Munnings was a Fraud But Not Everything He Did Was False

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Munnings was a Fraud But Not Everything He Did Was False is an article written by Arthur Conan Doyle published in The People on 29 april 1928.

Munnings was a Fraud

The People (29 april 1928, p. 9)

As a criminologist I have studied the confessions of a good many malefactors, but I do not think that I have ever been so painfully impressed as by those of Munnings.

There is a certain grim dignity in many crimes, especially in those where the criminal risks his own person. But that a man should confess that he has earned his living by imitating the dead, by personating the lost son to the weeping mother, and by betraying those who saved him to self-respect, seems to me to represent the very lowest possible stage of self-abasement.

Of course, it is no news to the Spiritualist. As Mr. Moseley has some two years ago, the world was publicly warned by Mr. Saunders, Mr. Dennis Bradley, Dr. Abraham Wallace and myself, that the man was a cheat.

We could do no more and risked a good deal of worry and expense by doing as much. Fortunately, it was against the paper which printed our judgement, and not against us, that the libel suit was taken.

Now that our exposure has utterly shut the doors of the seance room upon him, Munnings had to find some other means of earning money. He was not hampered by any feelings of truth, and there was an easy way to get back on the Spiritualists who denounced him.

He would give his life story, half-true and half-concocted, to the world. He had told us years ago that he had offers from the Press, naming the exact sum which would he paid him if he confessed himself to be entirely fraudulent, and saying jokingly, "Some day I will sell them a pup." Clearly the day had come.

He could not hurt us by recounting his deceits. We had discounted all that. But he thought he saw his way to do so by declaring that he had never at any time had any psychic power, since some of us are entirely convinced that he had.

After his confession, we are bound to give reasons for the faith that is in us, which I and others will do. It would be a far more agreeable and easier course if we could simply accept the man's statement and so clear him out of the whole history of the movement save as an impostor who had a temporary success.

It would seem most expedient to adopt that view. But in the long run Truth is always better than expediency, and I am sure that I and others speak truth when we say that the man had real abnormal powers and that he mixed them up with a good deal of cunning knavery.


If anything more was needed to convince me of this, it would be found in the futile and transparent "explanations" given in his confession of his own results.

I have said that he foretold what he might do. He had no sooner done it than he denied that he had done it. Only two days after the publication of the first of his Confessions he called upon a wellknown Spiritualist — whose name I enclose for the Editor's information — and in the presence of two witnesses declared that he had never said that his whole psychic career had been a fraud.

"I have not said so," he cried "You know as well as I do that I could not haw given the messages that Sims has given."

"But, nevertheless," said the Spiritualist, "you have betrayed those who have befriended you and are saying that everything you have done has been a fraud."

"I am not," he cried. "What right have you to say that my mediumship is false?"

"Because I know some of it to be false," said the Spiritualist, "and because you are now confessing that it is all false."

"I am not," he repeated, "I have given them something about my life and that is all."

This seems fairly conclusive. I am aware that Munnings has denied this interview, but there are two reputable witnesses and Munnings is Munnings.

As to my own single seance with Munnings, I would never judge any medium upon a single seance, least of all one who had so in-and-out a reputation. I was polite to him, as I am to every medium, and I found his performance to be remarkable, which, I understand, was Mr. Moseley's experience also.

Part Fraud.

But never for one moment did I consider it to be finally evidential.

This I stated to friends, who were present at the seance, and the final proof of my conclusions lies in the fact that I did not include Munnings in the list of mediums with whom I had sat which is to be found in the 22nd chapter of my "History of Spiritualism."

As my sitting with Munnings was in 1925, and my book was published in 1926. I should certainly have included him had I been satisfied. I judged then, as I judge now, that he was part fraud, and part psychic, and so I excluded him.

I notice that in his account of this sitting Munnings gives 1923 as the date — two years out. His other details are very incorrect. I don't blame him for this, as he had not the notes of the sitting which lie before me now as I write.

But what does seem strange is that a man whose memory is so faulty could claim to carry in his mind all the thousand and one details concerning his sitters which he declares to be part of his system.

Although I have not myself had anything from this medium which was finally evidential, I have a mass of evidence of his success with other reliable sitters, and this has convinced me that he actually has psychic powers, which for the moment it is his interest to deny.

Two good witnesses assure me that they have clearly seen the trumpet on different occasions at some distance from the medium, and that some accidental light having entered the room the trumpet flickered slowly down to the floor. This could not have been done by any such apparatus as the articles describe.

Several witnesses are ready to depose that they have heard more than one voice simultaneously. As Munnings has forgotten to include a confederate in his explanations, this would also seem to be conclusive.

The Rev. J. W. Potter furnishes me with a remarkable piece of evidence. Unknown to the medium, he had rigged up an electrical transmitter and connected it with an amplifier and a loudspeaker. He then, while the direct voice was speaking, tried the experiment of placing his hand over her mouth of the transmitter.

"Immediately to my surprise not only did the loudspeaker stop speaking, but the spirit voice also stopped quite instantaneously and positively on the instant I put my hand over the mouthpiece. This should not have happened if only sound waves were reaching the transmitter."

The explanation given by the spirit guide was that they were materialising the voice in the mouthpiece of the transmitter and that by placing his hand over it Mr. potter had cut the psychic cord which extended from the medium.

I can see no normal explanation for this incident.

Munnings in his account alludes to one occasion where Mr. Saunders' relative, purporting to talk through Munnings, said that he would be at his own funeral in full regalia. Munnings tries to explain this away by saying that by "regalia" he meant spirit robes.

As a matter of fact, the deceased was, though Mr. Saunders did not know it at the time, a member of some order and all the mourners wore regalia. Can anyone possibly accept Munnings' explanation of this incident?

At the same seance he described a paper in the pocket of one of the sitters, who had come at the last moment to join the seance. He also gave the name that signed the paper.

Can anyone accept in this instance the proffered explanation that it was a lucky chance. The readers of "The People" would be even more credulous than the poor Spiritualists if they accepted such assurances.

A Good Bark.

Or take his absurd explanation that he was able to tell a sitter that his dog had been a great Dane because the sitter recognised a deep bark. As if bloodhounds, mastiffs, St. Bernards, bulldogs, and a dozen others had not deep barks!

On that particular occasion, by the way, Munnings' bark was so good that it not only deceived the sitters, but called for answering barks from an Alsatian in a kennel outside.

Another incident which impressed my mind is recorded in "Light," in the year 1921, over the honoured signature of the editor, Mr. David Gow. Mr. Gow not only had a long and intimate conversation with a deceased friend, at one of the Munnings' seances, but on placing a piece of paper on the floor he got his signature.

The two signatures, that of life and that of the seance are reproduced in the paper, and are strikingly alike. Such an incident as that cannot be lightly dismissed.

A favourite phenomenon on the part of Munnings' guide was to tell each sitter in the dark how far his watch was slow or fast, which was always verified afterwards as correct. I have not seen an explanation of this in the Confessions.

Mr. R. H. Saunders will, I understand, have an opportunity of giving some of his own experiences in "The People." I know no more honest or candid observer.

I may remark that it was he who, in all Christian charity, took care of Munnings when the latter, an utterly broken man, was released from jail, and that he has had unique opportunities of learning the man's limitations.

I will quote one case of Mr. Saunders which lingers in my mind. He had arranged a sitting with Munnings, but a fire broke out in his station in his stables, so a neighbour went instead. The cause of the fire had been ascribed to the heat of the sun acting upon some pitch.

What About This?

At the seance a relative came through and said to the neighbour, "Mr.Saunders is wrong. The cause of the fire is a bucket filled with hot cinders which was placed near the pitch. The cinders burned through the bucket, and then the fire spread."

This proved, upon examination, to be correct. I should like some real explanation of such an incident as that.

I could give many other instances, but these are sufficient to justify my belief that though the man is a rogue, which was no news to me, there is nevertheless a strong psychic power present, which we know by experience has no more relation to the individual than the morality of a poet or a musician has to the quality of his work.

I wish we could accept his statements and wipe him from our slate, but we must follow the facts. I shall watch with some interest the future fortunes of Mr. Frederick Tansley Munnings.

I had not intended to bring Mr. Moseley into this matter at all, but his remarks in your last issue call for some reply. So far as Mr. Moseley exposes mediums for an unselfish purpose, he has the sympathy and thanks of every Spiritualist.

So far as he is under suspicion of doing so merely for Press exploitation, his position is more open to criticism.

On the former occasion, of which he complains, when I commented upon his doings, it was not the fact that he attacked Munnings of which I complained, but it was that, having been given the name of the medium in confidence he afterwards broadcast it to the world.

Munnings at that time was under a cloud, and some of those who were endeavouring to save him thought that if he could be kept from old associates it would be well. His name was therefore concealed and we called him Mr. X.

Mr. Moseley told the man's whole wretched story to the world and so undid the good that was hoped for. It was of that I complained. As to Mr. Moseley's personal criticism, robust or otherwise, it does not concern me much.