When I first heard of the ‘Dear David’ story, it was via the Null Hypothesis blog. I read it over and thought “Rob’s got this, no need for me to get into it”. It was a short time later that the story began showing up in my news feed from dozens of people, with just as many people tagging me or sending the link to me asking “have you seen this?” They were referring to several ghostly images of a boy with a deformed head (I’ll get to them later) that had been added to the story. These ghostly images had been posted after the Null Hypothesis blog.
So, I settled in and read the majority of the story (yes, story) on a website called ‘Storify’. The author had moved all of his Tweets to this website. Interestingly, the main page of Storify states; “Storify 2 gives you the tools to create the best evergreen and live blog stories, uniting traditional storytelling with engaged audiences”. This should be the first clue that this ghostly account is just a story as it is being created…not a real-life account.
It all started with a Tweet by an illustrator named Adam Ellis; “So, my apartment is currently being haunted by the ghost of a dead child and he’s trying to kill me.”(1) As far as stories go, this one pretty much hits the ground running. His apartment is haunted by a ghost trying to kill him. Sounds like a Netflix original series, and one that I would probably watch. The problem here is that Adam is writing out this story as if it is really happening. I don’t know if he really believes a ghost is trying to kill him or he’s having fun writing a story that thousands of people are following. Whichever it is, my concern is that many others are taking his claims at face-value, believing what Adam is writing without question. So I’m going to take a look at just a few things, because there are way too many issues to cover.
The ghost, which Adams names “Dear David,” is described as a small boy with a deformed head, the right side of his head being caved-in. We find out ghost-David’s origin story – “He started appearing in dreams, but I think he’s crossed over into the real world now.”(2) This reminded me strongly of all the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, which follow the same routine; Freddy appears in the dreams of the main characters and is eventually pulled out into reality. The origin story continues, “the first time I saw him, I was experiencing sleep paralysis and saw a child sitting in the green rocking chair at the foot of my bed.(3) I couldn’t move because I was paralyzed. (I have sleep paralysis fairly often. It sucks.)”(4) “Right before he reached my bed, I woke up screaming.”(5)
Sleep paralysis is a condition that causes you to be unable to move your body either when falling asleep or waking up from sleep. According to the website SleepEducation.org, “It can be very scary when you are unable to move. You may feel anxious and afraid. Some people also hallucinate during an episode. They may see, hear or feel things that are not there. They may even think that another person is in the room with them.” (6) Adam clearly states he is experiencing this condition, so it’s plausible he is also hallucinating and this is what has been inspiring the story.
The story continues, “I had another dream a few nights later, where I was in a library and a girl came up to me and said, ‘You’ve seen Dear David, haven’t you?’(7). I was like, ‘Who?’ And she said, ‘Dear David. You saw him.’(8). She continued, ‘He’s dead. He only appears at midnight, and you can ask him two questions if you said ‘Dear David’ first.’(9) Then she added, ‘But never try to ask him a third question, or he’ll kill you.’ (10) This sounds like many urban legends I’ve heard growing up – follow the rules or bad things will happen. And of course, Adam breaks the rules. This is pushing the plot of the story!
“For the past 4 nights, my cats gather at the front door at exactly midnight & just stare at it, almost like something is on the other side.(11) Update: for the sixth night in a row, my cat has walked over to the door promptly at midnight and stared at it.”(12) The clock in the photo Adam presents reads 12:03. The first issue is that the ‘update’ photo is time-stamped 9:09 PM. The post makes it seem like the cats just walked over to the door and Adam picked up his phone, snapped the photo and updated his audience. The “9:09 PM” time of the post really kills the believability of his claim.
Another issue is that it’s an old-school dial clock. There is no indication of AM or PM. The image shows no windows or other openings to the outside, to which we might determine whether it was night or day. Another issue is that this is just a clock, in which the time can easily be changed. A 45 second video posted two minutes later only shows a cat preoccupied with the door. There is still no indication of what time it is. Furthermore, the still images and videos of the cats at the door are not very telling, since the door is never opened during these videos to see what the cats would do. It’s not far-fetched to wonder is someone placed food or another cat-preferred object right on the other side of the door.
Adam then purchases a Polaroid-type camera, Fujifilm Instax Mini 9, to take some pictures around the apartment (13). When I took a closer look at what he had posted, I found that several images were manipulated one way or another. First up are images that were developing black when he takes pictures of the hallway outside his door – “The Polaroid developed completely black.”(18). He then posts two videos; the first shows Adam taking a picture of his Living Room, and the second – posted four minutes later – shows Adam taking a picture of the hallway outside the front door. As soon as he took the picture of the hall (in the second video), I noticed the flash only lights up half the scene – a definite red flag. The flash had operated normally when he took a picture of his Living room, lighting up the entire scene. I’ve included a screen capture below, taken from the second video at the moment the flash went off.
This struck me as odd. I looked closer at the two videos to see if there was any indication for this anomaly. In both videos, Adam takes a photo and then sets the camera down on the TV stand to pull out the ejecting Polaroid (he’s holding his phone in his other hand). This allows us, ever so briefly, to see an overhead view of the camera in each video. Two things stand out in the second video; 1 – there is a small tab sticking out from in front of the lens, which should not be there (see image below). It’s most likely black tape over the lens. I say this because we can clearly see black tape covering up the flash when he puts down the camera during the second video – this is what caused the flash to only illuminate half the scene in the second video. This is flat-out, deliberate manipulation of the camera.
Adam posts two more images later on.and describes them as “Left is with my phone. Right is with Polaroid. The hall light was on both times. Why is it pitch black each time with the Polaroid?” (20) I saved the images to my laptop so I could take a closer look. The first thing I noticed in the Polaroid image was a lack of light from the hallway reflecting off the door, on the floor, and causing a shadow on the outer portion of the peep hole…all of which are clearly visible in the phone image where the hallway light is clearly On. Adam states clearly “The hall light was on both times” – No, it wasn’t. All the data from the image points to the hall light NOT being on. In fact, there are indications that the overhead light inside the room Adam is standing in were off as well. The room is considerably darker (note the floor, carpet, and there is a lack of shadows under the TV stand). The only light in the Polaroid image seems to be from the flash of the camera.
In addition to the light being changed, there seems to be a manipulation of the Polaroid image. When I enhanced the image, I found a clear boxed area that appears brushed out. Since he used his phone to take a photo of the Polaroid, it would be easy to quickly edit the image before posting it. Keep in mind that all the photos and videos Adam has posted so far, did not have to be taken and instantly uploaded. One can take a few minutes, an hour, or even days to set things just right, and then post them as “I just took this”.
I must admit, I had found the story to be interesting. However, after seeing these images, the claims that went along with them, and the outright deception…I feel let down. This is nothing more than a guy making up a story and adding these touches in order to make the story more interesting, like adding illustrations to a storybook. Sadly, it ruined the story for me. But wait, he ruins it even more.
There were a few more videos that showed a green chair “rocking on its own”, one of the cats “jumping over something invisible” with a mason jar moving slightly, and finally one of the cats seems to be trying to smack something in the air. These videos resemble the thousands of alleged poltergeist-type videos we’ve seen before, where fishing line is the most likely cause…rather than a ghost. It would be quite easy to reproduce this, as I did with the “Haunted Hotel Room Recreation” video (14), but it’s not worth the time. Replicating these events is easy enough, but without being there to inspect the scene myself…all I can do is speculate.
An interesting point was brought up by Rob Lea, blogger of The Null Hypothesis. Rob notes “Other photos show that Adam has only just moved the rocking chair to the front door, which strikes me as not a normal location for the chair. It appears to me that the positioning of the chair will barely allow Adam to get his front door open so why place it there?”
This was a good point, so I went back and noted any photos that featured the chair. I found that is was not moved to the front door until after August 17th. But Adam posted a tweet on August 28, saying “So, I moved the green chair out of the bedroom weeks ago. It’s been in various parts of the living room ever since.” I find this to be a set-up for the video that’s to come after – where the chair rocks “on its own”. Adam claims to have been testing the camera while he “was away from home one night”. This continues the set-up, much like when a movie clears up a plot hole with one line (much to the disappointment of fans). And as Rob Lea pointed out, the chair would have been in the way any time Adam would go to the door. Its purpose for being placement at the door is most likely to set up the video in which it rocks “on its own”.
Then came the “ghost” images. Adam posted “I went into my phone to find a picture from a couple days ago, & saw dozens of pitch black photos in my camera roll. All from last night.” (15) He proceeds to post three images that show a ghostly child with what looks to be a deformed head – the right side of his head being “caved in”. When looking at the images, the first thing I noticed was that there was no camera flash, yet we can see pretty good details on the “ghost”, such as the stripes of his shirt and his individual fingers. The issue here is that the “ghost” is a bit more illuminated than it should be.
The three images also share a common issue; “David” is tinted yellow. This is a common mistake people make when they use a “ghost app” or lift the photo from a vintage photograph and ‘photoshop’ it in. The image used as a ghost lacks color, so it is dropped in the image ‘as is’, which is usually B&W or Sepia depending on the photograph the potential “ghost” is being taken from. This is not a supernatural phenomenon, it’s a lack of photo editing skills. I’ve lightened up the images below to make them clearer.
To add insult to injury, the placement of the “ghost” in the first photo posted, in which the “ghost” is sitting on a chair, has a major boo-boo; what’s left of its legs are overlapping the pillow (or blanket) on which the camera phone seems to be resting on. And when I say “overlapping”, I mean when the “ghost” layer was placed onto the base image (of the room) but the legs of the ghost boy were not erased enough. The chair the ghost boy is “sitting in” is a few feet away. His legs are bent at the knees and should be going straight down to the floor just in front of the chair. But they don’t, they overlap the pillow/blanket on the bed. This is a HUGE mistake when photoshopping an image. This tells us that the image is a fabrication, nothing more.
The “ghost” images look very familiar to me, especially the one in the photo above. I’ve searched for the boy for a few days but was unable to locate a match. The partial images of the boy remind me strongly of the ghosts that one can find in a ghost cam phone app, but I have nothing to support that speculation. I’ve searched many of the free apps to no success. I won’t pay for the paid apps, so it is plausible these particular images are hiding within those.
What I believe Adam is doing here…is evil genius (and a bit dishonest.) He has taken full advantage of the power of social media, combining easy internet tools with the “quick acceptance at face-value” gullibility of many who already harbor a strong belief in the supernatural. Adam has built a narrative that was interesting and captivating – until he started posting “evidence”. This was a mistake, because it exposed his kryptonite; the lack of photography/editing skills and a severe lack of attention to detail.
He changed variables to create different effects and gave himself all the opportunities to set up pranks or change details to try and fit the story he is writing. The problem is that he constantly overlooked glaring details that exposed his deception. As with the tape over the flash, he showed us how he was manipulating the images without even realizing it.
Or did he? Maybe he put in these glaring mistakes to see who would pick up on them, and who would accept his story with open arms. He makes a few comments throughout the story, such as “If I look at each individual incident on its own, there are perfectly logical explanations for everything”. Perhaps these are “Easter eggs” from Adam, his way of sneaking in a “guys, it isn’t paranormal…there’s an explanation for all of this”.
How far will he take this? I have no idea. I can only speculate that it will continue as long as people follow him and tabloids keep featuring his updates. I reached out to Adam through an email. I explained my background and that I found some major issues with his claims & evidence. I then asked if this was a hoax or if he presented this stuff as genuine. It’s been a week and I haven’t heard back from him. Perhaps he is too busy and didn’t see my email, or perhaps he doesn’t care what I think. After all, he’s got a lot of followers.
At the end of the day, I’m calling this a hoax. However, Adam does live in New York and I’m in the Philadelphia area. If Adam is up for it, I would be more than happy to travel up to him on a weekend to investigate his claims in person.
1 – Ellis, Adam. 10:35 AM – Aug 7, 2017. @moby_dickheadTwitter
2 – Ellis, Adam. 10:35 AM – Aug 7, 2017. @moby_dickheadTwitter
3 – Ellis, Adam. 8:36 AM – 7 Aug 2017. @moby_dickheadTwitter
4 – Ellis, Adam. 10:37 AM – Aug 7, 2017. @moby_dickheadTwitter
5 – Ellis, Adam. 10:37 AM – Aug 7, 2017.
6 – AASM. Retrieved on November 10, 2017. “Sleep Paralysis – Overview & Facts” http://www.sleepeducation.org/sleep-disorders-by-category/parasomnias/sleep-paralysis/overview-facts
7 – Ellis, Adam. 10:37 AM – Aug 7, 2017
8 – Ellis, Adam. 10:38 AM – Aug 7, 2017
9 – Ellis, Adam. 10:38 AM – Aug 7, 2017
10 – Ellis, Adam. 10:38 AM – Aug 7, 2017
11 – Ellis, Adam. 10:42 AM – Aug 7, 2017
12 – Ellis, Adam. 11:09 PM – Aug 8, 2017
13 – Ellis, Adam. 11:26 PM – Aug 13, 2017
14 – Biddle, Kenny. August 5, 2017. “Haunted Hotel Room Recreation”.
15 – Ellis, Adams. 9:43 PM – Nov 6, 2017
16 – Lea, Rob. August 31, 2017. “Addressing the Latest “Evidence” in the “Dear David” Saga.” The Null Hypothesis blog. https://skepticsboot.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/addressing-latest-evidence-in-dear.html
17 – Ellis, Adam. 8:22 PM – Aug 28, 2017
18 – Ellis, Adam. 11:30 PM – Aug 13, 2017. “The Polaroid developed completely black.
19 – Ellis, Adam. 11:38 PM – Aug 13, 2017. “The photo on the left is me covering the lens with my finger. The one on the right is my fully lit hallway taken just after midnight.”
20 – Ellis, Adam.