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Helen Duncan
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Psychic/Fraud
    (November 25, 1897-December 6, 1956)
    Born in Callander, Scotland, United Kingdom
    Birth name was Victoria Helen MacFarlane
    Clairvoyant and medium
    Held seances at which she produced ectoplasm from her mouth
    Arrested, convicted and imprisoned under the Witchcraft Act of 1735 (1944)
    When psychic researcher Harry Price, who suspected she swallowed cheesecloth and regurgitated it as 'ectoplasm,' tried to x-ray her, she threw a conniption fit and bolted from his lab.
    At one of her seances, a sitter grabbed the spirit she had manifested and discovered it to be an undershirt.
    As a result, she was fined £10 for false mediumship (1934).
    She was arrested at another seance, where she manifested a spirit that turned out to be her beneath a white cloth (January 19, 1944).
    Believers in psychic phenomenon claim, without any evidence, that she was arrested to keep her from accidentally spilling the beans about the upcoming D-Day invasion during a seance.
    The judge who passed sentence on her noted that she exploited the bereaved.
    She is often described as the last person in Britain convicted of being a witch, despite the minor technicalities: (1) she was convicted under a section of the Act covering fraudulent claims of contacting spirits, not actual witchcraft; (2) Jane Rebecca Yorke would be convicted under same section of the Act later in 1944.
    She apparently attracted the notice of the British Navy after a seance where she put a mother in touch with the spirit of her son who had drowned on the HMS Barham before news of the ship's sinking had been announced to the general public.
    (A note to anyone belieiving this proves her to be genuine: relatives of the victims had been told of the sinking, so Duncan could have been using the John Edwards technique of getting your sitter to cough up the info, then hoping your audience forgets who said what first.)
    At her trial, several prominent people testified that they believed her to be authentic.
    Winston Churchill wrote to the Home Secretary calling the case against her 'obsolete tomfoolery.'
    Her trial contributed to the repeal of the Witchcraft Act and its replacement by the Fraudulent Mediums Act (1951).
    Frankly, if you were taken in by a 'spirit' looking like the one in her profile picture, you probably deserved to lose your money.

Credit: C. Fishel


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