Poltergeists off the Leash

William Roll and Valerie Storey. Unleashed: Of Poltergeists and Murder, the Curious Story of Tina Resch. Paraview Pocket Books, 2004.

Tina Resch was the centre of a dramatic poltergeist case in Columbus, Ohio. In 1984. She was a 14 year old adopted girl around whom strange things were said to happen, and as is usual in such cases, believers believed and sceptics were sceptical. Eventually it was claimed she had been caught cheating, and she rather disappeared from view, only to re-emerge eight years later accused of killing her child.

Roll was the parapsychologist who investigated the case, and he seems to have become a sort of surrogate grandfather to Tina. The story which is presented in this book certainly reinforces my view that alleged paranormal episodes have to be read in the context of a whole biographical narrative. The portrait painted here (and it must be stressed that I have no way at present of evaluating the truth or otherwise of any statement made in this book, which may very well be a partial and biased account), is of a girl adopted into an outwardly respectable family, hailed by their neighbours as kind foster parents, whose charges include a severely neurologically challenged baby, and who have several adopted children.

Roll however paints the portrait of a Tina as a classical Cinderella child, who is made the scapegoat for all the family’s problems. According to Roll she was sexually abused by one of the boys in the household, emotionally abused by her adopted mother, and beaten by her adoptive father (and I am sure that most British social workers would see the beating of a sexually maturing young woman by a man as a form of sexual abuse). The portrait is of the sort of people one encounters time and again in adoption survivor narratives, who adopt cute little babies but try to return to sender when they grow to be obstreperous teenagers. Again I must emphasise that I have no way of knowing whether this is a factually accurate portrayal, or simply Tina’s gloss on events.

Nevertheless, whether or not the poltergeist effects are produced by paranormal means or not, they can clearly be read as a cry for help, and they contain some obvious symbolism. Tina is treated as a “wild outsider” an untamed force in the home, like a sort of changeling. So an untamed wildness breaks out around her, shattering the structure of the tightly controlled household. This only alienates Tina even more from her carers/keepers. Teenagers often ventilate their chaotic emotions by acts of vandalism, but these are usually directed outwards, often at liminal places such as semi-derelict buildings or un-owned public spaces. Here, however, it is clearly directed inwards, and if we view the home as an extension of the self, as a kind of self-harm by proxy. We could see her subsequent involvement with a number of abusive men - the last of whom, according to Roll at any rate, is the real killer of her child, though she contributed to the neglect - as a continuation of this process

Tina on this reading is a typical victim of the class and gender bias of the American legal system and an unconcerned public defender, though the sceptic might ask Roll why, if he was so convinced of Tina’s innocence, he didn’t hire a better lawyer himself.   | PR |


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