the activity was witnessed
at first hand by the local police chief and his forensic expert. The chief
described how a mattress began to smoulder in front of his eyes, noticing that
it seemed to be burning from the inside. In 1979, in the Pyrenees village of
S?ron, an incredible ninety-eight fires broke out
during August. Nobody could determine
how they started, one eyewitness stated that all the fires appeared to start
with a small burn mark on a bed or piece of clothing which would then burst
into flames. As in the Carole Compton case, two young people were jailed, tried
and convicted on insubstantial evidence, regardless of motive or witnesses. They
were subsequently pardoned or freed.
Fires in Sicily
From January to April
2004, in Canneto di Caronia, Sicily, spontaneous fires broke out in about 20
cookers, televisions, washing machines and mobile telephones burst into flames
spontaneously even after the electricity to the
village was cut off. After investigating the possibility of an electromagnetic
disturbance caused by a
natural phenomenon, officials still remained at a loss to explain the cause of the events.
Old superstitions were aroused and there were fears that supernatural powers and witchcraft were to blame, and
Father Gabriel Amorth, the Vatican?s expert on exorcisms, affirmed that
the Roman Catholic Church was considering the possibility of demonic
seems that nothing has been learned in the twenty-two years since the case of
Sources & Further Reading
Spencer, John & Anne. The Poltergeist
Phenomenon. London, Headline. 1997, p112-3.
Carole (with Gerald Cole). Superstition.
The True Story of the Nanny They called a Witch. London, Ebury Press.1990.
by Brian Haughton. All Rights Reserved.
on Mysterious People