Weird News, Ghosts and the Paranormal.

Ghostly Pics: Toys R Us Ghost

toys r us ghost main sunnyvale california

For most of us, toy stores conjure up childhood images of fun, freedom and imagination.

However, a Toys R Us location in Sunnyvale California has become more well known as a place of terror then pleasure.

It is said that a ghost resides in the shop, a ghost searching for a lost love.

A ghost that during an investigation by well known psychic Sylvia Browne just happened to have his picture taken and became one of the most well known paranormal photographs in the world.

The Legend:

The Murphy Farm

The Murphy Farm

About a hundred years before 130 East Camino Street was the site of a Toys R Us location, it was a large area of farm land owned by a man named either Martin or John with the surname of Murphy.

Murphy had a wheat plantation on his land, as well as livestock and a large orchard. Sometime in the late 1800’s Murphy hired Johnny Johnson, a young Scandinavian immigrant who was also studying to become a minister.

Johnson fell in love with Murphy’s oldest daughter, Elizabeth, but her heart was already won by a lawyer from the East.

Picture with "Johnny" Circled in Red

Picture with “Johnny” Circled in Red

Another issue that plagued Johnson beyond the broken heart was a case of Encephalitis, or an acute inflammation of the brain. This condition can bring on symptoms such as hallucinations, confusion and memory problems.

Because of this Johnson was labeled “Crazy Johnny” by some of the Sunnyvale residents of his day.

In the Summer of 1884 Johnny Johnson would die in the Murphy orchards after he had an accident with an axe while chopping wood. Johnson had badly cut his leg with the axe and bled to death on the spot.

The Orchards

The Orchards

Although the Murphy family would continue to live on the land in Sunnyvale until the 1950’s and 60’s, they would soon move on. By 1961 the main mansion was in disrepair and had to be demolished and most of the land once a part of the huge farm and orchards would have be sold off.

One development project that was undertaken on the former farm land was the construction of a Toy R Us toy store right at the corner of El Camino and Saratoga Road in the early seventies.

Ghosts R Us:

The 60,000 square foot Toys R Us ‘Mega-Store’ opened in 1971.

However, it was soon apparent that there was much more to the store then fun and games.

Customers and employees at the Sunnyvale Toys R Us would state that toys would be moved off the shelves during the night or were stacked up on the floor.

Strange odors, temperature drops, ‘fingers’ being ran through female employees hair while in the stock room ,strange sounds and voices calling out employee names were just some of the paranormal activity going on in the toy store.

The Store in 1978

The Store in 1978

An area within the store where lots of activity was reported was the women’s bathroom. Here, the faucets would mysteriously turn on by themselves and people would feel like they were being watched in the room.

These events were experienced by several people, with some even refusing to go into the bathroom alone.

One amazing account of this activity comes from Cheryl Royce, who at one time was the store manager at the Sunnyvale store:

“I had gone in to use the restroom.

[I] was in one of the restroom stalls…heard the door open, heard the water turn on. I kind of looked under [the stall door] and saw nobody in the rest room.

The water turned off, the door opened and I refused to use the restroom for the rest of the six weeks I was here.”

The activity continues at the location to this day and has been experienced by a large number of individuals since the 1970’s.

However, what makes this case unique is that it spawned one of the most famous ghost pictures ever taken.

The Photo:

By the late seventies the case had gotten the attention of the producers for the television series That’s Incredible and they arranged for a segment to be shot about the haunted toy store to be broadcast in 1978.

Part of this investigation included the involvement of psychic Sylvia Browne, who would hold a seance to get in contact with “Johnny” with some of the store staff also present along with the television crew.

Bill Tidwell

Bill Tidwell

In addition to Browne and the store employees, photographer Bill Tidwell came along, armed with two 35mm cameras. One loaded with black and white infrared film and a high speed film that Tidwell claimed could “take photos in almost complete darkness”.

Sylvia Brown went on with the seance, stating that she had indeed come into contact with Johnny or Johan. While Browne observed that Johnny was standing farther down the aisle from where the seance was being held at, Tidwell was snapping tons of pictures.

toys r us ghost close up sunnyvale california

If the story is to be believed then Tidwell captured the infamous image of Johnny Johnson at the same time Sylvia Browne was describing the spirit taking similar actions:

“He’s got his hands in his pockets, he is looking down at his shoes.”

It also would seem that the photograph has some proper evidence to prop itself up on as well.

First of all, there is the fact that the high speed 35mm film captured nothing in the exact spot where the figure was captured on the infrared film at almost the same moment in time.

Add this to the fact that there are historical documents and photos to back up the existence of “Johnny” once residing on the Murphy Ranch in Sunnyvale and story gains even more steam.

A Screen-cap of the High Speed Shot Taken Closest to the time Infrared was taken with 'Johnny' in shot

A Screen-cap of the High Speed 35mm Shot Taken at Almost Exactly the Same Time as the infamous infrared exposure showing ‘Johnny’

Then we have the opinions of photography experts on Tidwell’s picture, which was deemed to not be fake or at least not the result of photographic trickery or photo editing.

But there are kinks in the chains and they start and end with Sylvia Browne and the way her reputation as a genuine psychic has fell like a rock since she was first involved in the Sunnyvale Toys R Us case.

Sylvia Browne: Psychic or Fraud?

Sylvia Browne claims that she first discovered she had psychic ‘gifts’ when she was around five years old. Her grandmother Ada, who Browne claims also was a psychic, explained the nature of her powers to Sylvia.. Browne also claims that one of her great uncles was psychic as well.

Browne started giving psychic readings in 1974 and has also claimed to have worked on numerous police cases for various law enforcement agencies as well as the FBI.

Browne on That's Incredible

Browne on That’s Incredible

Browne also has written over a dozen books on paranormal and psychic activity, as well as running a website devoted to her work and a church she created called the Society of Novus Spiritus, which she founded in 1986.

It is claimed that Sylvia Browne makes about three million dollars yearly from her business ventures and royalties.

However, making money is not a crime nor a reason n to doubt anyone’s ability in any particular field of study. Rather it is the false and incorrect claims that Browne has been caught up in over the years that make any sensible person doubt any case Browne has ever been connected to.

Browne’s first ex-husband, Gary Dufresne, claims that she had no psychic abilities at all and that at some point she had told Dufresne that people were gullible and therefore deserved to be taken advantage of.

This claim could be chalked up to bitter words from an ex, but there is also the matter of Browne being convicted for investment fraud and grand theft in 1992.

sylvia brown browne law suit fraud fake newspoaper

In that case, Browne and her then husband Kenzil lied to investors in a gold mine investment, including about where the money they were investing was going.

In one instance, the money given by an investor was supposed to go onto start up costs for the mine but instead was transferred into the accounts of the Nirvana Foundation for Psychic Research, which Browne owns.

Selling people fraudulent dreams is not too far away from committing paranormal fraud or making up a back story to a prominent haunting to get publicity or a payday is it?

Another telling sign is that many of the murder cases Browne has claimed to have been involved in have been proven to be lies, while the ones she was actually a part of seemed to have not been positively affected by her involvement.

Additionally, Browne has made many false ‘psychic’ claims and predictions, including:

  • That Michael Jackson would be found guilty on molestation charges in 2005.
  • That Bin Laden was dead years before he was killed in a US military operation.
  • That Bill Clinton was not guilty in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which he later admitted to.
  • Went on the show Coast To Coast AM and claimed that most of the miners in the Sago Mine Disaster were alive when most were in fact dead.
  • Told a mother on the Montel Williams Show who had lost her daughter that she was working as a stripper in California only for her to later be identified as a body found in 1996, six years before Browne claimed she was still alive.
  • Similarly, Browne told a grandmother on Montel that her six year old granddaughter had been abducted and taken to “Kukoura”Japan, even though no such town exists in Japan by that name. Later, the child’s remain were found in the US with evidence that she was killed soon after she was abducted.
  • In may 2013, Amanda Berry was found in captivity after Browne claimed she was dead to her mother on Montel in 2004.

The list goes on and on, but it would appear that despite Sylvia Brownes prominence as one of the first ever “TV Psychics”, her powers may be more criminal then paranormal in origin.

So Is “Johnny” Real?

Although Sylvia Browne’s credibility comes into question heavily with her run ins with the law as well as her false predictions and claims, the numerous eyewitness accounts of paranormal activity at the Sunnyvale Toys R Us were happening before and after Browne’s involvement with the case.

We also know that Johnny  ‘Crazy’ Johnson did indeed exist in some form or another in Sunnyvale’s past. His tale of lost love, mental illness and tragic death fit into the classic ghost story mold.

Perhaps they fit too well?

The Store Today

The Store Today

My own little theory, and it is nothing I can prove of course, is that Browne heard about the haunting in the toy store, saw an opportunity to gain some publicity on national television and dug up some interesting history about the property prior to taping.

If she did do this, did she possibly use this information to concoct a story that fit the ghostly activity?


As for the photos Bill Tidwell took, I can see no reason to doubt the photo itself, although it does seem a little too perfectly scripted to Brownes dialogue at the seance.

I definitely do not think this figure is “Johnny Johnson”, who I think is just a minor player in California history Sylvia Browne attached to the spirit in the Toys R Us haunting. No one would remember “Crazy Johnny” if Sylvia Browne had not dug him up.

Is the photo a fake?

Does Tidwell know its a fake if it is?

If it is genuine then it must be of the real Toys R Us ghost.

Who is he?

It is a shame that a case so recent and so highly documented was tainted by involvement with a “paranormal expert” who has a history of fraud. It mires the pond and makes it hard to guess what exactly is going on in Sunnyvale.

Reports continue to this day that the place is haunted, but as some as these claims are random comments on the internet who can tell for sure. I think this is a case that should be looked into more closely in a  professional manner.

Also, if you want to have a laugh at some dated re-enactments, click here and then here.

Very funny,

The second video also features eyewitness accounts of the haunting at about the five minute mark.

There is something going on in that toy store, or at least forty plus years of  employees think that there is…

Discuss This Case/Photo on Death By Posting

23 responses

  1. I first learned about this photo from one of Sylvia’s books. 🙂 I’ve read many. For the most part, I like her and think she has a bad rap… she’s different. Like many things though, I could be wrong. 🙂

    February 7, 2013 at 1:33 AM

    • Admittedly I have never read her book but the stuff I found while writing this and evidence like the clip above make me wonder.

      Of course I am not trying to step on any toes here, I love people having varied tastes and opinions.

      Out of curiosity Patrick, why do you like Sylvia?

      February 7, 2013 at 4:52 PM

      • I suppose it’s mainly because I like her books. There are some clearly skeptic and hateful groups out there that bash her and I wouldn’t give them a second of my time. Im all for being openly skeptic if its done respectfully. You should read a few books though.

        February 7, 2013 at 7:15 PM

    • Caroline

      **I had the pleasure of attending one of Sylvia`s Seminars in Toronto, She helped me understand, Much about the After-Life & Present Life…Sylvia, Lorraine Warren & Ryan Buell (of Paranormal State) all helped in Very Big ways to sculpt my gifts as an Empath & Paranormal Investigator…:)

      July 1, 2014 at 8:45 AM

  2. Sarah

    Really interesting article, I’ve always loved this story and, as you say, it has been tainted by Sylvia Brown’s involvement. I’ve also seen photos before of dozens of toys piled up in a high pile, supposedly the spirit would do it at night when the store was closed and nobody was there.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:54 AM

    • Hello Sarah, thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂

      Do you happen to have any more information on where I might find those pictures of stacked toys by chance?

      Where did you see them at if you don’t mind me asking…

      Glad you enjoyed the article and thanks for the information as well.

      February 11, 2013 at 5:54 PM

  3. Pingback: NFSW: Toys R Us Ghost « Thomas Spychalski

  4. Dan Woods

    I’m a bit in shock over reading this just now. I am 42 now, but in 1979, I was at that very Toys R Us after the store had closed one day while I was in Sunnyvale visiting my aunt with my mom. I walked around tot he back of the store to see if there were any toys in the garbage and a man was jumping on a trampoline that looked to be homeless and pretty dirty. I was very startled as I was only 8 years old. He asked me if I wanted to jump on the trampoline while he was jumping on it and “re-adjusting” his belt which sent me running home! Never saw the guy again. I am sure now this man was no ghost but very real. Could be coincidence but this is blowing me away. Wow.

    August 19, 2013 at 12:40 AM

    • That is a very interesting and unique story.

      Actually when I was very young I was almost picked up by a drifter from California who was actually convicted for raping and killing a couple kids. Thankfully we both had the sense to run. 🙂

      August 19, 2013 at 5:03 PM

  5. Lou

    I just saw an old CBS special on this story. I do believe there is alot of truth to it, especially since the documentary shows employees reading up on the history first and Sylvia was an “oh by the way we found this woman”, so since she was after the fact, I do thinks its real. I always thought of Brown as an emotional vampire who fed on seeing ppl miserable. As a result, as well as his own bad behavior, I find Montel despicable and wouldnt by a dollar bill for a quarter from him. Now Sylvias son is claiming supernatural powers, too.

    February 25, 2014 at 8:31 PM

  6. Cat Parlova

    I used to work in the art supply store that was next to this toy store, and we had several experiences, too. I was closing the store one night, and was alone. When I went to make sure the women’s restroom was clear, all the toilets flushed at once. It startled me, but I didn’t run. We were pretty much used to the antics of “George”, as we called him. He wasn’t there to hurt anyone, he just wanted attention.

    March 2, 2014 at 5:07 PM

    • When did you work there?

      Any other stories about ‘George’ to share? 🙂

      July 18, 2014 at 10:13 AM

  7. Are they sure the people that did the stocking at night when the store is closed aren’t the ones stacking toys in a pile? My oldest son worked as a stock boy for Toys r us and they would lock him and another guy in for the night and there was no guard or anyone else. Needless to say they had a blast but got their jobs done so it would be very easy for the toy pile to happen. Although some of the things are harder to explain away.

    March 14, 2014 at 3:22 AM

  8. Pingback: News From The Spirit World with Thomas Spychalski | The Big Séance

  9. Reblogged this on anachronism1986's Blog and commented:
    Spooky ^.^

    November 9, 2014 at 6:21 PM

  10. Liz

    I grew up in Sunnyvale and this toy store was basically my toy store that I used to go to all the time with my Mom. The ghost never really bothered me or anything though like in the stories, but usually I didn’t go in the back of the store. I usually played around the section with the Power Wheels and bikes or in the Barbie aisle. But I dunno, as a kid I don’t know if I would have been able to tell either because I would be unsuspecting and I was really friendly. My Mom would drop me off in the Power Wheel aisle too while she shopped around the store for gifts for other people so I’d just ride around the aisle in them because they let kids test them out anyway to see if their parents would want to buy them. It was a different time and things like that were considered safe then. I remember one time though I was in that aisle for awhile though and there was this older guy that was playing with me between the bikes and those battery powered vehicles. I just thought he was an employee because all adults other than your Mom in a toy store that are just there are employees, but at one point someone else also stopped me from driving around the whole store in them and told me I had to stay in the same area. I don’t remember them scolding the guy that was playing me though and I think I remember being upset that I was asked to race with someone else but I was the one being yelled at. I don’t remember if my Mom saw the guy either when she came to pick me up because I don’t remember her thanking him for watching me, so maybe I was being babysat by a ghost and didn’t know it. I think *once* I was actually hanging out in that area with an actual employee because they had the uniform for sure, but I don’t remember that one guy wearing a uniform. I was small when this happened though like maybe 5 or 6?

    There was also like minor encounter once but he was probably only curious. We just got a present for my best friend when I was in 2nd grade. I was like 8 so it would have been like 1991 and it was a large item so they make you drive to the back of the store to pick it up so we were waiting there for loading. At school though my sister and I went to this after school program and the one we had just gone to recently we did ghost stories and the instructor for the craft class we were taking told us about how the Toys R Us was haunted, which I’d never known before. So while we were waiting I remembered that we learned that at school so I was telling my Mom and the back door swang open part way with NOBODY THERE. I kind of shut up after that because I was scared, but it didn’t feel malevolent or anything. Probably just curious that kids are talking about him because they learned about him in school, but also I grew up there so presumably the ghost watched me grow up.

    December 29, 2014 at 6:58 PM

    • That is a very interesting story!

      Thank you so much for taking the time to share it with us!

      December 29, 2014 at 10:20 PM

  11. David Rawlings

    Why is the “ghost” holding a ball, wearing flared jeans and runners? Has anyone bothered to interview the others there? If you ask me the sitting person on the right is the creepiest thing in the photo. Bad photo equals bad evidence.

    February 1, 2016 at 6:04 AM

  12. Grandma

    We lived in Sunnyvale in the ’70s. My son, who was 6 at the time, had just started to play baseball. He needed a youth sized mitt, so we went to Toys R Us to buy it. The stories of a ghost we well known. Anyway, I had my son & infant daughter in a cart and was standing in front of the bb mitt display (I think it was at the front of the store). There were hundreds of mitts to choose from and I said out loud to the kids, “I wonder which one would be best?” Seconds later a mitt, from way up high, leaped off it’s rack & landed in my hands! I was not scared at all & figured the ghost choose it for my son 🙂 He has it to this day (2016) & HIS son now uses it!

    June 27, 2016 at 1:24 PM

    • That is a great story!

      I am glad this article has gotten such great responses about other possible paranormal occurrences at this location.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to share your son’s story!

      June 29, 2016 at 11:28 PM

    • yolanda agnir

      Wow. this story just post 3 days ago. i will still haunted by this ” ghost ” in this store?..i lived in the area for almost 34 yrs. though, i heard all the stories !. I never encountered the real thing. i always come to the store on the bright lights. thank you , for sharing your story!!!!!!!!

      June 30, 2016 at 7:15 PM

  13. meg part

    Johan is not a love sick ghost, but is really a demonic spirit wanting people to believe that, unlike what Jehovah told our first parents, Adam and Eve, that if they ate from the tree in the middle of the garden, they would die, instead, wants us to believe that people will keep on living as a spirit after death, which is a lie.
    Satan contradicted God. God had told Adam and Eve what would happen to them if they were to disobey His one commandment, and eat the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, telling them that they would die, Satan said “You positively will not die.” Genesis 2:3-4

    The demons want people to think that humans live on after death and so pretend to be deceased people, ghosts, if you will; but they are only demons and not dead humans…and they can be dangerous!

    July 31, 2016 at 12:05 AM

    • Oookkk…. So Demons are into toys?

      Sorry think your adding in some pseudo religious clap trap here into a simple possible haunting.

      July 31, 2016 at 12:16 AM

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