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Transcript for
The Columbus Poltergeist
(featuring James Randi)

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Blake Smith: Early in March of 1984, the Ohio newspaper The Columbus Dispatch began the tale of a 14 year old girl who was undergoing a terrible ordeal. Objects in her home begin to fly across the room and smash. Clocks ran faster than normal. Silverware and china flew and broke. Several witnesses reported seeing these terrifying events and a newspaper man caught photos of a telephone flying through the air in front of the frightened teen. Her name was Tina Resch. A foster child, she was in the care of a couple who over the course of 31 years would take care of over 250 foster children. Was young Tina just seeking attention? Was she faking these events? Or was she being plagued by the horrifying paranormal phenomena known as a Poltergeist?


Blake: Welcome to MonsterTalk, the science show about monsters. I’m your host Blake Smith. Together with my friends Ben Radford, managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer, and linguist, blogger and paranormal investigator Dr. Karen Stollznow, we take a look at a variety of scary phenomenon, and put it under the cold light of science. Today we’re going to talk about poltergeists. In paranormal lore, a poltergeist is a noisy or mischievous spirit, which manifests itself by terrorizing its victims with a variety of telekinetic phenomena. Objects fly through the air and smash, sometimes even the victims themselves were thrown through the air. Homes are pelted with rocks that seem to come from nowhere, windows break, mysterious noises fill the air. As far as hauntings go, it’s exactly the kind of haunting you would never want to go through, but which would be a boon for skeptics of the paranormal to be able to investigate. One of the drawbacks of ghost investigations is that it’s often difficult to capture the phenomena and measure it, and you end up with hours of video footage of nothing, audio tapes that are blank, and a bunch of anecdotes about the things that were happening before you showed up to take a look. In 1984, Tina Resch was having a bad time. Objects were hurling around her, her foster parents were hiding anything that could break and hurt her or her foster siblings, newspapers and magazines and TV crews were hounding her, and scientists of the paranormal, skeptics and believers alike wanted to examine her and her claims. One group in particular wanted to have a look: members of CSICOP. They sent 3 representatives along to investigate including James “The Amazing” Randi. But when they got to the Resch home, Mrs. Resch would not let Randi inside. He was not allowed to examine Tina, or enter the home. A few days later one of the TV crews filming the phenomena caught Tina moving a lamp and then claiming that she hadn’t done it. With her trick exposed many began to believe that she had made up the whole thing, and others said she was doing that to get the TV crews to catch their phenomena get out of her home. Dr. William Roll, a parapsychologist from West Georgia College, felt that Tina’s case was legitimate and he studied her intensely. Meanwhile, Randi and his CSICOP crew did their own research and came to very different conclusions. This year at the Amazing Meeting number 8, the incredible skeptics gathering that the James Randi Educational Foundation puts together each year, the hosts of MonsterTalk had the opportunity to meet in person and interview James Randi about this particular case. We’ll hear that in just a moment, but first, let’s have some…

[Voiceover: MonsterTalk!]

Blake: So, tonight’s topic is: poltergeists, not the movie, although I did enjoy the movie. So poltergeist means noisy ghost. I’ve read a lot of stories about poltergeists, I suppose you guys have, too.

Dr. Karen Stollznow: Umm Hmm

Ben Radford: Umm Hmm

Blake: And it seems like traditionally a lot of the poltergeist stories start out with rocks being thrown at the house, like rocks hitting the roof, rocks being tossed, I’m not sure why, stones, you know, breaking windows and then move on to.

Karen: Well there’s some crossover there with Bigfoot, isn’t there?

Blake: I never really thought of that before. [Laughter]

Ben: Depends on where you are, I suppose. [Laughter]

Blake: That’s funny. Yeah, there have been cases of Bigfoot throwing stones, allegedly, and hitting trees with sticks.

Karen: Bigfoot poltergeists.

Blake: That’s right, well that would be the paranormal Bigfoot.

Ben: Living in glass houses. [Laughter]

Karen: Moral Bigfoot. [Laughter]

Blake: Bigfoots who live in glass houses, umm… wait… [Laughter]

Ben: Shouldn’t throw poltergeists. [Laughter]

Blake: That’s right, should not throw poltergeists. That’s a good rule. [Laughter]

Karen: I live by that one. [Laughter]

Blake: That’s something I can use almost every day in my conversations. You’ve given us a bumper sticker, Ben.

Ben: Glad to be of service.

Blake: MonsterTalk: Bigfoots who live in glass houses should never throw poltergeists. Oh, the people of Michigan who have to… [Laughter]

Karen: So, you were talking about some of the common claims of poltergeists?

Blake: Right, right, they tend to start out with stones being thrown, and then move into objects moving, various kinds of physical manifestations; teleportation, apportations, as in: things disappearing and reappearing. All our Harry Potter fan listeners will know what that means. There are, almost always, in these cases, one or more children involved, and usually one of those children is considered to be the center of the haunting.

Karen: And usually paranormalists claim that there’s some link between the child and maybe puberty, and their abilities being related to their sexuality, somehow.

Blake: Yeah, I think that’s true. I think that that is a common claim, in the same way that the X-Men comic book usually has mutants, um… coming into their powers at the same time as their sexual maturity begins to happen.

Ben: One of the claims that I’ve often come across is the notion that, children are by their very nature more open to the paranormal, or the mysterious and that, somehow, as we become adults, we close our minds off to the possibility of ghosts, or, you know, monsters, or spirits or what have you. It’s this sort of weird notion that the more educated, and more experienced you become the less in tune you are, if you will with these sorts of things.

Karen: Hmm, I’ve heard that.

Blake: On the skeptic side, I think we tend to think there’s children in the case… that, the children are [at the center of] the case, because children are tricky little guys and girls who throw things and make it look like ghosts are doing it. It almost…

Karen: By the same token I think people could say, “Oh, children would never lie about these things, and they’re innocent” So it could go either way, the argument.

Blake: I think that would be people without children, who would say that. [Laughter]

Karen: O.K., that’s me.

Blake: People with children know they lie. They lie a lot, and they start lying early. [Laughter]

Ben: Well, they know their own children do. They may have different expectations of other people’s children.

Blake: I suppose that’s possible. [Laughter]

Karen: [Laughter]

Blake: I just think it’s ironic, how a paranormalist might try to figure out how the hormonal changes of a person going through puberty could be equated to, you know, becoming a focus, or gateway for spiritual activity that also requires that whatever phenomenon is taking place is indeed paranormal. And, I think that’s where it typically breaks down in these cases; when it comes time to investigate and bring in the skeptics and the science to see what’s really going on. Almost every case, it turns out that some form of trickery is taking place and the skeptics say, “Aha! There was trickery taking place, therefore we can’t trust any of these claims.” And the believers say, “Aha! The kids did a trick on the skeptics, but really, all the rest of the claims: totally true.”

Karen: Yeah, or [they] come up with the argument that they were not necessarily trying to trick skeptics, but were trying to give them some example of the phenomena so that they can pay closer attention to it, and believe and everything else that’s happening, so they’re just trying to give them an immediate example.

Blake: Yeah. It comes down, in a lot of ways, like any traditional haunting, I think. Where, in the end, you have a story about what happened, and the stories are typically far more dramatic than any of the actual physical evidence. Although, I have to say, some of the poltergeist cases have some great photographs: phones flying through the air, TV’s vases being broken, people, children flying through the air in the case of the uh… What’s that Australian…?

Karen: The Guyra ghost?

Blake: Was it the Guyra ghost I was thinking of…? No, I don’t think so. I think it was the Enfield poltergeist I was thinking of, that’s right. The Enfield one was from the 70’s. And you said the Guyra, that one’s…?

Karen: That one’s from the 20’s and there was another case in the 90’s, that I was tangentially involved in, it was called the Humpty Doo poltergeist.

Ben: Sounds spooky. [Laughter]

Blake: Sounds like breakfast at Denny’s. [Laughter]

Karen: I remember watching news segments about this, and basically, it was like a Current Affair, or a TV show like that, went around to the house of these people who were experiencing poltergeist activity, and they claimed that they’d brought around a number of priests, orthodox priests and catholic priests, to exorcise the premises and that these people were scared, and had taken off, and weren’t able to help them at all. So, this TV crew set up shop there for a week and filmed everything that was taking place. And on one day, I think towards the end of the recording, they caught one of the residents throwing a knife. It was just picked up in a reflection in a mirror. And then there was a case of a number of skeptics from the Australian Skeptics who went in to investigate the premises and they found out that batteries had been flying about, and implements and tools and things, and they found when they look at the fans that they had, they were covered in dust except for sections where there were battery-sized clean sections. So, obviously they been placing things on the fans, switching them on, which was spinning them around the room, fans would spin around and hurl all of these items making it seem as though it was poltergeist activity. So what happened in the end was, these people, they were just renting the property and they were booted out.

Blake: Wow. And why did they call it Humpty Doo? Because I really never got past that part.

Karen: That was the name of the town. [Laughter]

Blake: Wow! [Laughter]

Karen: It’s in the Northern Territory, I think. I’ll have to look that up, but…

Blake: If I ever move, that seems like a really great place to live.

Ben: You should head up to Dildo, Newfoundland.

Blake: No, No.

Karen: How’s that spelled? [Laughter]

Ben: D-I-L-D-O. It’s a nice place, I’ve been there. That case reminds me of, there’s a woman named Denise Jones, and several years ago, she wrote a book, I think it was called The Other Side and in her book, which I read when it first came out, she talks about, it’s a fairly thick book and it reads much like, maybe one of Jay Anson’s novels, you know the Amityville type stuff, but it’s the, supposedly, true story of her and her family particularly her son, who presumably was manifesting ghosts and spirits having all sorts of, as is often the case of many things happen when the son was by himself alone, which raise big red flags for me, but she apparently believes that it’s real case.

Blake: We’re going to talk about the Columbus, Ohio poltergeist case the Tina Resch case. As we talk about this right now, we’ve already recorded an interview with James Randi, and I have to say, that was really interesting to see how much emotion, how much raw emotion was still in Randi regarding this case considering he wasn’t allowed to do a lot of investigation he wanted to do.

Karen: Seems like she was deeply troubled after those events.

Blake: Yeah, I think so. It sounds like she was deeply troubled as well, because she wanted to find out who her parents were. And Randi’s theory was, at the time,I don’t know what he thinks about it now, but, at the time was she wanted to find out who her parents were and thought that this would be a great way to get media attention, so she could find out, because she had been in foster care for almost ten years at that point, maybe more.

Karen: And maybe just to get attention in general.

Blake: And that’s the thing about these poltergeist cases: the child whose at the center of the haunting, or who is doing these effects, maybe, I don’t know. We’ll be skeptical but the child at the center of the haunting, does get a lot of attention and in some cases the child at the center of the haunting, seems like they go and get a lot of psychiatric care. And a lot of times when they come back from this kind of care, the haunting stops. So, whether that means they’ve gotten older and the doorway’s shut or, you know, they got cynical and stopped believing because the doctors told them there’s no such thing or because they got wise and stop throwing things, regardless a lot of times psychological or psychiatric care seems to be involved in the solution to these cases.

Ben: There’s definitely that aspect to it. I personally would be a little cautious about attributing too much to that. I mean there are many, many, many people, and kids and children who want attention, who don’t fake ghost phenomena, and there are plenty of people who fake ghost phenomena, who aren’t doing it for attention. I think that there is certainly a strong correlation in poltergeist cases, but…

Blake: Correlation is not necessarily causation…

Ben: Yeah, there’s more to it.

Blake: Yeah, right, and I didn’t mean to imply that those people are mentally ill, necessarily…

Ben: Yes you did.

Blake: No, I’m just saying, I’ve just noticed that that happens on a lot of these cases. That the person is taken away for study or for care at a hospital for a while, it just seems to be a recurring theme when you read about these things, so…

Karen: They’re very special cases aren’t they?

Blake: They are, they’re very unusual. There’s a big difference between, “You guys, look the TV’s flying across the room!” and, “You know, my uncle Harry says that there is a ghost in the attic.&” You know, that’s a different thing altogether. All houses make creaky noises, but all houses don’t have things flying across the room. And I think it’s the physical, or the telekinesis type effects, where things are moving that are one of the hallmarks. To say noisy ghost, hearing banging noises, that’s all pretty creepy, but not as creepy as being levitated by a ghost, or thrown by a ghost, or having vases and glasses and knives being thrown.

Karen: I wonder if there have been any cases where the phenomenon hasn’t been attributed to one of the members of the family and that it was just a series of natural occurrences that was causing things to be moved or disturbed in the house, probably to a lesser degree than the examples we see with things flying through the air?

Blake: Oh, I would have to think so

Ben: Sure.

Blake: Only, that would not be a famous case, would it?

Ben: Right, there’s sort of a self-selecting case there, where the solved ones are not gonna be making the air as much as “mysteries.”

Blake: Right, in my own personal haunting experience, which I think we’ve talked about. Maybe we haven’t, but one of the phenomenon I had in addition to the classic sleep paralysis, which is creepy enough on its own, is I had exploding light bulbs. Which is a very strange thing to happen, and if you are inclined to think the paranormal is going on, nothing confirms it quite like exploding light bulbs, it is fantastically disturbing to see.

Karen: So, it happened more than once?

Blake: Yeah, it happened more than once, and it happened, well again, it’s like saying, “I found something in the last place I looked, it happened when I was there.” I didn’t usually come home, that’s just a coincidence, I suppose, but it happened when I was there, because I would turn on the lights and the light bulb would explode. Probably happened more than 4 times, I don’t know how many times, but more than 4. It got to the point that I felt like I had a pretty good system for getting the exploded light bulb out of the socket. I was talking to Ben about it, it was really kind of bugging me. The only thing I had in common with all of those cases, all those incidents, was that I had bought a bunch of light bulbs in bulk and what I probably had was a bad crate, you know, a bad case of light bulbs, and I would say that when those light bulbs depleted, when I no longer had any, I never had that experience again, so.

Karen: And that was the only thing that occurred?

Blake: No, no there were other things. I had a lot of things, but the problem is, like in my case, there were other haunting effects happening, but they all maybe had a natural explanation, now I think they do, but since I was looking for other symptoms I was finding them, you know.

Karen: Yes.

Ben: Umm Hmm.

Blake: If a door closes by itself, it could just be a difference in the air pressure when you have the air-conditioning on, it could be a lot of things. Could be a misbalanced door, but if you’ve already had a light bulb explode that day, and then a door slams that’s a ghost! I mean, it’s obvious. [Laughter]

Ben: Clearly, Clearly!

Karen: You start linking them. [Laughter]

Blake: And if you ever get sleep paralysis and you have it feel like someone crawls on you, and that goes back for years and years in our culture, the stories of the nightmare or the little, what is it, I’m gonna forget, not the Succubus, the Incubus, crawling up on your chest at night, you know, if you actually experience that, the paralysis and the feeling of pressure on your chest, it feels for all the world like there’s someone in the bed with you and you can’t get out from under them and you don’t have to be told by somebody that that feels paranormal, to make that feel paranormal, because you turn on the lights and there’s nobody there, yet you clearly felt the sensations of someone there. It’s extremely disturbing. It was only because of a good skeptical television program that I even learned about this. I never read about it because when I was investigating hauntings I went to the paranormal part of the book shop, or the library, and those places only tell you the supernatural explanation.

Karen: Those are the greatest options, aren’t they?

Blake: They’re the easiest to find, so later on…

Ben: What a shame there’s not a new book out that deals with that.

Blake: Why Ben, what are you referring to? Scientific Paranormal Investigation? [Laughter]

Ben: I think it has contributions by you two, if I’m not mistaken…

Blake: I think I’ve heard of that book. [Laughter]

Karen: I think so. [Laughter]

Blake: One more thing you need to know before we hear our interview with James Randi and that’s to do with the current status of Tina Resch. In 1994, she pled guilty to the murder of her own 3 year old daughter; in order to avoid having a death penalty trial-by-jury. She’s currently serving a life sentence in a Georgia prison. I’ll have a little more information on that after the interview.

[Voiceover: MonsterTalk!]

Blake: James “The Amazing” Randi is an 81 year old man with a white beard, but he’s more than that. He’s also a magician, a performer, and a paranormal investigator. He’s worked for decades to provoke critical thinking, and through his organization, the James Randi Educational Foundation, to seek out fakers and expose charlatans who prey on the unwary with a variety of claims of the paranormal. He’s famous for exposing trickery by people such as Peter Popoff, Uri Geller and many, many others. We caught up with Randi at the Amazing Meeting number 8 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Blake: Alright, so I thought I would ask you about a case that you weren’t allowed to investigate, if you remember this: the Tina Resch case. She was a poltergeist victim, I think William Roll, the parapsychologist was on that case. What do you remember about that case?

James Randi: Oh, well I remember Tina Resch very well, and Bill Roll’s input on the thing. That was a tragedy, total tragedy, in the long run. I suppose you know how she ended up?

Blake: I do, she ended up with a life sentence in prison, so…

James: Yep, for murdering her own child, it’s just incredible.

Blake: Yeah, I’ve actually got to go back, I wanted to read some of the newspaper articles about that, I’m not actually familiar with what went down with that case.

James: Well I have serious differences with Bill Roll as you might imagine, and I hold him singly responsible for Tina Resch’s tragedy.

Blake: Really?

James: Because he encouraged it. He got her out to wherever it was that they were researching her, I’ve forgotten it now, and he treated her like a queen. He spoiled her as much as he possibly could to get every bit of information and every bit of performance out of her, and I think that was very, very unethical, if not downright criminal for him to do a thing like that. I highly resent it and I have never spoken to Bill Roll since.

Blake: Wow.

Ben: For our listeners who aren’t familiar with the case, can you give us a sort of an encapsulated story?

James: Yeah, well the poltergeist phenomena, I’m sure your listeners are familiar with what we mean by poltergeist, a “mischievous spirit&” in translation. And Tina Resch was a little girl who found out that she could do tricks, that she could toss things about and she could get away with it, without being detected, and she was photographed by a fellow named Fred Shannon, I think it was, who was the official photographer for the Columbus Dispatch. The Dispatch ran with it, the media in many cases becomes totally irresponsible, in that they don’t care whether something is true or not, they only care whether or not it makes a sensation and it’s going to sell the product that they’re peddling at the moment. And this happens so frequently, now, that I have lost a great deal of my dependence on and, well faith, I should say in the media in general. I find it reprehensible that they would behave like that, but the dollar seems to be the bottom line. And with the Columbus Dispatch, they gave this thing a runaround that is unforgivable. Now the management has changed over the years, recently I needed a photograph that was taken at that time, and I applied for it, just by simply making a phone call, and they sent it to me. But they explained to me also, that the management had changed completely, all the personnel was switched around, gone or dead or whatever, and that they didn’t have any compunctions about doing this, so I got this for my next book, which will be A Magician in the Laboratory, plug, plug. Yes, Tina Resch was spoiled by Bill Roll, who, after she had been exposed as a trickster, caught red-handed doing the tricks, he still supported her, because he wanted to get a story out of it. He wanted to get a book out of it, and he got a book out of it. I think it’s simply called The Poltergeist, is it?

Ben: Yeah, I think that’s it.

James: And Bill Roll got a book out of it, and he made some money out of it. Good for you Bill, thanks a lot, and you ruined a young girl, and you, you… well, I can’t hold him responsible for the death of the child, but in encouraging Tina Resch to behave the way she did, he was responsible for the tragedy, and I have no problems assigning blame to Bill Roll for that. I feel very badly about it, because Tina Resch was a child who was taken over by the media, taken over by a parapsychologist. In doing that it brought about the tragedy, one way or another, that’s a long and involved story, but bottom line on this thing is that Tina Resch was catered to by the Columbus Dispatch. When they were visited by me I had to use all kinds of subterfuge to get information from them. Well I’ll give you one you example: I wanted to get original prints of the pictures that Fred Shannon, the photographer had made, because I was sure there was evidence in those photographs. And indeed there was, it’s right there. We found out as a result of studying the contact sheet, that unbelievably, Fred Shannon was told by Tina Resch who was the subject of the photographs, she’s the one he’s there to photograph while these phenomena take place, she instructed him to cover his eyes and turn away until he heard, “Woo, Woo, Woo” from her. That was the little cry that she gave, and then he was to press the shutter. So he didn’t see what he was photographing, and he didn’t see what came before it or after it.

Blake: Wow.

James: And he went along with it, because he wanted the photographs, and the Columbus Dispatch wanted the photographs, and they got them. And they got them exactly falsified the way she wanted them falsified. She was running the show, she was in charge, the photographer wasn’t, the Columbus Dispatch wasn’t, the parents weren’t, no the little girl was in charge of it and she was enjoying the position of power that she had.

Blake: It’s kind of amazing that they would fall for that.

James: No, not even, they didn’t fall for it.

Blake: They wanted the story.

James: They wanted the story and they gleefully fell for it.

Blake: Right, because they wouldn’t have written that part, right?

James: No, no, no, no. They didn’t describe it that way, but when you see the contact [sheet], you know… what I did, I didn’t finish my story there, I should. I asked at the desk when I went into the Columbus Dispatch, I wanted to know if I could get prints, and Oh, yes, you can see our photo room.” And they directed me there and I went in and saw the receptionist there and I said you had photographs in such and such edition, and I gave her specific names, and I said first of all I would like to see the contact sheet. Now we’re talking film, you may remember film.

Blake: Vaguely.

Karen: [Laughter]

Ben: Old school film, yeah.

James: Yeah, it’s a strip of plastic with little holes along the edge, in 35 millimeter format. You may vaguely remember it. They used to make contact sheets, I’m trying to think of how many we would put on an 8×10, about 30 or so, something like that…

Ben: 30−35.

James: You would simply lay the film on the sensitized paper, to make an exposure and you would then have a sheet which gave you miniatures, the size of the original negatives, of each one of them so you could look through and see which ones you wanted, the numbers were printed right on the side of the strip of film and you simply ordered them that way. So I asked her for a contact sheet first of all, and she said, “Yes, sir, no problem.”, and she signed me up to pay the very small bill, a couple of dollars, and they brought me out the contact sheet and the fellow in the darkroom said, “Just tell me what prints you want, and you’ll sign ‘em up with the young lady here, and I’ll get you the prints.” I said, “O.K., fine, great.” and I looked over the contact sheet, and the evidence was blatantly there. You could see what was happening, you caught her actually doing the trick in some of the frames. But, again, Bill Roll, the parapsychologist, and the Columbus Dispatch, and the photographer, and the editing room, didn’t want to see those. They skipped right by them, because they weren’t the pictures they wanted in the paper. The evidence is there, but they totally ignored it, well it was as I say, very evident evidence, so, I knew what I wanted, and I ordered up the prints. I gave them to the fellow in the darkroom, he went in, and disappeared from sight. The Editor showed up at the door, and he said, “What is this man doing here?”, and the receptionist said, “He’s ordered some prints, sir.”, and he said, “Oh no he’s not, oh no. I know who this is!”

Karen: [Laughter]

James: And he moved over to me and he tried to take the contact sheet from me, and I snatched it back, and I had the receipt right there and I held it up in front and I said, “I paid for this, this is my property, and I’m leaving.” And he said, “Oh no you’re not!”, and he called the guard. The guard came over and said, “Yes, sir?”. He said, “this man has merchandise that I want back.” I looked at the guard and said, “This is my receipt, this is the merchandise, I’m going out the door. If you stop me, I’ll sue the ass of you, and the entire newspaper, and I’m not kidding, I’m very, very, serious.”, and I stuck the receipt into the envelope, walked to the door, and I didn’t hear a word behind me. They didn’t know what to do and I walked outside and I had the contact sheet. But the contact sheet was of such good quality that i was able to have it re-photographed and enlargements made almost at the the size of the originals, but the evidence is right there, and that’s going into my book.

Blake: Excellent!

Ben: Good job!

Blake: That’s a good story. So, William Roll, I guess he’s still active in some ways, he’s retired, but…

James: Yeah, retired, sure.

Blake: Yeah, well so he’s still working though. He did the haunting in Georgia story.

James: Yeah, scratching around for some evidence where there is no evidence, seems to be the one of his specialties as it is with most parapsychologists and he’s strictly in it to get some book royalties out of it, and lots of luck, Bill, but don’t come around to my door when you’re your broke again.

Ben: Well, same with Ed and Lorraine Warren, I mean you’ve had dealings with the Warrens as well.

James: The Warrens were much more reprehensible than anybody I can imagine. They were savages, of course.

Ben: Right, they were [involved with] the Amityville case, and others.

James: Yes.

Blake: So besides this case and, I know you talked about the Amityville case, have you done a lot of work with ghost issues?

James: There’s not much to do, that’s the problem. There’s no evidence, there, it’s just anecdotal material, and fuzzy photographs. Of course with orbs coming along recently, as we all know, this is an artifact of digital photography. It’s a damned nuisance for people like fashion photographers, who used to photograph models in the rain and such and every raindrop shows up as an orb, and you can’t see the fashion model anymore, but it’s a specific artifact of digital photography with automatic focus and it focuses on raindrops, unfortunately in some cases. So orbs has sort of replaced fuzzy photographs now, and fuzzy orbs are even better.

Blake: So if someone had a poltergeist case today, or they felt like they did, would they be eligible for the MDC [Million Dollar Challenge]?

Blake: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. No question about it, that sort of thing is eligible. I’m not getting as many applications for the Million Dollar Challenge, Million Dollar Prize, I should say. Not as many as we used to, they come in every now and then, but usually they’re so badly worded, or so badly expressed, that we can’t make anything out of them, literally, and the 2 paragraphs that I require, in order to explain briefly, what their claim is, and anyone should be able to do it in 2 paragraphs, I didn’t even say short paragraphs, they can have very long paragraphs. We had, in one case, 37 pages of foolscap, filled on both sides, with crabbed handwriting down the margins of the paper and the whole thing and the envelope that it came in has writing on the back of it as well. That’s 2 paragraphs? That’s carrying the idea of a paragraph to an extent that I never thought it could be expanded.

Karen: What was the claim?

Ben: He could probably bend reality with his mind, so why wouldn’t he be able to…

James: That’s probably true, yes.

Karen: What was the claim?

James: Oh, I have no idea, I didn’t read it. That stuff gets mailed back right away, and I simply write “2 paragraphs, no more. -James Randi.” I sign it, and of course we usually never hear from them again. Because they just want someplace to vent, they want to make fanciful claims. It starts out “Once, when I was a little girl…”, and you say, “Oh, Jesus, here we go. We got a whole book written here.”. They want to tell you their philosophy, their family history, their religious inclinations and such… I don’t want to hear that.

Karen: Do you get many claims about cryptozoology, or ghosts?

James: No. No, not much I don’t think I’ve had a claim in years on cryptozoology.

Karen: You have had them, previously?

Karen: Yeah, a couple, and I don’t even recall them, which shows how significant they were.

Blake: Well you lived through the Bigfoot flap that first started with the with Patterson Gimlin film, so.

James: Well, yes but I wasn’t active at that time, as an investigator.

Blake: You were involved with CSICOP very early.

James: Oh, yes, I was one of the founders of CSICOP. I was one of the instigators, they usually call me, of CSICOP.

Ben: To use one word.

Blake: Are you O.K. with the name change or what do you think about that?

James: Oh, yeah well I wasn’t part of that…

Blake: Well no, no, right. [Laughter]

James: I guess it’s okay.

Blake: I liked CSICOP a lot, I thought that was a fun name.

James: Yes, but what an unwieldy title.

Blake: Yeah, well, hence the usefulness of CSICOP.

James [In a silly voice]: C-S-I-C-O-P

Blake: [Laughter]

Blake: So, um…what about scary stuff in general, what’s the most frightening kind of claims you’ve ever investigated.

James: I don’t know that I’ve ever been really…

Blake: Well, not to you. [Laughter]

James: I don’t know about anything scary, but, some poltergeist claims have stuff flying around the room. Of course, you always ask do you have a pubescent teenager in the house. “Yes, my little girl, but she knows nothing about this.” Yeah, sure.

Blake: Right. [Laughter]

James: You can almost always connect it up with a dissatisfied child of some kind.

Blake: I find it interesting that the paranormalists would say, “Well, that’s because they’re the focus of the haunting.”

James: Well they’ve gotta rationalize…

Blake: ÖRight, and I would say, well, no, they’re the cause of the haunting, which is a subtle distinction. [Laughter]

Blake: They have to rationalize it, they turn it around so that the cause is the effect, or whatever.

Ben: Massimo Polidoro did a piece for skeptical inquirer, a year or two back, and he was talking specifically about teenage hauntings, and hauntings that are caused by teenagers, and Massimo’s piece was pretty good.

James: Yes, I recall that. He does O.K., doesn’t he?

Ben: Yeah, he’s doing…

James: …I’m very proud of that young kid, young kid, sure, he’s a father of two beautiful little girls, now, my goodness. What a beautiful family this man has, and I’ll be seeing Massimo, very shortly, within a month or so as a matter of fact.

Ben: Say hi for me, I haven’t seen him in forever, so…

James: Oh, I will, I will indeed.

Karen: I was going to ask you about the Guyra ghost, did you ever hear about that? It was a poltergeist story in Australia, I think it dates back to the 1920’s, I believe Joe Nichols investigated it. It’s very similar to the one that you’ve been discussing, this American case…

Blake: …Yeah.

James: …I don’t know…

Karen: …A teenage girl who was suffering from poltergeist activity in the house… and I actually lived in that area in rural Australia a number of years ago, and it was very difficult to find where the house was, all of the locals just shut down and wouldn’t talk about it. To this day it’s still affecting them, and they get a lot of people who visit the area just wanting to track down the house and see where it was…

James: Maybe they’re just embarrassed about the whole thing and wish it would just go away. That’s possible.

Karen: There’s a kind of haunted harassment.

Blake: Yeah, I think in most of those cases, the phenomenon that’s taking place, you know, the parents hear a crash, and they run into the room and the child is sitting in the corner, “I’m scared, that just flew across the room!”, and of course, I would not accept that explanation from my child, you know, I would need to see it happen.

James: You would. They don’t need to apparently. Tina Resch is famous for this business of being photographed huddled up in the corner of the sofa as if terrified, while the telephone is still up in the air. Boy, when you saw the actual mechanism whereby she did this, knowing that the photographer wasn’t looking, and all she had to do was throw the telephone in the air and go, “Woo, Woo, Woo”, like this and then get under the blanket. And by that time he pressed the shutter and he got a picture of her cowering under a blanket, and sort of peeking out, hoping she had got away with it.

Blake: I think that people like us, who do paranormal investigations; they don’t get as much respect in the skeptical community as people who are activists that do things that promote good medicine, and things that save lives, versus helping people sleep at night. I like both. I think the other stuff’s covered pretty well, so I don’t mind being in a little niche, but I find it interesting how much exploitation of children is involved in this kind of work. Chip Coffey’s show, on A&E, the psychic kids, children of the paranormal, that show makes me cringe.

James: Oh, no, this is exploitation of children, there’s no question there. The same thing happened at the Institute… the Instituto Mas Vida [Better Life Institute], in uh, that was Mexico. Kids, only of very wealthy families, believe me, who wanted to get in on the act of having a psychic child, were being taught how to see around blindfolds. And they were very successful at it. They toured the world. I ran into them in person in Tokyo when I was… uhm, oh I did a whole series for the station, on paranormal investigations, and what not. And I was introduced to these little Mexican kids, and they were scared to death of me. For good reason, as a matter of fact. I didn’t glower at them, or anything like that, I did a lot of smiling, though my face was breaking, in doing that. But they were simply peeking around blindfolds, and they had learned how to do it, and it was incredible to see how obvious it was, what they were doing. They would have a drawing made, a large-scale drawing, on a pad of paper, then they would hold it in their laps, with their heads perked up in the air, so they could peek down their cheeks at what the drawing was, in their lap. Otherwise, they couldn’t see it, if it was held up straight in front of them, you see, where the blindfold really did inhibit their eyesight. And we blew them away on this Japanese Television program. They did their whole demo, and the audience was all [40:50 Japanese Expression], they were all just astonished at what was going on, and I just bided my time, and then when the time came, I simply put the piece of paper in, underneath the chin, and funnily, they stopped reading, they couldn’t read the text anymore. I don’t know why, except that they couldn’t see, cause they couldn’t peek out from underneath the blindfold.

Ben: Maybe it somehow inhibited their psychic powers, or something.

James: Yes, Yes.

Karen: Mmm Hmm.

Blake: You do have that strong effect. [Laughter]

James: Yeah, yeah, I do, and the vibrations. The thing with vibrations, that’s the one I really like, guys, oh that is something else. As a matter of fact, when I did the last homeopathic test, in the U.K., now the Royal Society cooperated with me on this. And we offered the prize bare-naked, in other words, no preliminary test or anything like that. We would award the million dollars if the test was successful. And, I knew I took a chance in doing that, but I knew that it was in the hands of the Royal Society, and they would do it very properly and carefully, the protocol would be very good, and it was, absolutely excellent. They had a very good statistician working on it, to handle the figures. Yeah, the Royal Society supervised this test of homeopathy, which was broadcast on BBC and I told them, this is how I take care of this evil vibrations thing. I told them that they should go ahead with the thing, they could submit the protocol to me, and I would iron it out if it needed any, and the protocol was absolutely perfect, and I simply got in touch with them, I said, “The protocol is approved.” They then called me and said, “Now we’re gonna hold the test on…” [I said] “Hut, hut, hold on, I don’t want to hear a word. Don’t tell me when you’re gonna do it, or even if you’re going to do it. I want you to do the test, then wait at least 48 hours and then call me and say, ‘We’ve done the test’ and don’t announce to me what the results were, as a matter of fact, you should not know what the results are, because I want to appear on camera, seated in front of the cameras with the statistician beside me, and I want him to press the right combination of keys to bring the graph up on the screen so that he and I see it for the very first time and no one else has seen it. And then I’ll accept the results, for whatever they are.” This is taking a bit of a chance, of course, but I felt I knew I had very good people on all ends of this thing. And they said, “What is this 48 hours after?”, and I said, “Because, the excuse they’ll come up with immediately was that I put out negative vibrations, cause I knew when, and where the test was being done, and I could focus my vibrations on London or wherever it was being done, you see. So, don’t tell me.”. [They said], “Well, okay.”. They found that very strange, but that was a good provision, because that’s the first thing they come up with, “Oh, you used your vibrations, and your psychic powers to inhibit the results of the test.”. So they can’t argue that now, of course. What they did, we had the British Homeopathic Society, Yes, they were in charge of the whole damn thing, they approved the protocol, they were there, they were present, they approved it, this is the way it should be done. It was done, they said, “Yes, we expect positive results.”. They signed the document and the whole thing, they said, “Now we want to see the results…”, [but were told] “No we’re going to wait for James Randi to arrive.” [They said] “Oh, drat!”, you know, they didn’t want that. But, I arrived and I sat in front of the camera, and they clicked it up on there and there were the error bars. There was all the data within the error bars, exactly what we expect, not reaching outside of the error bars and showing significant results. Immediately, they said, “Oh the tests weren’t done properly, that’s the only explanation, because we know that homeopathy works.” Duh, this is proof that it doesn’t work. Or it’s proof for this particular set of tests with this size of database on this particular occasion, on this date, this temperature…

Ben: The moon in this phase…

James: Yeah, all these conditions, it didn’t work this time, let’s do it again. But they don’t want to do it again, see. They have no interest in doing it again. [They say] “No, we’ve already proved it for ourselves, we don’t need any further…”

Blake: They already believe, so…

James: But they have a million dollars hanging in the air, they could have snapped it up right there.

Blake: Yeah, but when you’re selling pills with no ingredients, that’s a pretty good profit margin.

James: Oh , yeah. [Laughter]

Blake: You might need a Billion Dollar Challenge.

James: You know, we found that the most popular homeopathic remedy is made from duck liver, it’s Oscillococcinum or whatever, that’s Latin, it means duck liver, I guess, I have no idea, I don’t care.

Blake: Means Faux Gras.

James: It’s for flu symptoms, you see, and that’s the most popular one that they sell. And the Boiron Pharmaceutical Company, in France, they make it and they ship it off to the U.K., I presume, and that’s on all the shelves and such, and it says right in there, in Latin, that it’s made from duck livers. Well, we do some calculation, the dilution of duck liver in this, uh “medicine”, means that with one duck liver, uno, eins, un, one duck liver alone, and you can wait for the duck to die of old age, if you want. Pamper it, treat it, feed it caviar, I don’t know what ducks eat, but, maybe caviar. Let the duck die, after the duck is well dead, make all the pills you can. That would be enough to fill the entire solar system, with the Sun at the center, and the orbit of Pluto at the outside, though it’s been demoted as a planet, I’ll accept it for this purpose, and a little bit further. Now that’s a huge sphere of influence. That’s a hell of a lot of pills. I don’t know what the figure is, and I don’t want to know. Who cares? It wouldn’t mean anything anyway. That’s how many of these Homeopathic capsules you could make with one duck liver.

Blake: That’s astonishing.

James: Now, if that isn’t dilute, I don’t know what the word dilute means.

Blake: [Laughter]

Karen: [Laughter]

Blake: Well, Randi, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate you talking to us today.

James: It’s been a great pleasure and I hope that this, maybe stirs up some controversy, it’s not a bad thing at all, and gets some people thinking, maybe in a slightly different direction, let’s hope it does.

Blake: And when your book comes out, we’d love to have you back.

James: Yes, well that’s months away, because I’ve got it all in the computer, you know, and sorting data… oh jeez. I have too much information know, it’s too good, and there’s too much of it. To get it reduced to a book, is not all that easy, but, we’re working on it.

Ben: What’s the title again?

James: A Magician in the Laboratory. Rush out to your bookstore, and place advance orders, right this moment.

Blake: Thanks. [Laughter]

[Voiceover: MonsterTalk!]

Blake: Tina Resch had a troubled life. She was married, and in an abusive relationship by the time she was 16. By 25 she was twice divorced and had a 3 year old daughter. She moved to Carrollton, Georgia to be closer to William Roll, and look for a better life, and she moved into a trailer with a man named David Herrin. They only lived together for a couple of months before her daughter was murdered. At the end of the little girl’s life over a period of just a few days she received a large number of injuries. On the day the girl died, she had been left alone for six hours in the care of David Herrin, and when Tina came home, although the two disagree on some details of their story, Herrin came out and told her that the daughter was unconscious and not breathing, and they went to the hospital. But it was too late. Herrin claimed that the girl had just gotten sleepy and when he went to check on her, she was not breathing. Autopsy results later showed that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. Herrin got a 20 year sentence and is eligible for parole in 2012, and Christina, fearing a jury would find her guilty, took a plea deal, that gave her a life sentence, rather than face the death penalty. After hearing Randi’s complaints about William Roll during our interview, I was curious about that claim. Tina, or Christina, as she came to be known, had a crummy life before meeting William Roll and afterwards. Was she responsible for her own child’s death? It seems clear that the abuse was going on while she was there, whether she was doing it, or just failing to prevent it. I’ll leave you with this observation. Where was Christina while her child lay dying in a trailer? She was off with a friend working on an autobiography of her life… as a poltergeist victim. MonsterTalk is produced with the support of Skeptic Magazine. Today we’ve been talking about the Columbus Poltergeist Case, and our guest was James “The Amazing” Randi. We hope you enjoyed the program. If you want to help support us, please tell a friend about the show and give us a review on iTunes. You should now also be able to click on social networking links on our website to promote each episode. Music today was by David Beard and the MonsterTalk theme was by Peach Stealing Monkeys. All music used by permission.

Thanks for listening.


Karen: Humpty Doo.

The views expressed on this program are not necessarily the views of the Skeptics Society or Skeptic magazine.

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