They don’t come more haunted than Hellfire Farm. As Channel 4’s ‘real-life’ paranormal show True Horror portrays, the site owned by the Rich family from 1989 was the source of six long years of raw psychological trauma – six years of supposed disembodied footsteps in the night, a mysterious cloaked figure looming in the darkness and a library hiding streams of satanic symbols.
But the tale told in the True Horror episode wasn’t the whole story. According to the Rich family, their Brecon Beacons cottage (known as Heol Fanog in paranormal circles), was the home of some seriously spooky happenings that the C4 docudrama didn’t portray.
Why cut out scares from the show? It’s simple: “So much happened in that story that inevitably we left some stuff out,” explains executive producer Joel Wilson. “We felt like the sequence of events we presented gave the most representative sense of everything that happened.”
And while we’re partly thankful True Horror spared us from more frights (and even more jump scares), we gave into temptation and opened the Pandora’s box that is the full story of Hellfire Farm.
Here’s what True Horror skipped over…
A celebrity exorcism
True Horror makes references to the many spiritualists that visited Heol Fanog, but there’s a big character the show doesn’t portray: exorcist Eddie Burks. Making his name in 1990s paranormal hit show Ghost Hunters, Burks was credited with ridding the ghost of a Queen Mary execution victim at the prestigious Coutts bank.
Burks was, shall we say, an interesting character who claimed to have direct contact with Anne Boleyn, who apparently was still fuming at Henry VIII and the whole beheading situation almost 500 years later. Now there’s a woman who can hold a grudge.
According to Testimony, the booked penned by Mark Chadbourn, the author/journalist who appears in True Horror, Burks arrived at the Rich home and soon identified a mysterious “pre-Christian” presence. He claimed that a creature, a powerful evil force that was conjured by a Celtic tribe, could be disarmed by his “power of imagination”.
He proceeded to perform an exorcism with Bill and Liz in the darkened house, with Burks telling the couple he was dragging the creature into “the Christian era”.
Bill, according to Testimony, “couldn’t see anything”, but he could feel the “tingle in his fingers, the tightness of his chest, the pressure at the base of [his] skull”. After this, a “crackle of power” was blasted through the tape recorder in the room’s corner “like a lightning bolt had surged into it”. Bill then noticed the house “grew noticeably brighter” as if “another light source had been illuminated”.
“I think I will let the thing rest now,” Burks breathed, ending the exorcism.
Adam Leese as Bill Rich in True Horror (C4, TL)
Although True Horror depicts the visit of baptist minster David Holmwood as the end of Heol Fanog’s hauntings, it was actually Burks’ exorcism that the Richs credit with ridding their spirit. So, why cut him out? Was it because portraying a celebrity ghosthunter made the story a lot sillier than using a clergyman?
Wilson’s answer: it was done to simplify the tale. “At all times we were keeping to a streamlined dynamic narrative that drove the story forward and was as compelling as possible,” he said.
Curse of the mummy’s tomb
True Horror might have presented a strange satanic spirit as the source of the phenomena, but Liz and Bill blamed another entity: the Egyptian god Horus.
Years before moving to Heol Fanog the couple enjoyed a holiday to Egypt where they visited the Pyramid of Cheops. After venturing to the structure’s burial chamber, Liz witnessed, according to Testimony, “tiny lights like lasers” shimmering on the walls – the same description she gave the lights surrounding Heol Fanog’s barn in True Horror.
Then there were the nightmares. After moving to the Brecons, Bill suffered from dreams plagued by a “beaked or hooked-nose figure” resembling the Egyptian falcon-god Horus. That’s the God who supposedly guarded the tombs of the dead against unwelcome visitors.
Unsurprisingly the family soon were left pondering: was Horus haunting the house, wreaking its revenge for the family entering a sacred tomb?
The lurking hag
You know the old woman that True Horror showed creepily sitting in the background as the children played? Well, it wasn’t just the kids who claimed to have seen her. According to testimony, Liz saw this stranger on five occasions.
And, after finding an old photo, Liz thought she could identify her: this old woman was apparently the spitting image of the mother of a previous owner of the farm.
The possessed son
Another key character True Horror missed out is Bill’s son from his first marriage, Laurence. The 14-year-old boy lived with Bill and Liz for several years before he was moved to a boarding school after the couple became convinced Laurence was possessed.
How did they reach that conclusion? After the hauntings started, the boy painted his room blood red, became increasingly foul-tempered and developed a permanent “sneer” with eyes radiating “blazing fury”, according to Testimony. And on one occasion, the teenager spat into his father’s face and Bill “saw that it wasn’t Laurence, that someone else was behind his face, in his face, much older and incalculably evil”.
So, had the boy become possessed by a malicious spirit? Rather than concluding Laurence was battling a bad bout of puberty, the couple decided he was “fighting for his soul” and sent him away from the house.
He returned years later as a stable adult, but Liz and Bill still maintained he had been possessed. Which, let’s face it, is a brilliantly bold get-out if you’re struggling to raise an unruly teenager.
Bill’s prophetic paintings
In True Horror we saw how artist Bill’s work turned spookily abstract after his time at Heol Fanog, with canvases strewn with strange “satantic” symbols. However, the show skipped over his spookiest painting.
Although work had largely dried up for Bill (a change he blamed on the haunting), he was commissioned to paint a horse for a local farmer. However, he struggled to paint the animal’s back legs, with the limbs appearing slightly broken in the finished piece. And after finishing the work Bill learned that the horse itself died after suffering an injury to its hind legs.
This wasn’t the only strange experience with animals on Heol Fanog. Several of the Rich’s pets had supposedly gone mad and, according to Testimony, lambs in the area were being born blind, deformed or dead.
Things got so bad that Bill brought in an exorcist to erect a spiritual barrier, but this spookiness still persisted for years. If you can’t trust a psychic wall then what can you trust, eh?
True Horror continues 10pm C4, Thursday 26th April