Schneider Brothers, Willi (1903-1971) and Rudi (1908-1957)
Schneider Brothers, Willi (1903-1971) and Rudi (1908-1957)
Physical mediums of Braunau, Austria, initially discovered by Baron Schrenck-Notzing and tested by him under stringent conditions in the presence of a number of scientists. The father of the Schneider brothers was a linotype compositor. Of his six sons, four—Willi, Rudi, Hans and Karl—had psychic power, though the latter two only in a slight degree.
The trance personality of Willi was a woman, "Olga," who said that her full name was Olga Lintner, and that she was the notorious Lola Montez, the mistress of Ludwig I, the king of Bavaria, who died in New York in 1861. Willi's mediumistic development was taken up by Schrenck-Notzing.
Between December 3, 1921, and July 1, 1922, a hundred scientists witnessed Willi's telekinesis and ectoplasm phenomena under very strict test conditions and declared themselves completely convinced of their reality. The room was searched, the medium was examined by specialists, and glowing pins were affixed to his clothing so that his slightest movements could be seen by witnesses even in the dark. Willi sat outside the cabinet. Two witnesses held his wrists and a third sat in front of him, holding his hands and keeping his legs between his own. Both medium and experimenters were shut off from the objects to be telekinetically moved by a gauze screen in the form of a cage. The severity of the control did not prevent the phenomena. The result of these sittings was published in Schrenck-Notzing's Experimente der Fernbewegung in 1924.
In English-speaking countries, the mediumship of the Schneider brothers began to be known after British psychical researcher Harry Price, accompanied by Eric J. Dingwall, attended some sittings in 1922 in Munich. Both Price and Ding-wall signed statements that they witnessed genuine phenomena.
Meanwhile Willi aspired to be a dentist. When he concentrated on his studies, his mediumship showed signs of weakening. Having left Schrenck-Notzing he went to Vienna where he lived with E. Holub, the head of a large asylum at Steinhof. He gave a series of sittings. When Holub died in 1924 Willi continued sitting with university professors.
Late in 1924, at the invitation of the Society for Psychical Research, Willi Schneider, accompanied by Mrs. Holub, came to London, and from November 12 to December 13 he gave twelve sittings on the society's premises. According to E. J. Dingwall's report in Proceedings of the SPR (vol. 36): "The only phenomena clearly observed were telekinetic, and even these were only striking upon a few occasions."
Making every effort to find a normal explanation Dingwall stated:
"In order to raise an object 2-3 feet distant from him, the medium must have had concealed in his mouth an extensible apparatus workable by the mouth alone and by this means have supported a flat object lying on the table and raise it into the air from below. This feat must have been accomplished without any obvious interference with his breathing or speech; and when completed the rod must have been in some inexplicable manner withdrawn and again concealed in his mouth. We frankly do not believe such a device exists, and therefore are driven to the conclusion that the only reasonable hypothesis which covers the facts is that some supernormal agency produced the results."
The development of Rudi Schneider's powers was also under Schrenck-Notzing's supervision. One night in a séance with Willi, "Olga" said that the power was not strong enough and that she wanted Rudi to assist. As Rudi was only eleven years of age then and was asleep in bed, the parents objected. "Olga" did not answer.
A few minutes later, however, the door opened and Rudi, in deep trance, entered and joined the circle. After that night, "Olga" permanently attached herself to Rudi and never spoke through Willi again. Her place was taken by "Mina," another female personality.
Rudi's first independent séance was held in November 1919, at Braunau. The materialization of a tiny hand was witnessed. One peculiarity of his sittings was the frequent intermissions that "Olga" demanded.
In 1923-24, Stefan Meyer and Karl Przibram, of the Institut für Radiumforschung der Academie der Wissenschaffen, Vienna, detected Rudi evading control. After that they had no reason to believe that any of the phenomena they witnessed were of supernormal character. Actually, however, fraud was more assumed than proved. Rudi went on with his sittings and several reports of his mediumship appeared through the 1920s in the Journal of the ASPR. Then in April 1927, the journal Psyche published an article by Warren Jay Vinton that made a detailed and categorical charge of fraud through confederacy. Vinton was introduced at Braunau by Dingwall, attended a total of ten séances and concluded that the phenomena were caused by someone who secretly invaded the séance room.
The article made a stir and provoked strong comment both for and against these claims. J. Malcolm Bird, the research officer of the American Society for Psychical Research, decided to see the evidence for himself. He arrived at Braunau in October 1927, but owing to pressure of business could only stay for a single séance. His conclusion was that all the essentials of the Dingwall-Vinton theory were verified and all the conditions requisite to its operation were reproduced.
Harry Price and the VX
Some time after, Walter F. Prince attended a series of ten sittings with Rudi in Braunau and in Rudolf Lambert's house at Stuttgart. Phenomena were scarce. In his notes in Bulletin VII of the Boston Society for Psychical Research, published under the title Experiments with Physical Mediums in Europe (1928), Prince came to the conclusion that the phenomena could not be considered genuine. He observed,
"Throughout the thirteen sittings, despite my studied and unremitting complaisance, no phenomena have occurred when I had any part in the control, save curtain movements which were capable of the simplest explanation."
These events somewhat dimmed the luster of Rudi's reputation. Schrenck-Notzing desired to settle the matter definitely and arranged an elaborate program of experiments for 1929. They were to be conducted in Herr Krall's laboratory under a completed system of partly electrical, partly tactual control. Early in 1929, before the test could be conducted, both Schrench-Notzing and Krall died. Later that year, psychical research Harry Price paid a visit to Münich. On this occasion he made arrangements with Rudi to visit the National Laboratory for Psychical Research in London. Karl Amereller, an electrician who employed Rudi, accompanied him to London and installed his electric indicator in the laboratory. This indicator was developed from Price's electric chair idea. As developed at the beginning of 1923, it consisted of a number of electric contact-makers, normally kept apart by light springs which corresponded to various parts of the medium's anatomy. The contacts were connected up with a row of colored indicator lights, so that should a person under test move or rise from the chair, the corresponding light immediately failed.
The plan of this indicator had been submitted to Baron Schrenck-Notzing and perfected by him and Amereller. In its latest phase, it controlled the four limbs of the medium by four separate electric circuits. In the experiments at the National Laboratory, however, Harry Price decided to control the hands and feet of the sitters in the same way, making six separate circuits and corresponding lights for all.
The first series of séances took place between April 12 and April 22, 1929. The second series lasted from November 14, 1929, to January 20, 1930. Both were eminently successful. As Harry Price stated in the conclusion to his book Rudi Schneider: A Scientific Investigation of his Mediumship (1930):
"But the fact remains that Rudi has been subjected to the most merciless triple control ever imposed upon a medium in this or any other country and has come through the ordeal with flying colours. The genuineness of the phenomena produced at his London séances has impressed nearly one hundred persons, including scientists, doctors, business men, professional magicians, journalists, etc. The triple control involved: The holding of Rudi's hands and feet by one controller, a second person always having one hand upon the four locked hands of the medium and the controller; the electric indicator; the dressing of the medium in a pajama jacket to which metallic gloves were sewn, he being invariably searched besides."
The phenomena witnessed were summed up by Harry Price as follows:
"… cold breezes felt by everyone; an occasional fall in the temperature of the cabinet … violent movements of the pair of curtains … movements and levitations of the luminous waste paper basket … and the coffee table … the ringing of the bells and the twanging of the toy zither, even in mid-air; the emergence from, and withdrawal into, the cabinet of a handkerchief, afterwards found in a far corner, tied into a tight knot, the 'touchings' and 'brushings' of the sitters at the wonderful thirteenth, fifteenth, twenty-first and other séances; the intelligent knocking of the table … when it was resting against a sitter's leg near the end of the circle farthest from the medium; the tugs-of-war with Olga, and finally the emergence from, and withdrawal into, the cabinet of 'hands,' 'arms,' and 'tubes,' some perfectly formed….
"… the following scientists have been present at the Rudi experiments: Lord Rayleigh, Prof. A. O. Rankine, F. C. S. Schiller, Dr. William Brown, Prof. Nils von Hofsten, Prof. A. F. C. Pollard, Mr. C. E. M. Joad, Mr. A. Egerton, Prof. A. M. Low, Dr. Braun, Dr. David Efron, Dr. Eugen Osty and Dr. Jeans."
After the end of the séance on April 15, Price casually remarked to journalist Hannen Swaffer that he would give a thousand pounds to any person who could produce the same effects under identical conditions, provided that if the person failed he would pay a like sum to the laboratory. This was published as a challenge in the Daily Express and other papers. "No one appeared," wrote Harry Price, "to want a thousand pounds, and the magical fraternity showed a sudden and strange lack of interest in psychic things…. What baffled magicians was the fact that the phenomena occurred inside the cabinet while Rudi was outside, nearly five feet away."
Will Goldston, the famous stage magician, attended some séances and declared that under the same conditions a whole group of prestidigitators could not produce the phenomena which he witnessed.
As regards the personality, "Olga": "After many séances and 'confidential talks' with her," wrote Harry Price, "I am completely at a loss to know whether she is really a figment of Rudi's subconscious mind or actually a discarnate entity." After the experiments were over, Harry Price handed a certificate to Rudi Schneider on behalf of the Council of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research, stating that absolutely genuine phenomena have been produced through his mediumship. He added:
"If the Laboratory issued a 'gold medal,' or 'diploma' for genuine mediumship under our own scientific conditions, we should have no hesitation in awarding it to Rudi. I know of no other physical medium who could claim it—except perhaps Miss Stella C…. If Rudi were to be 'exposed' a hundred times in the future it would not invalidate or affect to the slightest degree our considered judgment that the boy has produced genuine abnormal phenomena while he has been at the National Laboratory of Psychical Research."
The Schneider brothers did not accept payment for their services. In London, Rudi was only paid as much as he would have earned at his trade as a motor engineer, from which he was taken. In 1932, however, he raised his maintenance fees considerably.
In October and November 1930, Rudi sat at the Institut Métapsychique in Paris. According to Eugen Osty's report, in the fourteenth séance infra-red photography revealed, at a distance from the medium, the existence of an invisible substance, localized in space but rigorously commanded by the psychical organism of the medium. Sound registering and recording instruments signaled the movements of this invisible substance. No screens and meshes of various materials, nor electrically charged plates, could intercept it. An increase in red light, a change in the conditions of the room, or a change in the medium's position however, always sensibly diminished the action of the substance.
Under the conditions laid down by Osty, no fraud seemed possible. He was satisfied as to the reality of telekinetic movements. At the end of ninety sittings, Rudi was presented with a gift of 5,000 francs from the institute in recognition of the willing manner in which he had submitted to experimentations. For details of the experiments see Osty's book Les Pouvoirs inconnus de l'esprit sur la matière (1932).
In the spring of 1932, Rudi again sat at the National Laboratory of Psychical Research. Out of twenty-seven séances, eighteen were negative. His powers appeared to be on the wane. Nevertheless Osty's infra-red experiments were successfully duplicated and a number of distinguished scientists were convinced of the reality of the phenomena.
As, however, an automatic photograph taken in the twenty-fifth sitting apparently revealed (as disclosed a year later in Price's report An Account of Some Further Experiments with Rudi Schneider ), there was an arm free behind Rudi when both his hands were supposed to be controlled by the sitter in front. Price concluded that "it will be necessary for previous investigators to revise their findings."
Both this conclusion and its basis were subjected to vigorous attack by Professor Fraser-Harris (Light, March 17, 1933). He gave his unqualified testimony to the genuineness of the medium. Several members of the laboratory's council resigned to protest the report.
Strong exception to Price's methods was also taken by Osty in an offprint from the Revue Metapsychique, April 1933, L'Etrange Conduit de M. Harry Price. It has also been suggested that Price misinterpreted or deliberately falsified this photograph.
In October-December 1932, Rudi gave 27 sittings in London to Lord Charles Hope's research group. According to the report in Proceedings of the SPR (vol. 41, p. 131): "On the whole, the phenomena noted were weaker and less frequent than those reported as having taken place with the same medium elsewhere, but the results obtained go far to support the claims put forward by Dr. Osty in his report." Replying to Price's allegation of trickery, Lord Charles Hope stated in a special section of the report:
"I submit that neither the evidence Mr. Price adduces nor his method of presentation is such as to make his charges count for anything against a medium with Rudi's record. What does emerge damaged from Mr. Price's report is his own reputation as controller, conductor of investigations and critic."
In an addendum, Theodore Besterman stated: "Quite apart from other and important considertions, Mr. Price's report appears to me to be in itself quite worthless as an exposure. It can have no effect on Rudi Schneider's standing."
The next development was Bulletin V of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research (Rudi Schneider, the Vienna Experimentsof Professors Meyer and Przibram ). This referred to sittings in 1924. The theories of fraud there advanced, however, had been dealt with earlier in Schrenck-Notzing's posthumous Die Phenomene des Mediums Rudi Schneider (December 1932) and by Osty in his book. The rest of the Bulletin was devoted to answering the criticism that Osty and others levelled against Price.
Meanwhile, Willi Schneider had retired from mediumship much earlier, after the sittings with Schrenck-Notzing. His psychic talents had waned, and he transferred his attention to studying dentistry. He died in 1971. Rudi gave up mediumship, married, and became an automobile mechanic, eventually owning a garage. He died April 28, 1957, at Weyer, Austria.
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.
Gregory, Anita. The Strange Case of Rudi Schneider. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1985.
Hall, Trevor H. Search for Harry Price. London: Duckworth, 1978.