The Stambovsky Case: The Ghost That Went to Court

It’s not unusual to come across a strange court case involving circumstances that seem to share some element with the paranormal.  Some court cases have suggested that murders have been enacted with some malevolent paranormal force acting behind them – though these specific cases are usually eventually attributed to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or a misrepresentation of the evidence at hand.  But there is at least one case that covertly vindicates haunted houses and is cited as the reason that house sellers in horror films are obligated to reveal the paranormal nature of estates before they are sold.

Families purchasing a new home have a lot on their minds, but they are not generally thinking about whether or not the previous owners of a given house will continue to cohabit with them years after they move in, lurking in the shadows and roaming freely through walls while whispers in the distance suggest the house is haunted – affecting the property values of the house.  But when Jeffery Stambovsky paid $650,000 for a new house, he didn’t realize that he was also purchasing a home that had a strange history.  Later, he would learn of the house’s alleged haunted history and it would motivate him to take the previous owners to court over the matter.

But the courts were quickly thrust into a bind.  Was the house haunted?  Would it be able to rule without discovering the true nature of the house?  And where did the courts stand on the subject of the paranormal in general?  Quickly it became apparent that the very definition of ghosts would be difficult to prove in the case of Stambovsky v. Ackley, so the courts did the next best thing.  They looked at its reputation.  The previous owners had indeed publicly stated to the public that the house was haunted and even submitted stories to Reader’s Digest suggesting as much.  And so as a result, one of the decisions made during the course of the first trial on the matter was that regardless of whether or not the ghosts truly existed, the reputation of the house had been altered – and therefore the property value would have been affected.

Does this mean ghosts were then proven in a court of law?  Not necessarily, though it is an interesting story – and some newspaper accounts later interpreted the case as indirectly suggesting it.  After all, what would be more compelling than ghosts being “proven” by definition of law?  But ultimately Stambovsky was not awarded any money for the case.  Later, the house did not end up being quite as haunted as it was once reputed to be throwing the whole matter even further into question.

But this would create an interesting quandary if ever the subject of haunted houses were ever empirically quantified by science.  Soon we would have paranormal investigations not only looking for the truth, but attempting to measure with a scale how haunted a given house was and adjusters attempting to quantify how much this would affect the value of homes.