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Mind on the Rampage? The Seaford Poltergeist

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In the Mouth of Madness
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« on: March 31, 2018, 11:54:57 pm »

 Mind on the Rampage? The Seaford Poltergeist

- J G Pratt -

          THE YEAR 1958 began for me not unlike any number of others. I had recently accepted Dr. Rhine's suggestion that I should give up a project for the investigation of pigeon homing supported by a grant from the Office of Naval Research. Over a period of several years this work had involved me in field studies that kept me away from my desk a great deal of the time. To free myself from this pleasant duty, I transferred the pigeon-homing project to the Duke University Zoology Department, and I slipped quietly back into harness in the laboratory.

Then, early in February, a friend of the laboratory in the New York region sent us the first clipping about some household disturbances which had broken out in the James M. Herrmann home in Seaford, Long Island. These events involved the movement of household objects and other physical effects for which the observers who were on the scene could find no explanation. The mysterious occurrences appeared to center around the son, James, who was in early adolescence. Thus the disturbances fitted into the pattern of the typical "poltergeist" (mischievous spirit) of which there have been some hundreds of cases recorded throughout history. Several earlier cases had been investigated by experienced research workers with results that only made the mystery seem deeper and therefore more challenging and more worthy of continued study.

The newspaper clippings about the Long Island case continued to reach Dr. [J. B.] Rhine's desk over a period of several days. As the case developed, it seemed to be an especially promising one for scientific investigation. First in importance was the existence of a full and carefully compiled record of the developments in the form of an official police report. On February 11, eight days after the disturbances started, Detective Joseph Tozzi of the Nassau County Police was assigned to full-time duty on the case. From then until the final disturbance took place on March 10 (and for an indefinite period after that, since the case remained unsolved) he was on call twenty-four hours a day whenever any new outbreak occurred, and he carefully interviewed the people who were in the house at the time and recorded their accounts within a short period, usually only a few minutes after the disturbances happened.

Another advantage of this case from the point of view of scientific study is the fact that several people outside the family were in the house when some of the unexplained events took place.

Still another fortunate circumstance was the desire of the family for help toward understanding the cause of their trouble and bringing it to an end. Consequently they gladly opened their doors to the investigators from the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke (as to others who took an interest in the case) and willingly answered all questions put to them.

The disturbances appeared to be increasing in both number and magnitude. Especially, the stories that appeared in the Long Island paper, Newsday, gave an impression of intelligent observation and genuine puzzlement on the part of the reporter, Mr. David Kahn. These things added up to a decision by the laboratory to move in on the case.

The first contact was made through Mr. Kahn, who agreed that he would keep the laboratory's interest in the matter out of the news until the investigation had been completed, with the understanding that he would at that time get an exclusive story on our study of the disturbances. However, he had already imposed a great deal upon the family in covering the story, he felt somewhat responsible for what they had gone through as a result of the publicity, and he did not want to ask them to let him bring us in on the case as well.

Dr. Rhine had suggested that I should consider going up, so I placed a call to Mr. Herrmann. He appreciated our interest and said that the family would welcome my coming to help them get at the root of their difficulties.

A few hours later Mr. Kahn met me at La Guardia Airport. On the way to Seaford he said that his editor had vetoed the idea of keeping the investigation "off the record." The editor thought that this story was one of local interest only and that it had run its course. He intended, therefore, to wind up their coverage of it in the next morning's issue with a sort of "society news" item to the effect that the Parapsychology Laboratory of Duke University had sent me up to make a quiet study of the things that had been taking place in the Herrmann house. This did not seem like a correct appraisal of the situation to me, but the matter, as presented, seemed beyond my control.

We were met at the door by Mrs. Herrmann, who was obviously quite excited. She said that we should go down to the rumpus room in the basement and see what had happened only a short time before.

We did so, and there we found Sergeant McConnell, Detective Tozzi's superior on the Nassau County police force, looking at the wreckage of a small record player. This was on the floor in the corner of the room near the foot of the steps, diagonally across the room and approximately twenty feet from the place on the opposite wall where the phonograph ordinarily sat on a special metal table. Sergeant McConnell said the call that a new disturbance had taken place had come to the police station a short while before; and since Detective Tozzi was not immediately available, he had himself come to investigate.

He found that three members of the family were in the house when the phonograph was wrecked. The young son in the family, James (aged twelve), reported that he had been sitting at a study table which was in a nook under the stairway in the rumpus room, and he caught only a glimpse of a quick motion before he heard the crash of the record player as it struck the lower part of the staircase banister. Mrs. Herrmann and James's sister (aged thirteen) were both upstairs, and they only heard the noise. The metal table itself had turned over and the records which were on a lower, "V" shelf had spilled out onto the floor.

According to the rules which strictly governed the family after each new disturbance, nothing was touched. Sergeant McConnell had come as soon as he received Mrs. Herrmann's call.

Mr. Kahn, Sergeant McConnell, and I had been talking only a few minutes when Mr. Herrmann got home from the city. He showed consternation over what he saw, and he was vehemently outspoken in wanting to see an end put to these mysterious disturbances.

Mr. Herrmann soon joined the other members of the family on the main floor while Mr. Kahn, Sergeant McConnell, and I remained for a time in the basement. Sergeant McConnell was speaking about the difficulties of really getting to the heart of the matter. The investigation was entirely novel for the Nassau County Police. They had long since satisfied themselves that there was no criminal violation of law involved; but once they had accepted the case, they felt compelled to pursue it as long as it remained unsolved. The Herrmanns were obviously being harassed in some unexplained way, and they were entitled to police protection. He went on to say that he had personally become convinced that the case was not likely to be solved by the method that had been used up to that time, the plan of calling the detective only after a new outbreak had taken place. Rather, he thought that around-the-clock surveillance of the household might be required.

As we talked, there occurred a rapid sound of running feet and loud voices on the floor above. Going up to see what the noise was all about, we found Mr. and Mrs. Herrmann in the master bedroom. Mrs. Herrmann had discovered that a lamp on her dresser just inside the door was turned over. Mr. Herrmann was asking who had been in the room and the information appeared to be that Mrs. Herrmann was the last one there and that she had only just left the room.

While we were talking in the master bedroom, the two children were in the opposite end of the house where Lucille was preparing dinner. James had already taken his seat at the table and started eating. Lucille came from the kitchen into the dining room with a plate containing pieces of bread. At that moment the doorbell rang, and she placed the bread on the table in front of James and went to answer the door. When Lucille came back into the dining room a few seconds later she found the bread plate lying on the floor in the corner of the room with the bread scattered about. James said that he had been looking down at his own plate and had not seen anything. The first he knew about what had happened was when he heard the plate hit the floor.

Such was the particular set of events which marked my own entry onto the stage of the drama that had been unfolding for the past twenty-two days in the Herrmann household. Nothing that had happened since my arrival justified, of course, any conclusion that anything beyond ordinary human means had been involved in these events. In fact, the presence of James alone in the rumpus room when the record player crashed and in the dining room alone when the bread plate took flight made possible a very obvious explanation, and I could not establish beyond question that no one had been in the master bedroom between the time Mrs. Herrmann had left it and when she returned later to discover the lamp upset.

Things had happened too fast immediately before and after my arrival, and I had not yet begun to get a "feel" of what I was facing. We talked on until bedtime, and then Mr. Kahn offered to take me to dinner and to help me locate a hotel somewhere in the neighborhood. Before leaving, I had an understanding with Mrs. Herrmann that I would call her the next day about noon. Nothing had ever happened while the children were at school, and there seemed no point in my coming to the house until just before they were expected home early in the afternoon.

Only Mr. Kahn and I knew where I was staying. For a few hours, therefore, I was completely lost as far as the Herrmann family was concerned.

The following forenoon I telephoned Dr. Rhine to report upon developments of the first day of my visit, as already described. We agreed that the events did not give us much to go on, but that these occurrences taken alone were consistent with a suspicion expressed by a rival newspaper on Long Island - one that had covered the story from a distance and with a more hard-headed, cynical point of view. It had been voicing the commonsense if not the obvious solution that Jimmy had been playing pranks. But in spite of that we agreed that it was worth while for me to stay long enough to go fully into the matter, and particularly to look into the past record of the case as it existed in the detective's report.

About noon I rang up Mrs. Herrmann as agreed. She immediately said, with a note of concern in her voice, that the house was full of reporters who had come out from New York. Knowing of our desire not to have any publicity until the investigation was completed, she wanted to know if she should try to send them away. I said that once the reporters were interested and actually on the scene there was nothing to do but to talk to them, and I would come over as planned.

The growth of popular interest in the case over the next few weeks showed how badly the Newsday editor had misjudged the situation. The local whirlwind of publicity which he thought was blowing itself out at the time I arrived turned into a storm which spread the news of the Seaford case around the world.

This turn of events was most unfortunate as far as the investigation itself was concerned. The popular writers and interviewers were impatient to know about my findings on the case before the investigation had been carried out. I could only state that our laboratory research on PK had given us a basis of renewed interest in these household disturbances. I had no conclusions and we were not optimistic about being able to reach any. Even more serious from the scientific point of view was the fact that the presence of so many strangers in the house completely changed the psychological atmosphere. As we would expect, under the circumstances the poltergeist activities ceased.

When it became apparent that the wave of publicity that had inundated the Herrmann house made it hopeless to continue the investigation there, I shifted my base of operations to the Nassau County Police Station where I spent my time studying the fifty-page dossier that Detective Tozzi had already built up on the case. When my hiding place was discovered after two days and the demands upon my time for statements about the case and our reasons for being interested in it showed no signs of letting up, it appeared that the only sensible thing to do was to leave. Having requested Mr. Herrmann to let me know immediately if the disturbances began again, I left on March 1 on another field investigation.

After three days I was back at Duke. There had been no telephone call, and we supposed that all was quiet on the Seaford front. Then, to our surprise, we read in the New York Times that there had been a particularly active new outbreak of the mysterious events in the Herrmann home. A second visit seemed in order if we could find some way to make it without attracting the notice of the reporters. We decided, also, that the situation called for sending two investigators from the laboratory and that Mr. William G. Roll, Jr., should go along this time if he would like to do so. He was glad to accept the invitation.

For the second visit, our approach was through Detective Tozzi. He agreed to keep the fact that we were coming secret, and he impressed upon the family that nothing was to be said about the visit. For a period of several days both Mr. Roll and I moved freely into and out of the Herrmann house without once encountering a reporter. A few times a writer came to the home when we were inside, but we went to the rumpus room and waited until the coast was clear. At this stage the reporters were telephoning to the house frequently to inquire whether anything further had happened, and the member of the family who answered the phone always said that nothing more had taken place. Indeed, the unexplained events had largely stopped, but during the time we were together in the home Mr. Roll and I did hear at one time a series of explosive sounds which we could not definitely explain; and on another occasion we heard a loud explosion which literally shook the house. This proved to be associated with definite physical disturbances which we were able to investigate, as will be described later in this chapter.

Other things needed for the completion of the record of the case were also done during this time. These activities included getting a complete copy of the official police record, conducting interviews with members of the family as well as with neighbors and relatives who had been involved with the case, and getting an accurate, scaled floor plan of the house. I finished my part of the work and left ahead of Mr. Roll, who stayed on alone for a few days under similar circumstances of quiet, uninterrupted investigation - the kind that we had expected to conduct from the beginning of our involvement in the case. In all, each of us spent ten days in Seaford, our two periods overlapping for six days.

The pages that follow give a detailed summary of our findings on the case as these were finally assembled and reported in the Journal of Parapsychology for June 1958. The amount of interest taken in the matter at the time appears to justify presenting the study in sufficient detail to show how carefully the mystery was probed from a great number of points of view in searching for some explanation in ordinary terms. Yet it is only fair to say at the outset that, in spite of the fact that no such solution was found, we did not feel that our investigation justified a definite conclusion regarding a parapsychological basis of the disturbances. This case comes within an unusual zone of problems even as viewed by the parapsychologist, and it would be a mistake to take the length of the present chapter as an indication that these strange occurrences have yielded anything definite to the general findings of the field. Yet they continue to hold a fascination for the research worker as they do for the general public, and the challenge is one that should not be ignored.

Sixty-seven distinct mysterious events were listed from the beginning of the disturbances on February 3 until the last one occurred on March 10. From the scientific point of view, not all of the events were of equal interest. The majority of them, in fact, could easily have been produced normally under the circumstances that existed, though there was never any direct evidence that anything was done deliberately as a prank or simply for effect. From the point of the scientific study of the case, we should focus attention upon those happenings that make it most difficult to think of an ordinary explanation.

The first group of events of unusual interest consists of those instances in which objects were actually seen to start to move without contact. Four out of the sixty-seven disturbances were of this sort. The first such instance was a double event in that two objects were seen to move at the same time. The following is an excerpt from the police record concerning Sunday, February 9:

    Mr. Herrmann standing in bathroom doorway, son James at sink brushing teeth, actually saw a bottle of Kaopectate move along the formica top of the drain in a southerly direction for about 18" and fall into the sink. At the same time a bottle of shampoo moved along the formica drain in a westerly direction and fell to the floor. There was no noise or vibration and no one touched either bottle to move them.

When Mr. Roll and I questioned Mr. Herrmann and James about these two events, their description was entirely consistent with that found in the police report. Our interviews and observations brought the following additional facts to light: Mrs. Herrmann had cleaned up the bathroom cabinet after the shampoo and the Kaopectate bottles had spilled a short time before, and she had placed these two bottles on the vanity table. Mr. Herrmann saw both bottles start to move. He said that James "froze" in his position. James said he saw the Kaopectate bottle when it fell into the sink. He did not see the other bottle, though of course he heard the crash as it hit the floor.

Mr. Herrmann stated that it was this occurrence which convinced him that the disturbances in his home were of an unusual character and led him immediately thereafter to lodge a complaint with the Nassau County Police Department. He wrote the following statement for us on March 14:

    At about 10: 30 a.m. I was standing in the doorway of the bathroom. All of a sudden two bottles which had been placed on the top of the vanity table were seen to move. One moved straight ahead, slowly, while the second spun to the right for a 45 degree angle. The first one fell into the sink. The second one crashed to the floor. Both bottles moved at the same time.

    Both bottles had become unscrewed while they were in the cabinet under the sink. They had been placed on the vanity top while the cabinet was being cleaned.

    (Signed) James M. Herrmann

The vanity table on which the bottles stood is slightly tilted toward the sink and the floor. The tilt is about one sixteenth of an inch per foot. The top is made of formica. Mr. Roll tested the Kaopectate bottle by placing it on the top after having wet it with soapy water to minimize the friction. (Mr. Herrmann stated that the counter top was clean and dry when he saw the bottles move.) The bottle did not slide for Mr. Roll even when pushed. He then made a test with a small marble (about half an inch diameter) by placing it on the vanity top where the bottles had stood. It would not roll by itself, but if pushed slightly would continue rolling diagonally across the board, not directly toward the sink or edge. Another occurrence in which an object was seen to move took place on Saturday, February 15, at 7:40 p.m. when only the two children and their adult second cousin, Miss Marie Murtha, were in the living room. The visitor left shortly after this event and before Detective Tozzi arrived. He therefore based his first report on interviews with the family, but contacted Miss Murtha two days later by telephone and obtained her firsthand account of this event. This is summarized in the police record as follows:

    She stated that she is the cousin of Mr. Herrmann and was visiting at his home on Saturday, February 15, 1958, and stated that she was sitting in the living room of the complainant's home and the two children were with her. The boy was sitting in the center of the sofa and the girl was standing next to Miss Murtha, who was sitting in a chair in the northeast corner of the living room. Mrs. Herrmann went into the bathroom and when she turned on the light in there it caused interference on the television set. The girl started across the room to fix the set and before she got there the picture cleared by itself. The girl came back to where Miss Murtha was sitting and the boy was still sitting on the sofa with his arms folded. At this time a porcelain figurine that was standing on the end table at the south end of the sofa was seen to leave the table and fly through the air for about two feet, directly at the television set. The figurine fell to the floor about six inches from the television with a loud noise. The figurine fell to the floor but did not break. Miss Murtha stated that she actually saw the occurrence and there was definitely no one in the room that was close enough to touch the figurine or propel it in any way.

On March 13 I had an interview with Miss Murtha, a single, middle-aged lady, in her home in the Bronx, New York. Her description was consistent with the account she had earlier given the police. Some of the details were amplified as follows.

When Lucille went to look at her hair in the glass front of the secretary, James made some joking remark to Miss Murtha about Lucille and her hair and Miss Murtha turned to listen to him. When she did, she noticed the female figurine on the end table begin to move - "wiggle" was the word she used. Then, when she was looking directly at the figurine, it left its position on the end table very suddenly and moved through the air in the direction of the TV so rapidly that she could not really see it, but only saw something like a white streak or white feather in rapid motion. She thought that the figurine had turned and that it was its white back which she saw. It landed with a very loud crash. She could not tell whether it had struck the TV, the floor, or the rug. There were no marks on the TV or floor, and the figurine ended its fall on the rug so it may have struck there; but it made an unusually loud noise. The figurine was not broken and she could not imagine why it was not. Immediately afterward, Mr. Herrmann came into the living room from the central hallway entrance and asked who had knocked the figurine off the table. Miss Murtha said she told him that no one had done it, she had seen it start to move and then fly off by itself while James was sitting with his arms folded in the middle of the couch looking directly at her.

Miss Murtha impressed me as being levelheaded and intelligent. She said that her idea was that the things which had been happening in the house must have an electrical cause, and recalled an event from her childhood in which she had seen a coffeepot hurled to the ceiling when it caused a short circuit on an electrical heating unit. She could not explain the events in her cousin's home but she did not believe that anything supernatural was involved. She lamented the publicity and was afraid of its effect on the children.

As I left, I asked Miss Murtha if she would write a letter describing her experience in connection with the figurine. The relevant paragraph from this letter (dated March 17) is given below:

    James, his sister, Lucille, and myself were sitting in the living room - I was sitting in the green chair in the corner between the secretary and the window - James and Lucille were seated on the sofa - there is a table at each end of this sofa - on one table was a lighted lamp and two figurines - we were looking at the television when the picture started to flicker - I asked Lucille to adjust it - as she went to do so the picture cleared-on her way back to her seat I asked to feel the material in her slacks and remarked that they were smart, but thought she was neglecting to set her hair. Lucille then turned to look at herself in the glass of the secretary and James said, "Auntie Marie, she is always fixing her hair" - I turned my head in his direction to answer him - as I did I saw the female figurine wiggle (like that of a worm cut in pieces) - as it went in the air it looked like a small white feather - then crashed to the rug, unbroken. The children's parents were in other rooms of the house and hearing the crash came hurrying into the living room to see what happened.

    (Signed) Marie H. Murtha

The fourth and final event in which an object was seen to start to move involved a small night table. The police record contains the following statements about this event, which took place on Sunday, March 2:

    On the above date at about 2210 hours [10:10 p.m.] James was in bed, as was Lucille. Mrs. Herrmann was in the kitchen and Mr. Herrmann was sitting in the easy chair in the southwest corner of the living room facing the boy's room. A very loud crash was heard and Mr. Herrmann ran immediately into tile boy's room. As he got to the door of the boy's room a small three-drawer night table which had been about 18" to the north of the bed twisted and fell to the floor across the door. The boy was on his back in bed with the covers up to his chin at the time the complainant got into the room. Apparently the first crash was the brass lamp on the top of the night table as it was on the floor and the base was badly bent as if the night table had fallen on it The glass globe was broken but the bulb inside was not. Mr. Herrmann was almost in the doorway when the table fell and he had a flashlight in his hand. The light was on and he stated that the boy was lying in the bed and appeared very frightened. He did not move at all to the complainant's knowledge.

On the evening of Friday, March 7, 1958, Mr. Herrmann, discussing the occurrences of the last few days with Mr. Roll and myself, stated that before the event of the previous Sunday evening involving the end table had taken place, he had felt that something more would happen that night. Accordingly, he took his position in the chair in the southeast corner of the living room facing toward the hallway and looking into the boy's darkened bedroom. His flashlight in his hand, he was prepared to spring toward James's room immediately if any sound came. When there was a noise, he dashed into the room with the flashlight burning, and snapped on the ceiling light in the room. He stated that he saw the boy lying quietly in bed and that, before his eyes, the end table turned about ninety degrees and then fell forward onto the floor without any visible means to account for the motion.

A second class of disturbances which are relevant to the question of whether any of the events were parapsychological or psychokinetic in nature are mysterious events which took place when no one was near. These are happenings in which the exact location of the persons in the house, as clearly indicated by corroborated testimony, makes it highly unlikely that any of them could have produced the disturbances in any ordinary way without discovery. There are thirteen occurrences of this kind.

The first event recorded as having taken place when no one was in a position to have done it normally was a bottle that jumped from a cardboard box in the unfinished part of the cellar on February 3. The police record has the following statement concerning this occurrence:

    Mrs. Herrmann and Jim, Jr., in the cellar actually saw a half-gallon bottle of Clorox leave a cardboard box and fall to the floor and break. Mrs. Herrmann and James were about six feet away from the box at this time.

When interviewed by the writers, Mrs. Herrmann and James both said that they had not actually seen the bottle leave the box. Mrs. Herrmann said that the first thing she was aware of was the crash when the bottle struck the floor in front of her when they were about halfway across the room. James stated that he saw the bottle just before it hit the floor, and he automatically pulled some clothes, on the lines that crossed the middle of the room, in front of his mother to protect her from flying glass and splashing liquid.

The next disturbances in this category were a closely grouped series of bottle poppings in the master bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and cellar. The explosive noises were heard by the members of the family, all of whom were together in the dining room at the time. These disturbances took place on Sunday, February 9, and they are described as follows in the police record:

    At about 1015 hours [10:15 a.m.] the whole family was in the dining room of the house. Noises were heard to come from different rooms and on checking, it was found that a holy water bottle on the dresser in the master bedroom had opened and spilled, a new bottle of toilet water on the other dresser in the master bedroom had fallen, lost its screw cap and also a rubber stopper, and the contents were spilled. At the same time, a bottle of shampoo and a bottle of Kaopectate in the bathroom had lost the caps and fallen over and were spilling their contents. The starch in the kitchen was also opened and spilled again and a can of paint thinner in the cellar had opened, fallen, and was spilling on the floor.

After this outbreak of weird explosions, the police were called in for the first time, and a short time later the noise of a bottle overturning in the bathroom was heard when Patrolman Hughes and the entire family were in the living room. The statement from the police record concerning this particular event on Sunday, February 9, is as follows:

    While Patrolman J. Hughes was at the complainant's home all the family was present with him in the living room when noises were heard in the bathroom. When Patrolman Hughes went into the bathroom with the complainant's family he found the medicine and shampoo had again spilled.

On March 10, Mr. Roll and I had an interview with Patrolman Hughes. He stated that a single bottle was involved in the incident which happened while he was in the house. When he and the whole family were in the living room they heard a noise from the bathroom as if a bottle had fallen over. When the bathroom was inspected, a bottle on the vanity table was found on its side.

Hughes had inspected the bathroom prior to this occurrence. It had at that time already been cleaned up after the last disturbance (when Mr. Herrmann had seen the two bottles move in different directions) and he was convinced that the bottle was not then lying down ("I can swear to that!"). When further questioned, Hughes said he could not exclude the possibility that someone had turned the bottle over after he had first seen the bathroom, but in this event he could not account for the noise.

A more striking event which took place when no one was nearby was the crash of a figurine in the living room when Mrs. Herrmann and both children were together in the hallway seeking to escape flying objects. This event is one of a number of disturbances which took place during the evening of Thursday, February 20. The immediately preceding occurrence finally led Mrs. Herrmann to take the children with her into the hallway, the only part of the house that had been free of disturbances. The previous occurrences and the one involving the figurine are described as follows in the police record:

    On the above date at about 21.45 hours [9:45 p.m.] Mrs. Herrmann was on the phone in the dining room, James was right next to her and Lucille was in the bedroom. James was putting his books away and there was a bottle of ink on the south side of the table. A very loud pop was heard and the ink bottle lost its screw top and the bottle left the table in a north-easterly direction. The bottle landed in the living room and the ink spilled on the chair, floor and on the wallpaper on the north side of the front door. Mrs. Herrmann immediately hung up and called the writer, who had left the house about 10 minutes prior to this occurrence. When the writer arrived it was learned that as soon as Mrs. Herrmann called, she had taken the two children with her into the hallway to await the arrival of the writer. At about 21.50 hours [9:50 p.m.] while the children were with her a loud noise was again heard in the living room. All three of them went into the room and found the figurine had again left the end table and had again flown through the air for about io feet and again hit the desk about six inches to the east of where it had hit the first time. On this occurrence the only noise heard was when the figurine hit the desk and at this time it broke into many pieces and fell to the floor. At this time the only appliance running was the oil burner and no one was again in the room.

We questioned each of the three people separately on their movements during this period. The facts were corroborated as reported. The three were standing in the end of the hall near the bathroom out of sight of the living room when the loud crash sounded. Mrs. Herrmann was standing with her back to the linen closet and James and Lucille were standing in front of the bathroom door. They were all facing one another.

Another major item was the overturning of the dresser in James's bedroom when it seems clear that the room was empty. This event took place on Monday, February 24, and it is described in the police record as follows:

    On the above date at about 16.40 hours [4:40 p.m.] the complainant was in the kitchen fixing dinner. Dave Kahn and Mr. Herrmann were in the dining room, both children were in the cellar, when a loud crash was heard from the boy's room. All ran to the room and found the dresser had again fallen over in a southerly direction. At the time of occurrence James, Jr., was coming up the cellar stairs and Lucille was sitting at the table in the cellar. When the complainant, Kahn, and Mr. Herrmann got into the hall the boy was just coming up the stairs. The cellar door was closed at the time.

During my first visit I questioned all the members of the family and found that they individually agreed with the description. given in the police report. Mr. Kahn was interviewed on March 15 by Mr. Roll and the following notes, which had been made immediately after the occurrence, were obtained:

    February 24, Mon. at 4:40 p.m. while Jim [Mr. Herrmann] and I in dinette going over phone calls about the matter, a loud rumble and crash - scary again - and both of us realized that it was another object going over - jumped up and ran to Jimmy's room - he at doorway after coming up from downstairs where he was working on his stamp collection - Lucille in cellar: "It sounded like the walls were caving in, I thought it came from the living room, the dining room, everywhere." Mrs. H. in kitchen fixing dinner. DK toilet articles [which Kahn had left on James's dresser], including bottle of hair tonic, went over and bottle broke.

From the wording of the police report this event sounded as if it might be an instance in which the occurrence of a major disturbance in an empty room could be vouched for by someone other than a member of the family. Mr. Roll, in his interview with Mr. Kahn, asked him whether he could testify that James was in the cellar at the time the bureau turned over. Mr. Kahn replied that he could not so state; by the time he reached the hallway, James was standing in the hall looking through the open doorway into his bedroom. The report given by James and corroborated by Lucille is that both of them had been seated at the table, back of the stairway in the rumpus room, and that James had just left his chair. James said he had to go to the bathroom. Both children said he was only part way up the stairway when a loud noise described as a rumbling sound seemed to come from all over the house. For a short time James stopped on the stairway, then he proceeded to the head of the stairs and was on the point of opening the door when his father rushed from the dining room into the hallway. Since the door to the cellar stair blocks the hallway when open, James waited until his father had passed. He then followed his father to the bedroom doorway, where he was standing when Mr. Kahn reached the hallway.

When questioned regarding the apparent discrepancy between the official record and Mr. Kahn's statement, Mr. Herrmann said that when the noise occurred he leaped from his chair so quickly that he turned it over and he did not take time to catch it. He stated that Mr. Kahn. being less accustomed to the disturbances, was startled and did not react so quickly. Mr. Kahn took longer to reach the central hallway where he could see past the cellar door. Thus the statement that James was on the cellar stairway when the bureau overturned in his room rests on the testimony of Mr. Herrmann and of Lucille.

Again, there was on another occasion a crash which appeared from the record and from our subsequent investigation to have taken place in an empty room. This involved a figure of the Virgin Mary in the master bedroom. The police record describes this event, which took place on Tuesday, February 25, in the following words:

    At about 07.20 [7:20 a.m.], this date the complainant was in the kitchen, Mr. Herrmann had gone to work, and both children were in their rooms getting dressed for school. A loud crash was heard and Mrs. Herrmann ran immediately to the hall. She asked what had happened and both children stated it wasn't in their rooms. All of them went into the master bedroom and found that a 16" plaster figure of the Virgin Mary had gone from Mr. Herrmann's dresser on the west wall to Mrs. Herrmann's dresser on the east wall. This figurine had knocked down Mrs. Herrmann's picture on Mr. Herrmann's dresser and had struck a wooden mirror frame over Mrs. Herrmann's dresser. The figurine then fell to the dresser and one hand broke off it. It also knocked down a lamp on the latter dresser and broke the bulb. All persons present stated that they had heard nothing prior to the crash and had not been in the master bedroom at the time of the occurrence.

On Thursday, February 27, Mrs. Herrmann discussed this case with me in the light of the implication given by one newspaper that James could have caused all the occurrences. She said that the children had been specifically instructed not to move from where they were when some disturbance occurred. When the noise in this instance was heard, James immediately called out from his room that it was not in there. Thus he confirmed the fact that he was not in the master bedroom at the time of the impact. For the damage to have been done as it was, James would have had to throw the figure from a position directly in front of the mirror which was struck in the master bedroom. If he called out at once from his own room. he would not have had time to get there before identifying his position.

Could James have staged the occurrence, upsetting his mother's picture on his father's bureau and then throwing the figure from the hallway near his own bedroom door? Under these conditions the figure could not have dented the front and inside surfaces of the mirror frame, neither would it have marred the bureau top directly below the point of impact on the mirror, or have fallen onto the floor in the spot where it was found. The overturned picture, the marks on the mirror, and the other effects are consistent with the interpretation that the object came from its customary position on Mr. Herrmann's bureau.

There were two other events when the positions of the members of the family and visitors were accounted for. Since they took place when Mr. Roll and I were in the house, they belong in the category of unexplained happenings that took place while I alone from the Duke laboratory was in the house or when both Mr. Roll and myself were present. The prospect of making a fully satisfactory study of such a case depends primarily upon whether the investigator is on the scene when disturbances are taking place. Five events among the total of sixty-seven recorded were of this sort, though they were not otherwise so striking as many of the other things that were reported as happening. Yet because they are what happened while one or both of us were there, they deserve to be listed separately in full.

The overturning of the lamp in the master bedroom and the fall of the bread plate from the dining table on the day I first arrived in Seaford have already been described earlier in this chapter. The upsetting of the lamp was one of the events which apparently took place when no one was near.

The bread-plate incident is of no value as evidence of anything beyond the ordinary, since James was sitting at the dining table alone when it happened, but a few comments on this event beyond what was said earlier may be worth while. I asked James if he had seen the plate move, and he answered that he had not; he was looking at his own plate and had not seen any motion - he had only heard the noise when the plate hit the floor. It would have been very easy for James to shove the bread off the table. But if he had done so, it is hard to imagine why he would have said that he did not see it move (which, in view of the fact that the plate was sitting only slightly toward his left, not more than four feet away from his eyes, is rather surprising). Would he not have got more out of his "prank" by saying that he saw the plate take off and sail through the air? This would have been more dramatic and at the same time easier to believe than the statement he made. However, this event by itself has no value as evidence of any parapsychological force.

After supper on March 9, I was watching TV with the children in the living room while Mr. Roll and Mr. Herrmann talked in the dining room. About 9:00 p.m. the children went to bed. At nine-forty James was in bed with the light out and the door open. Mrs. Herrmann was in the kitchen and Lucille was in her room in bed. At that time there was a dull thump, which I heard as coming from across the hall in the direction of the boy's room. Mrs. Herrmann came out of the kitchen into the hall toward James's room, asking: "What was that noise? Did anyone hear it?" I said yes and we both looked about in the bedrooms but found nothing. Then Mrs. Herrmann and Mr. Roll went to the basement, but nothing was found disturbed. Neither Mr. Roll nor Mr. Herrmann, who were talking in the dining room, had noticed the noise.

At nine forty-five there came another thump, louder than before, and all adults joined in the search. Mrs. Herrmann was obviously shaken. Lucille, still in bed, said it came from James's wall just as if he had hit it with his fist or elbow. I asked James to do this and he was able to get nearly the same sound. James said he was half awake both times the thumping noise was heard. These sounds are, of course, trivial in comparison with the other events and they would not be worth pointing out except for the sake of completing the record of what happened in the house while we were there.

The final one of the sixty-seven recorded disturbances happened on March 10 when Mr. Roll and I were both in the house. We were able to make a close study of this event, which involved the explosive removal of a metal screw-top cap from a bleach bottle in the basement when all the persons in the house were on the first floor. The details of the event itself and the nature and results of the investigation bear relating in full.

On the March evening in question, Mr. Herrmann stayed in New York to appear on a radio program. At 8:14 p.m. when Mr. Roll was sitting at the east end of the dining-room table and I was in the living room, there was a loud dull noise which to Mr. Roll sounded as if it came from the floor or lower wall of the kitchen-bathroom area. James was at that time in the bathroom, Lucille was in bed, and Mrs. Herrmann was in the master bedroom coming toward the central hallway. Mr. Roll investigated upstairs and I went down to the unfinished part of the cellar. Here I found that the bleach bottle in the cardboard box by the washing machine was standing on an overturned jar containing starch, and the bleach bottle had lost its cap and was leaning against the side of the box. The cap was on the floor back of the box. The contents of the bottle had not spilled, as it was not full.

At 8:30 p.m., sixteen minutes after the noise was heard, we made an investigation of the cap of the bottle, which had fallen right side up. We found it to be still wet inside and there was a wet spot on the floor below the cap. We observed the wet spot thereafter at fifteen-minute intervals and we found that it had completely dried up within forty-five minutes of the time the noise was heard.

Though this event was of a minor sort as compared to some of the other disturbances, we were primarily concerned to see if it could he conclusively proved that this occurrence took place at the same time the noise was heard, as we knew the cellar was empty at the time.

This was important because the noise itself was not sufficiently well localized to establish definitely that it had come from the unfinished cellar rather than from the bathroom where James was at that time. Therefore we had to consider the possibility that he had some time earlier staged the bottle effect and then later produced the sound. We could definitely establish that James could not have been in the cellar during the thirty-minute period before the disturbance of the bleach bottle was discovered. For at least half an hour prior to the occurrence Mr. Roll was with James in the dining room where they were participating in a PK game with dice. When this ended shortly after 8:00 p.m. James went immediately to his room and then into the bathroom.

It was therefore important to find out whether the wet spot under the bottle cap could help to determine the time of the occurrence. Detective Tozzi and I observed later the same night that when a drop has formed on the inside of the cap, it comes off only if the cap is placed down forcefully and not if it is simply placed on the floor. Further tests that night and the next day by Mr. Roll and myself with the bleaching liquid showed that a spot of moisture on the concrete floor under the bottle cap will be visible for about three quarters of an hour, but moist and dark for only the first fifteen minutes or so. The spot discovered under the cap the night before sixteen minutes after the noise was heard was definitely dark in color.

If James had staged the event thirty minutes before he made the noise, which was forty-six minutes before the investigators observed the floor under the cap, the place where the cap was found should have been completely dry or the spot should have been only damp and on the point of fading away. In addition to this, it seems unlikely that there should be any spot at all if the events were staged, as a drop would become disengaged from the cap only if this was dropped from above or smartly tapped on the concrete.

The sound connected with the bleach bottle was similar in tonal quality to the two sounds (not associated with any discoverable physical disturbance) heard on the preceding evening. However, it was considerably louder than either of the previous thumps had been, and everyone in the house at the time heard the sound quite distinctly. Mr. Roll localized it as coming from low down in the region of the wall separating the kitchen from the bathroom, and James, when questioned by Mrs. Herrmann, said that he had not done anything in the bathroom that could have caused it.

On Thursday, March 13, Mr. Roll sat in the chair he had occupied in the dining room when he heard the sound on the preceding Monday. I went to the unfinished cellar and struck several objects near the point where the bleach bottle was disturbed. Mr. Roll stated that the sounds I produced were "right" in so far as the localization was concerned, but not of the same quality as the one he had heard on Monday evening. I agreed that the tonal quality was not the same.

In our report, Mr. Roll and I considered whether the disturbances as a whole might be explained in some ordinary way, without invoking a parapsychological explanation. First we discussed the possibility that one or both of the children caused the disturbances fraudulently (the "childish pranks hypothesis") and then whether Mr. and Mrs. Herrmann might have been party to a fraud (the "family hoax hypothesis").

The hypothesis of childish pranks was in our minds when we started the investigation and it was given serious consideration by the police in their work on the case as well as by the parents. On February 12, the day after Detective Tozzi came on the case, both children were interviewed by him. On being questioned, they denied they had anything to do with the occurrences. Detective Tozzi warned them that it would be a grave matter if they were found to be implicated in any way. The phenomena nevertheless continued, some of them even taking place when the detective was close by. On one of these occasions, when Detective Tozzi and James were alone in the cellar and a small metal horse fell to the floor close to the detective's feet, Mr. Tozzi immediately accused James, even (falsely) saying that he had seen the boy throw the horse. He subjected James to a long and severe grilling, the boy all the time denying that he had anything to do with this or any of the other incidents. During the afternoon and evening of Sunday, March 2, there were several disturbances. Before the arrival of Detective Tozzi that night, Mr. Herrmann, as he told Mr. Roll and me later, had vigorously accused James, saying that the detective had proof that James had caused many of the events and that it was time for him to admit it without further delay. The father said that James, driven to tears, only said, "Dad, I had nothing to do with any of it." (Mrs. Herrmann, who was present when Mr. Herrmann told us about this, said she did not approve the way her husband treated the boy on this occasion.) When Detective Tozzi arrived on the scene, "James was sitting at the dining-room table crying, Lucille was in the kitchen crying, and Mr. Herrmann was trying to bring some order to the house, as the complainant [Mrs. Herrmann] was also crying and on the verge of hysteria. At this time, the complainant and the two children went to the Liguoris' home to spend the night as they were afraid to sleep in their home..."

The mysterious events clearly centered around James rather than Lucille (or any other member of the family). If the incidents were fraudulently produced, he would be the most likely culprit. James is an intelligent and likable boy. He seemed also to be frank and honest. However, let us assume that this exterior covered a hardened core which enabled him to stand up to the questioning by the detective and his father while continuing his destructive activities. Let us also assume the existence of some abnormality which made him direct these activities against his own possessions as well as those of his parents. James's or Lucille's possible complicity cannot be ruled out in a number of instances. These consist of several disturbances which occurred when they were alone in the house; a larger number when James was alone in the room in which the occurrences took place; and a miscellaneous assortment of effects which he alone or he and Lucille together could have produced.

But the important question is whether there were any disturbances that are difficult to place in the category of possible pranks, or any which cannot be so set aside. In the "difficult prank" group are the occurrences which happened while a third person was actually observing the object that had been disturbed and when the location of James or Lucille was such that apparently neither could have been in bodily contact with this object. However, even some of these phenomena, on close investigation, reveal an opportunity for fraud which an audacious trickster might have taken advantage of - of course with very great risks of being found out. Such are the events that took place when some other person was in the room with James when the incident occurred. In this group, also, belong the cases when James was known to be in another room prior to and after a disturbance but when he could conceivably have brought the event about without detection by moving noiselessly and rapidly up to the object in question, upsetting it, and then returning to his former location.

However, seventeen out of the total of sixty-seven events carefully studied and recorded cannot, if correctly reported, be explained as easily performed, simple pranks. In each of these cases the position of the children at the time of the disturbance was known to some other person to be such that they definitely could not have thrown, pushed, or upset the object in question. In some of the cases, James was actually observed at the time of the occurrence and the object itself was seen when its movement began.

Is it conceivable that those disturbances which cannot be attributed to ordinary prankishness might have been produced by means of skilled magic? We ascertained that the performance of magic is not known to be among James's hobbies, and it is improbable that a boy would be interested in magic without having the fact become known. But on the remote assumption that James might have learned magic in secret, could he have produced in this way the effects which are not explainable as unskilled tricks?

The occurrences can be divided into two categories: the "bottle poppings" and the displacements of furniture and household objects. It has been proposed that the former might involve the application of some chemical knowledge and the latter, mechanical skills utilizing undetected devices. I will discuss the two categories of events in the light of these suggestions.

There were twenty-three recorded events involving the more or less explosive opening of screw-top bottles. It had been suggested that the effects observed in the opening of the bottles when no one was present were not beyond the skills acquired in science-club chemistry. The implication was that the bottles could have been opened by pressure generated chemically or physically in a way that left no trace and therefore was not detectable in the subsequent analysis made in some instances in the police laboratory. Whether a hypothesis of this sort is justified seemed to Mr. Roll and myself a point worthy of investigation, and we accordingly tested the effect of generating pressure inside screw-top bottles by converting carbon dioxide from its solid state ("dry ice") to gas. We discovered that when the top was left loose the pressure simply escaped with a low, hissing noise but without removing the cap. When the cap was screwed on as tightly as possible by hand, the pressure increased until it forced its way out around the threads but without perceptibly loosening the cap. When we tightened the cover mechanically, we were successful in exploding a bottle of relatively thin glass, but the cap remained on the broken top of the bottle. Such an effect was never observed in connection with the bottles that lost their caps in the Herrmann household. When we used a Clorox bottle of thick glass, even tightening the cover mechanically produced neither an explosion nor perceptible unscrewing. When the pressure built up sufficiently, the gas escaped around the cap. (Millions of housewives who have done pressure canning in glass jars know that pressure escapes from firmly closed lids without any loosening of the caps.) It is evident, of course, that with a different method of sealing an explosion could be made, to occur. But the point is that pressure does not cause the tops to unscrew and come completely off, and this is true whether they are put on loosely, firmly by hand, or with mechanical force.

We found that it made no difference if the threads were well lubricated with machine oil.

Let us now turn to a consideration of the "Skilled magic" theory in relation to some of the incidents I described earlier involving the movement of objects. Every one of these occurrences could have been brought about by mechanical devices. The question is whether the installation and operation of such devices could have remained undetected. It is conceivable that James might have caused a Clorox bottle to jump out of its box and break on the floor, as happened in one instance, by pulling a string tied to the bottle and hooked over a clothesline or nail in the ceiling. Some of the other disturbances are not so easy to account for in this way. For instance, it is very difficult to imagine how James could have caused the two bottles to move in opposite directions by threads or some other device when his father was standing close by watching him. And how he could have made the figurine fly off the end table when Miss Murtha was in the room looking at him.

Also, can anyone please explain how, by means of strings or an easily concealed device, James could have caused a sixteen-inch statue of the Virgin Mary to hit the dresser in the master bedroom in the way it did while he was in another room and how he could have caused the figurine to fly across the living room when he was in the hallway with his mother and sister? In these three figurine cases we also have to explain how the magical device could have generated the speed or force displayed. The figurine Miss Murtha saw moved so rapidly that it appeared as a "small white feather." The Virgin Mary statue left deep marks on the mirror frame, and one of the other figurines heavily scarred the secretary when it shattered against it.

To get an estimate of the force involved in this last figurine smashing, we hurled crockery against wood comparable to that of which the secretary was made. We had to use all our strength to produce similar indentations. It is difficult to conceive of how James could have installed an undiscovered device to propel the figurine horizontally with such force when he was not in the room. Detective Tozzi reached the front door immediately after this occurrence, so there was little chance to conceal a device before he arrived on the scene. It is as difficult to see how James could have installed the mechanism in the first place. The same figurine had flown against the secretary earlier in the evening, at seven fifty-five when Mr. Tozzi was in the basement. The detective replaced it on the end table and remained in the living room until about nine-thirty. James was sitting at the dining-room table during this time doing his homework. James is reported to have remained in the dining room until nine forty-five, when the family sought shelter in the hallway. It would therefore seem that he had no opportunity to prepare the complicated mechanism necessary to crash the figurine the second time. Similarly, with regard to the other incidents, the opportunity for James (or anyone else) to prepare a trick using a hidden device which would then have to be concealed was limited or nonexistent.

The fraud hypothesis would become easier to accept if we could suppose that the other members of the family were acting as James's accomplices. We could then simply assume that the disturbances reported by the Herrmanns, such as the simultaneous movement of the two bottles in different directions, never occurred and that the various effects which the police and others observed had been staged. This leaves only those occurrences to be explained which took place while Patrolman Hughes, Miss Murtha, and the writer and Mr. Roll (the bleach-bottle incident) were in the house. But, unless Miss Murtha is disqualified for being a relative of the Herrmanns, these three events seem as difficult to explain as part of a colossal family joke on the world as they were on the supposition that James alone contrived them himself by magical devices.

There are other considerations which make the family-hoax explanation an unsatisfactory one. The Herrmanns would seem to have been inviting unnecessary trouble and running grave risks by asking the police and other investigators into their home and then staging the disturbances right under the noses of these visitors. A member of the Seventh Precinct force was in the house at the time six of the disturbances took place, but the police investigations and interviews failed to reveal anything suspicious. Similarly, no reporter or other visitor present when events took place uncovered any evidence that any of the disturbances had been fraudulently produced.

The police did not use fingerprinting methods in this investigation. They considered it would not have been possible to establish guilt within the family by this method since the objects disturbed were in constant use. However, on February 19, five previously disturbed bottles, whose contents had been analyzed at the police laboratory, were dusted with fluorescent powder without the knowledge of anyone outside the police department and replaced in the original positions. Detective Tozzi told the family that he wanted to see if anything would again happen to these bottles, and he instructed each person not to touch them. He thereafter carried in his car a special lamp by means of which the fluorescent powder could be detected on the hands of any member of the family, but none of these bottles ever spilled again.

The educational background of the parents, their professions, and the position of the family in the community reveal no motive for a joint hoax. Mrs. Herrmann, aged thirty-eight at that time, was a registered nurse who held a supervisory position in a large hospital until the time of her marriage. Mr. Herrmann, aged forty-three, is an alumnus of Fordham University, and the interlines representative of Air France in New York City. He saw action in the Pacific during World War II as a sergeant in the Marine Corps and is a member of the Auxiliary Police of Seaford. Scores of people became closely acquainted with the members of the family during and after the disturbances, including Mr. Robert Wallace (the writer of an article in Life), Mr. Edward R. Murrow (who did a "Person-to-Person" program on the family), Father Graham (editor of the Catholic magazine, America), Mr. Irve Tunick (who wrote the script for the Armstrong Circle Theater program), and, of course, Mr. David Kahn, Mr. Joseph Tozzi, and Mr. Roll and myself. No one ever expressed publicly or to me privately any doubt about the sincerity and honesty of the members of the family.

The family seemed greatly upset by the destruction of their belongings. They also expressed concern that the disturbances might cause injury to someone. In fact, they moved to the homes of neighbors and relatives on four occasions, staying away from their own house for a total of six nights during t
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