A Tribute to Dr. William Roll, A Real-Life Ghostbuster (1926-2012)

I have just found out that renowned parapsychologist Dr. William Roll passed away on January 9, 2012 at the age of 85 and while I’m sure many of you may not be familiar with him, he’s always been a popular figure amongst Unsolved Mysteries fans, and since I’m the Unsolved Mysteries correspondent on this website, it’s only appropriate that I pay tribute to his work. I described Dr. Roll as a real-life ghostbuster not in the sense that he used a proton pack and captured ghosts in a trap, but that he was one of the world’s foremost experts on the paranormal and took the subject just as seriously as Ray Stantz and Egon Spengler. I first heard about him in the infamous one-hour Halloween special that Unsolved Mysteries did on ghosts. He was introduced in a segment about the Queen Mary where he was brought to investigate the many instances of reported hauntings that have taken place on the famous ship. In the segment’s creepiest moment, Dr. Roll left a tape recorder running overnight in the ship’s bow area, a location that was rumoured to be haunted because over 300 men had been killed there during a tragic accident in World War II. They wound up picking up two minutes of unexplained noises that sounded like banging and water rushing, and even if you don’t believe in ghosts, the recording is enough to make your hair stand up on end.


Roll was originally born in Germany in 1926 before moving to Denmark at the age of three and coming over to America in 1946. He entered the field of parapsychology in the 1950s and eventually joined the faculty of the department of psychology at the University of West Georgia. He authored many research papers, articles and books about the subject of parapsychology and his published works include The Poltergeist, Theory and Experiment in Psychical Resarch, Psychic Connections and Unleashed: Of Poltergeist and Murder: The Curious Story of Tina Resch. The latter story (also featured on Unsolved Mysteries) was based on Roll’s research into a Columbus, Ohio teenager named Tina Resch who supposedly had the power of telekinesis and became the subject of this infamous newspaper photograph where she used her telekinetic powers to cause a telephone to fly through the air.

Whenever Unsolved Mysteries wanted to profile a supernatural story, then brought in Dr. Roll whenever they could, and he wound up appearing up in no less than six segments on the show. No matter how much skepticism you may have felt about the subject of ghosts, Roll just seemed to bring an aura of credibility and sincerity to his work that could allow you to suspend your disbelief. Even better, you always sensed that Dr. Roll genuinely cared about the people he was studying and was not trying to exploit them, such as in this segment about an elderly couple being traumatized by hauntings in their home. R.I.P. Dr. Roll, you will be greatly missed by those who still want to believe that ghosts exist.


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