On August 18, 2020, at 1:53 a.m., Adam Lees received a security alert on his laptop. Lees is the managing director of Limitless Security and is currently in charge of security at the construction site of Ultima at Sherborne Wharf, a new apartment building in Birmingham, England. The security alert meant that something triggered a motion-activated camera he had installed at the location. In an interview, Lees claims, “The images come through to my laptop, so I checked and saw that picture. I notified security on site straightaway who did a full patrol but found nothing. It’s incredibly strange. I have no idea what it could have been, but I didn’t sleep the rest of the night.” In another interview, Lees says, “I’ve never believed in ghosts, but I can’t explain this. People have been saying its fake, but I can assure them it is 100 per cent genuine.” Although he doesn’t outright claim it is a ghost, Lees does unfortunately make a comment suggesting that, which ultimately led to the story being picked up by multiple news outlets.
The picture from the security camera shows a section of the construction site with tall fences. The fences form a wide path, and there is a pile of scrap in the background behind the fence. The “incredibly strange” thing Lees is referring to is the figure of a woman in what looks to be a white dress walking across the property. The woman’s hands are in front of her, apparently holding an unidentified object. The woman appears to be walking along a path through the construction site alone.
The image quickly went viral and was featured in various tabloid outlets such as the Sun and the Mirror, which both referred to the figure as a “ghost” (putting the term in quotes as if to say, “we don’t really believe this”). In the Mirror, Lees is quoted as saying, “She’s leaning forward and seems to be floating, and is holding something in her hands. To me it looks like she’s wearing a wedding dress like she’s waiting to get married. She looks like a ghostly bride.” This quickly led to headlines of “Eerie Ghost Bride” from the Mirror.
The “ghostly bride” came to my attention after a friend sent me a link to one of the articles. After reading through the article, I decided to take a closer look. My first thought after seeing the image was, “That’s an awfully low angle for a security camera.” Surveillance cameras are usually mounted up high, which not only provides a wide view overlooking the area but also keeps the camera beyond the reach of would-be thieves or vandals. When comparing the angle of view in this image to the figure, the camera appears to be held below her waist, which would be approximately three feet above the ground (give or take). This is not a good position for a security camera, because it could easily be blocked by a large trash can. The viewpoint of this image causes me to suspect it was taken with either a low-quality handheld camera or a trail cam type of camera.
Something else stood out to me about the image: the lack of any camera information. Surveillance systems usually have an onscreen indication of which camera is being viewed, e.g. “camera 4.” In addition, there is usually a date/time stamp, providing important information useful in trying to track down when an event occurred. However, there is no onscreen information provided with Lees’s security image. Although some systems might not display such (or any) information, Limitless Security’s website claims they are “a leading provider of security solutions for the housebuilding and construction industries,” so I would expect their security system would be top-of-the-line and include all relevant onscreen information. The lack of any identifying information is curious.
One other thing that caught my attention: the image is in color except for the area surrounding the figure, in which it appears to be in black and white. I’ve seen this often with the use of ghost apps, smartphone apps that allow anyone to add a spooky (often silly) ghost to their photos with a few taps of their finger. I don’t think a camera app was used here, because the figure is casting two shadows: a thin, hard shadow to the right (likely caused by the camera flash) and a soft shadow on the ground to the left (likely caused by a light source to the photographer’s right, such as a streetlamp). As I looked at the image again and again, it seemed likely that a flash fired (perhaps an infrared flash) while the camera was in a night-vision/infrared mode, which would explain the distorted color and overexposure of the figure. Honestly, this image looks more like a trail cam snapshot than a professional surveillance video.
When investigating viral videos and images, it is always a good idea to track down original sources. This helps to avoid lost or misrepresented details. All the news outlets credit Adam Lees, the director of the security company, for the image and state he called the on-site security guard three minutes after receiving the alert on his laptop. The guard reportedly did a “full patrol of the area just minutes later” but found it was all clear. This is not surprising: the apartment complex spans a large area, and an intruder could easily escape the area long before a guard would find him or her.
I found another source: an article on the Birmingham Mail website mentions “The image has been shared thousands of times since it was posted by _Meglittle on Twitter.” I headed over to Twitter and found “_MegLittle,” who it turns out is one of Adam Lees’s three daughters. Meg’s post was a photo (of a tablet screen) showing what appears to be a security report PDF, along with the photo of the “ghost bride.” There are three lines of event details: the incident occurred at 01:53, security was notified at 01:56, and security reported an “all clear” at 02:06. No other information is provided.
I decided to employ one of my more tedious strategies for investigating these types of cases: reading the comments. I started digging into the 700 or so comments associated with Meg’s photo/post and quickly found a diamond in the rough, a comment by Stewart Chapman. Chapman is an electrician on the site, part of a crew installing all the equipment, including the permanent closed-circuit television system, which seems to be much better quality than those used by Limitless Security.
Chapman posted two screencaps on social media from his (properly) high-mounted, full color camera, which gives us a much better view of the figure. In Chapman’s images, we can see the same woman in the same pose, wearing a red—not white—dress. She is clearly casting a shadow, likely from one of the many streetlamps along the sidewalk, indicating she is a solid person, not a transparent ghost. Chapman described the scene as “a drunken girl walking around with her friend out of this pic [of the posted images].”
I reached out to Chapman, and he agreed to speak with me. He said he was shocked when he got an email about a ghost, but something about the image didn’t seem right to him. One of the cameras he had recently installed was active and mounted right above the Limitless Security camera. Sure enough, when Chapman checked the video footage from the camera, the woman was there. Not only was the not-ghostly woman captured on his camera (on video), but her friend was as well. Chapman was kind enough to send me the full video clip. I watched the woman in the red dress (holding her purse) walk into the scene from the left, pause momentarily in the pose we see in the Limitless Security image, and then continue walking to the right. At the ten second mark, her friend walks into the scene (from the left) wearing a short white dress and flip-flops. The friend continues to the left and, before going out of frame, the woman in the red dress comes back, and both women head off-camera back to the right.
The likely scenario is that this woman and her friend were walking home from a night at a pub, and the more adventurous woman (in red) walked onto the access road to goof around, with her friend following behind. That is the simplest and most likely explanation that does not require invoking spectral brides looking for lost loves. Bottom line: the alleged ghost is a living, breathing woman wearing a red dress, goofing around with her friend, wandering around the construction site.
One question: Why did the red dress show up as white in the Lees security image? I mentioned earlier in this article that it seemed that Lees’s camera (perhaps a trail cam-type) used a flash while in night-vision, infrared mode (near-infrared), which will distort or remove all color in the image. When an infrared filter is applied to Chapman’s screenshots of the red dress, it turns white. The flash of the camera would also brighten the subject, as it did in this case. Due to the low quality of the camera, the flash overexposed the woman’s dress, giving her a soft, non-supernatural glow. I asked Chapman if he knew what type of camera Limitless Security was using. He was able to confirm the camera is like a trail cam and not a proper CCTV camera.
In conclusion, thanks to Chapman’s video, it is obvious this “ghostly bride” is neither a ghost nor a bride. Rather, it is a living person who happened to wander in view of two security cameras: one good, and one not-so-good. Sadly, the not-so-good image was the one that made the news. Chapman told me he met with Adam Lees a few days later and showed him the video clip of the two women. Chapman said Lees was shocked that it wasn’t a ghost and seemed a bit embarrassed as he left. As far as Chapman is aware, Lees is still claiming it was a ghost even with the evidence that conclusively shows otherwise. I reached out to Adam Lees twice (via the Limitless Security website) and his daughter (via Twitter) to get their side of the story. After a full day, I have not received a response.
I do not think Adam Lees (or his daughter) deliberately perpetrated a hoax as a marketing stunt, as many have speculated. Rather, I think Lees made a false assumption and eventually fell victim to the attention the media brought him (and his company). Even if this is the case, it surprises me that someone who runs a security company would be so unfamiliar with the quality and attributes of his or her own equipment as to make the extraordinary leap from “someone just wandered in and out of the site” to “I’ve never believed in ghosts, but I can’t explain this.” Sadly, I am not really surprised that after being presented with substantial evidence, Lees has not attempted to set the record straight. Admitting one was wrong after the media has broadcast your story across the planet can be extremely embarrassing.
The lesson here, my friends, is don’t jump to hasty conclusions. Slow down, take a step back, and think it through. Oh, and never stop learning.
Special thanks to Stewart Chapman for providing the full video of the event, which can be viewed on my YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/n9ImbL7v-G4.