There is a curious phenomenon that’s been written up with fair frequency in paranormal accounts. Known as bilocation, it literally refers to a person being seen in two locations, although his physical body is present only in one. There are various explanations for this feat; one is that the second figure is actually a doppelganger, a German word that means “double goer” in English and generally is considered the worst sort of bad luck, another that the person in one location is projecting an astral body, a phenomenon related to the so-called “out of body experience”.
Doppelganger or astral body, there is a case on record in which a man’s life was spared from the gallows because he was seen in two separate locations at the same time by highly reputable witnesses. It is, frankly, one of the strangest tales I’ve ever run across.
The story begins–as so many do–with that sorry speciman, a man with an inconveniently pregnant paramour, who takes a shortcut to rid himself of the inconveniences.
In Glasgow, Scotland, sometime in the period between 1760-1780, there lived a surgeon’s apprentice named Duncan Foulis. Outwardly pious and upright, Duncan had begun courting a servant girl named Jessy Tamson and, as is the way of some men, promised her marriage if she would have sex with him. Church on Sunday, training with his surgeon-employer on weekdays, and a little fun with Jessy when the opportunity arose: that was Duncan’s life. He was ambitious, though. He planned to take examinations to become a surgeon himself, and he planned to marry well–and marrying well did not mean marrying Jessy, who in addition to being a servant was of a working class background, illiterate, working to support a feckless widowed father and a brood of younger brothers and sisters–altogether not a suitable mate for an ambitious man.
And so, when Jessy told him she was carrying his child, Duncan did what many another man has done; he killed her and their child. A scalpel mysteriously vanished from his master’s instrument box and was lost for quite some time; for that matter, so was Jessy Tamson.
Duncan Foulis outwardly continued his life as he always had. Without Jessy as a nuisance, he found his high-class suitable wife-to-be in an apothecary’s daughter called Arabella Caird. They were to be married in the new year that was coming.
But it seems that Duncan’s Scots Presbyterian conscience was not altogether easy–and it broke out in an astoundingly eerie way, one Sunday morning shortly before that new year.
In Scots churches of the day, it was customary to appoint men who went around to check up on the private lives of parishioners, and to make sure they attended Sunday services religiously (you should pardon the pun). At the church Duncan Foulis attended, one such warden was a man named William Rae. Rae had known about Duncan’s affair with the missing Jessy Tamson, and was quite pleased when Duncan seemed to be shut of her.
On this particularly Sunday morning, though, Rae and a fellow warden were out looking for backsliders, oversleepers, and the like when they spotted Duncan Foulis. He was lying on a patch of grass by the River Clyde, writhing as if in mortal agony, calling Jessy’s name and repeating, over and over, Look in the water. LOOK IN THE WATER!
Then he got up and dashed away down the road–but not in the direction of the church.
The wardens didn’t give chase; they were intrigued by the words he had spoken, look in the water, and did just exactly that. One of them spotted something not too far from shore. What he dragged out was no longer recognizable as Jessy Tamson, but given that the man they had seen was indisputably Duncan Foulis, it was no hard matter to put two and two together and guess the identity of the pitiful remains–
which, incidentally, had a surgeon’s scalpel stuck between the ribs.
The authorities were summoned, and Duncan Foulis was arrested and charged with murder, with the gallows as the inevitable goal. At trial, however, he was acquitted, for witness after witness swore that, on that Sunday morning when the two wardens spotted him by the riverbank, he had been seated in his regular pew in the church he regularly attended, and that he had never left.
His life was ruined, however, for despite that acquittal, suspicion remained. His employer fired him, his fiancee broke off their engagement, and he eventually left Glasgow, never to be heard from again.
Say what you will about conscience: it gave Duncan Foulis away. Only an odd paranormal event saved his sorry life, and that’s a pity.
In Catherine Crowe’s book THE NIGHT SIDE OF NATURE, originally published in 1848, this case is referenced as having occurred “some seventy or eighty years since”; Crowe, however, gives no names. Details are filled in by Michael and Mollie Hardwick in John Canning’s (ed.) 50 GREAT HORROR STORIES (1971).