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Unleashed - Then, Thankfully, Chained Up Again:
Friday, March 18, 2005   By: Mahone Dunbar

The Curious Story of a Parapsychologist in Love with Belief

The Curious Story of a Parapsychologist in Love with Belief

A review and critical analysis of: Unleashed: of Poltergeists and Murder, the Curious Story of Tina Resch, by William Roll and Valerie Storey. Paraview Pocket Books, 2004.

Unleashed: of Poltergeists and Murder, the Curious Story of Tina Resch, is the story of how Tina Resch went from being a fourteen-year-old wunderkind in the world of parascience, to murder suspect in the death of her own child, to convicted felon.

In the climatic scene in Stephen King's Carrie, the young female protagonist wreaks havoc on her thoughtless teenage peers by the use of psychokinesis (also called telekinesis), which is the purported ability to move objects without actually touching them. Carrie's psychokinetic ability is fueled by the deep frustrations of her life at school and at home. With the fictional Carrie, King tapped into a ready market of those who are fascinated by the possibility of psychokinesis .

Unleashed is the story of Tina Resch and an investigation, of sorts, into her presumed psychokinetic ability. But if Tina Resch, whose formative years were every bit as miserable as the fictional Carrie's, truly had the power of psychokinesis, there would be bodies flung from Columbus, Ohio all the way to Carrollton, Georgia.

Co-author William Roll comes across as a likeable enough sort. And his history is fairly interesting. As a teenager in World War II, in Denmark, he played and active part in the resistance against the Nazis. During this period he became exposed to metaphysical ideas by a kindly neighbor. His main motive for turning to parapsychology (p. 8) was the belief that ". . . an invisible web connects people regardless of national or racial differences." If proof of the existence of this web could be proven, he believed, wars and conflicts would come to an end (Ibid). However, he adds, "I am no longer that naive." (ibid) Subsequent comments by Roll put that statement into doubt.

After WW II, Roll goes to America, enters the University of Berkeley, California, and studies sociology. In 1957, he realizes his dream when he is invited to join the staff of famed parapsychologist J.B. Rhine at Duke University. In 1958 Roll investigates a case of PK (psychokinesis) and shortly afterwards writes a book, The Poltergeist. Then, since nothing much meaningful was happening in the world of poltergeists, his bio skips to 1984, when he received a call about events at the home of John Resch, in Columbus, Ohio, where objects were said to be flying about of their own volition. Here, he meets Tina Resch, the fourteen-year-old wunderkind who is supposedly the source of the paranormal events.

For the next twenty years Roll remains fascinated with Tina, paying her rent at times, letting their personal lives intertwine, and standing firmly behind her when she is eventually accused of the murder of her daughter, Amber.

Tina becomes Roll's El Dorado. And no one wants to let an El Dorado slip through their hands - even when the city's luster proves to be only a veneer of fool's gold.

Unleashed is loosely divided into three parts: the initial incidents with Tina, laboratory investigation of her "abilities," and the events surrounding the murder of Amber and Tina's incarceration.

Roll's initial contact with the Resch family, and his preliminary investigation, which occur in a matter of approximately two weeks time, provide the meat of the story. Unfortunately, the writing style is a bit droll and, since nothing Carrie-like occurs then or later, the monotony sets in quickly. The recounting of chairs moving, dishes breaking, cups flying, ad infinitum, will have the reader wanting to skip ahead in the hopes that something more significant than the occult movements of a couch or a jar full of pennies will occur. But, with no real dramatic turns in this part of the story, the authors may simply be hamstrung by this deficit. Perhaps they should have concentrated more on the second half of Tina's story.

Irregardless of the drag and nod time involved in the first portion of the book, the reader can conclude two things with certainty; one, psychokinesis is pretty drab as occult phenomena go; and, two, Tina is not just an accident waiting to happen, but a chain-reaction pile up. And here, she does not disappoint.

There is a consensus - from Roll himself and a neurologist who examined her, down to a six-year-old foster child who lived with Tina's family - that Tina is the source of the flying crockery--one way or another. There is also consensus that Tina is a deeply troubled young lady.

The biographical/psychological profile of Tina is well rounded and revealing, particular since Roll seems to suggest that the turmoil Tina has experienced is somehow tied to generation of the PK force. From infancy Tina is a person beset by hard luck and travails. As early as the age of four, she was noted as being "strange" and she led a Carrie-like existence at school. But if a tragic childhood like Tina experienced is a prerequisite for developing psychokinesis, then orphanages, foster homes and juvenile facilities around the world would be teeming with flying objects. Instead, background profiles like Tina's have more mundane results: the development of a personality that is prone to deception, hungry for attention, and possessed of irresolvable feelings of alienation. And deception is exactly what we find in Tina's case.

At a news conference during the early stages of Roll's investigation (P. 97), a reporter catches Tina moving the kitchen table with her foot. Another reporter (P. 98) leaves a running video camera nonchalantly on a table and recovers footage of Tina faking PK by knocking a lamp over when she thinks no one is watching. The video tape shows her "edging around the sofa" glancing over her shoulder to make sure she is not being watched, then reaching up to test the height of the lampshade, then yanking the lampshade and jumping away. The trick doesn't work the first time so she tries it again.

Then there is this: the results of the "force's" activity strangely coincide with Tina's desires: she doesn't like the foster children; the force causes them to leave. Tina doesn't like to do the dishes; and the force breaks all the dishes and glasses, necessitating the use of paper cups and plates and resulting in Tina's freedom from another household chore. The force is fickle. It seems hesitant to perform in front of reporters and other trained observers - but when a party of Tina's brother's friends arrive (P. 70) the force happily entertains them. When Tina is busy, or asleep, the force is absent. The force also conveniently absents itself when experimental lab equipment is present (P. 184) or when cameras are known to be rolling.

Roll conveniently reframes incidents where Tina is caught faking the PK by stating that she is using the tricks to "engage" people. He is silent on the convenient fickleness of "the force." And this reflects the subtext, the deconstructed theme, of the story: Roll's intractable belief system.

Though many of the phenomena associated with the PK events in Tina's home are not quickly explicable, some give pause, such as the TV changing volume and switching on and off seemingly of its own accord. On the other hand, who hasn't vexed another family member with the same effects by utilizing a second remote? Other phenomena are questionable. The phone, while in Tina's lap, is said to have taken a dozen or so "flights." Then we find that the "flights" lasted an estimated tenth of a second! (This harkens back to the Transcendental Meditation promises to teach one to levitate - only to see a demonstration by a bunch of devotees who are merely sitting in full lotus position and bouncing up and down by flexing their thigh muscles.) When chicanery or prestidigitation can produce the same effects as purported to be produced by a force as yet unknown to science, then the burden of proof is on the one who makes the extraordinary claims for the source of the phenomena.

When it comes to psychokinetic powers, making a cup jump a few feet or a picture on the wall shake isn't much to write home about. In fact, the only thing impressive about said phenomena is the postulated source of the motive force behind it. And when we know for certain that a multitude of postulated PK effects can be achieved by simple trickery (you can easily find PK tricks at your local magic store, or listed for sale on eBay), stringent proofs are required - not multiple anecdotes, no matter how interesting these may be. The quantity of anecdotal evidence does nothing to increase its quality. This is a thing even a parascientist such as Roll should know.

The meaty PK portion of the book winds up within a few weeks of Roll's initial exposure to Tina. But not before a delegation from CSICOP (the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) arrives at Tina's home to examine the phenomena first hand. The committee is comprised of two scientists and the one person who could provide invaluable insight in determining the presence of trickery: James (The Amazing) Randi, a prestidigitator who has dedicated his life to uncovering fraud in the realms of the metaphysical. Oddly, Tina's mother does not allow Randi to enter her home, stating she does not want a circus - like atmosphere in her house; yet - with objects purportedly flying about and furniture ambling around of its own accord-- she had heretofore allowed a gaggle of nosy reporters to wander through the house for over eight hours! As a cheap shot, and with no apparent awareness of irony, Roll quotes Resch family friend, Barbara, another foster mother, as saying she doesn't think Randi and CSICOP come with an open mind! It is hard to escape concluding, given Roll's obvious detestation of Randi, and Roll's bias in favor of the reality of the PK phenomena, that he is using Barbara as a literary beard.

After the initial furor dies down, Roll invites Tina to a parapsychology lab in North Carolina where she can be tested properly. In the lab, Tina's PK is impotent - particularly when she knows the cameras are on. Roll, in an uncharacteristic flash of rationality, considers clandestinely video tapping her; but, as usual where Tina is concerned, rationality loses out and he decides against it. Weird things continue to happen around her, but only when the cameras are not running.

In a revealing, and almost laughable insight (P. 205), Roll admits that two factors seem to suppress Tina's PK ability: when she is asleep, and when she makes a deliberate attempt to produce PK. In one telling lab incident, Tina becomes angry at one of the testers, and swings at her, missing, but hitting Roll hard enough to break his glasses. A teenager, with a temper so volatile that she will swing at full force on an adult simply out of frustration, yet Roll still rationalizes her behavior, empowering her dysfunctional mind set.

Given her history, and not one to disappoint, by the time she is sixteen Tina attempts suicide by slashing her wrists.

Eventually Tina moves to Carrollton, Georgia, where Roll has also relocated. After a couple of abusive relationships, and an out of wedlock pregnancy, Tina winds up dating David Herrin, who later admitted to sexually abusing Tina's daughter, Amber. When Amber is found dead from abuse, Tina is charged with her murder. She blames Herrin. He blames her. In what is described as a plea bargain to save her from the death penalty in Amber's murder - though Roll adamantly maintains her innocence - Tina pleads guilty. Amber's murder and the surrounding circumstances are given short shift by the authors. Instead, we are treated to lengthy polemics for Tina's innocence and tirades against her lawyer. In Roll's view, Tina is forever a victim of circumstances; she is never culpable. However tarnished, she is still his El Dorado.

When you have a young girl who is full of energy and is desperate for attention, who has an interest in magical tricks, and who has been caught in the act of trying to fake PK phenomena multiple times, it would seem absurd to conclude that all other psychokinetic phenomena associated with her presence were real, or that genuine PK occurred in the case at all. But Roll, like all true believers, never loses faith in his deity; his faith is not to be dissuaded by such paltry things as facts.

After everything is said and done, Roll says:

"I have been working on Tina's story for 20 years, and still I find much about her mysterious: her origins; the full extent of her abilities; and the circumstances surrounding the death of her child. But one thing is certain. For a time Tina had the power to directly affect the physical world. I am convinced that this power is still to be found in the depths of her mind."

Reading Roll's quote, the objective reader can only marvel at the bias inherent in his assumptions. It is anything but certain that Tina had "the power." If Tina had "the power," and it is empowered by her frustration with life's travails, why did it not come back in spades when she is accused of the murder of her child? Why didn't the judge's gavel fly up in the air and hit the District Attorney in the head? Why didn't she unleash her PK on her abuser, the man she claimed actually murdered her daughter? This is a vexing question that the authors do not answer to the reader's satisfaction.

To the end Roll maintains that Tina is innocent of Amber's abuse and murder; yet, one of the pieces of evidence against her is an amateur porno movie she made, which Amber interrupts by walking into the room. Tina rushes Amber from the room; then a slapping sound is heard, followed by the sound of a child crying.

Once again, the video camera is not Tina's friend. As always, it shows the real Tina.


Unleashed attempts to tackle three things: Tina Resch's tragic life, the murder of her child, and proving that psychokinetic events have occurred. The book does not devote sufficient space to the murder, and the recitation of meager psychokinetic events, in addition to becoming taxing to the reader, furnishes scant intellectual nourishment. The authors do not meet the burden of proof required when it comes to the psychokinetic portion of their story. Though Unleashed is at times an interesting examination of a damaged psyche, a grim peek into the heart of tragedy, and a critical (yet unintended) look at how bias colors parascience in a monochrome of non-objectivity, on final examination it proves to be only an exercise in tedium.


(c)1968- today j.e. simmons or michael warren