Roy, William (1911–1977)
Pseudonym of William George Holroyd Plowright, a notorious
mediumistic fraud in British Spiritualist history. He boasted
that he had earned £50,000 by cheating the bereaved and
others who attended his fraudulent séances. He even made
money out of publishing his own confessions. It is to the credit
of the British Spiritualist movement that its members took the
lead in first exposing Roy.
Born in Cobham, Surrey, England, Roy was boastful and deceptive
even at an early age. He was seventeen years old when
he married Mary Castle, who owned a nightclub in the Soho
area of London’s West End. Mary was the first of many women
who were deceived by Roy’s glamorous tall tales.
During the 1930s, his wife died and Roy married again. He
set up in business as a professional psychic medium. Roy used
ingenious technical devices for fraudulent mediumship and
also employed confederates. He concealed a microphone in the
séance room and recorded the conversations of sitters before
commencement of a séance.
When people wrote to ask if they could attend his séances,
Roy researched at the registry of births, deaths, and marriages
in order to obtain detailed information about their relatives.
When they visited his house for a sitting, they would be asked
to leave their bags and coats outside the séance room. These
were searched by a confederate for letters, tickets, bills, or other
scraps of personal information. All the facts concerning sitters
were recorded in a detailed card index system, and cleverly
worked into Roy’s ‘‘psychic’’ messages during séances.
Roy also produced ‘‘spirit voices’’ and ‘‘materialization’’
phenomena through use of amplifiers, butter muslin, masks,
and tape recorders and microphones in the hands of confederates.
One of Roy’s most shameless con tricks was the exploitation
of a widow who attended his séances. Through a female accomplice,
Roy obtained detailed information about the widow’s
dead husband and son, duly relayed to the widow at séances as
messages from her loved ones. At the same time, Roy made advances
to the widow and claimed that he wanted to marry her
as soon as he could obtain a divorce.
During a séance, the widow was given ‘‘spirit messages’’ advising
her to offer Roy’s wife £15,000 in return for an arranged
divorce. In due course, Roy produced a letter apparently from
his wife through a firm of solicitors, giving consent for this arrangement.
The letter and the firm of solicitors were both
bogus, but the widow paid Roy £15,000, which went into his
own pocket, and the pair went away on a ‘‘honeymoon.’’
Meanwhile Roy’s second wife Dorothy committed suicide.
Three weeks after her death, Roy married Mary Rose Halligan.
Roy had rich clients and lived in style, with expensive motorcars.
He separated from his third wife in 1956.
Meanwhile in August 1955, after almost 20 years of mediumistic
trickery, his activity was first exposed by veteran Spiritualist
Maurice Barbanell (editor of Psychic News) in an article
in the journal Two Worlds. The exposure did not occur until
Roy quarreled with his accomplice, who left him and supplied
evidence and explained Roy’s methods and apparatus. Roy instituted
libel proceedings, but withdrew the action in 1958.
In 1958, Roy unblushingly published his own confessions in
the Sunday Pictorial newspaper. But he continued operating as
a fake medium, using a new name ‘‘Bill Silver.’’ At the age of
58, Roy bigamously married Ann Clements. He finally died at
Hastings, Sussex, suffering from cancer, leaving three children
from his various alliances.
Roy’s ingenious apparatus for fake mediumship is now in
the care of Scotland Yard, in a museum at the Metropolitan Police
Detective Training School. After Roy’s death and twenty
years after his original exposure, Barbanell devoted a whole
front page of Psychic News (August 13, 1977) to the story of
Roy’s frauds, illustrated by photographs of the apparatus and
techniques used for fake mediumship