Rudi (Rudolf) Schneider was one of four brothers who produced mediumistic phenomena in the family's hometown of Branau, Austria. Although his older brothers—Willy, Hans, and Karl—demonstrated somewhat impressive abilities when they were children, it was Rudi who gained the greatest attention from scientific investigators.
Willy was the first of the Schneider brothers to receive more than a local reputation when a skeptic, a man named Kogelnik, witnessed one of Willy's seances and was convinced that he was observing genuine phenomena. Kogelnik brought Willy to the attention of the active psychical researcher Baron Albert von Schrenck-Notzing (1862–1929), who immediately tested and monitored the young medium. However, shortly after the tests had begun in earnest, "Olga," Willy's spirit control, asked that eleven-year-old Rudi be present. Although at that time Rudi's mediumship was only in the early process of development, von Schrenck-Notzing was intrigued by the fact that while Willy insisted upon complete darkness in which to produce phenomena, the younger Schneider felt contented to work under at least partially lighted conditions.
In January of 1926, a seance was held in the headquarters of the British Society for Psychical Research (BSPR) with Willy Schneider. The meeting had been organized by researcher Dr. E. J. Dingwall (1890–1986) and was attended by Douglas Dexter, a professional magician, and Dr. C. G. Lamb of the Engineering Laboratory at Cambridge. Schneider was carefully inspected by Dingwall the moment he set foot on the society's premises. The clothing that Schneider changed into before the seance—a set of pajamas and a dressing jacket—was the property of the society. Every precaution was taken to assure the investigators that whatever they might witness that night would be the result of psychic ability and not trickery.
The medium was led to a seat, and luminous strips were taped around both his ankles and his wrists so that his slightest movement could easily be seen by the members of the society. During the seance, as an added precaution, the medium's hands would be held by two researchers.
Enclosed in a gauze cage were a luminous cardboard ring and a tambourine. The cage itself was set on a table several feet in front of Schneider. As the seance progressed, the investigators were astonished to see the two enclosed objects float about in the gauze enclosure and dance like snowflakes through the air. The researchers found the phenomenon inexplicable, and Dingwall concluded his report with the statement that "…the only reasonable hypothesis is that some supernormal agency produced the result."
But even more impressive was the showing that Willy's brother Rudi made for the society six years later, on December 8, 1932. Days before he was to conduct the seance, representatives from a firm of building contractors inspected the seance room to assure the society that no hidden apparatus of any kind existed that might in some way simulate psychic effects. With the assistance of society member Lord Rayleigh and the Imperial College of Science, infrared equipment was installed in the seance room so that the slightest movement of Rudi's limbs could be detected.
After Schneider had entered a trance, Olga, his spirit contact, manifested and the medium levitated several times. The investigators were astounded to record an increase in his normal respiration rate of 14–26 times a minute to 250 to 300 times a minute. The medium maintained this rate for two hours, a feat that the researchers considered almost as remarkable as his ability to rise into the air and to flutter the curtains across the room.
The installation of the infrared equipment enabled the researchers to be assured that Rudi Schneider had not moved his limbs. However, C. V. C. Herbert, the man behind the controls, did report that the medium seemed to generate a mysterious force that had made the infrared beam oscillate at exactly twice the rate of his respiratory pattern.
In an intensive series of sittings conducted under the auspices of the Institute Meta-physique of Paris in 1930, Rudi Schneider had submitted to the experiments of Dr. Eugen Osty (1874–1938) and his son, Marcel. Osty enthusiastically confirmed the paranormal abilities of the medium and presented the results of his findings in a pamphlet entitled Unknown Power of the Spirit Over Matter in which he concluded that Rudi Schneider possessed the ability to move objects by sheer power of will. In Osty's assessment, the medium could not have produced such phenomena by fraudulent means because his hands and feet had been controlled by electrical apparatus and his body had been held down by researchers, who had prevented any movement on his part.
Between February and May of 1932, Rudi Schneider began another series of experiments in London with Harry Price (1881–1948), a psychical researcher who was attempting to have his National Laboratory for Psychical Research integrated into the Society for Psychical Research. Earlier, Price had been a champion of Willy's psychic abilities, and he appeared equally enthusiastic about Rudi's mediumistic talents. Price arranged for a complicated array of photographic equipment to photograph the resultant phenomena from every possible angle. While some of the sessions produced such manifestations as ghostly winds, the movement of objects, and the materialization of various forms, other tests were unsuccessful and left the observing scientists sharply divided in their opinions over the genuineness of Schneider's mediumship.
Price continued to proclaim the authenticity of Schneider's paranormal abilities, writing various articles insisting that he had passed every major test set before him and emerged unscathed from the ordeals of intense scientific investigation. Then on March 5, 1933, Price puzzled both his many admirers and detractors when he published an article in the Sunday Dispatch claiming that Rudi Schneider was a fraud. One of the photographs taken in April of the previous year, during the period of exhaustive experiments, revealed Schneider freeing a hand at the time that spiritistic phenomena had occurred. Why Price reversed himself so dramatically after having so publicly championed Schneider remains a mystery, though some psychical researchers felt that Price had become jealous of other investigators who appeared to have taken Schneider away from him to conduct their own tests. When other researchers who had examined Schneider began to waffle and backpeddle on their prior positive endorsements of his mediumship, proponents of Spiritualism denounced the psychic investigators as deceitful individuals who could not handle the truth of confronting genuine spirit phenomena. The renowned Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung (1875–1961), who had attended one of Schneider's seances in 1925, said, "I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as a fraud."
In The Strange Case of Rudi Schneider (1985), Anita Gregory concludes that any objective person who studied Schneider's life and his mediumship would form the impression that he was possessed of remarkable psychic abilities. Since he was a boy of 11, he had permitted himself to be thoroughly investigated by psychical researchers and had willingly accepted whatever strenuous conditions they chose to impose. In Gregory's assessment, "there is not one iota of evidence to suggest that he was ever in his life anything other than transparently honest." Today, psychical researcher John Beloff has decreed Rudi Schneider's mediumship to be rightly considered among the most authenticated in the annals of psychical research.
Until his death on April 28, 1957, at the age of 49, Rudolf Schneider continued to indulge various researchers who wished to test his mediumship, and he generously shared his talents with his friends and neighbors in Meyer, Austria, where he had supported his family by starting his own driving school.