“Preposterous People” :Gerard Croiset

By Keith Parsons

Extra Sensory Perception, known as ESP, was something I first heard about as a boy, and it fascinated me. How amazing if we can accurately sense things without reference to touch, taste, smell, hearing or eyesight. The sixth sense. The man who established ESP as a fact was the American academic, Dr J B Rhine from Duke University. He used to conduct endlessly repeated guessing games with sets of cards with symbols on them. Zener cards, they were called. He would calculate the statistical odds against chance when participants consistently predicted which cards were on top of a shuffled pack. But, while quantitative analysis proved that ESP existed, what a boring way to do it! Even people with exceptional faculties found their ability dropping off with time since the card games were so monotonous.

Over in Europe, a much more interesting approach came from Professor Willem Tenhaeff of the University of Utrecht in Holland. He preferred studying clairvoyants with talent. Preposterous people, you might say. He wanted to find out exactly what they could or could not do when emotionally involved in a project. He studied forty seven of them, thinking they were better than the students Dr Rhine used as subjects. Tenhaeff employed careful scientific protocols and his star performer for forty years was Gerard Croiset.

Like the medium Eileen Garrett who founded the Parapsychology Foundation in New York, Gerard Croiset could also see the past, present and future simultaneously in his mind’s eye. Like a primitive, he perceived in images not words, describing the pictures appearing to him. Often this was helped by psychometry. When he held objects or photographs he could sense their history, see their location at times past or even in the future. And he used this facility to help the police and public. He found many missing persons, even people thousands of miles away. He could say whether they were alive or dead, drowned or murdered. He was proud of what he could do and was immodest about it. “I am the Great Croiset,” he would declare. But neither he nor Professor Tenhaeff ever claimed to be infallible and being public-spirited, Croiset never charged for his services. As a psychic detective, he had many successes and some failures and these were documented by Professor Tenhaeff.

Croiset died in 1980 and Professor Tenhaeff in 1981 and in latter years Croiset’s reputation was damaged by several well-publicised failures. But it was only after both were past defending themselves that sceptics tried seriously to denigrate their achievements.

The standard book in English on Croiset was written by Jackson Harrison Pollack and it discusses over sixty of Croiset’s cases, a few of which were failures, but most were successful. As the initially-sceptical Pollack says, “What I saw, heard, checked and double-checked during the past four years couldn’t all be coincidence. If I had not eye-witnessed some of the Dutch sensitive’s fantastic feats, I probably would have remained a disbeliever”.

Gerard Croiset was a complex character. He was of average height and build, with chiselled features, penetrating eyes, a youthful outdoor complexion and a shock of straggly auburn hair. The story goes that, after an unhappy childhood and an education that left much to be desired, he tried numerous jobs. Not long after he married, he suffered a nervous breakdown and, during his recuperation, he visited a watchmaker’s workshop where he inadvertently picked up a ruler. At once a series of pictures flashed through his mind of the watchmaker’s youth and he told the watchmaker about them. These were confirmed as true and, after attending a public lecture by Professor Tenhaeff about ESP, Croiset decided he wanted to know more about his power. So he offered to be tested by the Professor and that was how Croiset’s psychic career began. Subsequently Dr Hans Bender, one-time Head of Parapsychology at Freiburg University in Germany, described Croiset as “the most remarkable subject I ever tested.” And Tenhaeff agreed.

Croiset was an animated talker; a man of dramatic gestures, brash and arrogant, yet also impulsively generous. Being egocentric, he tended to bring conversations back to his favourite topic, himself, and he kept a scrapbook of press cuttings about himself collected from many countries. He had a restless nature and few close friends. But he also had the charm of a child and was anxious to please, responding well to praise. Born of Jewish parents, he was deeply religious but not in any conventional sense. He said, “My work has to help society. I have a gift from God which I don’t understand. I can’t use it just to make money for myself. If I do, I may lose it.” So his services were freely given once he was persuaded that they were in a good cause.

Let’s take three examples of Croiset’s work. The first is the case of an 18-year-old girl who disappeared from home in December 1958, causing her distressed parents to ring Croiset for help. He assured them not to worry. “I see your daughter hitch hiking on the way to the winter sports in Austria,” he said. “I see her in the company of a girl friend about the same age. Everything is alright with your daughter. In three days you will hear from her.” And in three days time that is exactly what happened. She was in Austria. However, Professor Tenhaeff did not give Croiset full marks for this one, because hitch hiking was not strictly correct. Instead, she had gone by train but stopped with her girlfriend several times at places on the way and, because of these stops and starts, Croiset had mistakenly interpreted this as hitch hiking.

The second case involves a seven year old boy who disappeared on February 21st, 1951, and the police couldn’t find him. Once consulted, Croiset said, “I have a clear picture of the child. I see a military barracks and a shooting range. There is grass around it. In the grass is a small hill. I also see water. In this water the child fell and drowned. He is there now. His body will be found by a man in a small boat. This man wears a coloured band around his cap. When you come from Enschede towards Utrecht, it is on the left hand side of the road”. A fortnight later, the boy’s body was found near the shooting range and barracks by a skipper of the harbour service who was cleaning a canal. He wore a coloured band around his cap. This case is interesting because Croiset referred to the past – the boy did drown. Also to the present – his body is there now. Also to the future – he will be found by a man with a coloured band round his cap.

Croiset was much more interested in finding missing persons and working on homicides than simply locating lost objects, which he often considered trifling. But there are examples like this one.

An Inspector of elementary schools in Amsterdam had been studying the telepathic abilities of youngsters in schools and had managed to lose six hundred research papers relating to this work. They had been sent to an Institute for Applied Research in the Hague and the Institute insisted they had returned them. But a thorough search in Amsterdam had revealed nothing, so Croiset was consulted. Without hesitation he said they were in a room with two high cupboards and the lost papers were in the cupboard on the right. According to his description, the room had an office chair, a revolving chair with three legs and a green topped desk. When the Inspector next visited the Applied Research Institute in the Hague, he recognised the room he was visiting from Croiset’s description and requested a search of the right hand cupboard. The six hundred papers were on the top shelf and had been misfiled.

No discussion of Gerard Croiset’s clairvoyance would be complete without mentioning the ‘chair tests’ that Professor Tenhaeff devised in 1947. The best way to describe them is to give an example. The aim is to prove precognition and Croiset successfully performed hundreds of these tests before witnesses in various European countries. On 6th January, 1957, in front of witnesses at the University in Utrecht, Croiset was handed a seating plan for a meeting to be held twenty five days later in The Hague, fifty eight kilometres away. The guest list had not yet been made up, but there were thirty chairs in the seating plan and Croiset chose chair number nine. Asked who would be sitting in that chair on the night, Croiset handled the chart then began talking into a tape recorder with his impressions. He said that a cheerful, active, middle-aged woman would sit in chair number nine and she was interested in caring for children. He said that between 1928 and 1930 she used to walk between the Kurhaus and Strassburger’s Circus in Scheveningen. He claimed that, when she was a little girl, she had many experiences where there was cheese-making. He saw a farm on fire and some animals burned to death.

He mentioned three boys, one with a job overseas in a British territory. He alleged she had been looking at a picture of a Maharajah. He wondered if she experienced a strong emotion about the opera ‘Falstaff’ and thought it may be the first opera she’d ever seen. He also stated that on the day the meeting took place she would take a little girl to the dentist and this visit would create a lot of commotion.

All together there were twelve detailed statements. I’ve only mentioned seven, but they were all transcribed and sealed into an envelope. The following day the host was told she could go ahead and issue thirty invitations. On the night of the meeting, the participants were given a copy of Croiset’s statements and asked to check if any applied to them, and a procedure was used with random cards to ensure that they did not sit in a chair of their own choice, and that they did sit in the seat randomly allocated to them. Only after this had been carried out did Croiset enter the building, thus precluding his influence upon the process of seat selection. The woman in seat no nine was asked if any statements applied to her and she agreed that many of them did. Virtually none of the statements applied to the other twenty nine people. Later the woman in seat number nine was interviewed and the accuracy of Croiset’s statements was deemed to be remarkable.

She was active, vivacious and forty two, with an interest in child care. When her father came home on leave from abroad he took her walking in Scheveningen near where Croiset had outlined. As a child she often visited farms producing butter and cheese. Once, on a farm, she witnessed a horse killed by lightning and was profoundly affected by it. This was not quite the same as Croiset’s statement of her seeing animals burned in a fire. She had a brother-in-law, one of three boys who was in Singapore, a British territory, during the war. A few days before the meeting she had seen a picture of a yogi and had had a conversation with her son about it. This seemed the nearest fit to Croiset’s reference to a Maharajah. And with regard to the opera ‘Falstaff’, it was the first opera she had sung as a professional opera singer and she had fallen in love with the tenor in it. With regard to the visit to the dentists, she had taken her little daughter on that very day to deal with a cavity. The child had been frightened and had suffered pain during the visit.

There was much more evidence I have not given in this chair test, but it is clear that Croiset had remarkable clairvoyant ability. And how on Earth did he know that a woman, not yet invited to a meeting, would not only attend but sit in chair number nine – quite apart from the other details he knew about her?

If we also take into account the many instances where he was a successful psychic detective concerned with theft, murder and missing persons – it’s not surprising that a quotation from Shakespeare comes to mind. In Hamlet, Act one, scene five. Hamlet says “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. And I think this applies especially to those who prefer to dismiss the phenomenon known as Gerard Croiset, rather than accept that the world is far from how it appears, or how we understand it with our five physical senses.

© Copyright 2010 Keith Parsons