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What is phrogging? Signs you may have a hider in your house

Blurry image of an intruder entering into a dark bedroom

What is phrogging?

Quite simply, phrogging is the act of living in someone’s home without the owners or occupants knowing. The word derives from 'frog' because perpetrators often move from residence to residence like frogs jumping between lily pads.

Is it an urban myth?

At first glance, phrogging may seem like an unlikely, even impossible, phenomenon. After all, the idea of somebody living in your home without you realising may sound a bit far-fetched. However, while undeniably rare, phrogging is very much a thing, with numerous confirmed cases of people nesting in attics, cellars, garages, and other nooks and crannies.

Secret intruders have been known to scavenge food from the kitchen and even steal clothes. Victims have also reported more subtle signs of phrogger activity – kitchen cupboards being left open, innocuous household items vanishing, and inexplicable noises that are mistaken for rats in the walls or even supernatural activity. As one victim of phrogging recounted in a media interview, 'I honestly thought we had ghosts. I thought that the whole place was haunted, honestly.'

The phrogger code

It’s been reported that more virtuous phroggers stick to a code, designed to ensure that they can co-exist in a peaceful, non-threatening way with the legal occupants of a property. The code states that phroggers must make every effort not to be detected, they must clean up after themselves, and they must take only what they need, such as food and toiletries. They should also respect the property and leave it in the same condition as when they first encountered it.

However, not all phroggers are so conscientious. Many have been known to brazenly break rules of intruder etiquette, while some have been outright terrifying in their intentions.

The intruder who wanted to play doctor

A particularly disturbing case of phrogging came to light in 2019, when Honolulu couple James and Brittany Campbell returned home from holiday to find a complete stranger standing at their front door. The man, Ezequiel Zayas, was wearing James’ clothes and had left the house in total disarray. What’s more, knives had been laid out on the couple’s bed, almost as if this sinister stranger was intending to perform surgery.

It turned out that Zayas had been living in the house for quite some time. The couple had experienced unexplained occurrences such as doors being left open and a webcam turning itself on – all of which turned out to be Zayas’ doing.

He’d even used the couple’s laptop to write a bizarre journal and manifesto on 'rehabilitation for rat-like people', with notes on 'sexual reconstruction' among other grisly imaginings. As Brittany Campbell told a newspaper, 'He wanted to play doctor on us, and not in the cute little kid way.'

The phrogger who made a Christmas list

In December 2008, an unexpected visitor was discovered in the Pennsylvania home of Stacy Ferrance. Living in the property’s attic, he was 21-year-old Stanley Carter, who’d been making himself at home for at least a week. Not content with eating their food and wearing their clothes, Carter had flagrantly broken the code by stealing money, a computer and an iPod.

The family had heard occasional noises over that period but had put them down to their pet cats skulking about in the night. When Carter was finally discovered, he was wearing Stacy’s daughter’s sweatshirt and trousers. Helpfully, he’d also jotted down everything he’d stolen from the family, under the heading 'Stanley’s Christmas List'.

Understandably, the incident left the family a little rattled. Stacy Ferrance told the media, 'Every noise that we do hear, we definitely jump up and investigate what’s going on.'

The killer in the walls

Perhaps the most horrifying example of a phrogger who followed no code of conduct, and who was driven by his own sadistic urges, is Daniel LaPlante.

Born and raised in Massachusetts, he had a troubled childhood blighted by sexual and psychological abuse. By his teens, he was breaking into local houses, and in 1986 became fixated on the home of a man and his young daughters.

LaPlante managed to gain entry to the Bowens’ property, hiding in crawl spaces and other nooks around the home. For months, he took ghoulish relish in playing mind games with the terrified occupants – tapping on the walls, moving things around, and scrawling messages like 'I’m in your room. Come and find me.'

When LaPlante was finally caught the family breathed a sigh of relief, but they couldn’t have guessed just how lucky they’d been. On being released from juvenile detention the following year, LaPlante’s impulses took him from malevolent phrogging to multiple murders. Breaking into the home of the Gustafson family, he raped and murdered Priscilla Gustafson before drowning her two young children, Abigail and William.

Daniel LaPlante remains behind bars to this day and is a cautionary tale on how phrogging can pave the way for far more atrocious acts.

The ‘poltergeist’ in the attic

A spooky phrogger story came to light in September 2012, when a woman from Rock Hill, South Carolina reported how ghostly goings on in her home were revealed to be the result of a disturbingly corporeal presence.

The mother-of-five, identified only as Tracy in the media, realised something was afoot when she heard a thump from the attic, just before nails ‘popped out of the ceiling over my bed’.

Her first thought was that ‘some poltergeist stuff’ was underway. The truth was that her ex-boyfriend was secretly living in the attic, spying on her through an air vent in the bedroom. He’d been up there for two weeks, sleeping in a heating unit and storing his waste in plastic cups so he wouldn’t even have to come down to use the loo.

Having been discovered by Tracy’s family, he nonchalantly came down from the attic ‘without any explanation and left with a smile before the police could arrive’.

The woman in the closet

In May 2008, it was reported that a man in Japan had discovered a woman living in his closet – and she’d been there for over a year. The unnamed man had started to get suspicious when food was mysteriously vanishing from his kitchen and installed security cameras to see what was going on.

The footage revealed a figure moving about the residence while he was out. He naturally assumed it was a burglar and called the police, but they arrived to find all windows and exterior doors locked. On searching the house, they found the intruder curled up on the top shelf of the closet.

Lacking a place to live, the woman had snuck into the house one year previously and stayed ever since, managing the uncanny feat of co-habiting with the owner undetected before police finally arrested her for trespassing.

How can you tell if someone is phrogging?

Phrogging is a rare phenomenon, especially here in the UK. That said, cases have been known on these shores and none other than pop icon George Michael once fell foul of a hider in his house. While she was more a very obsessive fan than a bona fide phrogger, the woman had managed to bed down beneath the floorboards of his London home for four days before leaping out.

Speaking of the incident in an interview with GQ, George Michael said, ‘I had no idea she was under there. I was talking to a friend and I could hear my name being called out. Then she suddenly presented herself.’

So just what are the tell-tale signs that there’s an extra person under your roof? Let’s run through the checklist.

1. Unexplained noises

Noises such as rustlings, creakings and thumps, which may of course simply be the sounds of the house itself (especially if you have an old property), the sound of random wildlife, or the sounds of neighbours, but could also be something more sinister.

2. Alien smells

Are you detecting unlikely smells in your home? Perhaps cigarette smoke or alcohol, or an unfamiliar aftershave or perfume? Perhaps something worse – a dirty or unwashed smell which has no reason to pervade the air? It could be the smell of a housemate you didn’t know you had.

3. Missing items

This is a classic hallmark of phrogging. In several documented cases, homeowners have noted personal items mysteriously vanishing over time, including clothes, tech gadgets and food. Phroggers often scavenge supplies to survive and remain undetected. Similarly, look out for items not being where you last left them.

4. Strange-acting pets

It goes without saying that cats, dogs and other animals have finer senses than us humans. They may well be able to sniff out or hear or otherwise detect strangers in the vicinity, so if your pooch starts to bark or growl or otherwise act in an inexplicably odd way, it may be a sign that your property needs investigating.

How to prevent phrogging?

Nobody should have nightmares about phrogging, it really is very rare. That said, there are some key ways to minimise the already tiny possibility of someone setting up their stall in some nook of your home.

Perhaps the most important thing is to be very aware of the architectural layout of your home. Do you have spaces where someone could realistically reside, such as a cellar, an attic, a shed, or a quirk of your building which could be exploited? George Michael’s phrogger managed to gain entry to the space beneath the singer’s living room because that part of his home was built over a slope. The floor was supported by stilts, with enough of a void to accommodate a human.

Being clear on the layout of your property means you can remain appropriately vigilant and conduct security checks properly. Be sure to lock doors and windows before leaving the house and be wary if you’re leaving ground-floor windows open even if you’re in the house.

And, if security is absolutely paramount, you can of course invest in a home security system, which can include alarms and security cameras to keep a close eye on all activities, wherever you are.

Phrogging: Hider In My House

Phrogging: Hider In My House is a collection of stranger-than-fiction true crime stories centred around the phenomenon of phrogging - people secretly living inside someone else's home.

From the man in the attic to the creeper in the crawl space, each episode features first-hand accounts from survivors who share their skin-crawling, twisted and truly terrifying stories. Along with interviews and key archive materials, these cinematic re-creations bring the clues and confrontations to life.

The full series of Phrogging: Hider In My House is available on Crime + Investigation Play.

Phrogging: Hider In My House Episode Guide

Episode 1: Bump In The Night

When stuff goes missing, Brittany Campbell blames her husband. But what she doesn't know is a stranger is living inside their home.

Episode 2: Footsteps In The Attic

Tina Bowen believes her dead mother is playing tricks on the family until a battle with a flesh-and-blood intruder uncovers a real-life horror movie.

Episode 3: Living Among Us

When her family's gifts go missing, Stacy Ferrance blames the kids, but a dirty footprint leads her to a shocking surprise in the attic.

Episode 4: Buried Secrets

Vickie Martin's ex has invaded her home and turned her life into a living hell until she decides to turn the tables on her tormentor.

Episode 5: Creepy Crawlers

After their wedding shower, engaged couple Timothy and Amanda find uninvited guests in their crawlspace and see a man wearing Amanda's clothes.

Episode 6: Ex Marks The Spot

When odd noises fill Courtney Randolph's home, her two exes offer to help. But things become more chaotic and she's blind to what's happening.

Episode 7: Who Left The Seat Up?

A raised toilet seat alerts Kate Flory to an uninvited male visitor. A confrontation with the intruder sends her screaming to the streets.

Episode 8: Sneak Attack

Helena Jayne Bryant has an encounter with her invader after her possessions begin going missing. Brian O'Neill discovers an unwanted guest under his bed.

Episode 9: Creepy Encounters

A man comes home to people living on his balcony, while a woman accusing her grandchildren of stealing food discovers the real offender in her crawlspace.

Episode 10: Stranger Danger

A lady notices her underwear keeps going missing after moving to the big city. Puzzled, she looks up and spots a man peering through holes in the ceiling.