Investigating Mini-Mysteries: Your Turn!
Hello there! Welcome to Part 9 of my ten-part introduction to the basics of scientific paranormal investigation, adapted from my book Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries, and the workshop I give of the same title. It’s intended to give the layperson a taste of how a science-based paranormal investigator goes about solving mysteries.
It’s your turn to be the detective! Here are two real-life mini-mysteries that I’ve investigated and solved. I’ve tried to give enough background information to give you clues about the solutions (though in a few cases you may have to do a little basic research) and some hints along the way. Did I find the right answer? Decide for yourself.
Instructions: Read through the background information about each case, highlighting or making notes on important facts and information. Consider possible explanations, focusing on not only on what information you have, but what information you don’t have that may be relevant.
Hints—and the answers—will appear in Part 10.
Mystery 1: The Haunted Door
This is one of my favorite cases, because it happened to me in my own home. In July 2007 I moved into a three-bedroom home near Albuquerque, New Mexico. The house is located near a corner in a residential area at the top of a hill, with a small, grassy park kitty-corner to me which serves as a bus stop for local school kids. The front yard is mostly gravel (due to the desert climate) and the house is about thirty years old. The wood-frame, single-story house is well insulated, with a metal front door and double-paned windows. The city of Albuquerque lies to the southeast, across the Rio Grande river, flanked by the Sandia mountains. There are no known deaths or tragedies associated with the home. (Not relevant, but someone always asks!).
On several occasions early in the mornings I heard a knocking on the front door. The knocking was not very loud, but noticeable and enough to roust me from my bedroom, which is on the opposite side of the house (facing the back yard). I’d walk across the tile floors, open the front door, but no one was there. I might see a car driving by, or the high school kids waiting by the corner, but no one was near the house. (I thought about being that cranky old man on the corner, yelling out my front door, “You damn kids!” and shaking my bony fist at them. But I’m neither cranky nor old, and my fist is not particularly bony.) The knocking happened sporadically over the course of several weeks, between about 7 and 7:30 AM. There would be a few knocks or taps, maybe three or four, but then they would stop. I even managed to capture the knocking with a tape recorder placed near the door.
It was very strange. The main suspects were pranking school kids gathered across the street at the corner. But none of them seemed to pay attention to me, and they’d have to be very fast runners to get from my doorstep to the bus stop in the ten seconds or so it took me to get to my front door. I thought it might be the house settling, as they often do, with ordinary creaks and taps. But this seemed very regular, and only heard at that time of day. Another option was of course ghosts.
What do you think it was, and why?
Mystery 2: The Mysterious Music of Rosemary Brown
Rosemary Brown was a London housewife who created new musical compositions that she claimed were in fact written by the channeled spirits of gifted—yet demonstrably deceased—composers such as Beethoven, Chopin, and Bach. Brown, who had long believed she had psychic powers, wrote in her autobiography Unfinished Symphonies that when she was seven years old, the ghost of composer Franz Liszt appeared and told her that he would work with her in the future.
Decades later he did just that, she claimed, and Brown achieved a height of popularity in the 1970s. After Liszt’s visit, a parade of famous, dead musicians supposedly visited Brown, creating new works through her (curiously, all the composers learned to speak English after their deaths, thus allowing Brown to understand their musical direction and dictation).
Rosemary Brown’s supporters claimed that her music was too complex to have been created by the musically untrained Brown alone, and that her music displayed an uncanny understanding of the nuances in famous composers’ works. One of Brown’s defenders, British composer Richard Rodney Bennett, noted, “if she is a fake… she must have had years of training.” While some experts were impressed, others concluded that the works were merely hack imitations done in the style of the old masters, or variations on extant compositions. Her New York Times obituary noted the “tidal waves of more or less good-natured ridicule from most of the music establishment.” Rodger Anderson, in his book Psychics, Sensitives, and Somnambulists, notes that Brown “later began receiving material from dead artists, writers, scientists, and philosophers, to which critical reaction was similarly mixed.” Brown refused to ask the spirits any verifiable, falsifiable information that would help prove that the dead did indeed speak through her.
Various theories were proposed to explain her ability. Brown maintained that she had never had any musical training aside from a few piano lessons, and Brown’s musical skill was such that she was unable to play many of the pieces she claimed had been dictated to her by the ghosts. It was suggested that she may have had advanced musical training but then forgotten it in a bad case of amnesia. This suggestion was described as “preposterous” by the Browns’ family doctor.
Rosemary was investigated by both musicians and psychologists. None could find any way in which she could be cheating. One idea was that the composers had left behind them unknown, written music and that Rosemary was able to read these sheets, unwittingly using a form of telepathy. Another suggestion was that she picked up music from people around her by telepathy.
How do you think she did it?
Carefully examine these mysteries and see if you can find the most logical solution. If you can’t figure it out, don’t worry: I’ll provide some hints and tips in the next part, before revealing the solutions. Good luck, Sherlocks!
NEXT: Part 10