A former globe-trotting reporter for the National Enquirer shares with us some of his most interesting paranormal assignments – Part One.
By Brent Raynes
Paul Bannister is a journalist who originally came to us from England. Back in the 1970s, he came to our country and joined the staff of the National Enquirer, and got all kinds of intriguing paranormal assignments. In his recent book, Tabloid Man & the Baffling Chair of Death, you can read all about his many adventures traveling all over the world. His book can be ordered from: www.BannisterBooks.com.
However, in the meantime, join Paul and me as we chat away in this interview about how he got started in all of this and what have been some of his most interesting paranormal adventures.
Paul Bannister: As you know, Bob Pratt was our UFO guy and a fine job that he did actually.
Brent Raynes: I interviewed Bob a few years ago for this magazine. I had met him originally back in 1976, when he was really newly converted as a UFO believer. He said that prior to that he had been in journalism a good number of years and kept his distance from any stories about UFOs that came his way, but then when he began working for the National Enquirer he was assigned to look into a UFO story. He wasn’t too happy about that, but when he investigated his first case, with very credible multiple witnesses, I think that he was hooked right after that. He wasn’t able to explain what those witnesses saw and so he became very interested, and after he left the Enquirer he continued to investigate stories. He even made a good number of extensive investigative trips to Brazil, which is a real hot bed for UFO activity, which he had first discovered when he was working for The Enquirer.
Paul Bannister: Bob and I played tennis together. Did I tell you the joke we played on him one time?
Brent Raynes: Yeah, but go ahead and tell it again.
Paul Bannister: Bob used to keep a pretty meticulous record of his gas mileage in his little notebook, and we toyed with the idea of adding gasoline to his car and then sucking it out, but after we did it once or twice it was too boring. There were a handful of us in the office who liked Bob, and Faith [Bob’s wife] gave us a set of keys (laughs) so for about three weeks we’d move his car just two or three spaces from where he had parked it.
He was pretty puzzled about it. He kind of noticed after awhile and it kept going on and then he was taking note of where he had parked. We never moved it far. Just a couple of spaces.
He wondered about that for awhile, until we finally told him. He was a nice, nice man.
Brent Raynes: Yes, he certainly seemed very nice and was always very helpful.
You started out as a newspaperman in England?
Paul Bannister: Yes, I started in Britain. I worked my way up from weekly newspapers to national newspapers. The last paper I worked for was The Daily Mail. I worked briefly for the BBC and I worked for The Sun, which is a national newspaper which folded. Then I met a former colleague who was working for the Enquirer. He was one of the very first people back when the Enquirer just had a very few reporters. He came back to Manchester, where I lived. He was remarkable. He was there in his white suit and suntan in the middle of winter, and Manchester is a gloomy industrial town in the north of England.
Anyway, a long story short, I did some free-lancing and I came across a story that I thought would interest the Enquirer, and it did.
Brent Raynes: Yes, you’re referring to the Baffling Chair of Death.
Paul Bannister: That was what started it all. I sent that idea to the Enquirer and they said “Yeah, go ahead and do it,” and the story was about a pub in Yorkshire, a little town called Thirsk. It had a very old chair and the story that was attached to it was that in 1702 a local named Thomas Busby had this chair as his own in the pub. It wasn’t his but he claimed it when he went in there, and he was a bully. He killed his father-in-law, a fellow called Daniel Auty. He was caught and convicted and sentenced to be hanged in chains right there at the crossroads, which the pub is at a crossroads.
The custom of the day was to give a condemned man a last drink, which was usually drugged so that he would go quietly. He supposedly cursed the chair, if anybody sat in his chair, and then they took him outside and hanged him and left the body to rot, as an example.
Well, the story that grew up with the people who sat in the chair was that they would die, usually within three days. It was never a specific time, to be honest. They would die soon afterwards. I went and I talked to the publican and he said that he knew of a dozen or so cases. He personally knew of a brick layer who had been in the pub at lunchtime – he had been working there – and he had fallen off the roof of the building and had been killed. There was somebody else who had left the pub and driven into a tree and died on the spot. And I think it was an Army Sergeant who had sat in the chair, and that was usually the MO of it all, and he dropped dead of a heart attack outside of the pub. One of the publicans friends, Tony Earnshaw, one of his friends sat in it, against Earnshaw’s wishes, and he had a heart attack in the market place the next day and died.
So I did this story and the Enquirer wanted more and so I went back and got a little more for them and they ran it. Well, I investigated it a bit deeper and I found that the pub had actually been near a former World War II airfield that had been right along side it. Three Canadian squadrons used to be based there, of flying bombers, and of course reconnaissance over the North Sea. I figured that was where the legend probably really originated from because about twenty percent of them didn’t come back from the raids.
Anyway, not to spoil the book, but I investigated it even further and it turned out that the chair could never have been cursed by Busby because the thing wasn’t made until a 150 years or so after he died.
Brent Raynes: Yeah, that would be a discrepancy there, wouldn’t it?
Paul Bannister: It would actually yeah, but the Enquirer didn’t care. They just wanted the story and they didn’t want the facts to stand in the way and so they went with the original story, and it was only later actually when I checked on the story again for another tabloid that I dug that out. But the locals still believe it. The chair is in a museum. It’s in Thirsk museum, and they’ve got it high on a wall, in a corner, where nobody can sit on it, with a rope across it. At the time, I spoke with the local vicar who said, “That’s evil. I’d burn it.” And I talked to the curator of the museum not so long ago, and he was aware of the chair’s real providence, but even so he said, “No, we had about six Japanese TV crews come through here and I’m not taking it down off the wall. Nobody is going to sit in it. No.”
So whatever it is, the people still believe in it, and maybe the thing is somehow imbued with evil. I just don’t know.
But the actual specifics of the manufacturer, the fellow who made it was making those chairs – the particular spindle back and all – from about 1845 to about 1870 I think.
Brent Raynes: That’s an old chair.
Paul Bannister: Yeah, but it’s…
Brent Raynes: But not old enough for the story.
Paul Bannister: Yeah, yeah. People want those stories. That’s the thing.
I ended up digging into it deeper and again it’s like so many of these things, there is an effect but you can’t work out quite what it is. I did work with Hal Puthoff and Russell Targ at Stanford Research Institute on their remote viewing. You know, they were training psychic spies for the CIA and that was a long running program and that had spectacular results.
Brent Raynes: Did that come about with your work with the astronaut Edgar Mitchell?
Paul Bannister: He was associated with them a bit later, yes. They tested Uri Geller. They had a nine year contract, at one point, for $1.1 million a year. Then I learned a bit later apparently the CIA contract ran out and it was continued by some other body of the D.O.D. I think it might have been the Advanced Projects Research Agency and it went until 1995. So it ran for 20 years and 25 million dollars.
They had spectacular results and I did a series of stories about that. I don’t know how much you may know about this Brent. I may be preaching to the choir.
Brent Raynes: Well I have read some about it. I read their book.
Paul Bannister: The Mind Race?
Brent Raynes: Yes. And they mentioned then, in that book, that they were working with the Department of Defense, that they did have some backing.
Paul Bannister: Yeah, they never did actually mention the CIA at the time, although I still do have a copy of the contract – a great big fat contract that they had.
The deal was that they’d sit the subject down on their orange imitation leather sofa and the key to it all, which was sort of interesting to me, was that they would reassure the subject that it was okay to succeed. Early in the series they’d say send your mind out to where our outbound subject has gone. So they’d have someone sitting in the lab and then they’d send a researcher out into the field, maybe 20 – 30 miles away, it didn’t really matter, or across the continent. They did it right across the U.S. At a given time the outbound researcher would just have to be aware of his or her circumstances – just alert to what was going on. Make a note of it. Maybe even make a tape recording of what he was seeing while the fellow back in the lab would record his impressions, and they got some pretty spectacular things.
They refined it and then they started doing things like they found a downed Soviet bomber. The DOD told them that the Soviets lost a bomber in the jungles of Zaire and one of their subjects located it and we got to it before the Soviets did, which was pretty interesting.
They did a series of tests where they gave their subjects in the lab a set of map coordinates. They’d have maybe 6 or 7 sets sealed in envelopes and so they didn’t know where he was going, so they couldn’t influence the test, and they’d be very specific. It would usually be something like a small body of water in a landmass or an island in an ocean and then they’d say, “Okay, now go to these coordinates and describe what you see.” And this one experiment, which I think I describe in reasonable detail, was when they gave the subject the coordinates for the French sub-Antarctic island of Kerguelan, and said go and describe it, and the subject was Ingo Swann, an artist from New York who was very good at this, and Ingo sketched the island with the mountain on it and the airstrip and where the buildings were. It was a meteorological research station. He got all of it right, but interestingly he also described an orange object. It was long and sort of a wall orange like object. It was a bit puzzling. They contacted the people on Kerguelan and they said, “What about this orange thing?” It turned out that for two days, right at the time of the experiment, they had had some outdoor equipment tied down underneath this orange tarp because they had had a storm coming in. But it was only there for two days and Swann had seen this. I mean, it was pretty convincing.
Brent Raynes: There was a remote viewing as described in your book where the Enquirer actually sent someone to this country and they went up in an aircraft and photographed the site.
Paul Bannister: You’ll probably find that in Mind Race. The psychic had sketched a view of an airfield in Columbia, which he had seen from the air, which is kind of interesting. The Enquirer wanted a picture of it. Normally they would have just run the psychic’s picture. A normal paper would have done that, and I use that anecdote to illustrate the way that they spent money.
They sent Jim Sutherland down who is a photographer and he charted a plane and he flew about until he got the right angle and then took a picture. They probably spent ten thousand dollars just on that one picture, just so you could see the site from the air from the same viewpoint that the psychic had described.
But they weren’t psychics. That was the interesting thing. They were just ordinary people. Some of them were CIA agents. But they were ordinary people, untrained.
Brent Raynes: Right, and from what I read it was really Ingo Swann who really came up with the idea of teaching people to do this.
Paul Bannister: It might have been. They had a police captain named Pat Price who also was very talented at this and Pat died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. I talked with a woman back in the ‘80s named Larissa Vilenskya. She had been some kind of Soviet engineer. She defected to Israel and then came to the states, and she described to me how the Soviets were using mind power to influence people remotely as well as to injure or kill them, and there was suspicion that Pat Price may have been killed.
Then I had an interesting thing that happened to me personally, which you know always carries a bit of weight when you witness it yourself. It’s a lot more convincing than hearing it secondhand. I had been down in Sao Paolo, Brazil, for a story. Well, for a number of them actually, but there had been poltergeist activity at a house there. I don’t know Portuguese, so I had an interpreter. He said that the family told them that they had had a hex put on them by a macumbeira, by a witch doctor down there, and I talked to the police chief and he said yes, he had been to the house himself and here was a black plaster wall with apparent flames coming out of it. He realized that there was no heat from the flames and he got close and he put a bank note up among them and it didn’t burn. It was an image of flames but no heat, you see, so the family had hired another macumbeira to take the hex off. So I got the story.
While I was in the place, by the way, they had a green leather imitation sofa and while I was there, suddenly the back of it split in three straight parallel lines, as if somebody had just clawed across it. I mean, I was in the room and it was okay and then there was a noise and we all looked and this thing was just split open.
All of this stuff finally stopped after that, after they got their own witch doctor, and the interpreter said, “Look, you should interview him.” I said, “Hey look, I want to get back to Florida. I have had enough. It’s not going to add any credibility me talking to a guy with a bone through his nose.” He said, “You really should.” I said, “No. I’m not going to bother to. Don’t worry about it. I’ve got a police chief, I’ve got the family, I’ve got some pictures, and I’ve got this, that and the other.”
So that night I was in Sao Paolo and I went for my dinner and I’m eating this chicken pot pie and I bite on something and it’s a square piece of glass, like you get out of a broken windshield. It had been in the pie. So I was kind of indignant and the manager apologized and said they didn’t make it on the premises, dinner is on me, that kind of thing.
Well the next night I was in Rio. I had flown up to Rio and I was going to go home from there. I was in a bar and I was having a mixed drink. Again it was a hotel bar, a very nice place, and I had a drink with ice and then there was a cube of glass again. I was indignant and the bartender showed me that my glass wasn’t chipped and he said, “It can’t come from here,” and he showed me that they had a revolving rubber thing that they clean the glasses with and I said, “Ah well. Okay.”
Then the third night I was home in Florida, with just about a 24 hour cycle between these happenings, and I went to the fridge and while I rarely drink sodas my kids had a coke and for once I poured it into a glass and as I poured it in there was a tinkle and sure enough there was another little cube of glass.
Three nights in a row.
Brent Raynes: Wow.
Paul Bannister: I can’t explain it, but I’m guessing that the macumbeira just sent me a gentle little message. He didn’t harm me or frighten me. I figure he just sent me a little message, “You know, there are things you don’t know about. Be respectful.”
Brent Raynes: Right, and speaking of that, in your assignments I read for example where you investigated a haunting, a poltergeist with a voice, in England.
Paul Bannister: The Enfield poltergeist. It was a very famous case actually. The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) had two researchers, Guy Playfair and Maurice Grosse (who died about three years ago) was the other. He was very respected, and those two lived in the house for either 5 or 7 months. They lived with this family and the deal was that it was a mother and four children. The oldest was about 13 or 14. They were desperately poor and the house was very small. It was a row house, two up and two down. They had all kinds of apparitions and noises and events going on in there, and they had had a whole parade of newspaper people through of course.
Anyway, I went along, Maurice took me there, and we go into the door of this little house and I’m passing one of the children, she was 9 or 10 I suppose, standing there with kind of a glazed look and this voice seemed to come out of her and right down my ear (he laughs) and it said, “Ghost hunter.” It made me jump and I said, “What are you trying to do?” And this voice said, “Kill ya!” And I said, “Well, you’re going to have to try harder than that. You sound like a dog growling. I’m going to get you some kennomeat,” which is English dog food.
Well I guess for all of the two days that I was there this voice kept coming up with, “Kennomeat.” Anyway, the voices were coming from the kids all of the time and I took recordings of them and got them down to John Hasted, who was a professor at Imperial College and he had them analyzed and he said that they were being produced not from the vocal chords but from the false vocal fold of the throat, which is how you make that “Aaaarrr” noise. But these children were able to produce the noise even through a mouth full of mashed potatoes or something, for 12 hours or more at a time. The kids almost seemed like they were taken over. Maurice said that they tried a few times to fake it and he could tell when they were doing that.
The kids liked attention. Of course, we’d go in and reporters would show up and bring them treats and things. But while I was visiting there was a noise upstairs and I went up with one of the researchers and there was a single bed and it was indented as though somebody was laying on it. While I watched it the indentation moved as if whoever it was had turned over on the bed, which was pretty creepy actually.
And then I had been standing in the doorway – there had been a noise, a sharp crack in the kitchen. Now the downstairs lay-out was that as you came in from the street door into the living room the stairs went straight up on your right side. Then behind the livingroom was a small kitchen with a door to the outside, and that door was double-bolted. There was a window over the sink and that was all painted. So there was only one way in, unless you undid these bolts. Well there had been a sharp crack from the kitchen while we were in the living room and Maurice and I think the mother had gone in the back, and there had been a scrubbing brush she said had been on the sink and it was now laying against the opposite wall, with a little small dent, and she said it must have been flung across the room. Nobody was in the kitchen at the time.
I followed them and I was leaning in the doorway, just looking, and so I was halfway between the two rooms and there was one child in the room with me and she was in the far corner, by the front door wall – so she was on that wall, then there was a fireplace and then there was a chair in the next corner – and the chair was an upholstered chair, quite light weight. It was like a barrel chair, not very big or particularly heavy. Probably not more than 20-25 pounds. There was nobody near it and I was in a perfect position to see it and a movement caught my eye and the chair came out from the wall and did a 180, so it would face back the way it came. It spun out from the wall, came out about four and a half feet and then faced back the way it had come. I went and examined it and there was no mechanism on it or anything. The child, even when it came to rest, it was probably about six feet from where she was.
Brent Raynes: Now these voices that would come through the children, did they come through all of the children.
Paul Bannister: Yeah, they did.
Brent Raynes: Did they sound the same way, with all of the children?
Paul Bannister: They were similar. They were kind of a growly “Aarrrr” kind of voices, you know.
Brent Raynes: They always had a nasty disposition?
Paul Bannister: Yeah. They were pretty simple, to be honest though. Grosse described them as lower order entities. They were not sophisticated. You were not dealing with some high intelligence, but it was something. It was certainly something, and the neighbors had untold stories. They had stories of these children floating through the wall into the bedroom upstairs in the next house – the next row house. It terrified the neighbors.
I had a lady who was a crossing warden – there was a school just across the road – and she had seen the children’s bare feet bumping against the upstairs windows and she was so shocked. She could see up there and the children were actually levitated 4 or 5 feet off of the floor and were bumping gently against the windows with their bare feet. On two occasions, she said. I’d like to see that myself.
They had had apparitions there. They had the lower half of a man that they’d often see walking up the stairs ahead of them. Grosse said that he had seen that.
Brent Raynes: I think I read in your book that one day all of this activity just stopped, right?
Paul Bannister: One of the children died and the activity stopped right after that.
Brent Raynes: How strange.
Paul Bannister: It was very, very odd, but you often get that with these poltergeist cases. There’s an agent, and it’s often an adolescent, and it seems to focus on the adolescent.
Editor’s Note: In the next issue, Paul and I begin talking about the assignments he did with that famous moon walking astronaut Edgar Mitchell and about his explorations into the paranormal, plus much more. It only gets better, so be sure and read Part 2 in the next issue!