Sep 04, 2023 I Brent Swancer

Mysterious Deaths and Strange Cases of People Who Could Kill With Their Mind

Many may think that the deepest recesses of the galaxy or the cold depths of the sea are the most mysterious realms of our planet, but it could be argued that another lies not out there, but within. In many ways, the human brain and mind are every bit as mysterious as some far off star or deep sea abyss, just as unfathomable and beyond our grasp. On the fringes of this realm we get into stories of vast powers of the mind, including all manner of mental powers, including the ability to kill. 

An early case of someone who could apparently kill with their mind is the woman known as Anna Bonus, who was born in September of 1846 in Maryland Point, Stratford, Essex, England. As the 12th child to a wealthy family within which she lived a privileged lifestyle, despite the fact that she was a pale and sickly child. From a young age she was said to have potent psychic abilities, most notably the ability to form an uncanny kinship with all manner of animals, and it was said that she had psychic visions as well, including predicting people’s deaths, with one family member calling her a “born seer, seeing apparitions and divining the characters and fortunes of people.” This made her a bit of an odd child to those around her, and she spent much of her time locked away within her father’s extensive library, voraciously reading anything she could get her hands on. She was extremely bright and creative, writing a novel called Beatrice: a Tale of the Early Christians when she was just 13, and as she grew older she gained a deep interest in the world of the occult. She took to studying spiritualism under the tutelage of a Miss Florence J. Theobold in Hastings, and regularly took part in various seances and mediumship sessions.

In later years, Anna continued writing, eventually buying the journal The Lady’s Own Paper, taking up the spiritual practice of theosophy, and becoming a feminist and vegetarian, and she felt so strongly about this that in 1873 she enrolled in medical study in Paris in order to not only defy a system in which women rarely, if ever, pursued higher education, but also to acquire the scientific knowledge to argue against vivisection and advocate a vegetarian diet. Being a woman in the era at a medical school did not go well for her, in fact women were not even allowed to become medical doctors at the time. 

Nevertheless, she proved to be a smart and apt pupil, getting high marks across the board, but one thing she could not stomach was dissections and vivisections. At the time, this was an absolutely crucial component of medical studies, but she refused to take part in any of it, seeing it as something akin to coldblooded murder. She felt so strongly about it that she often offered herself up for dissection in place of the animals, and actively railed against the practice, but this all fell on deaf ears. It became a source of constant depression and desolation for her, the cries of the un-anesthetized animals unbearable for her. 

Her main nemesis in this area was the physiologist Professor Claude Bernard, who was at the time Europe’s primary expert and proponent of vivisection. He seemed to take great glee in it all, and often expounded on its merits and scientific worth. Anna often complained to anyone who would listen that Bernard was a sadistic, evil madman, and she could barely stand to be in the same room with him. This would escalate when one day in December of 1877, Bernard was giving a lecture during which he explained how he had slowly baked animals to death in a study of body heat, and this was the last straw for Anna, compelling her to jump from her seat and exclaim “Murderer!” before storming out. According to her, as she left the lecture hall, she wished with all of her will to strike him down dead, conjuring up what she would call a “spiritual thunderbolt” to crash down upon him, and then she allegedly fainted. Rather ominously, not long after this strange episode, Bernard suddenly and inexplicably fell ill and passed away, to which Anna said:

Woe be to the torturers…I will make it dangerous, nay, deadly, to be a vivisector. It is the only argument that will affect them. Meanwhile, thank God the head of the gang is dead.

She would claim that she had used her psychic powers to strike down Bernard, and she wasn’t finished yet. She soon set her sights on another doctor named Dr. Paul Bert, whom she called “the most notorious of the vivisecting fraternity.” After claiming that she had brought down her “spiritual thunderbolt again,” Bert would die rather suddenly in November of 1886. Whether this was coincidence or not, Anna took it as a sign that she had the righteous power to psychically smite her enemies and the enemies of the animals that were being dissected, and she would proclaim:

I have killed Paul Bert, as I killed Claude Bernard; as I will kill Louis Pasteur, and after him the whole tribe of vivisectors, it is a magnificent power to have, and one that transcends all vulgar methods of dealing out justice to tyrants.

Her attempt to kill the eminent Pasteur with her psychic powers would not go exactly to plan. She would head off for Pasteur’s Paris laboratory in November of 1886, but along the way she would find herself in a violent rainstorm that left her chilled to the bone, after which she would suffer from pneumonia, all of it fueled by her already lifelong bad health, and it would then become tuberculosis. This must have interrupted her psychic assassination attempt on Pasteur’s life, because although at the time he did nearly die of a sudden, inexplicable illness, he soon recovered completely, living and working until 1895. Anna’s health would progressively deteriorate until she finally passed away on February 22, 1888, taking her supposed powers and ay secrets she had to the grave with her.

A case from the early 20th century involves a man who seemed to be cursed to unintentionally cause the deaths of the ones he loved merely by looking at them. Louis Bauduy was a wealthy New York businessman who in 1903 was happily married to a beautiful young woman named Bertha Sayer. By all accounts they were a happy, well-adjusted couple, but their happy life was cut short when on February 18, 1904 Bertha was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head. Next to her lifeless body was a strange suicide note that simply stated that she had killed herself because of “something she could stand no longer.” At the time, it was considered tragic, but not particularly mysterious. Not yet, anyway. 

Louis was devastated at the time, but after some years he remarried a woman by the name of Rose. Once again they were a model couple, happy and in love, and it seemed that he was ready to put that dark chapter of his life behind him, but it was not meant to last. On December 10, 1908, neighbors smelled the strong odor of gas coming from the couple’s apartment. Alarmed, they forced their way in to find Rose Bauduy slumped over on the floor, with the gas turned on full and the unconscious body of Louis sprawled out in his bed. It would later turn out that in the days leading up to her death she had complained to friends that whenever her husband looked at her she had felt a deeply unnerving feeling of dread and despondency, and that she didn’t think she could stand it any longer. Although Louis would survive the ordeal, Rose would not, and it was deemed a suicide.

In 1910, Louis married a 23-year-old widow named Leone Violet Connelly. Louis chose to keep his previous two marriages secret, because having two wives in a row dying on him was not a good look. One evening she suddenly left the apartment, wandered over to 110th Street, and attempted to throw herself in front of a train. Luckily she was rescued, but when questioned by police she had a bizarre excuse for her behavior. She said that she had suddenly and for no apparent reason been overcome with the overwhelming urge to kill herself by merely being in her husband's presence. She would say of this mysterious urge:

I do not know what the impulse was that was urging me on to self-destruction. It was absolutely irresistible. I could not fight against it. I tried to, but something seemed to urge me on, and when he came home last night after several days' absence, and I had seen him for a few hours, the impulse was stronger than ever. Then I sent him away and followed out of the house myself, determined to finish it all.

Leone would leave Louis shortly after that, afraid that that bizarre desire to kill herself would return. Heartbroken and convinced now that he was somehow cursed to have anyone he married kill themselves, Louis checked into a hotel at Mamaroneck, New York, under an assumed name and shot himself in the head. The case is very odd, as none of these women had ever attempted suicide or been suicidal in the slightest before meeting and falling in love with Louis, and all of them had been in a happy relationship with him. Was this all coincidence or something else? Who knows?

In November of 1909, a travelling magician and hypnotist who called himself "Professor" Arthur Everton made his way through Somerville, New Jersey and did a show there. During his performance, Everton asked for a volunteer from the crowd in order to demonstrate the power of hypnotism. This was an era during which hypnotism was considered to be an exotic, almost mystical art, and the crowd was completely enthralled by the prospect of seeing it in action. Answering the call was a 35-year-old streetcar conductor named John Simpson, who stumbled up to the stage, obviously not a little drunk. He was apparently very skeptical about the whole hypnotism thing, heckling Everton and practically daring him to just try and hypnotize him, but he would soon regret going up there.

Everton went through the motions of hypnotizing his brave volunteer and succeeded in putting the rowdy Simpson into a deep trance. After having the man perform some parlor tricks under hypnosis, he suddenly went unresponsive and merely stared off into space in his trance-like state. He would respond to no further commands and just stood there like a zombie, so Everton tried to bring him out of the trance. As he did, Simpson suddenly crumpled to the floor and appeared to die right there on the spot. He had by all appearances been killed by hypnosis. Police were initially skeptical that hypnosis could have been the culprit, but there were numerous witnesses to what had happened and there was soon talk of accusing Everton of manslaughter. In the meantime, however, there was some doubt as to whether Simpson was even really dead. He was unresponsive and didn’t seem to be breathing, but at the same time he hadn’t gone rigid so it was thought that he was possibly just in some sort of deep, vegetative trance. In order to get to the bottom of it they called in another hypnotist by the name of William E. Davenport in order to see if he could resuscitate Simpson, and things would get stranger still.

Davenport went about giving a series of hypnotic commands to stimulate Simpson’s heart and get him breathing, but nothing seemed to work. After some time of this, it was decided that Simpson was indeed dead, and Everton was charged with manslaughter. However, the ensuing autopsy showed that the man had died of a ruptured aorta, and so the coroner ruled that his death might have been caused by an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm. This was strange in that, although he had been drunk at the time of the incident, he had been in good health, with no history of health problems. Adding to this was the fact that this had happened during Everton’s performance, and so there was some speculation that Everton had actually caused the man’s heart to explode through hypnosis. Nevertheless, there was no way at all to prove this, so all charges against Everton were dropped and the death was deemed accidental. What was going on here? Did Simpson’s death have any connection to hypnotism, and if so did Everton do it on purpose, perhaps as punishment for the verbal harassment he had endured? We will likely never know.

Interestingly, this would not have been the first time hypnotism would be blamed for causing death, nor the last. In 1894, a farmhand in Summer County, Kansas by the name of Thomas McDonald was told that his neighbor Thomas Patton had been spreading vicious rumors about his wife. This provoked an argument between McDonald and Patton that ended with McDonald storming off to his home in a rage. Once there, he was allegedly visited by his boss, the wealthy farmer Anderson Gray, who just happened to have been involved in a lawsuit with Patton and was also an amateur hypnotist. Gray allegedly hypnotized McDonald and gave him the suggestion to murder Patton. McDonald apparently tried to fight this mental command, but was unable to resist, and so went off to shoot Patton through the head, with his aim also having been improved through the hypnosis. In the end, Gray would be sentenced to hang for killing through hypnosis and McDonald would be found innocent due to having been under Gray’s mental influence.

In 1938 there was another odd case involving hypnosis, this time revolving around a pregnant 23-year-old woman named Marie Colombos, of Glendale, California. At the time she was apparently terrified of the prospect of childbirth, and so called in a hypnotist by the name of Robert Gilbert to put her under in order to ease her pain and fears. Gilbert reportedly went off to meet with Marie for a practice session and at some point the police were called. When they arrived, Marie was dead, her body in a peaceful state as if she had just fallen asleep. Strangely, an autopsy could find no known cause of death, and when Gilbert admitted he had hypnotized her he was arrested for using his power to kill her, but the charges were thrown out due to lack of evidence. Did he somehow accidentally kill her with his mind? 

In 2011, three students at North Port high school, in the small town of North Port, Florida, approached their principle, George Kenney, for advice. They all had various problems, as many teens tend to do, and had approached their principle as a person they trusted and who could help them with their issues. Kenney was a popular principle who the students generally adored, and so it would seem at first to be nothing strange that they would want to approach him for life guidance and advice. However, it was about to end in tragedy.

It would turn out that Kenney was a self-appointed “mind healer” and an unlicensed amateur hypnotist who frequently used hypnosis to try and treat students for their mental issues. Indeed, he had over the years allegedly hypnotized around 75 students. It was a practice that he had been specifically told multiple times by the board’s director of high schools to stop, and it was illegal under Florida law to practice hypnotism without a license, yet he continued doing it anyway. On this occasion, it would seem that his hypnosis possibly had gone wrong somehow because all three died within weeks of each other shortly after their hypnosis sessions with Kenney, with students Wesley McKinley and Brittany Palumbo dying by suicide and Marcus Freeman dying in a car accident.

It was all rather bizarre because McKinley and Palumbo had not been suicidal before their hypnosis and had in fact had big dreams for their graduation and future. In the case of Freeman, there could be found no good cause for the crash, and his girlfriend, who was badly injured but survived, told police that Freeman “had a strange look on his face” moments before his car veered off an interstate. Considering these odd details and the fact that they had all recently undergone hypnosis with Kenney and had all died in such quick succession, Kenney was accused of having had a hand it in, his hypnosis resulting in the students’ deaths. During the trial, the defense would argue that hypnosis could not have affected the students’ minds to such a degree, but there were some pretty spooky testimonies by other students who claimed to have been hypnotized by Kenney. One such witness would say:

I was in this trance. I was told I wouldn’t be able to find my room because all the room numbers would be changed to Chinese. I was lost for about 20 to 25 minutes walking around. I was seeing the Chinese lettering, the weird lines and all. He made a couple of the guys put lipstick on. Everybody thought it was funny because it was, you know, teenagers putting lipstick on.
In the end, the trail ended in a $600,000 wrongful death settlement, but there was not much evidence to convict Kenney of any wrongdoing. He was simply slapped with a misdemeanor charge of practicing hypnosis without a license, which resulted in one year of probation, after which he was allowed to retire from the school board on a full pension. 

A rather infamous case of someone who could purportedly kill with psychic powers was a Russian woman by the name of Nina Kulagina. Born in 1926, her purported abilities came to the world’s attention during the 1960s, when silent black-and-white films began doing the rounds that showed her performing feats such as moving or levitating objects without touching them. Since these videos had supposedly been taken by the Russian government under strict laboratory conditions, there was a lot of excitement within the scientific community and a lot of scientists who wanted access to Nina so that they could test her abilities. It was so believable, in fact, that it freaked the U.S. government out, as such powers could be used for all sorts of espionage and warfare purposes, so in response the U.S. initiated a joint-intelligence assessment to study what they were calling the “Soviet psychoenergetic threat.” This would indeed kick off decades of military research into the applications of psychic powers, which would turn into a veritable psychic arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. 

Nina Kulagina

According to reports from the Soviet Union, 40 scientists, two of whom were supposedly Nobel laureates, studied Kulagina and witnessed her move objects with her mind, cause objects to levitate, remove a marked matchstick from a pile of matchsticks under a glass dome, and on one occasion they observed her breaking a submerged egg and separating the yolk from the white, all without touching it. All of this was claimed to have been studied under the strictest of conditions, with no way of Nina possibly being able to hoax any of it. Despite the fact that other scientists and psychic researchers from other countries were not allowed to study her, it was all still very compelling evidence for psychic phenomena because this was all being reported by Russian academic establishments. She displayed a wide array of abilities under these laboratory conditions, but perhaps the most spectacular of these was her alleged power to cause death. 

Nina’s most famous experiment took place in March of 1970, and it was arranged specifically to see if she could use her seemingly vast psychic ability to influence a biological organism’s bodily functions. In this case, Nina was presented with a frog’s beating heart, which had been suspended in a solution that could keep it beating for up to an hour. The woman went about concentrating intently on the heart and was at first reportedly able to speed up or slow down its beating. When Nina was asked if she could actually make it stop, she used extreme intent of thought and allegedly caused the heart to cease beating, leaving it a lifeless mass bobbing about in its solution. Making it even more impressive is that she then tried to elevate the heart rate of a human physician in the room who was skeptical of her powers. Apparently, within a couple of minutes, it was noted that the physician’s heart was beating at a “dangerous” rate, causing the experiment to be stopped. 

In the years since there has been much debate as to whether Nina’s powers were actually real or just smoke and mirrors; a parlor trick pulled off with magnets, cleverly concealed or disguised threads, and sleight of hand. Numerous skeptics and skeptical publications accused her of hoaxing it and claiming that she had been caught cheating on more than one occasion. However, there was never any hard evidence that she had faked any of it, and in 1987 Nina even sued and won a partial victory in a defamation case brought against a Soviet government magazine that had accused her of fraud. We are left to wonder, was she ever able to pull off these amazing feats of the mind? Did she actually have the power to cause hearts to stop? It remains debated to this day. 

The human mind is certainly a mysterious place, but is it perhaps even more mysterious than we could possibly imagine? Are their dark powers that lay latent within the mind that can reach out to cause physical effects and even death? What are we to make of the cases we have looked at here? Is there anything to any of this? It remains to be seen. 

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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