Schneider Brothers, Willi (1903–1971) and
Rudi (1908–1957)
Physical mediums of Braunau, Austria, initially discovered
by Baron Schrenck-Notzing and tested by him under stringent
conditions in the presence of a number of scientists. The father
of the Schneider brothers was a linotype compositor. Of his six
sons, four—Willi, Rudi, Hans and Karl—had psychic power,
though the latter two only in a slight degree.
The trance personality of Willi was a woman, ‘‘Olga,’’ who
said that her full name was Olga Lintner, and that she was the
notorious Lola Montez, the mistress of Ludwig I, the king of
Bavaria, who died in New York in 1861. Willi’s mediumistic development
was taken up by Schrenck-Notzing.
Between December 3, 1921, and July 1, 1922, a hundred scientists
witnessed Willi’s telekinesis and ectoplasm phenomena
under very strict test conditions and declared themselves completely
convinced of their reality. The room was searched, the
medium was examined by specialists, and glowing pins were affixed
to his clothing so that his slightest movements could be
seen by witnesses even in the dark. Willi sat outside the cabinet.
Two witnesses held his wrists and a third sat in front of him,
holding his hands and keeping his legs between his own. Both
medium and experimenters were shut off from the objects to
be telekinetically moved by a gauze screen in the form of a
cage. The severity of the control did not prevent the phenomena.
The result of these sittings was published in SchrenckNotzing’s
Experimente der Fernbewegung in 1924.
In English-speaking countries, the mediumship of the
Schneider brothers began to be known after British psychical
researcher Harry Price, accompanied by Eric J. Dingwall, attended
some sittings in 1922 in Munich. Both Price and Dingwall
signed statements that they witnessed genuine phenomena.
Meanwhile Willi aspired to be a dentist. When he concentrated
on his studies, his mediumship showed signs of weakening.
Having left Schrenck-Notzing he went to Vienna where he
lived with E. Holub, the head of a large asylum at Steinhof. He
gave a series of sittings. When Holub died in 1924 Willi continued
sitting with university professors.
Late in 1924, at the invitation of the Society for Psychical
Research, Willi Schneider, accompanied by Mrs. Holub, came
to London, and from November 12 to December 13 he gave
twelve sittings on the society’s premises. According to E. J.
Dingwall’s report in Proceedings of the SPR (vol. 36) ‘‘The only
phenomena clearly observed were telekinetic, and even these
were only striking upon a few occasions.’’
Making every effort to find a normal explanation Dingwall
stated
‘‘In order to raise an object 2–3 feet distant from him, the
medium must have had concealed in his mouth an extensible
apparatus workable by the mouth alone and by this means have
supported a flat object lying on the table and raise it into the
air from below. This feat must have been accomplished without
any obvious interference with his breathing or speech; and
when completed the rod must have been in some inexplicable
manner withdrawn and again concealed in his mouth. We
frankly do not believe such a device exists, and therefore are
driven to the conclusion that the only reasonable hypothesis
which covers the facts is that some supernormal agency produced
the results.’’
The development of Rudi Schneider’s powers was also
under Schrenck-Notzing’s supervision. One night in a séance
with Willi, ‘‘Olga’’ said that the power was not strong enough
and that she wanted Rudi to assist. As Rudi was only eleven
years of age then and was asleep in bed, the parents objected.
‘‘Olga’’ did not answer.
A few minutes later, however, the door opened and Rudi, in
deep trance, entered and joined the circle. After that night,
‘‘Olga’’ permanently attached herself to Rudi and never spoke
through Willi again. Her place was taken by ‘‘Mina,’’ another
female personality.
Rudi’s first independent séance was held in November
1919, at Braunau. The materialization of a tiny hand was witnessed.
One peculiarity of his sittings was the frequent intermissions
that ‘‘Olga’’ demanded.
In 1923–24, Stefan Meyer and Karl Przibram, of the Institut
für Radiumforschung der Academie der Wissenschaffen, Vienna,
detected Rudi evading control. After that they had no reason
to believe that any of the phenomena they witnessed were
of supernormal character. Actually, however, fraud was more
assumed than proved. Rudi went on with his sittings and several
reports of his mediumship appeared through the 1920s in
the Journal of the ASPR. Then in April 1927, the journal Psyche
published an article by Warren Jay Vinton that made a detailed
and categorical charge of fraud through confederacy. Vinton
was introduced at Braunau by Dingwall, attended a total of ten
séances and concluded that the phenomena were caused by
someone who secretly invaded the séance room.
The article made a stir and provoked strong comment both
for and against these claims. J. Malcolm Bird, the research officer
of the American Society for Psychical Research, decided
to see the evidence for himself. He arrived at Braunau in October
1927, but owing to pressure of business could only stay for
a single séance. His conclusion was that all the essentials of the
Dingwall-Vinton theory were verified and all the conditions
requisite to its operation were reproduced.
Harry Price and the VX
Some time after, Walter F. Prince attended a series of ten
sittings with Rudi in Braunau and in Rudolf Lambert’s house
at Stuttgart. Phenomena were scarce. In his notes in Bulletin VII
of the Boston Society for Psychical Research, published under
the title Experiments with Physical Mediums in Europe (1928),
Prince came to the conclusion that the phenomena could not
be considered genuine. He observed,
‘‘Throughout the thirteen sittings, despite my studied and
unremitting complaisance, no phenomena have occurred when
I had any part in the control, save curtain movements which
were capable of the simplest explanation.’’
These events somewhat dimmed the luster of Rudi’s reputation.
Schrenck-Notzing desired to settle the matter definitely
and arranged an elaborate program of experiments for 1929.
They were to be conducted in Herr Krall’s laboratory under a
completed system of partly electrical, partly tactual control.
Early in 1929, before the test could be conducted, both
Schrench-Notzing and Krall died. Later that year, psychical research
Harry Price paid a visit to Münich. On this occasion he
made arrangements with Rudi to visit the National Laboratory
for Psychical Research in London. Karl Amereller, an electrician
who employed Rudi, accompanied him to London and installed
his electric indicator in the laboratory. This indicator
was developed from Price’s electric chair idea. As developed at
the beginning of 1923, it consisted of a number of electric contact-makers,
normally kept apart by light springs which corresponded
to various parts of the medium’s anatomy. The contacts
were connected up with a row of colored indicator lights,
so that should a person under test move or rise from the chair,
the corresponding light immediately failed.
The plan of this indicator had been submitted to Baron
Schrenck-Notzing and perfected by him and Amereller. In its
latest phase, it controlled the four limbs of the medium by four
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Schneider Brothers, Willi and Rudi
1357
separate electric circuits. In the experiments at the National
Laboratory, however, Harry Price decided to control the hands
and feet of the sitters in the same way, making six separate circuits
and corresponding lights for all.
The first series of séances took place between April 12 and
April 22, 1929. The second series lasted from November 14,
1929, to January 20, 1930. Both were eminently successful. As
Harry Price stated in the conclusion to his book Rudi Schneider
A Scientific Investigation of his Mediumship (1930)
‘‘But the fact remains that Rudi has been subjected to the
most merciless triple control ever imposed upon a medium in
this or any other country and has come through the ordeal with
flying colours. The genuineness of the phenomena produced
at his London séances has impressed nearly one hundred persons,
including scientists, doctors, business men, professional
magicians, journalists, etc. The triple control involved The
holding of Rudi’s hands and feet by one controller, a second
person always having one hand upon the four locked hands of
the medium and the controller; the electric indicator; the
dressing of the medium in a pajama jacket to which metallic
gloves were sewn, he being invariably searched besides.’’
The phenomena witnessed were summed up by Harry Price
as follows
‘‘. . . cold breezes felt by everyone; an occasional fall in the
temperature of the cabinet . . . violent movements of the pair
of curtains . . . movements and levitations of the luminous waste
paper basket . . . and the coffee table . . . the ringing of the bells
and the twanging of the toy zither, even in mid-air; the emergence
from, and withdrawal into, the cabinet of a handkerchief,
afterwards found in a far corner, tied into a tight knot, the
‘touchings’ and ‘brushings’ of the sitters at the wonderful thirteenth,
fifteenth, twenty-first and other séances; the intelligent
knocking of the table . . . when it was resting against a sitter’s
leg near the end of the circle farthest from the medium; the
tugs-of-war with Olga, and finally the emergence from, and
withdrawal into, the cabinet of ‘hands,’ ‘arms,’ and ‘tubes,’
some perfectly formed. . . .
‘‘. . . the following scientists have been present at the Rudi
experiments Lord Rayleigh, Prof. A. O. Rankine, F. C. S.
Schiller, Dr. William Brown, Prof. Nils von Hofsten, Prof. A.
F. C. Pollard, Mr. C. E. M. Joad, Mr. A. Egerton, Prof. A. M.
Low, Dr. Braun, Dr. David Efron, Dr. Eugen Osty and Dr.
Jeans.’’
After the end of the séance on April 15, Price casually remarked
to journalist Hannen Swaffer that he would give a
thousand pounds to any person who could produce the same
effects under identical conditions, provided that if the person
failed he would pay a like sum to the laboratory. This was published
as a challenge in the Daily Express and other papers. ‘‘No
one appeared,’’ wrote Harry Price, ‘‘to want a thousand
pounds, and the magical fraternity showed a sudden and
strange lack of interest in psychic things. . . . What baffled magicians
was the fact that the phenomena occurred inside the
cabinet while Rudi was outside, nearly five feet away.’’
Will Goldston, the famous stage magician, attended some
séances and declared that under the same conditions a whole
group of prestidigitators could not produce the phenomena
which he witnessed.
As regards the personality, ‘‘Olga’’ ‘‘After many séances and
‘confidential talks’ with her,’’ wrote Harry Price, ‘‘I am completely
at a loss to know whether she is really a figment of Rudi’s
subconscious mind or actually a discarnate entity.’’ After the experiments
were over, Harry Price handed a certificate to Rudi
Schneider on behalf of the Council of the National Laboratory
of Psychical Research, stating that absolutely genuine phenomena
have been produced through his mediumship. He added
‘‘If the Laboratory issued a ‘gold medal,’ or ‘diploma’ for
genuine mediumship under our own scientific conditions, we
should have no hesitation in awarding it to Rudi. I know of no
other physical medium who could claim it—except perhaps
Miss Stella C. . . . If Rudi were to be ‘exposed’ a hundred times
in the future it would not invalidate or affect to the slightest degree
our considered judgment that the boy has produced genuine
abnormal phenomena while he has been at the National
Laboratory of Psychical Research.’’
The Schneider brothers did not accept payment for their
services. In London, Rudi was only paid as much as he would
have earned at his trade as a motor engineer, from which he
was taken. In 1932, however, he raised his maintenance fees
considerably.
In October and November 1930, Rudi sat at the Institut
Métapsychique in Paris. According to Eugen Osty’s report, in
the fourteenth séance infra-red photography revealed, at a distance
from the medium, the existence of an invisible substance,
localized in space but rigorously commanded by the psychical
organism of the medium. Sound registering and recording instruments
signaled the movements of this invisible substance.
No screens and meshes of various materials, nor electrically
charged plates, could intercept it. An increase in red light, a
change in the conditions of the room, or a change in the medium’s
position however, always sensibly diminished the action of
the substance.
Under the conditions laid down by Osty, no fraud seemed
possible. He was satisfied as to the reality of telekinetic movements.
At the end of ninety sittings, Rudi was presented with
a gift of 5,000 francs from the institute in recognition of the
willing manner in which he had submitted to experimentations.
For details of the experiments see Osty’s book Les Pouvoirs
inconnus de l’esprit sur la matière (1932).
In the spring of 1932, Rudi again sat at the National Laboratory
of Psychical Research. Out of twenty-seven séances, eighteen
were negative. His powers appeared to be on the wane.
Nevertheless Osty’s infra-red experiments were successfully duplicated
and a number of distinguished scientists were convinced
of the reality of the phenomena.
As, however, an automatic photograph taken in the twentyfifth
sitting apparently revealed (as disclosed a year later in
Price’s report An Account of Some Further Experiments with Rudi
Schneider), there was an arm free behind Rudi when both his
hands were supposed to be controlled by the sitter in front.
Price concluded that ‘‘it will be necessary for previous investigators
to revise their findings.’’
Both this conclusion and its basis were subjected to vigorous
attack by Professor Fraser-Harris (Light, March 17, 1933). He
gave his unqualified testimony to the genuineness of the medium.
Several members of the laboratory’s council resigned to
protest the report.
Strong exception to Price’s methods was also taken by Osty
in an offprint from the Revue Metapsychique, April 1933,
L’Etrange Conduit de M. Harry Price. It has also been suggested
that Price misinterpreted or deliberately falsified this photograph.
In October–December 1932, Rudi gave 27 sittings in London
to Lord Charles Hope’s research group. According to the
report in Proceedings of the SPR (vol. 41, p. 131) ‘‘On the
whole, the phenomena noted were weaker and less frequent
than those reported as having taken place with the same medium
elsewhere, but the results obtained go far to support the
claims put forward by Dr. Osty in his report.’’ Replying to
Price’s allegation of trickery, Lord Charles Hope stated in a
special section of the report
‘‘I submit that neither the evidence Mr. Price adduces nor
his method of presentation is such as to make his charges count
for anything against a medium with Rudi’s record. What does
emerge damaged from Mr. Price’s report is his own reputation
as controller, conductor of investigations and critic.’’
In an addendum, Theodore Besterman stated ‘‘Quite apart
from other and important considertions, Mr. Price’s report appears
to me to be in itself quite worthless as an exposure. It can
have no effect on Rudi Schneider’s standing.’’
The next development was Bulletin V of the National Laboratory
of Psychical Research (Rudi Schneider, the Vienna ExperiSchneider
Brothers, Willi and Rudi Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
1358
ments of Professors Meyer and Przibram). This referred to sittings
in 1924. The theories of fraud there advanced, however, had
been dealt with earlier in Schrenck-Notzing’s posthumous Die
Phenomene des Mediums Rudi Schneider (December 1932) and by
Osty in his book. The rest of the Bulletin was devoted to answering
the criticism that Osty and others levelled against Price.
Meanwhile, Willi Schneider had retired from mediumship
much earlier, after the sittings with Schrenck-Notzing. His psychic
talents had waned, and he transferred his attention to
studying dentistry. He died in 1971. Rudi gave up mediumship,
married, and became an automobile mechanic, eventually
owning a garage. He died April 28, 1957, at Weyer, Austria.
Sources
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
Gregory, Anita. The Strange Case of Rudi Schneider. Metuchen,
N.J. Scarecrow Press, 1985.
Hall, Trevor H. Search for Harry Price. London Duckworth,
1978.