An interview with journalist Leslie Kean on Stewart Alexander and ‘Surviving Death’
In her 2017 book, Surviving Death: A Journalist Investigates Evidence of an Afterlife, Leslie Kean presents compelling research on survival of consciousness along with her own unexpected personal experiences that occurred during her investigation. “I witnessed some unbelievable things that are not supposed to be possible in our material world,” she states in the Introduction. “Yet they were unavoidably and undeniably real.” She discusses cases suggesting reincarnation, near-death experiences, mental mediumship, physical mediumship, after-death communications, and responsive apparitions.
A resident of New York City, Kean (below) is an independent investigative journalist who co-authored a series of game-changing stories on UFOs for the New York Times beginning in 2017. She is the author of UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record, a New York Times bestseller. Surviving Death received he Parapsychological Association book award and is the basis for a six-part documentary series to air within a few months on a major streaming network.
In my blog of October 12, I referred to the fact that Kean provided an Epilogue to physical medium Stewart Alexander’s 2020 book An Extraordinary Journey, in which she describes her five-year investigation into Alexander’s mediumship. The first edition of Stewart’s book in 2014 “opened a door to a wondrous and unexplored new world,” she wrote in the Epilogue, like nothing she had ever encountered before. It was that book, now revised and updated, that inspired her to contact Alexander. Then, years later, in 2017, Stewart wrote the final chapter to Kean’s Surviving Death.
I recently had the opportunity to put some questions to Leslie Kean by email.
As a journalist who has covered all manner of topics and then focused on serious reporting on UFOs for over a decade, what was your motivation behind pursuing a study of a possible afterlife, which many would consider a “fringe” topic?
I’m interested in large mysteries, unexplained by science, which are well documented and therefore undeniable. They expand our sense of who we are and our place in the universe. I don’t consider this topic to be “fringe”—it is simply difficult to study, often misunderstood, and can’t offer “proof”, although I believe we have solid evidence that consciousness is not limited to the physical brain. Nonetheless, many scientists don’t accept the reality of phenomena that challenge their understanding of the laws of physics or belief in physicalism. And, gullible people often make sensational claims based on assumptions and not scientific evidence. But, if one is motivated by deep curiosity and has a discriminating mind, I believe this topic is worthy of serious attention given the potential it has to redefine our understanding of the nature of consciousness, and of the meaning of death itself. And, it can be studied with the same rigor and discrimination as any other area of investigation, but of course with its own unique challenges.
You reported observing some very mind-boggling phenomena in your investigation of Stewart Alexander, including ectoplasm materializing into a “living” hand, the levitation of objects, and independent voice. You also witnessed communications from loved ones and successful book tests. Is there any doubt in your mind today that these phenomena were genuine and not some kind of magic trick?
I have absolutely no doubt, not one iota. I did my due diligence. When I began sitting with Stewart’s small circle in 2015, I thoroughly checked the seance room to make sure there was no way to sneak in or out, nothing hidden in the room, and nothing strange about Stewart’s chair or seance room table. I brought my own cable ties which were pulled tightly around his bare wrists, the thinnest part of his arm, locking his wrists through a loop under his chair arms. The straps could only be removed with wire cutters.
Stewart also wore luminous pads taped to each knee, so everyone in the room could always see where he was when it was dark. The door was locked during the seance. There was no background music throughout the sitting. Every movement was detectable in the quiet of the small room. And some phenomena occur in the light. I have sat with Stewart in four locations with different sitters, and the phenomena always occurred. Also, I have interviewed him and his Circle members and come to know them well.
What about Stewart’s long history as a physical medium?
Stewart demonstrated his unusual abilities over many years with a variety of elaborate physical restraints, visible knee markers, and with his hands held on both sides. His mediumship was scrutinized by many astute investigators in multiple locations in different countries, always in spaces under the complete control of others. Hundreds of people have attended sittings with him over the decades. No major controversies or claims of fraud have been made concerning Stewart’s mediumship in the past forty years. That’s because there isn’t any.
Stewart’s mediumship took decades to develop. He had tremendous patience, sitting devotedly with the same small circle year after year. That really impressed me - there was nothing flashy about Stewart’s mediumship nor any desire on his part to attract attention. He eventually offered guest sittings simply so that more people could have the experience. Yet he always kept his mediumship private, entirely separate from his personal and professional life; even his two adult sons knew nothing about it until the first edition of An Extraordinary Journey was published in 2010.
Of all that you witnessed or reported on in your book, what was the most convincing to you?
Well, certainly Stewart’s physical mediumship is at the top of the list. I was also impacted by two readings I had with outstanding mental mediums - one American and one Irish - in which the same things occurred despite the fact that these two mediums did not know each other. They also did not know my name. Two loved ones came through for me, behaved the same way indicative of their contrasting personalities, and gave the same personal message to me in each reading, word for word. The evidential information was spectacular in its specificity.
In terms of scientific research, the mediumship of Franek Kluski and Indridi Indridason were notable (I recommend the books Other Realities? and Indridi Indridason published by White Crow). Cases of very young children providing verifiable memories from a past life, complete with emotion and unexplained knowledge from their careers in that life, provide strong evidence for reincarnation, as documented by the University of Virginia in the US. Near death experiences also represent an intriguing body of research. And, my personal after-death communications from my younger brother who died in 2013 were very convincing to me, as I describe in my book.
Have you witnessed anything of interest since completing the book that might add to your views?
In May, 2019, I experienced a full form materialization in a seance with Stewart. His communicator Dr. Barnett, who normally speaks in independent voice, walked out of the cabinet, stood in front of me and touched my hair. He then placed both his large hands on top of my head, bouncing them up and down for about a minute and a half. (That’s a long time). These were solid “living” hands. He spoke in his recognizable voice. “I just wanted to let you know that I am a solid human being,” he said. He then returned to the cabinet and disappeared.
My comment on this otherworldly, mind-altering experience is best taken from what I wrote in Stewart’s Epilogue:
The mind can barely grasp the fantastical nature of a human form emerging from ectoplasm, walking, talking, touching, and then receding back to from where he came. And where is that? Dr. Barnett says he once lived on this earth. Is this materialization proof that we survive physical death? Or does it mean something else? I don’t think we can answer that question with any degree of certainty. But this experience will live with me forever.
In the first months of 2020, I got one of the best surprises of my life. (I had previously been told by Stewart’s communicators that something would occur in my home.) A clear hand print appeared on the inside of my bedroom window - five fingers and a thumb - in the frost which had accumulated during the cold night. And, a few months later, a second hand print appeared on another window in the same room. I had just cleaned this window about a week before, and no one had been in the room. And while in isolation during the pandemic, a third print appeared on the front of my refrigerator! None of these could have been made by me or anyone else. The window prints remain on the window to this day - they just need frost or steam to be seen.
None of these things really add to my views or prove survival. They are just wondrous reminders of the unexplained world which we understand so little about.
How have the five years you have been sitting with Stewart changed the way you relate to the experience?
Early on, as a probing journalist on a quest for answers, I was always looking for further “proof”; designing potential experiments in my mind; hoping to find new ways to document the phenomena; and asking endless questions. Now, after all these years, I’ve come to respect how difficult it is for any of these manifestations to be produced in the first place; the fact that they happen at all is extraordinary enough. I’ve grown to be less demanding of classic, “scientific” evidence, and recognize that there are no answers for many of my questions. So, it’s like a letting go into the mystery while at the same time remaining objective and observant. The mind state of the medium, combined with the energies of the sitters, make all the difference in terms of a successful seance; this is not something that can be easily studied in a laboratory.
Do you think ‘absolute certainty’ on this matter is possible or is even a good thing?
No, I don’t think we can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that we survive death. As a journalist (not a scientist), I’m looking rationally at the most compelling and reliable data, and presenting it in an accessible form so that readers can make up their own minds. For me, this is an ongoing journey, an exploration, a journalistic and personal foray into unchartered waters. Proof of any kind of afterlife is not the goal. However, the unusual phenomena described in my book actually do exist—this has been proven time and time again in published papers and through observation under controlled conditions. We cannot explain what the causative forces are or what they mean. I think the state of uncertainty - of never knowing and simply dwelling in the unknown - is a good thing.
What message would you like to convey to the skeptics in regards to the evidence for survival?
I was a skeptic too when I started this investigation, as were many of the leading scientists, philosophers, and seasoned investigators who pursued this topic over the last one hundred and fifty years. They set out to disprove the existence of mysterious phenomena they thought could not possibly be real. Using the strictest controls to test physical mediums and eliminate any possibility of fraud, eventually these investigators had no choice but to acknowledge the reality of the unexplained phenomena, which included materializations. And now, today, I have witnessed the same thing they did, and I too know it is real. How many skeptics with dismissive opinions have actually studied the literature? Moreover, how many of today’s skeptics have actually sat in controlled conditions with genuine mediums to observe events that challenge a materialistic view of reality? Yes, there have been many frauds, but it’s the genuine mediums that are of interest. They are rare, but they do exist, as the literature shows.
I suggest that skeptics read An Extraordinary Journey for starters, with an open, objective mind. We must remember that it’s the interpretation of the phenomena—including the question of whether they suggest survival past death—which is open for debate, and not the existence of the phenomena themselves. Yet, many skeptics still hold on to the premise “It can’t be, therefore it isn’t”. The intelligent skeptic should have enough curiosity to welcome challenging data that points toward mysteries of Nature still to be understood by science. This is how we progress!