Helen Duncan was a twentieth-century British materialization medium. She was put on trial for witchcraft because of the information revealed in her seances that startled the British Admiralty. Twenty-two witnesses described the connections they had made during Duncan’s séances with loved ones in spirit. They testified that they saw their loved ones in red light very clearly. They spoke with them and touched them. In some cases, they embraced and kissed. The testimonies are evidence of life after death.
In the video below are voiceovers of five sworn testimonies that the materializations were of people the witnesses knew well and that the materialized people were alive, articulate, and healthy. The witnesses told of seeing the materialized people close up, speaking about personal matters, touching, and even kissing them. They all swore under oath that they had an encounter with their loved ones.
Recordings of five of the testimonies are in the following video. Transcripts of the witness testimonies follow the video controls.
During one of Helen Duncan’s séances in 1941, a sailor came through, explaining he had perished when the HMS Barham was sunk. The British Admiralty, worried about public morale, had been keeping the incident secret. Two years later, as an invasion of Germany approached, they wanted to prevent any further revelations. Duncan was arrested and tried under the Witchcraft Act of 1735. The Admiralty’s reaction to her knowledge demonstrated that they knew her statements were accurate.
Helen Duncan’s trial began on March 30, 1944. Twenty-two witnesses described the connections they had made during Duncan’s séances with loved ones in spirit. Following are links to brief transcripts of five sworn testimonies that the materializations were of people the witnesses knew well and that the materialized people were alive, articulate, and healthy. The witnesses told of seeing the materialized people close up, speaking about personal matters, touching, and even kissing them. They all swore under oath that they had an encounter with their loved ones.
James McDougal Duncan Testifies He Saw and Spoke with His Wife Living in the Afterlife
James McDougal Duncan, a jeweler unrelated to Helen Duncan, testified under oath at her trial. He and his daughter had experiences and dialogue showing his materialized wife was alive although her body was dead. She exhibited all the physical, mental, and memory characteristics known to him and his daughter as she came near to them and her mental and sensory awareness when she referred to a trip to Canada the family had been discussing just prior to the séance.
Mr. Duncan: [my wife] went to the side next the light and pulled the curtain aside and stood there with the light shining clear on her face. I went up to her and saw her. I was within eighteen inches of her. I spoke to her. I saw her most clearly, the best I have ever seen her.
Defense Attorney: What did she say? Do you remember?
Mr. Duncan: Intimate things. We have discussed certain intimate and domestic things. She knew that we had considered going to Canada to my son there, and she told me at the sitting there once, “Go to Canada. You will be much happier. You will be in better health. Go there.”
Defense Attorney: What about the voice? Was it her voice?
Mr. Duncan: My wife’s voice.
Defense Attorney: What about the appearance?
Mr. Duncan: Yes, the appearance of my wife. I lived with her forty-five years; I should know her voice and her appearance…. I have not a shadow of doubt in my mind that the form I saw was that of my wife, speaking to me, as she used to speak, in a quiet voice. She had a quiet voice.
Defense Attorney: How close to you did [your father] come?
Mr. Duncan: I went right up to the cabinet and spoke to him…. Because I knew my father. He had a beard and spoke in the voice that I knew well. He was just about my height….
I went right up to the curtain too, and [my mother] spoke to me. She said, “Are those the lassies?” My two daughters were there. I said, “Yes.” She said, “It makes me feel old.” Now that is just what she would have said had she been on the earth, just the very same expression she would have used.
Defense Attorney: How do you know it was your mother at all?
Mr. Duncan: By seeing her and hearing her. I saw her quite clearly. I was quite close to her.
Defense Attorney: You recognized your brothers?
Mr. Duncan: Yes.
Defense Attorney: By appearance and voice?
Mr. Duncan: Yes.
Defense Attorney: No doubt about it at all?
Mr. Duncan: Not at all. Not at all.
[i] Helen Duncan and C. E. Bechhofer Roberts, The Trial of Mrs. Duncan (London: Jarrolds Publishers, 1945), 171-172.
Jane Mary Rust Testifies that She Saw and Talked to Loved Ones Living in the Afterlife
Jane Mary Rust, a municipal midwife nurse, testified at the Old Bailey Central Criminal Court in London during Duncan’s trial. She swore under oath that her reports of her experiences conversing with her deceased husband, mother, and aunt were true. As the materialized people came very near to her, touched her, and allowed her to touch them, they showed all the physical, mental, and memory characteristics of the people she knew. The link is to the transcript of testimony relevant to showing her loved ones were alive after their deaths. A narration of the text is included.
Excerpts from the trial testimony follow.[i]
Defense Attorney: Had you any doubt about it being your husband?
Jane Rust: No doubt whatsoever.
Defense Attorney: How close up to him were you?
Jane Rust: As close as I am to this.
Defense Attorney: Did he speak to you?
Jane Rust: He spoke to me.
Defense Attorney: Did you recognize his voice?
Jane Rust: I did. I was perfectly certain.
Defense Attorney: Did he say anything to you in particular that struck you as of importance?
Jane Rust: Just spoke about the family. He said that he was always with me, and he would be on the other side waiting for me; he would never leave me until I joined him.
Defense Attorney: Had he altered in appearance at all?
Jane Rust: No, sir, he had not altered just a wee bit thinner, perhaps, than he was in health, but my husband was very ill for three years before he went.
Jane Rust: He said, “Put your hand in mine, dear,” so I gave him my right hand. He took hold of it with his right and clasped my hand very tightly.
Judge: It was flesh and blood, was it?
Jane Rust: It was very cold, my Lord, but it was his hand. I held it firmly. I felt the knuckles. He suffered with rheumatism, my Lord, and I felt the nobbly knuckles.
Defense Attorney: Did he kiss you?
Jane Rust: He did, sir, right on the mouth….
[My mother] came out and stood on the side of the cabinet. I wanted to be close to her, because I had never been so close before; I wanted to get right in contact. I said, “Mother, you are not going back without kissing me, are you, this time?” She said, “Come here, my child”; she beckoned me to her side. She made me stand, and I was standing facing her. She turned me to the sitters and patted my shoulder and said, “My loving daughter” introduced me, sort of thing.
Defense Attorney: Did you touch her?
Jane Rust: I did. I kissed her.
Defense Attorney: Did she put her arms on you, or did you put your arms on her?
Jane Rust: She put her arm around my shoulders.
Defense Attorney: Tell me a little about her voice. What was her voice like?
Jane Rust: It was her natural voice….
My mother had a mole in the hollow of her chin and another over the left eyebrow, and without that it would not be my mother, and she had it there, and I was satisfied….
I got as close to [my aunt] as I got to my mother and my husband….
She said to me [words in Spanish here]. I said [words in Spanish]….
It was Gibraltarian Spanish. It was not the Spanish, possibly, that they speak in Spain itself, but the Gibraltarian Spanish.
Defense Attorney: Did you recognize the figure that spoke to you?
Jane Rust: Yes, absolutely, sir. She was my aunt, my mother’s sister, and I recognized her because she is a replica of my own mother; they were always taken for twins, but they were not twins.
[i] Helen Duncan and C. E. Bechhofer Roberts, The Trial of Mrs. Duncan (London: Jarrolds Publishers, 1945), 171-172.
Alfred Dodd Testifies that His Loved Ones Alive in the Afterlife Materialized
Alfred Dodd, a historian, senior Freemason, and acclaimed author of works on Shakespeare’s sonnets, testified at Helen Duncan’s trial that in her séances his grandfather, mother, and first sweetheart had materialized and spoken to him. He had experiences and dialogue showing the people who materialized were alive although their bodies were dead.
Alfred Dodd: The curtains went on one side, and out there came the living form of my grandfather. I knew it was him, because he was a very big man…. A very tall man, about 6ft. 1 at least, very corpulent. He looked round the room very quizzically until his eyes caught mine. He then strode across the room from the seance cabinet to where I was. He pushed the heads of the two strangers that were before me on one side like that, and he put out his hand and he grasped mine. He said as he grasped it, “I am very pleased to see you, Alfred, here in my native city.”
I was very surprised at seeing him, and I looked at him most closely, and I said to him, “Why, you look just the same.”
He had on his smoking-cap that he used to wear. He was dressed in a dark suit. He had on the donkey fringe I knew so well, having been brought up with him since five years of age. His face was brown and bronzed, just in the same way; the same look in his eye; the same expression and tones that I knew so well. As a matter of fact, he was born in Manchester, and I was born in Manchester….
He next said, “I am sorry you are having such a rough time.” I was, because I was losing a lot of money on property at that time, and he seemed to know all about it. He spoke just as if he was one of the family. He touched on something very private and personal, which I could not make mention of in this court very well, but he then continued and said, “Ban is here.” Ban, that is the pet name for the old nurse that I used to have as a child, which I had known as I grew up. “Ban is here.” I said, “I am very glad. I hope you are getting on very well.” He said, “Keep your pecker up, old boy” that was one of his characteristic expressions; “Never say die while there is a shot in the locker.”
He was holding my hand all the time. He held it with so firm a grip that my hand ached for hours afterwards. There was thrown over him, as it were, a net of I should think half-inch mesh; there seemed to be thrown over him a net, because, as I held his hand, I pulled the net in my hand quite distinctly. He stepped back like that and he put his hand on my friend’s shoulder, who was sitting at the front. He put his hand on and clapped him on the shoulder and said, “Stand up, Tom,” just in the same commanding way he used to speak. “Stand up, Tom”… So Tom Wallace stood up and, when he stood up, my grandfather being a much bigger man than him in every way, he said, “Look into my face, and look into my eyes.” He said, “Will you know me again, Mr. Wallace?” Wallace said, “Yes.” “Very good. You ask Albert tomorrow to show you my portrait, which is hanging on the wall in his dining-room, and you will see it is the same man as is speaking to you, now.”
He turned round and walked back to the cabinet, and he lifted up his leg and he slapped his thigh three times, three loud resounding smacks, and then he went right to the curtain and he lifted himself to his full height. He smote himself on the breast three times, so that everybody could hear. He said, “It is solid, Alfred; it is solid,” and he went away inside. That was the first personal experience I had….
He said before he went, I ought to add to my evidence, one more remarkable thing. He said, “You are on the right track, Alfred. Go on with your work,” he said, “I mean the sonnets,” and there was not a living person in Manchester who knew I was interested in Shakespeare’s sonnets. I was editing an edition of Shakespeare’s
After the voice had come and several forms had come out to other people, he [Albert, Duncan’s control] called out and said, “There is a lady here, an old lady who wants a gentleman in the front row, and she is calling out the name of Jim.” Now I saw a little old body come out, very small in a dark garment, white of face, grey hair, and I recognized her by her photograph…. She came out without the slightest hesitation, and came straight from the cabinet, through the curtains right to where Mr. James Waller was sitting in the front row, and as she seized his hand and as he took hers, I heard the two. I heard the two voices. He said, “Oh, mother, mother,” and she said to him, “My boy, my boy.” They had a private conversation. I took the place of the sister who ought to have been there, and that was referred to in the course of the conversation.
She was very, very sorry a sister, a girl named Lily, was poorly. Then he said, “My brother Tom is here, you know.” She said, “Yes, I am going to him,” and she disengaged her hand quite literally, and went across an intervening space of two or three persons and went to shake hands with Tom. As she finished shaking hands with him, she said, “Now, be good to your father,” and she went back.
As soon as ever she had gone back into the cabinet, Albert’s voice called out once more, and he said that lady’s name. We will call her grandmother Mary. He said, “She has brought with her a little girl, and her name is little Mary” we will call her. He said, “Now little Mary has come to look for her daddy and her mummy; they are here.” As she spoke, I saw a white formless mist which seemed to come through the curtain; it came through the curtain in such a way that it remained about three yards from the sitters, and this formless mist began to condense. It took shape, and there I saw, to my astonishment, a little girl with a rope in her hand and she was skipping. I can see the twist of her hands even now, it was so real. It went on for six or seven skips, and then this little girl appeared almost to clamber on her knee, and sat between her knees, in some way.
Then the voice of Albert called out, “Come back; come back,” but the little girl said, “I want to show them my curls. I want to show them my curls.” He said, “You must come at once.” She said, “No, I will not.” There was quite a little altercation, and the two voices were crossing each other from outside and inside. Then he said, “All right. Show the curls,” and she showed her head. I saw them; I saw those golden curls. I was sitting right behind. She bent her head forward, and that was that. Then she went back….
The curtains opened once more, and I saw before me the living form, the living form! of a young lady aged twenty-one. Her name was Helen to me, and she was the first sweetheart that I had ever had, and therefore I knew her. I knew her absolutely. She stood there and she put up her hand to me, and waved in exactly the same way that she waved when I took her to her last social. She stood on the stairs, half-way up, and waved me away. She stood there dressed in a white flowing robe, and over that white flowing robe was a fine curtain of net….
I was so astonished that I stood up in my seat, which I ought not to have done, and I called out to my wife at the other end of the room, and I said to her, “Why, it’s Helen; it’s Helen.” The girl did not come to me direct, she came right round the room from left to right, and she stood before me, a living, palpitating woman. The same hair that I knew so well, dark and ruddy; the same eyes, hazel; they shone with animation; her face, the same ivory pallor on her cheeks….
I said as I looked at her, “Well, I am glad to see you. I am glad. I was only talking about you last night.” Then I heard her speak, and she spoke in the same soft Scotch accent that I knew so well…. She came from (unintelligible) but it was a cultured Scotch, not a harsh Glasgow Scotch, nothing like it not harsh at all; a soft cultured voice, mixed, of course, with her training in England educationally, and she was so real as she stood there that night.
Herbert John Steabben Testifies that the Materialized People Were the People He Knew
Herbert John Steabben, a well-known medium, lecturer, and healer who formed the Pathfinders Society, testified that he had witnessed materializations of his mother and a child he knew whose leg had been amputated. He had experiences and dialogue showing the people who materialized were alive although their bodies were dead.
Herbert Steabben: [My mother] came clearly out from the cabinet and stood about three to four feet clear of the curtains, a full materialization. I noticed the grey hair. I noticed the difference in the eyes. The eyes are grey, whereas Mrs. Duncan’s are brown. She is about half or one-third the size, and she had the peculiar little mannerisms, that as my mother I naturally recognized.
Defense Attorney: What did she say to you?
Herbert Steabben: She called me by a name other than I have given here as my own name to-day…. She called me Charles.
Defense Attorney: You recognized the voice?
Herbert Steabben: Yes.
Defense Attorney: Did you see your mother’s features?
Herbert Steabben: Certainly. I saw the color of her eyes…. She had a little mannerism that, when she was under emotion, one would see before she broke down the lips tremble, like a mother would; and it was very characteristic when she was very stirred. She was stirred naturally then, and I had to comfort her instead of she comforting me….
This little child of fourteen [who materialized] had long black hair. She had skinny arms, and very shortish, and she was very quick. She had had her leg amputated before she passed into spirit. She came out to show that she had the use of that leg. She was well able to dance, which was a thing she wanted to do when she was in life, but was unable. It was tragic.
She also gave what to me was a wonderful piece of evidence. She said to me, “I have your telegram with me.” This telegram was one that I had sent to her mother [to give to the girl] when she was lying ill in hospital. She had so attracted the attention of the nurses there, because no amount of morphia could stop the pain that she was suffering, and, when she had this telegram, she did not have a single moment’s more pain until the time she passed into spirit…. This telegram she had had buried with her in the coffin, and she said she had it; she had still got it.
Margaret Lyons Testified that People Appeared to Her After Death
Margaret Lyons had experiences and dialogue with her materialized father, showing he was alive although his body was dead. In his materialization he exhibited all his physical, mental, and memory characteristics, as he came very near to her and spoke with her and remarked that Margaret was currently a very good teacher, although he had transitioned when she was only thirteen.
Margaret Lyons: I recognized [my father] instantly by his face; his nose was broken and sort of went over a bit. When I heard Albert ask me to come forward, he said, “You are not afraid to come forward and see who this is?” When I saw him, I said, “Daddy.” I was only thirteen when my daddy died, and I recognized him instantly. He said, “Marget.” That was the name he called me “Marget,” not “Margaret” and I stood sort of speechless. I could hardly believe the tremendous revelation. All he said to me was, “Yes, Marget, I am proud of you. You have made a far better teacher than ever I could make you.” By those words he meant the fact that I wanted to be a schoolteacher, and him dying when I was only thirteen, the eldest of five of a family, I could not be a teacher, because my mother could not afford it, and it meant a good deal to me, those words. Nobody could fake those words; they were known only to me. He said, “I am proud of you, Marget. You are a better teacher than ever I could make you.”
I was asked by Albert, would I like to shake my father’s hand; and I did. The hand was raised like that, and I took his hand. Then back to my mind came the small finger, with no bones; it was contracted. When I shook hands I said, “Your wee finger. It is really you.” That is all….
He had very hard hands. That is one thing again that I noticed, his sort of horny hard hand, my daddy’s hand, and my daddy’s voice. No one could say my name as he did; I could never mistake that. He was of Irish parents. He had rather a way of saying it, which could not be said by anybody else…. I touched his face and felt the sort of bristly hair on his face as if unshaven. My daddy had a very short illness. He came home on the Wednesday from his work and died on the Monday morning. I remember that morning he died. His face had a sort of growth of hair which was pretty heavy, and that was one of the facts again that was noticeable when he appeared.