The Blackwell Ghost
March 19, 2018
The Blackwell Ghost is a film promoted as a real-life documentary which follows a filmmaker-turned-ghost hunter as he investigates an alleged haunted house. The description on Amazon Prime, which seems to be the only place this film is available, states "A filmmaker tries to prove that ghosts are real but soon regrets his intentions after he finds himself being terrorized in a haunted house by a ghost with a dark past. An authentic documentary that shows actual ghost footage that was captured on camera" (Amazon 2017). It has a 59 minute runtime and only lists one "star," Ruth Blackwell, a character who only appears in the film as a photograph. It seems to have gained a cult following among horror movie fans who are unsure if it is real or fiction. I decided to take a look.
Calling it an "authentic documentary" is a stretch, as we'll see in a bit—and also the reason I'm writing this article. Dictionary.com defines 'authentic' as "not false or copied; genuine; real", and 'documentary' as "based on or re-creating an actual event, era, life story, etc., that purports to be factually accurate and contains no fictional elements.” The Blackwell Ghost is neither; it is a work of fiction.
When I clicked on the trailer I was surprised to see a man I've watched before, Turner Clay. Let me give you some history before moving on to what's wrong with The Blackwell Ghost.
In 2013 I was asked to look at a YouTube video entitled "Ghost screaming in haunted hotel - FULL LENGTH" (Jimmynut22 2012). The video takes place in an unknown hotel, and hotel security has been called to a room that allegedly has a woman screaming inside. No one is checked into the room, and a conversation between "John" (the only person seen in the video) and another off-camera voice tells us the room is torn up and no one is inside. We also watch a white blob-like and cheap special effect "ghost" float out of the room and down the hall.
As I started digging into the hotel video, it became apparent that it was not only a hoax, but one that was staged by a person who I believed was a filmmaker (Biddle 2013). The identity of who made the video presented a bit of a mystery itself; though he was referred to as "John" in the video, there were no credits listed in the video footage or in the YouTube description.
This mystery surrounding the man behind the video, which had eleven million views last time I checked, intrigued me. After a few hours of digging, I found that the creator went by the YouTube handle "jimmynut22", who originally posted the video. At the time of my analysis, Jimmynut22 had a few duplicate videos (of this hotel ghost) under different names. He also had a short video that reportedly came from a 1988 court case that showed "multiple ghosts,” which use the same effect as the "screaming hotel ghost" video.
Eventually my research lead to a short comment by Jimmynut22 on a video review of a film called State of Emergency, in which he writes "Hey! My name is Turner Clay and I made the movie State of Emergency." (Jimmynut 2014) Bingo! According to his IMDb page, Turner Clay is an editor and producer, known for State of Emergency, Disaster L.A. and Interception (IMDb 2018). These are low budget films which is why you most likely haven't heard of them.
Clay made a short video called "Alien Caught on Video - 1988" in which he claims "I was recently hired to transfer a series of video tapes for archival purposes for the state". In that video, he uses the same white blob ghost as the hotel video, which is most likely merely a video overlay. A duplicate video is on the same channel with the name "2013 - Ghost walk by Camera in BASEMENT.” (I guess he couldn't decide between aliens and ghosts.)
Later in 2017 while researching other projects I came across a video by YouTube user ‘LordanARTS’ that focused on the Screaming Hotel Ghost video (SHG). LordanARTS reference my analysis, and took it a bit further; he was able to find a rare photograph of Turner Clay in which he was wearing the same hat and striped lanyard that "John," the guy featured the SHG video, was wearing. It was an exact match...Turner Clay was the guy in the SHG video, and also its creator.
Finding this new information meant that I could update the original analysis of the SHG video. This was how I was introduced to The Blackwell Ghost. Jimmynut22, a.k.a. Turner Clay, had posted two trailers for the film, as well as a short clip. All three had links to Amazon where you could purchase the film, rent for $0.99 or buy for $2.99. Based on his previous videos, I decided it wasn't worth a dollar to rent.
Fast forward to the present; my family now has Amazon Prime which includes free streaming of their video service. I pulled up The Blackwell Ghost and spent the next couple of hours watching it, re-watching specific parts, and taking lots of notes. Let's deconstruct the film.
It open with the narrator (Clay) explaining that his career has been spent making zombie movies, but now he's "ready for a challenge. A challenge that my teacher would be proud of… To prove that ghosts exist." That's a pretty difficult challenge, given that thousands of people—professionals, scientists, investigators, and hobbyists—have been working on this for over a century and haven't come up with anything close to evidence of an afterlife.
Clay continues, "For those haters out there who think this is fake, I'll stop you right there. I was the furthest thing from a believer in the supernatural until about a year ago." I was going to stop right there, since I'm likely one of the "haters" he's referring to, but...I didn't. When I think something is fake, I investigate the case to determine whether I'm right (and I want evidence to support that) or I'm wrong (in which case I want to know why).
The film cuts to, of all things, the SHG video, only this time he blurs out the face on "John" (himself). Clay tells us that he was trying to decide what his next project will be when he came across the SHG video. Clay claims "the guy that made the video reached out to me just recently and my first question was 'why?', but then, I found out we have a mutual friend through Facebook. So, I figured I would start there." Since I already know that Clay is the guy that made and starred in the SHG video, I was amused that he's essentially saying "I reached out to myself." Nevertheless, he calls someone claiming to be "John" (voice disguised) and they have a conversation about the video. Clay "plays" the part of a skeptic claiming the video looks like a bunch of visual effects (it is, and poorly done). The voice on the phone states “this is a real video”—which is true enough, it was indeed really recorded on video. They agree to meet in about a week and hang up.
The film states it is "three weeks later" and we see Clay in his car, on the phone and leaving a message for "John," who is not surprisingly a no-show for their meeting. Clay explains that he's left ten messages for John and "something is going on. I don't know what it is, but it's not good for me, because I'm making a documentary and I need 'em". I'm not sure if it was bad script writing, poor improvisation skills, or perhaps Clay is psychic...but not two seconds later he suddenly knows exactly why "John" didn't show up: "apparently he's taken a new job and doesn't want to mess that up, so he doesn't want to be in this documentary." Clay tells us he is probably going to quit and go back to making zombie movies. I think that would have been a good idea.
I want to inject an interesting side note here; Clay is wearing a lime green "Ash Rapids Camp" cap. This same cap was worn by a friend of his in another film by Clay, "The Phoenix Tapes 97".
The film jumps to two years later and we see an excited Clay informing us of a new lead for his documentary. I'm surprised that a filmmaker would just put away his camera and not touch it for two years. But, who am I to judge? He says he was contacted by a man named Greg from Pennsylvania who sent him a video of an alleged ghost. In this video, we see Greg's living room at 1:06AM. A lamp suddenly turns on "by itself" and about fifteen seconds later the lamp turns off. Then we see a “ghost,” the same type of white blob we saw in the SHG video and the Alien in the basement video Clay (a.k.a. Jimmynut22) has on his YouTube channel.
After some replay of the video in case viewers missed it, Clay and his wife "Terri" (not her real name) hop into a private plane and fly off to somewhere in Pennsylvania. No city or town is given, not even a general area of the state. They are dropped off near the house, and this little detail made me raise an eyebrow. He's allegedly using the GPS on his phone for directions, but a quick peek from the camera of his phone shows a blank screen. One would assume they would be dropped off in front of the house. Instead, they are dropped off down the block and, for some reason, have to figure out where the house is.
They get to the house and meet with "Greg", who cheerfully invites them inside. They walk into the living room and Clay asks if the camera on the fireplace mantel is the one that captured the "ghost" video. It is, and Greg also confirms that it is a security camera. Something about the exchange here caused my "spidey sense" to tingle. The two men never mention a ghost or the lamp during this conversation; they simply say "the video footage". Not once do they inspect the lamp or talk about the path the alleged ghost walked. This is speculation on my part, but I don't think the "ghost video" had been shot yet.
Later on, during the second visit (detailed below), Clay tells us that he "just downloaded and installed an app that is in charge of this house's security system and it's also in charge of the camera that's on the shelf over here", referring to the small camera on the fireplace mantel. Here's the problem: the camera is a Xiaomi 1080P Smart Wi-Fi camera with night vision and notably not part of an alarmed security system. It is available online for about $24 and anyone can download the app from Apple iTunes.
The two men sit down at the dining room table and Greg tells Clay his own history of living in the house and claims there's activity almost every night. This includes the sound of footsteps coming up the main stairs and stopping just outside a bedroom door and a neighbor seeing a figure standing in the window while Greg was out of town.
The real story comes near the end of the house tour, when Greg says "What I'm about to show you may make you run from this house screaming. So you have to promise me, both of you, that you won't do that.” At this point I was expecting him to pause and pass out tranquilizers and adult diapers to everyone, but instead he added, “Off to the basement!”
In the basement, there is a metal "storm sewer" catch basin and cover. Greg tells Clay "It's actually a well, and it used to serve as the house's main source of water." The basin has several bolt holes around its mounting plate, yet it is not bolted to the floor. The lid is also a few inches above the floor, meaning that this would easily leak sewer water in the event of a flood. There is also a lack of pipes or any indication that this was actually a well. There is also a suspicious-looking circular mark on the floor a few inches to the side which may be an indication the basin was resting there before being moved.
Greg tells us the house was built in 1930 (public records indicate the house was built in 1940, as we will see) and the owner at the time had a wife that was "on the psycho side." He goes on to tell a short story of how children in the area were going missing, and it was later found that their bodies had been chopped up and thrown down this well by the psycho wife. Greg, of course, offers no documentation in support of any of claims he's made. The story is typical of ghost lore; a tragic event sets the stage for haunting activity later. The story doesn't play into the rest of the film, but the well does.
The film jumps ahead another three weeks with Clay receiving an email from Greg inviting them to stay for a few nights while Greg is out of town. Clay and his wife are once again off to Pennsylvania. They arrive at the house and let themselves in. Something stood out to me while watching them walk through the house: Clay and his wife are wearing the same clothes that they were three weeks earlier. Same pants, shirts, and sweaters (his wife has a jacket scarf on during the second visit as well).
This caused both myself and my wife, Donna (who is now thoroughly interested in the film’s gaffes), to look closer at the footage from both trips and the alleged ghost video. Donna notices that there is a sheet hung up over the front door and a Rubbermaid bin positioned at the front door during the ghost video, but not during Clay's initial visit. They had walked into the house through the front door. However, in the second visit, the sheet and Rubbermaid bin are back in place.
The film then follows a Paranormal Activity-style format; the "activity" builds slowly and gets worse. Clay then starts researching the house. Well to be fair he calls someone and asks for microfilm to be emailed to him for all newspapers between the years 1938 to 1942. I don't know about you, but whenever I've worked with historical societies with such research requests, there is a considerable fee involved for them doing the work for you. Many that I have interacted with are way too understaffed to handle such a request. I have never had any offer to email me microfilm copies from all the newspapers of a local area for four years, which Clay himself estimates to be over four thousand newspapers. At the end of the film, a "Special Thanks" is given to Penn Archival Services. A search on Google in Pennsylvania resulted in no matches to such an organization. It doesn't exist.
That doesn't seem to matter, because Clay shows us a microfilm negative of an article from March 21, 1941. The article shows a picture of the house and tells the story of a "horrific event" in which a Ruth Blackwell was looking after some children who were later reported missing and eventually found dead.
There are many, so many, issues here. First, the "1941 article" looks like a modern day document from a newspaper template with added filter to make it look old. From reading and copying old newspaper articles, I'm used to seeing dividing lines between the columns. There were none with this "article." It is also very vague on details, from the location of the house to what the event actually was. Overall, it looked more like a newspaper template one can find online rather than an actual 1941 article.
The article names a Ruth Blackwell as the killer and James Blackwell as her husband. A search of Ancestry.com reveals a 37-year-old white female who lived in Tioga, Pennsylvania (northern mid-state) with her two sons, Lerone and Roger. This was listed on the 1940 census. She was listed as head of the household, and not married. The name James Blackwell also got a hit in the 1940 census, that of a 27 year old black male living in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania with his wife—also Ruth Blackwell—a 23 year old black female.
The article names a Detective Jim Hopper leading the investigation. I'm going to take a guess here and say this is an Easter egg, those inside jokes and hidden messages in movies and TV shows that only hardcore fans will pick up. Jim Hopper is the police chief of the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana in the Netflix series Stranger Things. Despite all the negative things I'm picking out, this was a nice touch. There is one more feature of that article I will return to.
He eventually makes it back down to the basement and opens the storm sewer, revealing nothing exciting. There is no well, not even a hole: it's just a black pan with some water that he tries to make us believe is a deep hole. He even uses string, which is not weighted at the end, to try to convince the viewer he is measuring the depth of the hole. The string can be seen curling up as it hits the bottom of the bowl, which is at the floor level. It's supposed to be a well and it has a black basin inside it. One might say it's a "Blackwell"...
I won't give away the ending, mostly because I'm against spoilers, even with a fake documentary like this. However, the "climactic ending" is the same practical effect he used in another video on his YouTube channel. For a filmmaker that made several zombie movies, he seems to have little imagination when it comes to ghostly activity.
I’d like to return to what I believe is the most significant evidence that this film is a work of fiction. The image of the house included in the 1941 article has a few elements that have not changed in the seventy-seven years that have passed, chief among them are the trees. The trees on the left and right sides of the house are the exact same height and shape in the 1941 image as they are when Clay and his wife walk up to the house during the film. The trees are covering the same sections of the windows with the same branches. There is a floodlight on the front lawn that can be matched up in both the 1941 image and the modern video footage. There are two statues of dogs holding baskets (in their mouths) in front of the pillars of the front door, and one can be seen in the 1941 image (the other is blocked by bushes due to the angle). There is one more glaring mistake; there used to be a huge tree in the front lawn that would have been dead-center of the 1941 photo if it had actually been taken in 1941. How do I know this? I found the house on Google Maps.
I had a hunch that the house was probably closer to Clay's residence, which would make his job easier. I decided to look around his neighborhood on Google Maps. I was able to locate an address for Clay through public records and used it as a starting point. I put in a second point, an intersection shown in the film, and mapped a route. I searched the adjoining neighborhoods using satellite images, looking for the unique characteristics of the street and houses seen in the film. It took about twenty minutes to find the house, which is in Lexington, Kentucky—not Pennsylvania. I found realtor listings with photos taken in 2013 and 2015 that show a huge tree in the front lawn. It was removed before the film was made. A little more digging revealed that the current owner of the house is... none other than Turner Clay himself! (Spokeo.com 2018) In fact he's owned the house since February of 2015.
If this film was promoted and advertised simply as a horror film, I would have watched it and moved on, never giving it a second thought. I have a habit of spending sleepless nights watching bad horror movies, so this would have been just part of another binge-watching night. My problem with the film is that it is presented as an authentic documentary, and it is absolutely not. The entire story is made up, as was the historical document. The Pennsylvania location was a fabrication, since it was filmed in Clay's own home. It is a hoax.
This type of fake documentary is what spreads false beliefs and misleading information to the interested public. In many of the reviews of the film, the question of its authenticity is questioned, but there are many that believe it is a true story. In a review of the film on iHorror.com, the author states "Throughout the film, he never once wavers in his assertion that what he and his wife, Terri, are experiencing is actually real. Furthermore, he backs up those claims with alleged researched proof of the history of the home. I have to admit, by the end of the film I wasn’t entirely sure what to believe" (Jordan 2017). This is a common response I've found (along with a lot of "It's fake" comments) and demonstrates that people might take it seriously.
To be fair, the reporter for iHorror did reach out and contact Dr. Marie Hardin at Penn State University and Jeff Knapp at the Larry and Ellen Foster Communications Library concerning any information about the murder event and found absolutely no evidence that it really happened. Even though the reporter wants to believe (he is a paranormal investigator), he does make it clear that he thinks it is a clever marketing plan rather than a true documentary.
Turner Clay has tapped into the Post-Blair Witch/Paranormal Activity method of filmmaking. While those films eventually revealed themselves as entertainment, Clay has maintained his deceptions and continued to build upon a previous hoax—the SHG video. He's also managed to convince many viewers that his work is a reality, rather than the fiction it really is. If Clay happens to stumble upon this article, I hope he reconsiders making any more of these fake documentaries. Stick to zombie movies, at least those commonly accepted as fiction from the start.
Note: I've left out specific references that would reveal the exact location of the filmmakers private residence. Since he seems to have taken steps to assure privacy, I don't feel it would be right to reveal that information here. The screenshot from Google and images from previous listings of the house should be sufficient evidence that I know where the house is.
- Biddle, Kenny. October 1, 2013. Analysis of the screaming Hotel Ghost video. Available at https://www.facebook.com/IAmKennyBiddle/posts/595841540479212
- Blackwell House, The. Amazon Listing. 2017. https://www.amazon.com/Blackwell-Ghost-Ruth/dp/B072Z62L22
- IMDb. 2018. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2571852/
- James Blackwell in the 1940 Census. https://www.ancestry.com/1940-census/usa/Pennsylvania/James-Blackwell_v5xh4ago.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqPCNppw_qc
- Jimmynut22. January 28, 2012. Alien Caught on Video - 1998. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkU3nEZk0HQ
- Jimmynut22. September 4, 2012. "Ghost screaming in haunted hotel - FULL LENGTH". http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BobA5ujHkvU
- Jimmynut22. 2014. Comments section of video.
- Jordan, Waylon. 2017. The Blackwell Ghost: Documentary or Horror Movie with a Great Hook?. iHorror.com. http://www.ihorror.com/blackwell-ghost-documentary-horror-movie-great-hook/
- LordanARTS . Oct 9, 2017. "JohnnyVlogs: Ghost on Tape, Real or Fake?"
- Rolling Stone. September 18, 2013. 10 Ridiculous Movie Mistakes; Errors in 'Pulp Fiction,' 'Jurassic Park' and more great films. Available at https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/10-ridiculous-movie-mistakes-20130918
- Ruth Blackwell in the 1940 Census. https://www.ancestry.com/1940-census/usa/Pennsylvania/Ruth-Blackwell_qzgdq
- Ruth Blackwell in the 1940 Census. https://www.ancestry.com/1940-census/usa/Pennsylvania/Ruth-Blackwell_v5xh6
- Spokea.com. 2018.
- Xiaomi. 2018. Xiaomi 1080P Smart Wi-Fi IP Camera w/ Night Vision (US Plugs). http://www.dx.com/
- YI Action - AI-Art Edition. Shanghai Xiaoyi Technology Co., Ltd. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/yi-action-ai-art-edition/id963065779?mt=8