Paranormal Investigation: The Gold Leaf Lady

I was seated across a table from a woman, no more than three feet away. And while we were talking, a small piece of gold-colored foil appeared suddenly on her face. I knew that her hands were nowhere near her face when this happened. In fact, I was certain they were in full view on the table the entire time. I knew also that if her husband, seated next to her, had placed the material on her face, I would have seen it clearly. But nobody’s hands had been anywhere near her face. So I knew that the material hadn’t been placed there; it appeared there, evidently without normal assistance.

This was one of several similar incidents that occurred during my most fascinating paranormal investigation: the case of a woman much of whose body—not just parts of her face—would break out in what looked like gold leaf. But first, some background. We need to be clear about just how unusual and potentially important this case is.

Parapsychologists study several interesting phenomena, but they focus primarily on the evidence for extrasensory perception (ESP), psychokinesis (PK), and survival of bodily death. Of course, many consider all of these incredible and unworthy of serious attention. Others agree that they’re extraordinary, but believe they’re both possible and worth studying. And still others consider at least some of the phenomena to be natural and part of everyday life. In fact, many would say ESP is merely a form of intuition and leave the matter there.

At any rate, everyone has a “boggle threshold,” even those who embrace the paranormal without batting an eye. Typically, believers in the paranormal draw the line at accepting conspicuous and large-scale PK, because those phenomena seem simply too weird to be true. Moreover, many find them threatening, hinting (uncomfortably) that we live in a world where our thoughts can remotely harm others. But we find boggle thresholds even among those who accept the reality of PK on observable objects (so-called macro-PK). For example, although some believe that PK can influence pencils, compass needles, and other small objects, they refuse to grant that PK could occur in larger-scale or more exotic forms.

In a way, this is hardly surprising. After all, some truly spectacular and apparently incredible phenomena have been reported throughout the history of parapsychology. Of those, perhaps the most intriguing are materializations and apports. Materializations (assuming they really occur) are cases where objects seem to be produced out of nothing. Apportations (sometimes called “teleportations”), on the other hand, would be cases where already existing objects disappear from one location and reappear (usually suddenly) in another location.

Many confuse these two phenomena, and it’s easy to see why. For one thing, depending on how we explain the process of apportation, it might be thought to involve materialization. According to one theory, an agent (living or dead) performs a feat similar to a Star Trek transporter, disintegrating an object into micro-level components and then reassembling the object at another location. That last stage, of course, might count as a kind of materialization (or rematerialization) of the object. Another reason some confuse materializations and apports is that objects show up unexpectedly in both, without the usual transitions or intermediate stages we perceive when things move from one place to another.

But despite these similarities, materializations and apports still differ in important respects. For example, although objects appear unexpectedly in both and seem to come from nowhere, only in the case of apports do objects actually change location. By contrast, materialized objects seem to be produced de novo; they are evidently created, not moved. According to reports, these new objects take many different forms, including full human figures, parts of human figures (e.g., hands that end at the wrist), nondescript knobby objects, and flat, two-dimensional pictures. They also include extensive and flexible projections or pseudopods emanating from a person’s mouth, navel, or vagina. Observers claim these projections travel away from the person, sometimes to move nearby objects and sometimes to transform themselves into familiar shapes (e.g., a human hand). Sometimes these novel objects appear fully formed, and other times witnesses observe them in the process of formation. In fact, sometimes the newly formed objects emerge so slowly and gradually that observers have been able to describe their evolution in considerable detail. But at other times the objects seem to appear nearly instantaneously.

Moreover, although materialized and apported objects may be either animate or inanimate, it’s rare to find reports of metallic objects materializing. One possible contemporary exception to this rule concerns the Indian guru Sai Baba, who reportedly materialized newly formed articles of jewelry and other metallic objects, some of them valuable. Unfortunately, however, his manifestations have been loosely controlled at best. Apart from that, the only examples come from cases usually classified as visual apparitions. Now that might seem surprising, because most visual apparitions are of persons or other creatures, living or dead. But apparitional figures sometimes include metallic accessories, such as belt buckles or jewelry. So if some animate apparitional figures are materializations, then presumably their metallic components would also count as materialized objects. But again, all these cases are rare. In apports, however, metal plays a more prominent role. It’s relatively common to find accounts of stones or metals passing through barriers, or at least leaving one location and arriving at another. And curiously, in many of those cases, the newly arrived objects are too hot to touch. Perhaps significantly, that thermal phenomenon seems to be common only when the apported objects are of large or moderate size.

Another important difference between materializations and apports is that the former exist only for a short time. Eventually (usually pretty quickly), materialized objects dematerialize, as if their solidity is inherently unstable. In fact, in many cases observers report that the objects formed or coalesced out of a cloudy or wispy mass, and then later returned to that diffuse state and disappeared entirely. Similarly, observers sometimes claim that the initially cloudy shapes emerge from, and then later seem to be reabsorbed by, a part of the subject's body. By contrast, apports only move from one place to another; they don’t entirely vanish or dissolve and disperse. Some alleged apports have been described in the process of taking shape at their new location. But I can think of no case in which a new—not transported—object was observed to materialize and take solid form, and then didn’t reportedly dematerialize later.

Once again, the alleged materializations of Sai Baba might count as an exception. The jewelry and powdery ash, or vibuti, he ostensibly produces are permanent objects. But I believe that those phenomena, even if genuine, may not fall into this category. Witnesses report seeing the objects already formed, not in the process of coming to be.

Now it might be that these issues are relatively unimportant and have little, if anything, to do with the nature of the phenomena themselves. It might simply be a sociocultural artifact that materialized objects eventually dematerialize, or that they dematerialize sooner rather than later. The largest body of evidence for materializations comes from the heyday of the Spiritualist movement—roughly 1850 to 1930. Those reported phenomena occurred within a powerful system of belief and expectation that might have profoundly influenced the manner in which they occurred. Sai Baba’s alleged materializations occur within a very different social and cultural milieu. So perhaps it’s not surprising that they differ dramatically from spiritualist materializations. Perhaps eventual or hastened dematerialization is—as Aristotle would have said—an accidental rather than an essential feature of materialization phenomena.

At any rate, I was understandably intrigued when, in the winter of 1987, I learned of a case in which large quantities of metal were allegedly produced paranormally. According to the reports, the metal was gold in color, it did not later disappear, and sometimes it seemed to take shape and grow while witnesses looked on. I realized immediately that the case was potentially a great opportunity and a considerable puzzle. It was an opportunity because the substance didn’t disappear, and so investigators could examine it carefully. And it was a mystery because, if the anomalous metal was genuinely paranormal, it was unclear how to classify it. Should we consider it an apport or a materialization? It seemed to be created de novo and develop like materialized objects, but unlike those objects it didn’t later disappear. However, unlike apports, the material didn’t seem to come from anywhere.
2. Introduction to Katie

The subject of this case is a Florida housewife named Katie, now in her mid-50s. She was born to a poor family in the mountains of Tennessee, the tenth of twelve children. When Katie was in the second grade, one of her older sisters unexpectedly left home, taking her baby with her. That event apparently caused Katie’s mother (who had been raising the baby) to develop serious psychogenic paralysis. As a result, Katie dropped out of school so that she could administer physical therapy to her mother, attend to her mother’s other needs, and take care of most chores around the house. And because Katie never resumed her formal education, she has remained functionally illiterate. She knows how to write her name, she knows the letters of the alphabet, and she knows numbers. But Katie can’t synthesize letters into words, and she can barely do simple arithmetic. She’s earned a living primarily doing housework.

My impression of Katie, both as a person and as a psychic subject, is very positive. She strikes me as intelligent and honest, and she’s always been fully cooperative with investigators. Moreover, unlike many who find themselves the center of academic scrutiny and media attention, she’s refreshingly modest and non-opportunistic. Significantly, Katie is not a professional psychic and has never demonstrated an interest in becoming one. The only money she receives in her capacity as a psychic is compensation for time away from work, and occasionally a modest honorarium for the indignity of submitting to intimate physical examinations as investigators search for concealed foil or other objects. So I think it’s fair to say that Katie neither reaps nor seeks financial reward for her psychic activities. Furthermore, unlike some who are or at least fancy themselves to be highly psychic, Katie has no ax to grind for any particular philosophical or religious point of view. Refreshingly, she has no pretensions about her understanding of the role of psi in the grand scheme of things. In fact, although I understand that Katie attends church, as far as I’m aware she’s not particularly religious.

In addition to being gratifyingly cooperative, Katie is an unusually versatile psychic subject. The apparent gold foil on her body is only one of the interesting phenomena swirling around her. For example, Katie frequently seems to receive apported objects; seeds reportedly germinate rapidly in her cupped hands; and observers have also claimed to see Katie bend metal. Katie is also reported to be both a healer and a medium (or channel). And in that latter capacity she has been observed and videotaped writing quatrains in medieval French, ostensibly from Nostradamus, and similar in both style and content to Nostradamus’s actual quatrains.

Katie has also worked successfully with police and other authorities in the investigation of crimes. One of the more spectacular of those efforts took place near Vero Beach, Florida on John’s Island, the location of many luxurious homes. My information on this case came from an interview I conducted in January 1988 with the island’s director of security, Jerry Burr. Burr and his associates were having trouble solving a burglary from one of the island’s homes, and although he said he was skeptical at first, he had heard about Katie’s abilities and figured it couldn’t hurt to ask for her assistance. All he told Katie initially was that a valuable ring had been stolen from a house. He didn’t tell her in which house the burglary occurred, and he gave her no other information about the case. He said he wanted to see what Katie could do with a minimum of information.

Burr then took Katie for a drive around John’s Island. They were accompanied in the car by two other security officers and Burr’s assistant, but only one other passenger besides Burr knew where the burglary had occurred. Moreover, they didn’t drive directly to the house. They simply drove around the island, waiting to see if Katie could identify the house in question as they drove near it. Burr told me he would often take his foot off the gas pedal and coast along the streets, to avoid slowing down suggestively near any particular house, and he did this as well when they reached the street where the burglary had occurred. Burr said he also looked straight ahead as they neared the house, not wanting to give Katie any additional clues.

As they coasted past the burgled home, Katie identified it. She correctly claimed that the room from which the ring was taken was blue and decorated in a Japanese motif. She also described the box from which the ring was taken, and she accurately described the maid as a short, heavy-set blonde. Moreover, although Burr eventually told Katie there were two suspects, Katie claimed that there were three, all of them friends of the family. One she described carefully; another she described more sketchily, and Katie claimed that a third person was driving the getaway car. Burr told me that Katie was so detailed and accurate in her descriptions that at first he thought he should regard her as a suspect. He said he didn’t realize initially just how good Katie was. In any event, Burr claimed that Katie’s information allowed him to solve the crime and recover much of $185,000 worth of stolen jewelry.

As they drove away from the house, they were traveling near the ocean, and suddenly Katie asked Burr to stop the car and pull into a nearby driveway. This was at 1:15 p.m. Katie claimed she could hear helicopters and smell marijuana very strongly. She said the smell of pot made her very ill, and she asked the other passengers if they were having similar perceptions. But no one else heard the helicopters or smelled the pot. Katie then claimed that in two weeks marijuana would be washed up on shore near where they were parked. Burr took note of the time of Katie’s prediction, but he said he didn’t think anything more about it until two weeks later, at noon, twenty-five bales of pot washed ashore near where they had parked, and the area was swarming with police helicopters. Of course, drug traffickers do a lot business near the Florida coast, and it’s hardly unprecedented for pot to be discovered and seized in this way. But it’s also not an everyday event or (arguably) even a common occurrence, and it’s certainly intriguing that Katie’s prediction was accurate almost to the hour.

Of course, I was interested in the full range of Katie’s apparent psychic gifts, and since I was writing a book about dissociation and multiple personality when I first learned about the case, I was especially intrigued by Katie’s automatic Nostradamus scripts. But the most unusual aspect of the case was the mysterious foil that appeared on Katie’s body. More than anything else, it was the prospect of both observing the foil appear and collecting it for analysis that brought me to Florida.
3. All That Glitters

I learned about Katie from her principal investigator, psychiatrist and parapsychologist Berthold E. Schwarz, who happened to live in Vero Beach, not far from Katie. Bert alerted me to what he had been observing and encouraged me to check it out for myself. So in January 1988, during a break between semesters, my wife and I traveled to Vero Beach.

Bert generously gave me a detailed introduction to the facts of the case prior to my first meeting with Katie. I learned that the golden foil appears on various regions of Katie’s body—primarily on her face, arms, hands, and torso, but occasionally on her legs as well. It sometimes manifests in layers (i.e., foil appears on top of other patches of foil), and eruptions sometimes cover relatively large areas—for example, four-by-five-inch patches or larger. Unlike some of Katie’s other unusual capacities, manifesting the foil is beyond her control. It can happen at any time, and (not surprisingly) Katie regards it as an affliction. For one thing, it’s often uncomfortable, accompanied by a burning or itching feeling and sometimes leaving behind reddened skin when it’s removed. And for another, it’s frequently embarrassing. After all, the foil may appear suddenly while Katie is shopping or dining out. Of course, Katie never knows what to say when that happens, and she’d rather not deal with such situations at all. Sometimes, months may pass without any appearance of the foil, but then it starts again and it may be weeks or months before Katie enjoys another break from the phenomenon.

It’s tempting at first to think that the foil is exuded through Katie’s skin. And in fact, that’s often how it looks to those who’ve seen it appear and who’ve noted (for example) how Katie’s skin sometimes starts to glisten and develop tiny droplets before thin layers of foil appear. But reportedly the foil appears also on Katie’s clothes and on objects in her vicinity (and, I’m told, sometimes at distant locations). I haven’t seen these externalized manifestations, but Bert has shown me sealed containers from around his office, with large quantities of foil inside. Since I have no doubt whatever of Bert’s honesty and have found no reason to distrust Katie, I accept Bert’s claim that the containers were sealed beforehand and not handled by Katie.

In any case, there’s another reason to doubt that the foil is exuded through Katie’s skin. Several different analyses of many samples reveal that the gold-colored foil is actually brass, roughly 80 percent copper and 20 percent zinc. Considering the quantity of foil removed from Katie’s body, for Katie to have “sweated” the foil through the pores of her skin would have required lethal amounts of the metals in her system. Besides, blood work on Katie has never turned up the abnormalities one would expect if Katie had been “manufacturing” the brass from substances already inside her.

I’ve had Katie’s foil analyzed at several labs, and none have found anything obviously remarkable about it. We looked at it under scanning electron microscopes at two University of Maryland campuses, and analytical chemists on my campus also began work on a careful study. I’ve also had the foil scrutinized at Denver University, Johns Hopkins University (JHU), and the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). My experience with the Johns Hopkins Department of Materials Science and Engineering is especially noteworthy.

At first, department chair Bob Green and his colleagues were intrigued when I introduced them to the details of the case, including the strong reasons for thinking that the foil manifestations were not fraudulent. They graciously agreed to see whether anything in the foil’s underlying structure distinguished it from commercially available samples of brass leaf, usually called “Dutch metal” or “composition leaf.” Their analysis determined that Katie’s foil had the same granular structure as ordinary pressed or rolled leaf, like that of the commercial samples.

That was an important piece of information, because it ruled out one skeptical hypothesis as to how Katie might have fraudulently caused the foil to appear as witnesses looked on at close range. According to that hypothesis, Katie could have dissolved brass in a solution which she applied to her skin prior to test sessions. Then, the solution would evaporate, apparently miraculously leaving behind areas of brass. But as the JHU scientists pointed out, any brass evaporated out of a liquid applied to Katie’s body would have a crystalline structure, not a pressed or rolled structure.

Regrettably (but not really inscrutably), the JHU team lost interest in Katie at this point. They apparently made the tacit, but unwarranted, assumption that if the foil had been produced paranormally, its structure would be unusual in some flagrant way. But of course, that’s a non sequitur. As far as we know, paranormally produced substances might mimic the structure of normal substances. Similarly, anomalously structured foil would not establish the paranormal origin of the material; it might simply indicate an unusual mode of production. Still, I can understand why the JHU scientists found Katie’s foil less intriguing after their analysis. After all, they’re materials scientists, and they found that there was nothing special about Katie’s foil, considered simply as a sample of brass. And, I suppose, there was little (if anything) more they could have added to my research at that point.…
4. Observing the Foil

I and others have tried following Katie around with video recorders, hoping to document one of the foil’s unpredictable spontaneous occurrences. Usually, that proved difficult and annoying to all concerned, and the recorders never seemed pointed at Katie (or the right spot on Katie) at the right time. As a result, it became obvious that a somewhat more formal arrangement would be necessary.

The usual strategy developed for observing Katie was as follows. Katie would be ushered into a back room in Bert Schwarz’s office. A chair awaited her in the center of the room, and one or more video cameras would be ready to go, usually mounted on tripods. Since Bert is a physician and Katie’s confidant, he would search her for hidden foil in a way that would be inappropriate for other observers. So he would first examine Katie’s body and hair carefully, and he would ask Katie to remove her false teeth so that he could examine them and look carefully in Katie’s mouth. Then the other observers would carefully check Katie’s hands and arms, which (since Katie always wore a short-sleeve T-shirt for these sessions) was easy enough to do. They would also ask Katie to lift her shirt to just below her breasts, so that they could determine that no foil was present on her torso or on the underside of her shirt.

Of course, this scrutiny can never lead to fully relaxed interactions, especially when it’s followed by the unremitting observation (staring, actually) of several people along with video recording. Nevertheless, Bert and the others would engage Katie in a somewhat forced casual conversation, hoping that something would appear on the exposed regions of her body, or at least manifest under her shirt. Foil appeared in plain view only once in my sessions with Katie (more on that below). But whether or not it manifested before everyone’s eyes, observers would eventually ask Katie to lift her shirt, to see whether there had been some undercover activity during their conversation. Bert and others report that on many occasions large quantities of foil would at that point be spread over Katie’s abdomen. It was clear that if that amount of foil had been hidden under Katie’s shirt, it would not have escaped detection by any moderately attentive person.

Regrettably, I didn’t observe any foil on the several occasions when Katie lifted her shirt. But I did observe stigmata-like raised and reddish patches on her skin that had not been there before, in the shapes of a cross and of a butterfly. I also observed several instances of automatic writing in medieval French, some other displays of ostensible mediumship, and also a peculiar incident with a video lamp bulb.

Apparently, Bert had never succeeded in capturing the emergence of foil on video. Every time I asked him to show me some evidential footage, he always produced a sample in which the foil had already appeared. Moreover, I don’t believe Bert has unbroken footage beginning with the initial search of Katie and continuing through the eventual appearance of the foil when she lifted her shirt. But I also don’t believe Bert cares particularly whether he managed to obtain video evidence of the sort I hoped for. He was already certain the foil manifestations were genuine, and he was more interested in documenting Katie the subject, probing the psychogenesis, meaning, and variations of the phenomenon. I actually respect Bert’s perspective and share it to a great extent. I also share his impatience with the continued emphasis in parapsychology on proof-oriented research. However, I believe Katie’s phenomena are so important and unusual that they merit the fullest possible documentation.

Fortunately, I managed to videotape the appearance of foil at fairly close range. But even that piece of evidence is problematical. Here’s what happened. Only one tripod-mounted video recorder was available on this occasion, and I operated the camera. As usual, I examined Katie’s face, hands, arms, torso, and the underside of her T-shirt after Bert conducted his more intimate inspection. During the ensuing artificially casual discussion between Bert, Katie, and me, Katie apparently began experiencing an irritation in the outer corner of her right eye. Evidently, it was of the sort that often foreshadowed the appearance of golden foil. As Katie began to rub that part of her eye, I zoomed in on her face, hoping to catch something worthwhile at close range. At that point, the tape shows that no foil was near Katie’s eye. Repeatedly, Katie wiped the corner of her eye with her finger and then looked at the finger to see if any foil had been deposited on it. On one of those occasions, a very tiny speck of golden material was visible near Katie’s eye when she removed her finger. And the next time Katie wiped her eye and removed her finger, the spot had grown to about a quarter-inch square.

Now, Bert and I had examined Katie carefully beforehand, inspecting her face and hands. Without doubt, no foil was present in those areas at that time. Also, it was obvious that Katie had no access to foil during our conversation and taping. She was in full view, her arms exposed in a short-sleeve shirt, and there was no place in her vicinity into which she could have reached to put foil on her finger and thereafter transfer the foil to her eye. But you have to accept my and Bert’s word on this; there’s no way to tell from the videotape. I was recording Katie with only one camera, in a tight headshot. So when Katie looked at her finger to see if something had been near her eye, she took her hand out of camera range. Viewers of the video have no way of telling, from the video alone, that Katie didn’t dip her finger into some golden foil and then transfer it to her eye.

However, if you can accept my word and trust the minimal observational prowess required to determine that Katie had no foil hidden on her hands or face beforehand, the brief video footage is an important piece of evidence. It documents an instance of what many have observed, often in more florid form. And it may be the only record of the foil in the process of formation.

I suppose skeptics can glibly insist that Katie somehow managed to hide a small piece of foil and surreptitiously place a speck of it, and then a larger piece, near her eye. But as a highly skilled magician later confirmed (see below), and as any person who handles the foil can easily determine, the foil is clingy and very difficult to manipulate. So no one should be satisfied with the confident-sounding pronouncements of magicians that the phenomenon is easy to fake. Confidence is easier to feign than the appearance of Katie’s foil under watchful eyes and after a close bodily inspection. Magicians need to demonstrate that they can do what they claim is easy to do. The proper response to skeptical critics is to demand that they put up or shut up. Significantly, the only thing close to an attempt by skeptics to replicate the phenomenon was laughably inadequate, arguably dishonest, and (in fact) quite irrelevant.…

Incidentally, this was not the only occasion on which I was present for both the appearance and enlargement of some foil on Katie’s face. But the other incident was more informal, and more typical of the difficult-to-videotape real-life situations in which the foil would manifest. Shortly before a scheduled formal session during our 1988 visit to Vero Beach, my wife and I met up with Katie outside Bert’s office. When Katie arrived, she walked up to my wife and they embraced. At that time, no foil was on Katie’s face, and during the embrace her hands were nowhere near her face. Katie’s left hand remained at her side, holding her purse, and her right hand was on my wife’s shoulder. But when they stepped back from the embrace, a small piece of foil, perhaps an eighth-inch square, was on Katie’s left cheek. Of course, my wife observed this at close range, and I observed it at a distance of four or five feet. It was clear that no foil was on Katie’s face before she embraced my wife, and it was equally clear that Katie’s hands were in no position during the embrace to place any foil on her cheek.

Immediately thereafter, we walked inside to Bert’s back room for the planned videotaped session. My wife walked next to Katie on her right and I walked behind them. From the time we entered Bert’s office to the time we entered the back room, Katie’s arms and hands were in clear view at her side, with her left hand still holding her purse. So Katie had no opportunity to touch her face without being observed, and she clearly made no effort to touch her face. But when we arrived in the back room, the piece of foil on Katie’s cheek had doubled in size.
5. Why Golden Foil?

All of Katie’s psychic functioning began after she married her current and second husband, Tom. Evidently, this is a difficult and psychologically abusive relationship. Bert Schwarz knows many of the details, but of course they were revealed to him in confidence. At any rate, it appears that Katie’s case falls within one of the more (actually, one of the few) established regularities discovered in parapsychology.

Probably many readers are familiar with the standard profile of poltergeist cases. With very few exceptions, poltergeist disturbances center around a person, dubbed the poltergeist agent. Usually, this person is a troubled teenager or adolescent—in any case, someone suffering from emotional turmoil that apparently can’t be resolved through conventional means. So it seems that poltergeist agents unconsciously and somewhat spasmodically manage to discharge their intense pent-up feelings. In a kind of brute psychic flailing about, they cause objects to move, break, burst into flame, etc.

Naturally, teenagers aren’t the only people experiencing emotional turmoil. As I can personally attest (though I suppose my testimony isn’t necessary), marriages can also be a fertile ground for deep emotional distress. And in fact, Katie’s isn’t the only case I’ve seen where paranormal physical phenomena occur in the context of a troubled marriage. This merits a brief digression.

Several years after meeting Katie, I investigated the case of a Maryland woman whose photographs showed anomalies of a sort familiar to many psi researchers. Some contained white clouded areas (where none existed in the original scene), and others were marred by white, squiggly, noodle-like streaks (needless to say, those were also not part of the scenes she photographed). This woman, let’s call her S. S., was married to a man diagnosed with bipolar disorder (formerly called “manic depression”). From what I could gather, he was a cruel and domineering husband, and S. S. may have experienced physical as well as psychological abuse. One photo S. S. showed me is particularly interesting. It’s a portrait of her husband in which he’s staring into the camera in anything but a friendly manner, and to the right of his face are some squiggly lines that seem to spell HELP. The last three letters are quite clear; the H is somewhat more indefinite and is tilted to the left. Of course, there’s no way to be certain, but the photo looks very much like a psychically mediated unconscious cry for help; probably from S. S., but possibly from her husband instead. If so, it’s a good example of how paranormal physical phenomena may originate from the psychopathology of everyday life.

Now, back to Katie’s case, which also seems clearly to reveal potent real-life forces shaping both the emergence and the character of spontaneous PK. The foil first appeared on March 5, 1986, in the midst of an active period of paranormal physical phenomena—usually, poltergeist-type disturbances, including apparent apports and the movement of objects. One of those events was the mysterious appearance of a carving set. But when Katie showed it to her husband Tom, he seemed to dismiss her, remarking, “What good is it if it isn’t money?” Two days later, the brass foil appeared for the first time.

This actually makes a lot of sense psychologically. Symbolically, the brass foil satisfies Tom’s demand for something valuable. But at the same time Katie needn’t run the risk of being the goose that lays the golden egg. After all, the pressure of being a psychic subject is weighty enough as it is. If Katie could really produce material of value, the additional pressure and scrutiny could be crushing.

Furthermore, the strategy of producing brass rather than gold might play an interesting role within Katie’s marriage. My take on Katie’s situation is that she feels trapped within that relationship. I believe she’s deeply dissatisfied with it, yet (despite occasional attempts to establish her own independence and on some occasions actually to leave Tom) she’s unable to extricate herself fully from the marriage. And no matter how much residual attachment she may feel toward her husband, I believe Katie harbors considerable anger and resentment toward him as well. If so, the brass foil might be a way of thumbing her nose at Tom, expressing her anger or contempt, or retaliating against him. Brass is not what he wanted; in fact, it’s a kind of “fool’s gold.”

Although Katie clearly shows no interest in making a name for herself as a psychic, even the reasonably suspicious might still wonder about possible, and perhaps less obvious, secondary gains. Perhaps there are other reasons why Katie might want to manufacture evidence of golden leaf appearing on her body. After all, even if Katie seems disinterested in fame and fortune, it would be foolish to claim that she gets no psychological benefit from her apparent psychic abilities. For one thing, Katie gets a lot of respectful attention from people who ordinarily would never have come into contact with her, including scientists and other academics. And it’s likely that Katie holds the somewhat naive view that these people are distinguished and deserving of admiration, simply because they’re members of the scholarly community. (Those who are actually members of that community seldom make this mistake.) Furthermore, Katie’s psychic achievements might also help shift the balance of power in her marriage in ways she finds advantageous, although my impression is that Tom wavers between liking the attention he receives in Katie’s wake and resenting the fact that Katie is the real person of interest. In any case, these secondary gains strike me as fragile, relatively minor, and as insufficient to motivate fraud—at least in Katie, though perhaps not in someone less modest and more driven to seek the spotlight.

This article is excerpted from The Gold Leaf Lady and Other Parapsychological Investigations (available from Amazon US and UK)