The interwar years saw a sharp rise in Spiritualism throughout Europe and the wider world. Family houses in the most benign suburban neighbourhoods curtains hid seance circles, congregated in dark rooms, as mediums addressed the realm of the spirits, pulled objects from flowers to live animals out of thin air and delivered messages from those long deceased. In 1938, the Fieldings from South London became the latest in a long line of victims of ghostly disturbances that ramped into a full blown investigation, as Alma, the young brunette matriarch found herself quickly sucked into a world of mediumship, complete with multiple spirit guides, apparating terrapins and phantom tigers. As the supernormal world around her got more extreme, Nandor Fodor, acclaimed psychical investigator, dug for more earthly explanations into phenomena that he’d later describe as “sending shivers down his spine.”
Hazelgrove, Jenny (2000) spiritualism and British Society Between the Wars. Manchester University press, UK
Timms, Joanna (2011) Ghost Hunters & Psychical Research in Interwar England. History Workshop Journal, Issue 74, Autumn 2012, pp.88-104. Oxford University Press, UK. Accessed Online [https://muse.jhu.edu/journals/history_workshop_journal/v074/74.timms.pdf]
Leporiere, Lorenzo (2018) Mediums & Science In Early 20th Century Europe. Nuncius, Journal of the Material and Visual History of Science, Vol. 33 Issue. 1. Brill, Netherlands.
Fodor, Nandor (1958) On The Trail of the Poltergeist. Citadel Press, New York, USA
Timms, Joanna (2012) Phantasm of Freud: Nandor Fodor and the Psychoanalytic Approach to the Supernatural in Interwar Britain. Psychoanalysis and History, January 2012, vo. 14, No. 1 : pp. 5-27. Edinburgh University Press, UK
Summerscale, Kate (2020) The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story. Bloomsbury Circus, London, UK
Summerscale, Kate (2020) The Daily Telegraph. “Britain’s Strange Interwar Passion for the Paranormal.” 11 October, 2020, p.23.
The Sunday Pictorial (1938) Terror In Home Wrecked By Ghost. 20 February, 1938, p.40.
The Sunday Pictorial (1938) House Is Haunted Declare Experts. 27 February, 1938, p.3.
Norwood News (1938) Is It An Evil Spirit? Mystery Of Eerie Happenings – Poltergeist Suggested. 25 February, 1938, p.3
Daily Mirror (1938) I Start My Strangest Search! 09 March, 1938, p.12
Daily Mirror (1938) This Man Can Read Your Secret Thoughts! 23 March, 1938, p.10
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Nandor Fodor & The Alma Fielding Poltergeist
The interwar years saw a sharp rise in Spiritualism throughout Europe and the wider world. Family houses in the most benign suburban neighbourhoods curtains hid seance circles, congregated in dark rooms, as mediums addressed the realm of the spirits, pulled objects from flowers to live animals out of thin air and delivered messages from those long deceased. In 1938, the Fieldings from South London became the latest in a long line of victims of ghostly disturbances that ramped into a full blown investigation, as Alma, the young brunette matriarch found herself quickly sucked into a world of mediumship, complete with multiple spirit guides, apparating terrapins and phantom tigers. As the supernormal world around her got more extreme, Nandor Fodor, acclaimed psychical investigator, dug for more earthly explanations into phenomena that he’d later describe as “sending shivers down his spine.” This is Dark Histories, where the facts are worse than fiction.
Interwar Britain & The Supernormal
When one speaks of spiritualism, the most natural association is one of the Victorian Boudoir, where seances held behind crushed velvet curtains were a common reaction towards the advancements of Modernism, tearing up traditional understanding of spirituality and opening the door to new ways of perceiving the realms of both the living and the dead. It is less common for people to imagine a much later period in time, when enlightened thought was thought to have prospered and superstition, supernormality and the occult worlds of the spirit mediums were considered a quaint historical footnote. The onset of war in 1914, however, ushered in a new era of spiritualism, seeing spiritualist societies more than double before the end of the war. It began for many on the battlefields of Europe, where angels appeared in trenches, spirit armies protected platoons of soldiers, wisps of the dead walked carelessly across front lines and fallen comrades gave messages in dreams to the friends they had left behind. For many more it was a helping hand for those left at home, facing a new future alone.
In the years following the first world war, the nations of Europe fell into a collective, national mourning. With over 20 million estimated deaths, 9 million of which were servicemen and women fighting on fronts far from home. Lost in trenches and seas, buried in battlefields, few families escaped the loss of a relative or friend. In some areas, towns and smaller communities lost entire generations of their young adult populations. Within this environment of collective loss and with so many cases lacking any definitive closure for the connected families, spiritualism completed its resurgence.
This, however, is only half the story. In the years leading up to the Second World War, Spiritualism continued to rise in popularity. In the 1930s, once the early wounds of the First World War were beginning to heal, the popular interest in spiritualism, mediumship, the supernormal and psychical investigation only continued to grow. Famous mediums packed halls and gave enthralled audiences demonstrations of table-tipping, speaking with the dead and apparating objects from otherworldly realms. In London, the Royal Albert Hall gave an audience of over 10,000 the opportunity to hear the recently deceased author and famed spiritualist sir Arthur Conan Doyle speak from the grave through Estelle Roberts, aided by her guide, Red Cloud, the spirit of a deceased Native American Indian. In private homes across Britain, the Psychic News, a UK based weekly spiritualist newspaper with a global audience whose editor himself was a claimed spirit medium, estimated over 100,000 seance circles were in operation, communicating with the other side on every night of the year. There were of course, the celebrities that helped to perpetuate the acceptance of the supernormal. Outside of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, famous investigators of the supernormal, like Harry Price, the founder of The National Laboratory of Psychical Research, both exposed and endorsed psychic mediums through a hungry press. Spiritualist literature, which had found itself a new best-seller status, became accessible to a much larger audience with continued reprintings and multiple translations.
More secular organisations sought to thwart the growth of spiritualism, with catholicism in particular making concerted efforts to stain the beliefs practices with demonic connotations, however, with spiritualism pushing a brand of contemporary politics and framing itself as a democratic organisation, with no allusions to power, riding the wave of the popular “average man.” It was coming up against a loud and large opposition. Spiritualism was at once for the investigation of lofty, intellectual theories on the afterlife and accessible for the unintellectual, but intelligent. In short, it was a populist movement, with modern leanings and the protestations of stuffy old institutions who sought to control the playing field of beliefs were seen as nothing more than blusterings of the self-interested.
If spiritualism wasn’t already cemented into society by the late 1930s, then the run up to the Second World War would ensure the job was complete. As anxieties rose throughout the population of the the European nations, who had entire generations still suffering from the aftermath of the First World War, spiritualism and stories of the seance circles provided a natural distraction, an escape and a added comfort to those who once more were reminded of the horrors of war and old wounds were scratched open. As newspapers reported on the movements of Hitler’s forces into Austria in 1938 on one page, they wrote of ghosts, poltergeists, seances and mediums on the other. One such story was that of a small, suburban dwelling in Croydon owned by the fieldings, whose home, declared the Sunday Pictorial on 20th February 1938, had been “wrecked by Ghosts.” The headline in the very next column took up almost as much space as the photograph of the cowering fielding family next to it. It read simply, “Hitler!” in large, bold, italicised, capital letters.
Alma & Les Fielding
Alma Smith was born in Pimlico, London in 1903. The second daughter of Charles and Alice Smith, she had an elder sister, Doris, who had been born three years earlier and a younger brother, Charles, who was born much later in 1915. By the time of Charles’ birth, Alma had moved with her family to Thornton Heath, a small town south of the Thames that had been enveloped by the expanding metropolitan suburb linking Croydon to Central London. She had dreams of working as an entertainer and took training from one of her uncles in the circus-like skills of tightrope-walking, trapeze and acrobatics, but in her mid-teens took a spill on a bicycle that permanently gave her physical difficulties, more or less ending her ambitions of stardom. In fact, she had been a relatively sickly child even before then, but the accident had been the final nail in the coffin, leading her to suffer from prolonged issues with her kidneys that wound up in several surgeries to drain an abscess. In March of 1921, Alma married Les Fielding in a shotgun wedding. Her parents were not supportive of the marriage, but with Alma secretly three months pregnant, their protestations fell on deaf ears. Les had left school aged 14 and become his father’s apprentice as a young painter and decorator until the outbreak of war in 1914 saw him join up to fight. After his return from the fighting, he started his own painting and decorating business, though he still carried a souvenir of his time on the Western Front in the form of shrapnel from a hand grenade, embedded in his right thigh, that and the dreams he had occasionally of his throat being cut on the battlefield. Their son, Donald was born in 1922, shortly after the couple had settled into their home on Beverstone Road, Thornton Heath, where they live together with their dog, Judy and a lodger named George Saunders, who moved in with the Fieldings in 1928 after the breakdown of his marriage and had stayed with the family since. George had suffered a footballing injury when he was aged seven years old that had left walking on crutches, though it didn’t stop him leading a relatively ordinary life, earning a living mending shoes in town. Alma and Les lived reasonably comfortably and Les’s painting and decorating work saw him kept busy and well paid due to the expansion of the suburbs all around them. By 1938 Don was a young man himself and after leaving school, he worked as Les had done, under his father as an apprentice. From the outside it may appear as though the fieldings were living happy families. Money was never abundant, but life cruised for the most part and they lived in relative quiet. There is of course, the age old adage that life was not always what it seemed, however, and just underneath the surface, there was a darkness that bubbled away behind the doors of Beverstone Road and in the Spring of 1938, it threatened to boil over.
The Haunting of Alma Fielding
The first signs that things were not altogether usual in the family home came to Alma and Les fielding in the early days of February, 1938. Alma had been out visiting friends, whilst she left Les at home in bed. A few days before, he had undergone dental surgery to remove his remaining teeth to make way for a set of dentures and so, Alma left him recovering at home. Whilst she played cards and chatted amongst her friends, she felt a sharp pain come on in her pelvis that forced her to excuse herself early from the gathering. When she arrived home, she dropped a few pain meds along with a sedative and slipped into bed beside her husband. As she lay in the room, drifting off to sleep, she noticed a handprint with 6 digits appear in the mirror above the mantelpiece. The imprint was clear to Alma, who described it to Les later that week, who confirmed that he too had seen such a print whilst he had been at work, the house he had been working in had been completely empty aside from himself and son, yet somehow this mysterious imprint appeared to Les to follow him about, leaving its mark in green paint. It was certainly weird, but little more was said about the matter until the following Friday night, on the 19th March. Alma and Les were laying in bed around midnight when they were woken by a shattering thump in the room. Alma turned on the light on her bedside table and found a glass tumbler smashed on the bedroom floor. The tumbler had usually sat on Les’s side of the bed every night, but both Alma and Les had been asleep and there was no one else in the room. As they were staring at the broken shards, a second glass hit the bedroom wall with a sharp crack and too, shattered across the bedroom floor. Alarmed, Les suggested to Alma that she turn the light off but as soon as the darkness spread across the room, the couple felt a cold snap hit the room and the duvet flew up into their faces. Les quickly called to Alma to turn the light back on, but though she pulled the chain hanging from the underside of the lamp, the light remained off. Beginning to panic, Alma called for help and their son, Don came into the room, followed by the lodger George. As both entered the room, they were hit by objects, Don a small jar of face cream and George by two pennies, a one shilling piece and a one pence piece wrapped off his chest. Still struggling with the light, Don went downstairs to collect a box of matches and when he returned and struck one, ALma and Les saw that the bulb in the lamp had simply vanished. Puzzled, they looked about the room, peering through the dim light of the burning match and found the bulb, unbroken but still hot from use, resting in the nursing chair next to the bed. Once the bulb was returned, calm restored to the Fielding household and thirty minutes later, at around 12:40am, the family returned to an uneasy sleep, hoping to put the incident out of their minds.
Things are never quite so easy, however, and the very next morning when Alma rose and went to the kitchen to make breakfast, she was sharply reminded of the events from the previous night as an egg smashed into the kitchen wall. Quickly deciding that vanishing light bulbs and levitating eggs were not usual things to happen on a given weekend, Alma called the Sunday Pictorial, a weekly paper that made shallow attempts at balancing news journalism with entertainment and fluff pieces. Instantly interested in the story, the paper agreed to send two reporters around that evening to get in on the strange happenings and by early afternoon, Victor Thompson and Lionel Crane, two of the papers local reporters were walking up the short path to the small, terraced house on Beverstone Road. What they witnessed that day was printed in the paper the very next day, under the headline, “Terror In Home Wrecked By Ghost”
“Two Sunday Pictorial representatives, Victor Thompson and Lionel Crane, yesterday spent the most amazing day in their lives.
In a neat little house at Thornton Heath they saw miracles wrought by some malevolent ghostly force. They saw saucers—held in a woman’s hand— “exploded” into smithereens by an invisible power. Eggs, saucepans, fenders, rugs, wine glasses, coal, and a score of other objects, sailed through the air before them—and sometimes, apparently, right through closed doors! —propelled by no human force.
It is the most amazing case of a poltergeist (“mischievous spirit”) ever known. The occupants of the house are Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Fielding, and their sixteen-year-old son, Donald. They have a lodger, Mr George Saunders. “A few days ago the imprint of a hand with five fingers appeared on a mirror here,” Mrs. Fielding told Victor Thompson and Lionel Crane” Since then Crash !—Her story was interrupted by a noise in the hall. Our representatives ran out of the living-room and found that a heavy bronze fender from an upstairs bedroom had been hurled down the stairs. Nobody was upstairs. Mrs. and Mr. Fielding said dozens of happenings like that had occurred in the last twelve hours. Tumblers had been hurtled across rooms and smashed against the wall. A pot of vanishing cream had fallen, apparently through a ceiling, onto Mrs. Fielding’s head. Our men themselves saw the following “miracles”: A saucer held in Mrs. Fielding’s hands smashed into fragments, cutting her badly. Eggs and crockery hurtling from the kitchen and falling at their feet. A saucepan floating in the air. A wine glass, apparently coming right through the door of a heavy oaken sideboard. Late last night the eerie manifestations were still occurring. I feel some terrible climax is approaching,” said Mrs. Fielding. “We shall stay up all night to see it through. I hope it comes soon. Our nerves cannot stand much more.”
It was typical of the Sunday Pictorial in its prose, vague and exciting, giving enough of the story to have a foot in believability, whilst tossing out bold claims, with little evidence. Still the events reported were later confirmed in separate interviews, including the gash on Almas hand which had occurred as a small tea plate she was holding smashed in her hand, as if crushed by a vice grip. What wasn’t reported at the time was the reporter’s ingenuity when they addressed the crowds forming outside the home in order to find someone who may be “sensitive” to the phenomena that was happening around them. Dragging out one Professor Morisone, a self proclaimed “psychic” from the lingering public, he entered the house and walked through the rooms in deep thought before exclaiming that Alma was herself a sensitive and “a very strong carrier of ectoplasm.” If that wasn’t thrilling enough, he warned the group that the experiences were a warning to the family and that their son Donald was in danger. It was enough to see the boy off and he spent the next several weeks staying with family away from the house. This did free up his bedroom, however, and over the next few days, reporters used it to stay the night and write up the peculiar activity.
With the tory hitting the papers, the events at Beverstone Road instantly drew the attention of the day’s psychical investigators. Nandor Fodor, a Jewish-Hungarian journalist and sole researcher for the International Institute for Psychical Research, based in London was first out of the blocks to write to the editor of the Sunday Pictorial to enquire after the address of the Fielding family, suggesting that he would cut them in on any hypothetical investigation and report any of his findings to them to print, if indeed, anything were to happen. Fodor had worked with the editor before and previously submitted several stories to the paper, so it was a simple deal to strike for both parties and within hours, Fodors assistant, Laurence Evans, was knocking on the door on Beverstone Road to make a preliminary sweep of the scene. His report was later included in a book published by Fodor in 1958, titled “On The Trail of the Poltergeist” though the names of the Fieldings were changed to Forbes.
“This was my first experience in the house and I think it is in the highest standard of the phenomena. Incidentally, I found during that day, and subsequently, that a phenomenon of the more startling variety would almost invariably occur within about ten minutes of the arrival in the house of any new visitor.”
“Whilst I was upstairs two loud crashes were heard from the front room we had just left. The only inhabitants who were downstairs at the time were two friends of the Forbes, who were in the back room. They were in the act of coming out into the hall as I ran down the stairs. In the front room a large glass salad bowl was in pieces in the fireplace and a wineglass lay broken in the sideboard.”
“Mrs Forbes gave me an estimate of the damage and breakages in the house in the 72 hours since the disturbances started. They included the following: 36 tumblers, 24 wine glasses, 15 egg cups, 5 teacups, 4 saucers, 1 salad bowl, 3 electric bulbs, 9 eggs, 2 plates, 1 pudding basin, 2 vases, 1 water jug, 1 jar of face cream, 1 milk jug. In addition an aluminium saucepan had on three occasions been practically flat. That is to say, the sides had been pressed in towards the centre which took considerable force, but was not beyond a normal man’s strength. Also in the front room was a brass ornamental kettle which was deeply indented in several places. This Mrs. Forbes told me, was due to a heavy glass decanter having been repeatedly thrown at it.”
“On looking through my notes on the Thornton Heath case made on my first visit to the house (February 23rd), I experience afresh the feeling I had at the time; that is to say, an utter belief in the genuineness of the phenomena and also in the good faith of Mrs. Forbes.”
As Fodor read the report from his assistant, he felt a twinge of excitement. In the covering letter, Evans concluded, “I Unhesitatingly label it as supernormal.”
Nandor Fodor & The International Institute for Psychical Research
Nandor Freidlander was born in Beregszasz, Hungary, on May 13th 1895. He was the 16th of 18 children. He grew up to study law at the Royal Hungarian University of Science, graduating in 1917 and went on to work as a legal assistant, though it wasn’t long before his talent in writing and curiosity about the world broke out and led him to taking a job as a journalist at “Az Est”. Founded in 1906 the paper had rocketed in popularity to be the most read newspaper in hungary. His work at Az Est afforded him the opportunity to work in New York, where he moved in 1921 after taking a job writing for “The American Hungarian People’s Voice”. Whilst in New York, his life changed in a couple of key ways. Firstly, he married Irene Lichter in 1922 and a year later, the couple gave birth to Andrea, their daughter. Secondly, Fodor discovered the vast collection of material published on matters of the psychical and the supernormal. Fodor himself had been curious from a young age on topics that skirted along the fringe, after he attended his grandfather’s funeral and heard his dead relative speak to him in Hebrew as he lay in his coffin. Unable to speak Hebrew, it was a memory that both pulled him in and frustrated him simultaneously. Immersing himself in the literature of the psychical researchers of the day, Fodor took a skeptical but enthusiastic view on the subject and before long, he began visiting and partaking in Seance Circles throughout New York. He used his journalistic connection to meet several prominent spiritualists and psychical researchers and dove into the subject head first, though as a fan of Freud, whom he had interviewed in 1926, his approach was always one of careful analysis and carried a strong psychoanalytical bent. In 1927, three years after the death of his father, he communicated with his spirit through a spirit medium in one circle, though the medium was later criticised in psychical literature as a fraud. Meanwhile, his work in journalism continued to shine and in 1928 he was offered a position in London as an adviser to hungarian affairs, working for the newspaper giant Lord Rothermere, founder of both the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror and owner of Associated Newspapers Ltd. and the previously mentioned Sunday Pictorial. It was a lucrative position with a lavish salary and Fodor strolled his way down Fleet Street to work in the morning and spent hi sevenigns diving further into the spirit world, giving lectures and writing for psychical journals. In 1934 he became the editor for the spiritualist magazine “LIght”, the oldest and most well known UK Journal on spiritualist matters. The same year, he published his first book, the “Encyclopedia of Psychic Science”, a year later, he threw in his well paid job and took a position as the only paid member of staff at the recently founded International Institute for Psychical Research, based in South Kensington. It was a dramatic step down in terms of salary, but for Fodor, a new world opened up to him, one that allowed him to conduct research and investigations into hauntings, seances, mediumship and all manner of the supernormal. Like a child in a sweet shop, he went about his business with a characteristic flair and smile on his face. He was well known for having fun during his ghost investigations especially, where he took a lighthearted approach and found entertainment alongside the intellectual. Despite this jovial approach to the subject, he was also skeptical to a degree and continued to bring a psychoanalytical approach to his investigations. In 1936 he investigated a case known as the Ash Manor Ghost, where he concluded that suppressed sexual energies had spurred the haunting on. This angle was enjoyable for Fodor, a psychoanalytical point of view meant that even a hoax, and by now he had seen a few, were worthy of serious study. His approach was not always appreciated, however, and many in the psychical community found him to err too much on the side of the skeptic. For the most part Fodor took attacks from the community on the chin, he had seen one too many fraudulent mediums to believe blindly in many of the supernormal claims, though he continued to investigate with an open mind and a fascination with the unknown powers of the human mind. In 1938 he stumbled across the story of Alma and Les in the Sunday Pictorial and instantly found intrigue. Psychical research into poltergeist activity was still in its relative infancy. In spiritualism, it was thought to be the work of malicious or maladjusted spirits, psychokinetic energy elementals, though from earlier psychical investigations, Fodor and a few others had their own ideas. The case of Elanor Zugen in the 1920s had seen a young Romanian girl become possessed by a purported poltergeist, leading to a barrage of paranormal activity, from apportation to stigmatic wounds and possession. In the years following the cases explosion, rumours and accusations of sexual abuse led some more psychoanalytical to theorise that it was this trauma that fed into the phenomena, whether otherworldly or not. Clearly the case in Beverstone Road from the Sunday Pictorial needed looking into and so Fodor picked up the phone and called the paper.
After the report from his assistants preliminary visit had proved the activity in the house worthy of investigation, Fodor arranged to visit the Fieldings in their home on the following Thursday, the 24th February. He arrived at 11:30am to find a tired looking household, Les told him in a heavy voice that he had barely been able to sleep all week since the bizarre activity had started during the previous weekend, Fodor described him as “a straightforward, intelligent man”, though he noted he looked “anxious and worried” and “suffering from overstrain”. Whilst journalists for the Croydon Advertiser had stayed over earlier that week, a wardrobe had fallen over in Dons room where they were staying, narrowly avoiding a painful accident. Alma greeted Fodor and showed him a collection of broken cutlery, glass and china, all victim to the activity of the poltergeist who had spent the week laying waste to as much of the Fieldings kitchen as possible. Having read the kind of activity that had been going on in Laurences Evans’ report, Fodor had come to the house forearmed. He pulled out a collection of his own tumblers, placing them on the mantelpiece in the living room placing an egg in one and a light bulb in another. As he arranged the glasses a thumping crack hit the door behind him and when he stepped out into the hallway, he found a broken alarm clock lying on the floor, the door to the lounge freshly scarred from the clock’s collision. Alma and Les stepped out behind Fodor and confirmed that the clock was from their bedroom and was usually to be found on the bedside table.
Fodor next launched into his questioning of Alma, who he described as “charming, intelligent and vivacious” as well as keen to get to the bottom of the events in the house, though she too appeared to Fodor to be suffering from nervous strain and visibly twinged with every crash, knock and thud that bounced through the house. He spoke to Alma about previous events before the handprint and asked her if she thought herself psychic, which she answered by saying she didn’t know, but went on to tell Fodor of several stories of uncanny coincidence and apparent prophetic dreams, one where she dreamt that her son Don had come into an accident that had left a strong enough impression on her to warn him to watch out before he left the house in the morning. Later that day, he was hit by a passing bicycle.
In the house, Alma recalled stories of how she had felt a cold hand touch her shoulder as she walked down the stairs whilst home alone one day and of how she had once heard a whispering in the kitchen. She also told Fodor of how their dog had stood in the house quivering, its hair standing on end. Interestingly, Fodor discovered that neither Alma nor Les were particularly interested in Spiritualism and their son Don was outright skeptical on matters of the supernormal, calling them “just bunk”, however, he had found the events in the house frightening enough to have spent all week sleeping elsewhere. As Fodor interviewed the Fieldings, he recorded 29 separate incidents of activity that he ascribed to the poltergeist, though the vast majority were not enough to be definitive proof. Most impressive for Fodor were two occasions when a glass fell onto the kitchen floor in the kitchen whilst all members of the household were in the lounge and in full view of the investigator, the launching of a cup in the direction of Les’s head that smashed into the wall whilst Fodor watched on with his colleagues who had arrived just after lunchtime and the smashing of the cats food dish, witnessed by Dr Wills, another of Fodors colleagues and later written up in assigned statement,
“Mrs Fielding was standing facing the sink filling the kettle from the tap. The kettle was in her left hand, her right was on the tap. Mr Fielding, just returned from work, had taken off his collar and was in the act of placing it with his left hand on the table. I was standing talking to Mr Fielding, when, absolutely without any preliminaries of any sort of movement on anyone’s part, a saucer appeared at two thirds of the height of the door from the floor right way up. It remained in this position for a split second, but long enough to identify it as a saucer. It then split in half with a loud crack, and fell vertically to the floor.”
Other events, mainly in the form of household items, from the cats food bowl to glass tumblers, saucers and tea cups flying through the air and smashing off walls were numerous. Many of the reports included descriptions of Almas hands and in many cases they were full or otherwise occupied and so, it didn’t appear as though she was playing any role in their destruction. It was clear from the report, however, that Fodor believed Alma to be the centre of the activity as he was clearly watching her closely and scrutinising her movements through the house.
In the evening, Almas mother and Sister visited the house and Fodor took the opportunity to quiz them on Alma’s past. It turned out that she had something of a history of telling whacky stories and her family had playfully written them off as “fairy tales” now, however, they had changed their tune, “I’ve had china break in my hands” Alamas mother told Fodor and she also recounted a chilling tale of feeling hands tightening around her throat, giving her the sensation of being strangled whilst in the house.
By 10pm, Fodor wrapped up the day and having come to the conclusion that there was strong reason to consider Alma as a Poltergeist medium, he invited her to attend the Institute in South Kensington, where they could investigate any such links between Alma and the supernormal underneath a more scientific scrutiny. It was the start of an investigation that would eventually be Fodor’s undoing, but not before he and the institute’s seance circle would bear witness to some of the most truly bizarre phenomena.
The International Institute for Psychical Research
The International Institute for Psychical Research sat on the first two floors of Walton House in the London district of South Kensington. It had been founded in 1934 as a successor to the earlier survival league, founded in 1929 by Catherine Amy Dawson Scott, a poet, writer and keen spiritualist. During its founding it attracted many scientists with its lofty aspirations to investigate psychical phenomena from a scientific angle, though many promptly left after they found its early investigations to be lacking in credibility. Fodor was brought in as the first paid member of staff in 1935, taking over as head of research, utilising a seance room to investigate several prominent mediums, debunking and unmasking the fraudulent activities of several, including Lajos Pap, a famous Hungarian medium who could apport items from thin air from snow, flowers and alcohol, to live animals, insects and birds. During a seance at the institute, he apported a dead snake, an act that would have been impressive, had Fodor not had the medium searched, where a device was quickly discovered strapped to his leg that was capable of secreting away large objects beneath his clothes. Fodor personally took interest in the why and whatfors of fraudulent phenomena, in this way, no investigation was a waste of time for the institute, either he discovered genuine unexplainable phenomena or he took the opportunity to further research the theories he harboured that our unconscious mind was as powerful and equally as strange as anything otherworldly. He launched into every investigation with healthy enthusiasm and instructed his circle to treat even the most fraudulent of mediums with “dignity, gentleness and consideration.”
Alma first visited the institute at 3pm the following day, Friday 25th February 1938. Fodor had laid the seance room out in preparation, placing cups and saucers on the chairs, glass tumblers on a table and placed a flash bulb in one and a rattle in another. The room was scrutinised by the barrel of a photographic camera, poised to fire. That afternoon in front of a small seance circle of investigators, researchers and interested friends, Alma appeared to apparate a small hairbrush and a tin of “Carters Little Liver Pills” into the room. THe hair brush she said had last been seen on the dressing table in her bedroom on Beverstone Road along with the tin of pills. On both occasions witnesses claimed that both her hands were in full view and occupied with a cup and saucer when they heard the items hit the floor around the room. AT 5:30pm, just before the group planned to wrap up for the day, the cup and saucer Alma had been holding flew from her hands and smashed in mid-air. It “looked as if it had been hit in flight with an invisible hammer” Fodor wrote later.
That night Fodor had Alma driven home and several members of the investigation circle stayed back in Beverstone Road to check on the activity that was going on there. As it had every night that week, things continued to crash and bounce around the house as soon as Alma arrived home. Alma wore a large coat and Dr Wills experimented by placing small objects into some of the pockets to see if Alma could make them disappear. Both a watch and a pocket knife vanished from the pockets he placed them in only to reappear in different places shortly after. Fodor had found the day very exciting indeed, to have Alma come to the institute and witness continued phenomena was a promising start for the investigation and he wasted no time in writing an article for the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research concerning the ongoing research into Alma and her poltergeist.
“There has not been a greater or truer ghost story than this one for many years… I always wanted to meet a poltergeist. Now I have met one, a poltergeist which is certainly destructive, yet not malevolent, in fact, to a certain degree, amenable to experimental suggestions.”
The Sunday Pictorial took it a step further when it published it’s follow up on the Beverstone Road case the following weekend.
“House is Haunted, Declare Experts – Scientists who have spent the week investigating the uncanny series of events in a house in Thornton Heath which I described in last week’s Sunday Pictorial, are convinced it is “a genuine and amazing case of the supernormal.”
Dr. Nandor Fodor, chief research officer of the International Institute for Psychical Research, told me yesterday – “My assistant, Mr L. A. Evans and I have spent most of the week at the house. There is certainly no fraud. We are satisfied there is something supernatural at work there and we are going on with the investigations.”
On the same day, Victor Thompson, the reporter who found himself being called to the Fieldings house the Sunday prior, published a large, multi page piece in the same newspaper carrying the headline “Spiritualism – My Verdict!”
“I have been trying in the Sunday pictorial for the last few weeks to give readers a fair picture of what an ordinary materialistic man, unversed in uch mysteries, finds when he starts to explore the world of spiritualism. I have described visits to mediums and the messages which come through mediums from somewhere. I have told you about public demonstrations of clairvoyance, and private seances at which intelligent people have been completely convinced that they are hearing and answering the actual voices of their dead relations. I have also been permitted to attend healing centres and circles of advanced students listening intently to trance orations. And last week, quite fortuitously, I found myself in a house which was apparently infested by a poltergeist, or mischievous spirit, whose chief amusement was hurling household articles through the air. I didn’t like that. . .
“All the time, I have tried to avoid jumping to conclusions; seeking only to report as conscientiously as I could, exactly what I saw and heard. One result has been that some of my friends – and some readers too, I expect – are saying, “poor old Victor Thompson! He thinks he is a shrewd observer, but obviously he has been fooled all along the line.” That sort of criticism comes, of course, only from people who have no personal experience. It is a little like saying, “Australia doesn’t exist because I have never seen it.””
“I entered this series a doubter. I leave it not a convert but a very impressed man. I do not know even yet whether the Spiritualist descriptions of life after death are true; nor whether their doctrine of reincarnation is correct, and so on. But on the central issue of survival – well, the only satisfactory explanation I can find for what I have seen and heard is that human beings do survive death and can sometimes communicate with this world. Six weeks ago, like millions of people today, I did not believe either of those things.”
The next day, Fodor went back to Beverstone road to interview Alma extensively concerning her past. During the interview, she told him of her ambitions as a teenager to become an entertainer and of her training with her uncle as well as her bicycle accident which ended it all. In stranger stories, she told of how she had lost her sight in 1929 for three weeks, though claimed to still be able to see the world around her through a sensory practice she couldn’t entirely explain. She had managed to keep the event secret for a while, until she visited the cinema with Les who noticed that her eyes were not watching the screen. Les convinced Alma to visit the optician who sent her to a specialist eye hospital who confirmed her blindness and gave her a course of drops to cure the ailment. After using the medication, her sight eventually returned. It was a peculiar story, however, Almas next story was less easy to understand. A year after her incident of temporary blindness, she was visiting friends to play cards one evening when she felt a sudden bout of exhaustion. She lay on the couch in the living room for a while to get some sleep and seemed to quickly drop out of consciousness. During the time she was out, she had a dream that her dead father walked silently across the room and placed a finger on her chest, traced a cross on her left breast. When she woke, she found a mark in the shape of a cross on her chest in the place she had dreamt and after telling Les of the story, he convinced her to go to the doctors to get it checked out. During the doctors inspection, he found a cancerous tumour in the same breast which ended in Alma requiring a mastectomy to remove the growth. Perhaps the most disturbing story she told Fodor of, however, was that of a strange, long faced man she used to see climbing out of her wardrobe and approaching her whilst she lay in bed as a small child.
It was a strange interview, but it had given Fodor a lot to unpack. Much of what she had told him that day could be explained by known phenomena. In the case of Alma losing her sight, Hysterical Blindness seemed to be a distinct possibility and the man creeping out of the wardrobe at night, terrifying as it might have sounded, could easily be attributed to sleep paralysis, though the dream of her father, Fodor admitted, was less easy to explain. It sparked an interest in Fodor, who began to consider what it might have all meant. Clearly Alma had been living a life that was in great need of mental escape. She was a strong, imaginative and vivacious young woman, who had had dreams of the stage but wound up living the life of a housewife. Perhaps, he began to theorise, Alma was oppressing more than she realised and perhaps it was this that was causing the phenomena to take place around her.
The following Friday Alma once more visited the Institute to take part in Fodors seance circle. Before each seance officially began, Fodor scrutinised Alma closely as she greeted the other members of the circle and socialised amongst them. As they began, he had Alma taken to a private room where she was searched by two female members of the circle and given a jumpsuit to wear to ensure she could not slip anything below her own clothes into the room and a repeat of the Lajos Pap incident could be avoided. She told Fodor that during the week Les had tried to discourage her from returning to the incident. It wasn’t doing her health any favours, he reasoned, however, when the poltergeist tossed Les’ shoes into the fireplace and shook the bed that night, he changed tack and agreed that she should perhaps return after all. During the investigation that day, they introduced table-tipping to the proceedings, and though there were a series of knocks and wobbles, Fodor concluded that there had been no intelligible phenomena. ALma continued to return to the institute during the first week of March but like before, the table-tipping appeared to be giving unsatisfactory results. In an effort to spur on the poltergeist activity, Fodor suggested the group take an outing to the seaside. On Friday 11th March, Fodor, Alma and the rest of the circle arrived in Bognor Regis, a small resort town South of London complete with a sandy beach, zoo and amusement park. Fodor and the circle, however, were more interested in the high street. On the trip down, Alma had told Fodor of how she had been shopping with a friend on the previous day where she had tried on a ring. Handing the ring back to the shop assistant, the pair left the shop empty handed, only to find to both parties great surprise that the ring had somehow found its way back on to Almas’ finger shortly after. Her friend immediately suggested they visit another store and try the same with a necklace, and though Alma initially protested, they wound up back at a jewelry counter perusing strings of pearl necklaces a short while later. Alma had been careful not to touch anything whilst in the store and as before, the pair left empty handed. Just as before however, as Alma stepped onto the tram to head home, she had found a string of pearls hanging round her neck. Fodor was keen to repeat the experiment in Bognor and so he arranged for the group to visit Woolworths and convinced Alma to try on a ring. Before they entered the store, he handed Alma a small film canister and suggested it might be interesting if a piece of jewellery could wind up inside it. All the members watched on, witnessing Alma clearly try on and then hand back a ring to the shop assistant and leave the store. As they walked round the corner, a rattle came from inside Alma’s pocket and when they pulled out the canister, sure enough, there inside sat the ring she had tried on in the store. “The experience,” said Fodor, “was rather alarming!” Fodor wondered about the psychic thefts and what the motive behind them could have been. Alma did not want for money, nor possessions. She lived comfortable enough to afford such things if she wanted them. He did, however, consider both the idea of compulsive theft as well as simply seeking a thrill. If thst was the case, however, then how on earth had Alma managed to slip the ring away, when they had all seen her clearly hadn it back to the shop staff?
Throughout March the seances continued back at the institute and each time Alma was stripped, searched and given a set of clothes to wear whilst in the seance room. On each occasion, items continued to apport, from silver charms and pennies, to nuts and polished stones. With each new crack, thud and ping of an item hitting the ground, the circle became more enthusiastic for Almas apparent psychic talent. Meanwhile, back at Beverstone Road, things were still growing stranger by the day. One night, the lodger, George woke Alma and Les by screaming at the top of his lungs. He swore he had seen Alma standing in his room, staring at him and grinning, but conversely, Les swore that Alma had been in bed when they were woken by his scream. Don, who had built up the courage to return to the house complained of how his light would turn on and off by itself constantly throughout the night and all members of the household complained of a sweet, rotten smell that permeated through the rooms from time to time.
At the institute, Alma was given a contract for her involvement with the investigation, which was now seeing her visit twice a week. Going forward she was paid £2 a week for her efforts and expected to show up twice weekly for three hours per session. Fodor, however, had decided with the circle to sit out of the seances and take a back seat, handing over the lead to Countess Wydenbruck and creating a more casual approach to the investigations, including a smaller “development circle” in order to lead Alma into a more secure sense of mind, one where she might not be so conscious of being scrutinised so heavily and if she was hoaxing, one in which she might slip up a little more readily.
Born in London, The Countess was the daughter of Christoph Anton Graf von Wydenbruck, Secretary of the Austro-Hungarian Embassy, and Marie von Fugger-Babenhausen. Though she had come from high society and spent munich of her childhood hobnobbing in Vienna, she had married a painter in 1919 against her parents wishes and emigrated to London, where the couple scratched out a living as an artist and a writer before coming to prominence in the 1930s.
The first of the more intimate investigations began and the institute on the 25th March. On the train journey to the institute, Alma had fallen asleep, only to wake to find a white mouse perched on her arm. She had brought the mouse with her to the institute and though Fodor secretly believed that Alma had probably bought the creature on her way, he kept the mouse as evidence of an apport from Alma. As Fodors suspicions began to grow against Almas legitimacy, the phenomena witnessed at the institute became more and more sensational and difficult to explain. Alma told Fodor of how she had gone to the cinema one night and fallen asleep whilst watching a film. She had slipped into a dream state and found herself standing outside of the institute, where she saw many of the cars belonging to the circle arrive. She had not seen Dr Wills, however, which seemed strange to her. As it turned out, on the night that Alma was describing the members of the circle had held a meeting at the institute and the members had all driven to the appointment, all except Dr Wills, who had not been able to attend due to his car breaking down on the way, causing him to miss the meeting. During the time Alma had spent staring at the institute in her dream, she mentioned staring at a chauffeur in the street, describing him and saying that he seemed to notice her and eye her suspiciously. Fodor tyracke down the chauffeur in question, who remembered seeing a woman fitting Almas description loitering in the street and when Fodor introduced the two, both gave positive identifications of one another. Whilst many members of the circle took this to be evidence of astral projection, Fodor remained skeptical, instead chalking it up to a possible case of ambulatory amnesia. Still, it was getting more and more difficult to hand wave away the various phenomena related to Alma and it was in no way poised to get any easier. As the month drew on, Alma continued to apport objects during the seances, only now she had graduated from small objects, to finding live mice, goldfish, beetles, a waxbill finch, a terrapin and several dead scarabs. She had also began apporting more unusual objects, including antique shards of pottery and an antique silver necklace, decorated with silver coins. As the necklace appeared around her neck from thin air, it had burned her skin. Fodor found most all of the items difficult to explain and had spent several afternoons traipsing around the local areas between Thronton Heath and South Kensington, visiting pet shops, antique shops and museums to ask if any of the owners recognised any of the objects or remembered selling any of them to Alma, all to no avail.
Along with the appearing items, Alma had begun to channel the spirit of a dead persian artist which she named “Bremba”. Bremba was the owner of a pet tiger and despite him reassuring the circle that the tiger meant Alma no harm, she routinely found herself with scratches appearing during the seances all over her body, at times stretching from her neck, right across her back to her waist. Fodor arranged for a trip to the cinema for Alma, suggesting that she might be able to astral project once more and whilst the experiment failed on that front, during the film, alma produced a bunch of roses from thin air, right in the middle of the film.
The roses, Fodor found easier to explain than much of the other recent phenomena, however. On their way to the cinema, Fodor had Almas bag checked and her cash counted. Before the film had started, Alma told the investigators that she had needed to run across the roads to buy sanitary towels, as her period had suddenly started and she excused herself for several minutes. The following day, whilst talking to Alma on the phone, Fodor asked her how much money she had in her bag and the total, he calculated aligned perfectly with the amount she had had the night before, minus the price of a cinema ticket and a bunch of roses.
In April, Fodor rejoined the seances. Les, however, was now becoming vocal about Alma’s continued work at the institute. Alma had been losing weight and had told Fodor that she felt as if “something was feeding” on her. She also described feelings of “wanting to do people harm.” Fodor continued to push Alma in order to get to the bottom of the phenomena, and instead of backing off, he suggested the institute double her pay to £4 a week, which seemed to placate Les and he then introduced the idea of having Alma submit to an X-Ray before entering the seance room. Alma protested at first, saying that the machinery scared her and reminded her of hospitals, but once the technicians comforted her and explained that the machinery was quite different, she agreed to have her pelvis photographed. This was important for Fodor, who was now developing a theory that Alma had been sneaking items into the institute via her vagina and then excusing herself to the bathroom where she would remove them and hide them around her body beneath her clothing once she had changed. Quite sure she would no submit to any sort of search requiring that level of intimacy, the X-Ray was his only hope of uncovering the fraud. The first plate was taken of Almas pelvis and the technicians took it to a van outside to develop, however, it soon became clear that they had bungled the operation. To his delight, Alma suggested they redo the photos and this time, he instructed the technicians to take two photographs, one of her pelvis and the other of her torso. On the same day that Horace Leaf, a psychical Investigator and writer, published an article for “The Two Worlds” journal on the marvel of Almas mediumship, an X-Ray developed outside of the institute of her torso showed two objects, pressed against her body, one in the shape of a pin and the other, of a small heart. Fodor was alerted to the objects found on the print but kept it to himself, only to witness Alma apport a small heart shaped locket to everyone, but Fodors, great surprise.
The Unravelling of a Fraud
With the revelations brought about by the X-Ray, Fodor had confirmed suspicions that he had long harboured, that at the very least, much of the phenomena witnessed at the institute had been fraudulent. Now he intended to discover whether Alma was aware of the fraud or not. It occurred to Fodor that very possibly, much of the activity could have been the product of her subconscious mind and much could have been compulsively undertaken. He enlightened the circle to his new findings and showed them the X-Ray and instructed them to keep it a secret from Alma. If they were to get to the bottom of Almas’ methods and motives, she must not be allowed to realise that they were aware of the deception. Whilst Fodor continued to find intrigue in the case from a psychoanalytical perspective, many others in the circle were far less amused by the outcome. As far as they could see, Alma had been deceiving them for months and with all the items she had apparently magicked from thin air, she was clearly a very sick woman. The public sittings were cancelled, Fodor using the excuse of the strain they placed on Alma as a reason to dial them back to a much smaller, more exclusive audience and things continued on largely as if nothing had changed. ALma continued to apport objects and channel the spirit of Bremba and still she suffered from tiger attacks, with new scratches appearing all over her body in every sitting. Worryingly, Alma told Fodor of how a spirit had been visiting her at night and forcing himself upon her. She also rang him on one occasion to tell him of how she had dreamt that abat had flown into her room the previous night and bitten her neck. Whilst she had lay in bed, she had felt paralysed and unable to move, the smell of bad meat had spread through the room whilst a cold weight climbed onto the bed next to her and she felt a pinch on her neck. The next morning she had noticed two small puncture wounds on her neck, below her ear. Fodor told her on the phone that he would check them the next time she came to the institute, but instead, they sprung a surprise visit to Beverstone Road that afternoon, along with Dr Wills and his assistant Laurie Evans. They checked the bite marks and sure enough, there they were,
“Examining Mrs Fieldings neck, we found two irregular, fairly deep punctures behind the sternal mastoid muscle, a little more than an eighth of an inch apart. There were some faint parallel scratches around them. The skin was red and swollen. In Dr Will’s opinion, the scarring was not sufficiently advanced to show that the punctures were not caused within the last few hours, in other words they might have been caused at midnight as per Mrd Fieldings story.”
Dofor was quite sure that the marks had not been made by any vampire that had flown in through her window, but it was no less disturbing. As he spoke to Alma, she told him of the vampire visitation in more detail and embellished her own feelings,
“Sometimes I feel that I am not here, that I am not really alive. I feel as if I had died on the operating table. It seems to me as if another person had taken possession of my body. I am often told things which I am supposed to know but don’t. I used to tell my husband after my last kidney operation, “I am not really there. I am dead. You don’t know it. You cannot really hear me.” I used to touch them after that operation. They would not feel me or they would not hear me whenI was talking. Since then when I walk I feel as if I were above the ground floating along. You know that I am always kind to animals. Yet I have an awful feeling that I wish to hurt them. Last Monday my cat had an accident. I found his back-toe sliced off at the joint. I have a horrible feeling that I did it without knowing.”
Fodor made sure to not mention the words “vampire” nor “dracula” when speaking to Alma concerning the bite marks, instead waiting for her to incriminate herself, yet she never did. Rather than just a tall story, Fodor instead began to consider a past trauma struggling to emerge from years of past oppression from Almas conscious mind. During the next seance, Almas spirt guide Bremba suggested the investigators stake out the Fieldings bedroom at night, poised to kill the vampire bat upon its return, this he assured the group, would free almas spirit which was currently residing inside the animal and allow it to return to Alma. The group gave the idea serious consideration, but instead Fodor suggested they take a softer approach, enlisting the aid of Eileen Garrett, a spirit medium friend of Fodors, who could perform a therapeutic seance for Alma. Mrs Garrett agreed to help and the seance was carried out in Beverston Road, with the medium calling upon her own spirit guide, named Uvani, to mediate between the investigators and Alma. Uvani reassured Alma that she was a strong, talented woman, but warned her against the dangers of fraud, both for her reputation as well as for her own sake. Uvani then addressed Les, telling him not to be jealous of his wifes mediumship, nor to feel threatened by her career as a medium. The entire session seemed more like a session of marriage therapy than a seance, but then, Mrs Garrett herself was never confident that her own Spirit Guide was nothing more than a product of her own subconscious invention.
By now Fodor was convinced that Alma’s recent troubles were not supernormal at all, rather the answers lay in her subconscious mind. The original phenomena in the house he suggested could well have been true, there was still much that he could not explain, but he believed that as the investigation wore on, Alma had begun to invent new activity in order to appease the investigators and keep the party rolling. He believed that Alma bore a subconscious wish for change, escape or self-expression and she had used the seances as a vehicle to carry this out. He also considered the possibility that many of the more frightening stories of sleep paralysis and night time visitors from vampires and long-faced men creeping out of her wardrobe were the products of an oppressed memory of sexual trauma from her youth. Laurie Evans felt much the same, as he later wrote in his own summary of the case,
“On looking through my notes on the THornton Heath case made on my first visit to the house I experience afresh the feeling I had at the time; that is to say an utter belief in the genuineness of the phenomena and also of the good faith of Mrs Fielding. In view of what we now know this is important. Moreover, I find that having deprived her of the benefit of every doubt in regard to this phenomena there still remain a number of incidents which defy a normal explanation. I am more than ever convinced that her reactions to the various breakages etc were entirely genuine. Her absolute terror in the initial stages was quite unmistakable.”
Fodor suggested to the circle that they might administer a truth serum to Alma in order to really find the truth behind her actions, but by now the circle had had enough. They had had enough of both Almas constant deception, which they saw as a personal affront and of Fodors constant psychoanalytical approach. Instead, they voted to terminate the investigation outright. Disappointed, Fodor took a holiday to France with his family in order to gain some perspective, upon his return, however, he found himself ousted from his position at the institute and all the members of the seance circle that had been involved with the investigation in Alma and Beverstone Road, rapidly desitancing themself, many requesting that if Fodor were to publish his findings in the case, to leave their names out of the final article.
With little left for him in London, Fodor applied for a Visa to America, where he believed the atmosphere was more sympathetic to mediums and mediumship. Despite uncovering fraud over and again, he still claimed that the matter of ghosts, poltergeists and mediumship was “basically a psychological enquiry.” before leaving London, he delivered a copy of his notes on the investigation to Sigmund Freud, who was living in Hampstead after his escape from Nazism. Freud wrote to Fodor a few weeks later,
“Dear sir, perhaps you cannot imagine how vexatious the reading of such documents of experiments, precautions, evidence of witnesses and so on is for a reader to whom to start with the acceptance of supernormal happenings does not mean much, especially when they are concerned with such stupid tricks of a so-called Poltergist. I have held out, however, and have been richly rewarded. The way you deflect your interest front eh question of whether the phenomena observed are real or have been falsified and turn it into the psychological study of the medium, seem to me to be the right steps to take in the planning of research which will lead to some explanation of the occurrences in question. It is greatly to be regretted that the International Institute for Psychical Research was not willing to follow you in this direction. Furthermore I regard as very probable the result you come to with the particular case. Naturally it would be desirable to confirm it through a real analysis of the person, but that evidently is not feasible. Your manuscript is ready for you to fetch, With many thanks for sending me the interesting material, Yours Truly, Sigmund Freud.”
For Fodor, who felt much mistreated by the reaction of the institute after his hard work to establish their research, he saw the letter as vindication for his own methods and line of thinking on the case. On the 17th March 1939, Fodor sailed for New York, six months before war was declared with Germany. During the war, Alma, Les and Don moved to a rural village in Devon, Les and DOn volunteered for the home guard, whilst Alma volunteered as a nurse. Shortly after the end of the war, the International Institute for Psychical Research closed its doors for good. Fodor spent his time in America developing his own practice as a psychoanalyst. He later wrote of “Poltergeist Psychosis” as a symptom of repressed memories and past trauma. Whilst his theories on the Beverstone Road case were unwelcome by spiritualists at the time, he was remarkably ahead of his time and many of his psychoanalytical theories are now accepted amongst psychologists and form the basis of several theories amongst believers of the paranormal equally. He published his work on the case, “On The Trail of the Poltergeist” in 1958 and though he changed the names of many of the subjects, he lays out the investigation for all to see and further embellished his theories.
When all was over for the Thornton Heath Poltergeist, we are left with a case that seems more like the history of fraudulent mediumship and fledgling psychology, however, it’s easy to forget that in the beginning, several people wrote signed testimonies to a series of perplexing events that remain unexplainable. It seems likely that Fodor was correct in many of his assumptions concerning Alma and her motives for fraudulent activity, but what are we to make of his belief, which took several years to fully shake off, along with the belief of his assistant Laurie Evans that much of the early phenomena were genuine? Despite Fodor’s best efforts, he was still unable to dismiss everything that had happened entirely and was unable to secure evidence that could prove much of it a fraud. No matter is we believe the spiritualists, the psychoanalytical Fodor, or the enthusiastic Fodor of the early investigation, or a mix of something in between, the truth of much of the activity is now left to history, a footnote in an era when war loomed on the horizon and ghosts spoke in darkened rooms.