The popular television program Antiques Roadshow – and its forerunner Going for a Song popularised the possibility that there might be all sorts of treasure troves of forgotten jewellery, lost Rembrandts and squirreled-away heirlooms to be found in the dusty attics of the nation.
Phil Davis, a 51-year-old Liverpool accountant, was a regular viewer of the Antiques Roadshow, and when he and his family moved into a four-bedroom semi-detached house in Litherland in 2003, Phil and his daughter Olivia and son Sidney went mooching about in the loft.
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Mr Davis found a bundle of Everton football programmes from the 1960s, his 11-year-old son Sidney found a dartboard and darts, and 15-year-old Olivia found a weird clockwork doll that wore a nightcap, a gown, and slippers. This doll sat on a yellow wooden block with letters on the sides and the words “Wee Willie Winkie – 40 Winks” stamped on the base.
The key was inserted into this block, wound up, and then Wee Willie Winkie closed his eyes and dozed off, slumping sideways as a musical box in the block played Brahms’ Lullaby. Olivia noticed how the chiming jingly music and the dozing doll seemed to make everyone around it yawn, and she herself felt a bit lethargic too.
That evening at 8.30pm, Olivia wound Wee Willie Winkie up and put him on the bedside table of her 5-year-old brother Murray. The child dropped off before Olivia could even start to tell him a bedtime story. Murray usually demanded five bedtime stories from his sister each night and often butted into the narratives to add a few details of his own to the storylines.
Olivia was so glad her brother had nodded off tonight because she was tired herself and she had so much homework to get through. She picked up Wee Willie Winkie once his melody had stopped, and she sneaked back to her room to do the dreaded maths homework.
She made herself some coffee and knuckled down to confront the homework, which concerned Set Theory, and was just dunking a custard cream biscuit in her coffee when the entire house was pierced by the almost ultrasonic screams of Murray.
Olivia thrust the dunked biscuit into her mouth, and then she and the rest of the family rushed to the child’s room and a sobbing Murray said a ‘naughty man in black with a pointy hat like Wee Willie Winkie’ had peeped through his window with an angry face. Mrs Davis assured Murray he’d just had a bad dream, but later that evening at 10pm, something very eerie took place.
Olivia was doing her maths homework when she idly wound up the old doll again. She tried to finish the last pages of her homework but the music from the Wee Willie Winkie doll had a very soothing effect on her and the teen fell fast asleep to Brahms’ Lullaby. Less than a minute later, Olivia woke up again with a start. She went downstairs to make fresh coffee and found her parents fast asleep on the sofa.
There was something quite weird about the postures of her mother and father as they slept on the sofa; Phil Davis had his mouth wide open and was making a noise that was a cross between a snore and a low howl, and Olivia’s mother’s eyelids were flickering and her eyebrows were wriggling about and moving up and down as she snored.
‘Mum, Dad, are you two okay?’ Olivia shook her father by the shoulder, and then she tapped her mother’s forearm, but there was no response. Olivia could not wake her parents, and she wondered if this was down to carbon monoxide poisoning, so she decided she’d open the windows just in case.
As the worried teenager turned to face the window, she saw the thing her little brother Murray must have seen earlier – a tall thin man dressed exactly like the Wee Willie Winkie doll, only his nightcap and gown were jet black, his face was chalk-white – and he brandished a long knife. Olivia screamed and shook her father, but he still refused to wake, and her mother was dead to the world too. Olivia ran upstairs and heard the letterbox open and that creepy man shout: ‘Let me in you stupid bitch!’
The voice of the creepy visitor did not sound real at all, but ‘put on’ as if he was imitating someone.
Olivia tried to wake her brother Sidney, but he lay there inert, even after she emptied a glass of water in his face. Olivia thought it wouldn’t be a good idea to try and wake little Murray – he’d only freak out if he saw that frightening man in black again. She decided she’d have to risk leaving the house to get help, but not before she tried to telephone the police.
Olivia went downstairs to the landline telephone and dialled 999 – but the line was dead – as if it had been cut. The girl ran to her bedroom to get her mobile phone, and saw that creepy man in the black nightgown standing on the ledge outside her window.
He must have climbed up a drainpipe, Olivia reasoned, and now he was trying to open the top horizontal window with the tip of the knife blade. Olivia could not find her mobile phone anywhere, and she scattered the homework text books on the computer desk as she looked for it, but it was not there. It was time to make a break from the house and hopefully get help from this oddball knifeman.
Olivia ran out the room and went to the kitchen, where she found the key to open the door leading into the back garden. She locked the door behind her and ran down the garden as if all the devils in Hell were after her. She climbed the fence and ended up running down Sonning Avenue. She glanced behind her, and there he was, the bizarre-looking knifeman chasing her at a distance of about fifty yards. He seemed very agile and ran at an unnaturally fast speed.
‘Help me!’ screamed Olivia into the night, ‘Murder! Murder!’
The pallid-looking psychopath was gaining on the girl, and her legs began to feel weak with fear. She expected to feel that knife of his plunge into her back any moment, and she was so out of breath with running and crying, she felt unreal; it was like being in some crazy nightmare. She got as far as Gorsey Lane, and here she and the menacing man in the black nightgown and cap were caught in the blazing beams of a hackney cab’s headlamps as it swung onto the road. The taxi screeched to a halt, and Olivia ran to it, yelling: ‘Help! He’s trying to kill me!’
The cab began to reverse away from the girl, and she screamed for it to come back.
Unnatural-sounding high-pitched laughter came from behind the teenager, and she turned and looked at the grotesque pale face of the pursuer as he lifted the knife above his head. His eyes were just like black spots and he had a wide grinning mouth of yellowed teeth.
The hackney cab halted, and the driver’s door opened. He stepped out of the vehicle with something resembling a thick long stick or bar in his hand, and he shouted to Olivia: ‘You acting the goat or is he really after you?’
‘He’s really after me!’ shrieked Olivia and she ran to the cabby and he gallantly got between her and the outlandish chaser. That thing – whatever it was – screamed and jabbed at the taxi driver with the knife, and the cabby swung an iron bar at him.
It caught the side of the knifeman’s head and sent him flying sideways, where he fell onto his knees and let out a groan. Before he could get up again, the cabby had bundled Olivia into the back of the taxi and the vehicle reversed at quite some speed down Gorsey Lane.
Olivia begged the cabby to go to her home to see if her parents and brothers were alright, and the taxi driver kept asking her who the ‘crackpot’ dressed as Scrooge was. She told him she had never seen him before and she knew the cabby wouldn’t believe the story about the old Wee Willie Winkie music box. She started to cry as she asked: ‘Please can you go to my home and see if my Mum and Dad and brothers are okay? He might have attacked them.’
The taxi driver asked the distressed teen what her address was and drove to her house. When Olivia arrived home she looked through the lounge window and saw her parents waking up on the sofa. She tapped on the window, and when her father came out, she told him what had happened, and the hackney cab driver vouched for the existence of the man in the black nightgown and cap with the knife.
‘You’d better come in,’ Mr Davis told the taxi driver.
The cabby swore as he looked towards the end of the avenue, and then he exclaimed: ‘He’s back!’ The cabby then barged past Mr Davis into the house. Olivia screamed and followed him, and Mr Davis now saw with his own eyes that the weirdly-attired man with the knife was real. He stepped into his house and bolted the door.
He told Olivia to call the police but she told her father that the line was dead. Mr Davis picked up the telephone and learned that this was true. Mrs Davis grabbed her mobile phone from the little occasional table and started to call the police. By then, everyone heard the loud thuds as the eccentric maniac struck the door with his knife. Murray appeared at the top of the stairs in tears, and Olivia rushed up to her little brother and tried to calm him down.
The cabby went into the kitchen and rummaged about in the cutlery drawer for the biggest knife he could find as Mrs Davis described the surreal attacker to the police operator.
Mr Davis went near the front door and shouted: ‘We’ve called the police! You’ve had it now!’
The letterbox opened and a knife blade was thrust through the rectangular hole. Mr Davis hopped back in fear, and Murray screamed. Sidney came down the stairs with a cricket bat and his father told him to go back to his room.
‘I’ve just told you the address!’ Mrs Davis shouted to the operator on the mobile phone. Then there was a pause and she said: ‘No! I am not going to see what he looks like! I’ve told you what he looks like!’
‘Give me that!’ Mr Davis took the mobile phone from his wife and told the despatch operator: Look, if you don’t get someone round here in the next few minutes, this maniac will murder us all!’
Olivia and Murray burst into tears, and Mr Davis tried to back-pedal.
‘Or we’ll murder him! Yes, thank you, now please see they get here as soon as possible!’
‘I don’t think he’s out there now,’ the cabby said, standing to the side of the window, lifting one of the blinds slightly.
The door in the kitchen leading to the back garden began to shake, and then loud thuds came from it. Mr Davis and the taxi driver ran into the kitchen and saw the grotesque contorted face, as white as flour, and the equally white waxlike hand gripping the knife as the weirdo stabbed at the pane of glass. The glass split.
‘I’ve got an iron bar in the cab,’ said the taxi driver, ‘I’ll smash his head in!’ And he went back into the lounge, where he tried to open the door, unaware for a moment that it was bolted.
‘Don’t!’ cried Mrs Davis, ‘Don’t go out there! He’ll get in!’
‘He’s in the back garden!’ the hackney cab driver unbolted the door and rushed to his vehicle. He reached under the seat and seized the iron bar he carried to protect himself from drunken, drugged and aggressive passengers when he worked nights.
Mr Davis rushed in from the kitchen. ‘He’s gone back round to the front! Close the bloody door!’ he shouted, but Mrs Davis told him the cabby was outside getting the iron bar.
The figure in the black flowing nightgown and quaint old black nightcap came darting out of the shadows and lifted the knife, ready to stab the taxi driver, but the cabby saw him, crouched, and thrust the bar at the attacker’s face. The end of that bar was seen to go into the attacker’s left eye, and the knifeman let out a squealing sound.
The cabby then ran up the path to the house and once he was inside, Mr Davis slammed the door shut and bolted it. The hackney driver examined the end of the bar. There was a greenish-gray gelatinous material on it from the ramming of the freak’s eyesocket.
The silhouette of the bizarre assailant jumped to his feet, and ran at an incredible speed up the avenue, and seconds later, the blue flashes of two police cars lit up the houses facing. In seconds there were policemen in the garden, and Mr Davis opened the door and shouted: ‘He ran up there!’
Three policemen ran in that direction and a sergeant continued up the path to talk to Mr Davis.
Olivia did not mention the clockwork Wee Willie Winkie Doll, and her parents and brother Sidney kept silent about it too. The police were of the opinion that it had perhaps been some prank that had got out of hand, and despite a search that went on for quite some time, no man in a black old-fashioned nightgown was found. The taxi driver had to hide the iron bar because he knew he’d be charged with being in possession of an offensive weapon.
Mrs Davis said she believed the uncanny knife-wielding attacker had been some supernatural person – a ghost – that was somehow connected to that clockwork doll which sat on the musical box. She took that doll out and stuffed it in the wheelie bin, and she put an old family Bible on the shelf above the electricity meter cupboard by the door for protection.
The whole incident really shook up Mr Davis, and he had never been one to believe in ghosts. On the following evening at 10.30pm, Olivia was told by her mother to put out a black plastic bag of rubbish. The girl walked down the path towards the wheelie bin, and saw that the lid was open. She heard rustling come from that bin, and wondered if someone might be emptying their refuse in the family’s bin, but then the lid of the wheelie bin came down – and she saw him.
He stood there in silence, his black nightgown swaying in the evening breeze, and the bobble of his pointed cap swinging slightly at his ear. He had one eye now – the other had been put in by the taxi driver. Olivia could not move because she was so scared.
The figure had that clockwork doll in his hand. He’d taken it from the wheelie bin. He turned and walked away, and as his slippers padded into the night, Olivia dropped the black plastic bag and turned. She hurried into the house, bolted the door, then stood between her parents and the television and gasped. ‘I just saw him.’
A look of horrified realisation formed on her father’s face. ‘What?’
The teen pointed to the window. ‘Out there,’ she said, her voice a mere whisper from her dried-up throat.
‘Oh! You mean…’ Mrs Davis threw one hand to her bosom and the other covered her mouth.
‘You sure?’ Mr Davis jumped up off the sofa and went to the window. He could see no one.
After that night, the “Wee Willie Winkie in Black” as the family afterwards referred to the entity, was never seen again. The supernatural history of the toy that the terrifying being salvaged from the bin will probably never be known.
Author: Tom Slemen, who is a Liverpool writer, known foremostly as the author of the best-selling Haunted Liverpool series of books which document paranormal incidents and unsolved or unusual crimes. Check his Books on Amazon here.