"We just love the idea that a mysterious antique box becomes the central device of horror in this story," says screenwriter Stiles White. "There's so much more of this story that could be told in future movies."

Haxton says initially he'd been so consumed with trying to contain the dybbuk that he brushed off Raimi's production company. He performed various Wiccan rituals and finally, under advisement from a paranormal research group, had the gold-leaf acacia ark built to house the dybbuk box. Haxton says rabbis he consulted also suggested he add religious artifacts to counter the malevolent energy — some Torah scrolls, a 500-year-old book of kabbalah writings. Eventually, Haxton's health improved, the smells and apparitions disappeared, and life returned to normal. Today he considers the box a kind of "case closed" situation.

"This thing has been really put away," he says. "I think it took on a life of its own, and so I respect the story that I discovered."


The “real” dybbuk box — shown here inside its protective ark — is kept in a secret location somewhere in northeast Missouri.
The “real” dybbuk box — shown here inside its protective ark — is kept in a secret location somewhere in northeast Missouri.
Jason Haxton at the Laughlin family plot in Kirksville, where Harry Laughlin is buried.
Jessica Lussenhop
Jason Haxton at the Laughlin family plot in Kirksville, where Harry Laughlin is buried.

There are, however, a few loose ends.

One of the most vocal nonbelievers is Michael Callahan, the magician, who models himself after Penn & Teller as a skeptic and an atheist. He considers Haxton's retelling of their acquisition of the dybbuk box exaggerated and says he never had trouble with the box even when it spent a week in his home.

"Absolutely nothing ever happened. We never saw, smelled, heard, had anything negative — if anything our lives have been surprisingly good," he says. "If he gets to have his opinion and say it's all real, I get to have my opinion and say it's a scam."

In his book Haxton also reveals some sizable holes in Kevin Mannis' story. Haxton traveled to Oregon to meet Mannis, and after driving around Portland with him looking for the estate sale house, Mannis claimed he couldn't find it. He also resisted providing Haxton a surname for Havela, saying the family didn't want anything to do with the story. When Mannis finally relented, he offered the name "Jewiski." Haxton found no record of anyone with that name in the area, nor any record of a 103-year-old woman dying in the area in 2001.

Haxton was able to track down some of Mannis' siblings who told him there was never any shared or recurring nightmare about an old hag.

And perhaps most glaring of all is Haxton's discovery of a bar in Beaverton called Club Underground. Several of the employees at the bar recall Mannis — a onetime security guard, promotions manager and jack-of-all-trades for the club — bragging about coming up with a fantastic idea for a short story about a haunted Jewish wine box.

"This is what my impression is," says John Wegman, the former owner of the Underground. "He had this box, and he was trying to sell things on eBay, and he put this box together and made up a story to go with it on eBay to see how many bites he got. And he got tons of people wanting it."

Wegman says at his wedding Mannis presented him with a chunk of stone with Hebrew writing on it, very similar to the one in the dybbuk box, that Mannis said he made himself.

Matt "Shaggy" Christensen, a kitchen manager and former bartender for the Underground, says he's pretty sure one of the locks of hair inside the box is his. He says one night he came into work badly needing a haircut and shaved off his long hair in a back room. As a joke, he says he put some of the hair into the bartender's tip jar. Mannis, says Christensen, fished some of it out to add to the box's folklore.

"He took it and really ran with it. I told him to buy me a beer that night and we'd call it even. I guess I should've asked for little bit more," says Christensen. "Kevin is a very intelligent person."

There are also monetary and publicity incentives to keep the myth going. Both Kevin Mannis and Jason Haxton were paid for the rights to their stories by the producers of The Possession, and will appear on a History Channel special and an episode of Syfy's Paranormal Witness.

"I know Kevin," chuckles Wegman. "He's trying to make it sound really exciting and trying to publicize the story."

Asked about these discrepancies, Mannis sticks to his original story. He claims he actually did find Havela's family again after Haxton left, though he still declines to identify them. He says he is somewhat estranged from his younger siblings, in part over the dybbuk box and the media hoopla it stirred up, and that may be the reason they've refuted his story. He also denies that his own grandmother — a Jewish immigrant who lived to be 105 — served as the inspiration for a character named Havela or that he added any of the artifacts to the dybbuk box.

As for the recollection of the staff at the Underground, Mannis largely sidesteps the question.

"I have no explanation for that whatsoever," he says. "Even if I was a really good writer, it doesn't speak to the hundreds of people who've emailed Jason and myself about their experience with the box. It doesn't speak to any of the experiences that Jason had or Joseph had.

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