Lecture delivered at the 5th World Congress of Regression Therapy, 

Porto, Portugal, 6 Oct 2014. 

(A Transcript) 

Birthmarks and Children’s Memories of Past Lives 

by Jim Tucker, M.D. 

Jim B. Tucker, M.D. is Bonner-Lowry Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia. He is continuing the work of Dr. Ian Stevenson at the UVA Division of Perceptual Studies with children who report memories of previous lives. A board-certified child psychiatrist, Dr. Tucker worked with Dr. Stevenson for several years before taking over the research upon Dr. Stevenson’s retirement in 2002. He is the author of “Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children’s Memories of Previous Lives” (St. Martin’s, 2005). 

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What I am going to talk about in the next hour is research that has been done in the University of Virginia for over 50 years now with children who remember their past lives. I want to tell you a little bit about the history of the work and features of the cases, particular those with birthmarks. The work began with Dr. Ian Stevenson. He came to the University of Virginia and became the Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry, way back in 1957.

Dr. Ian Stevenson

He was in the middle of a perfectly successful mainstream career, but when interviewed, he told them that he had an interest in parapsychology. He had a lot of other interests as well and nobody really seemed to mind. A couple of years later, he started getting interested in the reports of children from various parts of the world that said that they remembered their past lives. He heard about 5 of them in India and got together a small group to go to India to study these cases. He was there for a month and encountered 25 cases. The results were similar in Sri Lanka. He heard about 1 or 2 cases, went there for a week and he found 6 or 7. He realised that this phenomena of young children talking about past lives is much more common in India than in the West than is ever known before. He got more and more intrigued by them, and started devoting more and more time to the cases which meant taking trips to a lot of different places.

This is a picture of him in Burma. You can imagine an American professor shows up in an Asian village and starts asking about past lives, and he would attract a crowd. So people would gather around and he would often have his designated chair and a witness box where only the person in that chair could talk, so that people could talk one at a time. He would carefully try to determine exactly what had happened with the case, what the child had said, how well it matched the life of the deceased person and whether the child could have learned about that through normal means. He eventually became interested enough in the cases where he developed more and more time to them until he eventually stepped down as Chairman to focus on this work full time. Then he spent the bulk of the next 40 years studying them.

His work was notable for his very careful and methodical approach. He never assumed a case was reincarnation and this is still the approach we use today. So, in giving this talk, I may say, “The alleged memories were … or the apparent memories are …” but we consider each case with an open question as we get to study it. Ian published numerous books and papers on these cases. The first one was a book called Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation.

The title was typical of his approach in which he was not making any grand claims. He was just putting these down as cases suggestive of reincarnation and letting people read the cases themselves. In this book he went through the cases, describing them sometimes in excruciating detail, going over all the various facets he would report on, both the strengths and weaknesses of the cases. This even-handed approach founded him much respect even in mainstream circles. The American Journal of Psychiatry commented that his cases are recorded in such full detail that they persuade the reader to keep in mind that reincarnation is a tenable hypothesis to explain them. Dr. Ian Stevenson’s work has much to ponder on.

He kept writing books about cases and eventually wrote a series of them – cases from various places: India, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Turkey, Thailand and Burma and again he earned some respect in mainstream circles including the journals that you may be familiar with, such as JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, which is one of the leading general medical journals in the world. The book was reviewed by the book review editor. He wrote, “With regards to reincarnation he has painstakingly and unemotionally collected a detailed series of cases from India, cases which the outcome is difficult to explain by any other parameters.”

So, one thing Ian did as he was continuing in his work, was to get other investigators interested as well. One of the criticisms of his work was that he was the only one finding these cases. Of course that was not his fault, but he eventually got several psychologists and anthropologists involved and they got very similar results to what he was finding. In the years later, I am a child psychiatrist and I came on board at the University of Virginia. So, we now have 2500 cases that we studied from all over the world. They are found most commonly in cultures with a belief in reincarnation, but they have been found anywhere where anyone has looked. In fact, they have been found in all the continents except Antarctica, where no one has looked (laughter).

The cases seemed to be much less common in the West, but it may be because it is harder to find them. When I was in Thailand, we hit areas where literally we would have not gone in any direction without hearing another case. Whereas here we can go in any direction and we are not going to hear any cases of past life memories. People are shy talking about it. A lot of the families are worried that people may think that they are weird. So I talk to parents and even grandparents. It is something the family would keep to themselves. It may well be they are more common in Asia, but it may just be that they are harder to find in the West. But we are finding them and I will tell you about one of them right now.

The Case of Patrick Christenson

This is actually the first case that I ever investigated. Ian and I investigated it together. The boy was in the American Midwest, named Patrick, who was born with three birthmarks which seemed to match the lesions of his deceased half-brother. His brother was named Kevin. Kevin began limping when he was 16 months old, when he fell and had a broken left leg. This landed him in hospital and got him a medical workup which included a biopsy of a node over his right ear, which was later diagnosed as metastatic cancer. He was said his left eye was bulging and bruised.

During the trip when he had got a central line, a large IV which went into the right side of the neck, and that was where the chemotherapy went in. That site was inflamed where the chemotherapy went in, but in general he did fine with the treatment. He went home and came back six months later. At that point he was blind in his left eye. He got treatment again and went home but he died two days after discharge. Following that his parents broke up; the mum had a remarriage and they had a daughter and a son. Twelve years after Kevin had died Patrick was born. It seems that he had things on his body that was familiar with Kevin. He was born with a corneal leukoma, which was an opacity over his left eye, and which made him essentially blind in that eye the way Kevin had been.

He had a node over his right ear which fortunately was not cancer but it was on the same place where the tumour had been biopsied on Kevin. And he had a birthmark on the right side of his neck, in the area where the central line was inserted on the right side of Kevin’s neck. It essentially looks like a small plaque - a very unusual birthmark. Ian and I got all the medical records for Kevin’s treatment and it was hard to determine that the intravenous line had actually gone onto the right versus the left side of the neck because, as Ian used to say, people who keep the medical records aren’t working for us. They always pay attention to the details of the medical condition instead. Eventually we got one handwritten notes which showed a record that said the right external jugular vein. So it was indeed the right side of the neck.

Then, as Patrick got older, he walked with a limp which matched the limb after Kevin had broken his leg. He had to wear a brace and he would have to swing up his leg as he walked. Patrick showed the same kind of limp. When we saw him at five years old he was still limping slightly even though there was no apparent medical reason for the limp. He also got what he talked about Kevin’s life. He told his mum that he wanted to return to his previous home and accurately described that he stayed in a building that he said was a brown and orange apartment building. He gave other details as well. He talked about the day when his tumour had been biopsied on the scalp. He came across the picture of Kevin one day; his mum did not have pictures of Kevin in the house. He saw it and got all excited and he said, “That’s me and I have been looking for that picture.” We talked to him and spent a couple of days with the family and eventually he got comfortable enough to talk to us. Unfortunately he spoke very softly and did not enunciate very well. So he was quite difficult to understand but he did tell us about a couple of trips which make it even harder to understand. He referred to Kevin in the third person and said he did things with Kevin. He said he had gone with Kevin and a cousin to the zoo. In fact, Kevin and his cousin had gone to the zoo. He also told us how he and Kevin had gone to a ranch with bulls on it, which is a very specific thing. It turned out that Kevin’s aunt had a kind of a ranch and Kevin had in fact visited it.

We took two trips to meet this family. Between the two trips the other thing he talked about was, that, before he was born he was in heaven and he met a relative named Billy the Pirate. (laughter) And Billy the Pirate said he has been shot point blank by his stepfather up in the mountains, and he said he was upset because people never talked about him after he died. So Patrick told his mum about this story. She had never heard of a relative named Billy the Pirate. After she called her Mum to ask about it, it turned out that her Mum’s older sister had a son named Billy who was indeed shot and killed three years before Patrick’s Mum was born. She never heard about him, but he had been shot in the mountains by his stepfather. When mum told her Mum and asked her about the name, Billy the Pirate, her Mum laughed. She said he was apparently quite wild and he was nicknamed as Billy the Pirate, and she had not heard that name spoken for many, many years.

General Features of Children who Remember Past Lives

So that is one example of our cases. I will tell you a bit about the features typical of these cases. These cases involve very young children who spontaneously started talking about past lives. This does not involve hypnotic regression. Of the kids who start coming out with these stories, they say came from lives they lived before. We are talking about recent, ordinary lives; we are not talking about being kings and queens. They almost never talk about being these people; usually about someone who died fairly close by. There are exceptions but usually it is about someone who died quite recently. The average interval between the death of the previous person and the birth of the child is only four and a half years. The median interval – meaning half is shorter and half is longer, is only 16 months. So these cases were people who seem to come into life when in fact the memories are typically involving very recent lives. Some of them will talk about being a deceased family member like what Patrick did. Others will describe being strangers in other locations and even give enough details like name of the location. People have often gone there and found in fact that somebody did live and die his life that matches the details the child gave. In that case we would say, it is a “solved” case. If a child claims a past life but no one can verify that it actually matches someone who died, we call it “unsolved”. We got plenty of both kinds of scenarios. The solved ones tend to be the more interesting cases.

The one point about the past life that is often out of the ordinary is how the previous person died. 70% of the previous people died by unnatural means – meaning accidents, murder, suicide or combat. Even the ones who died by natural means are frequently those who died quite young, a quarter of them under the age of 15. So there does seem to be something about a premature death that helps these memories to come back.


As far as the statements go, I mentioned that they are made young. The average age of children who started talking about past lives is 35 months. It is usually around the time of their third birthday that they start making their statements. Many of them will show very strong emotional involvement with this material. They may try to be with their previous family; they may beg to be taken to the previous places on a daily basis. Some of the kids will show a lot of anger, especially if the previous person has been murdered in a past life.

There is one case I studied in Thailand where a group of young men went out on a hunting trip one day. One of them accidentally shot and killed the other one. A few years later a child was born in the village who seemed to know the life of the man who was shot. When he was 2 years old, he tried to choke the fellow who accidentally shot the man. (laughter) Unfortunately he was not successful, but there was certainly a lot of anger out there.

It seems that in the stronger cases there is more emotion than is shown; it seems that there is more of this past life stuff that comes through. But even so, kids will often talk about this stuff with great intensity one minute and then they just run off to play. Some of them seem to have access to the memories at any time but others have to be in the right frame of mind, usually during relaxed time. The American parents say it is usually after a warm bath or during a long car ride or something like that, then the children will start coming out with the stories.

By the time they get to be 6 or 7 years old, most of them have stopped talking about it and they just go on with their lives like anybody else. So there is a very short window for this access to these spontaneous memories that is available. Along with this thing, they don’t tend to come out with enlightened words of wisdom. Some of the kids will make philosophical statements but they are not mystics. Instead they are typical children who are, when they talk about this, they typically focus on events and people near the end of their past lives. So three quarters of them will talk about how the previous person died. They will also tend to talk about people from the other end of life. So if the child has lived the life to an adult, he is much more likely to talk about spouse and children than to talk about parents. It is also the same with events. They may also talk about things that happen earlier in their lives but it is typically things that happened in their death. It is as if their memories pick up where they left off in their last life. About 20% of them will talk of the time between lives, like what Patrick did; most of them don’t but 20% will.

Some of them talked about hanging around the previous family. They may describe the funeral of the previous person as if it is their own funeral. There was one little girl in Thailand who made a lot of statements, but one things she talked about was that she complained that her ashes have been scattered rather than buried in the way she wanted them to be. Eventually it turned out that some of her ashes have been buried under the tree of the complex where she has died. So when her daughter went to bury them, the root of the tree was so extensive that that she couldn’t bury them. So she scattered them instead.

Then some of the kids, like Patrick did, was to talk about other realms, like Kevin, and they used the word Heaven and some talked about being guided to their next parents, choosing their next parents. Some also talked about events during the pregnancy, often things that parents did during the pregnancy which turn out to be accurate in which the parents are dumbfounded that the children can remember them. In one recent American case the boy accurately described the day when his Mum found out on the ultrasound that she was going to have a boy. Her husband was older and they were only going to have one child and she desperately wanted a girl. When the ultrasound showed a boy, she was very upset. It happened to be her husband’s birthday when she got the news. They ate in a restaurant and she was crying through the whole meal. The boy described all these and she said she never told him about it. Yet somehow he knew about it.


Along with these statements, there are often behaviours that these children showed that seemed negative. I mentioned that the kids were showing emotions a lot of time, they were showing emotions towards individual members of the previous family that were favourite for the relationship that the previous person had. So, for instance a little girl may be very differential towards the previous husband or previous parents and very bossy towards the younger sibling, even though the young siblings is much older than the child is. These emotions will usually fade as the child gets older, but not always. There is at least one case where the boy eventually grew up to marry the widow of the previous person. (laughter) 


In 35% of the cases the child will show intense fear towards emotive death. In one case in Thailand at the time he was born, she hated being in water. It would take three adults to hold her down when she was an infant to give her a bath. Then when she got old enough to talk, she talked about the life of the girl in the nearby village who have been drowned in an accident.

Vice in this Life 

You can see this picture where this little child smoking a cigarette. (laughter) This is not one of our cases but it could be because unfortunately it looks like addictive substances sometimes can continue their influence even across life times. I have a previous person, a smoker friend who tells me that the child would often try to sneak cigarettes in. There is one child whose neighbour went to counsel him until the family went out to stop him.


Food wise, the most obvious examples are found in a couple of dozen cases in Burmese children who said they were Japanese soldiers who were killed in Burma during World War II. And they would often complain about the spicy Burmese food as they eat raw fish and that sort of thing instead. Themes in place – the children would often act out repeatedly and compulsively themes related to their past life, most often their occupation. A friend tells me there is one little boy who plays in a biscuit shop which is what the previous person had done. He played there for hours and hours on the end, refused to do anything else including his school work and fell behind and his mum felt like he would never be able to catch up.

Cross Gender Behaviour

In 10% of our cases the children talks about the life in a member of the opposite sex. In those cases the children often show gender confusion or gender dysphoria. Sometimes enough work becomes quite an issue. There is one girl in Burma who refuses to wear the traditional clothing and insists on dressing as a boy and to a point the school kicks her out. To her she has identified herself as being a boy. For most of these things however, sometimes they would fade and sometimes they won’t. Most of these things do fade away and the kids go on perfectly with their lives like everybody else.


Along with the behaviours are the birthmarks. This bulk of these things in reincarnation biology is 20 years in the making and involves cases in which a child is born with birthmarks or birth defects that match wounds, usually the fatal wounds on the body of the previous person. He studied a lot of these cases and eventually wrote this book that has over 200 cases of them. It is 2000 pages long and it is a two volume set. I will not go over all 200 cases with you tonight. (laughter) But in fact I got a couple of them. There was a girl who lived the life of a man who got his fingers chopped off and he had been murdered. She was born with her hand like what you see on the slide.

There was another case where a boy remembered a boy from another village who had lost the fingers in his right hand in a firewood chopping machine. This boy was born with his hand like this (slide) and it is quite an unusual defect.

Another case with a little more detail is a case from Thailand – a little boy named Chanai Choomalaiwong. He was born with two birthmarks. When he was 3 years old, he started saying that he had been a teacher named Duokai and that he had been shot on his way to school one day. He begged to be taken to his previous parents to where they lived. Eventually, when he and his grandmother got up a bus and went to near to where he said they lived, he had been led away to a house where there was an older couple whom he recognised. They had a son’s name Duokai Longan and this guy had in fact been a school teacher but apparently he had also been a gangster on site (laughter) and had a lot of affairs as well. So he had made a lot of enemies and one day he was shot while riding his bike to school. There was no autopsy available. We talked to Duokai’s widow and she said the doctor who examined his body told her that Duokai had been shot from behind because he has a small round entrance wound at the back of his head and a larger exit wound in front. Chanai had been born with this small round birthmark on the back of the head and a larger and more regularly shaped birthmark on the front. Apparently it was on his forehead when he was born but it had migrated back as he grew older.

Ian Stevenson, in fact, reported 18 cases of children with double birthmarks having the ones that match both the entrance and exit gunshot wounds. Cases like this ... I initially found quite difficult to accept. How a lesion or a wound on a dead body somehow can affect a child even if it was a past life? But I think the best explanation I realised is that, it is not necessarily the wound on the body itself that matters, but more of the image of the wound and the impact it had on the consciousness of the person dying. That could then show up in the next life. 

Reincarnation Biology 

So Ian reviewed the reincarnation biology of other phenomena in which mental images can produce very specific effects on the body. There is a phenomenon called stigmata
 where people developed what looks like wounds that Jesus suffered in the Bible. This is usually for people who are very pious, like monks or whoever will focus on the image of Christ and pray devoutly for hours and hours on end, and then actually develop some of those wounds. 

There is also a case of a woman who is a psychiatrist who induced these by hypnosis. What a nice thing to do, but this woman was physically very susceptible to any image she saw. So when she came to talk to us about the wounds of Christ … and we showed her a picture … it was not a great picture that she saw, but she developed what looked like a crown of thorns and you can even see it on her face - something triangular that you would get with thorns; also, on her feet and on her hands as well.

And there are another 350 cases that have been reported in the literature that it is certainly clear that at times that mental images can produce these wound. Hypnotists in general can produce wounds and there are examples like they would they touch someone with a pencil and say, “I am touching you with something really hard,” and the person would develop blisters, like burns.

Along with images, there can even be memories that can show up on the scans. There was a researcher named Moody; he was not Raymond Moody who dabble with near death experiences. He was an earlier Moody who reported several cases. One case was this man who … it was not hypnosis ... it was an intense abreaction experience recalling when he had been tied up with his arms behind his back nine years earlier. He developed what certainly looked like rope marks on his arms by just recalling that image.

There is another woman who was abused by her father while growing up. She recalled when while he was beating her with a whip and hit her left shoulder, and then she developed this mark on her left shoulder. So, these are examples that show that memories can sometimes produce very specific images on the person.

In our cases, after the previous person died, the fact that the consciousness does continue this traumatic experience of dying can lead him to carry these mental images with him and when they in the interim develop in the foetus rather than just a temporary mark on the skin like what you get in hypnosis. The fact that they develop in the foetus means that you get these birthmarks or defects that are permanent. These are usually ones that would usually affect the consciousness like the ones mentioned or even in Patrick’s case where things would have stayed in the memory of Kevin – things like the biopsy of the tumour, the blindness in his eye and limping had seemingly stayed with him and then showed up in Patrick’s life.

Experimental Birthmarks

As if these birthmark cases were not strange enough, we have got something even stranger! There is this phenomenon that Ian called experimental birthmarks. There is this practice in several areas in Asia where, when somebody dies, a person uses a paste or substance and makes a mark on the body, says a prayer and makes a wish that this person carries the mark with him to the next life so that he can be identified. This is usually done with the expectation that the child is to be born into the same family. Ian found 20 of these cases and a colleague and I found 18 more. Some of them are quite interesting.

One case in Thailand where there was a woman who, before she died, said she would like to come back as a male so that one day she could have a mistress like the way her husband did. (laughter) Then after she died, a daughter-in-law use a white paste and just made a mark on the back of her neck. A year later a grandson was born and he had that birthmark on the back of his neck.

There was another case, a little girl also in Thailand whose grandfather died five years before she was born. When he died this local aunt made a little wish and scratched from the bottom of the rice pot and I put some of this on the fingertip to show you how it looks like - she took some soot from the bottom of the rice pot and made a mark on his right leg above his ankle. Five years later this girl was born with a birthmark on her right leg. When we saw her, she was two and a half, and at that point she did not make any clear statements about her past life.

The previous case the small boy in fact talked about his grandmother and also showed a lot of feminine behaviour. Numerous times he said how he wanted to be a girl and frequently dressed up in his mum’s dress and he would put on her makeup. We have published cases and cases of gender dysphoria but in this case the little girl was two and half and of course we cannot tell and are not sure if she has gender dysphoria, or maybe can talk about past lives.

The last of these I want to tell you about is one of Ian’s cases from Burma. This unfortunately is a previous person. She was born with a congenital heart defect and when she was 20 she died from open heart surgery. After she died, three of her classmates volunteered to prepare her body for funeral and cremation. They cut some lipstick and marked the back of her neck with it. A year later her older sister gave birth to a girl with a birthmark. It shows up here in this picture. You can say it is rare on the back of the neck. Ian pointed out that they picked the worst possible place to mark the body but this spot by birthmarks is pretty common and occasionally persists into childhood.

When he was studying her case he also noticed the hairline – hopefully you can see this pale line in this slide - going down from the mid-abdomen to the mid-sternum. It looked very similar to the cardiac surgery scar. She has asked to be called by the previous person’s name and she would call the family members with names of the relationships that the previous person had. In fact she would call her mum with the term “older sister.” When Ian studied this case he interviewed the young women who marked her body. He discovered that one of them had never met the little girl. Unannounced he takes the young woman to the girl’s home. They walked in and he says to the girl, “Who is this?” She immediately responds, “Myint Myint Hu,” which in fact is the name of the woman who had marked the body.


Can we explain these cases? My colleague and I who studied this case and wrote a paper about it, offered three possible explanations:

        (1) One is the concept called maternal impression which has been talked about in the 1800’s. With this concept the idea is that the mother would see, for instance, some of those deformities and the image that would impact her so much that she would give birth to a baby who has the same deformity. This idea sort of went out of vogue in the 20th century but there were a lot of cases published earlier than that. The difference was in those cases there was usually a cycle that was very upsetting to the mother, whereas in these experimental birthmark cases that is not the case. In fact in the 18 cases we published the mum have only seen the marking in only 5 of them. Now she heard about it in several others but there were at least five of them that she knows about. It is hard to think that could lead to maternal impression.

        (2) Another possibility is that the prayer of the person making the mark, or even the mourning family members may wish the family for the person to come back with this mark on the body of the child who is being born. That may seem kind of far-fetched but we do know that sometimes the mental intention can produce effects in other people or even in other animals. For instance, there have been studies to show that friends of somebody else can improve their chances of recovery. There have been what’s called studies of distant mental influences on living systems for people who pray for different processes involved in plants and animals. For instance, for plants that grow best, plants they wish that can grow faster than the control plants, or things like that. That is only a possibility.

        (3) The conscious intent in fact continues from the previous life and is shown up in the child whose consciousness carries the birthmark with him. In our cases, 6 of the children had in fact talked about past lives. So I think that would be the best explanation for the cases.

Non-Asian Cases

Ian initially focused on Asian cases because that is where they could be found easily. Once he started publishing he learned about other cases as well, including European cases. In 2003 he published European cases of the reincarnation type. A lot of the European cases were fairly weak cases and were not as strong as the Asian ones but they did show that this phenomenon did not just happen in some places with belief in reincarnation. We have also paid a lot of attention to American cases. Once we set up our website 15 years ago we started hearing more and more American cases now, and in most of these cases they did not believe in reincarnation before the child start talking about past lives. Some of them are quite opposed to the idea.

With the cases they look very much like the Asian cases. The child typically first starting talking about them at a very early age, and shows the same emotions and behaviours. They often talked about how the previous person died. As you have seen with Patrick’s case with birthmark it seems to be the same phenomena. The American cases prove that it happens to them also and are not something that happens only in people who believes in reincarnation. The American cases happen in a culture without reincarnation and in families without a belief in reincarnation. That raises the question with these American cases – could they have been due to some psychological disturbance? We had looked at that question with psychological testing for the group with the American kids. We found that they were not dissociating; they were not showing signs of any psychological disturbance. One thing that stood out was they are quite intelligent and quite verbal. Their intelligence tests were normal. Other than that they seem to be perfectly normal.

Case of Sam Taylor

I will tell you about a couple of cases and then I will wrap up. One is a little boy called Sam Taylor who is born 18 months after his father’s father died. One day when his dad was changing his diaper, Sam said, “When I was your age I used to change your diapers.” (laughter) His parents felt that was a little odd. They could never consider the idea of reincarnation. But he kept talking about it, “I used to be grandpa.” So his mum in particular became intrigued by this and started asking him questions. She asked him one day if he had any brothers or sisters and he said, ”I had a sister. She turned into a fish.” Her mum asked, “Who turned her into a fish?” and he said, “He is a bad guy; she died.” In fact, sixty years before, the grandfather’s sister had been murdered and the body dumped into the bay. Sam’s parents felt certain that he couldn’t have heard of that.

When Sam was 4½ years his grandmother, his grandfather’s wife, died. His dad went to take care of her belongings and he came back with a family photo which before they hadn’t had. One day Sam’s mother had a spread out on the coffee table and looked at it. Sam walked over, started pointing to the pictures of his grandfather saying, “That’s me, that’s me.” There is a picture of the grandfather’s first car with no one sitting in it. It is a picture of an empty car and Sam says, “Hey, that’s my car!” So to test him, his mum showed this school class picture and asked him, “Show me where you are,” and he ran his finger on the photo and stops at the face of the grandfather and says, “That’s me.”

Case of James Leninger

The final case I want to tell you about is an American case named James Leninger, which has gotten quite a bit of thrust in the US. The family has been on TV and the parents initially wrote a book about their experiences. It is a little boy who talks about being a World War II pilot who was killed and it is believed that the pilot has now been identified.

James’ parents are a Christian couple who lives in Louisiana, in Southern US. The dad in particular, is quite opposed to the idea of past lives. I met the family when James was 12 years old. Even then, the dad will often make Biblical references as he talks about all these and it seems that he really want to incorporate his family experiences into his religious album. So the case began when James was 22 months old, and his dad took him to a plane museum. James insisted on continuing to go back over and over to the WWII plane to the point that he had been for 3 hours in the museum, which was a very long time but James was just fascinated by the WWII planes. A couple of months later he developed terrific nightmares, in which he would kick his legs up in the air and scream, “Airplane crash! Plane on fire. Little man can’t get out.” He was having this multiple times a week. After I met the family I talked to James and spent a lot of time with him and the parents. She said you cannot wait and huddle these things … it really looked like somebody flying a plane.

During the day, he would take his toy plane and he would say, “Airplane crash on fire.” He did this over and over again. “Airplane crash on fire.” His parents were apparently very tolerant people. The coffee table – there were dozens of scratches as he danced. This is what in child psychiatry we call post-traumatic stress which the children experienced. They would act it out as a player over and over again. You combine that with James’ nightmares it really looked like a child who has been traumatised except that he has not been through any trauma in this life. His parents had several conversations with him during the day when he could talk about these things and not just the nightmares at night. He said how he has been a pilot, how his plane crashed on fire and that he has been shot down by the Japanese. He said he flew a Corsair which was a type of plane - I have not heard of it - it was supposed to be a super-duper new plane that was developed during WWII.

After this case got some publicity, Fredericks said he just saw a Corsair and he went to the Flight Museum’s website and found in fact they do have a Corsair. James was there and they did not have one when he and James went to the museum. I looked into it and found that in fact he was right. They had one but it crashed in an air show before and could get a replacement only three years after. That was not what James saw as Corsair. He also said he flew off in a boat and the parents asked him the name of the boat, and he said, “Natoma.”

Now, for most of us if we were to get the name of a US aircraft carrier it would be a long time before we say Natoma. In fact, James’ dad said, ”That sounds Japanese to me.” And James said, “No, it was American.” (laughter) After that conversation, James is there personally and investigated on line and he eventually came across this information on the USS Natoma Bay. He printed out the information and I am sure you can see on the slide – it has the dates in print: August 27, 2000. James is born in April 1998. So, this document, by the time he was 28th month old, the Natoma Bay was part of the story. The USS Natoma Bay was in fact stationed specifically for WWII for non-descript export carrier.

The other exchange about who the “little man” was, he would say, “It’s me who was James.” One time we asked him who else is there, and he said, “Jack Larsen.” All these was before he was 2 years old. When he was two and a half, his dad bought a book on the Battle of Iwo Jima. He gaves his own dad and he kept changing his grandfather. Looking through one Saturday morning when James came and they were going through and got to the page that shows Iwo Jima. James pointed to the picture and said, “That was where my plane was shot down.” His dad said, “What?” and he said, “My plane got shot down, Daddy.”

Then when James got old enough to draw, he drew airplanes. His parents said he drew hundreds of battle planes. He would always sign as “James 3”. They thought it might be because he was three years old. When they asked him, he says, “I am the third James. I am James 3.” In fact he continued signing that way after he turned 4 yr old. At that point, all the points on the page looks like incoming flags that the pilots deal with.

So as all this was going on, the parents began to wonder if he was recalling his past life. So they contacted Carol Bowman who was the one who had written a couple of books about past life memories. Then ABC News, which is one of the Networks in the US, wanted to do a special show called Strange Mysteries where they would do segments on a variety of weird things including past life memories. So they contacted Carol Bowman who put them in touch with the right people who agreed to be interviewed for the program. At that point it was discovered that there was a pilot who matched the details that James was giving and all these statements and behaviours that seemed worthy of being filmed. I am sure the show actually never aired. But because I was also energy for ABC and they send me a copy of it. And this documentation was made before anyone knew or before the pilot was identified. So the documentation of the statements were made before there was a pilot to match them to, and on the segment where they said he had nightmares of the plane crash on fire, sinking and unable to get out. He said he flew Corsair and flew up above was shot down by the Japanese.

One day he said, “Mom, the bomb was borne by the pilot, my plane was shot in the engine and it crashed into the water and that’s how I died.” In the latest version they said that James may be the pilot who died in Iwo Jima. Also, during the filming and while they were filming it James was talking to the crew about Corsair and he said how it was getting flat tyres. Then ABC news interviewed the military historian who explained that Corsair was known for its hard landing and that was how it blew up its tyres.

Five months later, James was there to attend his first Natoma Bay Reunion and he learned in fact that there has been a Jack Larsen on the ship. He had been looking for a Jack Larsen among the workers, but this Jack Larsen survived the War and he was still alive. James was there and met him and learned that he in fact had been on the Natoma Bay ship during the Battle of Iwo Jima. He also learned that there had only been one pilot, James Houston, from this ship who was killed during the Iwo Jima Operation. So that means if James was recalling someone’s role in a past life, it had to be this one guy. It was a pilot from Pennsylvania but hundreds of miles away from Louisiana. Then James knew that he was 21 years old when he was shot down. What we can do is to compare James Leninger’s statements to James Houston’s flight to see how well they matched.

James parents said that he talked about some of his life before the War. He described his dad and his drinking problem. He talked about his sisters, but we don’t have documentation for those that was made before Houston was identified. What I have listed here are the items that we do have documentation and was definitely made before Houston was identified.

(1) James signed his drawing as James 3; James Houston with James Jr. which would made Leninger the third James.

(2) James said he flew off the Natoma; Houston was a pilot on the Natoma Bay.

(3) James says he flew a Corsair. Houston had flown a Corsair that was shot down. It was a different plane but he had flown a Corsair.

(4) James says he was shot down by the Japanese; so was Houston.

(5) James said he died at Iwo Jima. Houston was the one Natoma Bay pilot who was killed in the Iwo Jima Operations.

(6) James said, “My airplane got shot in the engine and crashed in the water and that’s how I died.” Houston plane was hit head on right on the middle of the engine.

(7) James had nightmares of plane crashing and sinking into the water; Houston’s plane crashed into the water and quickly sank.

(8) James said Jack Larsen was there, and Jack Larsen was the pilot of plane next to Houston on the day he was killed.


With cases like these I think I can say that we now have strong evidence that some young children do have memories from a life that occurred in the past. I think in our field of Psychology,  the best explanation and the most obvious explanation, is that some children do have memories of a previous life that they experienced before. It doesn’t necessarily mean that all of us do, but it certainly means that it is possible. In the end it contributes to a body of evidence in a number of different area of research showing that consciousness doesn’t necessarily die when the body does, and sometimes can carry on. In our cases it seems that they carry on in a different life.  

Suggested Reading:

1. The Science of Reincarnation: UVa Psychiatrist Jim Tucker investigates Children’s claims of past lives.   

2. The Past Life Memories of James Leninger. http://www.ianlawton.com/cpl3.htm

3. Ian Stevenson. Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation. The University Press of Virginia, 2nd Ed. 1976.