It's hard to think what my family, including Uncle Harry, would have made of Reggie and Marcia Fenshaw. They were so unlike anyone I'd met at home or at school that they might as well have belonged to another species. My father, I fear, would have thought them hardly different from criminals, their values were so foreign to his. They used atrociously the meager funds they had, caring nothing about money, and neglected themselves the way uncaring parents neglect their children, wearing shabby clothes, going unwashed for days, living on candy and snacks, and letting their teeth visibly rot. At the same time, if you had the slightest interest in their obsession, they would before long begin to seem to you as charming and graceful as a pair of dotty old royals pottering in their garden.
The one thing they did superlatively well was manage the data they collected from around the world. They lived for nothing else (and I've never met a happier couple in all my life).
The central feature of their system was a vast index of file cards generated by the reports they'd received over the years. If you wanted to study cases like Mary Anne Dorson's, they'd ask, "Like in what way? What feature are you looking at? Her age? The period she lived in? Her social status? The way she began to remember her last incarnation? The way her family reacted? The fact that she knew what family she belonged to in her last incarnation? The fact that this family lived nearby? The involvement of the doctor? The way her predictions were tested? The fact that the Prescotts accepted her as the reincarnation of Natalie? The fact that the rest of her life story was perfectly ordinary?" By using the card index, they could (for example) track down all the cases in which the reincarnate was able to name his or her former family. Virtually every story they had was like Mary Anne's in some way.
Every three or four months they rewarded their correspondents and financial supporters with a newsletter carrying the best reports received in the interval. It was, however, seldom more than four pages long, and its "best reports" were seldom worth reporting at all. In truth, it's hard to imagine anything more frustrating than the pursuit of credible evidence of reincarnation, and anyone who takes it up is putting his or her sanity at risk. The problem isn't so much that evidence isn't there but that it's invariably tainted beyond redemption by the time you get to it.
Take Mary Anne Dorson's case (which, incidentally, is one of the very "best" on record). In the efforts he made, Dr. Jansen wasn't trying to prove the reality of reincarnation, he was just conscientiously practicing family medicine. He felt sure that the "healing" of Mary Anne could only be effected by bringing the Dorsons and the Prescotts together (and of course he was right). But the moment he succeeded in doing this, all the evidence he'd collected became worthless, and all hope of collecting further evidence disappeared forever.
If he'd been trying to build a case for reincarnation, he would have proceeded very differently. He would have immediately isolated the girl, moving her as far away as practically possible from anyone who might have knowledge of the Prescotts. Living in seclusion, she'd be wrung dry to make a record of every supposed memory of her life as Natalie, down to the smallest detail. Meanwhile, a team of scientists would descend on Vettsburg to begin work on many different fronts. Every neighbor and every child at Mary Anne's school would be examined as a possible source of her information about the Prescotts. The Prescotts themselves would be interviewed no less exhaustively to make a record of their memories of Natalie and every circumstance of their lives during the time when she was alive. When all this was done, the two records would be compiled and compared by an independent panel of scientists, and a new round of examinations would begin in order to resolve as far as possible the discrepancies and conflicts revealed. Not until all this was done would anyone dream of introducing Mary Anne to the Prescotts in the flesh -- and even then it wouldn't be designed as a festivity for the girl (who by this time would probably be a young woman) but as a further and final opportunity to gather evidence.
Assembled in this way, the case would be compelling (which it otherwise certainly is not). With coincidence, blind luck, collusion, and deception decisively ruled out, skeptics would be hard pressed to suggest any other "ordinary" explanation for the wonder. If Mary Anne truly had no normal access to ten thousand items of thrice-verified information about the Prescotts during a twenty-year period before her own life began, how explain this marvel except as an instance of reincarnation?
The case as it stands convinces only those who are already convinced or who want to be convinced. When I arrived on the scene, there wasn't a single case in the files of We Live Again that did more than that. Not one even came close to doing more than that.
The Fenshaws understood this as well as anyone (and better than most of their supporters). "Someday we'll have it, though," they said.
They called it the Golden Case. The Golden Case wouldn't convert the scoffers, but it would certainly give them something to deal with, something they couldn't just wave away as superstitious nonsense.