In 1901, a humble mason and architect by the name of Signor Mauro Pansini moved to the small town of Ruvo di Puglia, in the Bari countryside of Italy with his family. It was an idyllic, charming little town, surrounded by a mosaic of olive groves and vineyards, a great place to live a quiet life of solitude and raise their two young sons, Alfredo and Paulo. At the time it must have seemed like a dream come true to live there in their modest home near the Palazzo Municipale. The family moved in and began restoration work on the quaint, old house, but within days of moving in their dream house would turn into a bit of a nightmare, and it would all spiral into an account of poltergeist activity, strange happenings, and teleportation.
It began with things seeming to be moved around and misplaced without anyone able to figure out how or why. This might have been chalked up to just forgetfulness, but then they started to witness objects and furniture move on their own, and this would only increase in intensity. As the days went on, objects began launching from their resting places to fly across rooms and smash into walls, and there were often found household items that had been twisted and broken as if in a rage. On some occasions even large, heavy pieces of furniture were overturned or sent flying, and by all appearances it seemed to them as if they were being haunted by some particularly violent and destructive ghosts. Perhaps unwisely, the family decided to hold a séance in order to try and communicate with the spirits that were tormenting them, and this seems to have only made things worse. Shortly after this séance, the paranormal activity became even more explosive and terrifying, to the point where Mauro now believed that this might not be ghosts after all, but rather demons.
One day, things got even stranger still, when one of their sons, 7-year-old Alfredo, suddenly went into a deep trance and began to speak in languages he had no way of knowing, such as French, Latin, Greek, using what was described as “a strange voice, like an orator.” He would snap out of it without remembering anything, and from there the trances would get steadily get both more frequent and more bizarre. He would say in these trances that the spirits would bring them everything they needed, and sure enough food would appear on the table or in their pantry as if out of thin air, often right before their eyes. When asked why this was happening Alfredo claimed that he had chased away the evil spirits in the house and that they were now replaced by good spirits. A report in the newspaper Giornale d’Italia would say of it:
One evening the little Alfredo Paoli, aged seven years, while the rest of the family were present, fell into a state of sleep and began to speak in a voice which was not his own, saying that he had been sent by God for the purpose of driving away the evil spirits, and it seemed for a while as if a better class of spirits had come, for now there were all kinds of sweets, candy, and chocolate, brought to them by the invisibles, and one night the little boy, while in a state of trance, described a battle taking place between the good and the bad ghosts. Next the boy began to walk mechanically and answer questions concerning things which he could not know. They took the boy to church. There he became as insensible as a corpse, but woke up as the bishop called his name. He remained with the bishop for several days, and then returned to his parents.
The trances and strange phenomena would continue to surround Alfredo, and no one could figure out what was going on. Alfredo’s family was convinced that their son was being possessed, and so finally decided to have him sent to a seminary school in a church for his own safety, where he would spend the next three years. It is reported that during this time the phenomena and the possessions completely stopped, with life gathering some semblance of normality once again, but as soon as Alfredo returned, the strange incidents started all over again with as much intensity as ever, and not only that, Alfredo’s younger brother Paulo would also start experiencing the mysterious trances as well.
Then one day the weirdest phenomenon of all would happen when the mother was discussing what to do with a Bishop as the boys remained in their room, but when they went to see them they were gone. Astonished as to how the boys could have gotten out without them noticing, they moments later got a call from another local that told them that the boys were wandering around several miles away. Thinking that they had disobeyed the order to stay in their room and had snuck out, their angry father locked them in their room, but once again they somehow got out, and this time had appeared at their uncle’s house many miles away, seemingly instantaneously. On another occasion they disappeared into thin air right out of a moving carriage, only to be found at their intended destination when the carriage arrived. These instances of what seemed to be teleportation continued, and a report in Giornale d’Italia would explain of the phenomena:
One day the lad Alfredo, with his brother Paolo, aged eight years, were at Ruvo at 9 a.m., and at 9:30 they were found at the Capucine convent at Malfatti (some thirty miles away). Another day the whole family were sitting at the breakfast table at 12:30 p.m., and as there was no wine the little Paolo was sent for it. He did not return, and half an hour afterwards Alfredo suddenly disappeared, and at 1 p.m. both boys were found in a fishing boat on the sea not far from the port of Barlatta. They began to cry, and the fisherman, being himself frightened almost out of his wits by their sudden appearance, took them ashore, where by good fortune they found a coachman who knew them and took them home, where after a rapid drive of half-an-hour they arrived at 3:30. In this way they were spirited away on other occasions to Bisceglie, Giovinazzi, Mariotti, and Ferlizzi (the distance of which places from Ruvo may be seen on the map) and brought back to their parents in the ordinary way.
In every instance the children were found in “a state of profound hypnosis,” and could not remember what had happened. These strange episodes of teleportation were investigated by a medical advisor to Popes Leo XIII and Pius X named Joseph Lapponi, who set up an experiment to test the claims. He purportedly locked the boys in their room and sealed off all escape routes including windows and other doors within the house, yet even then the boys vanished and reappeared instantaneously several miles away, right under everyone’s noses. Other scientists and doctors studied the boys as well, but no rational explanation could be found. Before long the bizarre story was all over the news and was being talked about all over Italy, with speculation rampant as to what could be causing these strange powers. Everything from witches, to the Devil, to portals or powers of the mind were thrown around, but according to a spirit supposedly speaking through Alfredo during one of his trances, it was the spirits dematerializing them in one place and rematerializing them in another, just as they had done with the food on the table. The explanation of most skeptics was that this was merely “ambulatory automatism,” in which a person would basically go into a trance and feel compelled to walk around without realizing it, very much like sleepwalking but awake, but others disagreed with this conclusion. One report in the Annals of Psychical Science would say of it:
With regard to the mysterious disappearance of the two brothers Pansini, and their almost instantaneous appearance in another locality, the hypothesis most easily accepted by the Italian savants who have looked into the matter, is that it is a case of ambulatory automatism; it is known that subjects affected with this nervous disease feel an irresistible impulse to move about and then fall into the second state; when they return to their normal state they have forgotten all about it. Dr. Petrus, writing in the Secolo, of Milan, does not exclude the hypothesis that the two boys, in a state of muscular hyperasthesia, might traverse, walk, or even run, distances of thirty, forty, ﬁfty, even up to ninety kilométres without resting. Nevertheless he asks how they could possibly walk or run fourteen kilometres (nine miles) in half an hour. Besides, he adds, how is it that these two lads, in their precipitate peregrinations, have never attracted the attention of passersby, when the main roads of those districts are always frequented by numerous carts and persons on foot?
This explanation would also not explain any of the poltergeist activity that surrounded the whole thing. In the meantime, the Pansini boys would pull off countless disappearing acts, always appearing miles away instantaneously, often out of locked rooms or even in full view of witnesses, inspiring awe, fascination, and even fear wherever they went. This would continue for years until the boys reached puberty, after which the episodes stopped and they seem to have lost their powers. The case has gone on to be much discussed, but it is hard to tell how much of it actually happened and just what was going on here. What happened to this family and what was the meaning of the haunting and possessions? Could these two boys really do what everyone said they could do, teleporting around in the blink of an eye? Is there some rational explanation for this, or is it all an example of powers we may never understand? There is no real way to know, and the story of the Pansini brothers remains one of the strangest tales of supposed human teleportation there is.