William G. Roll 1926 – 2012
Everybody interested in parapsychology knows who Bill Roll was. He came to the Parapsychology Laboratory in 1957 after studying at Oxford. Rhine was excited about his arrival due to Roll’s interest in poltergeists, and the very next year Roll would help them investigate one of the biggest poltergeist cases the lab ever investigated, the disturbances at a house on Seaford, LI (written up in my book).
But the relationship between J. B. Rhine and Roll grew tense, and when one of Rhine’s contributors expressed interest in starting up a foundation to research survival issues only, Rhine recommended Roll to head up the new Psychical Research Foundation (PRF). From then on (1960/61) hauntings or poltergeists and cases like it were typically handed off to Bill Roll.
Rhine provided office space at the Lab for the PRF, but by 1963 something had changed and Rhine asked Roll to find another home for the PRF. “One does not invite a poacher into the park,” he said at the time. “Rhine was highly competitive,” Roll responded when told of Rhine’s comment. Roll left the Lab and worked out of a home office for a few years, then later the PRF moved into two small houses on the Duke Campus. By this time the PRF had become “a sponsored program” within the Duke Department of Electrical Engineering, because of their work with Electrical Engineering professors John Artley and William Joines, and the interest in psi by the Electrical Engineering Dean at the time, Dr. Alexander Vesic.
I wrote about one case Roll investigated, a 1961 Newark, New Jersey case which involved a boy who was living with his grandmother. Five years earlier his mother had murdered his father, a former Golden Gloves champion, and the disturbances were attributed to the dead father. (I’m always drawn to the sad cases.) But Bill Roll worked on many of the most well-known poltergeist cases that happened during his lifetime. He coined the term RSPK (recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis) to describe them, and later, with William Joines, he incorporated developing theories of quantum mechanics to help explain them.
I’m glad that the Rhine Research Center organized a PRF reunion in 2007. It was an opportunity to show him and his co-researchers that their work was still honored.
Rest in peace, Bill Roll.
These are some pictures I scanned from Roll’s book The Poltergeist. They’re from a 1967 case in Miami.
The picture of Bill Roll came from the web pages of the Parapsychology Foundation.