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According to the legend, the first manifestation of the haunting occurred in 1817 when John Bell encountered a strange animal in a cornfield on his property. The animal, described as having had the body of a dog and the head of a rabbit, vanished when Bell shot at it. This incident was quickly followed by a series of strange beating and gnawing noises manifesting around, and eventually inside, the Bell residence. Betsy Bell, the family's younger daughter and the only daughter still living at home claimed to be assaulted by an invisible force.

John Bell, later in life, suffered frequent facial seizures, often rendering him speechless. The Bell family blamed John's affliction on the witch, but modern analysis of his symptoms indicates that he may have suffered from Bell's Palsy, a paralysis of the facial muscles. (The name "Bell's Palsy" comes from Charles Bell, the anatomist that discovered the condition. Charles Bell is no relation to the Bells of Adams, Tennessee. The name is a coincidence, and Bell's Palsy was not identified until 1821, the year after John Bell's death.)

John Bell died on December 20, 1820. A small vial containing an unidentified liquid he had apparently ingested was found near the body. When some of the contents were fed to the family cat, the animal died immediately; the bottle was then thrown into the fireplace.

Fitzhugh's relation of the Bell Witch legend concludes with a statement to the effect that many people believe that the spirit returned in 1935, took up residence on the former Bell property, and remains there to the present day. He notes "the faint sounds of people talking and children playing can sometimes be heard in the area" and asserts that it is "very difficult to take a good picture there."