In 1926, an illiterate 13-year-old Romanian peasant girl, Eleonore Zugun, was brought to London for a series of experiments at the National Laboratory of Psychical Research by a Viennese countess with a deep interest in parapsychology.
For 11 months prior to her arrival in London, young Eleonore had apparently suffered spontanoeus attacks of both poltergeist activity and stigmata. Fearing possession by Dracu (the devil), local villagers had locked Eleonore away in an asylum from where Countess Wassilko-Serecki rescued her and whisked her away to Vienna, before making the trip to London.
On 16 April 1927, Adelaide’s The Advertiser reported on the strange case of A Roumanian Ghost Girl who had been the subject of “a series of careful experiments” “made under ideal scientific conditions” at the National Laboratory of Psychical Research.
“She was brought to London last September by Countess Wassilko-Serecki for an investigation at the laboratory, and was submitted to a series of tests respecting her poltergeist (‘noisy devils’) claims, and the enigmatic markings which appeared on her body,” the article reported.
“Conclusions reached by the investigators are that: stigmatic markings appeared spontaneously on various parts of Eleonore's body. She was not consciously responsible for the production of the marks,” and that, according to the report, “under scientific test conditions movements of small objects with out physical contact undoubtedly took place in the girl’s presence and that the coins which moved were attracted towards the medium, and that neither movement was due to magnetism.”
The countess, who had rescued the “Ghost Girl” initially taking her to Vienna had recorded over 1,070 manifestations “which have been either of the poltergeist (merry ghost) or stigmata variety”.
“Instances she quoted of the former were of pieces of furniture suddenly jumping from their place in a room where the girl was playing, of a stiletto hurtling through the air and sticking in the door; and of an inkpot which flew from its place on a desk and poured its contents over people in the room.”
The countess also recounted an episode of stigmata that had recently afflicted the poor girl.
“An example of the stigmata manifestation occurred yesterday morning in my presence. Soon after I had entered the room a mark was noticed rapidly growing on the girl's arm. As I watched it, it grew into a number of cruel-looking weals [red, swollen marks left on flesh by a blow or pressure], which might have been inflicted by a whip or a thin cane. I am satisfied that neither the girl nor anyone else can have inflicted any such blow. Within a few minutes the marks had disappeared.
“Some minutes later, while I was helping Eleonore to wind up a clockwork cat, of which she is inordinately fond, I my self saw similar weals beginning to appear on her other arm, arid at the back of her neck. Nobody but myself was near her at the time, and both her own hands were fully occupied with the toy.”
An earlier article, Astounding Phenomena: Girl Possessed of Devil, which had appeared in the Sunday Mail on 12 December 1926, detailed another case of stigmata that had afflicted young Eleonore:
“A party was taking tea in the laboratory when Eleonore, in the act of raising her cup to her lips, gave a cry of pain and rolled up her sleeve. On her forearm appeared what seemed to be the marks of teeth deeply indented into the flesh, as if she, or someone else, had bitten fiercely into the arm. The marks turned from red to white and finally took the form of white raised weals. They gradually faded, but were still noticeable after an hour or so.”
And in another instance, the illiterate peasant girl was observed to perform automatic writing with intriguing results.
“On one occasion while playing with a toy in the presence of Wassilko-Serecki and Miss Kay, secretary of the laboratory, she broke off and filled several sheets of paper with writing in the Roumanian language. The countess read it and asked the secretary if she had lost any keys, and on receiving an affirmative reply said; 'Then you will find them in the pocket of a coat in the cloak room.’ Which Miss Kay did.”
However, unlike the countess and Miss Kay, not everyone was convinced of the supernatural nature of Eleonore Zugun’s afflictions.
In Roumanian Mystery Girl: Alleged Trick Exposed, which appeared in the Barrier Miner on 3 March 1927, it was reported that the countess was suing a Dr. Hans Rosenbusch for libel.
“Dr. Rosenbusch (Munich) and Otto Stehl, a conjuror, claimed to have exposed a deception practised by the countess in connection with Eleanore Zugun, the 13-year-old Roumanian supposed ‘mystery girl’.
“Teeth marks appeared mysteriously on the body of the girl. Dr. Rosenbusch and Stehl declared that the countess, under the pretence of smoothing Zugun’s hair, scratched her cheek and neck, but that the skin of the girl reacted abnormally, and did not show marks until two or three minutes later. Thus while Zugun was exhibiting one mark the countess was adroitly producing another.”
Could the countess and the girl have really fooled the researchers at the National Laboratory of Psychical Research (NLPR), one of which was Harry Price, an “amateur conjuring expert” and “debunker,” with such sleight of hand trickery?
The final NLPR report did not find trickery, but rather Eleonore’s own subconscious, as the source of the stigmata. However, on the question of her telekinetic abilities, the report’s verdict was left open.
"What has happened to Eleonore is apparently this: During her early childhood when the so-called 'poltergeist' phenomena became first apparent, the simple peasants threatened her so often with Dracu (the Devil) and what he would do to her that her subconscious mind became obsessed with the idea of whippings, bitings, etc., which the ignorant peasants said would be her lot at the hands—or teeth—of Dracu. Remove the Dracu complex and the girl would probably be troubled no further with stigmatic markings.
"If we have discovered the cause of the 'stigmata' I am afraid we cannot lay claim to having unraveled the mystery of the tele-kinetic movements of the coins, etc. We have merely proved that they happen."
As in many poltergeist cases, the apparent supernautural activity experienced by Eleonore Zugun soon diminshed and by 1928, she had left Vienna to return to her native Romania where she later married and was said to have lived a “normal life”.