Lis Warwood’s Snippets from the Past: The Helen Duncan trial

Lis Warwood

Snippets from the Past is an occasional column in which items from newspapers and elsewhere that might be informative, amusing, weird, wonderful or just plain ridiculous, are posted for your edification or entertainment.

This first snippet relates to events at the Helen Duncan trial on March 30, 1944.

Magician’s Tests Cited at Witchcraft Trial
The magicians were introduced in evidence by Hannan Swaffer, well-known journalist, who said that he had been a psychic investigator for 20 years. Swaffer described ectoplasm pouring from Mrs Duncan which seemed to him “like white living snow”.

He added: “Anybody who describes this ectoplasm as butter muslin would be a child.” Handed a length of butter muslin by the defence counsel, Swaffer offered to attempt to swallow it to illustrate the difficulty of the medium trying to swallow and regurgitate such cloth. The Recorder declined the offer.

Swaffer then recounted how he had tested Mrs Duncan in 1932, with the help of four magicians who, he said, had handcuffed and tied her up with forty yards of sashcord, and lashed her thumbs together with thread.

“Even then the manifestations persisted,” said Swaffer.

He added that “Albert, the guide,” was there, and that it was Albert who released Mrs Duncan.

Like other witnesses, Swaffer said that he also had a guide – an Egyptian.

When another witness said, “We all have guides,” the Recorder commented wryly: “I don’t seem to have one regarding this evidence.”

5 responses to “Lis Warwood’s Snippets from the Past: The Helen Duncan trial

  1. Chris Johnson

    Why is it that those who debunk clear evidence tend to be those who have studied the subject the least? Or have lots to fear, or need to convince themselves, a desperate need. That should cover 98% of debunkers for me!

    • Mike Goodall

      Exactly Chris. When ever I discuss it with someone outside the movement their normal reply is that it’s all bunkum. When asked how long they have been researching Spiritualism and Spirit Communication, they go very quiet. Having joined this movement around 15 years ago I still study it today; I KNOW such communication exists and am disappointed with sceptics who dismiss it and have never bothered to research it at all.

  2. Even if Helen Duncan had been able to demonstrate her gift in daylight and the prosecutors mother materialized and addressed the tribunal for one hour, they still would have convicted and imprisoned her, for national security reasons. It was wartime, and it is my understanding that the top secret plans for the D day invasion could not be potentially compromised by Duncan’s unique psychic gift.

  3. Chris Johnson

    You are correct Ken, I seek out an old friend Mary Armour and hope top meet up with another Manfred Cassirer at a SPS Lecture on Monday evening, but fear I am to late to meet up with these old friends on eart again. They both wrote books on Helen. We need to put the matter to the new Joint Leaders, ask for a postumous pardon; the System Must Start telling the Truth! see

  4. I am Helen’s granddaughter. Not only was she used and abused by the so called Spiritualists when she was alive the same can still be said today. Many have used my family members, claiming they were good friend just to get information to publish a book. I am disgusted that these individuals call themselves Spiritualists, when there is nothing spiritual about them and then making the spiritualist rounds. Or I am I missing the boat? I was brought up with right and wrong, these so called Spritualists just want to make a pound. They know who they are and so do I.
    I have spent over half of my life researching my gran and although I understand why the government had her arrested. It doesn’t make it okay.
    I can’t even begin to share with you the pain that this has put my family and I through.
    I want her exonerated not pardoned, a pardon means she was guilty of a crime.

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