The famous Bridey Murphy case not only remains one of the most famous past-life memory cases on record but is also notable for being one of the few that has been both successfully debunked and subsequently 'un-debunked' (a double debunking?)

Though savaged by its critics within months of the stories release in 1956, it has managed something of a rebound among reincarnationists over the years, who have been able to punch holes in the skeptic's best explanations for the mysterious Bridey Murphy's apparent recall of a full life lived in nineteenth century Ireland. Even the venerable Dr. Stevenson—considered by many the most practical and objective of the reincarnationist investigators—accepts the Bridey Murphy case as credible, despite the decades of debate that has raged around it. As such, I thought it might be interesting to briefly reexamine the case here, for it is a perfect example of how any paranormal account can be demolished with a few well-placed shots, and then just as easily resurrected with a few return salvos. This is not a story of reincarnation per se, but a quick look at how the skeptical community operates and how it is just as willing to grasp at straws in its determination not to believe in the possibility of life after death—usually in any capacity—as the proponents of post-mortem existence are to embrace evidence in support of their beliefs. In other words, this should demonstrate how both sides basically think alike in their quest to prove their position. It's all part of human nature, I suppose, and human nature can be as fascinating a subject for study as even the most inexplicable mysteries often prove to be.

The Basics of the Story:
In November of 1952, a 29-year old Pueblo, Colorado housewife by the name of Virginia Tighe was put into a deep trance by a self-taught hypnotist Morey Bernstein in an effort to ascertain whether there was such a thing as reincarnation. Much to Bernstein's surprise, Mrs. Tighe, speaking in a mild Irish brogue, claimed to be a woman named Bridey Murphy, born in the town of Cork, Ireland in the year 1798, and went on to describe in considerable detail a life lived in nineteenth century Ireland. More just a few vague details and unverifiable claims, Mrs. Tighe, over the course of several sessions (all of which were carefully recorded on cassette tape) made a number of statements which were potentially capable of being verified: for example, she recounted having been born to a barrister father named Duncan and his wife Kathleen, of marrying a Catholic man from Belfast named Brian McCarthy, and described her death after a fall down a staircase in 1864 at the age of sixty-six. Further, she named a number of places (including the names of locations that had long since been renamed but were in use in nineteenth century Ireland) as well as acquaintances from her previous life in intricate detail and, even more impressively, used archaic terms that only someone who studied the local dialects of Ireland would have recognized. She even correctly named several household items by their proper nineteenth century terms and identified the currency of the era (which included a little known monetary denomination known to exist only during the early nineteenth century.) In all, Mrs. Tighe made more than two dozen specific statements that provided precise details of a verifiable nature, many of which were later demonstrated to be correct. She did all of this, we are assured, with no prior knowledge about or interest in Ireland or Irish folklore, history, or customs (and, we are told, possessing no prior interest in reincarnation either.)

Understandably impressed, Mr. Bernstein went on to write a book detailing the woman's remarkable story, which became a national best seller upon its release in January of 1956. It didn't take long for the scientific and religious communities (inedvertently acting in concert) to notice and within weeks of Mr. Bernstein's book hitting the shelves, objections to the story emerged. The criticism came primarily from three camps: first, from the religious detractors who considered reincarnation incompatible with their Christian beliefs; second, from the medical/scientific community who questioned both the validity of hypnosis itself as a tool for accessing subconscious memories as well as the idea of life after death in general; and, finally, from the press, who challenged the supposed evidence designed to bolster the credibility of the story. While the religious opponents attacked from the standpoint of Biblical innerancy and the medical and scientific communities worked from the premise that it all lacked empirical evidence, it was the press that proved to be most damaging to Mrs. Tighe's claims. Doing their own digging, they were the ones who, writing through a series of damning exposés, torpedoed Mr. Bernstein's book and reduced the Bridey Murphy story from that of a metaphysical mystery to a text-book case of cryptomnesia.

It wasn't the fact that there were no written record of either a Bridey (or, actually, a Bridgette, for which 'Bridey' was a common nickname) Murphy, or for her parents, or her husband—all of which Mr. Bernstein acknowledged in his book—that was most damning. Record keeping in nineteenth century Ireland was notoriously bad, and considering the commonality of the names Murphy and MacCarthy, such a lack of physical evidence was understandable. What the critics had the most success with was in delving into Mrs. Tighe's past, where they made the following “discoveries” about Mrs. Tighe:

The conclusion, then, was that Mrs. Tighe was the unwitting victim of a form of self-delusion known as cryptomnesia (lost or hidden memories accessible only through hypnosis) combined with a fertile imagination, all enhanced and encouraged through no small amount of leading and coaching by a self-taught hypnotist and author who was to realize a tidy profit from the story. Just as much of the public had been quick to accept Bridey Murphy's story at face value, they were equally as quick to accept the verdict of the 'professionals' that it was much ado about nothing. Within months, then, the debunkers had successfully destroyed Mr. Bernstein's credibility and the subject quickly faded from public interest, along with serious interest in the subject of reincarnation in general.

The "Real" Story of Mrs. Tighe
Unbeknownst to most people, however, Mr. Bernstein did not take to having either his reputation nor the reliability of his work sullied without a fight. Aided by a reporter for the Denver Post named William Barker (who had first ran the Bridey Murphy story in 1953) and assisted by a number of allies, Mr. Bernstein fought to set the record straight.

Several months of investigation, including a careful study of Mrs. Tighe's background, revealed that the debunkers had been less than honest in their 'facts' concerning the woman's upbringing, and were proven repeatedly to either be flat-out wrong in what they said, or were frequently caught portraying the opinions of 'experts' as though they were irrefutable facts. Writing a supplement to later reprints of Mr. Bernstein's book, Mr. Barker successfully debunked every point the skeptics had made, using careful investigation and corroborative facts to make his case that the Murphy story, while not irrefutable proof of reincarnation, was not mere nonsense either. Some of the more interesting discoveries he made are as follows:

While the Bridey Murphy story is not the strongest case of reincarnation on record, it is not the weakest either. What's most curious about it is that even though the debunkers were themselves debunked—from which they have never answered back, it might be added—skeptics continue to use these objections today without a second thought. I assume most are simply unaware of these points or refuse to accept them because they do not conform to their preconceived biases. While the pro-reincarnation lobby is occasionally just as guilty of this themselves, it seems that men and women who pride themselves on accuracy and honesty should know better. No one is demanding they accept the Bridey Murphy story as true, but it strikes me as dishonest and unprofessional to continue to use long-ago discredited material to make their tired and oft-repeated case for cryptomnesia. It simply isn't there, and saying so—even fifty years later—does not make it so.

This discussion is taken from Appendix A in my book Mystery of Reincarnation. All rights reserved.