It was a sunny Sunday morning in May 1957 in the sleepy rural town of Hexham in the northern English county of Northumberland when three children were on their way to church. Then, out of the blue, the worst tragedy imaginable struck. A car lost control and mounted the sidewalk, killing all three of the youngsters. Two of the children were sisters, and it’s what happened after their deaths that makes this tale undeniably intriguing.
The two sisters were Joanna and Jacqueline Pollock. Joanna was 11 years old, and her sister was just six when they died. Along with their friend, Anthony Layden, aged nine, they’d been on their way to St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church. As it was less than a half-mile from where the Pollock girls lived on Leazes Terrace, their parents had been happy to let them walk alone.
The car that hit the three killed the two girls instantly, while Anthony died shortly afterwards as an ambulance rushed him to hospital. The driver of the car was 51-year-old Marjorie Wynn. She was a widow whose late husband had been in the Royal Air Force.
It seems that Mrs. Wynn slipped into a deep depression after her husband’s death, so severe that she could no longer look after her two teenage children, who were taken into care. On that May morning, she’d downed handfuls of barbiturates in an apparent suicide attempt before inexplicably getting into her car. She was clearly not fit to drive.
It goes without saying that Jacqueline and Joanna’s parents were stricken by the deepest grief imaginable. So was Anthony’s father. He told the Daily Mirror, “The children were off so happily hand-in-hand in the sunshine. Anthony was to have acted as altar boy at the service…”
Jacqueline and Joanna’s father was John Pollock, who had been born in the city of Bristol in 1920. His wife Florence had been born in Hexham, and she’d grown up within the Salvation Army. Both were keen Christians. John had been brought up in the protestant Church of England before becoming a Roman Catholic later in life. Florence also converted to Catholicism when she married John.
The Pollocks had two boys before Joanna was born in 1946, with Jacqueline arriving in 1951. In that same year, the Pollock family had moved to Hexham, where they ran a grocery store. This kept them busy, as did the milk delivery business they also owned, so the two girls were often looked after by Florence’s mother.
The two sisters were very close, with the older Joanna often playing a motherly role towards her younger sister, something that Jacqueline was apparently happy to accept. Joanna enjoyed dressing up, and her world of make-believe extended to creating and performing plays.
Of course this childhood idyll was utterly destroyed by the events in May 1957. But John Pollock had one thing that comforted him. It was somewhat strange for a devout Christian, but John had a strong belief in reincarnation.
In fact, John believed that the deaths of his daughters were a punishment from God. And he had merited that punishment because he’d prayed for evidence that his belief in reincarnation was correct. But now that God had meted out his retribution, John felt that his daughters would be reincarnated. Indeed, he believed they would come back directly into his family.
Florence found John’s beliefs outlandish, and this actually caused some friction in the marriage. Yet eight months after Jacqueline and Joanna’s death, Florence was pregnant again. She gave birth to healthy –and identical – twin girls on October 4, 1958. This was quite a surprise since her obstetrician had missed the fact that she had been pregnant with twins.
The two new additions to the Pollock family were given the names Gillian and Jennifer. And John began to notice similarities between the twins and their two dead sisters from the outset. He is on record as saying that he knew the girls would come back as soon as he learned that Florence was pregnant.
In a later interview, John said that the first thing he spotted that he felt supported his belief in reincarnation was a scar-like birthmark on Jennifer’s forehead. In his eyes, this looked exactly like a scar that Jacqueline had had. Jacqueline’s scar was the result of an accident when she’d fallen off her tricycle as a three-year-old and bumped her head on a bucket.
And there was more. Jennifer also had a circular birthmark to the left side of her waist, just like a birthmark that Jacqueline had had. And those physical similarities at birth were just the beginning of a series of incidents that seemed to lend plausibility to John’s firmly held belief in reincarnation.
The twins were about three years old when their parents retrieved some of Jacqueline and Joanna’s toys from the loft where they’d been stored. The twins apparently said that the two dolls were gifts from Father Christmas, as indeed they had been. And the twins gave the names of the dolls as Mary and Susan, which were the very names that there older sisters had used. Florence later recounted that this incident had made her more receptive to John’s ideas of reincarnation.
And even more strikingly, Gillian at one point mentioned the birthmark on Jennifer’s head and observed that her sister had gotten that when she’d had an accident and had hit her head on a bucket. Which is of course exactly what had happened to her dead sister Jacqueline.
And there were other incidents that apparently confirmed John’s reincarnation theory. When the twins were roughly nine months old, the Pollocks moved away from Hexham. When the girls were four or so, the family made their first return visit to the village. Hexham should have been entirely unfamiliar to the twins since they’d left it when they were still infants.
On this visit to Hexham, the twins seemed to know where the school was that Jacqueline and Joanna had attended. Then they said they wanted to go to the nearby park, and they then seemed to know the way there. Of course, their sisters had been familiar with the park and the school, but the twins could not have known about them.
University of Virginia School of Medicine psychiatrist Ian Stevenson took an interest in the case in 1963, traveling to England to meet the girls in that year. He was especially interested in their case because although he’d studied thousands of children whose parents believed them to be reincarnated, the fact that the Pollocks were British, and Catholics to boot, made them a rarity.
A belief in reincarnation is commonplace within the great religions that originated in India such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism. Yet this intriguing case happened in a quiet English town, and the Pollocks were observant Roman Catholics. Were the twins reincarnations of their dead sisters? The question can’t be answered with certainty. But we do know that the idea seems to have brought comfort to John and Florence Pollock in their grief.