Book review: Telephone calls from the dead

Tricorn Books 2012. ISBN: 978-0-956-874399. £8.99.

Although one of the earliest sentences in this book is ‘The survival of consciousness beyond death and theories surrounding it will be the main focus of this book’, it does concentrate predominantly on the subject of some sort of communication by phone, only touching briefly on other aspects of spirit communication.

There is nothing new about this idea of the telephone being used by spirit communicators. One of the earliest reports is by David Wilson who was a solicitor, an amateur psychical researcher and also a wireless telegraph operator. On 10 January 1915 via a series of Morse code taps he received the following “Great difficulty, await message, five days, six evening.” Although he continued to experiment with the wireless telegraph, translating anything that he received using Morse code, results were inconclusive as the source of the messages could not be traced, and there was no specific information that could be investigated.

However, it proved sufficient to stir up a great deal of interest in the possibility of receiving messages from discarnate spirits via electronic equipment, and more research was done. In particular two researchers who worked together, Douglas Scott Rogo and Raymond Gordon Bayless, published a book, Phone Calls from the Dead (1979) and our author, Callum Cooper, found this of enormous help in his own research. Tragically, Scott Rogo was murdered in 1950 when he was forty years old, otherwise we might have had much more evidence of this type of communication from his research. (Although there do not seem to have been any phone calls from him, it appears that the police were able to find his killer by using psychics.)

All the experiments and attempts by Rogo and Bayless to capture messages using telegraphic instruments were very thoroughly and rigorously executed, with an extensive examination of the equipment, and using brand new cassettes still sealed in their wrappers at the outset of each experiment. After the death of Rogo, Bayless continued his research with a psychic medium, Attila von Szalay. Other researchers in this field included Dr Elizabeth McAdams, Francis Grierson who wrote a short book Psycho-Phone Messages, (now, unfortunately, unobtainable although scanned copies are available), and F.R. Melton who, in the early 1920s, ‘began his own work on building a psychic telephone to contact the dead and explore telephonic communication’. There is a lovely report in this book of how Melton, his wife, daughter and youngest son began a séance on Good Friday, and began to get a message from a young woman, referred to as ‘J’. The eldest son arrived home, pooh-poohed what was going on, until, with a state of shock, he realised from the messages and taps that ‘J’ was definitely the spirit of his fiancé who had recently died tragically young.

During the 20th century there were many more attempts to build a psychic telephone and probably the most well-known of these was by Thomas Edison, the inventor. His initial interest was stirred by his awareness of the photography of spirits by Sir William Crooke, as he ‘thought it logical that if the dead could be photographed, thereby producing an image, then perhaps the sounds of the dead could be heard or recorded through some form of inter-communication telephone.’ He died in 1931 never having apparently developed such a device. But, ‘it has been discussed…that supposedly a séance was said to have been held in New York in 1941, in which Edison apparently made contact from the other side.’ There seem to have been conflicting reports about the blue-prints for this machine, which may or may not have been in the possession of three of Edison’s assistants; or whether such a device was actually developed.

When the interest in the possibility of receiving phone messages from the dead began to gain in popularity many people came forward with reports of their own experiences. Often a phone would ring, even if it was totally disconnected from the usual source of power and on lifting the receiver the listener would first hear a sort of static, often followed by a pronounced ‘hiss’ and then would hear some sort of message, or perhaps only a few disjointed words. And in recent times, with the advent of mobile phones, emails, text-messaging etc. more and more people have, and are, reporting anomalous spirit communication. This fact has led the author of this book, to take the research work of Rogo and Bayless further.

Rogo and Bayless initially distinguished different types of phone calls: apparent cases (or calls)which are calls from someone who has recently died, and in which the person receiving the call may, or may not, know this, and believes they are talking to a living person; intention cases in which although there has been an intention on the part of the caller s/he does not actually make the call, and yet a message is received back later in which this supposed call is referred to; and answer cases where living persons make a call to someone who they do not realise is dead, and yet they get an answer. Often these calls are quite lengthy. Two categories were then developed from the characteristics of the calls, and produced the following call types: simple calls, which seem to be the most common, in which the dead caller says only a few words and is unresponsive to any questions asked, and then the line often goes dead; prolonged calls, somewhat rarer than the simple calls, but which may involve a lengthy conversation with the recipient who does not realise that the caller is dead.

There are many accounts of these various types of phone calls, very frequently with descriptions of the static preceding them, and also the hiss sound, sometimes described as a ‘great wind’ or ‘rushing as of great winds’. And the simple calls seem to be the most usual type. Another aspect which is often reported from recipients of psychic phone calls is that the ring tone of their phone sounds different, often said to be lower in tone.

There are reports of phones that ring even though they are not actually connected, and may be old and seemingly broken; other reports of ‘missed calls’ from numbers of mobile phones which have been buried in coffins with their deceased owners; and a small number of cases which appear to be voice-mail messages from the dead. There are reports of ‘anniversary calls’ which occur on days of special significance, and calls which have either contained warnings or have occurred at times of emergency, when someone desperately needs help.

All these reports have not been taken at face value. A great deal of investigation and scientific research has gone into this work, and chapter headings such as ‘Analysing the Experiences’, ‘Psychology of the Phone Calls’ and ‘Theories of the Phone Call Mechanics’ can perhaps give some idea of the depth of study which the author has made of his subject.

With interest in this aspect of spirit communication becoming more wide-spread many reports have come in during the last century, and a good representation of these are written up in his book, which makes fascinating reading.

Rosalind Smith