Chaffin Will Case

The Chaffin Will Case is an unusual case in which the apparition of a deceased man appeared to one of his sons four years after his death to alert him to the existence of an unknown will. The case is seen by some as evidence in support of Survival After Death, while others say it can be explained merely by Clairvoyance.

James L. Chaffin was a farmer in North Carolina who had four sons. In November 1905, he made out a will leaving his farm and all assets to his third son, Marshall. He made no provision for his wife and three other sons, John, James P. and Abner.

Apparently Chaffin later had a change of heart, perhaps after reading the Bible. Genesis 27 tells how Jacob deceived his father, Isaac, into giving him the birthright intended for his older brother, Esau. In 1919, Chaffin executed a second will, written in his own hand, that stated: A

fter reading the 27th Chapter of Genesis, I, James L. Chaffin, do make my last will and testament, and here it is. I want, after giving my body a decent burial, my little property to be equally divided between my four children, if they are living at my death, both personal and real estate, divided equal if not living, give share to their children. And if she is living, you must all take care of your mammy. Now this is my last will and testament. Witness my hand and seal.

James L. Chaffin, This January 16, 1919.

Though not witnessed, the will was valid under North Carolina law.

Chaffin then took the will and hid it in his father’s old Bible. He secreted it in Genesis 27, folding pages to form a pocket to hold the paper. For reasons unknown, he said nothing to anyone of his new will. It is possible that he intended to do so at an appropriate moment but was unable to follow through. Chaffin did write a note, however, which said, “Read the 27th Chapter of Genesis in my daddie’s old Bible.” He rolled up the note, tied it with string and placed it in the inside pocket of his black overcoat. He stitched the pocket shut.

On September 7, 1921 Chaffin died of injuries sustained in a fall. His 1905 will was probated, and the estate went to Marshall Chaffin. No one contested.

Four years later, in 1925, son James P. Chaffin began having vivid DREAMS in which his father appeared at his bedside and stood in silence. In June 1925, the deceased Chaffin appeared by his bedside once again, dressed in his black overcoat. He took hold of his coat, pulled it back and said, “You will find my will in my overcoat pocket.” He vanished.

It is not certain whether the apparition of the father was external or appeared as part of a dream. James was not certain that he was awake or asleep when the apparition appeared; he may have been dozing.

The next morning, James awoke convinced that his father had communicated with him for the purpose of clearing up some mistake. He went to his mother’s home, where he found out that the overcoat was in the possession of his brother, John. On July 6, he visited John and found the coat. Upon examining it, James found the pocket that had been sewn shut. He opened it, found the note and read it.

James wisely found witnesses to accompany him back to his mother’s to retrieve the Bible in question. They included Thomas Blackwelder, a neighbor, Blackwelder’s daughter, and James’s own daughter. They found the Bible and the will.

The second will was filed in court and offered for probate. Marshall had died, but his widow and son contested the new will. The case came for trial in December 1925. About a week before the trial, the deceased Chaffin appeared again to James in an agitated state, saying, “Where is my old will?” James took this to be a sign that he would win the lawsuit.

Ten witnesses were prepared to testify at the trial that the handwriting on the second will was that of the deceased Chaffin. When shown the will, Marshall’s widow and son acknowledged that the handwriting was Chaffin’s, and they withdrew their opposition. The old will was annulled and the new will was probated.

Several explanations were considered for this case. The most obvious explanation is that James P. Chaffin, upset at being cut out of his father’s will, forged a new and more favourable one and then concocted the ghost story. However, the handwriting of Chaffin in the second will was validated as genuine. And if son James P. Chaffin somehow did commit a forgery, there was no need for him to wait four years, or create a ghost story. He could have simply “found” the new will, which would have been much more plausible.

A second explanation is that surviving Chaffins knew of the existence of the second will. But a North Carolina attorney who was interested in parapsychology thoroughly interviewed James P. Chaffin, his wife, daughter and mother, and concluded that none of them had any prior knowledge of the second will. The lawyer said he was impressed with the Chaffins’ honesty and sincerity.

A third explanation holds that James P. Chaffin had prior knowledge of the will, but had forgotten it. The information may have been telepathically transmitted between father and son. The information was brought back to the son’s attention by the apparition, which was a fi gment of his dreams. This is possible, but not likely, given the known facts concerning the case. It is doubtful that the father revealed the new will to anyone; otherwise, he would not have gone to such great lengths to hide it. The four-year lapse also cannot be adequately accounted for by this theory.

A fourth explanation is that during sleep, son James, through Clairvoyance, obtained knowledge of the will, which was then projected onto an “apparition” to persuade himself that the information was true. This is possible, and if valid, it negates the case as evidence for survival after death.

Finally, it must be considered that a genuine apparition of the dead did appear to son James and deliver information, by telepathy, that was unknown to him. This theory supports survival after death. It also makes the case an unusual one, for it involves both sight and hearing on the part of James, the percipient. The four-year lapse gives added strength to the theory that the case is a genuine example of survival. It is unlikely that information telepathically transmitted just prior to Chaffin’s death would not surface for four years. Nonetheless, the case remains inconclusive, as none of these explanations can be proved.

The Chaffin Will case resembles a similar case that occurred near Ionia, Iowa, in 1891. That case, too, involved a farmer, Michael Conley, who was found dead in an outhouse. Upon hearing of his death, Conley’s daughter fell into a faint. Upon reviving, she said he had appeared to her and told her there was a large sum of money sewn inside a pocket inside the shirt he was wearing at the time of his death. She also described in detail his burial suit, including satin slippers that were of a new design, and which she could not have seen before. The clothes Conley had been wearing at the time of his death had been thrown away. They were recovered, and $35 were found sewn shut in an inside shirt pocket. This case could be evidence for survival after death. Or, the information could have been conveyed telepathically from father to daughter just before his death. Neither explanation can be ruled out.



  • Berger, Arthur S. Evidence of Life After Death: A Casebook for the Tough-Minded. Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas, 1988.
  • “Case of the Will of James L. Chaffin,” Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)36 (1928): 517–24.
  • Myers, Frederic W. H. Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death Vols. I & II. New ed. New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1954. First published 1903.

The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits– Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007