THE DRAMA began on 21 February 1977 when the Chicago police found the body of
48-year-old Teresita Basa. She was lying on the floor of her fifteenth-floor
high-rise apartment stabbed to death and partially burned. Ms Basa had come to
the United States from her native Philippines in the 1960s, and there seemed
little possible motive for the crime. She worked as a respiratory therapist at
Edgewater Hospital on Chicago's north side and she was popular among her fellow
employees. The police at first felt that her killing may have resulted from a
lover's quarrel, but they withdrew this idea after interviewing her boyfriend.
Once again they were left without so much as a clue.
Teresita Basa's ghost, spirit, revenant, or whatever; was restless, so another
act in the mystery took place four months later at the home of Dr and Mrs Jose
Chua. Dr Chua was a Philippino physician whose wife had worked at Edgewater
Hospital at the time of the murder. He was surprised one evening when his wife
inexplicably entered a trance-like condition while they were home together in
nearby Skokie, walked to the bedroom, laid down, and began speaking in her
native tongue 'She spoke in Tagalong [a Philippine dialect] but with a strange
Spanish accent', he later testified. 'She said 'Ako'y' [I am] Teresita Basa.'
The doctor admitted being scared, especially when Teresita explained that her
murderer was another hospital employee. She accused an orderly named Allan
Showery, whose motive had been the theft of her jewels. Mrs Chua arose from her
trance after the strange voice finished its message, but she remembered nothing
about the brief episode Dr Chua didn't quite know what to do.
Whatever intelligence was controlling Mrs Chua certainly was persistent. Another
one of these peculiar trances followed a few days later. This time the voice
complained that Showery was still in possession of her jewels and that he had
given her pearl cocktail ring to his common-law wife. A third communication was
received a few days later once again, after which Dr Chua finally decided to
call the police.
The inspectors handling the case Joseph Stachula and Lee Epplen,
were naturally sceptical but were willing to follow up on any lead offered to
them. Normal sources of information hadn't given them much to go on, so they met
with the Chuas mixing hope with a touch of cynicism. Nonetheless, they went
about their work with professional decorum. When they arrived at the Chuas'
apartment, they first asked whether 'Teresita Basa' claimed rape as part of the
murder. Dr Chua replied negatively and explained that the voice only said that Teresita was murdered. The investigators were impressed by this answer, since
their blatantly leading question had been a ploy. They knew from the autopsy
report that Ms Basa died a virgin, so it was obvious that the Chuas weren't
tailoring their testimony. Then Chuas explained about Showery and the jewels.
'To this day', Detective Stachula wrote some months later, 'I'm not quite sure
that I believe how the information was obtained. Nonetheless, everything [was]
True it was. Working from the clues given by Dr Chua and the self-proclaimed
ghost of Teresita Basa, the Evanston police began focusing their attention on
Showery. A search of his apartment uncovered the jewels and the pearl cocktail
ring was found adorning his girlfriend's hand. Showery was arrested, confronted
with the evidence, and signed a confession admitting to the theft and murder. The
case was officially closed in August.
 Sussman, Lesley. Did voice from grave name
killer? Fate, 1978, 31 (7), 61-7.
The strange story of the dead woman who named her own murderer would probably
have sunk into obscurity had not the local Philippine press in Chicago caught
wind of the story. The Philippine Herald ran into a brick wall while trying to
get information about the case from the police, but a break came when the
paper's managing editor, Gus Bernardes, realized that he knew the Chuas. He was
able to dig deeply into the case and eventually learned about several other
bizarre psychic twists to the story. He learned, for instance, that several
workers at the hospital had complained about Mrs Chua's behaviour during the
week preceding the break in the case. She was entering trances at the hospital
during which she would sing in Teresita's voice and the episodes had frightened
many of the workers. The Herald reported the case in their 16 August issue, but
the story didn't receive national prominence until 5 March 1978 when the Chicago
Tribune ran it on its front page. Allan Showery was then coming to trial, which
prompted renewed interest in the case. The Chuas' testimony was bound to be
brought up, so the sceptics and believers alike were soon having a field day
with the story.
The problem was that Mrs Chua had known Ms Basa fairly well ... at least a lot
better than she originally let on to the police. It was also well known that she
knew and openly disliked Allan Showery. These new insights led one hospital
spokesman to suggest that Mrs Chua's 'spirit voice' messages were ploys she used
to express her own suspicions. 'I think she might have known something about
Showery but also knew she would be taking chances with her own life and her
husband's life if she went directly to the cops,' he told the press. He also
suggested that Mrs Chua may have seen Showery with some of the jewels.
This theory doesn't explain several curious aspects of the case, however. First
was the curious fact that Mrs Chua's whole personality had begun to change
sometime prior to when the summer 1977 messages were received. The ordinarily
good and mindful employee was even fired from the hospital for insubordination
because of the sudden and inexplicable changes in her character which
immediately predated the crucial trances. Nor does the spokesman's charges
explain why the Chuas simply didn't phone in an anonymous tip to the police.
With such a grisly murder on their hands, certainly the police would have acted
on any reasonable information. Some further testimony on the psychic aspects of
the case came to light in 1979 as well, when the Chuas co-operated in the
publication of an obscure little book on the case. They eventually admitted
that the summer 1977 trance communications were actually an answer to a
challenge. During the investigation immediately following the murder, Mrs Chua
once quipped to her fellow hospital employees that Teresita's ghost could come
to her if the police failed to catch her murderer. She had seen the woman's
apparition a short time later; and the critical trance messages were the outcome
of a long-drawn-out invasion of her personality by Teresita.
 Mercado, Carol and O. A. A Voice from the
Grave. Oak Park, Ill: Carolando Press, 1979.
The case of Teresita Basa's murder and its uncanny denouement is now closed and
only the psychic aspects of it remain controversial.
Cases of murdered victims who return from the grave to name their assailants may
sound like the stuff from which campfire-side ghost stories are made. The story
of Dr and Mrs Chua and their strange psychic journey seems more like something
from Edgar Allan Poe than a case study in psychic research. But the case of
Teresita Basa's spirit return isn't unique in the annals of psychic science
since similar cases can be dated all the way back to the turn of the 20th century.
played a key role in a West Virginia trial that followed the death of a young
bride in 1897. The victim, Zona Heaster Shue, was found dead by her blacksmith
husband at the bottom of their homes staircase, and the body was buried quickly
without a medical examination. Not everybody was convinced that her death was an
accident, especially when Zona's mother began receiving visits from her
daughter's ghost complaining about her murder. City officials in Greenbrier
Valley ordered an exhumation and found that the girl's neck had been broken. Her
husband was immediately arrested for murder and exposed himself on the witness
stand with his conflicting testimony. Mrs Heaster testified at the trial that
her daughter appeared to her four nights in a row, explaining that her husband
beat her in a rage for not preparing his dinner. The jury deliberated for only
ten minutes before finding the husband guilty.
An even more graphic and better documented story was published by Professor
James Hyslop of the American Society for Psychical Research in 1911. It
concerned his investigation into the claims of Mrs Rosa Sutton, a resident of
Portland, Oregon who began receiving visits from her deceased son in 1907. He
had been a lieutenant at Anapolis and apparently committed suicide after a fray
with some fellow officers. His apparition appeared over and over again,
describing how he had been beaten and then murdered by the other officers. The
apparition described in great detail where he had been wounded. Exhumation of
his body confirmed that the young man was beaten in the very way the apparition
claimed, though no one was ever charged with his murder.
 Thacher, George A. and Hyslop, James. The case
of Lieut. James B. Sutton. Journal of the American Society for Psychical
Research, 1911, 5, 597-664.
A more recent case of this nature was reported by UPI in 1970 when Mr Romer
Troxell, a 42-year-old resident of Livittown, Pennsylvania, came to Portage,
Indiana to take charge of his murdered son's body. It had been found by the side
of a road devoid of any identification. The 'voice' of the murdered boy kept
nagging at Mr Troxell's mind from the time he and his wife first arrived in town
by car. He told police that the voice of his son led him to the murderer as he
drove about the city looking for his son's stolen car. The voice told him right
where to go, and he soon spotted the vehicle.
'I made a U-turn and followed the can about a block behind,' he explained. 'I
wanted to crash into the yellow car but Charlie warned me against it.' So he
merely followed the car until the driver stopped and got out. Then he confronted
the man about the car while another relative ran and fetched the police. The
officers later arrested the driver on the basis of their own confidential
information ... information they had never leaked to Mr Troxell.
'Charlie left me after we caught the killer,' Troxell said. 'Charlie's in peace
now. The police were on to the killer, though. I came to realize that when they
later showed me what they uncovered in their investigation. But when I heard my
son guiding me, I acted. Maybe the Lord wanted it that way.
 Voice of murdered son led him to suspect, father
says. U.P.I. 30 May 1970.
Survey Evidence on the Prevalence of Subjective Contact with the Dead
Romer, Troxell, Mrs Rose Sutton, and Mrs Chua all believed that they were
confronting the living presence of the dead. None of them doubted for a moment
that they were experiencing anything but direct contact with the world beyond
the grave. Of course it is possible that Mrs Chua's trances were psychological
episodes during which her subconscious mind expressed deep-seated suspicions
about Showery. It is also possible that Mr Troxell and Mrs Sutton produced their
post-mortem contacts through their deep need to believe that death is not the
end, perhaps reinforced by telepathically derived information. But could these
episodes have actually represented genuine contacts with the dead?
This is an idea that may seem very old-fashioned and out of vogue today; but it
is a theory that has to be seriously considered if for no other reason than that
such reports are surprisingly common. Even though not all of these cases are as
dramatic as the ones cited above, there is growing evidence that contact with
the dead - or at least experiences which people believe represent such
communication - is relatively frequent in our culture.
Psychologists first made this discovery in the early 1970s when they began
studying the psychology of death and the mourning process. Dr W. Dewi Rees
published the first major study in 1971 when he reported on 'the hallucinations
of widowhood' in the British Medical Journal. It was an eye-opener Rees polled
293 widows and widowers about their experiences following the deaths of their
spouses and found that close to half of them (47 per cent) believed that they
had been in momentary contact with them since that time. These contacts not only
came immediately after the deaths, Rees learned, but sometimes even many years
later. Some of the episodes were fleeting telepathic interactions, while others
were fully fledged apparitional experiences. Obviously a new psychological (?)
dimension to the mourning process was being uncovered. When the Rees findings
were made known, researchers at Wayne State University were so intrigued that
they decided to replicate the study. They obtained very similar data.
These pioneering researchers did not believe that their respondents were really
communicating with the dead. They preferred to believe that they were examining
some peculiar psychological aspect of the mourning process. Unfortunately,
research on this idea, by Dr Richard Kalish and a colleague from the University
of Southern California, in 1974, failed to demonstrate that the trauma of
widowhood induces any severe psychological changes. He found no psychological
difference between the widows he interviewed and a matching group of elderly
women. His only significant finding was to learn once again that the bereaved
reported contacts with the dead fairly commonly. But there was simply no data in
his study which suggested any theory which could explain why.
 Kalish, Richard A. and Reynolds, David K. Widows
view death: a brief research note. Omega - the Journals of Death and Dying,
1974, 5, 187-92.
One of the problems with Dr Kalish's study was a point he couldn't have
appreciated at the time. The psychologists and medical authorities pursuing the
psychology of bereavement during these pioneering years worked from a
questionable premise, since they believed that contact with the dead was a
phenomenon restricted to the elderly or recently bereaved. What they didn't take
into account was that contact with the dead is commonly reported by all segments
of the general public. This discovery was first made later in the 1970s and has
been confirmed several times since. The key study was once again the work of Dr
Richard Kalish and David K. Reynolds, who conducted their interviews in southern
California. They interviewed a cross-section of the public in hopes of
finding cultural differences in how people deal with death and its aftermath.
The two researchers interviewed 434 adults from black, Japanese, Mexican and
white (European) backgrounds and then broke their data down by race, age and
 Kalish, Richard A. Contacting the dead; does
group identification matter? In Between Life and Death edited by Robert
Kastenbaum, New York: Springer, 1979.
The interviewers produced some amazing findings. Over 50 per cent of the women
interviewed claimed spontaneous post-mortem contacts, while over a third of the
men answered affirmatively as well. The experiences most often took place in
dreams, but dreams described by the respondents as more vivid than usual. Visits
from the dead by way of voices, apparitions, or psychologically felt presences
were also mentioned.
This last feature was a little out of keeping with the experience of widowhood,
where the 'felt presence' is rather commonly reported. The psychologists also
noted that the experiences they heard about were pleasant more often than
frightening, and that on rare occasions other people who were present shared the
This was an amazing admission, though it was a feature that the psychologists
ultimately ignored when they came to interpreting their findings. They were
obviously more interested in the demographics of what they were finding. Culture
obviously didn't influence the expression of the experience since Kalish and
Reynolds found that all ethnic groups reported similar types of cases. Their
most significant findings were that blacks and Mexican-Americans reported the
experience more often than Caucasians or Orientals. The two former groups also
found the experience more frightening and reported more visual and auditory
contacts. (These two features may not have been mutually independent, since one
finding may easily have arisen from the other)
Despite its pioneering nature, the Kalish/Reynolds study was - in the long run -
somewhat flawed in its conclusions. Reporting bias may have played a significant
role in the overall statistics, a problem the psychologists did little to
explore or even acknowledge. They concluded that culture definitely affected the
subjective experience of contacting the dead, without considering whether
certain groups in American culture merely report such contacts more readily. It
might also be that people from different ethnic and social backgrounds are more
willing to talk about such experiences or, on the other hand, more prone to
rationalize them away. The two psychologists should have been aware of this
possibility since the actual mode of the experience (i.e. what form it took) did
not vary with any demographic factors. Obviously they were dealing with a
The two Californian researchers couldn't even find any correlation between the
strength of the witnesses' religious beliefs and the likelihood of their
reporting post-mortem contacts. In fact, those respondents who did not consider
themselves especially religious actually reported spontaneous contacts with the
dead more often than did the devoutly religious. The less educated tended to
report the experience more often than other respondents, but this finding
probably resulted from an important confounding variable I will describe later.
The researchers also discovered, to their amazement, that '... widows and other
people who have lost intimate relationships [did] not account for as large a
proportion of the experiences as we had anticipated.' The only exception was the
In short, no purely psychological basis for these experiences could be found.
This did not keep Dr Kalish from personally dismissing the metaphysical reality
of post-mortem contact experiences, however. His final conclusion was that, 'I do
not believe that these people have engaged in communication with the dead' He
added that 'I do believe that the experiences were both very vivid and seem very
real, that they are neither dreams nor indications of emotional disturbance.' So
just what does he think these encounters do represent?
'They are signals,' he has explained, 'that the intensity of the loss or other
experience is extremely great and extremely enduring; and that the previously
formed associations with the dead person were extremely strong.' His conclusion
is that the alleged contact springs from the witnesses' own minds.
Despite his personal conclusions, Dr Kalish's pioneering work has helped to
illuminate this aspect of the psychology of death. It is clear that 'contact with
the dead' is a very common feeling and that such experiences occur in divergent
cultures, are expressed very similarly, and are experienced by people of all age
groups. This counters the idea that such experiences primarily result from
bereavement. Yet the Kalish/Reynolds data are not unique. Very similar features
cropped up when a team of researchers in Chicago replicated the Kalish/Reynolds
work. They found that 25 per cent of their subject population of close to 1500
respondents reported spontaneous contacts with the dead. The elderly and
teenagers were especially prone to report the experience. The researchers also
found (like their predecessors) that blacks were particularly prone to claim
post-mortem contacts, and that Jews and Protestants reported the experience more
often than Catholics. Unlike their colleagues in California, however, the Chicago
researchers were well aware that many of their findings might merely represent
artefacts. The experiences of widows and widowers did not bias the data, though
once again it looked as if the less educated more freely experienced or
discussed the experience than the better educated. The researchers were able to
show definitively that this finding was spurious. It resulted because elderly
people in our culture, who are most prone to report such experiences, are
typically less educated than younger Americans.
 Greely, Andrew. Death and Beyond.
Chicago: Thomas More Press, 1976.
Spontaneous Post-Mortem Contacts
If there were any glaring problems with these surveys, they were experiential
rather than statistical ones. Neither those researchers working from California
nor those from Illinois really seemed to be very interested in the content of
what their respondents were reporting. They never concerned themselves with the
human dimensions of what they were learning. Were these people really in contact
with the dead or not? The answer to this crucial question cannot be answered
through statistics, but only through case studies.
This problem was partially corrected in 1980 when Julian Burton decided to study
the same issue but from a more humanistic framework. Burton was working on his
Ph.D in psychology when he decided to use his data as the basis for his doctoral
dissertation. Dr Button has explained that the idea for his project grew out of
a dramatic personal experience. His mother died in April 1973 at the age of 67
after suffering a massive stroke. 'I had always felt a strong bond between us,'
he later wrote, 'but by September most of us in the family had returned to our
normal routines, reconciled to her death.'
But this was not to be the end of the bond between Dr Burton and his mother. 'One
evening that September my wife and I were entertaining relatives,' he explains.
'I was in the kitchen cutting a pineapple when I heard what I thought were my
wife’s footsteps behind me to the right. I turned to ask the whereabouts of a
bowl but realized that she had crossed to the left outside my field of vision. I
turned in that direction to repeat my question and saw my mother standing there.
She was fully visible; looking years younger than at the time of her death. She
was wearing a diaphanous pale-blue gown trimmed in marabou which I had never
No sooner could he call out than the figure gradually dissolved. 'The next
morning I called my sister Jean and told her what had happened,' the psychologist
continued. 'She was upset and began to sob, asking why our mother had not come
to her. I felt bad about this and asked her if she believed that I had told her,
whereupon she said she knew it was true. Why was she so certain? She replied that
she and Mother had gone shopping together two weeks before the stroke and Mother
had tried on the pale-blue gown I had described. Although Mother looked
attractive in the dress and wanted it very much, she had balked at paying $200
for such a garment.'
 Burton, Julian. Contact with the dead: a common
experience? Fate, 1982, 35 (4), 65-72.
The result of this visit was that at the age of 42, Burton decided to go back
and finish his doctorate. 'My mother's appearance gave me the idea for my
research,' he admits. 'I felt that many people probably have similar experiences
Burton thereupon devised a questionnaire which asked the respondents whether
they had ever experienced visitations from the dead, their relationship to the
revenants, the nature of the experiences, whether they were repeated, and so
forth. He first gave the questionnaire to psychic research groups and classes in
the Los Angeles area, but he soon changed his strategy when he noticed the
extraordinarily high percentage of affirmative answers. His suspicion was that
his respondents were biased by their interest in psychic matters, so he sent out
questionnaires to the psychology departments of three Los Angeles colleges.
Fifty per cent of the students still reported post-mortem contacts! Dr Button
has, to date, collected data from 1500 respondents and has added important data
to the earlier polls from California and Illinois. He too, found that the
elderly are especially prone to such contacts though they have no monopoly on
them. The majority of experiences were either dream contacts or subjective
sensations, although voices, waking visions, and apparitions were also reported.
These experiences were obviously dramatic since 60 per cent of those between the
ages of 16 and 60 changed their attitudes about death on the basis of them.
 Burton, Julian. Survivors' Subjective
Experience of the Deceased. Doctoral dissertation: International College,
What really impressed Burton, though, were the cases themselves. Some of them
were so similar to his own. 'Nearing the completion of my dissertation,' he
... I was working at home while my occasional housekeeper Lita Canales, a woman
in her 30s, was cleaning. She came to me and told me two stories, one of which
happened while she was in my home.
While cleaning my bedroom one day Lita heard a 'wolf whistle.' Thinking a
workman outside the window was looking in (although I live on the third floor)
she continued her work. The whistle sounded again. When she looked up she heard
a woman's voice call her twice by name. She looked through the other rooms and
found no one. Despite a cold chill and goose bumps she thought no more of it
until she arrived home to find a letter from El Salvador with the news of the
death of her best friend. Her friend's mother wrote that Lita's gift of a pair of
new shoes arrived three hours before the death. This news triggered Lita's
memory; the wolf whistle had been a girlhood signal between her friend and her
The clarity and simplicity of this report are typical of many that I have heard
and read in the course of my research.
Another case was reported to Burton by a young college student and concerned the
death of his great-aunt. They obviously didn't share the type of bond that might
give rise to a strong emotional attachment, thereby inducing an apparently
anomalous psychological experience:
I heard of her death as soon as I got home from school. I had to hurry off,
however, to go to my catechism class. I went up to my room to get my book and as
I was reaching for it, I stopped and slowly turned around. Sitting on my other
bed was a slightly transparent woman with her hands folded in her lap. She just
sat there smiling at me. I had not seen her since I was six months old but
somehow I knew it was my great-aunt who had just died. We had corresponded for
years through letters and I still correspond with her sister, with whom she
lived. I realized what was happening but I wasn't frightened because I was
almost overwhelmed with this intense feeling of love. There was nothing
threatening or disturbing about the experience at all. I stood very still and
purposefully started memorizing details of what she looked like; what dress she
was wearing and so on. When she was gone I went downstairs and told my mother
and sister what had happened. If I was ever afraid of death, I'm not anymore. I
strongly believe in some sort of life after death. I'm not sure that if another
family member had had an experience, they would have said so.
What is also significant is how Dr Button came to view his data. He feels that
experiences such as his own and those he has collected tend to go unreported all
too often. He argues that many people are simply afraid that their sanity will
be questioned if they report such encounters. This problem has been exacerbated,
claims the psychologist, by mental health professionals who try to 'explain
away' such episodes. These experiences are usually dismissed as attempts by the
witness to 'hold on' to the dead or as hallucinations deriving from the grieving
process. 'But do we have the right to do this?' he asks. 'I hope others will
investigate this phenomenon,' he urges, 'and add their information to the
growing pile of evidence that these experiences are normal and common. Perhaps
eventually the sensational and scarey nature of "campfire"-type ghost stories
will give way to the realization that experiencing visits from the dead may be a
commonplace function of day-to-day living.'
Despite the very emotional and often impressive nature of these human
experiences, the sceptic could still have a field-day dismissing them. Few such
cases ever turn out to be as veridical as Dr Burton's, and even fewer are of the
quality that would have impressed the founders of psychical research a hundred
years ago. Most of the reports can easily be dismissed, as Dr Button suggests,
as simply the wish-fulfilment fantasies of generally unhappy and bereaved people.
Even the more complex cases in which some psychic factor played an obvious role
can often be reduced to more 'this worldly' explanations. For instance, perhaps
Dr Burton used some homespun clairvoyance while unconsciously generating the
apparition of his mother; and so forth. Survival research often becomes bogged
down in such issues, the same issues that so confounded the first psychical
researchers back in Victorian times.
Dream Contact with the Dead
It is significant that most researchers interested in spontaneous contacts with
the dead have found dream contacts to be the most common mode of expression. Yet
this is the easiest form of post-mortem contact to dismiss. This fact, however,
has not led researchers to abandon this line of inquiry completely. The late Dr
Robert Crookall, a British scientist who sacrificed his pension in order to
throw himself into survival research, long argued that some dream contacts may
be instigated by surviving intelligences. He argued the point in his book
'Dreams' of High Significance, which appeared in 1974. Mrs Helen Solem of
Portland, Oregon has recently reopened this question by undertaking a large
collection of such cases. She currently divides her time between her accounting
work and survival research, and undertook her dream project in 1983 as a result
of her own dream experiences. Soon she began collecting the reports of others
and was able to amass a sizeable body of material. My own interest in Mrs
Solem's project arose from my concern with the publication of veridical cases of
post-mortem contact. So when I first learned that the Portland researcher was
initiating her project, I requested that she be on the look out for cases which
included the communication of evidential material. Several of these cases were
later submitted to Fate magazine (on whose staff I serve as consulting
 Solem, Helen. Do we contact the dead in our
dreams? Fate, 1984, 37 (3), 79-84.
Some of the accounts Mrs Solem collected were relatively simple One elderly lady
told the researcher that she had a dream in 1906 in which she heard her deceased
brother talking to her. The voice informed her that she had to make an important
choice - one between her latest born child (then a year and a half old) and the
one she was carrying. The voice was firm on the matter, and the woman
reluctantly chose to keep the baby that was about to be born. The upshot of the
dream came about three weeks later when the older girl fell from the porch,
injured her head, and died. 'When reporting this experience now', explains Mrs Solem, 'she says she believes it was given to her to help her through that
calamitous time.' The warning helped her to retain her sanity and keep her grief
from overwhelming her. The sceptic will of course scoff that perhaps - granting
that this experience was genuinely psychic - the woman's own mind generated the
prediction. This would be a reasonable assumption to make, except that not all
of Mrs Solem's cases are that easy to deal with.
In another of her cases, a woman from Connecticut explained how her deceased
father-in-law came to her in her sleep the day after his funeral. His purpose
was to inform her about a secret bank book hidden in his room which held the key
to $2800. Even her husband derided the story until a search disclosed the
bankbook. The holdings in the account matched the sum communicated in the dream.
Another one of these rather complex cases was reported by a housewife Solem
merely called by her first name, Gwen. 'Until my mother passed away in 1959,'
she explained, 'I don't specifically remember if I ever dreamed of anyone
deceased or not. However, I was very distraught over my mother's death at the
early age of 49. Many times after that she came to me in my dreams, especially
when I was perplexed or disturbed about something.' The woman soon learned that
she could ask her mother's advice and that the dream-figure would readily
One night, for instance, she dreamed about a room full of coffins and
intuitively realized that her father was going to die. She became alarmed but
her mother appeared and comforted her promising to help her former husband
through the death experience. The sequel to the drama came a few days later when
her brother called from Virginia to inform her that their father was in
hospital. His condition was bad, he was haemorrhaging and the doctors wanted to
perform vein bypass surgery. Gwen knew that the surgery would be fruitless, but
she wanted her father to have every chance he could. It came as no surprise when
the man died four days later ... but Gwen didn't initially learn about the death
through normal hospital or family channels. Early that morning her mother came
to her in a dream and told her that everything was 'all over' now. Gwen woke up
and saw that it was 7 o'clock. The hospital phoned only later to say that her
father had died at 7.10 that morning. When she retired the night after the
funeral a few days later, she asked if she might see her father in her dream and
talk with him. Her mother came to her once again and explained that such a
meeting could only come later; after the elderly man adjusted himself to his new
spiritual existence. This dream contact came in due course six months later.
It is Mrs Solem's opinion that something more than simple dreaming is being
manifested in such cases. 'Some authorities believe that dream activity is
simply a way of restoring emotional balance by ridding ourselves of the stress
and tension of the day, she argues. 'But when some clean straightforward and
heretofore unknown information comes through our dreams, it must be more than
this ... It is possible such dreams come through the help of our own higher
selves, but when the dead appear in our dreams it seems logical to conclude that
a mutual working relationship is manifesting.'
This is, of course, the fatal catch. Is it ever possible to determine where the
activity of ones mind ends and that of an external intelligence begins? This is
the problem the researcher faces when trying to evaluate subjective human
experiences, always so complex and subtle.
Other Forms of Post-Mortem Contact
Some researchers have begun studying the literature on death-bed visions to help
resolve this issue. Such cases represent an important addition to the literature
on survival evidence, but they can only be briefly discussed here.
Patients on the verge of death often 'see' apparitions of the dead coming to
greet them and take them to the 'other side.' The early psychical researchers
even collected a few cases in which the dying person saw a friend whom he did
not know had only recently died. But these cases are rare. The real breakthrough
came in the 1960s and 1970s when Dr Karlis Osis at the American Society for
Psychical Research was able to show that many of these dying patients were not
suffering from any disease or responding to any medication known to prompt the
emergence of hallucinations. Later he and his colleague, Dr
of the University of Reykjavik in Iceland, were able to show that deathbed
visions were a cross-cultural phenomenon. The significant point is that,
once again, psychological inquiry has shown that subjective contact with the
dead (be it through visions, dreams, or felt presences) simply can't be
explained by any known normal mechanism.
 Osis, Karlis and Haraldsson, Erlendur. At
the Hour of Death. New York: Avon, 1977.
Even Dr Osis would admit that such cases cannot serve as indisputable evidence
for life after death, though. Some undefined psychological factors may be
underlying their emergence. So he has personally gone back to the study of
apparitions in general, in hopes of finding some evidence for survival. The one
case to which he points most proudly was a complex one that he first reported to
the 26th annual convention of the Parapsychological Association at Fairleigh
Dickinson University in 1983.
 Osis, Karlis. Characteristics of purposeful
action in an apparition case. Paper delivered at the 26th annual convention of
the Parapsychological Association, August 9-13, 1983.
Dr Osis began his presentation by entertaining the possibility that not all
apparitions represent the outcome of a single psychic process. 'I have stressed
on other occasions,' he reminded his audience, 'that apparitional experiences
make much more sense when we allow ourselves to postulate special
interpretations of each of the different kinds of apparitional experiences,
rather than to lump them all together as if they were of the same fundamental
nature.' He added that 'this present case is a specimen of one type of apparition
experience [in which] the appearer seems to have a purpose of his own.' These
were brave words about a phenomenon currently out of vogue among
parapsychologists exploring the survival controversy.
Since the parties involved in the report insisted on absolute anonymity. Dr Osis
had to disguise their identities. The case revolved around the death of a
middle-aged married businessman named Leslie, who was the father of four
children. The other persona dramatis in the story was the gentleman's deceased
son, Rusty, who had died as a young child eighteen months before. Leslie's death
occurred in 1982 when the private plane he was piloting across the southern part
of the United States crashed. What actually caused the accident is still
unknown, and the family was informed of the accident the next day. Their main
concern, apart from their own grief, was with Leslie's ageing mother Marge, who
was experiencing health problems of her own. They were afraid that the news of
the death would be too great a shock for her to handle. A friend of the family
shared this concern. Being devoutly religious, she asked her own mother - who
was the same age as Leslie's mother - to pray for the departed soul. This woman
knew that Leslie's mother was rather materialistic and harboured no belief in
anything psychic or spiritual. So she prayed directly to the deceased man and
asked him to appear to his mother as a 'sign' of his continued existence. She
also asked in her prayer that, as a personal sign to her, he should appear
holding hands with his recently deceased son. The woman told no one except her
husband about her prayer, and she repeated the petition about three times over
the next couple of days.
Marge was home in her room about ten hours after these prayers were being
concluded. She awoke from sleep suddenly to see two apparitional forms at the
foot of her bed.
'There he was, Leslie, with the baby,' she later told Dr Osis, 'and he was
holding the baby's hand ... they were at the foot of the bed. They looked at
each other I was wide awake then. They were content; they were happy that they
found each other, that they were together now. And they were letting me know
that it is so. I got that feeling.'
She also explained to Dr Osis:
They were solid. There was like grayness around, like a gray cloud around them.
I would say there was a mist in the whole room, nothing you could touch, just
the grayness all around. But they were solid, both of them. The room was dark;
electric light was coming from outside through the venetian blinds ... but I
didn't need light to see them. There is a lot of traffic around my area. No
matter at what time you got trucks and buses. Not one sound then, all was
excluded at that moment, everything as though the world had stood still. And
there was nobody but us three in the world ...
I felt them as if they were breathing into me, breathing my life into me. He was
giving my life back to me. And it's the most lasting feeling: I will never, never
forget this. Never never forget this. It never happened before and never
happened since. They were just there, I believe, to give me peace of mind. It
really helped. I have not gotten over [the grief] yet, but it made me able to
live through very hard times without killing myself, because I was very despondent. I tried to keep them longer and they just went ... They got smaller
and faded out.
But Marge wasn't the only person who experienced a phantasmal visitation that
night. Leslie's little six-year-old niece lived about a hundred miles away. She
knew about her uncle's death and saw his apparition three hours before the
visitation to Marge. She later told Dr Osis that she was 'up and awake when I
saw a cloud in my room and there was Leslie and Rusty holding hands. They looked
just regular ... it looked just like him [Leslie].' It is interesting that the
woman who prayed to Leslie could hardly have been thinking of the girl; she
didn't even know that he had any nieces.
Dr Osis feels that the super-ESP hypothesis would have to be extended completely
out of proportion to account for this case, since Marge didn't really respond to
the purported telepathic message until several hours after it had (allegedly)
been sent. He also found it odd that the little niece would have responded to
such a massage, since she didn't know the woman who prayed. Nor does it look as
though she picked up the information from the older woman, since the little
girl's experience came three hours before Marge's. They weren't even very close.
The presentation of this case to the Parapsychological Association ended with
both a conclusion and a warning. 'One case alone cannot decide the survival
issue.' advised Dr Osis. 'Different scholars will interpret the data differently,
each according to their own belief systems. The manifest characteristics of this
case certainly do not suggest the notion that apparitions are static images void
of consciousness. Something much more powerful and purposeful seems to be
So as parapsychology enters into its second century of enquiry, those
researchers studying the survival question have apparently come full circle.
From the study of real-life encounters with the unknown, they have searched
through the realms of trance mediumship, out-of-body experiences, deathbed
visions, and near-death encounters to demonstrate man's immortality. It now
seems as though parapsychologists have found themselves once again focusing on
the apparitional experience as their most potentially fruitful source of study.
D. Scott Rogo's "Life After Death. The Case
for Survival of Bodily Death" (London: Guild Publishing, 1986).