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William G. Roll

William G. Roll (July 3, 1926 – January 9, 2012) was a noted psychologist and parapsychologist on the faculty of the Psychology Department of the University of West Georgia in Carrollton, Georgia, in the United States.

Early years

Roll was born in 1926 in Bremen, Germany where his father was American Vice-consul. At the age of 3, after his parents divorced, he moved to Denmark with his mother Gudrun Agerholm Roll. According to Roll whilst he was in his childhood in Denmark he began having out-of-body experiences at night.[1] His mother died in 1942 and in 1946 he went to America with his father, who had come to Denmark with the American Allied forces. During the last year of the war, Roll participated in the Danish resistance movement against the Germans.


Roll enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley in 1947 where he received his BA majoring in philosophy and psychology. A year after graduating he went on to Oxford University where he did parapsychology research for eight years. During this period, he was president of the Oxford University Society for Psychical Research. At Oxford, he wrote his thesis which earned him his M. Litt. degree, "Theory and Experiment in Psychical Research". His thesis was later published in the United States by Arno Press.

Sometimes credited as William Roll, or informally, Bill Roll, he was a parapsychologist since the 1950s and authored or coauthored many investigation research papers, articles, and four books: The Poltergeist (1972), Theory and Experiment in Psychical Research (1975), Psychic Connections (1995, with co-author Lois Duncan), and Unleashed: Of Poltergeists and Murder: The Curious Story of Tina Resch (2004, with co-author Valerie Storey). He is also notable for making several appearances in the television show Unsolved Mysteries, among them an episode discussing disturbances on the RMS Queen Mary. (In this episode he was mistakenly credited as being Danish-born.)

Roll was invited by J. B. Rhine to join the Parapsychology Laboratory of Duke University, where he worked from 1957-1964. In 1964 he became president of the Parapsychological Association. In 1958, he coined the term "recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis" (RSPK)[2] in a research paper written with J. G. Pratt that dealt with their investigation of objects moving in a home in Seaford, Long Island, New York USA, that was centered around a 12-year-old son of an affected family.[3] It was Roll's first case.[4]

In 1961, Roll became Project Director of the Psychical Research Foundation (PRF), an off-shoot of J. B. Rhine's Laboratory. After Rhine's retirement from Duke, the PRF left the Duke campus, but in 1969 it returned to Duke as a sponsored program of the School of Electrical Engineering.[5][6] The connection between Duke and the Foundation ended in the late 1970s.[7]

Roll received a Ph.D. in psychology from Lund University in 1989 for a thesis entitled, "This World or That: An Examination of Parapsychological Findings Suggestive of the Survival of Human Personality After Death".

In the 80s and 90s, Roll held various positions at University of West Georgia, including Professor of Psychology and Psychical Research, assistant professor, and instructor. In later years, Roll retired from teaching, though he taught a course in parapsychology at the University of West Georgia in 2007, and continued to write, speak at conferences, and conduct occasional investigations. He was awarded the Parapsychological Award for a Distinguished Career in Parapsychology in 1996 and the Dinsdale Memorial Award from the Society of Scientific Exploration in 2002.

Roll's most famous case was as the lead investigator on the 1984 "Columbus Poltergeist" case, in which remarkable color photos were taken by a veteran newspaper photographer for the Columbus Dispatch newspaper, Fred Shannon, which allegedly showed spontaneous telekinesis events in action occurring in the home of Columbus, Ohio teenager Tina Resch.

Roll's research and published writing concerning psychic phenomena focused on theorizing about and testing for scientific explanations, but some of his theories postulated concepts that extend beyond mainstream science.[7][8]

Roll's last research, as presented to the American Psychological Association, claimed that the root cause of psychic phenomena is a combination of modern physics (i.e., quantum mechanics) and neuroscience. According to Roll all objects and individuals have "psi fields" around them which are the carriers of psi information.[9]


Roll died at the age of 85, in a nursing home in Normal, Illinois, close to the family of one of his children. Prior to that, he had a long residence in the state of Georgia in the southeastern United States with his wife Lydia. He is survived by his adult children (Lise, Leif, and Bill), grandchildren, and his wife Lydia.[10]

Selected publications

  • Roll, W. G. (1968). Some physical and psychological aspects of a series of poltergeist phenomena. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 62, 263-308.
  • Roll, W.G., Burdick, D., & Joines, W.T. (1973). Radial and tangential forces in the Miami poltergeist. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 67, 267-281.
  • Roll, W.G., Burdick, D., & Joines, W.T. (1974). The rotating beam theory and the Olive Hill poltergeist. In W.G. Roll, RL. Morris & J. Morris (Eds.), Research in Parapsychology, 1973, (pp. 64–67). Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow.
  • Roll, W.G., & Gearhart, L. (1974). Geomagnetic perturbations and RSPK. In W.G. Roll, RL. Morris & J. Morris (Eds.), Research in Parapsychology, 1973, (pp. 44–46). Metuchen, N.J: Scarecrow.
  • Roll, W.G. (1986) Theory and Experiment in Psychical Research (Perspectives in psychical research). Ayer Co. Pub. (reprint of 1975 publication of M. Litt. thesis).
  • Roll, W.G., Maher, M., & Brown, B. (1992). An investigation of reported haunting occurrences in a Japanese restaurant in Georgia. The Parapsychological Association 35th Annual Convention, Proceedings of Presented Papers, August 9–13, 151-168.
  • Radin, D.I., and Roll, W.G. (1994). A radioactive ghost in a music hall. Proceedings of the 39th Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association, 337-346.
  • Duncan, Lois & Roll, W.G. (1995) Psychic Connections. Delacorte Books for Young Readers.
  • Roll, W.G. & Persinger, M.A. (1998). Is ESP a form of perception? Contributions from a study of Sean Harribance. Journal of Parapsychology, 62, 116-118, abstract.
  • Roll, W.G. & Persinger, M.A. (1998). Poltergeist and nonlocality: Energetic aspects of RSPK. Proceedings of Presented Papers: The Parapsychological Association 41st Annual Convention, August 6–9, 1998, 184-198.
  • Roll, W.G. (2000). Poltergeist and space-time: A contemplation on Hans Bender's Ideas About RSPK. The Parapsychological Association, 43rd Annual Convention, Proceedings of Presented Papers, August 17–20, 316-332.
  • Roll, W.G. & Nichols, A. (2000). Psychological and electromagnetic aspects of haunts. The Parapsychological Association 43rd Annual Convention, Proceedings of Presented Papers, August 17–20, 364-378.
  • Roll, W.G. (2003). Poltergeists, electromagnetism and consciousness. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 17, 75-86. Online
  • Roll, W.G. (2004). The Poltergeist. New York: Paraview (reprint of 1979 edition).
  • Roll, W.G. & Valerie Storey (2004). Unleashed: Of Poltergeists and Murder: The Curious Story of Tina Resch. Paraview Pocket Books.
  • Roll, W.G. (2006). On Apparitions and Mediumship. In L. Storm and M.A. Thalbourne (Eds.) The Survival of Human Consciousness (pp. 142–173). Jefferson, NC. McFarland & Company, Inc.

See also


  1. ^ James Houran From Shaman to scientist: essays on humanity's search for spirits 2004, p. 171
  2. ^ "Parapsychological Association - Glossary: "RSPK"". Retrieved November 3, 2006. 
  3. ^ Roll, William G.; Pratt, J. G. (1958). The Seaford Disturbances. Journal of Parapsychology, Vol. 2, pp 79-124. 
  4. ^ Roll, William G.; Persinger, Michael A. (2001). Investigations of Poltergeists and Haunts: A Review and Interpretation. An article in the book: Hauntings and Poltergeists: Multidicplinary Perspectives by Houran, James and Lange, Rense, editors; McFarland Press, Jefferson, North Carolina USA, 2001.  "RSPK Cases Investigated by the Psychical Research Foundation. The Seaford Case (1958): My First Investigation. The term RSPK (Pratt & Roll, 1958) was first used for unexplained movements of household objects in a home in Seaford, Long Island."
  5. ^ "Bio, Members Index". Parapsychological Association. Retrieved September 15, 2007. 
  6. ^ "Bio, Advisory Board Members". Rhine Research Center. Retrieved September 15, 2007. 
  7. ^ a b "Address to the RRC/PRF Reunion, May 27, 2006". Rhine Research Center. Retrieved September 15, 2007. 
  8. ^ Alvarado, Carlos S. (2003-09-22). "Reflections on being a parapsychologist". The Journal of Parapsychology. Retrieved September 15, 2007. 
  9. ^ D. Scott Rogo Parapsychology: a century of inquiry Taplinger Pub. Co., 1975, p. 158
  10. ^ "Obituary: Dr. William G. Roll - The Parapsychological Association". Retrieved January 11, 2012. 

External links

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