Sunday, February 7, 2016

Stambovsky v. Ackley: Notoriety Backfires, Part ll

Ackley home.
In 1989, Jeffrey Stambovsky, a Manhattan transplant bought Helen Ackley’s house for $650,000.

Stambovsky not aware of the home’s reputation for being haunted first heard the news from a neighbor, after he and his wife moved in. He professed he did not believe in ghosts.

But he was disturbed that Helen and the realtor had not mentioned this information. He felt the notoriety of a haunting could potentially affect the home’s value.

Later, when his pregnant wife heard the news, Jeffrey decided for her comfort they should not have to stay in a place that made her nervous. Nor should they be expected to put their life savings into the home.

He filed a lawsuit against Helen and Ellis Realty for “fraudulent misrepresentation.” He lost his first suit in a lower court, it sided with Helen Ackley citing caveat emptor or buyers beware.

Stambovsky then appealed his case to the appellate division of the New York Supreme Court in 1991 in front of a panel of 5 judges. In a narrow 3 to 2 decision Jeffrey won.

Whimsically, Justice Israel Rubin, who wrote the decision declared, “That Helen Ackley had promised the Stambovsky’s that the property would be vacant when they took possession, which was obviously not true.”

The court based their decision on the fact that buyers beware did not apply in this case for how does one inspect a house for ghosts. They also cited the fact that Helen had deliberately publicized her house as being haunted so she owed the buyer no less.

Helen Ackley at age 77 before her death.
They did not find fraud on Helen’s part but considering the history of her published comments she could not deny the property was haunted—so as a matter of law, the house was haunted.

Excerpt of dissent.
Stambovshy was allowed out of his contract and his down payment of $32,000 was returned.

The next buyer of this LaVeta Place home on the Hudson River sold it for $900,000, a fair market value. None of the 3 subsequent owners of the home experienced paranormal activity.

The Stambovsky v. Ackley decision is considered historic because of its impact on New York and several other states' laws when it comes to property that is stigmatized.

It varies from state to state but most, including New York now have statutes on their books that the seller does not have to disclose ghostly activity to prospective buyers.

The one failsafe to this is if the prospective buyer asks, then the seller does have to tell the truth about a possible haunting.

In Part l of Stambovsky v. Ackley: Notoriety Backfires, the hauntings the Ackley family experienced over many years are described.

Stambovsky v. Ackley: Notoriety Backfires, Part l

Stambovsky v. Ackley is an historic court case where a house in Nyack, New York was declared legally haunted.

It appears when Helen and George Ackley with their 7 children moved into their stately Victorian home--several entities watched them.

Ackley's home.
The Ackley’s felt this 2-story, 5,000 square foot, 18-room home, with a full attic and basement, would be ideal for raising their family.

They had only one initial concern. The house had been abandoned for 7 years so there was a lot of work to be done.

The family soon discovered their new home was already occupied. As Helen looked out one bay window at the Hudson River a plumber who had been working in the basement mentioned that before they moved in he had heard footsteps on the floor above him.

He said they would stop mid-swing, defying gravity.

Then a neighbor mentioned that one set of French doors would burst open without cause. George was told that people had heard disembodied “voices” in the house.

One day as Helen painted the living room she spotted a ghost watching her. It looked on with approval so Helen took this to mean it liked the color she had chosen.

The family discovered the house was occupied by a poltergeist as well. Items were moved or would disappear.

Helen’s oldest daughter, Cynthia frequently felt her bed shake on school days. This would occur just before her alarm was set to ring. Over spring break she informed the ghost that she didn’t have to get up early the next morning. The bed didn’t shake.

As the years passed, Helen and other family members saw three distinct ghosts. One was a young woman who wore a red cloak. She was seen descending the stairs.

An elderly man was often seen levitating four feet off the floor. He was spotted most often in the home’s living room. Helen stated this man with his “cheerful” continence and “apple cheeks” reminded her of Santa.

The third ghost was a sailor that wore a powdered wig. Helen came to the conclusion that all three of these ghosts were from the Revolutionary War period.

The Ackley’s home gained notoriety when Helen wrote an article in 1977 about this activity for Reader’s Digest entitled, My Haunted House on the Hudson.

This article is no longer available online but one quote from it states--

“The ghosts have been, gracious, thoughtful—only occasionally frightening—and thoroughly entertaining. Our ghosts have continued to delight us . . .”

In 1982, local newspapers, Nyack News and Views also published articles Helen wrote about the ghosts.

As the family grew up, the house turned into a compound, the older children’s spouses moved in.

Various family members received gifts from the ghosts that would appear and then disappear.

Helen was given a set of small silver sugar tongs that then disappeared. The grandchildren all received baby rings and a daughter-in-law was given coins.

Cynthia’s husband, Mark Kavanagh who later wrote an article, The Ghost of Nyack , was alone in the house one Christmas. As he put various toys together, he heard a muffled conversation in the dining room.    

When he went to investigate the voices stopped but once he left the room they continued. After, he felt he was being watched.

One night as he lay on his side he heard his bedroom door open. He heard the floorboards creak as someone approached the bed. He felt a weight as someone sat down by his feet. Then something pressed against his body.

When he turned he saw, “a womanly figure in a soft dress in the moonlight.” Within minutes this figure got up and walked out.


After George died, Helen decided to sale the house. This decision would involve her in a case that landed in front of New York’s Supreme Court.

In Part ll of Stambovsky v. Ackley: Notoriety Backfires, this case is described.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Waved Down

Truck drivers out on dark roads frequently report seeing unusual sights. The following 1st person account is one of my favorite guardian spirit stories.

It was a rainy night and I was on a tight schedule as I impatiently made my way through a slow construction zone just west of Detroit, Michigan.



Around 2:00 a.m. I spotted an elderly lady standing by a broken down old car. The rain had saturated her thin coat. I ignored the fact she was desperately waving me down.

Without stopping, I passed where she stood, I justified my action by telling myself there where plenty of other people who had the time to help. But as I wound my way around to the next exit a feeling of regret I still can’t explain gripped me.

I felt compelled to turn off. And to my surprise I found myself steering my rig back around headed once more for the stranded car.

When I pulled up I saw two small heads pop up in the back seat. Then a young man approached my rig. I offered to take him and his family to a gas station so they could get help.

I watched as he gathered up his children and young wife. But where was the elderly lady? As they piled through my passenger door I asked if that was all of them.


They looked at me puzzled. I then asked about the older lady. They didn’t appear to know what I was talking about so I tried once more. Didn’t you see the overweight lady with the snow-white frizzy hair standing out in the rain.

They replied no. The wife asked if I had noticed anything else about her. I told her the lady was tall but stooped over. She then began to cry. It was my turn to be puzzled.

The wife wiped her nose and told me that I had just described her grandmother who had died recently.

She turned to her husband still sniffling. She stated, "I have always heard relatives sometimes return as guardians in times of trouble but I didn’t believe it until now."

This encounter still gives me chills even though it has been over 10 years. For some unknown reason that night I felt compelled to go back.

I guess the wife was right. I encountered a force that was not of this world.

A Cruel End

I’ve encountered many stories about ghost children over the years, each one sadder than the last.

Child abuse is often the reason for this type of haunting. These stories sometimes involve manifestations that include heart wrenching cries and pleas. When heard these calls are used to gain the attention of the living.


One story that occurred in the late 1940s includes all the elements above.

In September of 1948, Thelma Cockrell, recently widowed, moved into a smaller house near her daughter in the town of Princeton, Kentucky.

This home had been abandoned for years. Mrs. Cockrell’s discovered the last owner had left town quickly after his wife died. No one at the time thought to ask him what
happened to his stepdaughter.

Since the house was in such poor shape the widow had to have the entire place renovated before she moved in. She was content in her new home for three months but this quickly changed.

One cold December night at 11:00 p.m. as Mrs. Cockrell dozed in her favorite rocker she was suddenly awakened by a distressed child’s voice.

She heard the weak voice calling, Help me, help me.”

She turned toward the fire where the voice appeared to be coming from only to see the flames shoot up in an unusual manner. She was shocked to see an emaciated face floating above the flames.

As she sat frozen to her seat this face disappeared but the pleas for help continued. Finally, the flames settled down and the disturbing voice faded.

Terrified, the widow called her daughter. This woman immediately came and stayed with her mother the rest of the night. In the morning the two women called the police.

However, the officers after a thorough search of the fireplace and chimney assured the widow nothing was there.

Mrs. Cockrell afraid to be alone convinced her daughter to stay the next night. Both women this time heard the cries and pleas and saw the agonized face in the fire. Again the flames shot up.

The daughter then called in several female friends and told them what she and her mother had seen. These women agreed to stay the next few nights. They were curious to see the strange events for themselves.

The group were not disappointed. Each night at 11:00 p.m. for the next three days the fire became agitated, the pitiful cries were heard and the face was seen.

At the end of the week, Mrs. Cockrell hired several men to dig behind the fireplace. When the dirt was removed a small skeleton was found behind the hearthstone.

The bones were piled in a manner which left little doubt the body had been shoved in the space as opposed to being buried there.

The widow arranged for the child to have a decent burial. After this the pleas for help and the face were never seen again.

Sometime later, when the former owner was dying he made a deathbed confession. He stated he had starved his stepdaughter after his wife had died--on the fifth day no longer patient he had finished the job himself.

Five days was the exact number of days Mrs. Cockrell and the other women had seen the girl's ghost. It was also discovered that the dates of the five nights she had appeared matched the dates of when she had been starved.


More Kentucky Ghost Stories by Michael Paul Henson