The first thing you need to know is that this is a true story.
It’s a story about voodoo. A story about three deaths that may have been caused by a curse. A story about a mysterious fish doll, black magic and the havoc it wreaked on a SouthCoast family.

And once again, it’s all true.

I first came across this tale when working on my book Haunted Objects: Stories of Ghosts on Your Shelf, which I co-authored with my friend Christopher Balzano. Another longtime friend, John Brightman of New England Paranormal Research, answered my call for stories of haunted or cursed items with a story that might be unbelievable to most. But to someone who understands the dark and mysterious nature of superstition on the SouthCoast, stories of the fantastic are not so uncommon.

John was requested to come help a woman in Westport (we’ll call her Amanda, and we’ll change all the other names, too) with paranormal activity that had been ongoing in her home, which had been where she grew up with her mother, sister and brother. All three had recently passed away, and the home had been plagued with phenomena such as objects moving on their own, and doors that would open and slam shut. Amanda saw a mist come up from the basement doorway, and her young granddaughter said she saw her dead great uncle Roger near the staircase.

The home had previously belonged to Amanda’s mother, Esther, who had lived into her 90’s despite failing health. Also living with her in the home had been Amanda’s brother Roger, who was in his 60’s but was also quite ill himself. He had shouldered the burden of caring for Esther, even though the youngest sister, Vivian, was also living there but refused to help with Esther’s care.

Roger was out of the house one day, and Vivian saw her chance. She told her mother about how her brother wasn’t going to get any better, and that he may try to put her in a nursing home to rot and die. Vivian swore to Esther that if she signed the house and everything else over to just her, she would see that Roger couldn’t remove her from her beloved home and she could die there with dignity. She signed everything over to Vivian, including power of attorney.

Well, Roger was furious when he found out. After all, he was the one sacrificing his time and apparently his own health to care for his mother. And on top of that, Vivian lied; once Esther signed everything over to her, she put her mother in a nursing home anyway, and told Roger he had to get out of what was now her house. Esther died shortly thereafter, with no cause of death ever determined, according to the medical records.

Two months later, Vivian suffered a ruptured spleen and died unexpectedly. Roger gave into his own health problems a few months after that, and within a span of eight months, all three had died. Amanda inherited the house and everything in it; she wanted to sell it and be rid of the reminder of all the family drama that she had to watch from the sidelines.

It was while she was cleaning out the house that she discovered the altar.

There was a small desk in Roger’s room with three or four candles placed across its surface. In the center was a strange box. Before he took ill, Roger was a successful commercial fisherman, and Amanda thought it might have been something he came across in his travels for work.

John Brightman/Contributed Photo

The box is about eight inches long and four inches wide, and almost looks like a jewelry box. Inside was a stuffed toy that appeared to resemble a fish, even though it was old and faded. Tacked to it were three photographs, two of which were of people she instantly recognized: her sister, Vivian, and her mother, Esther. Little stick-pins had been inserted into the doll in various positions, making it resemble a voodoo doll. There was also a photo of a man she did not recognize.

John Brightman/Contributed Photo

Also in the box were extra pins, some dried herb that she thinks might have been sage, and mysterious oils and ointments with no labels. It looked like many of the items were quite old, and perhaps this was something Roger had been practicing for many years.

Although Amanda had no way of knowing, Roger’s work as a commercial fisherman brought him in contact with people of various cultures around the world. Sailing out of New Bedford, he worked alongside many seamen from Portugal and Brazil.

In Brazilian culture, there is a form of black magic known as Macumba. Is it possible that Roger learned this version of Brazilian voodoo from one of his fellow fishermen? Macumba rituals are often used to seek revenge on family members who have done harm, and the rituals often involve utilizing a photograph of the person you want to inflict the dark magic upon; for that reason, many superstitious Brazilians will not allow a photograph of themselves to be given to someone they don’t know.

So it’s no surprise that after she discovered the altar, Amanda’s house was plagued with paranormal activity.

Amanda hired a medium to come in and possibly help any restless spirits move on from the house, and to help remove any bad vibes brought about by her brother practicing voodoo in the house. The medium explained that the pins that were stuck into the fish doll were arranged in a way that would inflict pain on the intended target. Without knowing about Vivian or how she died, she pointed out that one of the pins appeared to be placed in what would represent the spleen.

A shiver went down Amanda’s spine.

The medium also told Amanda that if they took the box with the doll from the altar and buried it in the yard, then the hauntings would stop. It didn’t take, which is why she later brought in John and his paranormal group. They came in and investigated for over nine hours but captured no signs of paranormal activity themselves. They even dug up the box and the doll in the hopes that bringing it back into the house would lead to activity, but nothing happened. John believes it’s because the haunting was only meant for the family.

The mystery also remained as to who the man was in the third photograph stuck to the stuffed fish doll. Speculation is that it could have been a partner in the fishing business that wronged Roger in some way. That might even explain why the doll was in the shape of a fish.

When the box was removed from the property—John took it into his own possession, before eventually turning it over to legendary paranormal researcher and Haunted Collector star John Zaffis—all the strange activity reached an abrupt end. A sense of peace that had been missing from the home for many decades once again filled its rooms, the curse apparently lifted.