By Meg McSherry Breslin, Tribune Staff Writer.
Olof Jonsson may have lived a relatively ordinary life as a Chicago engineer had it not been for some unusual habits. He could answer questions before they were asked, predict events for friends with unbelievable accuracy and even solve murder mysteries by re- creating the crime scene in his mind.
Mr. Jonsson's psychic abilities eventually made him an internationally known figure, the subject of a book and numerous magazine articles and scientific papers and a constant source of fascination. Despite such fame, he remained in his job as an engineer with the Chicago architectural firm of Schmidt, Garden and Erikson for nearly two decades. He stayed in Chicago until 1980, when he moved to Las Vegas. Mr. Jonsson died May 11 in Las Vegas at age 79.
One of Mr. Jonsson most famous extrasensory experiments occurred during NASA's Apollo 14 mission to the moon, when he collaborated with astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell. Mitchell arranged a set of ESP cards with different symbols on them from his space capsule, and Mr. Jonsson tried to picture the sequence of the cards from thousands of miles away. He named the cards in the correct order about half the time, a score far higher than pure chance would allow. The experiment became a cover story in Life magazine, and Mr. Jonsson used it as proof that ESP works as well in space as it does on Earth.
While telepathic work like Mr. Jonsson's has had many skeptics over the years, some experts in the field said he was clearly an exceptional mind. I have never met anybody like this before, said Norman Don, director of research for the Chicago-based Kiros Foundation, which supports research in cognitive neuroscience and alternative healing. Mr. Jonsson was able to do things that I thought were impossible. I thought he was really a very extraordinary individual. Don conducted several computerized guessing games with Mr. Jonsson in his laboratory, in which Mr. Jonsson was asked to guess which images would surface next. He was able to outguess the computer 99 times out of 100, Don said. Don said Mr. Jonsson took his talent seriously but always remained active in his career as an engineer. He did demonstrations for people, but he never made his living this way, he said. He was not into psychic readings or anything like that. He considered it totally beneath him.
Yet Mr. Jonsson did establish an international reputation as a psychic as a young man growing up in his native Sweden. After a small town in Sweden had a series of bizarre murders in which 12 women were brutally slain, police authorities contacted Mr. Jonsson, who had a detailed vision of the crimes and the murderer. After Mr. Jonsson identified the suspect as a young policeman, the officer confessed the crimes in a suicide note. Mr. Jonsson later told the Tribune that the situation disturbed and depressed him, and he swore to never again get involved in solving violent crimes.
Yet throughout his life, he continued to try helping people when he could, sometimes assisting in searches for missing children and occasionally acting as a healer for the chronically ill. Mr. Jonsson also worked to help create more acceptance of parapsychology in the scientific community, Don said. He was born with this talent, Don said. From about four years of age on, he was aware he had this ability, and he thought it was his mission to bring it out into the open. Mr. Jonsson is survived by a son, Michael; a sister, Karin Parson; and a grandson. Services were held in Las Vegas.