When William Roy died In August 1977, Psychic News said of him: 'In spiritualism's long history there has never been a greater villain. He is now world where he cannot cheat.'
There were many who would not accept that verdict, for over the years Roy had so raised false hopes among his dupes that a good percentage of them
could never face the fact that he was phoney. And the people he took in were not always simple, ill educated types - far from it. They included prominent society figures, among them the late MacKenzie King.
MacKenzie King's involvement began during the Second World War when he was prime minister of Canada. It was a post that he had held before, but wartime brought with it extra responsibilities. These included top secret visits to London to confer with the war cabinet. And it was on one of these hush hush visits that he went to consult William Roy, then famed as Britain's outstanding medium.
Since King's visit to Britain was so secret he did not give his true name in advance. So, on the surface, it looked as if Roy had no clue to the real identity of his client. And yet Roy was able to give the Canadian PM some pretty convincing messages, and all from top people - Those who in real life would naturally and easily talk to a head of government. The grandest of all these was Queen Victoria herself!
And dear, deluded MacKenzie thrilled as he chatted away to 'Her Majesty'.
More thrills came when Mr. Gladstone came through and gave a message of hope - just the sort of thing to cheer one up in the dark days of war. It was all very satisfying and comforting. So much so, at the Prime Minister went back for further sessions and was overwhelmed when his dead brother and sister spoke to him.
MacKenzie King return to Canada overjoyed and without any suspicions whatsoever, completely unaware that he had been most thoroughly deceived by a scheming rouge. For Roy's 'gifts' were nonexistent. His sessions involved nothing more than play acting, phoney voices and stage effects, while his
revelations were all due to elaborate cunning and trickery. So how did he do it?
Well, his tricks were usually based on techniques that have been used way back in the last century. He added a few of his own, of course, but in the main he had stuck with stunts that that had been well tried by other tricksters before him. He had found most of his tricks carefully explained in a book called Behind the Scenes With the Mediums. This enlightening book was written by David Abbott in 1907 and only published in the USA. A few copies, though, were sold in England by the Magical and Unique Novelty Company in London. Roy had the good fortune to find one of these copies and it set his mind reeling. Here were all the details he needed to set up a lucrative business. From then on, that book was like a portable treasure chest.
By the time Roy set himself up as a medium he had mastered most of the tricks in the book. He even worked out a few refinements, so his client's innocently walked into a trap every time they visited his home. They were expected to leave all coats and bags in a special cloakroom, and this gave Roy's accomplice a search through their belongings for bits of useful information. What is more, they were kept waiting before seance began. And as they chatted to pass the time away, hidden microphones picked up their words.
By these means Roy always knew more about them than they dreamed possible. Sometimes he would even overhear them list the dead relatives they hoped to contact. In this way, every sitting neatly rigged beforehand. And when Roy ran out of authentic titbits, and he was adroit enough to bluff his way through the rest of the time.
Part of his bluff was worked by calling on colourful 'spirit guides'. There was one called Joey, another called Dr. Wilson, and - best of the lot - a Red Indian called Tinka. Tinka was the only fashionable, he was invaluable, for if the questions became awkward he would just sulk and grunt: 'No can answer ... me just simple Indian.' And that would quickly smooth over any rough parts of the evening.
The microphones and searches were not the only preparations made. Once Roy knew the names of his clients he would check on their families at the Registry in London's Somerset House. He would look up death notices and entries in who's who. He would even contact other fake mediums for extra information.
His most masterly research, though, involved his initial session with MacKenzie King. For in that case he had no opportunity to go through the Premier's pockets and no chance to listen in to his conversation. And all he knew about the booking was that it was made by a member of the Duke of Connaught's staff. That clearly was not much to go on, but he had to start somewhere. So he read up on everything he could find on the Duke of Connaught, and discovered that the Duke had been Governor General of Canada from 1911 to 1916. As soon as he read that, Roy made a brilliant deduction - this mysterious visitor could easily be distinguished Canadian friend of the Duke's. And the most distinguished Canadian known to embrace spiritualism was their Prime Minister, MacKenzie King.
Roy was so convinced that his deduction was right that he began practicing passages in the voices of Gladstone and Queen Victoria. The Queen's high
pitched voice was a bit of a strain, but by the time MacKenzie King turned up it was good enough to fool him and make him want to know more.
But Roy was not just famed for the messages he gave - it was the way he gave them that brought him renown. He could make a luminous trumpet float
through the air in the darkened seance room and and induce 'spirit voices' to speak through the mouth of that trumpet. Sometimes there would even be two voices' at once. And remarkably enough, he could even produce extra voices' in full light.
When he appeared at public meetings he worked even more baffling stunts. In 1947, at Kingsway Hall, London, his hands were tied to the arms of a chair, his mouth was filled with colored water and his lips were sealed with sticking plaster - yet he still produced spirit voices. And after the plaster was removed his mouth was found still full of the colored water. So fakery seemed ruled out.
That of course, is what his audience believed. For they knew nothing about his careful research and they never realized that Roy was adept at picking their brains. He had a considerable skill in picking up small hints from his clients. He would delicately pump them for information and feed it back to them in a new way - and they never realized just what was happening.
As for those voices - well, at the public meetings Roy was responsible for all of them. Even when his mouth was filled and sealed up. For him that was just a minor problem. In the darkness he found it easy to bend his head down and loosen the plaster with one hand. Then the water was ejected through a rubber tube into a small container in his breast pocket. At the end of the event of the water was sucked back up again, the plaster was smoothed back into place and everyone was overawed.
The private seances were somewhat different. Although most of the voices' were Roy's, some were provided by his assistant while others were tape recordings. In that way he was able to produce more than one voice at a time. And the methods he used apart from the tape recordings were all drawn from that invaluable handbook by Abbott.
First of all, the trumpet flew through the air on the end of a telescopic rod, just as Abbot described. And the assistant next door passed information through to Roy by telephone - again exactly as in the book. Of course, that telephone connection was made without cords, for that would have given the game away. Instead, Roy wore copper plates on the soles of his shoes and these were soldered to phone wires which will run up his trouser legs and through his jacket to a small earphone on his wrist. To link up with his assistant, he only had to put his feet onto metal carpet tacks and he was connected - for the tacks were wired up to cables running through the wall.
That cunning system worked beautifully, especially when voices were produced in the light, for the earphones would double as a tiny loudspeaker. But
it has its limits, so a second connection to the other room was called for and this was provided by a dummy power socket on the wall. It was not wired
to the mains but to an amplifier. So Roy could plug a cable into it and energise a miniature loudspeaker fixed on the tip of his telescopic rod. While his assistant's voice came through the speaker while Roy imitated one of his 'guides' and threw occasional comments in his own voice. Small wonder that he was famed for his spellbinding sessions.
We know all about Roy's trickery because in 1952 he fell out with his assistant, who promptly paid a visit to the offices of Psychic News. There he opened up a large suitcase and took out the apparatus used to fake the seances. It was all there, from the telescopic rod to the shoes fitted with copper plates and it looked like the end for Roy. His exposure seemed inevitable.
But later on there was a problem, for the assistant did not want the matter to go any further. Following this Roy promised to give up mediumship and leave the country saying that he wanted to make a new start in South Africa. In fact, he did leave England and the whole sorry affair was silently laid to rest - or so it seemed.
Yet the old habits were hard to kill them within a few years Roy was organizing seances in South Africa. Then he had the supreme cheek to return to Britain and start up again. This proved too much for the rest of the spiritualist fraternity and one of their papers, Two Worlds, named Roy as a fraudulent medium.
Dramatic results followed this newspaper report. Roy's wife attacked the paper's editor with a riding crop and Roy himself started a lawsuit against the editor. Roy's wife was fined £3 for the assault and Roy paid the fine with a smile for he knew that his lawsuit meant that he could go on milking his clients. His action had prevented any further newspaper comment on the case until after the court hearing. Court actions can sometimes take years before they get to be heard, and this is just what happened in Roy's case.
He carried on his fakery until February 1958. Then he dropped a lawsuit he knew he could not win and agreed to pay costs to the editor of Two Worlds. Following that he brazenly sold his story to the Sunday Pictorial. It was published in five instalments and the Pictorial readers marvelled at the way in which he had cheated his way to fame and fortune. At the end of his articles Roy wrote: 'I know that even after this confession I could fill the seance room again with people who find it a comfort to believe that I am genuine.'
At the time that sounded like hot air or bravado but Roy went on to make his boastcome true. He set up shop under the name Bill Silver and for years he ran his old racket without challenge. And believe it or not, among his clients he numbered people who knew his real identity and who were fully aware of his sordid confessions!
Taken from: Sorry, You've Been Duped! by Melvin Harris