The Paroptic Illusion, William Foos, Jules Romains and the U.S. Army

In the August 1963 edition of their Parapsychology Bulletin, the Parapsychology Laboratory of Duke University printed an article titled, The “Paroptic” Illusion. It began, “It comes in waves, recurring every 15 or 20 years, this curious, contagious notion that certain blindfolded persons are able to “see” with some sensory area besides their eyes …” Some people claimed that while blindfolded they could identify cards, read passages from the Bible, or play checkers.

Every case that they were permitted to examine and test, the article went on, were exposed as hoaxes. They were also of the opinion that were they able to test them all they’d find that every one of them was a trick. Among those named were “Professor” Shepard of Toledo, (their quote marks, not mine) Pat Marquis, (my post about Pat Marquis) and Rosa Kulenshova.

A few years earlier, in 1957, Col. Frank F. Carr of the U.S. Army Intelligence Board had written J. B. Rhine, the head of the Lab, about a case that was in all the papers at the time: William Foos and his paroptic daughter, Margaret Foos.

Army Writes J. B. Rhine

Foos was making the additional extraordinary claim that by developing their powers of extra-sensory perception he could “teach the blind to see,” to the point where they could safely drive a car. J. B. Rhine responded (and I can’t help noticing the efficiency of the U.S. Post Office in 1957, not a complaint about the Post Office, those were different times).

J. B. Rhine Responds to the Army

The Lab had actually conducted ESP tests with sight impaired children. From his book Frontier Science of the Mind:

“Groups of blind children have yielded results that compared with those of seeing children of the same age … while no group of any size has been found completely devoid of capacity to demonstrate ESP, at the same time no subdivision of the human species has been found to stand out in any really distinctive way as either possessing superior psi powers or superior control over them.”

The FBI was also investigating Foos’s claims and they seemed to be quite excited initially. “Should his claims be well-founded, there is no limit to the value which would accrue to the FBI – complete and undetectable access to mail, the diplomatic pouch; visual access to buildings – the possibilities are unlimited insofar as law enforcement and counterintelligence are concerned.” However, by the end of their investigation they lost all confidence that Foos would ever be able to deliver on his claims.

If she is still alive Margaret Foos would be 72 or 73 now (her age was reported differently). She was just a kid at the time, and she was probably simply doing as her father asked. I don’t believe she has anything to answer for. It would just be interesting to hear her side of the story now, all these years later.
Jules Romains aka
Louis Henri Jean Farigoule
The picture on the right is of Jules Romains, aka Louis Henri Jean Farigoule. His book, Eyeless Sight, is also mentioned in the August, 1963 Parapsychology Bulletin. This one is interesting because as far as I can tell, Romains was a respected poet and writer from France.

From the Parapsychology Bulletin:

Farigoule “did not use hypnosis but induced a ‘delta condition’ in his subjects that may have been like it. He taught his people to see with the cheek line under the eyes. In fact, this suited his method of blindfolding better. The subjects saw objects placed low in front of them. Again, appearances favored the sincerity of all. Mr. Romains was, in fact, so confident that he haughtily declined to discuss the demonstration at the Duke Laboratory of the inadequacy of his blindfold.”

Rhine suggested simple controls, like the one described in his letter to Carr above, but these were all rejected by Foos and others. In any case, this seems to have been the last wave. I’m not aware of anyone making claims like this since then, although maybe someone will come along and post about someone who has.

Forgotten Mediums of New York

In 1945, J. B. Rhine started corresponding with the widow of Lt. Ernest D. Wenberg, an Army doctor who died on December 23, 1944, while a POW of the German government. Like so many other widows who wrote J.B., Mrs. Wenberg wanted to communicate with her dead husband. Her letters to Rhine described all her recent sittings with the psychics of New York, where she was living at the time, and also a few of her encounters outside New York.

For instance, the Rev. C. Drayton Thomas had held four proxy sittings for her with the British medium Mrs. Leonard, who doesn’t really count as a forgotten medium, at least not forgotten by any students of parapsychology.

But the more interesting parts of Mrs. Wenberg’s letters were the sections about mediums I’d never heard of. Mrs. Wenberg was getting advice from a Miss Gertrude Tubby, the former secretary of the late Dr. James H. Hyslop (a Columbia professor turned psychical researcher). Miss Tubby said she only knew two reliable mediums in New York. The first was Beulah Brown.

When I googled Brown I found that she was still working as a psychic until at least the late 1970’s. She gets a brief mention in a Jazz Times article about the composer and musician Horace Silver. “Around that time, in the late ’70s, he also consulted with the New York-based medium, Beulah Brown, who gave him the name for his label, Silveto.”

This was an ad placed in the New York Times in the 50’s.


The second medium recommended by Miss Tubby was Mrs. Tellier, the widow of Louis Tellier, a French golfer who hung himself in a shelter on the grounds of the Brae Burn Country Club in Newton, Massachusetts.


I have yet to find out a thing about Mrs. Tellier, who refused to sit with Mrs. Wenberg. She told Mrs. Wenberg she was “not taking any more sitters for a couple of weeks, due to physical and emotional fatigue.”  

Update:  a relative of Mrs. Tellier (Sheila Ryan) has very kindly sent me a photograph of Mrs. Ella Tellier.  She is the one in white in the back row at the left.  Sheila doesn’t know a lot about her, but she is going to try to find out more and she said she would share what she learned.  Thank you Sheila, and thank you for the photograph.


Meanwhile Mrs. Wenberg continued to visit mediums, whether they were recommended by Miss Tubby or not. She tried to see someone named Eddie MacKay, but at the time MacKay was “very skittish and would not see me unless I was vouched for personally or by letter by my informant,” who was not named. The unnamed informant in turn recommended a medium named Edward L. Thorne.

However, in her letter Mrs. Wenberg describes Thorne as “the most mercenary and unmitigated fake. He holds no private sittings—why should he, since he gets a dollar for an average of 2 1/2 minutes of drivel at his public meetings and must pull down $75 dollars easily every night.”

Thorne is to the far left in this picture, which is from a June 16, 1941 Life Magazine article about the skeptic Joseph Dunninger. Mrs. Wenberg said Thorne looked “something like an older edition of Orson Wells” and I can see it. That’s Dunninger on the other side of the table.

Mrs. Wenberg attended two of Thorne’s public sittings and her accounts are quite detailed. But when it came to Thorne, Mrs. Wenberg sided with Dunninger. “… it is sickening to see such creatures battening on the credulity and perhaps grief, of people. Not the least distressing thing is to have individuals who seem to be intelligent recommend frauds to one. It makes me doubt what one reads in even apparently well-authenticated books.”

Psychics and Criminal Profilers

As usual, once I’m on the radio I forget what I wanted to say. I had intended to talk about the similarities between psychics and criminal profiling.

I wrote a chapter in my book about two psychics who had gotten involved in a case of a missing boy in California. It’s largely a negative chapter because of one particular psychic, Peter Hurkos, who I believe acted irresponsibly. However the other psychic in the chapter, Harold Sherman, went out of his way to respond honestly and compassionately. And, as it turned out, he supplied genuinely useful information, although no one knew this at the time, which is the problem J. B. Rhine tried to point out to the father of the missing California boy, who had asked him for the names of psychics:

“We do not know enough about the abilities we are studying to be able to apply them reliably … The worst part of it is that there is no adequate assurance that the impressions that come to the mind are due to ESP and are reliable even when they actually are.” (Italics mine.)

Marcello Truzzi and Arthur Lyons, the authors of The Blue Sense, a study of psychics and their work solving crime, concluded that the existing evidence of a “blue sense” did not yet meet the burden of proof, but they added that a lack of proof does not equal disproof, and that more study was required. While stories of psychic’s abilities were exaggerated, they weren’t as insubstantial as debunkers insisted, and Truzzi and Lyons compared them in usefulness to FBI profilers.

It’s an interesting point. In essence, what psychics do is help with investigations. At best, they supply information which may lead to find a missing child, a body or a suspect. That is similar to what profilers do, the difference is the information gathering process.

Some people don’t think the process is different, however. For instance, a Sgt. Stinnett of the Maryland State Police credited Dallas psychic John Catchings with helping them find the body of murder victim Mary Cook Spence in the 80’s. But Stinnett didn’t think Catchings had supernatural powers. He thought Catchings was just highly observant and would have made a good police detective.

In a 2007 New Yorker piece about criminal profiling, famed FBI profiler John Douglas is quoted as saying, “If there’s a psychic component to this, I won’t run from it.” This was a skeptical piece about profilers, and the author Malcolm Gladwell intended this quote as further evidence that the work of profilers is suspect.

In fact, explanations that are made to explain away psychics could also be applied to profilers. A forensics science professor I emailed called Hurkos’s technique “a pastiche of common sense, stereotypes, and popular mythology.” If you throw enough out there that might fit the given situation you’re bound to get something right.

“Psychics often speak in a stream-of-consciousness style, piling on impressions,” Jill Neimark wrote in Psychology Today. She pointed to the results of a 1982 study that compared the responses from psychic sleuths, college students and homicide detectives. “… none of the three groups scored better than they would have if left to chance, but the psychics produced 10 times as much information, increasing their likelihood of a chance hit.”

Gladwell compared what FBI profilers do to “cold readings,” the technique some psychics use to gather information from the people around them in a way that makes it look like they pulled the data out of thin air.


I have to point out that in addition to providing profiles that may help law enforcement find suspects, the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit also maintains a database on violent criminals and crimes. This helps reveal patterns in a more systematic, scientific way. The Blue Sense authors, for instance, described policing as more clinical art than forensic science. But even if it only confirms what intuition led them to in the first place, the FBI is gathering data which will hopefully allow them to not only examine their theories and see if there is any truth to them, but to look back and assess their own effectiveness.

It would be useful to have a similar database to assess the work of psychics, and Truzzi and Lyons referred to ongoing efforts to gather data of this sort, but I didn’t find out yet if this is still ongoing. I know that Truzzi has since died. It would interesting to compare how effective they are in aiding investigations.

In 1993, the Skeptical Inquirer published a survey which polled police departments about using psychics. “Of the 48 respondents, 31 answered no, and 17 answered yes. As stated before, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., declined to answer. Therefore, approximately 65 percent do not use and have never used psychics.” Most don’t, they emphasize, and those that do say the information psychics provide is not useful.

Truzzi looked at the same results and marveled that as many as 35 percent of the respondents used psychics! The true total is most certainly higher. For instance, when I was researching one case from the 1950’s in Miami for my book, law enforcement in Miami repeatedly denied having worked with Peter Hurkos. But when I tracked down the lead detective, now in his late 80’s, he said that they did consult with Hurkos, who didn’t supply them with anything useful.

In his book, Memiors of a Psychic Spy, Joseph McMoneagle makes a good point about their ability to be effective.

“You can produce a near-perfect description of a location where a person is bring held, is living, or within which a body has been hidden. But, if there are no local landmarks that are readily identifiable to a specific area or township, where in the world the location actually is, is quite difficult to pinpoint.”

I know the first objection to that is going to be that this is exactly how psychics are able to defraud people, by giving general descriptions that will fit a lot of places, so they can later claim success. “I see a body of water,” etc. That is the kind of thing Hurkos did for the most part and objections to it are vaild. (Truzzi and Lyons referred to Hurkos as a “psychic scoundrel” and called his claims, “pure bunk.”) But that is not the instances that McMoneagle is describing here. Some psychics, or remote viewers, provide descriptions that are more detailed and exact.

It goes back to Rhine’s point. “The worst part of it is that there is no adequate assurance that the impressions that come to the mind are due to ESP and are reliable even when they actually are.”

[The first picture is Bruce Kremen, the missing boy referred to at the beginning of this post.  The second picture is Mack Ray Edwards, the person suspected of having killed him.  The third picture is Judith Ann Roberts, the 1954 murder victim from Miami.]

Pat Marquis, J. B. Rhine and Charlie Chaplin

In July, 1936 Rhine went to California to investigate Pat Marquis, a 12-year-old boy who had been wowing everyone with his ESP abilities. Two years before the boy had gone into a trance and Napeji, an 11th century Persian, emerged. This was very reminiscent of Abdul Latif, the spirit of a seventeenth century Persian physician who sometimes appeared when medium Eileen Garrett went into a trance. Rhine had begun testing with Eileen Garrett in 1934.

So whenever Pat went into a trance, Napeji would take over, and while blindfolded, the boy/Napeji could supposedly tell you which cards had been picked from a deck, walk around, play pool and so on. Rhine traveled 3,000 miles only to show them that the boy had actually been peaking down his nose through the blindfold. “… I had the physicians blindfold me in the various ways the boy had been blindfolded,” Rhine wrote Mrs. Bolton, one of their contributors, “and I showed them to their satisfaction that I too could find my way about pretty well and could tell them how many fingers they held up, etc.“ (More below.)


Rhine had a talk with Dr. Cecil Reynolds, the physician who had been managing the boy, and as far as Rhine was concerned, it all ended well. “… we managed to settle the whole thing in the most friendly and non-incriminating fashion,” he wrote Bolton, “and I left with the understanding that the Napeji personality (an ancient Persian) was not to be evoked again and the lad was to discontinue his pranks.”

I like that Rhine was never out to embarrass or humiliate anyone and always gave them the opportunity to just quietly stop and go away. He didn’t like to play the part of the debunker. Nevermind all the people already providing that service, he also wrote later, “I found that exposing these people did not put them out of business …” And that is just what happened here. Reynolds and the boy continued to put on performances and in April, 1937 Life Magazine did an article about Marquis.

Rhine wrote Bolton again. She must have asked why he didn’t go public with what he had found and Rhine had to explain. “It is not my policy to call anyone a fake,” he wrote, “and above all I regard it as bad taste to make such statements in public. The old physician in charge of the boy [Reynolds], when he saw through the whole case with me, agreed that it should not go on any longer, as did the boy himself. On my part I assured them that I had no intention of publishing anything on the case. I never have and do not intend to. Mr. Lewis Browne’s letter to the magazine LIFE, which was written after Dr. Reynold’s broke his agreement with me and published more claims for the boy (perhaps under the influence of the boy’s mother, who, a divorcee, was living in the same house as the divorced doctor at the time), was written without any knowledge or consent on my part …”
Lewis Browne must have made erroneous claims about either Rhine’s connection to the case, or his assessment. I still have to look up that letter to the editor. But I started looking into Dr. Reynolds. It turns out Reynolds was well known in the Los Angeles area. For almost two decades he regularly testified at some of the biggest criminal cases in California. Typically big murder cases that are forgotten now, but were front page news for months at the time. Like Marion Parker, the 12 year old daughter of a Los Angeles Banker who was abducted and dismembered in 1927 by William Hickman. Reynolds was usually called to testify about whether or not an alleged murderer was sane. Reynolds also had a history of being interested in the paranormal.

From here I found lots of interesting connections.

Reynolds was a close friend of Charlie Chaplin and he was also Chaplin’s personal physician. The doctor even had a bit part in Modern Times playing a minister. I think Reynolds must have been a bit stage-struck—he once worked as an un-credited medical consultant for the movie Frankenstein. Another interesting connection: apparently Chaplin invited Reynolds to be there when Einstein came to Chaplin’s house in 1931. Einstein was out West visiting the Mount Wilson Observatory where scientists had found evidence of cosmic background radiation, the first real proof that the universe was expanding. During this same visit out West Einstein attended a seance at Upton Sinclair’s house (I wrote about this in Unbelievable).

J. B. Rhine, who was a good friend of Upton Sinclair’s, had been introduced to Charlie Chaplin by Sinclair and had visited with Chaplain a number of times when he was out West. (Rhine also corresponded with Einstein.) On one occasion Chaplin showed Rhine a film he had of Pat Marquis.

Rhine’s description of another visit with Chaplin made me smile when I tried to imagine it. “When I was in Hollywood,” Rhine wrote, “Charlie Chaplin showed me a picture which he had taken in Bali and told me of another much better one which he offered to obtain for me from Singapore, picturing some of the religious ceremonial phenomena of self-torturing and allied behavior.” I could just see Rhine doing his best to say in the politest way possible, “no thank you.” (Rhine was on the conservative/straight-laced side, although I found exceptions to this which perhaps should be another post!)

Lewis Browne, who was mentioned in Rhine’s letter to Bolton, was a writer and part of Chaplin’s circle of friends, along with Hamlin Garland, another writer who was also very seriously interested in paranormal phenomena and who had met with Eileen Garrett during her first visit to the states in 1931. Rhine was introduced to Garland by Charlie Chaplin and Garland was the only one Rhine really kept in touch with out of this crew. I found a numbers of letters to and from Garland in the Special Collections Library at Duke.

Finally, I found out that Dr. Reynolds also met with Eileen Garrett during her 1931 visit. So Reynolds knew all about Eileen’s trances and her Persian spirit guide and could have either told those stories to Marquis or worse, coached him with them.

The first picture is of Pat Marquis from the April 19, 1937 issue of Life. The second picture is of Dr. Reynolds and I got it from Notables of the West, Press Reference Library (Western edition). I don’t think I need to identify the last picture!

More Machines of the Paranormal

The Boston medium Mina Crandon, aka Margery, used a number of devices to communicate with the dead, and also to establish the authenticity of those communications.  This is one of her voice machines, but I’m not entirely sure which one it is.  Oh wait, this must be the “spirit bell box.”  Those are clearly bells inside.

Although Margery’s feet and hands were held or tied during seances, the bells in the box would ring out during the seance, supposedly rung by the spirit of Margery’s dead brother Walter.  However during one demonstration, Houdini felt Margery’s feet manipulate the box, just as J. B. Rhine saw Margery use her feet to recover a spirit megaphone that had temporarily gotten away from her.

That is Margery in the picture, but I don’t know who the two men are. 

Medium Busting

This is a picture I found at the Rhine Research Center.  There was no caption or explanation with it, but it looks like a picture debunking a medium or psychic. They’ve clearly caught someone raising a small table which the medium may have claimed was being raised by a spirit.  Tables were so crucial last century (table rising, rapping, etc.).