People get really scared when they go to Spookers, based at Kingseat Hospital, 30 minutes south of Auckland in Karaka. And it’s for good reason – it’s a full-blown immersive horror attraction at the “haunted attraction scream park,” as the documentary Spookers (screening on SBS Viceland and SBS On Demand) vividly demonstrates.
But if they new the true history of the psychiatric hospital going in, they’d be doubly chilled to the bone.
A horrific past
Kingseat operated from 1932 to 1999 when it was closed as part of New Zealand’s reform of its mental health system. The sprawling compound at one stage housed over 800 patients, with a maximum security wing and a morgue onsite.
It’s alleged patients were subjected to horrific acts of abuse at Kingseat. Ex patients of psychiatric hospitals in New Zealand in the 1960s and 1970s have claimed systemic abuse included beatings, sexual assault, and misuse of electric-shock therapy and drugs as punishment, according to the New Zealand Herald.
One of the most high profile cases of alleged abuse at Kingseat Hospital is the death of 11-year-old Clement Matthews. His case was reopened by police in 2004, 36 years after his death, after fellow patient and friend Stephen Lindsay came forward as a witness.
Matthews’ official cause of death was pneumonia but Lindsay, who was 14 at the time, alleged this was a cover-up of horrific abuse. He said he saw his friend being thrown to the ground by a male nurse and brutally kicked in the back after Matthews had taken a piece of bread. Lindsay told The New Zealand Herald his friend “died like a dog”.
“I had heard something snap. It was like a branch breaking. I knew at the time his back was broken.”
Two deeply troubled 13-year-old boys vanished without a trace from Kingseat in 1967. In separate incidents, Bruce Mitchell and Kelly Haydn Collins allegedly wandered out of the hospital and were presumed dead by drowning in nearby Manukau Harbour, reports The New Zealand Herald. Police claimed to have found footprints leading in to the water in the case of Mitchell, and the only evidence found of Collins was a shoe in a paddock. But neither body was ever found.
Mitchell’s siblings believe foul play may have been a factor in their brother’s disappearance, and that he was being physically abused.
“Every time we went to see him he was covered in bruises,” his brother John Mitchell, told The New Zealand Herald. “We were sure he was being beaten, but were always told by hospital staff he had walked into a door.”
“I think something happened to him. I am not a suspicious person by nature, but I do believe something happened to my brother.”
According to the New Zealand Herald, a coroner’s hearing into Mitchell’s death was never carried out, and there is no record of his death.
His sister Judy Sorich has questioned why there was no further investigation into her brother’s death given the suspicious and disturbing circumstances surrounding it.
“He used to panic when we left [Kingseat]. He was so frightened of that place,” she said. "Like so many others, all we want is answers.”
The most haunted place in New Zealand
“Paranormal investigation and research group” Haunted Auckland, which has conducted a number of investigations at Kingseat, said to be the most haunted place in New Zealand, reports that more nurses died on the premises than patients, and that staff suicide was a common occurrence there.
With over 100 reported ghost sightings at Kingseat, the most prevalent is “The Grey Nurse” who took his own life and now apparently dwells in the old nurses’ quarters.
Interestingly, it’s the nursing arena that seems to have provided fertile ground for ghost hunting at Kingseat. Footage shows the paranormal investigators of Haunted Auckland supposedly communing with a ghost named Alexis Jackson, a nurse who continues to “look after patients” at the hospital.
And during a visit to a former nurse’s house, another team member claimed to feel “dizzy and nauseous” when she touched a bathtub. Climbing in, she sensed something terrible had happened.
“I closed my eyes and saw a bit clearer a picture of a women being pushed under the water,” she said. “I saw her arms and legs threshing in the bathtub. I could see a hand and arm pushing her under the water drowning her.”
According to Haunted Auckland, staff at Spookers have been creeped out by “object manipulation”, and chilly spots. And at the Kingseat villas, there’s been some serious poltergeist activity with reports of shaking cupboard doors, tapping on windows, self-operating toilets and taps, and moving furniture. Voices have been heard, sulphur smelt, and shadowy figures seen.
Meanwhile, TV show Ghost Hunt features footage of an unplugged dentist chair turning itself on (you can check it out here) and claims to have captured the shape of a ghost’s face in a shower stall.
But whether you believe in the supernatural or not, it’s undeniable the walls of Kingseat Hospital have seen real horror unimaginable to many of us.
Get a case of the willies with Spookers, streaming at SBS On Demand: