The “Prison Spook” in Weinsberg | Michael Nahm

Michael Nahm, researcher at the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health (IGPP), presents important aspects, findings, and limitations of Justinus Kerner’s research on the Weinsberg’s “Prison Spook”, including the documentation of more than 50 witnesses.

In the winter of 1835/1836, strange occurrences were reported from a prison in Weinsberg. They consisted mainly of knocking, shuffling and roaring sounds, but also of mysterious lights and a sickening smell of decay. The prisoners and the prison guard’s family attributed them to a spook.

Their complaints led the representatives of the Weinsberg district court to commission Justinus Kerner (1786-1862), the district physician of Weinsberg, to examine the reported phenomena and the imprisoned Katharina Esslinger, who appeared to be the focus person eliciting these manifestations. Kerner interrogated various witnesses about the occurrences inside the well-secured prison, and personally visited the prison at night to obtain first-hand experiences. Kerner found no indications that the prison inmates had cheated. He therefore demanded that other persons with a preferably well-educated background should be included in the examinations of the phenomena.

In 1836, Kerner published the results of his investigation in a remarkable book in which the testimonies of 50 witnesses are given in writing. Many of these witnesses, including Kerner himself, reported also on how the typical, but inexplicable phenomena had followed them to their own homes outside the prison. However, especially in non-German literature on hauntings and other anomalistic phenomena, this noteworthy and pioneering case report is rarely considered.

This video highlights the methods of Kerner’s investigation as well as the limitations of his approach and sketch the public and often polemical debate that his investigation into the prison spook triggered at his time. As it seems, these criticisms of Kerner’s studies are still comparable to current reactions to studies of related anomalies.

Presented at the “62nd Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association” on July 4, 2019, Paris, France; program chaired by Ramses D’Leon. Download the Abstracts at

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Published on June 11, 2021