This odd story concerns Roger Hampton, a 40-year-old Kirkby market stall trader.
Roger visited his Aunt Sylvia at her home in Maghull on her birthday on the Wednesday evening of 1 June 1977 with his wife Jane, and after the couple gave their presents to Sylvia, Jane asked her to read her tealeaves, as Sylvia was renowned for her gift of reading the leaves.
Sylvia told Jane that she would have two babies in the winter of the following year, as she could see them clearly in the leaves, and she even pointed them out to Jane.
‘Oh my God, yes,’ Jane was amazed at the two tiny figures with big heads, and she called Roger over and pointed them out to him. ‘See, love? They look like the symbol of the Gemini twins in the horoscopes don’t they?’
‘Pie in the sky, you lot,’ Roger replied with a twinkle of amusement in his eyes. ‘Women are always dabbling in black magic and hocus pocus.’
‘This is not pie in the sky, Roger,’ his annoyed aunt told her nephew.
‘Read Roger’s leaves, Sylvia,’ Jane suggested, ‘see what’s in store for him.’
‘Oh behave yourselves,’ Roger grimaced and looked at his watch. ‘We’d better be going.’
‘No, hang on Roger, Sylvia will convert you – unless you’re scared, like.’ Jane seized his wrist and covered the watch with the sleeve of his pullover.
Sylvia was already making her way to the kettle.
‘We’ve got to get back soon!’ Roger complained to his whimsical wife in a forced whisper of a voice.
‘She could make a living out of this you know love, she’s very accurate,’ Jane whispered back.
‘Oh don’t encourage her, please,’ Roger screwed his face up again and looked at the clock on the mantelpiece.
A new cup of tea was brewed with the two teaspoonfuls of leaves in the china cup, and after Roger took a few sips, Sylvia emptied the contents into the sink and brought the cup back in.
She sat with her reading glasses on, studying the cup and rotating it as Jane tried to see any patterns in the leaves. Roger sat facing in a big comfy tartan-patterned armchair, puffing and blowing with swelling impatience.
‘I don’t like the look of this,’ Sylvia murmured, and that ominous remark instantly grabbed Roger’s attention. The last time Aunt Sylvia had said that to the person who was having the leaves read, the person had died; she had foreseen a blaze on that occasion, and within a week the invitee had been burnt to a crisp in a terrible house fire.
‘You don’t like the look of what?’ Roger stood up and came round the coffee table. He stooped to look at the cup but Sylvia pushed his curious face away.
‘I don’t like the look of that, either,’ she suddenly added.
‘I can’t breathe,’ Jane clutched her throat. This always happened when she had a mini anxiety attack.
‘You okay love?’ Roger asked. He had palpitations.
‘Get her some water, she’ll be okay,’ Sylvia told her nephew without averting her gaze at the cup.
‘I said I didn’t want my tealeaves read,’ Roger complained as he hurried to the kitchen, ‘but no, you two witches had to start dabbling!’
‘Love! I’m okay now, I’m okay!’ Jane shouted.
Roger brought her a glass of water anyway, and Jane saw his trembling hand as he handed her the glass.
‘Is it bad news?’ Jane asked Sylvia.
There was a sharp intake of breath from Sylvia, and then she looked up at Roger’s face, which looked as if it had been drained of blood. ‘Be careful on the road on the way back,’ Sylvia was saying when Roger started coughing. He snatched the glass back off Jane and drank all the water.
‘Why, what have you seen? A car crash?’ Roger asked, and his left eyebrow began to flicker.
Sylvia looked back into the cup and replied: ‘I can see what looks like either a black car or a Hackney cab, and I can see the letters HLC and 3 numbers before it – and I think two of them are sixes. Keep your eyes peeled for that vehicle, as he looks like he’s hit your car.’
‘Never again are you to read my tealeaves auntie,’ Roger said through gritted teeth, ‘I don’t approve of this mumbo jumbo, no good can come of it.’
‘You said there was something else you didn’t like, Sylvia,’ Jane reminded her, and Roger threw his head back and gave a loud hollow laugh.
‘Yes,’ Sylvia replied, slamming the cup down in a haughty manner on the coffee table, ‘but I’m sorry I opened my mouth now, the way he’s over-reacting.’
‘Over-reacting?’ Roger pointed at his own chest, and tried to grin, ‘I’ve just been told that I might be involved in a fatal car crash – after you told me and Jane we are going to be the parents of twins! What did you want me to do? Laugh?’
‘Calm down Roger,’ Jane playfully slapped her husband’s leg. ‘It’s better for you to know these things in advance instead of them just happening to you. That’s why a lot of witches live long – they avoid accidents by looking into the future.’
‘I’m no witch!’ Sylvia swiped off her glasses.
Jane back-pedalled. ‘No, I know you’re not Syl; I was just explaining to Roger how it pays to be able to see the future.’
‘Well be careful how you choose your words Jane,’ Sylvia told her, putting her specs back on, ‘there are lots of judgemental Jacks and Joanna’s around here who are still in the dark ages and if they heard you call me a witch they’d put my windows in or worse.’
‘God, talk about nineways to Sunday!’ Roger groaned. ‘Can you tell me what the other thing was that you saw? I mean, if I survive the first thing – what’s the second life-threatening thing?’
Sylvia took a real close look at the cup so her nose touched the rim at one point. ‘Well, it’s not life-threatening as far as I can see, but she’s very strange – ‘
‘She? So it’s a woman?’ Jane was very curious at the mention of a woman, and immediately wondered if it was her new neighbour – a young single blonde who had recently offered Roger a fiver to mow her lawn. Roger was always talking about this woman.
‘An old woman,’ Sylvia destroyed Jane’s conjecture. ‘An old woman who strikes me as, well – sinister – and here’s the weird part: there’s an eye above her, and I just have this impression of it being the Evil Eye. I can see Roger, and she is standing behind him, a bit of a distance away, but she’s looking at him, and I feel it’s a sort of obsession.’
‘Wonder who she is?’ said Jane, and she looked up at Roger.
‘I’m more worried about the crash,’ he said, and once again he went on about the whole thing being Jane’s fault for asking for the tealeaves reading in the first place.
The couple left Aunt Sylvia’s home and headed back towards Kirkby, but Roger, exceedingly mindful of the predicted crash, took a long-winded route back home. ‘Where are we going?’ Jane asked, gazing through the passenger side window of the Jag.
‘We are going on a roundabout route to avoid the main roads,’ Roger replied, constantly checking his mirrors. He took the car down dirt tracks and even took a short cut over the corner of a farmer’s field.
‘That’s Maghull Hospital over there,’ Jane observed, ‘we’ve gone way off the beaten track.’
‘I’ve just told you that,’ Roger replied in an annoyed tone, ‘it will hopefully be safer if we avoid the main roads.’
‘It’ll be getting dark soon,’ said Jane, pessimistically, ‘and she noticed that the full moon had already risen in the clear sky.
‘It’s only nine o’clock,’ Roger retorted, and he asked Jane if she now knew where they were.
‘Haven’t the foggiest,’ she admitted.
‘That’s Simonswood up there – ‘ Roger was saying when there was a flash of light in the road ahead. Jane screamed, and Roger quickly spun the steering wheel left in a reflexive reaction. A hackney cab came flying past the car and skidded to a halt about twenty feet away with its front stuck in a hedge.
Roger swore and was about to get out the car but his wife dragged him back. She had turned in the seat and had seen a man with a bar or a stick leaving the cab. He was coming towards the couple’s car.
‘Drive off – quick!’ Jane’s voice was almost a squeal, and her husband fell back into the seat and restarted the car before tearing off.
‘That cheeky get almost killed us and he’s on the bounce with that bar!’ Roger whined, watching the bellicose figure shrinking in the rear view mirror.
‘Did you see the registration?’ Jane asked.
‘No!’ Roger bawled. ‘It’s not worth reporting; he shouldn’t have been using these dirt tracks and neither should I but – ‘
‘Roger, the registration ended in HLC, and I’m sure the first part had a six in it!’ Jane informed him.
‘So? What about – ‘ and Roger suddenly recalled the registration his Aunt Sylvia had seen in the leaves. ‘Oh, well at least that one’s out the way.’
In August of that year, Roger was returning from Chester, where he had a stall selling bric-a-brac and gifts for visiting tourists. Instead of heading straight for the Queensway Tunnel to get home, he made a detour on a nostalgic whim to the Stork Hotel pub on Birkenhead’s Price Street, where he had lived for a while in his younger days.
He went into the pub, expecting to see a few old friends, but only saw one – Terry, his old neighbour from Brassey Street. Terry had been done for drink-driving a few months back so he insisted on buying Roger a bitter shandy so he could drive his Jag home safely. The two men talked of old times and Roger said, ‘I wonder how old Billy the Brickie is going on? Haven’t seen him in years.’
‘He’s just died,’ said an old woman standing behind the two men. She wore a green headscarf and a black calf-length coat. Her face was very pale and her eyes were deep set. She explained that Billy had been suffering from a long illness and had passed away literally an hour ago.
The two men were shocked and saddened by the news, and Roger asked the old woman if she had known Terry. She just nodded and smiled. She didn’t have a drink, so Roger asked her what she was having.
Terry pulled Roger aside and whispered: ‘They call her Mrs Badnews. Every time you see her she has got some news of someone dying or tragic tidings of some sort.’
The woman refused to have a drink and left the pub.
A few days later, Roger and his wife Jane flew down to Spain for a week, and on the first evening of the holiday as the couple walked into a bar – they were met by that same old woman from the Stork pub. She still had that green headscarf and black coat on. ‘Go abroad and you’ll hear news of home,’ she told Roger with a crooked smile, ‘that’s an old saying.’
‘Oh, hello, fancy meeting you here,’ Roger told the old lady, and as he went to introduce his wife, the elderly woman said: ‘I’ve just been talking to a man named Bob over there who knows you and he said your grandmother Peggy is seriously ill.’
This turned out to be true; Bob was a neighbour of Roger’s Nan and had just arrived in Marbella with the bad news. He had told the old woman not to tell Roger in case it spoiled his holiday. Roger made a long-distance call to his brother and was told his Nan had just passed away. The holiday was ruined.
Roger told Jane how Terry had called the old woman Mrs Badnews, and how he thought she was some weird jinx but his wife said it was all coincidence and superstition – but on seven more occasions over the next twelve months, each time Roger bumped into the old lady, in places ranging from Liverpool to Lancaster, she would tell him bad news to do with family or friends.
Jane eventually realised that this creepy old woman was the person Roger’s Aunt had seen in the tealeaves, and she told her husband. ‘She mentioned the Evil Eye above her head or something didn’t she?’ Roger recalled the uncanny prediction. Jane nodded.
When she and her husband saw the woman in the following week, at a supermarket in Aintree, Jane asked the woman where she was from and what her name was. The old lady never answered her questions; instead, she turned to Jane’s husband and asked: ‘Roger, have you got an uncle in Prescot named Len?’
Roger went cold, and Jane, who really liked his Uncle Len, threw her hands to her face in grim anticipation.
‘Yeah, why?’ Roger asked.
‘The woman who lives next door but one to me is a nurse in Whiston Hospital and she said he was admitted this afternoon saying he had pains in his chest. He died from a heart attack in the hospital bed.’
‘No!’ Jane cried out, and burst into tears, and Roger became both upset and yet he was also angry at the old harbinger of doom.
‘Piss off you unlucky old cow!’ Roger growled at the woman.
‘Don’t you talk to me like that, I’m just the messenger! Be thankful I’m not telling people about you dying,’ was her reply, and she gave the two finger gesture towards the upset couple before turning and walking down the aisle of the supermarket.
Roger and Jane were so fearful of meeting the bringer of bad news again, they both went to St Chad’s Church and got down on their knees. They earnestly prayed for God to keep this Jonah of a woman at bay. They left the church that grey afternoon, and never set eyes on “Mrs Badnews” again.
I’ve made many enquiries about the old woman over the years, and no one seems to know just who she was. Someone said she was a Mrs Costello, but that lady died early in 1977, whereas Mrs Badnews seems to have been active till around 1980 in other parts of Knowsley and Liverpool.
A man named Joe Hayes told me that in 1975, a relative of his was told that her neighbour – a young fire brigade recruit – had tragically died after becoming trapped in a mock-up of a blaze at a derelict house.
The woman who broke the news was dressed in a green headscarf and also wore a long black coat, and she was known for being the first to break bad news to people, sometimes literally within a minute of a tragedy taking place, yet no one knew this woman.
Incidentally, Jane later did have twins – in February 1978, just as Aunt Sylvia predicted.
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.
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