The Mediumship of Willi and Rudi Schneider


















Harry Price and the Rudi Schneider Phenomena by Dr. Vernon Harrison   Reproduced from Psychical Studies - the Journal of the Unitarian Society for Psychical Studies, No. 38, Winter 1987

Rudi Schneider is probably the most carefully investigated medium of all time.  He was born in Braunau in Austria on 27 July 1908 and was the youngest of twelve children of whom only six boys survived.  Of these boys, three, Karl, Willi and Rudi, exhibited marked psychic powers.  Rudi was not interested in religion or occultism.  He was good natured and honest, cheerful and co-operative, and only moderately intelligent.  He never imposed conditions and always accepted restrictions placed upon him by the experimenters.  His main interests were football, cars and engines.

The first major manifestations started with Willi on 17 January 1912 under a "guide" calling herself "Olga".  These included partial or complete levitations of his body, movement of objects at a distance, ringing of bells, billowing of heavy curtains, partial or complete manifestation of figures, sensations of cold and other phenomena commonly attributed to physical mediums.

Willi's phenomena attracted the attention of Baron Schrenck-Notzing who had established a laboratory at his home in Munich, and he experimented with Willi both there and at the University of Munich for several years.  He held 104 sittings, at which 27 university teachers and 29 others participated.  Nothing suspicious was found.

In March of 1919, Olga announced that she would get better results by operating through Willi's younger brother Rudi, and thereupon the Olga personality was transferred to Rudi.  Willi got a new guide called Mina and the manner of his trance underwent a profound change.


Schrenck introduced an electrical control of the medium such that if contact were lost with either of the medium's hands or feet, one of four lights plainly visible to all the sitters would go out.  The phenomena continued under these restrictions.  Some critics maintained that the phenomena could have been worked by an accomplice who somehow got into and out of the room unobserved; but no accomplice was ever found, even when the movement of objects was recorded photographically.

Schrenck died suddenly on 12 February 1929 and Harry Price went immediately to Munich and signed up Rudi for a series of six sťances in London from 11 - 22 April 1929; and the results were sufficiently impressive for Price to engage Rudi for a more prolonged series of sittings in the autumn of 1929.  Price extended Schrenck-Notzing's electrical control to cover the sitters as well as the medium.  Good phenomena were obtained over a series of tests in which 110 persons participated, of whom 21 acted as controller.

In October of 1930 Rudi went to Paris to be examined by Dr. Eugene Osty.  Osty's method of protecting the objects to be moved was to enclose them behind a "curtain" of infra-red radiation in the manner which had just been developed for the protection of museum valuables.  Interruption of this radiation by any object of a material nature operated four cameras focused on the scene from various vantage points.  Sixteen sittings were held from 11 October to 14 November.  The guarded objects were not moved, but something interrupted the infra-red screen, and this "something" could not be photographed.

From January to December 1931, 77 more sťances were held in Paris under Osty's direction, and it was found that the "something", whatever it was, could be localized and was under Olga's control.  It could interfere with a beam of infra-red radiation in an apparatus made for


the purpose.  Complete interruption was never observed, but partial obscurations, ranging from a few percent up to 75 percent, were common. The "something" vibrated with a stable frequency which was twice the rate of Rudi's breathing.

Rudi returned to London on 3 February 1932 for the Third Series of sittings under Price's direction.  27 sťances were held in all, of which eight proved totally negative and many of the others nearly so.  Rudi's powers were waning.

In this Third Series of sittings Price introduced an improved method of automatically photographing the displacement of an object under sťance conditions.  This made use of the Vaku-Blitz flashbulbs that had just been introduced and a counterpoised table-top provided with electric contacts. This was a real advance, but the flashbulbs did not have the reliability of modern electronic flash.  In later sťances Price used two flashbulbs as a precaution against the failure of one of them and at the twenty fifth sťance, the two failed to go off together.

Four cameras were used to record events: a stereoscopic camera which viewed the table from the front, a smaller camera which viewed it from the side, another stereoscopic camera which viewed it from above, and a larger master camera which took in the whole scene, including medium, controller and sitters.

Some of the negatives taken at the sťances are preserved in the Harry Price Library.  One of these shows a handkerchief rolling off the edge of the table, and another a handkerchief levitated from it, with no sign of Rudi, an accomplice or of any mechanism which could have caused the displacement.  Interruptions of an infra-red beam were also observed with an apparatus specially constructed for the purpose.


Rudi left for Austria on May 6 and a furious quarrel broke out between Price and Lord Charles Hope, who considered that an independent investigation of Rudi was necessary.  Despite Price's opposition, the Hope-Rayleigh experiments took place in the autumn of 1932.

By now the phenomena had become much weaker, nevertheless the main point of the investigation was established.  A "something" partially occulted the infra-red beam and this "something" oscillated at twice the rate of the medium's breathing; and this was confirmed with different apparatus, in different rooms and under different management.  The "something" could not be photographed.  Nothing suspicious was found, and most of the phenomena previously recorded, though weaker than before, were still observed.

On 5 March 1933 Price suddenly denounced Rudi as a fraud, citing as sole evidence one set of photographs taken at the sťance of 28 April 1932.  These show Rudi free from control with an extended arm.  These appear to be the only photographs ever taken which show that Rudi might have been in a position to use trickery.  Price's article caused a furore and experiments with Rudi ceased abruptly.

Anita Gregory has accused Price of having contrived these photographs, but the accusation is not borne out by an examination of the original negatives which show the effect of a straightforward double exposure resulting from the delayed firing of one of the flashbulbs.  The interpretation of the photographs is ambiguous, a fact which Price found it convenient not to mention.

The most important evidence is furnished by the stereogram, which must be studied in a stereo viewer.  This shows that Rudi's arm is not extended straight behind him, as Price asserted, but towards a bookcase.  The hand is just in front of the glass doors and it is wholly behind the curtain which separated Rudi from the counterpoised table.  One can see from the distances


involved that there was no way in which Rudi could have reached the handkerchief without overbalancing, getting out of his chair, or using a stick, lazy-tongs or other implement, of which there is no sign.  Rudi's hand is faintly, but distinctly, visible.  It is a lightly clenched left hand with the palm facing the camera, and it does not seem to be holding anything.  The handkerchief is seen on the floor and it must have come to rest before either flash occurred.

Price maintained that the photographs show that Rudi, having evaded control, snatched the handkerchief off the table and was caught in the act by the first flash.  The second flash showed him when he had got back under control again.

The alternative and equally valid explanation is that the handkerchief fell from the table and the first flash went off, showing Rudi still under control.  The shock of the flash caused him to jerk involuntarily, as, according to witnesses, he usually did in the circumstances.  He broke control, and the second flash went off, recording him in this position.  This interpretation puts Rudi entirely in the clear.

In weighing up these possibilities we have to inquire why Rudi had not been caught long before, since a double exposure was not necessary to record him in the act: a single exposure would do as well.  Yet we have single exposures in plenty, none of which shows Rudi's hand near the table.  The stereoscopic pictures show that Rudi would have to be an orang-utan to reach the handkerchief from the position shown, and his arm is not extended towards the table.

Price's whole case against Rudi rests on this one set of ambiguous photographs.  The stereoscopic evidence suggests that the double exposure was an accident which


Price wrongly and wrongfully exploited when it suited him.  That he behaved badly in his denunciation of Rudi is not in dispute.  He presented a one-sided interpretation of ambiguous evidence as if it were established fact; and he used suggestion, highly effectively, to cast doubt on all the other sittings in which Rudi had been involved.  No firm evidence has been produced to show that Rudi ever cheated.

Why Price behaved thus is a matter for speculation.  Maybe he did so in order to discredit his "enemies", even if it meant sacrificing his own work in the doing.  Be this as it may, it does not excuse the mental indolence and inverted credulity of other workers in this field who troubled neither to examine the evidence for themselves nor to weigh up the admissible interpretations of this evidence.  If they had done so with any zeal, the weakness of Price's case against Rudi would rapidly have been exposed.  Instead, Price's suggestions were accepted uncritically as fact, with the result that research on physical mediums was put back for decades and, worse, gross injustice was done to Rudi.

Rudi's phenomena were repeated, again and again, to the point of monotony, under the direction of different investigators operating in different laboratories in different countries.  No satisfactory evidence that he cheated was ever produced.  Rudi insisted on no conditions and readily submitted to all restrictions imposed on him by the investigators.  How much more do we require?

If the evidence means anything at all, it is that in the neighbourhood of certain rare individuals like Willi and Rudi Schneider there are developed powerful physical forces and emanations of a quasi-material nature which we do not at present understand.  In the case of the Schneider brothers these forces were under the control of some intelligence which was sufficiently independent to be able to detach itself from one medium and operate without sensible alteration through another.


This does not prove survival: but it is time we stopped endless bickering about fraud and set ourselves to the task of trying to understand the nature of these forces, how they are generated and applied, and what may be their significance.




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