A Lawyer Presents the Case for the Afterlife


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Skeptics universally claim that the best known materialization medium of the twentieth century, Helen Duncan, was a fraud and that anyone who accepted her materializations—and by extension any materializations—must be simple minded.

As evidence they point to a photo that comes up on the internet whenever you Google ‘Helen Duncan’—a photo that looks like crude paper mache doll. They claim that this is evidence that Helen Duncan smuggled dolls into her séances and used them to fool people into thinking they were spirits. Further, they say, she was convicted of fraud on two occasions. Case closed.

Or is it? When we examine the EVIDENCE the matter of the 'hokey photos' is not so clear cut.

Skeptics usually quote four witnesses to show that Helen Duncan was a fraudulent medium: Harry Price, The Maid, Miss Esson Maule and Stanley Worth. None of them has an ounce of credibility.

The other ‘evidence’ they use to claim that Helen Duncan was a fraud is the photos of paper mache models which they falsely claim she was using to pass off as materialized figures.

In fact according to the unpublished journal of Henry Duncan the main photos that they refer to were taken by Helen and her circle members as a mockup for a local newspaper to explain how physical mediumship worked. They were trying to show how dangerous it was for sitters to try to touch the materialized figures which were connected to the medium’s body via ectoplasm.

We know that these photos were taken in the home circle around 1930 because her hands are clearly visible and she is not wearing her black séance costume. Whenever she gave a public séance she always stripped naked, examined by two women and dressed in her black séance costume which enfolded her hands. This was proof that she was not taking any dolls or masks or sheets into séances with her.

The issue of paper mache models was never raised by Harry Price in his unfavorable Report on Helen Duncan and was never raised at either of Helen Duncan’s trials.


The main critic of Helen Duncan was Harry Price. There are at least six books that show he has no credibility.

- He was not a scientist or an unbiased researcher. He was a magician.
- He was a proven hoaxer like James Randi and would do anything for publicity.
- He was a close friend of Charles Dawson, the man behind the infamous Piltdown Man hoax.
- He and photographer William Hope staged an elaborate photograph depicting a ghost looking over the shoulder of Price as he sat for a portrait.
- He went ‘on the road’ with a fake statue of Hercules. He exhibited a fake silver ingot from the reign of Roman emperor Honorious. He showed gold coins from the kings of Sussex and a bone carved with hieroglyphics, all proven to be fakes.
- His investigation of the supposedly haunted Borley Rectory was debunked after his death. Marianne Foyster stated that she believed many of the strange incidents that Harry used as the basis of three books were being staged by her husband working in league with Harry Price.
- When the Borley Rectory burned down the insurance company found the fire to be arson and the owner, Captain Gregson’s claim to be fraudulent.
- This same Captain Gregson organized for Harry Price to excavate the cellar. Price claimed to have found the skeleton of a nun in spite of the fact that previous excavations had found nothing.
- After Harry price died some of his former associates from the English Society for Psychical Research published their own findings and analysis.

A similar report was made by the London Society for Psychical Research. Both reports concluded that
(1) there were no verifiable events that could not have had natural explanations,
(2) that Harry Price’s duplicity made it hopeless to determine the validity of his findings, and
(3) that the most popularized events were caused by Harry Price himself.

(See THE HAUNTING OF BORLEY RECTORY: A Critical Survey of the Evidence. By Eric ]. Dingwall, Kathleen M. Goldney and Trevor H. Hall. Gerald Duckworth & Co., Ltd., London, 1955.).

When Harry Price decided to go into psychic research he claimed his organization was ‘The University of London Council for Psychical Research’ trying to fool people that he had some links with the University of London which he didn’t.

Then he called his rented rooms ‘The National Laboratory of Psychical Research’ which had no affiliation with any of the existing psychical research organisations.

He tried to link up with Dr. Osty French organization the Institut Metaphysic Internationale but when Dr. Osty refused, Price began a vicious campaign to discredit Osty’s brilliant medium Rudy Schneider (Gregory, A. (1985) The Strange Case of Rudi Schneider. Scarecrow).

He had no qualifications to investigate physical mediumship and had never witnessed a materialization and had never sat in a development circle.

Harry Price was hostile to the London Spiritualist Alliance which was conducting test sittings with Helen Duncan in 1931. They were his landlords and he was angry that they had not allowed him to sit in on their sessions with Helen Duncan which they were conducting above his ‘laboratory’ in the same building.

They claimed that he created the wrong atmosphere for relaxed spiritual communication. He expected the medium to submit to vaginal and rectal examination, x-rays and stomach examinations.
Also his room was set up with photos of the mediums he had discredited ‘like trophies’. All of this was designed to create stress and tension. In the end he lied to get Helen Duncan to agree to five test sessions by telling here that he fully accepted the existence of ectoplasm (he called it ‘teleplasm’) and wanted to be the first in England to publish a report about it.

Price had no experience in sitting with a materialization circle. He made no attempt to interview the members of Helen’s development circle who at that time had been sitting with her every week for more than ten years. He made no attempt to interview the many other people who later testified to her genuine powers of mental mediumship from an early age. He had never witnessed a full materialization and never talked to a materialized entity. The only contact he had with Helen Duncan was in four short sittings in London (she refused to complete the contract for five).

The emphasis in the Price sittings was on the production of ectoplasm to be photographed. To save energy knowing that light was needed for the photographs Helen Duncan’s ‘control’ Albert Steward did not materialize but spoke to Harry Price by direct voice. There was no way that anything in these photos could have been faked by Helen. She was dressed in her black séance gown which bound her hands and she had been thoroughly searched including vaginal examination by a doctor beforehand. The sittings were conducted in light.

In his 1931 report Harry Price never claimed that Helen Duncan fooled her sitters by using paper mache models. Instead he claimed that she swallowed yards and yards of cheesecloth and regurgitated it. This was in spite of a letter that was sent to Harry Price on 30th November 1930 by J.B. McIndoe, President of the Spiritualists National Union, that said “So far from being able to regurgitate, she has a small throat. When in Dundee Infirmary, it took a doctor half an hour to put a small stomach pump down her throat” (Cassirer p. 44).

Hannan Swaffer challenged Harry Price to demonstrate swallowing and regurgitating ectoplasm and he could not.

Hanna Swaffer also claimed that during a test séance with Helen Duncan he gave her and everyone present in a tablet that would have made the contents of their stomachs blue; Helen Duncan’s ectoplasm was as usual snow white.



Harry Price was involved with the second witness against Helen Duncan- the so-called maid. In February 1932 he published as a supplement to his Bulletin against Helen Duncan. He called it

‘A Statutory Declaration of Miss Mary McGinlay as to her experiences with Mrs Duncan.’

In this statement Miss McGinlay- a young girl who was paid by Mr and Mrs Duncan to stay with their youngest daughter while they were traveling- supposedly claimed that Mrs Duncan, has sent her to buy ‘butter muslin’ which she had to wash after Mrs Duncan’s sittings.

Her statement agreed point by point with Harry Price’s Report and was ridiculed by those who studied it (see Professor West’s published work). However it soon emerged that the maid was looking for money from Harry Price and when he refused “to help her out” she changed her story. When J.B. McIndoe the President of the Spiritualists National Union interviewed her, she assured him “in the most positive terms that she had seen nothing incriminating.”
(Cassirer, M. (1996) Medium on Trial. Stanstead: PN Publishing).


Harry Price was deeply involved with the third witness against Helen Duncan, Miss Esson Maule.

Miss Maule was a friend of Harry Price. She organized some sitters (four men and four women) to take part in a séance at her home in Edinburgh. The whole thing was a set-up from the start. She initially gave Helen Duncan a false address and met her there to take her to the premises where the séance would be held. She told Helen Duncan NOT to wear her ‘fraudproof’ black sack and not to take the usual precautions against fraud.

Miss Maule later claimed that she had grown suspicious of Helen Duncan and decided to’ turn on the lights’during the seance- something which can cause great harm to a medium. This is a good indication of how little she understood about physical mediumship. She claimed that she had seen Helen Duncan (who was in deep trance at the time) trying to conceal something white and had grabbed a small stockingette vest (a singlet) that Helen Duncan had been wearing.

Miss Maule grabbed hold of the vest and later had it photogrpahed. She sent the photos to Harry Price who published them far and wide, claiming that this was what Helen Duncan was trying to pass off as her ‘spirit guide’ Peggy.

There is every reason to believe these photos are fakes concocted by Harry Price. They are undated and Price deleted his notes on them from his usually detailed records when Helen Duncan’s lawyer wrote to Harry Price’s lawyer alleging that Price had fraudulently concocted several other photos at the same time.

Harry Price already had a track record of creating fraudulent photos- - He and photographer William Hope staged an elaborate photograph depicting a ghost looking over the shoulder of Price as he sat for a portrait.

Maurice Barbanell, editor of Psychic News, complained that Miss Maule had told him a totally different story to what she said in court a few days before the trial. He also learned that Helen Duncan was the one who called the police.

However the matter went for a trial in Edinburgh on May 3, 1933 and lasted two days. There were five witnesses against Helen Duncan– Miss Maule and the four people she had invited to the séance. There were no witnesses in her defence because of time and financial constraints. Helen Duncan was convicted of “AFFRAY” (fighting with Miss Maule over the vest) and the verdict on the charge of fraud was the Scottish verdict of ‘not proven’. She received a fine of ten pounds.

However at the time (1931) many prominent people supported her publicly:

1) Dr. Montague Rust, a respected member of her Circle, maintained that Mrs. Duncan was the most remarkable physical medium in Europe'.

2) Will Goldston, the well-known professional magician and illusionist, said that what he had witnessed could not have been effected through trickery.

3) Nandor Fodor, a leading parapsychologist wrote in his Encyclopedia of Psychic Science that in a séance with Helen, 'ectoplasm, was seen in quantities . . . figures of adults and children appeared under voluminous drapery, movement of objects beyond the reach of the medium were observed and as a means of control the medium was placed nude into a sleeved sack with stiff buckram fingerless gauntlets sewn to the sleeves of her suit. The sack was sewn in at the back and fastened with tapes and cords to the chair. At the end of the sitting the medium was often found outside the bag, the seals, tapes and stitchings remaining intact'.


In any event there are many witnesses who testified that throughout the 1930s and 1940s they could not have been fooled by dolls or fake figures .

Dr John Beloff, an experienced psychical researcher and president of the Society for Psychical Research writing in 1990 refers to persons who witnessed the mediumship of Helen Duncan and says they
" all tell much the same story": two of these witnesses being "good friends of mine and prominent members of the S.P.R.".

He goes to detail how: " They all speak of watching figures emerging from the cabinet or sometimes taking shape out of swirling masses of amorphous ectoplasm, sometimes they are of recognizable individuals whom the sitter had known in his life, sometimes they engage in conversation, but, invariably, they soon disappear by sinking through the solid floor."

Many witnesses at her later trial in 1944 said that the ectoplasm streamed out from under the curtain and the figures built up in the middle of the floor and then sank into the floor.

There were witnesses who testified that they saw Helen Duncan and her materialised guide Albert at the same time. One of them was journalist Maurice Barbanell who was inside the cabinet with Helen Duncan when Albert materialized.


There were NEVER any fake dolls, props, sheets or any other items found when Helen Duncan demonstrated publicly. This was a huge issue in her trial in 1944. When she was arrested on the advice of Stanley Worth she and all of the people present demanded that the police search the premises. NOTHING WAS FOUND.

For three days witness after witness said it would be impossible for them to be tricked by dolls or masks because they had seen spirits building up from the floor directly in front of them and then sinking into the floor after speaking.

Typical testimony

• Nurse Jane Rust testified on oath at the Old Bailey, among other things, that she, through Helen Duncan, actually met a loved one again—her husband who materialized from the afterlife and kissed her. ‘I have never been more certain of anything in my life before’, she said. She stated that she had been enquiring for 25 years as a skeptic but it was only when she met Helen Duncan that she was able to actually meet her loved ones including her mother who had passed on (Cassirer 1996: 68).

• A high ranking Air Force officer, Wing Commander George Mackie, stated on oath that through Helen Duncan's materialization gifts he actually met his ‘dead’ mother and father and a brother (Cassirer 1996:72, 115).

• James Duncan, (no relation) a jeweler, testified that both he and his daughter had seen his wife materialize on eight different occasions, in good light. Duncan had seen her close up at a range of 18 inches and they had talked of domestic matters including a proposed emigration to Canada that they had previously kept secret. He had, he said, not a shadow of a doubt that the voice was that of his wife. He also claimed to have seen materializations of his father, who was about his own height and bearded, and his mother (Cassirer 1996:103).

• Mary Blackwell, President of the Pathfinder Spiritualist Society of Baker Street London, testified that she had attended more than 100 materialization séances with Helen Duncan at each of which between 15 and 16 different entities from the afterlife had materialized. She testified that she had witnessed the spirit forms conversing with their relatives in French, German, Dutch, Welsh, Scottish and Arabic. She claimed that she had witnessed the manifestation of ten of her own close relatives including her husband, her mother and her father all of whom she had seen up close and touched (Cassirer 1996: 87).

• Leading journalist and medium Maurice Barbanell testified that he had seen Helen Duncan and her materialized spirit ‘control’ at the same time from inside the medium’s cabinet (Cassirer 1996: 134).

• The best known journalist and drama critic in London, Hannan Swaffer, testified that he had sat with Helen Duncan in controlled tests on five or six occasions and found her ectoplasm to be genuine. He also stated that he had seen genuine ectoplasm in sittings all over the world more than fifty times (Brealey and Hunter 1985:210).

• Lilian Baily, a top London medium who gave sittings for the British royal family testified that she was quite sure that her mother and her paternal grandmother had manifested (Cassirer 1996: 89).

• Dr. John Winning, an assistant to the Medical Officer of Health of Glasgow, said that he had sat with Mrs. Duncan 40 times and seen 400 materializations. He had heard many voices, several languages and a number of dialects spoken by materializations. These included Scots, Irish. American, Hebrew and German. Once he had heard Gaelic spoken (Cassirer 1996: 208).


Helen Duncan’s attorney was convinced that if the jury could attend a demonstration of her mediumship they would be convinced that she was a genuine medium. He had attended such a demonstration after the trial had started and was overwhelmed. The Recorder (judge) at first refused saying that it would be a waste of time but then allowed the jury to decide that Helen Duncan would not be allowed to prove her innocence. The prosecution objected and the jury followed its lead.

As expected, Helen Duncan was found guilty and sentenced to nine months in prison. She was denied the right to appeal and was sent to the notorious Holloway women’s prison where she served six months. According to the official Helen Duncan homepage, the warders refused to lock her cell for the duration of her sentence and she continued to apply her psychic gifts for the benefit of warders and inmates alike.

The English and Scottish Law Societies individually and together expressed disgust at the miscarriage and ‘travesty of justice’ in the Helen Duncan tragedy created by cowardly armchair-violent men to do untold harm to a spiritual person.


Skeptics falsely claim that Helen Duncan learned of the sinking of the HMS Hood and Barham though ‘gossip’. This is patently false. It is documented that Helen Duncan’s control Albert announced the sinking of the HMS Hood and the HMS Barham before the information had been released by the Admiralty.

In a séance in Edinburgh on 24th May, 1941 Albert, her control, announced that HMS Hood had been sunk earlier that day in the North Atlantic. The time of this séance was 3:30 pm.

Brigadier Firebrace, a very enthusiastic believer in Spiritualism who was the Head of Military Intelligence in Scotland, attended that séance. He returned to his office and telephoned the Admiralty to see whether the ‘rumor’ of the sinking was true. At that time it was denied.
By 9:30 p.m., as he was leaving the office, a telephone call was received from the Admiralty confirming the sinking at 1:30 p.m. that day.

In November 1941 at a Helen Duncan séance at Portsmouth a sailor materialized and was reunited with his mother. He told the assembled sitters that his ship, had recently been sunk and he had been severely burnt and died. HE was wearing a hatband of the HMS Barham.

The editor of the Psychic News, Maurice Barbanell, innocently telephoned the British Admiralty to enquire whether this was true and if it was true why the Admiralty had not advised the sailor's mother about the loss of her son. Military intelligence was furious. For security reasons and for public morale, news of the sinking had been withheld and had been classified ‘top secret’.

Further materializations

After being released from jail Helen Duncan eventually resumed her mediumship. Even though she was ill with diabetes her mediumship was still spectacular. For example:

At a séance in Stoke-on-Trent: in one case an airman materialized for his mother, complete with the birthmark that he had on his face before his passing. Another man materialized for his wife, lacking the two fingers that he had lost while working. Further proof was given on the occasions when Albert, over six foot in height, brought

Helen, only five foot, four inches, out of cabinet, still entranced, and stood beside her. To demonstrate their separateness even further, Albert would ensure that the sitters could see Helen while he was standing, and speaking up to four feet away (Nicholls n.d.).

The Death of Helen Duncan

In 1956, the Nottingham police again raided a séance Helen Duncan was giving. The police knocked on the door of a private home without a search warrant on the supposed complaint of two police officers who had earlier attended one of her séances. The police had technical knowledge that materialization usually has to be conducted in semi-darkness and that if the lights are put on suddenly very serious injury or death to the medium can occur.

When they were admitted to the home they made a grab for the medium's cabinet and grabbed the medium. More men arrived and took flash photographs. The whole house was searched and even the medium’s luggage was gone through.

But just as at Portsmouth nothing incriminating was found. The medium was left unconscious and, according to a doctor who was called, in deep shock and likely to die if moved. (Brealey and Hunter 1985:13)

Helen Duncan’s daughter Gina writes that there was no doubt the police raid was the cause of Helen’s death five weeks later. She says that Helen had burn marks the size of a saucer on her breast and abdomen (Brealey and Hunter 1985:155).

Helen Duncan returns

Since her death, Helen Duncan has returned on many occasions through other materialization mediums. We have been present on two occasions when she materialized through David Thompson in order to talk to one of her grandchildren who was present. She also returned during the Scole Experiment (Foy 2008 ). Helen Duncan was claimed to be one of the main members of the Spirit team working with English materialization medium Rita Goold in Leicester England in the early 1980’s.

Rita's seances were all held in the dark and no ectoplasm was used; Helen Duncan said her death was one of the reasons they were not using ectoplasm. On many occasions she materialized and had long conversations through the mediumship of Rita Goold with Alan Crossley who had written a biography of her (Crossley 1975).

Psychic News assistant editor Alan Cleaver reported that he had attended one of Rita Goold’s séances when Helen Duncan's daughter, Gena Brealey, of Luton Beds, visited the circle to see whether it really was her mother communicating. He writes:

Within minutes she knew. Helen apported to her daughter a single red rose. This had a special significance known only to the two of them. When she was given the rose, Gena broke down in tears of joy and cried, ‘What greater proof could I have?’ For more than an hour mother and daughter spoke to each other about intimate details only they knew, often using Scottish slang they then had to ‘translate’ to the other sitters. Afterwards Gena declared: ‘Yes, it is my mother. There is no doubt about it’ (Psychic News, No. 2646 Saturday, February 26, 1983).
Gena (Brealey) worked with Kay Hunter to write a biography of her mother called The Two Worlds of Helen Duncan first published in 1985 which has been reprinted (Brealey and Hunter 2008).

In conclusion: There is absolutely NO reliable evidence that Helen Duncan was a fraudulent medium. NONE. EVER. On the contrary there is ample evidence that she was one of the most gifted mediums the world has ever seen.