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Strange Days: Obituaries

 

Maurice Grosse

Psychic researcher and stalwart of the Society For Psychical Research

Maurice Grosse was widely admired as one of Britain’s greatest ghost hunters and leading poltergeist experts. He spent no time on theorising; rather he saw his job as an investigator to conduct field research, collect evidence and publish the results. Often impatient with academic debate, he didn’t hesitate to challenge woolly or inconsequential thinking and to correct error and falsehood, particularly on the part of sceptics.

Grosse was educated at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London. After an apprenticeship in commercial art and design, he served in World War II with the artillery and was evacuated from Dunkirk. He received a commission in 1941 and was responsible for the guarding and welfare of Italian prisoners during the rest of the war. He married his wife Betty in 1944 and they had two daughters and a son. Following the war, he took up his vocation as an inventor, filing the first of many mechanical patents in 1945. His most successful was the rotating advertising billboard, and in 1961 he set up his own design and engineering consultancy responsible for launching many patents throughout the world.

It was personal tragedy that propelled Maurice into psychical research, when his 22-year-old daughter Janet was killed in a motorcycle accident in August 1976. Following her death, members of the Grosse family experienced a number of significant coincidences and psychic events, which led Maurice to join the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). In September 1977, he took up the opportunity to investigate a poltergeist outbreak in a house in north London. This was to become the celebrated Enfield poltergeist case, one of the most significant of the 20th century. Maurice supported the family for many months, staying at the house for long periods and accumulating many hours of cassette and videotape evidence of unexplained phenomena. Many of the events are summarised in the classic book This House is Haunted (1980) by Guy Lyon Playfair, who also investigated the case. One of the most controversial aspects was a bizarre poltergeist voice resembling an old man but speaking through an 11-year-old girl who was the focus of the case. Faced with sceptical claims over the voice, Maurice offered £1,000 to anyone who could duplicate the voice by ventriloquism or trickery; there were no takers.

Maurice always forcefully repudiated the false claims and inaccuracies that he and his fellow researcher Guy Playfair endured in the wake of the Enfield case. Following his treatment on the sceptical programme Is there anybody there? presented by psychologist Nicholas Humphries, he accused Channel 4 of bias and robustly defended his research on the channel’s Right to Reply. Humphries avoided studio confrontation on the night and it was left to the show’s producer, Carl Sabbah, to mount a defence via a satellite link. Allegations of bias turned out to be well founded: it transpired that Sabbah was a member of the ‘skeptic’ organisation CSICOP. In response to such attacks over the years, Maurice and Guy Playfair were forced to initiate legal action to protect their reputation as investigators and prevent attempts to exploit their research commercially. One of the most notorious was the 1992 BBC drama Ghostwatch, modelled on Enfield and fronted by Michael Parkinson [See FT67:38–42, 166:36–41.] The case was eventually settled.

Reflecting on Enfield, Maurice stated in the Journal of the SPR (October 1998): “I have tried ad nauseam to explain to these critics that both Guy Playfair and I presented the evidence as it accumulated, accompanied wherever possible by tape recordings and photographs of the phenomena. This, together with the evidence provided by independent witnesses, was the manner of the presentation of our case. The evidence was authentic, and as good and reliable as any evidence produced in any other poltergeist activity reported before or since… if these armchair critics, with all their fanciful suppositions, believe that the investigator and witnesses to all the remarkable activity were victims of deceit and trickery, that is a personal belief problem with which they have to deal.”

Aside from Enfield, Maurice was also active in investigating many other cases, serving as a member of the SPR Council and as the long-time chairman of its Spontaneous Phenomena Committee. In 1995, he was present at a vigil in Charlton House where a piece of crockery materialised and shattered (the sound of this was recorded on video). In 2000, with Mary Rose Barrington of the SPR, he again successfully recorded poltergeist knockings on video at the home of a family in north London. Privately, he also admitted to a number of puzzling psychic experiences himself, including materialisation of objects and precognitive dreams, but made little mention of these beyond the Spontaneous Phenomena Committee. As well as ghosts and poltergeists, he also investigated numerous claims of precognition; another specialist area was psychic photography, on which he built up an extensive collection of alleged examples. He continued this work right up until the summer of 2006.

Not surprisingly, Maurice was optimistic regarding the existence of an afterlife, telling many in his final illness and in the weeks before his death that the evidence he had accumulated had convinced him of the reality of survival.



Maurice Grosse, psychical researcher, born London 6 Mar 1919; died London 14 Oct 2006, aged 87.


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