Tony Cornell



Anthony Donald Cornell (born 1924, died 10 April 2010, aged 86) was a British parapsychologist and prominent figure in the investigations of
ghost A ghost is the soul or spirit of a dead person or animal that is believed to be able to appear to the living. In ghostlore, descriptions of ghosts vary widely from an invisible presence to translucent or barely visible wispy shapes, to re ...
s and other
paranormal Paranormal events are purported phenomena described in popular culture, folk, and other non-scientific bodies of knowledge, whose existence within these contexts is described as being beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding. Nota ...
activity across the United Kingdom during the later part of the twentieth century. He appeared in numerous TV documentaries and television debates, and was often the subject of magazine and news articles concerning ghosts and paranormal investigations.


Cornell was a leading British expert in
parapsychology Parapsychology is the study of alleged psychic phenomena (extrasensory perception, telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, psychokinesis (also called telekinesis), and psychometry) and other paranormal claims, for example, those related to ne ...
. With his fellow researchers he attempted to record and measure paranormal events using equipment specifically made for the purpose, incorporating off-the-shelf computing and audio/visual capture devices long before the digital era. Cornell and his associates at the Society for Psychical Research pioneered the study of paranormal activities in the UK and paved the way for subsequent investigations. Tony Cornell was born in
Histon Histon is a village and civil parish in the South Cambridgeshire district, in the county of Cambridgeshire, England. It is immediately north of Cambridge – and is separated from the city – by the A14 road which runs east–west. In ...
, Cambridgeshire in 1924 and educated at The Perse School and Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, then called Fitzwilliam House, from which he graduated in 1949. Tony joined the SPR in 1952, was elected to Council in 1962 and became Vice-President in 1992. Elected Treasurer in 1980, he resigned in 2003, having held the post for 22 years. During this time he focused mainly on investigating hauntings,
poltergeist In ghostlore, a poltergeist ( or ; German for "rumbling ghost" or "noisy spirit") is a type of ghost or spirit that is responsible for physical disturbances, such as loud noises and objects being moved or destroyed. Most claims or fictional descr ...
s and mediums. With Alan Gauld and Howard Wilkinson he created SPIDER (Spontaneous Psychological Incident Recorder). Many cases were monitored, photographically and electronically, but little significant evidence was obtained in twenty years of its use. In 1971, he visited Russian parapsychologists in
Leningrad Saint Petersburg ( rus, links=no, Санкт-Петербург, a=Ru-Sankt Peterburg Leningrad Petrograd Piter.ogg, r=Sankt-Peterburg, p=ˈsankt pʲɪtʲɪrˈburk), formerly known as Petrograd (1914–1924) and later Leningrad (1924–1991), i ...
and Moscow to discuss their telepathy experiments. Mainly interested in apparitions, poltergeists and mediums, Cornell acquired a reputation for trying to get to the bottom of what was going on in a measured and unemotional way, a far cry from the current sensationalistic approach apparent in current media offerings which seem more geared towards entertainment than fact finding. Cornell was a member of CUSPR (
Cambridge University , mottoeng = Literal: From here, light and sacred draughts. Non literal: From this place, we gain enlightenment and precious knowledge. , established = , other_name = The Chancellor, Masters and Schola ...
Society for Psychical Research) and was appointed Research Officer in 1958 and President in 1968. As the SPR Treasurer and ongoing CUSPR President, he served on the organising committee for the SPR Centenary Conference, held at Trinity College in 1982. Cornell was the author of numerous papers on ghosts and poltergeists and expressed some cautious opinions on the Scole, SORRAT Min-lab (USA) and Enfield cases. He co-authored ''Poltergeists'' with Alan Gauld (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1979) and his last major work was ''Investigating the Paranormal'' (Helix Press, New York, 2002). By far his most pressing concern was the continued lack of any new knowledge gained about their cause in recent investigations, which have been conducted in an almost identical way for the last 125 years. Cornell was also an amateur antiquarian and helped ensure the preservation of a number of old, timber-framed buildings opposite the
Round Church A round church is a church construction with a completely circular plan. There are many Nordic round churches in Sweden and Denmark (notably the island of Bornholm); round churches were popular in Scandinavia in the 11th and early 12th centuri ...
in central Cambridge. Despite the focus of his career, Cornell's most enduring legacy may well be the Cambridge Science Park, which he proposed in the late sixties. Cornell retired from active paranormal investigations after suffering a stroke in 2004. He died peacefully at home in the company of Martin, his second son and Alison, his third wife, on Saturday 10 April 2010. A memorial service was held in the chapel of Fitzwilliam College on 20 June and his ashes scattered in Histon pond during the late evening of 22 June 2010.


Cornell spent over 50 years investigating the paranormal and came to the conclusion that most paranormal cases turn out to have natural explanations such as the result of fraud, pranks and misidentification. He believed that many sightings of ghosts, hauntings and
poltergeist In ghostlore, a poltergeist ( or ; German for "rumbling ghost" or "noisy spirit") is a type of ghost or spirit that is responsible for physical disturbances, such as loud noises and objects being moved or destroyed. Most claims or fictional descr ...
s are products of the human mind. Cornell estimated that of the 800 cases that he investigated, only twenty percent were difficult to explain and only a handful were paranormal. Cornell wrote that there is no evidence for the spiritualist hypothesis and most
séance A séance or seance (; ) is an attempt to communicate with spirits. The word ''séance'' comes from the French word for "session", from the Old French ''seoir'', "to sit". In French, the word's meaning is quite general: one may, for example, spea ...
room phenomena can be explained by unconscious and deliberate fraud. He wrote that discarnate spirits in trance mediumship are secondary personalities from the mediums subconscious and that all physical mediumship such as ectoplasm is the result of fraud and trickery, however, he believed
psychokinesis Psychokinesis (from grc, ψυχή, , soul and grc, κίνησις, , movement, label=ㅤ), or telekinesis (from grc, τηλε, , far off and grc, κίνησις, , movement, label=ㅤ), is a hypothetical psychic ability allowing a person ...
and telepathy to be real. According to Cornell "without the presence of a living person, none of the alleged paranormal effects occur." Throughout his career as a parapsychologist Cornell exposed a number of fraudulent mediums including Rita Goold and Alec Harris. The psychologist and skeptic Richard Wiseman has noted that Cornell conducted a "great deal of fascinating work". He investigated the reliability of
eyewitness testimony Eyewitness testimony is the account a bystander or victim gives in the courtroom, describing what that person observed that occurred during the specific incident under investigation. Ideally this recollection of events is detailed; however, this is ...
for ghosts by dressing up as a fake spirit in several locations in Cambridge. Cornell discovered that the eyewitness reports were often far from accurate and unreliable. Richard Wiseman. (2011). ''Paranormality: Why We See What Isn't There''. Macmillan. pp. 167-168.


*''Poltergeists'' Alan_Gauld.html" ;"title="ith Alan Gauld">ith Alan Gauld(Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1979) *''Investigating the Paranormal'' (Helix Press, New York, 2002).



External links

The Society for Psychical ResearchBook review
''Investigating the Paranormal'' By Tony Cornell {{DEFAULTSORT:Cornell, Tony 1924 births 2010 deaths Alumni of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge People from Histon and Impington British writers People educated at The Perse School Parapsychologists Paranormal investigators