In May of 1982 a series of strange events transpired in three different homes across the city of Rome, Italy. Religious paintings would fall off the walls, objects were being hurled across rooms, and fires would spontaneously ignite whenever the twenty-year-old Carole Compton was near. It wasn’t until a small fire consumed three-year-old Agnese’s cot that the police were called in to investigate. In what was dubbed the “Nanny they called Witch” trial, Carole Compton would be accused of arson and attempted murder. However, the twenty-year-old nanny insisted that she was a victim of the strange phenomena just as much as they were.
Rome 1982. Carole Compton went to work for the Ricci family as a live-in nanny. Carole had recently moved to Rome with her boyfriend who was in the military service. She had only been staying in their home for a few days when strange things began happening around Carole. It started when a religious painting fell from the wall when Carole walked past. Soon after this incident, Carole accompanied the Ricci family to their vacation home in the Italian Alps. While there, a mysterious fire broke out on the second floor of the vacation home, spreading quickly and consuming the entire house.
When the Ricci family returned home, unexplained fires began occurring inside their house. When a fire broke out inside their two-year-old’s bedroom, they became suspicious of Carole and decided to let her go in fear for their safety.
By the summer of 1982, Carole was hired by the Tonti family to help with their small children. The family lived in their grandparent’s house in the small island of Elba. Once Carole had moved in strange things began occurring in the Tonti’s residence. A small fire burned through a mattress and small religious statues were found broken on the floor. Soon after small objects began to break or be hurled around the house, prompting the grandmother to accuse Carole of being a witch.
The tension in the house began to rise as the phenomena increased. When a fire suddenly consumed three-year-old’s Agnese’s cot, the family quickly called the police and accused Carole of arson and attempted murder. The young Scottish nanny had no idea what was happening around her and claimed her innocence.
Carole Compton was incarcerated in a prison at Livorno. The Italian justice system allows the accused to be detained even without charge. So when the news began to spread out about the strange fires, so did the rumors of paranormal activity and witchcraft began.
British newspapers ran the headline “The girl they call a witch” and reported on the strange case of Carole Compton, the British nanny who had been detained in Italy and accused of witchcraft. The controversy helped raise some money for Carole’s defense as well as bring international attention to Italy’s justice system and the obvious ‘witch trial’ they had on their hands. By this time, Carole’s case had garnered so much attention that famous parapsychologists Guy Lyon Playfair (The Enfield Poltergeist) offered to fly to Rome and help Carole fight the charges against her. However Carole wanted to avoid bringing any paranormal explanations to her case. Fearing it would only fuel the rumors of her involvement in the occult. Carole believed that she did not posses any kind of psychic or supernatural powers and that there had to be some rational explanations for the fires.
For Italian police however, the story of Carole Compton was anything but obvious. Throughout interrogations Carole insisted that she had nothing to do with the fires and strange events that seemed to follow her wherever she went. Further complicating things was the fact that no one ever saw Carole break or hurl and object or start a single fire she had been accused of. Several forensic experts testified in front of others about the abnormal nature of the fires but in the end it seemed like the international pressure this brought onto the Italian justice system was enough to get a trial going. On December of 1983, Carole was brought to trial after being detained for sixteen months in prison. The court system and those involved were so afraid of her supernatural claims that they order her to be put inside a steel cage during the hearing of the trial.
Carole Compton was found innocent of attempted murder but guilty of two counts of arson. Carole received a sentence of two and a half years imprisonment, of which was suspended immediately on account of her sixteen months already served.
Soon after being released from prison Carole Compton left Italy and avoided any kind of media attention until 1990 when she published a book regarding her ordeal. Superstition: The True Story of The Nanny They Called A Witch was published and garnered very little interest from the public. In it, Carole makes the case that she might have been a victim of a poltergeist attack.
Carole is now married and resides in West Yorkshire, England.
What really happened to Carole?
Carole Compton’s case is riddled with rumors, mass hysteria, and claims of paranormal activity. For many, this was a clear case of a young woman suffering from Münchausen syndrome by proxy.
In Münchausen syndrome by proxy, an adult caregiver either makes a child appear sick by fabricating symptoms, or actually causes harm to the child, in order to gain the attention of medical providers and others. In order to perpetuate the medical relationship, the caregiver systematically misrepresents symptoms, fabricates signs, manipulates laboratory tests, or even purposely harms the child (e.g. by poisoning, suffocation, infection, physical injury). Studies have shown a mortality rate of between 6% and 10% of MSbP victims, making it perhaps the most lethal form of child abuse. –Wikipedia
But what about the witnesses? Those who accused her of witchcraft and starting the fires deliberately also confessed not seeing Carole near the fires when they started. The same went for the unexplained objects breaking or being tossed about. So then, was Compton’s case a case of an attention-seeking nanny? Or a bonafide poltergeist?
At the start of the strange incidents, Carole had been separated from her lover on account that he had gone off for Military service. Hence the reason why she moved into the homes of the families she babysat for. In addition to being separated from her Italian boyfriend, Carole was a stranger in a new land. Could the stress of living alone in a different country and away from her lover be enough to induce a psychotic break in Carole’s life?
Parapsychologists believe in the human brain’s ability to influence the physical world around it. This is known as Psychokinesis.
Parapsychologists Guy Lyon Playfair, made famous by his research into the Enfield Poltergeist case was genuinely interested in the Compton case. However she did not want to attract anymore unwanted attention to the supernatural aspect of her case, and chose to ignore Playfair’s offer of legal help. We’re left to wonder what really happened to Carole Compton in Rome during that year in 1982.
As was the case with many other famous poltergeist cases (Tina Resch, Doris Bither, Jackie Hernandez, and Esther Cox amongst many) the accused has at one point suffered from extreme psychological trauma. In this case, we don’t know enough about Carole Compton to say with certainty that she suffered from a severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in her earlier life, but her time in Rome did prove to be anything but a walk in a park.