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Tina Resch: Unleashed

For eight years, parapsychologist William Roll and his team befriended and studied Tina Resch, the troubled teenager at the centre of possibly the most famous modern case of poltergeist activity. Then her already tragic story took an unexpected turn with the shocking news of the murder of her baby. Adapted by Bob Rickard from Unleashed! by William Roll and Valerie Storey. All photos by William Roll.

I watched in disbelief as four burly officers from the Carroll County sheriff’s department took their seats behind the small, white casket covered with flowers, a toy rabbit perched on top.

It was the Saturday before Easter 1992. The open casket showed a pretty little girl wearing her pink Easter dress. Even with the heavy makeup that hid the autopsy sutures, you could see Amber had been a beautiful child. The Almon Funeral Home chapel was filled to overflowing, but there was no sign of the child’s mother. I assumed she was sitting in the private, screened section reserved for family members.

Charged with Amber’s murder, her mother, Tina Resch, now using her married name of Christina Boyer, had sat in jail for the past three days while the media vilified her. Almost without exception, it seemed the entire town of Carrollton, Georgia, had banded against her, the Northern outsider; a woman so out of control she could kill her three-year-old daughter. My mind was a blur of shock and distress. All I could think was: How? How had this happened?

It seemed impossible! I had known Tina since she was 14 years old. In an ironic twist, she had been the centre of a media blitz then, too: the wild child who could move objects with the power of her mind.

The reports hadn’t been off base. Much of my research and writing of the previous eight years had focused on Tina’s impressive abilities, one of the most convincing cases of poltergeist activity I had ever witnessed.

Now a tall, lively, and volatile young woman in her early 20s, Tina could still be that troubled teen desperate for affection, dreaming of happy endings. Abandoned by her mother at 10 months and adopted into a rigid, unforgiving household, Tina had not been ready for single parenthood at 18 and often found the role difficult and irritating, but she could never have killed Amber. Amber was her one real hope for a family of her own and a better future.

Somehow this message had to get through to the authorities. Tina was innocent!

Tina came into my life 20 years ago, in the first week of March 1984, when I took a call from Mike Harden, one of the top reporters for the Columbus Dispatch in Ohio. The call had been forwarded to me from Duke University – where I had worked for many years under Prof. JB Rhine, one of the founders of modern parapsychology – to my office in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I was a director of the Psychical Research Foundation.

Mike and the paper’s photographer, Fred Shannon, had been called to the home of John and Joan Resch, well respected in Columbus for having cared for over 200 children over the years. Lights and appliances would malfunction and objects would fly through the air or crash to the floor. He said: “It seemed to me that I was witnessing something which defied both my sceptical instincts as a journalist as well as all of the traditional laws of physics.”

Much of the phenomena seemed to centre on their adopted 14-year-old daughter Tina; indeed some of the flying objects seemed to hit her. In Mike’s presence, a cup of coffee flipped through the air, spilling into her lap before crashing into the fireplace. “She was in my line of vision when that happened,” he told me. “I did not see her aid its movements in any way.”

My first thought was that when a 14-year-old is the centre of flying objects, the most likely explanation is a teen venting her frustration. Mike didn’t think this could explain the things he had seen and been told, but he admitted he could be mistaken. He invited me and an assistant to come and investigate and sent the company’s plane to transport us.

A few days later, on 11 March 1984, my assistant Kelly Powers and I arrived in Columbus and met the Resch family. By then the media circus had begun. The New Jersey Trenton Times, for one, wondered if the Resches were living in “another Amityville.”

A blinding snowstorm swirled through Columbus on 8 March, the day the Resches had been persuaded to meet the growing number of reporters interested in the phenomena. Tina was reluctant and her stomach churned; despite the excitement, she wondered if the reporters would think she was bad. The Hughes, family friends, seemed to believe an evil spirit had attached itself to her. If the reporters thought so, too, it would be all over town. She could hardly eat when she sat down for breakfast.

It was the worst meal the family had ever experienced. The chairs did a crazy dance while plates loaded with food and glasses filled with juice flipped through the air, some soaring all the way into the family room. Joan had been up half the night cleaning – now what was she supposed to do? The reporters would be at the house in just a few hours.

Joan’s other married daughter, Peggy Covert, a nurse at Riverside Hospital, arrived with a friend to help clean up. She had not been to the house during the disturbances and doubted the dozens of stories the family had insisted were true. All she needed was a few minutes in the house to turn into a believer. As she watched lamps fall, juice spill, and the phone fly – not only toward Tina – she was convinced the force was a reality.

When Barbara Hughes leaned over the table to serve some sandwiches to Tina and JP (Barbara’s foster son), two kitchen chairs between her and the table shot out and hit her in the stomach with enough strength to make her double over in pain. JP was on her left, at the end of the table, and Tina was facing her, on the other side. The next thing she knew, one of the baby chairs, piled high with visitors’ coats, slid over and slammed into her knee. She yelped with pain, and one of the vinyl chairs that had first hit her suddenly turned around and moved away, startling her even further. From her seat in the family room, Peggy Covert saw the chair strike Barbara’s leg. Tina was sitting on the other side of the table a good distance from the chair. Peggy was certain Tina had not kicked or moved the chair in any way.

At one o’clock, the reporters started to arrive and were setting up their equipment in the living room. Tina waited with Peggy in the family room. She was asking Peggy what she thought the reporters were going to write about when Peggy saw a movement out of the corner of her left eye. As if in response to Tina’s worries, a pencil-holder had fallen off the filing cabinet, spilling pens and pencils on the way.

Tina was uncomfortable under the television lights. “I didn’t want to do this,” she told the reporters. “If I say anything, people are going to think I’m crazy.” The reporters assured her it would be okay. Just relax and have fun, they told her.

“Are you afraid when things move?” someone asked. “No,” she said, objects that moved by themselves didn’t frighten her, but “it’s a little scary when they’re flying. I wish they would stop. I still don’t believe things like this can happen.” She then mentioned the knives that had almost hit her and told of the time she ducked when she saw the paring knife come at her in the mirror over the fireplace. The reporters hung on every word.

John Resch said: “I see it and I still don’t believe it. How a glass can fly at a ninety-degree angle through a doorway and around a corner, or the television can run with no electricity – I just turn my head away when it happens.” Jodi Gossage, a reporter with United Press International, noted that the living room was devoid of decorative touches. Joan explained that the pictures, ashtrays, and mementos that remained intact had been packed away. “I don’t think we have two glasses left in the house,” she said. “We’ve hidden everything that could get broken or hurt someone.”

An hour later, the news conference was supposed to wind down, but the reporters weren’t ready to leave. They wanted to see flying phones for themselves; anything at all would be worth the wait. They knew the incidents followed Tina, so they told her to walk through the various rooms, hoping her presence would get things moving. Like the Pied Piper, Tina led the group from room to room, but nothing moved. Joan didn’t know how to tell the newspeople to leave. It was getting late and John was glowering his annoyance. He’d tell them where to go, but Joan didn’t want to appear inhospitable.

Tina, however, was centre stage in a magic show without knowing how to perform. The force refused to come to her aid. Then a WTVN technician caught Tina moving the kitchen table with her foot. When he accused her of tricking him, she laughed. The only occurrence that could not be dismissed out of hand was witnessed by Jodi Gossage – she rounded a corner to the living room to see a chair hit the ground. Tina, who had just come in from the dining room and was still in the doorway, seemed shaken. No one else was in the room. “It would seem to have happened too fast for her to have touched it,” said Gossage, “but the full sequence was not observed.”

As the day wore on and the house was still full of reporters, their video cameras strategically aimed throughout the house in the hope of catching the force on tape. John was nearing meltdown. Joan took Tina aside. “Something has got to happen,” she said. Tina was getting tired of the reporters, too – they had been in the house for nearly eight hours. Finally, at 9:30pm, one of them got what he came for, or so it seemed.

Drew Hadwal of WTVN-TV in Columbus had his camera focused on a large table lamp when the lamp tumbled to the floor. At first, Hadwal thought the camera was shut down; he was delighted to find that it was still on. Hadwal rushed back to the station to show his prize catch on the late news. On the tape, Tina was seen edging around the sofa, glancing over her shoulder to make sure she was not being watched. Then she knocked down the lamp with her hand. Thereafter, the public attitude changed – in place of sympathy came the suspicion that the Resches had a magician for a daughter.

On 13 March, there was a commotion outside the house. Earlier, I had asked the reporters who called not to phone or come to the house during our investigation. Instead, I said, I would hold a news conference at the end of our stay to present my conclusions. In spite of my request, there was a group of journalists and television cameras circling the driveway.

Berry had reached Randi in Dallas, where he was performing in a magic show. Randi now continued his performance outside the Resch home. “I’ve never seen a bona fide paranormal event, but that doesn’t mean I won’t,” Randi said. He was accompanied by astronomer-physicist Steve Shore and astronomer Nick Seduleak from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. The three had been sent by Paul Kurtz, the founder of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), to conduct their own investigation of the Resch case.

Displaying his flair for the dramatic, Randi pulled out a check for $10,000 from his cape. Posing for the cameras, he said he would give the Resches the money if they could show him an object that flew without human aid. More than six hundred people had tried to collect the prize over the past twenty years, he said, and none had succeeded. He added that he had exposed many tricky teens whose fraud was perpetuated by indulgent parents and journalists hungry for headlines.

Mike Harden was standing outside with the group of reporters. He thought Joan should have let Randi into the house. “In a case like this,” he said, “I think you’re almost obliged to have a second opinion. A magician possesses the skills to come in and show how these might be staged. If he can come in and by sleight of hand replicate them, that’s something the public needs to know.”

The annual convention of the Parapsychological Association (PA) was scheduled for August 1984 at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, the ideal platform to present the Resch case to a wider audience. This scientific association was founded by JB Rhine at Duke University in 1957, the same year I came over to the United States from England, and he invited me to join the council as a European representative.

Randi was an entertaining and effective speaker with his mixture of fun, facts, and fiction. Including him would certainly make a lively addition to the panel. Jerry was aware that Randi had not investigated the Resch phenomena but that he thought he knew how they were produced… by fraud! Jerry thought that a magician of Randi’s expertise might also provide some good tips about how such phenomena could be produced by magical tricks.

After Fred and I gave our presentations it was Randi’s turn. He did not discuss Fred’s written report, but directed his remarks almost exclusively to Shannon’s photos, showing slides that he had copied from a selection of the thirty-six pictures Fred had taken during his visit to the Resch home on 5 March. Without citing Fred’s statements about what he had actually seen in the house, Randi told the audience how Tina could have produced the incidents by simple trickery.

Photographic evidence is often considered especially reliable, and Randi used his slides to particularly good advantage because they were Shannon’s own. There was not enough time during the discussion to adequately reply to Randi, and he clearly won the day. I felt sorry that Fred had been the victim of Randi’s attack. He had come to the meeting expecting to be among friends and to have his photographic work in the Resch home appreciated. Instead he was treated like a fool.

A scene where Tina screamed for me to rush upstairs to “see miracles,” was created by Randi out of thin air. It never happened. I was already upstairs and she did not scream for me – we were in the same room. I became the straight man for Randi’s jokes. “Roll described his own observing abilities in such a way that we must place his performance in the paranormal category… he saw the tape machine fly away from a position directly behind him.” I never wrote that I “saw” the tape recorder fly, only that it moved while I was hammering in a nail with Tina standing right next to me. If she had reached back, taken the recorder from the dresser and tossed it, I am certain I would have seen something.

Steven Shore, the astronomer-physicist and fellow CSICOP member who had accompanied Randi to the Resches’ house, had told reporters that the direction in which the phone was pointed in Shannon’s now-famous photograph (the twenty-fifth on his roll of film) violated the laws of physics because it did not show a “straight-line trajectory.” Shore implied that Tina had picked up the phone and thrown it. Randi ignored the idea proposed by his scientific colleague to come up with another technical term, “transverse blurring”. The cord, he said, displayed transverse blurring, which showed that Tina had picked up the phone and thrown it.

Randi next turned his ridicule toward Fred Shannon. Fred had discovered that the only way to catch the telephone in flight was to take his camera down and look away; he would then snap a picture whenever he caught a glimpse of movement. Sometimes he would get a shot of the phone as it flew past Tina, sometimes he would be too late, the phone having already fallen to the floor, and sometimes he would only get a picture of Tina squirming in the recliner.

Randi even dismissed Bruce Claggett, the local electrician and family friend who witnessed the lights turn on and the tape disappear when no one was near. Randi said only that Bruce “gave strange and contradictory accounts of the wonders in the Resch household.”

Above all, Randi failed to realise that the occurrences took place under informal circumstances in a private home, not in a laboratory. He went on to claim that the occurrences around Tina, if genuine, would amount to “a repeal of the basic laws of physics.” Physics does not say that objects cannot be affected without tangible contact. The Moon revolves around the Earth and magnets attract pieces of iron without visible contact. Recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis requires an extension of the laws of physics, not their repeal as Randi imagines.

Persinger’s discovery was not unexpected. In the early 1970s, I had coauthored a study of RSPK cases with Livingston Gearhart, a professor of humanities at the State University of New York in Buffalo. Of 30 cases, 22 began during heightened magnetic disturbances. Gearhart also found that uncommon animal migrations and other unusual behaviour tended to occur on days of higher than average geomagnetic disturbances. Some years later Gearhart and Persinger repeated the study of geomagnetism and RSPK using a larger number of cases and reported a significant correlation.

To establish or eliminate the possibility that Tina suffered complex partial seizures (CPS), I suggested to the Resches that they take her to a neurologist. They did so in March – before my arrival – with a follow-up in May. John Corrigan reported that her brain-wave record showed no epileptic spikes, but the tests demonstrated occasional muscle jerks, blinking, twisting, and incessant finger movements. Persinger analysed the neurologist’s reports and thought that Tina may have suffered from a mild form of Tourette’s syndrome.

Tina had an urge to express herself that she could not suppress. At home with Joan this often caused her to be “loud” and brought on demands for quiet, which released torrents of loud and foul language. This would lead to a slap on the face, or when Tina became too big for Joan to handle, a beating from John. Verbal explosions and at least one physical attack on Joan were her ways of dealing with being rebuffed. Tina’s urge to express herself even in the face of punishment was consistent with Persinger’s diagnosis and was one of the pieces in the puzzle of her RSPK.

We also discovered other signs that there might be an anomaly in Tina’s brain stem, which is associated with day/night functions and the parasympathetic system. When Tina had her third neurological examination in May 1984, she mentioned frequent aches at the back of her head during the day; she also described persistent coldness and spells of daydreaming. Her left eyelid twitched, and she was less sensitive on the left side of her body. This idea was explored further during Tina’s visit to Durham in October 1984, where Steve Baumann of the University of North Carolina tested for anomalies in her upper brain stem. The results indicated a faster than usual stream of electrical impulses in the pons region.

The night before the occurrences began, she had a fight with her father which may have brought the stress to the breaking point. Tina’s brain was already susceptible to Tourette-type discharges, and she had a brainstem anomaly that may have increased these discharges and focused them on significant objects. Finally, a geomagnetic storm may have tipped the scales. The puzzle behind Tina’s psychokinesis was beginning to fall together and make sense to me. Now all that remained was what it would mean to Tina.

If life was grim for Tina with the Resches before the advent of the poltergeist, the relationship between Tina and John and Joan got worse in the months that followed. After the media interest died down, she returned home after coming to Durham with me for further testing, Tina still felt she was being blamed unfairly for anything that went wrong, was being denied the love of her parents and especially she felt stifled and frustrated by their rather strict, old-fashioned attitudes. For their part, the Resches seemed to blame Tina for the loss of their good name in the neighbourhood, for the disruption of their homely way of life and not trying to ‘fit in’, and for not showing them the respect they expected from a daughter. Tina felt they never wanted her, just like her birth parents.

The same emotional tensions and burdens Tina felt as a child made her select partners who repeated the behaviour of her parents. Sadly for Tina, Bennett subjected her to regular violence, driving her to run away to a women’s shelter. In 1987, John Resch died, followed shortly by grandmother Resch. The grandmother, possibly Tina’s only real friend in the family, left her $5,000. When Bennett stole this, Tina divorced him.

About that time, Tina re-established contact with me, saying the phenomena were starting again. Thinking she needed a break, I invited her to come and stay with me in Carrollton, Georgia, where I was now living with my second wife. Tina seemed happier, learning parenting skills and taking classes in computers and nursing. The following year, she met David Herrin, a divorced truck driver with a three-year-old daughter. They got on well, splitting their lives between her apartment and his trailer. Things seemed to be going well for her for once.

Examination revealed the extent of Amber’s physical injuries suffered, not all of them recent. Worse, she had internal injuries from being sodomised. Tina and Herrin were interrogated many times by police on the 15th and finally charged with Amber’s murder. While Tina’s story remained consistent – on these occasions she had been visiting Jeannie, leaving Amber in Herrin’s care – Herrin, for his part, denied ever harming the child but had seen Tina slap her on occasion. She must have hit Amber too hard earlier in the day, he said, causing her death several hours later. His story became erratic and in his final interview – conducted by Captain Bradley and Deputy Culver, monitored by Detective Thomas – Herrin buckled and admitted that he had sodomised the girl on two occasions and even hit her once.

Over the years, I had gathered a small number of qualified people, all interested in helping Tina prove her innocence, and we advised her not to accept this bargain. If she was guilty of anything, it was the lack of judgment in getting her to a hospital sooner. As I put it to the lawyer: Tina was not charged with premeditation; the evidence against her was circumstantial; she had no previous record; and her co-defendant had admitted sodomising the child and hitting her in the critical period. Furthermore, Tina was with others at the times Amber was injured and had witnesses, while Herrin had been fired from his job on that fateful day and had been baby-sitting her at the time she received her fatal injuries.

The goal of investigations like mine is sometimes misunderstood. It was not my purpose to gather evidence of strange phenomena – in Tina’s case the movements of objects without tangible contact – but to discover their cause.

I have been working on Tina’s story for 20 years, and still I find much about her mysterious: her origins; the full extent of her abilities; and the circumstances surrounding the death of her child. But one thing is certain. For a time Tina had the power to directly affect the physical world. I am convinced that this power is still to be found in the depths of her mind.

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Tina Resch
William Roll
William Roll checks the tape recorder while Tina looks on
  Tina Resch
Tina in jail, October 1992
The Randi confrontation from the Columbus Dispatch, 14 March 1984.
Stephen Baumann
Tina attempting to affect piexoelectric force in a crystal in Stephen Baumann's lab, October 1984
Author Biography
William Roll is an Oxford-educated parapsychologist at the psychology department of the State University of West Georgia and a director of the Parapsychological Association.
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