INTERVIEW WITH DR. WILLIAM G. ROLL Nov. 2004
Dr. William G. Roll has dedicated his life to the study of the paranormal. Educated at Oxford, he has done a tremendous amount of research on the phenomenon we call the "Poltergeist." He has investigated many cases and written four books and hundreds of articles. His research in electromagnetic fields has become the standard in the industry. I was extremely pleased when this still busy parapsychologist granted my request for an interview.
TC: First of all, I want to thank you for this interview.
WR: Okay, you are welcome.
TC: Dr., how would you describe a poltergeist?
WR: Well, I donít use the term, ah, poltergeist. The term ďpoltergeistĒ is German and means a rambunctious, noisy ah, spirit, a ghost, and it refers to the sudden movement of objects because sounds of a strange physical occurrences and in the past and also by people nowadays, especially people who see Spielbergís movies and it is thought that a spirit entity, a ghost, is literally tossing things around, creating all the mayhem. So that is how the term got started. Nowadays, we have another word for these things as you know: "Recurrent Spontaneous Psycho Kinesis" because we think theyíre not due to ghosts or spirits or demons or anything like that but that theyíre an expression of a human ability that we probably all have but some have it in a more extreme version than others. For instance, Tina, for a period of a couple of months when she was fourteen had this extraordinary ability. She was, of course, quite unaware that she was causing these occurrences in some way or another. But anyhow, that is the most likely explanation because the phenomena usually depended upon her presence and they only happened, they usually happened when she was home and awake.
TC: Right. So you do not think there were ever actually spirits involved.
WR: Not in poltergeist occurrences, no.
TC: The movements themselves sometimes seemed to be very guided. Objects would come, you know out of a room and make a left turn.
TC: Is that common in poltergeist occurrences?
WR: Yes it is. It is quite common. There seems to be some sort of a guidance system built into these occurrences.
TC: And thatís, and that you believe actually came from Tinaís mind?
WR: There is an interaction between Tina and the object.
WR: And there is a certain sense in the occurrences. They, you might say, carry a message or they carry information and in this case, itís about Tina and the people she is with at the time. Now, when we were in the lab in Chapel Hill, and we had especially many of these movements around corners and the occurrences usually ended up close to where Tina and one of us, very often in this case, the psychologist, Jeannie Lagle, where they were situated and so I think at that stage of the occurrences there was really nothing negative about them.
WR: The occurrences had been positive and they were in a way, I think, well she still had a lot of stuff pent up in her emotional system. But the occurrences were to a large extent for her benefit, I think because she knew we wanted, we needed to have evidence to these things and so thatís what she produced.
TC: Was she an easy subject to work with?
WR: Yes, she was very, yeah, yeah.
TC: How come sometimes, the movements turned against her?
WR: Well, I think she had very lowÖshe had throughout her childhood been fed the belief that she was not worthy, she was not much good and, and when that is repeated enough times, well, the impressionable mind believes it.
WR: Now it is interesting that the first time the incidents turned against her was just after the minister had been to the home to clear away evil spirits.
WR: And since Tina was at the center of things, these spirits that he spoke about, I donít know that he spoke about evil spirits, but he talked about evil, getting evil out of there, getting evil out of the house, so she identified herself now,
TC: As being evilÖ
WR: As being evil and deserving to have things fall on her and hit her and so on. So thatís the first time right after the minister left, a candlestick hit her on the back of her head.
TC: So, he actually planted a seed in her mind?
WR: Yes, thatís right, yeah.
TC: Okay, um, youíve studied hundreds of cases. Was there anything special about Tinaís? Was there anything different?
WR: Well, first of all, I havenít investigated hundreds of cases. Oh no, I just investigated a few, in other wordsÖ
WR: Poltergeist cases are very rare.
TC: They are very rare, yes.
WR: And it is not often and then if you want to investigate a case, you know it is going to stop. They usually only last a couple of months and they stop. They canít be revived as a rule.
TC: Why is that?
WR: Well, we donít know, basically we donít know exactly what, well we have some idea what starts them up but why they peter out, I donít know. I donít know because the psychological problems remained, Tina was just the same as she was after the occurrences as she was before but for some reason or another, they stopped, so if you want to investigate these things, you have to travel to the site as soon as you hear about a case.
WR: And so thatís what happened with the things around Tina. First of all, her parents were key. They really needed help
WR: And secondly, the journalist was, I guess, interested in the story, obviously and then also maybe to be validated that he himself and his colleague had seen and photographed things, so that may also have been part of it, so anyhow, I decided to go there and I came, you know, when the case was quite fresh. So, that is the main way in which this case differed from others is that the occurrences involved pieces of furniture and just as much of lighter objects and really heavy pieces of furniture. So the force, in my experience, was unusually strong. And then secondly, a bunch of people had witnessed the occurrences and were willing to talk about their experiences to me and I taped these reports and you know, they are in the book. So, and then, she also had neurological exams carried out both in Ohio and also we did a study with her at the University of North Carolina and Chapel Hill, where an anomaly was located in her brain stem that we had expected. So anyhow, in several respects this was an outstanding case and also, she was in a laboratory where she had gone to for he PK to be studied and the phenomena let loose when she was up there.
TC: Yeah, that is interesting because it seems to me that when people are tested, most of the time, nothing does happen.
WR: Well, that is right and also these things did not happen when she was being tested, they happened in the breaks between testing, you know she was tested for what you call micro PK. It is a very weak PK. She was tested by Stephen Baumann at this Spring Creek Institute and the RSPK happened when her mind was off being tested and she wasnít concentrating on anything so thatís when it found an opening and came out.
TC: Do you think it would be possible that if you stimulated that part of her brain stem, if the result, if the PK would take effect again?
WR: I donít know.
TC: I mean that is just kind of conjecture.
WR: Yeah, I just donít know. I donít know.
TC: I doubt it has ever been tried.
WR: No, I mean, in as far as I know, this is the first time a brainstem examination on a poltergeist agent has been done.
WR: But, suddenly if she was not in prison, I am sure that some enterprising researcher would try to continue the research, if that is what she wanted. You know, she may not be all that, I mean, this is really, these abilities have been more of a burden than a blessing for her.
TC: Oh, sure. But Iíll bet with the work you have done, you have given other people a direction to follow.
WR: Well, hopefully. Yes.
TC: Because I have read of other cases and the way you explain this one is the best explanation I have ever seen yet because there is actually some scientific evidence to support the theory.
TC: Itís not just a theory.
TC: Why is it that it tends to be only teenagers.
WR: Well, pre-teenagers go through a lot of stuff and in any case, they are often very frustrated and angry and hormones are beginning to flow and so on and so on and that creates tension and confusion and conflict with parents. Thatís just, thatís part of the normal growing up process in most families, so there is this extra pressure on kids that age but the phenomena is not confined to that. The most frequent is around the age of fourteen but they can go up to any age.
TC: Is it more common in females?
WR: It used to be but it is not any longer.
TC: Oh, really.
WR: No. And it used to be probably because a lot of the occurrences came from England and in homes where young girls were engaged as maids, nannyís and so on, so young kids around Tinaís age, perhaps even younger were away from home or working and probably under a lot of stress.
WR: And these were always girls, never boys, but nowadays, you donít see that situation, you donít have that situation and so it is evenly distributed nowadays.
TC: Okay. Why do you think it is that it would happen to someone like a Tina and not some other child, I mean because there are probably a lot of very abused people out there? Do you think it was the anomaly in the brainstem?
WR: I donít know. What you see, I think the earliest case I heard about is a three or four year old.
WR: But you donít hear of anything like this around infants and you donít hear of this kind of thing around animals so, sometimes animals are involved but that is because of, there is a farm girl or somebody like that who is the center of things so it seems as if a developed human brain is part of the ingredients, for this.
TC: Okay. In Tinaís case, do you think it was a defense mechanism or was it just venting steam?
WR: A defense mechanism or Ö
TC: Venting steam.
WR: I think her life was governed by two conflicting emotions, ah, she was desperate for love and attentionÖ
WR: And she was angry at the way her parents were treating her. That anger could not be expressed. If it was expressed, you know, she uh,
TC: Sheíd have gotten a beating.
WR: Yes, she would get a beating and sometimes she did express it, so throughout this she had an overriding need to be loved and accepted by her mother in particular and that never came and so the objects themselves in the home, her parentís belongings were a pair of conflicting emotions were projected to these things, the positive attracting emotion and negative repelling emotions, almost like electromagnetism where things attract or repel and these emotions were projected or were the same objects was charged with these two kinds of emotions. So in some instances, and in Tinaís case, in one dramatic morning, when she was in church, and her father brought her to church and he was in church, the front door was locked and nobody was in the house except Mrs. Resch and the foster children, on one occasion, she heard rumblings sounds from various rooms and when Mr. Resch came back, she didnít, Mrs. Resch didnít dare check the rooms herself but anyhow, when he came back, he found the furniture in the living room rearranged as had been before and the mattresses in Tinaís and Craigís rooms upstairs were off the beds and their dressers out from the walls and their bookcases out from the walls. So here were some massive occurrences when she was not around and I donít think she was thinking about any of these things while she was in church but, anyhow, that's the way I try to figure it out but these objects had been endowed with a charge, psychic / physical charge that could be released or expressed when she wasnít around.
TC: Oh, I see, so the objects themselves were charged.
WR: Yeah, yeah.
TC: That makes sense.
WR: Yes, well we had in other cases like that usually the phenomena happened around the person, the most frequent close to the individual, then they peter out but then there is a different class of phenomena and that happened when that person is out of the house. Theyíre are not as numerous as when he or she is in the house but there are these occurrences that I always found puzzling when the person is out of the house. So thatís a possible explanation for that. There is also the so called, what we call the "focusing effect" where special objects are affected in the home even when the individual is not close to the objects.
WR: So I think they fall into the same category where the objects themselves have received some sort of charge that can then go off when the person is away from the home.
TC: Did you do any magnetic testing in that house?
WR: No, I didnít have that equipment and to think it might be relative at that time.
TC: Do you think there are certain objects that are charged more than others?
WR: Well, I would have thought so but I looked in one case and I made a careful examination of conductors, you know, objects made of metal versus objects made of glass and porcelain and there really wasnít any difference that I could see, so I donít know what it is in objects.
TC: She was angry at her parents,
TC: Why werenít they the target of some of the objects?
WR: Well, somehow or other these, the individuals themselves are not being targeted by these things except, of course, in the case of Tina herself. She was hit a few times. There were also visitors to the house who were, who got hit with chairs and stuff like that and there seemed to be some sort of limitation so perhaps you can interpret this, I donít quite know what to make of it but what Tina may have fostered in her certain way where the parents were spending too much attention on their things and not enough on her.
TC: Oh, I see.
WR: So the objects became representative of the parents and she was not settling for, especially with respect to her mother, she was angry and at the same time, she loved her mother. These two feelings were very pronounced so she would not necessarily want to hit her mother with anything, you know.
TC: Right. The anger got taken out on the objects themselves.
WR: Yes, thatís right.
TC: Now, when she was at your house and you were concerned about the porcelain figures,
TC: Nothing happened to those.
TC: Now does that mean there is something conscious going on here?
WR: Well, itís below, itís just below the level of consciousness. She doesnít have any control over, or she is not aware of having any control over it but at some level, she does, just like with the objects moving around corners and so on and so and when she was in the lab, of course, there was extremely valuable computers and measuring stuff and so on that was also not affected, just inexpensive bits of batteries and tools and so on were involved and the same in my house, there was, nothing broke except some bottles, empty beer bottles and candles moved and little pieces of metal would move but everything was unbreakable or it doesnít matter if it got broken.
TC: Now when the photographer was at the house, Fred Shannon, the only time he was able to get a picture was when he looked away.
WR: Yes. There seems to be a couple of things at work there. When people looked at the objects, they typically would not move or when the objects were being filmed, they typically would not move. On the other hand, when people looked at Tina, objects around her often moved and sometimes, if they looked at Tina, and the object was also in their line of vision, they would see an object start to move, in other words, they would see the whole flight of the object.
WR: And there was something there. One psychological guess I made was well, Tina wanted, needed attention on her. She didnít want attention on the objects; she didnít care about the objects, she wanted attention on her and if you paid attention to her, then objects very often moved. If you paid attention to the object and you looked at the object, well then you werenít paying attention to her.
TC: That makes sense. She told me that very often, just before things happened, she would get very bad headaches or pains in her stomach. Is that common?
WR: No, I havenít, I havenít
TC: You havenít come across that.
WR: I havenít come across that but her case is also unusual in that, you know, I was with her all the time, would question her all the time and so I have also been in other cases and there was no evidence I could see but again, I may not have asked the right questions and so on. But anyhow, I havenít seen that in other cases.
TC: Okay. Do you think there is any one area of the brain involved in PK? Thatís a hard question because there arenít a lot of people to study.
WR: I really donít know. My guess is that the emotional brain is engaged, thatís the limbic system that we share with other animals but the limbic system by itself obviously isnít enough because little kids and animals donít have this happen around them so itís the limbic system plus a part of the higher brain structures, the amygdala which has to do with anger and rage and is highly sensitive to electromagnetic input and the hippocampus, which holds our memory records is also very sensitive to electromagnetic input and these two brain structures are, I would expect, the objects that moved represent emotional memories for Tina, so I think those two centers would probably be involved. And then, the brainstem and so I think those for sure would be involved.
TC: That makes sense. When PK events stop, do they always stop completely or do they sometimes have effects further on down the road?
WR: Usually, well, they usually sort of peter out.
WR: And the massive occurrences cease but there may be a few scattered occurrences down the road.
WR: Yes, I mean like that.
TC: Now, she had a problem with fires breaking out.
TC: And that started what, about five years after the initial occurrences?
WR: That started when she came, just before she came up here. And so that would be some, at least about five or six years later. And there were also some PK occurrences. She said, for instance Amberís balls apparently bounced around on its own.
TC: Do you think this is something that could flare up again?
WR: Not in the same person. That is unlikely but again, there are cases in the parapsychological literature where such phenomena have continued around the person. This has happened in connection with so called physical mediums or some sort of mediums who started out as poltergeist kids and then gained some sort of control over their ability so that the phenomena continued. The resumption of these occurrences in all cases was attributed to spirits. And so, that touched upon an issue that has been brought up by some of my colleagues and it has to do with ownership resistance and witness resistance. You donít want it to seem that you have psychic abilities and you donít want to witness these phenomena or anyhow, that is the idea, and therefore, these things are repressed. However, if a spirit is doing it, thatís fine because you are not doing it then.
TC: Do you believe that there are spirits, that spirits really are ever involved?
WR: Well, I believe there are energies outside the body but whether these entities come in the form of conscious beings, thatís another question.
TC: Yeah, thatís a difficult question. You know, unfortunately there is no way to prove any of these things.
WR: Well, I think what we are looking for, that gets into the question about survival after death, you then need to have evidence of independent consciousness and autonomy but by say apparitions or ghosts, they have to appear as if they are independent persons like you or I and I havenít come across persuasive evidence so far.
TC: Right. Christina has sent me some things she has drawn and some poetry and she is very creative.
WR: Ah ha.
TC: Do you find that creative people would be more prone to PK than someone else?
WR: I donít know. I think there is some evidence that creative people may be better at ESP, especially performers, you know and thatís probably because they need to have some sort of connection with the audience and to succeed, so there probably is a connection between creativity.
TC: She writes beautiful poems and she draws some very pretty pictures. Okay, now we get to the nasty part. When did you find out that Amber died? Were you working at the time?
WR: I was in New York then and Lydia, my wife, phoned and said that Amber had died and that Tina was in prison and it was all incomprehensible to me and so I returned and found out that was the case.
TC: That must have been horrible.
WR: Yes. I was very, very sad.
TC: Was she loving towards Amber?
WR: Well, she loved the girl, I mean, the thing is, Tina, like all of us was made in the mold her parents had provided and in her case, this was a very confining and very strict and angry kind of situation and when she had a family of her own. That was the experience she had. That basically was the reason we were trying to steer her to become more sensitive, more knowledgeable about rearing a kid, you know.
TC: So being afraid that Tina would become like her parents, you suggested she take parenting classes, is that right?
WR: Yes and she agreed to take parenting lessons at the Carrollton Tech Institute to help her become a better mother, more patient.
TC: The fact that she was willing to do this showed that she wanted to be a good mother. That was very good of you to send her to the parenting classes because it made a difference.
TC: You know, she was very young too.
WR: Yes, well she was very young.
TC: You have the problem of babies having babies.
WR: Yes, thatís right.
TC: You were around Tina and Amber a lot. Did you ever see Tina hit Amber?
WR: My wife and I had never seen her hit Amber. She would sometimes pull down her pants and give her a slap but she never lashed out at her in anger and hit her like that.
TC: You spent a good deal of time with Tina and Amber. Didnít you see her just before her death?
WR: Three weeks earlier than that and she was fine then and you know, she had been, several weekends, she had been with us. We had taken her so that Tina could have some free time and my wife had bathed her and there was no indication of any bruises or that she had been abused in any way, so all of that came as a, I was dubious about a lot of it and but obviously, somebody have to have done it and the person was this, undoubtedly, was this David Herrin.
TC: Let me ask you this, do you think the field of the paranormal is taken more seriously than it was ten or twelve years ago?
WR: I, I donít really know.
TC: You see, I am trying to figure out is who somebody like her lawyer, Berry did not take you more seriously than he did. Iím just wondering if it is the whole field?
WR: Oh, I see, well that I think, he, right from the beginning had decided not to put up a real defense of Tina and that this was just an indication that he really wasnít interested in any information about her. That was my guess afterwards, you know.
TC: Now this lawyer, Berry, from what I understand, is still practicing today, which scares me. He had no interest in this case, it seems.
WR: No interest?
TC: It seems like he, I mean Ö.
WR: None that we can see. He didnít lift a finger except for some very routine legal things that had to be done. He didnít interview witnesses, he had a long list of people who knew Tina and the prosecution on the other hand, questioned everybody. He (Berry) questioned nobody, he didnít speak to Jeannie Lagel, who was with Tina and when the child was killed and was with Tina the previous two times when the child was injured and who had known Tina for many years. The police didnít speak to me, and they basically were interested in negative information about Tina.
TC: But now, the prosecutor, Skandalakis, had to know there was evidence that she was innocent, yet he still forced a plea bargain.
WR: Well, I mean, I guess his job is to get the person sent away, get a prison sentence and whatever he could get away with, he would get away with and Tinaís defender was no defender at all. He just went along with Skandalakis and the judge. The three of them thought and basically decided what was to be done.
TC: Thatís incredible
WR: And Tina was, you know, an outsider and she was not a Southerner and the boy, however, his family lived in the area and was a responsible person so I think, you know, to a large extent, a political issue. It was okay to put this girl away but you had better be careful with someone who is part of your constituency.
TC: Right. She was an outsider and she didnít have any money or anything else to hurt them in any way.
WR: Thatís right.
TC: I understand that the media was very hard on her like they were looking for a scapegoat right from the start.
WR: Well, there had been a lot of child abuse in the area, so this sort of fit into that and was looked on, well, this was child abuse except that she hadnít done it and so that sort of fell into that, I think.
TC: You know what I was amazed at was how they could give Tina life in prison plus twenty years and Herrin only got a straight twenty.
WR: Herrin had a guy who was actively defending him and they had his trial follow Tinaís so when he was sentenced, Tina had already got the maximum sentence basically, short of the death penalty, the electric chair and no woman in manís memory has gone to the electric chair in Georgia, as far as I know. So, in other words, we already have a culprit, she was already put away so lets go easy on the boy, you know.
TC: I see. Yet, I mean you here all the talk today about speedy trials and everything else and she sat in jail for a long time.
WR: Yes, yes.
TC: And you also had polygraph evidence that she was innocent and he didnít want to hear that.
WR: Yes, thatís right.
TC: So itís obvious, itís like, it sounds to me like Georgia is still back in the pastÖ
WR: Oh yes, really, yes
TC: Are they still that way?
WR: Ah, I mean I donít know if Georgia is unusual in that respect but certainly it is a very primitive situation we have here.
TC: Now Tina told me she would have a job with Jeannie, if she gets out.
TC: Thatís good because I sent a letter to the Chairman of the Parole board and it was a follow up to the one I sent to the GovernorÖ
WR: Yes, I see.
TC: I had said in the letter that I think she is going to do very well on the outside, if she is released. Now I can say: ďHere is what she is going to do, she has a place to stay and a job and that, I think might help a little bit because one concern always is what is the exit strategy, does she go back to the streets, so I am hoping I can kind of convince him that yes, she is going to do fine out there. She has people that care; she has a job lined up.
WR: Yes, yes.
TC: That type of thing. So, thatís what I am going to try to do next.
WR: Very good, I appreciate it. I think it is great you are doing this and your questions are very good by the wayÖ
TC: Well, thank you.
WR: You have a good feeling for the problems sheís facing, the legal problems sheís facing and you have a very good feeling for this RSPK stuff too.
TC: Yes, thank you, Doctor. I understand you are going to be in New York on the 22nd (November)
WR: Oh, yes, I was going to tell you about that. Yes, I am going to give a talk about this case.
TC: Yes, I have already made reservations. Dr. Roll, I have followed your work and I donít think this field would be taken seriously at all, if it werenít for you Ö
WR: Oh, I see.
TC: Because you have done a great deal of work and you lent credibility to this field because there are a lot of people out here who are quacksÖ
TC: They donít know what they are talking about and they are trying to make names for themselves.
TC: You have always lent an air of scientific quality to everything and thatís necessary. Well, Dr. Roll, I thank you very muchÖ
WR: Okay, you are very welcome.
TC: And I will see you on the twenty-second.
WR: And I appreciate your interest and I appreciate your wanting to help Tina very much.
TC: You are welcome, Dr.. You have done your part in helping her and I will try to do mine.
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2004 T. Cooney