True Haunting, or Not? | Skeptical Inquirer

In 1971, years before both the bestselling novel and film The Amityville Horror thrilled the public with one of the most well-known “true stories” of a haunted house, NBC News aired a short, six-minute clip documenting the exorcism of the allegedly haunted Chicago couple Edwin and Marsha Becker. Decades later, Edwin Becker self-published an account of these events and the “first televised exorcism” in his novel, True Haunting. Since then, according to websites such as The Lineup (Grey 2022) and Collider (Ehli 2023) the Beckers’ story is set to become a major motion picture starring Jamie Campbell Bowers and Erin Moriarty. All this attention raises the question: What evidence do we have for believing True Haunting is what its name suggests? (Our investigation is based on the claims presented in the book and multiple interviews; the film has not yet been released.)


Image Credit: IMDb

The Story of True Haunting

The story begins on July 25, 1970, when Edwin (Ed) Becker saw the real estate advertisement for a two-flat apartment building on Campbell Street1 on the near-north side of Chicago. The building was being sold as part of an estate sale, with the current occupant, an “evil old witch” named Myra, being one of the last surviving members of the family who built the house. After negotiations, the Beckers moved into the building on December 1.

Not long after, alleged paranormal phenomena began: dishes and other small items would be found misplaced; Ed’s garage key was found bent into an L-shape; the telephone would be found off the hook; and Marsha’s electric kitchen mixer allegedly floated in midair. On December 20, the Beckers’ parish priest arrived at the house to bless it. As the priest began reciting the blessing in Latin and raised the aspergillum into the air, Ed claims it exploded. Visibly shaken, the priest left without finishing the blessing and later refused to return.

After speaking with his neighbor, Ed learned “the Verdere family had built the house around 1900. It had never been occupied by anybody other than family members” (Becker 2011). The Verdere family consisted of the mother, who allegedly died in the apartment, three sons—Robert, the first son; Ben, the second son, who died in the bathroom and whose death led to the estate sale; Henry, the third son who died young—and a daughter, Myra. It was the ghosts of Ben and Henry whom Ed blamed for the ghostly goings on.

Even after both Ed and Marsha agreed that their house was haunted, Ed explained that they didn’t know what to do about it. Then, during a visit to his Aunt Helen, Ed claimed “She handed Marsha a paperback book and whispered, ‘Read this.’ The book was a new tale of horror … ‘The Exorcist’” (Becker 2011, 98). Now, you would think they would be poring over this tome looking for help, but Ed alleges he didn’t read the book until years later. After finding a listing in the Yellow Pages for the Illinois Psychic Research Group, Ed and Marsha arranged to have an exorcism performed on the house. NBC News Correspondent Carole Simpson covered the exorcism, and as it began, “It was about that moment that everyone felt a strong gust of wind. So strong, it rattled the blinds” (Becker 2011, 120). Ultimately, the exorcism was declared a failure by Ed and Marsha, and Ed’s sister, whom he describes as a lifelong student of the occult, decided to move in, further drawing the ire of Henry by playing with a Ouija board.

While all this was going on, Ed got a loan to move out in 1972 but made the astonishing decision to continue to rent the allegedly haunted property, explaining: “I had mixed feelings about disclosing the potential problem, but it was I that insisted we keep it a secret. I felt that if we told potential tenants about the ghosts, we wouldn’t get anyone to rent the apartment. I also felt that if they didn’t antagonize the ghosts—as I did—the activity would be minimal and maybe even ignored” (Becker 2011, 154).

If the place was indeed haunted—or at least if Ed Becker believed it was—this was an astonishingly unethical and irresponsible decision. Unfortunately, the ghosts persisted in bothering those tenants as well (so much for the activity being “minimal”), prompting Ed to finally sell the house.

Ed Becker’s Evidence for Ghosts

On page 125 of True Haunting, Ed Becker discusses how, years after the televised exorcism, he was finally able to view the news segment. He writes, in part, “in one camera shot that was supposed to be of the empty dining room, was an image captured. In the doorway, a small white object is seen moving where no one is present. Since we were all behind the camera when this shot was filmed, the movement is unexplainable. Our ghost actually made a short, undiscovered appearance on this film” (Becker 2011). He emphasizes this with a screen capture posted to his Facebook page with the caption “There is [sic] the doorway is a ghost” (Becker 2015).

While filming the séance, Becker claims a ghost made a slight (and quick) appearance in this bedroom doorway. The arrows point to parts of the alleged ghost.

First, we’d like to point out the obvious contradiction: Ed stated the white object is “unexplainable,” then immediately explains it is a ghost. This is not the conclusion of a critical examination but arguably that of a die-hard believer who latches onto anything that may help sell a book. The segment in question only lasts about nine seconds and is presented in low resolution, 1971 VHS-like quality video. The footage is also overexposed, creating many washed-out bright areas. The anomaly in question appears inside a small bedroom off the dining room, which puts it in the background of the TV shot. The door to this small room is open, and the angle of the TV camera allows the viewer to see inside, although it is mostly dark (due to film quality). The room itself is described as one of “three tiny bedrooms” (Becker 2011, 5).

A view from inside the small bedroom where the alleged ghost was recorded. Note the right side of the window, which had curtains at the time of filming, would have just been on the edge of the camera view.

Based on the photograph of the same bedroom in the first-floor apartment,2 the bedroom we’re interested in appears to be about seven feet wide from the doorway to the opposite wall.3 On the opposite wall is a window, which likely had blinds and curtains (as seen in other images). After watching the footage multiple times, we hypothesize the anomaly is the end of a window curtain being blown by breeze from an open window. The interior of the room is slightly illuminated when the anomaly sways (because it sways like a curtain in the breeze) and allows a little more light to pass through. This, of course, is our best guess, because we weren’t there, and the quality of footage is very low.

During the NBC segment, Simpson provides a crucial detail when she explains, “We the spectators felt a strong gust of wind from an open window that [moved] the curtains and rattled the Venetian blinds.” Ed has claimed in multiple interviews that Simpson got this detail wrong, that there were no open windows at all. Considering the amount of inaccurate information in Ed’s book, we’ll give more credence to the journalistic reporting of Carole Simpson.


Some Problems with the Story

The NBC News segment isn’t the only problem with the story of True Haunting. During our investigation, we uncovered some facts that contradict Ed Becker’s story.4 We found that the house was sold to Ed Becker in 1970, and at that time was owned by five heirs, consistent with his account. The heirs were Erna, described on the deed as “a spinster” and the most likely candidate for the character of “Myra”; her brother William; William’s wife, Mary; Robert; and Le Roy. Ed claims that “the ‘Verdere’ family built the house and that they were the only ones to ever live there,” but this is not true. The 1920 census indicates that there were two families living in the house at that time—neither of which was the Verderes.

Genealogy and census records also cast serious doubt on the tragic history of the “Verdere” family. As reported in the book, there were three sons and one daughter—William, Frederick, Joseph, and Erna. Frederick (Fred) was the oldest son, and when the mother died in 1966, the property was split among Fred, Erna, and William. Fred died November 13, 1969, which could possibly correspond with the character “Ben” in the story and how his death prompted the estate sale—albeit two years later. True Haunting indicates that the mom had a son who “died young, in his twenties” (Becker 2011, 100). This is false. Joseph died in 1961 at the age of forty-seven. Based on available records, it doesn’t appear as though anyone—the mother, Henry, or Ben—ever died in the house, which, if true, would undermine the premise that any ghosts are there.

Some More Problems with the Story

In True Haunting, Ed claimed that when he approached the family’s parish priest for an exorcism and was turned away, the priest apologized, saying, “‘I’m sorry, but I must excuse myself from this conversation. I had hoped that you wouldn’t feel this way … good day.’ He turned and left the room quickly” (Becker 2011, 89). But in an interview done for The Big Séance Podcast with Patrick Keller, Ed said “He ordered me out of the rectory and off the grounds” (Keller 2016). A slightly more dramatic retelling, isn’t it?

With respect to the sale of the house, Ed claims that the copy of the sale deed included on the very last page of True Haunting shows the “sale of the house for $10. We truly did ‘give’ it away” (Becker 2011, 176). This, too, is false. The actual document shown in the book is Warranty Deed paperwork, the transfer tax which was provisionally given as $10, but which was actually $18. Because most states calculate the transfer tax per every thousand dollars of property value, if the rate was $10 per thousand, then we can conclude the consideration amount, which according to real estate agent Jay Starr is “probably what it was sold for, what the value of the property was” (Starr 2022). That would’ve been $18,000. So much for “giving the building away.”

Of course, we should mention that the bestselling novel The Exorcist happened to be released the same year as the Beckers’ televised exorcism. It’s interesting to note that, in both the book and the film version of The Exorcist, playing with a Ouija board is what invites the supernatural activity—the same as in True Haunting. Ed Becker admits to having owned a copy of The Exorcist but claims he didn’t read it until years later. This raises the question: Why mention The Exorcist at all if the book ultimately had nothing to do with the ghosts or the exorcism in True Haunting? Are we expected to believe the similarity between both stories is mere coincidence?

The entire premise of True Haunting revolves around the deaths of the Verdere family. The book very explicitly attributes the paranormal activity to “Ben” and “Henry” Verdere. However, years later, Ed Becker no longer seems so sure of the details of his own story, saying on the season two finale of the SyFy series Paranormal Witness (SyFy Channel 2012), “I started to attribute—whether I was correct or not—but I started to attribute all my activity to Ben Verdere” (Becker 2011) as well as later telling Patrick Keller on The Big Séance Podcast: “You’re talking to the most dominant, strong energy on that side of the fence, in that dimension. And they will lie, so, much. Like I addressed ‘Ben,’ I don’t know if it was ‘Ben’ or not that was creating the activity. Whatever I was toying with was something I couldn’t see” (Keller 2016).

Except that Ed claimed he and others could see what they were “toying with”: he claimed his first-floor tenant saw someone “slender, brown hair, 5’9” to 5’11” [with] an ugly or distorted face” (Becker 2011, 100), and he claimed he saw “an old lady sitting outside on my front stairs. She was dressed in a heavy coat, and appeared frail” (Becker 2011, 65).

Finally, because the ghosts continued to bother Ed Becker’s tenants, one might expect that reports of their paranormal activity would persist to the present day. However, we contacted the current owner of the house, who very bluntly stated that he had owned the property for many years and nothing even remotely similar to what was described in the book has happened. What he did reveal was that he’s been bothered by the living—people with interest in the sensational story who figured out the real location.


A Not-So-True Haunting

Ed Becker’s story as told in his book True Haunting has inconsistencies and contradictions. Because it was a self-published work, no publisher has to stand behind the claims Ed makes, and it is unlikely that there was any editorial oversight or that fact-checking was done. The evidence that has been presented in support of the story is poor quality and hardly convincing. By dropping so many details of the house’s location (not to mention posting an actual street view), Ed and Marsha have brought undue stress and unwanted attention to the current owner and occupants of the house, all for the sake of selling a book and promoting a movie. Ed tries to say his story is nothing like The Amityville Horror or similar movies and that he is nothing like most paranormal investigators; he is wrong on both counts.


  1. Campbell Street is not the actual location of the house previously owned by Ed Becker. On the Warranty Deed on the last page of the book, the location is given instead as Campbell Avenue.
  2. Ed Becker states on page six of True Haunting, “With the exception of the location of the front entrance door, which entered into the living room, the apartments were very much the same.” With this in mind, using images from the first-floor apartment should be acceptable.
  3. Using the doorframe for reference and a standard interior door height of eighty inches (Taylor et al. 2023), I placed two bars of the size on the image to judge the approximate width of the room.
  4. In the interest of protecting the identities and privacy of the current occupants, we’ve restricted identifying information.


Becker, Edwin. 2011. True Haunting. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.

———. 2015. There is [sic] the doorway is a ghost. Facebook post. Online at

Ehli, Bryanna. 2023. ‘True Haunting’: Release date, true story, plot, and everything we know so far. Collider. Online at

Grey, Orrin. 2022. The story behind True Haunting and the first ever televised exorcism. The Lineup. Online at

SyFy Channel. 2012. The tenants. Paranormal Witness (October 23).

Starr, Jay. 2022. Personal correspondence (December 22).

Keller, Patrick. 2016. The story of a True Haunting with Edwin F. Becker (video). YouTube (August 30). Online at

Taylor, Glenda, Tom Scalisi, and Bob Vila. 2023. Standard door size 101: Important measurements all homeowners should know (November 15). Online at

JD Sword

JD Sword is an investigator, host of the podcast The Devil in the Details, and a member of the Church of Satan.

Kenny Biddle

Kenny Biddle is a science enthusiast who investigates claims of paranormal experiences, equipment, photos, and video. He promotes science, critical thinking, and skepticism through his blog I Am Kenny Biddle. He frequently hosts workshops on how to deconstruct and explain paranormal photography. Email – [email protected]

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