Duncan, Helen

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Duncan, Helen Gender: F
Victoria Helen McCrae Duncan
born on 25 November 1897 at 03:00 (= 03:00 AM )
Place Callander, Scotland, 56n15, 4w14
Timezone GMT h0e (is standard time)
Data source
Quoted BC/BR
Rodden Rating AA
Collector: Gerard
Astrology data s_su.18.gif s_sagcol.18.gif 03°09' s_mo.18.gif s_sagcol.18.gif 13°41 Asc.s_libcol.18.gif 09°58'

Helen Duncan (1931)


Scottish medium taken to trial at the Old Bailey in London on 3/23/1944 for fraud, charged under the 1735 Witchcraft Act of "pretending to raise the spirits of the dead." She had inadvertently revealed the wartime sinking of HMS Barham by summoning up one of its dead sailors at a séance. During WW II, she would "raise" the spirits of dead soldiers and sailors at séances across the country, claiming that she brought comfort to grieving family members. However the Government argued that she was guilty of fraud and of preying on the bereaved.

Her supporters declared that she was arguably the greatest materialization medium of the 20th century, and that her séances were phenomenal to attend. Aided by her guide to the afterlife, Albert, Duncan would fall into a deep trance. A white liquid, ectoplasm, would apparently come from her nose, spilling out onto the floor. From this, in about two minutes, a solid shape would appear of the deceased person, and this form, appearing quite tangible, would converse with their loved ones.

It was at a séance in Portsmouth that the dead sailor appeared and allegedly told his mother, "My ship has sunk." Anxious for confirmation, the woman wrote the War Office to ask for details. This alerted the authorities to Duncan's activities, at the same time alarming them inasmuch as the sinking of the ship had been kept secret and she was in danger of becoming a national security risk.

The trial created a sensation in war-weary Britain. The prosecution claimed that her ectoplasm was cheesecloth that she had regurgitated, but they could not prove this to be so; an X-ray revealed her intestines to be normal.

A pleasant looking, overweight woman, Duncan was married to a cabinet-maker and the mother of seven children. At the time of the trial, her husband was unemployed and she was working at a bleach factory. A well known spiritualist, she had given séances all over Britain in the '30s and '40s.

Convicted, she was jailed on 4/03/1944 for nine months, collapsing in moans when she heard the sentencing. At her trial, Ernest Edward Hartland Homer, a druggist of Portsmouth, Mr. Francis Brown of Newbottle, Col. Durham, and Elizabeth Anne Jones, aka Mrs. Homer, were also accused along with Duncan. Above the Homer's druggist shop in Portsmouth was the "Master Temple Psychic Centre." It was affirmed that people visited the Centre on 1/14/1944 to see Duncan conducting one of her séances.

She had a prior conviction in 1933 of "pretending to be a medium" at a séance in Edinburgh and may have been imprisoned then as well. After the 1944 conviction, she was disowned by her peers and had her diploma withdrawn by the Spiritualists' National Union.

Duncan emerged from prison a broken woman and died on 6 December 1956, 11 years after her release and five years after the law which convicted her was repealed as archaic.

After serving her sentence, Duncan faced repeated accusations and police raids amid controversy over whether she was a fraud. In 1956, police again raided a séance that Duncan was holding. While shouting and taking pictures, one of the officers touched Duncan while she was in trance. The disturbance caused the ectoplasm to return to her body too quickly, causing intense burning. She was taken immediately to the hospital but died five weeks later.

She was the last woman in England to be convicted as a witch.

Link to Wikipedia biography


  • Crime : Trial dates 23 March 1944 (Fraud and preying on the bereaved)
    chart Placidus Equal_H.
  • Social : Institutionalized - prison, hospital 3 April 1944 (Nine month prison sentence)
    chart Placidus Equal_H.
  • Other Crime 1956 (Police raided her quarters)

Source Notes

Caroline Gerard quotes B.C. Duncan's biography is written by Alan Crossley.


  • Family : Relationship : Marriage more than 15 Yrs
  • Family : Relationship : Stress - Chronic misery (Husband unemployed, police harrassment on her seance business)
  • Family : Parenting : Kids more than 3 (Seven)
  • Passions : Criminal Perpetrator : Prison sentence (Nine months)
  • Passions : Criminal Perpetrator : Social crime/ delinquent (Fraud, for alleging to raise the dead)
  • Personal : Religion/Spirituality : Clairvoyant/ Clairaudient
  • Personal : Death : Unusual (Burned from her ectoplasm)
  • Vocation : Occult Fields : Psychic/ Medium/ Spiritualist (Noted meduim)
  • Vocation : Misc. : Factory work (Bleach factory, secondary)
  • Notable : Famous : Notable extremes (The last person convicted as a witch in UK)