By Curt Rowlett
On September 8, 1987, at the Atlanta, Georgia home of an elderly couple named William and Minnie Winston, a large amount of human blood mysteriously appeared and was discovered to be splattered, streaked, and pooled throughout the inside of their house. At the time that this incident occurred, it received sensational treatment by local television news and the area talk radio shows were abuzz over the story for several weeks. But just exactly what caused human blood to materialize in the Winston home has never been satisfactorily explained.
By outward appearances, it is a case without precedent and one that remains an unexplained mystery to this day. The 1990 edition of The Book of Lists included a narrative about the Winston home in its “15 Strangest Stories” of the year record. And you may have also read about this case in the book Unexplained Mysteries of the 20th Century. In that book, authors/researchers Janet and Colin Bord attributed the appearance of the blood to a resident poltergeist. However, my own investigation did not uncover any specific evidence that indicated a prior supernatural event preceding the appearance of the blood. But after all things are considered, a paranormal event seems to be as likely an explanation as any other that has been purposed to date.
The events surrounding the appearance of the blood are as follows: Mrs. Winston first noticed blood on the floor of her bathroom as she was stepping out of her bath that evening. She initially thought that her husband William was bleeding, but she soon discovered that he wasn’t and that he was just as dismayed as his wife as to where the blood had come from. As Mrs. Winston mopped up the blood in the bathroom, Mr. Winston made a tour of the house and was amazed to discover that blood was spattered and pooled throughout their house, including the basement. The police were notified and Detective Steve Cartwright of the Atlanta Police Department was assigned to investigate. In a news conference, a police spokesperson stated that they had found “copious amounts of blood” spattered on the walls, baseboards and floors in five rooms of the Winston home. The police sent the blood to the Georgia State Crime Laboratory to be analyzed and it was determined that it was definitely human blood, type O-positive. And since both Mr. and Mrs. Winston had type A blood, it was obvious that the blood had not come from either of them. The Winstons told the police that they had not had any visitors in their home prior to the appearance of the blood and were at a loss as to where it might have come from. As you would expect, the story created a huge sensation when it hit the local news, becoming the top story for several days on both television and talk radio (where callers into the shows suggested everything from a deliberate hoax to manifestations of demonic forces). The video segments filmed inside the house that were broadcast on the various news channels showed many different sizes of blood stains in the home that ranged from silver dollar size pools to six inch by two inch streaks on the floor and carpet. There were also tiny patterned droplets of blood that looked to me as if they had been sprayed from an atomizer or spray bottle at a downward angle onto the walls, floor and baseboards. The police treated the Winston home as a crime scene with respect to the gathering of evidence, but stated that they were not operating under the premise that any crime had actually been committed.
I was living in Atlanta at the time of this incident and knew immediately that I would want to investigate the case as I have always had an interest in unexplained phenomena. However, I decided that the best course of action was to wait until the frenzy had died down to some degree and it was almost six months later before I actually got the chance to investigate. I started by calling the Atlanta Police Department and was referred to the Homicide Division. A spokesperson there informed me that they now considered the case closed as no evidence existed that a crime had been committed and I also learned that the original case detective was no longer even with the department. The same spokesperson admitted to me that the police were as baffled for an explanation as to what caused the blood to show up as anyone else. (To date, the case is still on file as unsolved). So I decided to go straight to the source: I telephoned the Winston home and was able to interview Mrs. Winston person to person about the strange events. And while she was pleasant and forthcoming, it was obvious that she was reluctant about reopening the matter to public scrutiny. I learned that she and her husband had lived in the six-room brick house for twenty-two years and that they had never experienced anything unusual in the house prior to the blood incident. But when I questioned her closely about the blood stains, Mrs. Winston was quite adamant that it was not blood that had appeared in her house, but rather “rust and mud mixed with water” that she said was sprayed into the house by steam from a ruptured hot water heater in the basement.
(The fact that samples from the pools and spatters had been tested by the police and determined to be actual human blood, with even a subgroup typing, effectively ruled out Mrs. Winston’s theory. Also, rusty muddy water propelled by steam would have needed a way to reach the upper floors and according to Mrs. Winston, there were only two floor vents in their home and neither of those had any of the substance inside or outside of them). I knew that her statement in this regard simply was not accurate in light of the tests made by the police. But it soon became obvious to me why she would want to make such a claim. Mrs. Winston emphasized quite strongly to me that if the substance had actually been blood that she would not be willing to stay in the house anymore. I asked Mrs. Winston if she or her husband had ever experienced anything like this in the house prior to the incident and, specifically, whether she believed that her house was “haunted.” She denied that anything similar had ever happened in the past, but would not answer my question directly about the possibility that her home might have been the site of a supernatural occurrence. But it was obvious to me that real blood was the last thing she wanted the substance to be, both because she was afraid of that possibility and due to the fact that the case had received so much publicity while the story was still in the news.
Since the time that my interview with Mrs. Winston took place, I have searched for other paranormal incidents where blood was reported to have manifested in the same manner as it did in the Winston home. With the exception of a May, 2004 case that was quickly explained, I have found nothing that even comes close to having all of the same elements, a fact that shows just how unique the case actually is.
The one incident that I discovered which bears any real similarity to the Winston case was an old one that occurred in North Carolina in 1884 and involved a rain of blood from out of the sky. This event was first reported by a Mrs. Kit Lasater who witnessed blood fall from a clear sky onto the ground as she stood in a field near the farm where she worked. Other witnesses who visited the spot later reported that the area measured 60 feet in circumference and was covered with splotches of a substance that looked like blood. The same substance was also found on nearby tree limbs and bushes. The drops were reported to be all different sizes, from that of a small pea, to the size of a large finger. Samples of the blood were tested by Dr. Francis Preston Venable, a highly regarded professor of chemistry at the University of North Carolina. He performed several tests on samples supplied to him and concluded that the material was indeed blood, but could not say exactly what kind of blood it was. (Mrs. Lasater was quoted as saying that she was “frightened and affected” by the incident, taking it as “a portent of death or evil of some kind.”
The “rain of blood” incident has much in common with similar reports, both from the present and the past, in which a multitude of strange substances and items have been reported to fall out of a clear sky. (This type of occurrence is often referred to as a “Fortean” event). (5) Manifestations of blood have been reported as an aspect of some religious miracles where blood has been observed to flow from statues of Saints and are also an element reported in cases of religious ecstasy, such as the stigmatics who manifest the bleeding wounds said to have been inflicted on Christ at his crucifixion. But what I found to be the most common of the paranormal blood reports were those that mentioned blood stains in conjunction with some ghost encounters, especially those associated with a violent death or murder. However, the reported blood in those cases seems to have been made up of the same stuff as the apparitions themselves, i.e., that the blood was not something tangible that would yield up a sample to be tested. Included here for editorial balance is a synopsis of a report prepared by Rebecca Long of the Georgia Skeptics group: Several members of the Georgia Skeptics also investigated the Winston case in 1994 and, according to their report, were told by the police detective in charge of the case at the time that it was his professional opinion that someone had deliberately splattered the blood around the house as a hoax, further stating that family problems apparently existed which gave either the Winstons or their children a possible motive for perpetrating such a hoax. The detective believed that the Winston’s could have had access to human blood because Mr. Winston was a kidney dialysis patient, leading to his suggestion that one or both of the Winston’s might have hoaxed the blood incident in order to get more attention from their children. The detective also stated that the Winston’s daughter worked in a hospital and had access to human blood and hypothesized that the Winston’s children could have hoaxed the blood in order to have their parents legally declared incompetent for financial reasons. Those theories are, of course, as viable as any supernatural explanation would be. But it is important to remember that although the Georgia Skeptics take the time-tested rational/logical approach, their conclusions are still only so much speculation (as much so as the supernatural one is) as no real evidence for the greed or sympathy theories exists beyond what the circumstances may appear to suggest.
So the “House of Blood” case remains unique. But because of the Winston’s strong reluctance to open themselves up to public scrutiny again, I believe that any future attempt to investigate this case further would probably turn up little in the way of new evidence, especially as far as using the Winstons as a source is concerned. Short of a hoaxer stepping forward to claim full responsibility for the blood’s presence in the Winston home (which I believe would be unlikely) this incident will probably remain unsolved.