UVA professor studies children who claim they lived past lives

Published: May. 5, 2015 at 4:12 PM EDT|Updated: May. 17, 2015 at 11:36 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (WWBT) - Do you believe in life after death? Where does the soul go? Can it live on in another body?

A professor at the University of Virginia studies cases of children who say they have lived a past life as someone else.

has written a book about it, called

Return to Life


Inside the pages of this book, you can read case after case about children who say they've lived before as someone else. Many are very young children, who know very specific details of a dead person's life.

"One example is a little boy named James Linenger who was the son of these Christian parents in Louisiana," said Tucker, associate professor of Psychiatry and Neuro and Behavioral Sciences at UVA "He started at age 2 having horrific nightmares of a plane crash multiple times a week, where he's kicking his legs up in the air and screaming, 'Airplane crash on fire, Little Man can't get out.'" Tucker said.

James's parents had a lot of questions about what was going on and why a child would say these things.

James also told his parents that he was a pilot, shot down by the Japanese at Iwo Jima, and the name of the boat he flew off of was Natoma. He said he knew someone named Jack Larson.

"This was all when he was 2 years old," Tucker said. "Well, it turned out that there was this USS Natoma Bay that was in fact stationed in the Pacific during World War II. It was involved in the battle of Iwo Jima, and lost one pilot during that operation. And that one pilot, his plane crashed exactly as James had described."

That pilot's name was James Huston Jr. By the time James' parents found that name, their son had been signing "James III" to his childhood artwork for some time.

"It's not just silly make-believe," said Tucker. "A lot of times there's a strong emotional component to this material that children may be crying about missing their last families or scared about, especially if they recall dying in a traumatic way. They may be having nightmares. So, there's a lot of this going on."

Tucker says children with memories of past lives seem to verbalize the memories by their toddler years, and they may fade by age 6 or 7.

James eventually met James Huston Jr.'s sister.

"They established a relationship and she was completely convinced that it was her brother returned," said Tucker,

Another little boy named Ryan lived in Oklahoma. He became obsessed with everything Hollywood.

"He told me, 'Mom, I have something I need to tell you,'" Ryan's mother, Cyndi, said. "'I think I used to be somebody else.' He started telling me these stories about how he had lived in Hollywood. His stories were so detailed, and they were so extensive that it just wasn't like a child could have made it up."

He told her he danced on Broadway and lived a glamorous life, getting married five times.

One day, the family had a breakthrough while looking through a Hollywood book.

"She turns to a page in the book, and it's black and white, and I say, that's me, that's who is was!" said Ryan.

The family figured out the man was an extra named Marty Martyn

Tucker studied Ryan's case, and was able to confirm that 55 of the things Ryan said about Martyn's life were true.

"With these cases, we wouldn't say they provide proof of anything," Tucker said "But I think we could say they provide evidence that some young children have knowledge of things that happened in the past. And certainly their experience with that knowledge is that they are memories of a life that they had in the past."

Here is an excerpt from Dr. Tucker's book, Return to Life:

"We were able to piece together a picture of Marty Martyn's life, and we could compare it to Ryan's statements. In most of our cases, people have tried to see if a deceased person could be identified whose life matched the statements the child had made. Here, there was only one guy that Ryan could have been talking about, because he had pointed to him in a picture. We weren't trying to see if there was anyone whose life matched Ryan's statements; we were looking to see if Marty Martyn's did.

"What we found was that though Ryan was off on some of the details, a lot of what he said was correct for Marty Martin. It had seemed unlikely that an extra with no lines would have danced on Broadway, had a big house with a swimming pool, and traveled the world on big boats. But Marty Martyn did.

"Marty was born in Philadelphia in 1903. Ryan had talked a lot about a sister and also mentioned another one, and Marty had two sisters. His mother had curly brown hair, as Ryan as said. Ryan was right about dancing in New York, as Marty and one of his sisters went to New York to be dancers. He danced in various reviews on Broadway, and his sister became a well-known dancer there.

"Marty then moved to Los Angeles, having a life in Hollywood as Ryan had described. He began as an extra as well as a dance director. He then became a Hollywood agent, not the secret agent kind but a talent agent. He set up the Marty Martyn Agency, where he had notable clients such as Glenn Ford. Ryan had talked about people changing their names with the agency, which would certainly be true for a talent agency. Marty had several connections to Rita Hayworth, and his daughter confirmed he probably did know her. He may well have interacted with Marilyn Monroe as well, as his wife's family knew her.

"Marty was a big sunbather, getting sunburns as Ryan had mentioned. Ryan said he used to take girlfriends to see the ocean, and there are pictures of Marty with girls on the beach. He enjoyed going there and watching surfers, which Ryan had said as well.

"Marty was married four times. He became quite wealthy, and he and his last wife enjoyed an upscale lifestyle. Ryan said he had driven around Hollywood in a green car and that his wife drove a nice black car. Well, Marty's wife didn't actually do the driving, but they had a custom-made Rolls-Royce that was presumably a nice car. Ryan remembered an African American maid, and Marty and his wife had a number of them. Ryan said he owned a piano, and Marty had pianos in his house. The family lived in a fine house with a large swimming pool, as Ryan had described. Ryan said his address had Rock or Mount in it. And Marty Martyn's last house, that fine home with the big swimming pool? It was located at 825 N. Roxbury."

How do these kids stack up mentally?

"They seem to be perfectly healthy psychologically," said Tucker. "The one thing that stands out from the testing, they can be very intelligent and very verbal, and I think that's probably part of it."

Tucker says he has studied cases from Fredericksburg and Mechanicsville as well.

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