One of the most convincing and best-documented cases of mediumship involves the death of a 25-year-old part-time barmaid named Jacqueline Poole on February 11, 1983, in the West London suburb of Ruislip. Murdered on Friday evening, Jacqui Poole was found dead in her apartment on Sunday, February 13, by the father of her boyfriend, who gained access through a window and discovered her on the living-room floor. She had been raped, beaten, and strangled.
The next day, Monday, a young woman named Christine Holohan who was studying to become a professional medium learned about the murder from some friends. That night, she had a disturbing vision of a woman calling herself "Jacqui Hunt," not Jacqui Poole. Although the information had not been made public at the time, it later developed that Hunt was Jacqui Poole's maiden name.
On Tuesday evening Holohan experienced a second contact with Jacqui Poole, whom she perceived as the "white outline of a person … [a] white energy of light … [and] a clear voice" in her ear.
In their authoritative article "A Possibly Unique Case of Psychic Detection,"* Guy Lyon Playfair and Montague Keen relate what Jacqui Poole told Holohan:
Poole had been supposed to go to work on the night of the murder, two men having called for her, but she decided not to go as she was not feeling well. She had then a visit from a man she knew, a friend of a friend whom she had never liked. She let him in, thinking he might have a message from her boyfriend ...
Having been given this information (which later proved to be correct), Holohan went to the police, meeting with police officer ("beat constable") Tony Batters and Detective Constable Andrew Smith. At first, understandably enough, they did not take her seriously, but when she provided some specific information relating to Smith, their attitude changed. Batters' detailed notes of their conversation indicate that she provided a great deal of information -- a total of 130 separate items. Her only apparent error was in placing the murder on "late Saturday night," when it actually occurred on Friday night. Interestingly, the date of the murder was one of the few pieces of information that would have been available in the media.
In the appendix to their article, Playfair and Keen list many of Holohan's specific statements as recorded by Tony Batters in his notebook.
"She was attacked in the bathroom." This was probably correct. Though the body was found in another room, a damaged bathroom towel rack and disarranged bathroom rug suggested that the attack commenced there.
"There was an envelope and a letter. Just come. A black address book … Furniture was rearranged. Settee cushions moved. Out of place … I changed my clothes twice, she says." This was also correct. The police officers had discovered a recently delivered letter at the apartment, along with a black address book. The living room was mostly undisturbed except for settee cushions thrown on the floor. And it was later determined that Jacqui Poole had changed her clothes twice that day.
"Two cups in kitchen. One washed up. She made a cup of coffee." Also correct. Only two cups had been left out in the otherwise tidy kitchen. One of them had been washed and then left upside down to dry. The other was half full of coffee.
Other descriptions of the crime scene were accurate but could have been guessed. For instance, Holohan said that there were unread newspapers lying around, that there was a cupboard, and that some of Poole's jewelry had been stolen (a fact reported in the press). Although the notes are unclear, it appears that she said Poole had two rings remaining on her fingers – which was true, since those rings were on so tightly that the killer could not remove them. This fact had not been publicized.
Holohan said that Jacqui Poole had traveled in criminal circles but had recently decided to turn her life around. A friend later described a conversation with Poole shortly before her murder in which she expressed these sentiments.
The medium also said that Poole had suffered from depression and was taking prescription pills for it. This was correct. She said that Poole was in the middle of a divorce (correct, but this fact had been published in the press).
The murderer, she said, was connected with the ex-husband. "The link is with nick. Both had the same friend who was in nick. Not nick, she says, 'bird.' She went to visit him two weeks before."
This is interesting, as it suggests that the medium was being corrected by the communicating spirit as the information was relayed. At first, Holohan used the term nick, but then apparently was told that this term was mistaken and that the correct term was bird. Nick is a slang term for a police station or prison, while bird is slang for a detention center. Holohan "did not understand the difference," Batters noted in later comments on his own notes. But Jacqui Poole evidently did know the difference and was at pains to amend the message.
The statement about Poole's last visit to the "nick" was also correct; she had been there exactly two weeks before her body was found.
Holohan did not give the murderer's name, but she described him: "Five foot eightish… Dark skin, coloured, Afro-wavy hair. Early 20s. She knows him. April-May birthday. He's Taurus. Tattoos on his arms. Swords? Snake? Rose? I get a name, Tony. He has a nickname, not a proper name."
The man eventually convicted of the crime was Anthony Ruark, of mixed-race origins, 5'9", born in April, 23 years old in 1983, with many tattoos.
Pressed for the nickname, Holahan went into a light trance and, via automatic writing, produced the word "pokie." Ruark's nickname was Pokie.
She also told police: "He's been working recently, like painting or decorating. Doesn't have a regular job, not a proper job. He's cool, sly, got into places before. And he's clever with cars. Grease monkey, she calls it."
All of this was correct. Ruark's only legitimate occupation was that of plasterer, and he had worked at that job on one or two days during the week before the murder. Otherwise, he made his money through burglary and auto theft. He was known as a good mechanic.
"He's got a girlfriend. She knew Jacqui. She's dark-haired, small, pretty. Got a C in her initials." Batters later confirmed that Ruark's girlfriend was a "petite and good-looking brunette whose surname begins with C," and that Poole knew her well.
Holohan mentioned the following names to the police: Betty, Sylvia, Terry, Barbara Stone, and Tony. No other names were given. All of the names connected directly to the victim. Betty was Poole's mother. Sylvia was the mother of Poole's boyfriend. Terry was Poole's brother. Barbara Stone was a close friend of Poole who died in an auto accident about two years before the murder. Tony was the murderer, Anthony Ruark.
Interestingly, no one involved in the investigation had heard of Barbara Stone, and this name remained unexplained until years later -- a fact that tends to rule out mental telepathy as an explanation.
Holohan also mentioned someone who lived in "a flat over a newspaper shop." This turned out to be Poole's best friend, a woman named Gloria, who lived in just such an apartment.
Asked to determine the location of the stolen jewelry, Holahan used automatic writing and produced the words Ickeham and garden and the number 221. Ickeham was understood as an attempt to write Ickenham, a suburb located between the murder scene and Ruark's home. Years later, Batters followed up on this clue with interesting, though inconclusive, results. He discovered that there was only one street in Ickenham where the numbers went as high as 221 – Swakeleys Road. However, where there should have been a 221, there was "an unmarked public garden." He removed some rocks from the garden and found a 6" by 7" hole, now empty.
Playfair and Keen write:
It is of course possible that the hole was made after 1983, perhaps by children playing, yet it must be granted that it is quite a coincidence to find an ideal hiding place for a handful of rings and bracelets at what may well once have been the garden of No. 221 on the only road in the area in question with that many house numbers.
Batters reckoned that the location was directly on the path Ruark took when he left the murder scene in Ruislip and returned home.
Even after all this, there was no solid evidence against Ruark or anyone else in 1983, and the case remained unsolved for more than 16 years. Eventually, however, advances in DNA technology made it possible to more thoroughly examine the physical evidence connected to the case. According to Playfair and Keen, DNA matching Jacqui Poole was found on a pullover that police had retrieved from Ruark's trash. Ruark was convicted of the crime. (We will look at some questions surrounding this claim in a minute.)
The obvious objection to the Poole case is that Holohan could have been told about the murder and then used her purported mediumistic abilities to convey what she knew to the police without incriminating herself. But there are apparently insuperable obstacles to this line of argument. For one thing, the totality of the information provided by Holohan was not known to any one person, so she would have had to be in contract with several people -- perhaps as many as five. Moreover, much of the information was known only to the murderer, who is hardly likely to have discussed his crime with her in detail (or at all). There is no evidence that Holohan had any connection with Ruark, Poole, or any member of the police force.
The most sustained skeptical treatment of the Poole case that I know of is an essay by Tony Youens titled "Did a Medium Identify a Murderer?" Youens and his associate, police detective Adrian Shaw, interviewed some of the people involved, after which Youens developed his own theory of what happened. The trouble is that his theory relies almost entirely on mere logical possibilities -- that is, things are "possible" in the sense that they cannot be disproved, but for which there is no evidence.
As an example of a logical possibility, consider the fringe view that the Apollo moon landings were faked. It is logically "possible" that the landings could have been simulated in a TV studio, that everyone in NASA was in on the conspiracy, that astronomers from all over the world were bribed or coerced into playing along, that countless billions of dollars have been spent on an ongoing cover-up, and that no one has ever broken the code of silence and come forward with "the truth."
But while this is a logical possibility, in the sense that it cannot be definitively disproven, it is so far-fetched that it has no realistic chance of being true. The same, by the way, holds true of most conspiracy theories, since any evidence that would falsify the theory can be "explained" as another part of the cover-up.**
Youens does not allege a cover-up, except in the sense that Christine Holohan was covering up the real sources of her information. His version of logical possibility consists of assuming that Holohan could have obtained all 121 items of accurate information by normal means.
How? Well, she could have gotten some of the information from the press. But Playfair and Keen report that Batters and his colleagues monitored all newspaper stories on the case and determined that the only information made public was Jacqueline Poole's name (but not her maiden name) her address, the cause of death (homicide), the theft of jewelry, the absence of any sign of forced entry, and the fact that she and her husband had separated seven months earlier.
Again, it's interesting to note in this connection that a detail that could unquestionably have been gleaned from any newspaper account, namely the day of Poole's death, was the one thing Holohan got wrong.
At any rate, while some details could have been obtained from the media, they constituted only a tiny fraction of the accurate information that Holohan provided. How, then, to account for the rest?
Youens responds to this challenge by assuming that there must have been a great deal of gossip about the murder, that the gossip included many unpublished details, and that Holohan was in a position to overhear this gossip and make use of it -- most likely at the pub where Poole had worked. To strengthen his case, Youens stresses that this pub was only 1.3 miles from where Poole lived. He even suggests that Holohan might have known Poole personally.
Unfortunately for the skeptical position, there is simply no evidence to support any of this "logically possible" but empirically groundless speculation. As Playfair and Keen report, "We are not aware of any evidence from any of Poole's friends or relatives that they knew Holohan … Had there been any evidence that Holohan patronized the same pubs as Poole, notably the Windmill, where Ruark and many of his associates principally drank, the police would have picked this up immediately." In fact, there is nothing tying Holohan to any pub except one called the Tally-Ho, where she occasionally worked on a part-time basis. Otherwise, she appears not to have visited pubs at all.
Then there are items of information that probably could not have been obtained by any amount of eavesdropping. For instance, the two cups in the kitchen – one washed, and one with coffee in it. To deal with this detail, Youens is forced to speculate that the only civilian who visited the apartment after the murder -- the father of Poole's boyfriend -- paid special attention to these cups and later talked about them with his friends, and that Holohan somehow overheard or learned of these conversations. But as Playfair and Keen point out, the father "entered via the large window to identify the body, remaining for a matter of seconds." He probably did not even enter the kitchen, nor is it likely that he would have focused on a couple of cups when faced with the far more arresting sight of Poole's corpse. And even if he had noticed the cups, what reason would there be to talk about them? Youens himself admits that his speculation in this area is not very convincing. He writes:
In fairness I cannot fully explain this away and neither am I likely to be able to, but if all the other details had been removed would the police have been so impressed with what information was left? Personally I doubt it.
Of course, this assumes that "all other details" can be removed -- i.e., satisfactorily explained -- which, as I see it, is far from true.
Another line of Youens' attack is to say that Holohan's contribution had no effect on the outcome of the case. According to Youens, Ruark's eventual conviction was entirely due to scientific investigation (the DNA testing) and had nothing to do with mediumship. He writes:
Much has been made of the pullover retrieved from Ruark's dustbin and how if it wasn't for Holohan's information this might never have been seized. But just how significant did this piece of evidence turn out to be? When asked by Adrian Shaw, D.C.I. [Detective chief Inspector] McKinlay couldn’t even remember the pullover. [Detective Superintendent] Tony Lundy does recall "fibres" being mentioned at the trial but he and McKinlay are emphatic that the conviction was achieved by the DNA evidence from semen and from skin found underneath the victim's fingernails. The pullover played no part and even if it did it was not due to anything Holohan had said.
But Tony Batters felt very differently. In 2003 he said:
Without Christine's information, we would not have (a) retrieved the pullover; (b) interviewed and then taken statements from everyone with whom Ruark came into contact after [the evening of the murder]; and (c) checked and verified all his movements during the previous fortnight. These three elements were vital to combat potential (and actual) defences, which I believe would have raised sufficient doubt as to lead to a Not Guilty verdict.
This echoes a comment Batters made in 2002: "Without Christine's information, we might have failed to procure the most conclusive evidence" (i.e., the pullover).
It is hard to reconcile those different views. Either the incriminating DNA was taken from Ruark's pullover, or it was taken from Poole's fingernails. But it is interesting to notice the rather ambiguous nature of Youens' sentence: "The pullover played no part and even if it did …" Well, did it, or didn't it? It sounds as if he is backtracking from his first statement even before the sentence has ended. And it is unclear how "the pullover played no part" if Lundy "does recall 'fibres' being mentioned at the trial." Presumably these were fibers from the pullover, so how could the pullover have played no part? In this respect, Youens' essay raises more questions than it answers.
A BBC article on the case, which doesn't mention Holohan or mediumship, reports that the conviction was obtained by DNA-testing semen left on an article of Poole's clothing found at the murder scene. If this is accurate, it undercuts the claim that the pullover (found in Ruark's trash, not at the crime scene) was the crucial piece of evidence, although it also undercuts Youens' contention that the evidence was obtained from "the victim's fingernails." But I'm not sure how accurate this article is. For one thing, it identifies Ruark as Poole's lover, when according to the other accounts I've read, he was merely a friend of Poole's ex-husband and someone she did not like or trust.
Since the BBC article does not go into detail and does not identify the item of clothing in question, and since it states that Poole's body was found "semi-naked," I'm left wondering if the pullover in question perhaps belonged to her, and Ruark took it with him and disposed of it in his trash because it was stained with his semen. If this is true -- I stress if, because I don't know -- then the pullover was indeed the critical piece of evidence. It seems odd that there should be disagreement over such a seemingly basic fact of the case, but there it is.
Incidentally the BBC piece also states that Poole, after being beaten and raped, was "strangled with the cord from a bathroom light," though her body was found in the living room. If true, this further substantiates Holohan's claim that the attack began (or at least partly took place) in the bathroom, a fact that had not been reported in the press at the time.
Youens also argues that Ruark was already a suspect in the case, and Holohan could have known this from local gossip. It is true that Ruark had voluntarily gone to the police after they asked anyone who'd known Poole to come forward. According to Batters and Smith, he was not considered a serious suspect because he had no history of violence; of the roughly 30 suspects, they say, Ruark was nowhere near the top of the list. On the other hand, in a letter reproduced on Tony Youens' website, supervising detective Tony Lundy says that Ruark emerged as his top suspect. Another contradiction.
Montague Keen, for his part, wrote in a separate piece that, "Ruark had already given the police a persuasive alibi. He was no longer a suspect when Holohan was interviewed." He seems to have believed that Lundy was misremembering key details of the case in order to place himself in the best possible light and to minimize any contributions made by Holohan. Without more inforrmation, it's impossible to say who's right.
Youens attributes the rest of Holohan's accurate statements to "cold reading." Yet it is hard to see how cold reading could explain her reference to Barbara Stone, a woman unknown to anyone involved in the investigation at the time; or her statement that Poole had changed clothes twice that day, a fact apparently not established until Ruark's trial nearly two decades years later; or her knowledge of Poole's prescription medication for depression; etc.
Nor is cold reading a likely explanation for the psychometry test that Holohan used on Andrew Smith in order to prove her abilities. Playfair and Keen write:
She said he [Smith] had recently received a letter about essential electrical work, as indeed he had, from a Building Society telling him that he would have to get the house he hoped to buy rewired if he wanted a mortgage. She said he was about to be transferred to another station, which he thought very unlikely – until he was informed of his pending transfer only days later. Firstly, however, she made a remark which must have been unnervingly accurate. Batters told us that "to my dying day I could not disclose what she said. It was quite extraordinary with detail."
Since Smith himself did not know he was about to be transferred, he could hardly have conveyed this information to Holohan through body language or other giveaways, as required by cold reading.
Unfortunately, as the above quote indicates, some of the most convincing evidence in the case has not been made public. It would be interesting to know the first item that Holohan relayed to Smith. It would be even more interesting to know the many specific details that she recounted about the murder itself. According to Playfair and Keen, her description of the murder was extremely graphic and (as best anyone can determine through scientific reconstruction of the crime) factually accurate down to the smallest detail. Yet, out of respect for the family's sensibilities, the investigators withheld this information from the Journal article. Obviously, the case would be further strengthened if these details could be published.
Finally, Youens complains that Playfair and Keen did not interview the supervising detective on the case, Tony Lundy, or DCI McKinlay, implying that their investigation was slipshod. He writes archly:
As far as I am aware the investigation carried out by Keen and Playfair never included the questioning of the two most senior and highly respected detectives involved. A serious omission surely? Still I'm certain he interviewed the medium herself with the typical thoroughness we've come to expect of an SPR investigator.
But in their article, Playfair and Keen note that Lundy, at least, is "now retired and, we were informed, not available for interview." If the man refused to be interviewed, that is hardly the investigators' fault. There is no mention of McKinlay, but given his apparent antipathy to the idea that Holohan contributed anything of value to the case, it is certainly possible that he also refused to talk. By the same token, some people would not talk to Youens and his associate:
Tony Batters very kindly supplied me with a copy of his notes along with how they related to the crime. We exchanged numerous emails … Adrian Shaw spoke to Detective Chief Inspector Norman McKinlay as well as the detective who originally took Ruark in for questioning and also retrieved the pullover from his dustbin. I managed to contact ex-Detective Superintendent Tony Lundy who now lives in Spain. Lundy was the officer in charge of the original investigation and McKinlay dealt with the 1999 re-investigation. We did contact other officers who either did not wish to discuss the case or never returned our calls. [bold emphasis added]
If it's slipshod of the SPR investigators not to get through to Lundy and McKinlay, isn't it equally slipshod of Youens and Shaw not to get through to anyone other than Batters, Lundy, McKinlay, and an unnamed detective? There is no indication that they spoke to Holohan, Smith, or Jacqui Poole's relatives, for instance.
In any event, while Lundy did not want to talk to the SPR researchers, Batters and Smith did. They even signed affidavits attesting to the accuracy of the resulting article. Playfair and Keen report:
As Batters has repeatedly told us, the only possible single source for all the information [provided by Holohan] is Jacqueline Poole … Tony Batters stated that "I've accepted the fact that Jacqui communicated with Christine," as, he has told us, have all his police colleagues with whom he has discussed the case.
* The article "A Possibly Unique Case of Psychic Detection," by Guy Lyon Playfair and Montague Keen is found in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, Volume 68, Number 874, January 2004, pages 1–17. This article, like all SPR Journal articles prior to 2007, can be found online in an archive open to SPR members. (Membership costs about $100 a year.) Alternatively, you can read the article by subscribing to the Lexscien database, which maintains the SPR's archive. Lexscien charges a fee, but there is a workaround: you can register with Lexscien and then take advantage of their free seven-day trial to read the article online. (The seven-day trial does not allow you to download the full article for offline reading or printout.)
** For a fuller discussion of the problems with arguing by mere logical possibilities, see Chris Carter's Science and the Afterlife Experience.
There's a book on the Jacqui Poole case: A Voice from the Grave (2006), by Christine Holohan and Vera McHugh. I've ordered a copy. Perhaps it will shed further light on some of the loose ends mentioned in the post.
For another summary and analysis of the Poole case, see this writeup at AECES.