Arthur Conan Doyle and the cursed vault of the Chase family
Arthur Conan Doyle, the “dad” of Sherlock Holmes, also wrote many fantastic stories and was a great lover of spiritualism, analyzing some famous cases.
Doyle, other than the adventures of Sherlock Holmes mystery tales such as The Mummy and The Ring of Thoth, rather than The Lost World, was also an authentic lover of spiritualism.
We owe him, for example, a History of Spiritualism, but also articles dedicated to the mysteries and stories of the occult that caused a sensation during his time, such as the one regarding the cursed vault of the Chase family, at Barbados.
Doyle, a fan of spiritualism
Messrs Chases, wealthy planters, and slave owners, from Barbados, in 1808 had purchased a vault in the cemetery of the Anglican Christ Church Parish Church, in Oistins, previously belonged to the Walrond family.
Built by Elliott Walrond, who buried his wife there, in 1724, the crypt was reopened in the early 19th century, but the coffin and body were gone. In 1807 another member of the Walrond family, Thomasina Goddard, descended into the tomb, buried in a modest wooden coffin.
When the vault passed to the Chases the following year, they buried the little girl Mary Ann Chase there, followed in 1812 by her sister Dorcas Chase (suicide, according to some because of the cruelty of the father). Finally in 1812 to go down to the grave was Thomas Chase, father of the two girls, who also committed suicide.
According to the Scottish explorer James Edward Alexander, who first spoke of the story in 1833, when the vault was reopened in 1812 the coffins of the two girls were found “in a confused state”, that is, overturned face down, while Thomasina Goddard's coffin was always in place.
The cursed vault of Barbados
They were not found signs of forced entry as well as we have not found in 1816 when the vault was reopened to lay the coffin of another relative, the little Samuel Ames.
This time the coffins of the two girls were found uncovered, while that of the heavier father was found leaning vertically against a wall of the crypt.
A similar scene was repeated a few months later when Samuel Brewster Amos was buried: the coffins of father and daughters were leaning vertically against a wall. And again: when in 1819 the vault was reopened for another burial, the coffins were found again “in disorder”.
For the occasion, the governor of Barbados, Lord Combermere, personally inspected the vault by putting the coffins back under his direct surveillance, but it was of no use.
restless spirits in the vault?
When a year later, following some strange noises heard coming from inside the vault, it was reopened (after first checking that the seals were intact) and the coffins were found again in disarray, always save that of Thomasina Goddard.
Then Lord Combermere ordered the coffins of the Chase family to be collected in the church cemetery, while the “cursed vault” remained open and abandoned ever since, with no more guests.
What could it have been? Over the years it has been thought of as earthquakes or floods, but the hypotheses were discarded. However, it should be noted that it is not certain that the story, although repeatedly told from 1833 to today, each time with the addition of some colorful “detail”, has a real historical foundation.
The investigator of the paranormal Joe Nickell indeed, he believes that the whole story has been modeled from the beginning around the masonic allegory of a “secret vault” which, according to some Masonic texts, was present “in the ancient mysteries, symbolic of death, where there is only the Divine Truth”.
Just a Masonic story?
A proof of Nickell's theory would be that two of the men named in the history of the Chase crypt were actually “Ancient Free and Accepted Masons”, i.e. high-ranking masons. The story itself would be full of symbols and phrases that (only) the Masons could easily recognize.
Arthur Conan Doyle, who in an article in 1919 claimed that it was a case of supernatural forces provoked by the suicide of Thomas and Dorcas Chase, was not of the same opinion.: "the space [of the vault during burial, ed] must have been crowded with overheated Negroes, and when the slab was at once hermetically sealed, these effluvia were enclosed... furnishing a possible source of that material power which is needful for material effect."
Doyle suggested, in essence, that the resentment of the Chase slaves towards their exploiters could have generated a negative energy such as to produce the phenomena described. Unlike Nickell, however, Doyle was not skeptical when it came to paranormal, indeed, and he could not investigate as scrupulously and rationally as his celebrated detective would.
His passion for spiritualism and the occult was so well known that Harry Chase, expert on psychic phenomena [namesake but not a relative of the owners of the crypt, ed], wrote: “Poor, dear, lovable, credulous Doyle! He was a giant in stature with the heart of a child."