Laszlo, Laszlo (18981936)
One of the most famous fake mediums of Hungary during
the 1920s. He was born in Budapest September 23, 1898, the
son of a locksmith. At the age of 13 he was apprenticed to an
electrician, by whom he was harshly treated. Laszlo ran away on
several occasions but was returned by the police. After three
and a half years apprenticeship, he beat up his master before
finally leaving him.
Laszlo earned a living as an electrician until 1915, when he
joined a Polish Legion of the Austro-German campaign against
Russia. He fought at the front for nearly a year but deserted
after being wounded. He was court-martialed, then escaped,
later serving in a Hungarian unit on the Italian front in 1916.
He deserted again when his girlfriend became a prostitute,
and, since ordinary employment was barred to him, Laszlo
joined a gang of burglars. He supported his girlfriend to keep
her off the streets, but when he found that she was still living
as a prostitute and even keeping pimps, he began to drink
heavily and attempted suicide. He was arrested and imprisoned
until October 1918, when the revolution in Hungary decreed
a general amnesty.
After that, he continued his criminal activities, taking refuge
from the police in southeast Hungary, where he became involved
with an anti-Communist plot. Arrested and sentenced
to be shot, Laszlo was freed by anti-Communists. He fought
against Romanians until captured and taken to the death camp
of Jassy, where he was beaten and starved for three months before
Laszlo returned to Budapest, hoping that his criminal record
had been lost in archives burnings. According to his own
account, he took a succession of jobs as actor, film extra, variety
artist, playwright, painter, and electrical technician. The performance
of a music hall hypnotist led him to become interested
in Spiritualism and occultism.
With his background and emotional instability, it was a fatal
mixture. Influenced by Laszlos séances, several young men
committed suicide in order to journey to the Great Beyond.
In 1920 Laszlo fell off a tram, and during two weeks in a hospital
met a girl with whom he fell deeply in love. After recovery,
he telephoned her, demanding that they become engaged, and
when she refused him, he shot himself in the telephone booth.
Back in the hospital, he fell in love with another girl, with
whom he later formed a suicide pact. In a somewhat confused
scene with a gun, the girl died, while Laszlo was only wounded.
He was arrested for homicide.
The police astonishingly agreed to hold a Spiritualist séance
at their headquarters with Laszlo as medium, during the course
of which Laszlo claimed that he was the victim of an evil entity
from the thirteenth century who desired to use psychic force to
destroy victims. Laszlo was released, but he later claimed the
séance to be a fake.
He then became a journalist on a Budapest newspaper, publishing
articles about occultism and Spiritualism. Through
them Laszlo was introduced to William Torday, president of
the Hungarian Metapsychical Society. Torday and his colleagues
believed that Laszlo had brilliant occult talents and
persuaded him to sign an exclusive contract with them for séances.
Laszlo duly produced fake spirit heads and hands and
built up a reputation as a great medium.
After reading a classic work on materialization by famed
psychic researcher Baron Schrenck-Notzing, Laszlo deliberately
contrived to fake such effects in order to deceive the
baron. The materials used by Laszlo for fake ectoplasm were
gauze and cottonwool soaked in goose fat. These props were
hidden in the furniture in the séance room, and when this became
impossible through strict controls, Laszlo was impudently
adroit in slipping his props into the pockets of his investigators
when he was searched, then picking their pockets during the
séance! It is not known whether Schrenck-Notzing was actually
deceived, but many prominent psychic researchers were.
Laszlo was exposed in his fraud by Eugene Schenck, a
music-hall hypnotist and stage clairvoyant. Anticipating publicity
for his tricks, Laszlo himself admitted fraud at a public lecture
and even reveled in them. In the aftermath of the scandal,
Torday was discredited as a psychic researcher, and 67 of the
70 members of the Hungarian Metapsychical Society resigned.
According to Laszlo, he was then visited by two young men who
were members of a Spiritualist circle. They said they had received
a spirit message that Laszlo should retract his confession
of fraud or be killed. Laszlo accordingly drew up a public statement
that his materialization phenomena were genuine, and
he undertook not to combat Spiritualism in any way. This melodramatic
episode may also be of Laszlos invention. The story
of Laszlo can be compared with that of the famous British fake
medium William Roy, who was equally shameless.
Laszlo resumed his everyday work as an electrician, and in
due course became a criminal again. Ten years later he was arrested
for burglary and housebreaking. Before the hearing
could be completed, he died of a lung hemorrhage in 1936.
Tabori, Cornelius. My Occult Diary. London, 1951.
Tabori, Paul. Companions of the Unseen. London, 1968.
Laszlo, Laszlo (18981936)