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Field Investigations of Hauntings & Poltergeists

Among the various types of anomalous phenomena that have been reported to occur, few currently seem to draw as much public attention and fascination as hauntings and poltergeists. Much of this fascination seems to have its basis in folklore, in which it’s commonly held that the collection of unusual events occurring at an allegedly haunted location (which can include strange noises, floating lights, electrical disturbances, and occasional object movements, among others) are caused by the apparition (or "ghost") of a deceased individual, which has returned to the location that it once inhabited in life.

Similarly in folklore, poltergeist phenomena (which are characterized by a series of anomalous object movements and knocking or rapping sounds that sporadically recur) have been thought to represent the mischievous deeds of ghosts, demons, or other kind of discarnate spirit. One of the clearest indications of this can be found in the term poltergeist itself, which, when translated from its German roots, literally means "noisy spirit."

Clearly, if hauntings did happen to involve some form of spirit-related activity as maintained in folklore, they would likely have a bearing upon the question of possible life after death. But are there any haunting cases out there which seem to contain survival-related aspects? And what are the processes involved in the manifestation of poltergeist disturbances?

The Psychical Research Foundation (PRF) seeks to carry on the effort begun by its first research director, the late Dr. William Roll, of exploring the possible nature of hauntings and poltergeists through the investigation of spontaneous cases reported in the field by informants and members of the general public. The PRF is particularly interested in haunting cases that involve encounters with highly-detailed apparitional figures of deceased people, as such cases may carry a possible parapsychological component.

In its efforts to further study hauntings and poltergeists, the PRF freely offers investigative services to external informants and members of the general public who are currently experiencing these phenomena and would like to receive help in determining what may be causing them. Initial assessment of each case is typically made via e-mail or telephone. If deemed necessary, a field investigation will be discreetly made on-site at the consent of the people involved in the case. Each investigation made by the PRF examines four main areas in relation to the reported phenomena:


  1. Authenticity - Attempts will be made to determine the authenticity of the reported phenomena through detailed interviews and cross-correspondence of witness reports, as well as examination of the locale where phenomena have been reported.

  2. Physical Aspects - Repeated instrumental measures may be taken of the surrounding environment to determine whether there are one or more physical factors (such electromagnetism, temperature, radiation, light intensity, etc.) which may correlate with the reported phenomena.

  3. Psychological Aspects - A general psychological profile of the key witnesses to the reported phenomena will be assembled through interviews and responses to psychological questionnaires related to belief, personality, and mental health.

  4. Parapsychological Aspects - If it appears warranted, assessment of any possible psychic components related to the case - either on the part of the witnesses, or within the context of the reported phenomena - will be made through basic tests for ESP and psychokinesis, field application of random number generators (RNGs), and quantitative evaluation of the impressions received on-site by psychics and mediums using the statistical method developed for field research by the late Dr. Gertrude Schmeidler.[1]

Collective evaluation of these areas will be useful in determining whether the reported phenomena may have a conventional explanation, or may be parapsychological in nature.

Currently, the PRF is able to provide investigative services primarily within the central part of the state of New Mexico, which includes the cities of Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, and other surrounding areas. Other regions will also be considered based on available resources and the need for services. Referrals to cases by external agencies and other organizations are accepted on a case-to-case basis.

If you are a member of the general public who has seen an apparition and/or is experiencing haunting or poltergeist phenomena, and would like to receive help from the PRF in determining what could be causing them, please contact Bryan Williams either by e-mail at, or by phone at (505) 414-7535. All information collected will be kept confidential.

Previous Research


Through the auspices of the PRF, Dr. William Roll was able to conduct several field investigations of reported hauntings over the years.[2] Most of these investigations revealed physical factors at the allegedly haunted site which may have helped facilitate the anomalous occurrences reported there. For instance, unusually high electromagnetic and geomagnetic fields were often detected in certain areas of the site. Continual exposure to such fields may have influenced the activity of peoples' brains, causing them to have mild hallucinatory experiences. These fields could have also produced natural light phenomena which can sometimes appear as misty, floating, indistinct forms, and which some people may perceive as ghosts. And indeed, many of the ghosts seen at the allegedly haunted sites were described as being floating lights (sometimes called "orbs") or misty forms. This suggests that the apparitions in many reported hauntings may actually have a purely physical cause, rather than a parapsychological one. (An article that summarizes and discusses a typical haunt case in detail can be found in Adobe PDF format by clicking here.)

In a few rare instances, however, the reported hauntings have been found to possibly have a parapsychological basis to them. These haunting cases are most often characterized by people witnessing highly-detailed apparitions of human figures at the allegedly haunted site. Later, when the witnesses’ descriptions of the apparitions are checked for accuracy, they are found to closely match deceased individuals who were known to have lived or worked at the haunted site in the past.

A haunting case of this type, which became known as the "Gordy" case, was investigated by Dr. Roll in the late 1980s.[3] In this case, a young girl repeatedly encountered the spectral figures of two men in her local neighborhood. She described each figure as being solid and life-like, with a unique physical appearance. Eventually, through a series of documents, the girl's mother was able to verify the existence of these two men, who had both lived in the neighborhood many years in the past. In addition, solely on the basis of her descriptions of them, the girl was able to correctly pick out these two men from a random collection of portrait photographs. In spite of his efforts, Dr. Roll was unable to find any plausible way in which the girl could have learned such specific details about these two men before her mother had verified their existence. This suggests that there may have been a possible psychic component to the girl's experiences which aided her perceptions of the two apparitions. (An article providing a more detailed summary and discussion of the Gordy case can be found in Adobe PDF format by clicking here.)

To a lesser degree, another haunting case investigated by Dr. Roll in the 1980s may have also had a possible psychic component.[4] In this case, the apparitions were not seen, but heard. In August of 1988, the producers of the popular TV show Unsolved Mysteries asked Dr. Roll to look into the haunting occurrences being reported aboard the Queen Mary, the famous British cruise ship that’s now docked in Long Beach, California. Among the reported occurrences were unusual noises that were frequently heard coming from the (forward) bow section of the ship by its chief engineer. According to the engineer’s descriptions, these noises seemed to resemble the sounds of banging metal, running water, and people talking. However, whenever he made an inspection of the area immediately upon hearing them, he found no evidence of a leak or of anyone being present.

To see if these unusual sounds could be objectively heard (rather than being all in the engineer's mind), Dr. Roll tried to record them by leaving a tape recorder running overnight in the ship's bow. Later, when he retrieved the tape and played it back, he found that "...the tape recorder picked up a strange sequence of noises. You could hear heavy blows of metal, sounds of rushing water and voices, one of which, low pitched and gravelly, was almost intelligible."[5] While it hasn't yet been possible to rule out a purely physical source for them, it's interesting to note that the nature of the unusual sounds seems to be in line with a tragic sailing event that occurred during World War II, when the bow of the Queen Mary had accidentally collided with a British battle cruiser, cutting it in half and killing over 300 British sailors. (An article that provides a more detailed summary and discussion of the Queen Mary investigation can be found in Adobe PDF format by clicking here.)

With this mind, could these unusual sounds represent the ghostly "echoes" of this tragic event? And if so, how is that possible? For now, these questions remain unanswered, and motivate the necessity for further investigation of haunting cases like the Gordy and Queen Mary cases. Perhaps such cases will be able to provide us with further insight on the degree to which hauntings may be relevant to the question of life after death.


Dr. Roll was also able to investigate a number of reported poltergeist cases through the auspices of the PRF.[6] Rather than indicating the activity of any kind of spirit, these cases tend to find that the poltergeist phenomena are focused around a certain living individual in the case (commonly referred to as the poltergeist "agent"), who is quite often experiencing psychological issues with other people that he or she lives or works with. It is typically found that when the agent is able to resolve these psychological issues, the poltergeist phenomena vanish along with the issues. (An article which briefly summarizes two poltergeist cases investigated by Dr. Roll and looks at controlled studies conducted with their suspected agents can be found in Adobe PDF format by clicking here.)

Based on the indications that the object movements and noises in poltergeist cases tend to be focused around the agent, it has been hypothesized that these phenomena involve a large-scale form of psychokinesis (or "mind over matter") on the part of the agent, which mostly operates on the unconscious level. This suggests (contrary to folklore) that poltergeist phenomena may be more human-related rather than spirit-related. While this reduces the likely relevance of poltergeist phenomena to the question of survival, it still raises important questions: What are the precise mechanisms involved in producing poltergeist phenomena, and how are they brought about by the agent? Answers to these questions can only come through further investigation of reported poltergeist cases.

If you have any questions about this project or would like to know more about it, please e-mail Bryan Williams.

References & Notes

[1] Schmeidler, G. R. (1966). Quantitative investigation of a "haunted house." Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 60, 137 - 149.

[2] A review of many of the haunt investigations by Dr. Roll can be found on pages 154 – 163 of Roll, W. G., & Persinger, M. A. (2001). Investigations of poltergeists and haunts: A review and interpretation. In J. Houran & R. Lange (Eds.) Hauntings and Poltergeists: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (pp. 123 - 163). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.

[3] See Roll & Persinger (2001), pp. 160.

[4] Roll, W. G. (1991, May). Journey to the Grey Ghost. Fate, pp. 55 - 61.

[5] See Roll (1991), p. 58.

[6] Roll, W. G. (1972/2004). The Poltergeist. New York: Nelson Doubleday, Inc./Paraview Pocket Books; Roll, W., & Storey, V. (2004). Unleashed - Of Poltergeists and Murder: The Curious Story of Tina Resch. New York: Paraview Pocket Books. See also Roll & Persinger (2001), pp. 126 – 143.