Helen Ackley and her family lived in a lovely, 5 bedroom/3.5 bathroom, waterfront Victorian home built in 1890 in Nyack, New York. They had bought the house in the 1960s, and in 1990- with her children grown and her husband passed away- Helen sold the house to Jeffrey Stambovsky for $650,000, Jeffrey making a $32,500 down payment. There was just one problem: the house was haunted.

Famously. There were decades of reports from Helen and her family about the ghosts— a group that included including a married couple from the 1800s and a Revolutionary War Naval Lieutenant– and it had even been on a five-home walking tour of the city.

Jeffery, however, hadn’t known the local history, and Helen and her agent hadn’t told him when he bought the house.  He therefore sued to have the contract rescinded and sought damages for fraud.

 

The Case

The case was dismissed at first (Jeffery hadn’t shown up to court). Yet things went differently on appeal. To begin with, the court made what would be the first of the decision’s most famous statements:

“Whether the source of the spectral apparitions seen by defendant seller are parapsychic or psychogenic, having reported their presence in both a national publication (Readers’ Digest) and the local press (in 1977 and 1982, respectively), defendant is estopped to deny their existence and, as a matter of law, the house is haunted.”

From there the court would go on to say that while Jeffrey wouldn’t get damages for fraud (since the public reputation was one he should’ve been aware of), the contract would be rescinded since “haunted” is not a house condition a buyer could easily determine.

 

The Point

While no famous points of law comes from it, this case is a fun one that professors love to review in time for Halloween. The language of the case is very quotable, and includes references to Ghostbusters, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and more supernatural puns than you can shake a Bible at.

And the case actually worked in Helen’s favor! In the aftermath interest in the house went up, and she eventually sold the house in 1991 before moving to Florida. As for the ghosts, Helen claimed they were moving with her as they had always liked her family (they had even vetted her son-in-law before he married into the family), and since 1991 there have been no public reports of hauntings from the house.