“We will have a part-time relationship with a number of graduate students in psychology at Duke this year—more than before. Including a former Russian Intelligence officer, Nikolai Khokhlov.” – J. B. Rhine, September 13, 1965.
When I came across the letter which included that snippet naturally I thought. ’Well, isn’t that interesting?’ I looked into Khokhlov’s story and learned he wasn’t just a former intelligence officer, but also a would-assassin.
Eleven years before that letter was written, when Khokhlov was a 31-year-old secret police officer working out of Moscow, he was sent to Germany to murder the anti-communist leader Georgi Sergeyevich Okolovich. His wife Yanina begged him not to commit murder, but he didn’t know how to get out of it. He’d already refused to kill someone once before and he knew he couldn’t refuse again. Khokhlov went to Frankfurt and early in the evening on February 18, 1954 he knocked on Okolovich’s door. But instead of killing him he said, “I am a captain in the MGB—the Ministry of State Security, I have been sent to Frankfurt to organize your assassination. I don’t want to carry it out and I need your help.” Okolovich contacted the Americans. Khokhlov, who couldn’t go back to Moscow now, left Yanina and his 18-month-old son Aleksander behind and defected to the United States. He never saw them again.
Khokhlov was working as a radio editor and broadcaster in 1963 when he first wrote Rhine about his encounters with paranormal phenomena. Rhine encouraged him to enroll at Duke, which he did, ultimately getting a PhD in psychology. I emailed briefly with Khokhlov. While at Duke, Khokhlov monitored Soviet involvement in parapsychology for Rhine, and when he got his PhD Rhine offered him a position on the staff. But by then Khokhlov had become disillusioned with Rhine’s approach which focused on “pure statistical manipulations without touching the inevitable issue of human consciousness and its metaphysical essence.” Khokhlov accepted an offer of a professorship from the California State University in San Bernardino instead.
I didn’t have the heart to ask Khokhlov about the wife and son who were left behind in Russia (why I will never be good at reporting certain kinds of stories). I know that he remarried, and had three more children, including a son who sadly died. And he retired from CSU/San Bernardino in 1993. I would have liked to have gotten to know Khokhlov better. His email was very kind and generous and it would have been great to interview him in person, and he was willing, but it wasn’t possible for me to go out West for a number of reasons. Which is unfortunate. He died in September, 2007, seven months after we emailed. I have a file on him, which includes testimony which he gave to the Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956, and some articles about attempts on his life after he defected.
Khokhlov said he was very close to the Rhines for a while, but he eventually severed the relationship. He ended his last email to me with:
“There are too many speculations about the field of parapsychology in the popular media, but very little real substance in the analyzes of that extremely important view upon human nature. Actually, that field is not “para” anymore, but while the paralyzing grip of behaviorism is weakening, the truly scientific components of “para” are becoming the pillars of psychological research today. Alas, not in the USA, but everywhere in the sobering world. Again, I wish you all the success that such a topic deserves.”
The pictures are from a November 20, 1954 Saturday Evening Post article titled I Would Not Murder for the Soviets, written by Dr. Khokhlov.