THE YEAR 1958 began for me not unlike any number of others. I had recently
accepted Dr. Rhine's suggestion that I should give up a project for the
investigation of pigeon homing supported by a grant from the Office of Naval
Research. Over a period of several years this work had involved me in field
studies that kept me away from my desk a great deal of the time. To free myself
from this pleasant duty, I transferred the pigeon-homing project to the Duke
University Zoology Department, and I slipped quietly back into harness in the
Then, early in February, a friend of the laboratory in the New York region sent
us the first clipping about some household disturbances which had broken out in
the James M. Herrmann home in Seaford, Long Island. These events involved the
movement of household objects and other physical effects for which the observers
who were on the scene could find no explanation. The mysterious occurrences
appeared to center around the son, James, who was in early adolescence. Thus the
disturbances fitted into the pattern of the typical "poltergeist" (mischievous
spirit) of which there have been some hundreds of cases recorded throughout
history. Several earlier cases had been investigated by experienced research
workers with results that only made the mystery seem deeper and therefore more
challenging and more worthy of continued study.
The newspaper clippings about the Long Island case continued to reach Dr.
[J. B.] Rhine's desk over a period of several days. As the case developed, it seemed to
be an especially promising one for scientific investigation. First in importance
was the existence of a full and carefully compiled record of the developments in
the form of an official police report. On February 11, eight days after the
disturbances started, Detective Joseph Tozzi of the Nassau County Police was
assigned to full-time duty on the case. From then until the final disturbance
took place on March 10 (and for an indefinite period after that, since the case
remained unsolved) he was on call twenty-four hours a day whenever any new
outbreak occurred, and he carefully interviewed the people who were in the house
at the time and recorded their accounts within a short period, usually only a
few minutes after the disturbances happened.
Another advantage of this case from the point of view of scientific study is the
fact that several people outside the family were in the house when some of the
unexplained events took place.
Still another fortunate circumstance was the desire of the family for help
toward understanding the cause of their trouble and bringing it to an end.
Consequently they gladly opened their doors to the investigators from the
Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke (as to others who took an interest in the
case) and willingly answered all questions put to them.
The disturbances appeared to be increasing in both number and magnitude.
Especially, the stories that appeared in the Long Island paper, Newsday,
gave an impression of intelligent observation and genuine puzzlement on the part
of the reporter, Mr. David Kahn. These things added up to a decision by the
laboratory to move in on the case.
The first contact was made through Mr. Kahn, who agreed that he would keep the
laboratory's interest in the matter out of the news until the investigation had
been completed, with the understanding that he would at that time get an
exclusive story on our study of the disturbances. However, he had already
imposed a great deal upon the family in covering the story, he felt somewhat
responsible for what they had gone through as a result of the publicity, and he
did not want to ask them to let him bring us in on the case as well.
Dr. Rhine had suggested that I should consider going up, so I placed a call to
Mr. Herrmann. He appreciated our interest and said that the family would welcome
my coming to help them get at the root of their difficulties.
A few hours later Mr. Kahn met me at La Guardia Airport. On the way to Seaford
he said that his editor had vetoed the idea of keeping the investigation "off
the record." The editor thought that this story was one of local interest only
and that it had run its course. He intended, therefore, to wind up their
coverage of it in the next morning's issue with a sort of "society news" item to
the effect that the Parapsychology Laboratory of Duke University had sent me up
to make a quiet study of the things that had been taking place in the Herrmann
house. This did not seem like a correct appraisal of the situation to me, but
the matter, as presented, seemed beyond my control.
We were met at the door by Mrs. Herrmann, who was obviously quite excited. She
said that we should go down to the rumpus room in the basement and see what had
happened only a short time before.
We did so, and there we found Sergeant McConnell, Detective Tozzi's superior on
the Nassau County police force, looking at the wreckage of a small record
player. This was on the floor in the corner of the room near the foot of the
steps, diagonally across the room and approximately twenty feet from the place
on the opposite wall where the phonograph ordinarily sat on a special metal
table. Sergeant McConnell said the call that a new disturbance had taken place
had come to the police station a short while before; and since Detective Tozzi
was not immediately available, he had himself come to investigate.
He found that three members of the family were in the house when the phonograph
was wrecked. The young son in the family, James (aged twelve), reported that he
had been sitting at a study table which was in a nook under the stairway in the
rumpus room, and he caught only a glimpse of a quick motion before he heard the
crash of the record player as it struck the lower part of the staircase
banister. Mrs. Herrmann and James's sister (aged thirteen) were both upstairs,
and they only heard the noise. The metal table itself had turned over and the
records which were on a lower, "V" shelf had spilled out onto the floor.
According to the rules which strictly governed the family after each new
disturbance, nothing was touched. Sergeant McConnell had come as soon as he
received Mrs. Herrmann's call.
Mr. Kahn, Sergeant McConnell, and I had been talking only a few minutes when Mr.
Herrmann got home from the city. He showed consternation over what he saw, and
he was vehemently outspoken in wanting to see an end put to these mysterious
Mr. Herrmann soon joined the other members of the family on the main floor while
Mr. Kahn, Sergeant McConnell, and I remained for a time in the basement.
Sergeant McConnell was speaking about the difficulties of really getting to the
heart of the matter. The investigation was entirely novel for the Nassau County
Police. They had long since satisfied themselves that there was no criminal
violation of law involved; but once they had accepted the case, they felt
compelled to pursue it as long as it remained unsolved. The Herrmanns were
obviously being harassed in some unexplained way, and they were entitled to
police protection. He went on to say that he had personally become convinced
that the case was not likely to be solved by the method that had been used up to
that time, the plan of calling the detective only after a new outbreak had taken
place. Rather, he thought that around-the-clock surveillance of the household
might be required.
As we talked, there occurred a rapid sound of running feet and loud voices on
the floor above. Going up to see what the noise was all about, we found Mr. and
Mrs. Herrmann in the master bedroom. Mrs. Herrmann had discovered that a lamp on
her dresser just inside the door was turned over. Mr. Herrmann was asking who
had been in the room and the information appeared to be that Mrs. Herrmann was
the last one there and that she had only just left the room.
While we were talking in the master bedroom, the two children were in the
opposite end of the house where Lucille was preparing dinner. James had already
taken his seat at the table and started eating. Lucille came from the kitchen
into the dining room with a plate containing pieces of bread. At that moment the
doorbell rang, and she placed the bread on the table in front of James and went
to answer the door. When Lucille came back into the dining room a few seconds
later she found the bread plate lying on the floor in the corner of the room
with the bread scattered about. James said that he had been looking down at his
own plate and had not seen anything. The first he knew about what had happened
was when he heard the plate hit the floor.
Such was the particular set of events which marked my own entry onto the stage
of the drama that had been unfolding for the past twenty-two days in the
Herrmann household. Nothing that had happened since my arrival justified, of
course, any conclusion that anything beyond ordinary human means had been
involved in these events. In fact, the presence of James alone in the rumpus
room when the record player crashed and in the dining room alone when the bread
plate took flight made possible a very obvious explanation, and I could not
establish beyond question that no one had been in the master bedroom between the
time Mrs. Herrmann had left it and when she returned later to discover the lamp
Things had happened too fast immediately before and after my arrival, and I had
not yet begun to get a "feel" of what I was facing. We talked on until bedtime,
and then Mr. Kahn offered to take me to dinner and to help me locate a hotel
somewhere in the neighborhood. Before leaving, I had an understanding with Mrs.
Herrmann that I would call her the next day about noon. Nothing had ever
happened while the children were at school, and there seemed no point in my
coming to the house until just before they were expected home early in the
Only Mr. Kahn and I knew where I was staying. For a few hours, therefore, I was
completely lost as far as the Herrmann family was concerned.
The following forenoon I telephoned Dr. Rhine to report upon developments of the
first day of my visit, as already described. We agreed that the events did not
give us much to go on, but that these occurrences taken alone were consistent
with a suspicion expressed by a rival newspaper on Long Island - one that had
covered the story from a distance and with a more hard-headed, cynical point of
view. It had been voicing the commonsense if not the obvious solution that Jimmy
had been playing pranks. But in spite of that we agreed that it was worth while
for me to stay long enough to go fully into the matter, and particularly to look
into the past record of the case as it existed in the detective's report.
About noon I rang up Mrs. Herrmann as agreed. She immediately said, with a note
of concern in her voice, that the house was full of reporters who had come out
from New York. Knowing of our desire not to have any publicity until the
investigation was completed, she wanted to know if she should try to send them
away. I said that once the reporters were interested and actually on the scene
there was nothing to do but to talk to them, and I would come over as planned.
The growth of popular interest in the case over the next few weeks showed how
badly the Newsday editor had misjudged the situation. The local whirlwind of
publicity which he thought was blowing itself out at the time I arrived turned
into a storm which spread the news of the Seaford case around the world.
This turn of events was most unfortunate as far as the investigation itself was
concerned. The popular writers and interviewers were impatient to know about my
findings on the case before the investigation had been carried out. I could only
state that our laboratory research on PK had given us a basis of renewed
interest in these household disturbances. I had no conclusions and we were not
optimistic about being able to reach any. Even more serious from the scientific
point of view was the fact that the presence of so many strangers in the house
completely changed the psychological atmosphere. As we would expect, under the
circumstances the poltergeist activities ceased.
When it became apparent that the wave of publicity that had inundated the
Herrmann house made it hopeless to continue the investigation there, I shifted
my base of operations to the Nassau County Police Station where I spent my time
studying the fifty-page dossier that Detective Tozzi had already built up on the
case. When my hiding place was discovered after two days and the demands upon my
time for statements about the case and our reasons for being interested in it
showed no signs of letting up, it appeared that the only sensible thing to do
was to leave. Having requested Mr. Herrmann to let me know immediately if the
disturbances began again, I left on March 1 on another field investigation.
After three days I was back at Duke. There had been no telephone call, and we
supposed that all was quiet on the Seaford front. Then, to our surprise, we read
in the New York Times that there had been a particularly active new
outbreak of the mysterious events in the Herrmann home. A second visit seemed in
order if we could find some way to make it without attracting the notice of the
reporters. We decided, also, that the situation called for sending two
investigators from the laboratory and that Mr. William G. Roll, Jr., should go
along this time if he would like to do so. He was glad to accept the invitation.
For the second visit, our approach was through Detective Tozzi. He agreed to
keep the fact that we were coming secret, and he impressed upon the family that
nothing was to be said about the visit. For a period of several days both Mr.
Roll and I moved freely into and out of the Herrmann house without once
encountering a reporter. A few times a writer came to the home when we were
inside, but we went to the rumpus room and waited until the coast was clear. At
this stage the reporters were telephoning to the house frequently to inquire
whether anything further had happened, and the member of the family who answered
the phone always said that nothing more had taken place. Indeed, the unexplained
events had largely stopped, but during the time we were together in the
home Mr. Roll and I did hear at one time a series of explosive sounds which we
could not definitely explain; and on another occasion we heard a loud explosion
which literally shook the house. This proved to be associated with definite
physical disturbances which we were able to investigate, as will be described
later in this chapter.
Other things needed for the completion of the record of the case were also done
during this time. These activities included getting a complete copy of the
official police record, conducting interviews with members of the family as well
as with neighbors and relatives who had been involved with the case, and getting
an accurate, scaled floor plan of the house. I finished my part of the work and
left ahead of Mr. Roll, who stayed on alone for a few days under similar
circumstances of quiet, uninterrupted investigation - the kind that we had
expected to conduct from the beginning of our involvement in the case. In all,
each of us spent ten days in Seaford, our two periods overlapping for six days.
The pages that follow give a detailed summary of our findings on the case as
these were finally assembled and reported in the Journal of Parapsychology
for June 1958. The amount of interest taken in the matter at the time appears to
justify presenting the study in sufficient detail to show how carefully the
mystery was probed from a great number of points of view in searching for some
explanation in ordinary terms. Yet it is only fair to say at the outset that, in
spite of the fact that no such solution was found, we did not feel that our
investigation justified a definite conclusion regarding a parapsychological
basis of the disturbances. This case comes within an unusual zone of problems
even as viewed by the parapsychologist, and it would be a mistake to take the
length of the present chapter as an indication that these strange occurrences
have yielded anything definite to the general findings of the field. Yet they
continue to hold a fascination for the research worker as they do for the
general public, and the challenge is one that should not be ignored.
Sixty-seven distinct mysterious events were listed from the beginning of the
disturbances on February 3 until the last one occurred on March 10. From the
scientific point of view, not all of the events were of equal interest. The
majority of them, in fact, could easily have been produced normally under the
circumstances that existed, though there was never any direct evidence that
anything was done deliberately as a prank or simply for effect. From the point
of the scientific study of the case, we should focus attention upon those
happenings that make it most difficult to think of an ordinary explanation.
The first group of events of unusual interest consists of those instances in
which objects were actually seen to start to move without contact. Four out of
the sixty-seven disturbances were of this sort. The first such instance was a
double event in that two objects were seen to move at the same time. The
following is an excerpt from the police record concerning Sunday, February 9:
Mr. Herrmann standing in bathroom doorway, son James at sink brushing teeth,
actually saw a bottle of Kaopectate move along the formica top of the drain in a
southerly direction for about 18" and fall into the sink. At the same time a
bottle of shampoo moved along the formica drain in a westerly direction and fell
to the floor. There was no noise or vibration and no one touched either bottle
to move them.
When Mr. Roll and I questioned Mr. Herrmann and James about these two events,
their description was entirely consistent with that found in the police report.
Our interviews and observations brought the following additional facts to light:
Mrs. Herrmann had cleaned up the bathroom cabinet after the shampoo and the
Kaopectate bottles had spilled a short time before, and she had placed these two
bottles on the vanity table. Mr. Herrmann saw both bottles start to move.
He said that James "froze" in his position. James said he saw the Kaopectate
bottle when it fell into the sink. He did not see the other bottle, though of
course he heard the crash as it hit the floor.
Mr. Herrmann stated that it was this occurrence which convinced him that the
disturbances in his home were of an unusual character and led him immediately
thereafter to lodge a complaint with the Nassau County Police Department. He
wrote the following statement for us on March 14:
At about 10: 30 a.m. I was standing in the doorway of the bathroom. All
of a sudden two bottles which had been placed on the top of the vanity table
were seen to move. One moved straight ahead, slowly, while the second spun to
the right for a 45 degree angle. The first one fell into the sink. The second
one crashed to the floor. Both bottles moved at the same time.
Both bottles had become unscrewed while they were in the cabinet under the sink.
They had been placed on the vanity top while the cabinet was being cleaned.
(Signed) James M. Herrmann
The vanity table on which the bottles stood is slightly tilted toward the sink
and the floor. The tilt is about one sixteenth of an inch per foot. The top is
made of formica. Mr. Roll tested the Kaopectate bottle by placing it on the top
after having wet it with soapy water to minimize the friction. (Mr. Herrmann
stated that the counter top was clean and dry when he saw the bottles move.) The
bottle did not slide for Mr. Roll even when pushed. He then made a test with a
small marble (about half an inch diameter) by placing it on the vanity top where
the bottles had stood. It would not roll by itself, but if pushed slightly would
continue rolling diagonally across the board, not directly toward the sink or
edge. Another occurrence in which an object was seen to move took place on
Saturday, February 15, at 7:40 p.m. when only the two children and their adult
second cousin, Miss Marie Murtha, were in the living room. The visitor left
shortly after this event and before Detective Tozzi arrived. He therefore based
his first report on interviews with the family, but contacted Miss Murtha two
days later by telephone and obtained her firsthand account of this event. This
is summarized in the police record as follows:
She stated that she is the cousin of Mr. Herrmann and was visiting at his home
on Saturday, February 15, 1958, and stated that she was sitting in the living
room of the complainant's home and the two children were with her. The boy was
sitting in the center of the sofa and the girl was standing next to Miss Murtha,
who was sitting in a chair in the northeast corner of the living room. Mrs.
Herrmann went into the bathroom and when she turned on the light in there it
caused interference on the television set. The girl started across the room to
fix the set and before she got there the picture cleared by itself. The girl
came back to where Miss Murtha was sitting and the boy was still sitting on the
sofa with his arms folded. At this time a porcelain figurine that was standing
on the end table at the south end of the sofa was seen to leave the table and
fly through the air for about two feet, directly at the television set. The
figurine fell to the floor about six inches from the television with a loud
noise. The figurine fell to the floor but did not break. Miss Murtha stated that
she actually saw the occurrence and there was definitely no one in the room that
was close enough to touch the figurine or propel it in any way.
On March 13 I had an interview with Miss Murtha, a single, middle-aged lady, in
her home in the Bronx, New York. Her description was consistent with the account
she had earlier given the police. Some of the details were amplified as follows.
When Lucille went to look at her hair in the glass front of the secretary, James
made some joking remark to Miss Murtha about Lucille and her hair and Miss
Murtha turned to listen to him. When she did, she noticed the female figurine on
the end table begin to move - "wiggle" was the word she used. Then, when she was
looking directly at the figurine, it left its position on the end table very
suddenly and moved through the air in the direction of the TV so rapidly that
she could not really see it, but only saw something like a white streak or white
feather in rapid motion. She thought that the figurine had turned and that it
was its white back which she saw. It landed with a very loud crash. She could
not tell whether it had struck the TV, the floor, or the rug. There were no
marks on the TV or floor, and the figurine ended its fall on the rug so it may
have struck there; but it made an unusually loud noise. The figurine was not
broken and she could not imagine why it was not. Immediately afterward, Mr.
Herrmann came into the living room from the central hallway entrance and asked
who had knocked the figurine off the table. Miss Murtha said she told him that
no one had done it, she had seen it start to move and then fly off by itself
while James was sitting with his arms folded in the middle of the couch looking
directly at her.
Miss Murtha impressed me as being levelheaded and intelligent. She said that her
idea was that the things which had been happening in the house must have an
electrical cause, and recalled an event from her childhood in which she had seen
a coffeepot hurled to the ceiling when it caused a short circuit on an
electrical heating unit. She could not explain the events in her cousin's home
but she did not believe that anything supernatural was involved. She lamented
the publicity and was afraid of its effect on the children.
As I left, I asked Miss Murtha if she would write a letter describing her
experience in connection with the figurine. The relevant paragraph from this
letter (dated March 17) is given below:
James, his sister, Lucille, and myself were sitting in the living room - I was
sitting in the green chair in the corner between the secretary and the window -
James and Lucille were seated on the sofa - there is a table at each end of this
sofa - on one table was a lighted lamp and two figurines - we were looking at
the television when the picture started to flicker - I asked Lucille to adjust
it - as she went to do so the picture cleared-on her way back to her seat I
asked to feel the material in her slacks and remarked that they were smart, but
thought she was neglecting to set her hair. Lucille then turned to look at
herself in the glass of the secretary and James said, "Auntie Marie, she is
always fixing her hair" - I turned my head in his direction to answer him - as I
did I saw the female figurine wiggle (like that of a worm cut in pieces) - as it
went in the air it looked like a small white feather - then crashed to the rug,
unbroken. The children's parents were in other rooms of the house and hearing
the crash came hurrying into the living room to see what happened.
(Signed) Marie H. Murtha
The fourth and final event in which an object was seen to start to move involved
a small night table. The police record contains the following statements about
this event, which took place on Sunday, March 2:
On the above date at about 2210 hours [10:10 p.m.] James was in bed, as was
Lucille. Mrs. Herrmann was in the kitchen and Mr. Herrmann was sitting in the
easy chair in the southwest corner of the living room facing the boy's room. A
very loud crash was heard and Mr. Herrmann ran immediately into tile boy's room.
As he got to the door of the boy's room a small three-drawer night table which
had been about 18" to the north of the bed twisted and fell to the floor across
the door. The boy was on his back in bed with the covers up to his chin at the
time the complainant got into the room. Apparently the first crash was the brass
lamp on the top of the night table as it was on the floor and the base was badly
bent as if the night table had fallen on it The glass globe was broken but the
bulb inside was not. Mr. Herrmann was almost in the doorway when the table fell
and he had a flashlight in his hand. The light was on and he stated that the boy
was lying in the bed and appeared very frightened. He did not move at all to the
On the evening of Friday, March 7, 1958, Mr. Herrmann, discussing the
occurrences of the last few days with Mr. Roll and myself, stated that before
the event of the previous Sunday evening involving the end table had taken
place, he had felt that something more would happen that night. Accordingly, he
took his position in the chair in the southeast corner of the living room facing
toward the hallway and looking into the boy's darkened bedroom. His flashlight
in his hand, he was prepared to spring toward James's room immediately if any
sound came. When there was a noise, he dashed into the room with the flashlight
burning, and snapped on the ceiling light in the room. He stated that he saw the
boy lying quietly in bed and that, before his eyes, the end table turned about
ninety degrees and then fell forward onto the floor without any visible means to
account for the motion.
A second class of disturbances which are relevant to the question of whether any
of the events were parapsychological or psychokinetic in nature are mysterious
events which took place when no one was near. These are happenings in which the
exact location of the persons in the house, as clearly indicated by corroborated
testimony, makes it highly unlikely that any of them could have produced the
disturbances in any ordinary way without discovery. There are thirteen
occurrences of this kind.
The first event recorded as having taken place when no one was in a position to
have done it normally was a bottle that jumped from a cardboard box in the
unfinished part of the cellar on February 3. The police record has the following
statement concerning this occurrence:
Mrs. Herrmann and Jim, Jr., in the cellar actually saw a half-gallon bottle of
Clorox leave a cardboard box and fall to the floor and break. Mrs. Herrmann and
James were about six feet away from the box at this time.
When interviewed by the writers, Mrs. Herrmann and James both said that they had
not actually seen the bottle leave the box. Mrs. Herrmann said that the first
thing she was aware of was the crash when the bottle struck the floor in front
of her when they were about halfway across the room. James stated that he saw
the bottle just before it hit the floor, and he automatically pulled some
clothes, on the lines that crossed the middle of the room, in front of his
mother to protect her from flying glass and splashing liquid.
The next disturbances in this category were a closely grouped series of bottle
poppings in the master bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and cellar. The explosive
noises were heard by the members of the family, all of whom were together in the
dining room at the time. These disturbances took place on Sunday, February 9,
and they are described as follows in the police record:
At about 1015 hours [10:15 a.m.] the whole family was in the dining room of the
house. Noises were heard to come from different rooms and on checking, it was
found that a holy water bottle on the dresser in the master bedroom had opened
and spilled, a new bottle of toilet water on the other dresser in the master
bedroom had fallen, lost its screw cap and also a rubber stopper, and the
contents were spilled. At the same time, a bottle of shampoo and a bottle of
Kaopectate in the bathroom had lost the caps and fallen over and were spilling
their contents. The starch in the kitchen was also opened and spilled again and
a can of paint thinner in the cellar had opened, fallen, and was spilling on the
After this outbreak of weird explosions, the police were called in for the first
time, and a short time later the noise of a bottle overturning in the bathroom
was heard when Patrolman Hughes and the entire family were in the living room.
The statement from the police record concerning this particular event on Sunday,
February 9, is as follows:
While Patrolman J. Hughes was at the complainant's home all the family was
present with him in the living room when noises were heard in the bathroom. When
Patrolman Hughes went into the bathroom with the complainant's family he found
the medicine and shampoo had again spilled.
On March 10, Mr. Roll and I had an interview with Patrolman Hughes. He stated
that a single bottle was involved in the incident which happened while he was in
the house. When he and the whole family were in the living room they heard a
noise from the bathroom as if a bottle had fallen over. When the bathroom was
inspected, a bottle on the vanity table was found on its side.
Hughes had inspected the bathroom prior to this occurrence. It had at that time
already been cleaned up after the last disturbance (when Mr. Herrmann had seen
the two bottles move in different directions) and he was convinced that the
bottle was not then lying down ("I can swear to that!"). When further
questioned, Hughes said he could not exclude the possibility that someone had
turned the bottle over after he had first seen the bathroom, but in this event
he could not account for the noise.
A more striking event which took place when no one was nearby was the crash of a
figurine in the living room when Mrs. Herrmann and both children were together
in the hallway seeking to escape flying objects. This event is one of a number
of disturbances which took place during the evening of Thursday, February 20.
The immediately preceding occurrence finally led Mrs. Herrmann to take the
children with her into the hallway, the only part of the house that had been
free of disturbances. The previous occurrences and the one involving the
figurine are described as follows in the police record:
On the above date at about 21.45 hours [9:45 p.m.] Mrs. Herrmann was on the
phone in the dining room, James was right next to her and Lucille was in the
bedroom. James was putting his books away and there was a bottle of ink on the
south side of the table. A very loud pop was heard and the ink bottle lost its
screw top and the bottle left the table in a north-easterly direction. The
bottle landed in the living room and the ink spilled on the chair, floor and on
the wallpaper on the north side of the front door. Mrs. Herrmann immediately
hung up and called the writer, who had left the house about 10 minutes prior to
this occurrence. When the writer arrived it was learned that as soon as Mrs.
Herrmann called, she had taken the two children with her into the hallway to
await the arrival of the writer. At about 21.50 hours [9:50 p.m.] while the
children were with her a loud noise was again heard in the living room. All
three of them went into the room and found the figurine had again left the end
table and had again flown through the air for about io feet and again hit the
desk about six inches to the east of where it had hit the first time. On this
occurrence the only noise heard was when the figurine hit the desk and at this
time it broke into many pieces and fell to the floor. At this time the only
appliance running was the oil burner and no one was again in the room.
We questioned each of the three people separately on their movements during this
period. The facts were corroborated as reported. The three were standing in the
end of the hall near the bathroom out of sight of the living room when the loud
crash sounded. Mrs. Herrmann was standing with her back to the linen closet and
James and Lucille were standing in front of the bathroom door. They were all
facing one another.
Another major item was the overturning of the dresser in James's bedroom when it
seems clear that the room was empty. This event took place on Monday, February
24, and it is described in the police record as follows:
On the above date at about 16.40 hours [4:40 p.m.] the complainant was in the
kitchen fixing dinner. Dave Kahn and Mr. Herrmann were in the dining room, both
children were in the cellar, when a loud crash was heard from the boy's room.
All ran to the room and found the dresser had again fallen over in a southerly
direction. At the time of occurrence James, Jr., was coming up the cellar stairs
and Lucille was sitting at the table in the cellar. When the complainant, Kahn,
and Mr. Herrmann got into the hall the boy was just coming up the stairs. The
cellar door was closed at the time.
During my first visit I questioned all the members of the family and found that
they individually agreed with the description. given in the police report. Mr.
Kahn was interviewed on March 15 by Mr. Roll and the following notes, which had
been made immediately after the occurrence, were obtained:
February 24, Mon. at 4:40 p.m. while Jim [Mr. Herrmann] and I in dinette going
over phone calls about the matter, a loud rumble and crash - scary again - and
both of us realized that it was another object going over - jumped up and ran to
Jimmy's room - he at doorway after coming up from downstairs where he was
working on his stamp collection - Lucille in cellar: "It sounded like the walls
were caving in, I thought it came from the living room, the dining room,
everywhere." Mrs. H. in kitchen fixing dinner. DK toilet articles [which Kahn
had left on James's dresser], including bottle of hair tonic, went over and
From the wording of the police report this event sounded as if it might be an
instance in which the occurrence of a major disturbance in an empty room could
be vouched for by someone other than a member of the family. Mr. Roll, in his
interview with Mr. Kahn, asked him whether he could testify that James was in
the cellar at the time the bureau turned over. Mr. Kahn replied that he could
not so state; by the time he reached the hallway, James was standing in the hall
looking through the open doorway into his bedroom. The report given by James and
corroborated by Lucille is that both of them had been seated at the table, back
of the stairway in the rumpus room, and that James had just left his chair.
James said he had to go to the bathroom. Both children said he was only part way
up the stairway when a loud noise described as a rumbling sound seemed to come
from all over the house. For a short time James stopped on the stairway, then he
proceeded to the head of the stairs and was on the point of opening the door
when his father rushed from the dining room into the hallway. Since the door to
the cellar stair blocks the hallway when open, James waited until his father had
passed. He then followed his father to the bedroom doorway, where he was
standing when Mr. Kahn reached the hallway.
When questioned regarding the apparent discrepancy between the official record
and Mr. Kahn's statement, Mr. Herrmann said that when the noise occurred he
leaped from his chair so quickly that he turned it over and he did not take time
to catch it. He stated that Mr. Kahn. being less accustomed to the disturbances,
was startled and did not react so quickly. Mr. Kahn took longer to reach the
central hallway where he could see past the cellar door. Thus the statement that
James was on the cellar stairway when the bureau overturned in his room rests on
the testimony of Mr. Herrmann and of Lucille.
Again, there was on another occasion a crash which appeared from the record and
from our subsequent investigation to have taken place in an empty room. This
involved a figure of the Virgin Mary in the master bedroom. The police record
describes this event, which took place on Tuesday, February 25, in the following
At about 07.20 [7:20 a.m.], this date the complainant was in the kitchen, Mr.
Herrmann had gone to work, and both children were in their rooms getting dressed
for school. A loud crash was heard and Mrs. Herrmann ran immediately to the
hall. She asked what had happened and both children stated it wasn't in their
rooms. All of them went into the master bedroom and found that a 16" plaster
figure of the Virgin Mary had gone from Mr. Herrmann's dresser on the west wall
to Mrs. Herrmann's dresser on the east wall. This figurine had knocked down Mrs.
Herrmann's picture on Mr. Herrmann's dresser and had struck a wooden mirror
frame over Mrs. Herrmann's dresser. The figurine then fell to the dresser and
one hand broke off it. It also knocked down a lamp on the latter dresser and
broke the bulb. All persons present stated that they had heard nothing prior to
the crash and had not been in the master bedroom at the time of the occurrence.
On Thursday, February 27, Mrs. Herrmann discussed this case with me in the light
of the implication given by one newspaper that James could have caused all the
occurrences. She said that the children had been specifically instructed not to
move from where they were when some disturbance occurred. When the noise in this
instance was heard, James immediately called out from his room that it was not
in there. Thus he confirmed the fact that he was not in the master bedroom at
the time of the impact. For the damage to have been done as it was, James would
have had to throw the figure from a position directly in front of the mirror
which was struck in the master bedroom. If he called out at once from his own
room. he would not have had time to get there before identifying his position.
Could James have staged the occurrence, upsetting his mother's picture on his
father's bureau and then throwing the figure from the hallway near his own
bedroom door? Under these conditions the figure could not have dented the
front and inside surfaces of the mirror frame, neither would it have marred
the bureau top directly below the point of impact on the mirror, or have fallen
onto the floor in the spot where it was found. The overturned picture, the marks
on the mirror, and the other effects are consistent with the interpretation that
the object came from its customary position on Mr. Herrmann's bureau.
There were two other events when the positions of the members of the family and
visitors were accounted for. Since they took place when Mr. Roll and I were in
the house, they belong in the category of unexplained happenings that took place
while I alone from the Duke laboratory was in the house or when both Mr. Roll
and myself were present. The prospect of making a fully satisfactory study of
such a case depends primarily upon whether the investigator is on the scene when
disturbances are taking place. Five events among the total of sixty-seven
recorded were of this sort, though they were not otherwise so striking as many
of the other things that were reported as happening. Yet because they are what
happened while one or both of us were there, they deserve to be listed
separately in full.
The overturning of the lamp in the master bedroom and the fall of the bread
plate from the dining table on the day I first arrived in Seaford have already
been described earlier in this chapter. The upsetting of the lamp was one of the
events which apparently took place when no one was near.
The bread-plate incident is of no value as evidence of anything beyond the
ordinary, since James was sitting at the dining table alone when it happened,
but a few comments on this event beyond what was said earlier may be worth
while. I asked James if he had seen the plate move, and he answered that he had
not; he was looking at his own plate and had not seen any motion - he had only
heard the noise when the plate hit the floor. It would have been very easy for
James to shove the bread off the table. But if he had done so, it is hard to
imagine why he would have said that he did not see it move (which, in view of
the fact that the plate was sitting only slightly toward his left, not more than
four feet away from his eyes, is rather surprising). Would he not have got more
out of his "prank" by saying that he saw the plate take off and sail through the
air? This would have been more dramatic and at the same time easier to believe
than the statement he made. However, this event by itself has no value as
evidence of any parapsychological force.
After supper on March 9, I was watching TV with the children in the living room
while Mr. Roll and Mr. Herrmann talked in the dining room. About 9:00 p.m. the
children went to bed. At nine-forty James was in bed with the light out and the
door open. Mrs. Herrmann was in the kitchen and Lucille was in her room in bed.
At that time there was a dull thump, which I heard as coming from across the
hall in the direction of the boy's room. Mrs. Herrmann came out of the kitchen
into the hall toward James's room, asking: "What was that noise? Did anyone hear
it?" I said yes and we both looked about in the bedrooms but found nothing. Then
Mrs. Herrmann and Mr. Roll went to the basement, but nothing was found
disturbed. Neither Mr. Roll nor Mr. Herrmann, who were talking in the dining
room, had noticed the noise.
At nine forty-five there came another thump, louder than before, and all adults
joined in the search. Mrs. Herrmann was obviously shaken. Lucille, still in bed,
said it came from James's wall just as if he had hit it with his fist or elbow.
I asked James to do this and he was able to get nearly the same sound. James
said he was half awake both times the thumping noise was heard. These sounds
are, of course, trivial in comparison with the other events and they would not
be worth pointing out except for the sake of completing the record of what
happened in the house while we were there.
The final one of the sixty-seven recorded disturbances happened on March 10 when
Mr. Roll and I were both in the house. We were able to make a close study of
this event, which involved the explosive removal of a metal screw-top cap from a
bleach bottle in the basement when all the persons in the house were on the
first floor. The details of the event itself and the nature and results of the
investigation bear relating in full.
On the March evening in question, Mr. Herrmann stayed in New York to appear on a
radio program. At 8:14 p.m. when Mr. Roll was sitting at the east end of the
dining-room table and I was in the living room, there was a loud dull noise
which to Mr. Roll sounded as if it came from the floor or lower wall of the
kitchen-bathroom area. James was at that time in the bathroom, Lucille was in
bed, and Mrs. Herrmann was in the master bedroom coming toward the central
hallway. Mr. Roll investigated upstairs and I went down to the unfinished part
of the cellar. Here I found that the bleach bottle in the cardboard box by the
washing machine was standing on an overturned jar containing starch, and the
bleach bottle had lost its cap and was leaning against the side of the box. The
cap was on the floor back of the box. The contents of the bottle had not
spilled, as it was not full.
At 8:30 p.m., sixteen minutes after the noise was heard, we made an
investigation of the cap of the bottle, which had fallen right side up. We found
it to be still wet inside and there was a wet spot on the floor below the cap.
We observed the wet spot thereafter at fifteen-minute intervals and we found
that it had completely dried up within forty-five minutes of the time the noise
Though this event was of a minor sort as compared to some of the other
disturbances, we were primarily concerned to see if it could he conclusively
proved that this occurrence took place at the same time the noise was heard, as
we knew the cellar was empty at the time.
This was important because the noise itself was not sufficiently well localized
to establish definitely that it had come from the unfinished cellar rather than
from the bathroom where James was at that time. Therefore we had to consider the
possibility that he had some time earlier staged the bottle effect and then
later produced the sound. We could definitely establish that James could not
have been in the cellar during the thirty-minute period before the disturbance
of the bleach bottle was discovered. For at least half an hour prior to the
occurrence Mr. Roll was with James in the dining room where they were
participating in a PK game with dice. When this ended shortly after 8:00 p.m.
James went immediately to his room and then into the bathroom.
It was therefore important to find out whether the wet spot under the bottle cap
could help to determine the time of the occurrence. Detective Tozzi and I
observed later the same night that when a drop has formed on the inside of the
cap, it comes off only if the cap is placed down forcefully and not if it is
simply placed on the floor. Further tests that night and the next day by Mr.
Roll and myself with the bleaching liquid showed that a spot of moisture on the
concrete floor under the bottle cap will be visible for about three quarters of
an hour, but moist and dark for only the first fifteen minutes or so. The spot
discovered under the cap the night before sixteen minutes after the noise was
heard was definitely dark in color.
If James had staged the event thirty minutes before he made the noise, which was
forty-six minutes before the investigators observed the floor under the cap, the
place where the cap was found should have been completely dry or the spot should
have been only damp and on the point of fading away. In addition to this, it
seems unlikely that there should be any spot at all if the events were staged,
as a drop would become disengaged from the cap only if this was dropped from
above or smartly tapped on the concrete.
The sound connected with the bleach bottle was similar in tonal quality to the
two sounds (not associated with any discoverable physical disturbance) heard on
the preceding evening. However, it was considerably louder than either of the
previous thumps had been, and everyone in the house at the time heard the sound
quite distinctly. Mr. Roll localized it as coming from low down in the region of
the wall separating the kitchen from the bathroom, and James, when questioned by
Mrs. Herrmann, said that he had not done anything in the bathroom that could
have caused it.
On Thursday, March 13, Mr. Roll sat in the chair he had occupied in the dining
room when he heard the sound on the preceding Monday. I went to the unfinished
cellar and struck several objects near the point where the bleach bottle was
disturbed. Mr. Roll stated that the sounds I produced were "right" in so far as
the localization was concerned, but not of the same quality as the one he had
heard on Monday evening. I agreed that the tonal quality was not the same.
In our report, Mr. Roll and I considered whether the disturbances as a whole
might be explained in some ordinary way, without invoking a parapsychological
explanation. First we discussed the possibility that one or both of the children
caused the disturbances fraudulently (the "childish pranks hypothesis") and then
whether Mr. and Mrs. Herrmann might have been party to a fraud (the "family hoax
The hypothesis of childish pranks was in our minds when we started the
investigation and it was given serious consideration by the police in their work
on the case as well as by the parents. On February 12, the day after Detective
Tozzi came on the case, both children were interviewed by him. On being
questioned, they denied they had anything to do with the occurrences. Detective
Tozzi warned them that it would be a grave matter if they were found to be
implicated in any way. The phenomena nevertheless continued, some of them even
taking place when the detective was close by. On one of these occasions, when
Detective Tozzi and James were alone in the cellar and a small metal horse fell
to the floor close to the detective's feet, Mr. Tozzi immediately accused James,
even (falsely) saying that he had seen the boy throw the horse. He subjected
James to a long and severe grilling, the boy all the time denying that he had
anything to do with this or any of the other incidents. During the afternoon and
evening of Sunday, March 2, there were several disturbances. Before the arrival
of Detective Tozzi that night, Mr. Herrmann, as he told Mr. Roll and me later,
had vigorously accused James, saying that the detective had proof that James had
caused many of the events and that it was time for him to admit it without
further delay. The father said that James, driven to tears, only said, "Dad, I
had nothing to do with any of it." (Mrs. Herrmann, who was present when Mr.
Herrmann told us about this, said she did not approve the way her husband
treated the boy on this occasion.) When Detective Tozzi arrived on the scene,
"James was sitting at the dining-room table crying, Lucille was in the kitchen
crying, and Mr. Herrmann was trying to bring some order to the house, as the
complainant [Mrs. Herrmann] was also crying and on the verge of hysteria. At
this time, the complainant and the two children went to the Liguoris' home to
spend the night as they were afraid to sleep in their home..."
The mysterious events clearly centered around James rather than Lucille (or any
other member of the family). If the incidents were fraudulently produced, he
would be the most likely culprit. James is an intelligent and likable boy. He
seemed also to be frank and honest. However, let us assume that this exterior
covered a hardened core which enabled him to stand up to the questioning by the
detective and his father while continuing his destructive activities. Let us
also assume the existence of some abnormality which made him direct these
activities against his own possessions as well as those of his parents. James's
or Lucille's possible complicity cannot be ruled out in a number of instances.
These consist of several disturbances which occurred when they were alone in the
house; a larger number when James was alone in the room in which the occurrences
took place; and a miscellaneous assortment of effects which he alone or he and
Lucille together could have produced.
But the important question is whether there were any disturbances that are
difficult to place in the category of possible pranks, or any which cannot be so
set aside. In the "difficult prank" group are the occurrences which happened
while a third person was actually observing the object that had been disturbed
and when the location of James or Lucille was such that apparently neither could
have been in bodily contact with this object. However, even some of these
phenomena, on close investigation, reveal an opportunity for fraud which an
audacious trickster might have taken advantage of - of course with very great
risks of being found out. Such are the events that took place when some other
person was in the room with James when the incident occurred. In this group,
also, belong the cases when James was known to be in another room prior to and
after a disturbance but when he could conceivably have brought the event about
without detection by moving noiselessly and rapidly up to the object in
question, upsetting it, and then returning to his former location.
However, seventeen out of the total of sixty-seven events carefully studied and
recorded cannot, if correctly reported, be explained as easily performed, simple
pranks. In each of these cases the position of the children at the time of the
disturbance was known to some other person to be such that they definitely could
not have thrown, pushed, or upset the object in question. In some of the cases,
James was actually observed at the time of the occurrence and the object itself
was seen when its movement began.
Is it conceivable that those disturbances which cannot be attributed to ordinary
prankishness might have been produced by means of skilled magic? We ascertained
that the performance of magic is not known to be among James's hobbies, and it
is improbable that a boy would be interested in magic without having the fact
become known. But on the remote assumption that James might have learned magic
in secret, could he have produced in this way the effects which are not
explainable as unskilled tricks?
The occurrences can be divided into two categories: the "bottle poppings" and
the displacements of furniture and household objects. It has been proposed that
the former might involve the application of some chemical knowledge and the
latter, mechanical skills utilizing undetected devices. I will discuss the two
categories of events in the light of these suggestions.
There were twenty-three recorded events involving the more or less explosive
opening of screw-top bottles. It had been suggested that the effects observed in
the opening of the bottles when no one was present were not beyond the skills
acquired in science-club chemistry. The implication was that the bottles could
have been opened by pressure generated chemically or physically in a way that
left no trace and therefore was not detectable in the subsequent analysis made
in some instances in the police laboratory. Whether a hypothesis of this sort is
justified seemed to Mr. Roll and myself a point worthy of investigation, and we
accordingly tested the effect of generating pressure inside screw-top bottles by
converting carbon dioxide from its solid state ("dry ice") to gas. We discovered
that when the top was left loose the pressure simply escaped with a low, hissing
noise but without removing the cap. When the cap was screwed on as tightly as
possible by hand, the pressure increased until it forced its way out around the
threads but without perceptibly loosening the cap. When we tightened the cover
mechanically, we were successful in exploding a bottle of relatively thin glass,
but the cap remained on the broken top of the bottle. Such an effect was never
observed in connection with the bottles that lost their caps in the Herrmann
household. When we used a Clorox bottle of thick glass, even tightening the
cover mechanically produced neither an explosion nor perceptible unscrewing.
When the pressure built up sufficiently, the gas escaped around the cap.
(Millions of housewives who have done pressure canning in glass jars know that
pressure escapes from firmly closed lids without any loosening of the caps.) It
is evident, of course, that with a different method of sealing an explosion
could be made, to occur. But the point is that pressure does not cause the tops
to unscrew and come completely off, and this is true whether they are put on
loosely, firmly by hand, or with mechanical force.
We found that it made no difference if the threads were well lubricated with
Let us now turn to a consideration of the "Skilled magic" theory in relation to
some of the incidents I described earlier involving the movement of objects.
Every one of these occurrences could have been brought about by mechanical
devices. The question is whether the installation and operation of such devices
could have remained undetected. It is conceivable that James might have caused a
Clorox bottle to jump out of its box and break on the floor, as happened in one
instance, by pulling a string tied to the bottle and hooked over a clothesline
or nail in the ceiling. Some of the other disturbances are not so easy to
account for in this way. For instance, it is very difficult to imagine how James
could have caused the two bottles to move in opposite directions by threads or
some other device when his father was standing close by watching him. And how he
could have made the figurine fly off the end table when Miss Murtha was in the
room looking at him.
Also, can anyone please explain how, by means of strings or an easily concealed
device, James could have caused a sixteen-inch statue of the Virgin Mary to hit
the dresser in the master bedroom in the way it did while he was in another room
and how he could have caused the figurine to fly across the living room when he
was in the hallway with his mother and sister? In these three figurine cases we
also have to explain how the magical device could have generated the speed or
force displayed. The figurine Miss Murtha saw moved so rapidly that it appeared
as a "small white feather." The Virgin Mary statue left deep marks on the mirror
frame, and one of the other figurines heavily scarred the secretary when it
shattered against it.
To get an estimate of the force involved in this last figurine smashing, we
hurled crockery against wood comparable to that of which the secretary was made.
We had to use all our strength to produce similar indentations. It is difficult
to conceive of how James could have installed an undiscovered device to propel
the figurine horizontally with such force when he was not in the room. Detective
Tozzi reached the front door immediately after this occurrence, so there was
little chance to conceal a device before he arrived on the scene. It is as
difficult to see how James could have installed the mechanism in the first
place. The same figurine had flown against the secretary earlier in the evening,
at seven fifty-five when Mr. Tozzi was in the basement. The detective replaced
it on the end table and remained in the living room until about nine-thirty.
James was sitting at the dining-room table during this time doing his homework.
James is reported to have remained in the dining room until nine forty-five,
when the family sought shelter in the hallway. It would therefore seem that he
had no opportunity to prepare the complicated mechanism necessary to crash the
figurine the second time. Similarly, with regard to the other incidents, the
opportunity for James (or anyone else) to prepare a trick using a hidden device
which would then have to be concealed was limited or nonexistent.
The fraud hypothesis would become easier to accept if we could suppose that the
other members of the family were acting as James's accomplices. We could then
simply assume that the disturbances reported by the Herrmanns, such as the
simultaneous movement of the two bottles in different directions, never occurred
and that the various effects which the police and others observed had been
staged. This leaves only those occurrences to be explained which took place
while Patrolman Hughes, Miss Murtha, and the writer and Mr. Roll (the
bleach-bottle incident) were in the house. But, unless Miss Murtha is
disqualified for being a relative of the Herrmanns, these three events seem as
difficult to explain as part of a colossal family joke on the world as they were
on the supposition that James alone contrived them himself by magical devices.
There are other considerations which make the family-hoax explanation an
unsatisfactory one. The Herrmanns would seem to have been inviting unnecessary
trouble and running grave risks by asking the police and other investigators
into their home and then staging the disturbances right under the noses of these
visitors. A member of the Seventh Precinct force was in the house at the time
six of the disturbances took place, but the police investigations and interviews
failed to reveal anything suspicious. Similarly, no reporter or other visitor
present when events took place uncovered any evidence that any of the
disturbances had been fraudulently produced.
The police did not use fingerprinting methods in this investigation. They
considered it would not have been possible to establish guilt within the family
by this method since the objects disturbed were in constant use. However, on
February 19, five previously disturbed bottles, whose contents had been analyzed
at the police laboratory, were dusted with fluorescent powder without the
knowledge of anyone outside the police department and replaced in the original
positions. Detective Tozzi told the family that he wanted to see if anything
would again happen to these bottles, and he instructed each person not to touch
them. He thereafter carried in his car a special lamp by means of which the
fluorescent powder could be detected on the hands of any member of the family,
but none of these bottles ever spilled again.
The educational background of the parents, their professions, and the position
of the family in the community reveal no motive for a joint hoax. Mrs. Herrmann,
aged thirty-eight at that time, was a registered nurse who held a supervisory
position in a large hospital until the time of her marriage. Mr. Herrmann, aged
forty-three, is an alumnus of Fordham University, and the interlines
representative of Air France in New York City. He saw action in the Pacific
during World War II as a sergeant in the Marine Corps and is a member of the
Auxiliary Police of Seaford. Scores of people became closely acquainted with the
members of the family during and after the disturbances, including Mr. Robert
Wallace (the writer of an article in Life), Mr. Edward R. Murrow (who did
a "Person-to-Person" program on the family), Father Graham (editor of the
Catholic magazine, America), Mr. Irve Tunick (who wrote the script for
the Armstrong Circle Theater program), and, of course, Mr. David Kahn, Mr.
Joseph Tozzi, and Mr. Roll and myself. No one ever expressed publicly or to me
privately any doubt about the sincerity and honesty of the members of the
The family seemed greatly upset by the destruction of their belongings. They
also expressed concern that the disturbances might cause injury to someone. In
fact, they moved to the homes of neighbors and relatives on four occasions,
staying away from their own house for a total of six nights during the period of
Some of the incidents involved religious objects (the statue of the Virgin Mary
and the holy-water bottles). Willful destruction and interference with these
objects would amount to desecration and would constitute a serious religious
offense. It seems unlikely that a family as devout as the Herrmanns would be
party to such sacrilege.
On March 6, when the coffee table, a new and prized possession, turned upside
down and was damaged, Detective Tozzi and Sergeant Reddy found Mrs. Herrmann
"very upset over the occurrence. The complainant was crying the whole time
interviewed by the writer [Detective Tozzi] and stated that she is ready to try
anything to stop this disturbance. She doesn't believe in any supernatural
powers but stated that 'if this is not stopped she will even be ready to try a
medium spiritualist.'" Later that day Detective Tozzi called the rectory of the
Church of St. William the Abbot with the request that the bishop be asked if it
was possible to have the rite of exorcism carried out.
This was not a laboratory case, and it is not possible to come to the kind of
conclusion which we can reach from a piece of research conducted under rigidly
controlled conditions. However, the material on hand does allow us to state that
the fraud hypothesis is not supported by the evidence collected by the police,
the writer, and other observers. No clues have been found to indicate either
simple or skilled trickery, and some of the events which took place in the
Herrmann home cannot be so explained even assuming that the necessary skills and
motives for trickery existed. But, as far as can be determined, there were no
motives for a family hoax and no evidence that James possessed the skills to
carry out some of the complex occurrences.
Group hallucinations might explain the few noises not associated with physical
effects, but not the disturbances of objects. Were these latter, then, produced
in some brief abnormal state of mind which came upon everyone while the objects
were being knocked or thrown about and which no one was able to remember
afterward? Such a hypothesis would rest on a purely speculative basis. for there
is nothing in the history of abnormal psychology to suggest that the four
members of a family could simultaneously undergo such sudden and complete shifts
in personality. Furthermore, the police and other visitors, including the
writer, would have had to fall under the spell, perhaps even help in the staging
of the incident. In my judgment, the "psychological aberration hypothesis" did
not at the time merit, and has not at any time since merited, serious
Throughout their investigation the police hoped to find a physical cause
underlying the disturbances and to bring them to an end by removing this cause.
Detective Tozzi, together with his superiors and colleagues, went to
considerable effort in the attempt to unearth a physical cause. Some of the
investigations and consultations which had this aim are briefly described below.
The police first thought that the disturbances might be due to high-frequency
radio waves. A person with a radio transmitter license living close by was
interviewed on February 11, but was found not to have used his set for several
The Long Island Lighting Company was then contacted and on February 13 installed
an oscillograph in the cellar where it was left for one day. It was placed there
again on March 7 and remained in the cellar until the end of the disturbances.
No unusual vibrations were associated with the three occurrences which took
place during this period. The last of these was the bleach-bottle event in the
same room as the oscillograph.
On February 13, five of the bottles which had lost their caps and spilled part
of the contents were taken to the police laboratory in Mineola. They were found
to contain no foreign matter.
The Long Island Lighting Company returned on February 17 to cheek the wiring,
fuse panels, and ground wires. Everything was found to be in order.
On February 20, Detective Tozzi checked all outlets and turned the TV and oil
burner on and off to see if they were connected with the occurrences. He also
checked fuse boxes, water leaders, ground connections, and electrical
insulations in the attic and elsewhere.
The next day a Mrs. Connolly phoned Tozzi, saying that there had been similar
occurrences in her house which stopped when a chimney cap was installed to
exclude downdrafts. After consultation with the building inspector of Hempstead
and several others, Detective Tozzi arranged for Mr. Herrmann to purchase a
turbine chimney cap and this was installed.
An electrician checked the house wiring on February 22 for possible vibrations.
On February 24, Detective Tozzi asked a Catholic priest, who is also an
engineer, whether in his opinion there might be a physical cause not yet
investigated. He did not think so and said the disturbances might be caused by
other than natural means. (An inquiry was also made about the rites of exorcism
and it was learned that permission must be given by a bishop. Detective Tozzi
was told that exorcism is generally used only when church property is
desecrated. Moreover, the rite is generally used on one person who is allegedly
possessed of evil and not in a case of this kind.)
On the same day Detective Tozzi and Mr. Herrmann removed the storm windows in
the cellar on the possibility that there was not enough circulation of air in
The Seaford Fire Department checked a well in front of the house on February 25.
They found that there had been no radical change in the water level in the past
On February 26, maps were received from the Town of Hempstead Engineers Office
showing this area before the house had been built. No water or streams were
On the same day, an RCA test truck and crew tested for radio frequencies outside
the house. Nothing unusual was discovered.
An inspection was also made by the Town of Hempstead Building Department which
found the house to be structurally sound, showing only normal settling cracks in
the basement floor.
On February 28, a conference was held at Adelphi College with members of the
science departments by Captain Lada, Sergeant Reddy, and Detective Tozzi for any
ideas on the disturbances. No suggestions were offered.
A professor of engineering from Cooper Union, as well as a structural engineer,
a civil engineer, and an electrical engineer from the Nassau County Society of
Professional Engineers visited the police station and the Herrmann home on March
1 to try to determine the cause of the disturbances. Their examination of the
house did not reveal anything.
On March 3, Mitchel Field was contacted for a list of planes leaving on the
runway facing the Herrmann house and for their departure times. This information
was obtained on March 5, but no correlations were found between the disturbances
and checking times or flight directions.
The TV antenna was removed from the chimney on March 4 and a small crack was
closed between the concrete foundation and the main base of the house to
eliminate possible vibrations.
On March 5 the plumbing was checked and a slight vibration was detected from the
circulator when this was running. The vibration was carried by a hot-water main
to one of the main beams. However, one of the neighboring houses was checked for
comparison and the vibrations there were found to be much greater.
Even without these investigations and consultations involving professional
physicists and engineers, one could have safely concluded that the causes
underlying these disturbances were not explainable as due to energy acting
without some guiding intelligence. The selection of objects was too precisely
localized for such causes as drafts of air, vibrations, magnetic forces, etc.,
to have brought about the disturbances. For instance, how are we to account for
the fact that one figurine flew from an end table while another only a few
inches away was left undisturbed? How, again, can the opening of bottles with
screw caps be explained in purely physical terms?
Instead of evidence pointing to some undiscovered physical causes, the
disturbances contained several clues indicating their psychological
Nothing ever happened while all the family were out of the house, when they were
fast asleep, or while the children were both at school. With the possible
exception of one case, James was known to be in the house during all the
disturbances. Other members of the family were frequently absent. Also, the
disturbances took place nearer to James, on the average, than to any other
member of the family.
The occurrences were not randomly scattered throughout the house. Also some sort
of pattern can be discerned in the kinds of objects that were disturbed.
Moreover, the Seaford phenomena show a striking conformity to the general
pattern established by earlier such cases, of which nearly five hundred have
been studied sufficiently to be recorded in the serious literature dealing with
such matters. In most of them, as in the Seaford case, unusual noises and
unexplained happenings are centered around someone near the age of adolescence.
At the same time this case, as is also the rule with many other such
occurrences, had its own distinctive characteristics, the most pronounced of
which is the "bottle poppings," when screw-top bottles lost their caps with a
loud noise, turned over, and spilled their contents.
The indications from these many features of the case lend support to the opinion
that we are not dealing here with a kind of impersonal physical force which
perhaps sometime in the future will fall within the scope of physics although
its operation is not now understood. If the Seaford disturbances were not
fraudulent - and no evidence of fraud was found - they clearly make a proper
claim upon the interest of parapsychologists.
It must be kept in mind that all such investigations as conducted to date rank
as exploratory rather than as conclusive. There was, for example, no disturbance
in the Seaford case which the investigators could observe under conditions as
good as those that can be produced in the laboratory. However free from any
suggestion of fraud or known physical explanation this case as a whole may have
been, the investigation was largely based on testimony rather than on firsthand
observations under controlled experimental conditions. Thus our report
concerning what took place in the Seaford case was inconclusive. It would be an
improper application of scientific method to attempt to go further on the basis
of such material.
But science consists of more than reaching conclusions. One of its important
functions is the appraisal of problems that might justify further study. The
investigation of data bearing upon a problem that needs clarification is an
indispensable link in the chain of scientific progress. The observations which
suggest that spontaneous outbursts of "mind over matter" may be happening in at
least some of these so-called poltergeist cases present such a problem and the
Seaford case may have come closer than any other to supplying the necessary link
between the uncontrolled, question-raising events of the natural life situation
and the controlled, question-answering events of the laboratory experiments on
But the Seaford case may in the long run be remembered as an episode that
contributed to the advance of the psi revolution by serving as a gauge of public
interest in such matters. We reached - I repeat - no conclusion regarding the
case itself, but one conclusion was brought home to us with the force of a new
volcano erupting in one's own back yard: people everywhere are intensely
interested in such unexplained human experiences as the Herrmanns had to endure!
And they are interested in the scientific approach to these things - to the
whole problem of psi phenomena - as shown by the fact that it was not until the
two halves of the "atomic charge," the case itself on the one hand and the
investigator from the Parapsychology Laboratory on the other hand, came together
that the potential energy exceeded the critical level and there resulted the
explosion of publicity heard around the world.
Because of the attention this case received, it has already helped to bring
several later ones to the attention of interested research workers while the
disturbances were still taking place. Unfortunately, it is not possible to
report that any of these subsequent studies has been any more conclusive than
was our investigation of the Seaford case. But scientists working on the
frontiers of knowledge dare not set deadlines for themselves in their struggles
to discover Nature's closely guarded secrets. The researcher must always press
on toward his goal, learning from his own failures and retreating only far
enough to escape from the box canyon into which his latest wrong turn led him.
The article above was taken from J G Pratt's "Parapsychology: An Insider's
View of ESP" (1964, Doubleday & Co, Inc).