Though it is hard to say he was ever very much a Fortean at all.
Malcolm Elijah Turner was born to a prosperous Atlanta family on 31 May 1929. His father, also named Malcolm Elijah, was a dentist. His mother was the former Margaret Parker. According to the 1930 census, the family owned a $40,000 home (roughly half a million dollars in today’s money). They had a live-in cook, Emma Willis. A decade later, according to the census, the family had grown, Malcolm joined by a younger brother and sister. Emma was no longer with the family. The young Malcolm Turner attended public school then went to the Georgia Military Academy (later renamed Woodward Academy). After graduation from there, he went to Duke University.
More interesting from the perspective of Forteanism is what Turner was doing at Duke. He was studying biology. And he was working at the school’s (in)famous parapsychology laboratory, founded and still overseen by J. B. Rhine. I cannot say the degree to which Turner was invested in parapsychology—be it ESP or associated matters—at the time, but he was there, and it fit with his educational goals: he was interested in the intersection between biology and statistics, and parapsychology existed in that overlap, trying to show that certain anomalous events occurred at a rate greater than chance. (A 1950 notice in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research said, “Mr. Malcom Turner is relatively a newcomer, a young student whose work in the Laboratory has so far been mainly learning and assisting in statistical computations.”)
The sources here are again are a little confusing, but it seems as though Malcolm married a woman named Ann about this time, and that she was also interested in parapsychology. I base this on two reports: one, the Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology notes that Turner worked with Ann B. Turner on his parapsychology research; two, the obituary for his son, Malcolm E. Turner, IV, notes that his parents were Malcolm E. and Ann Turner. (If this is the case, then it would seem that Malcolm and Ann divorced, with Malcolm remarrying around 1968.) In addition, the same Encyclopedia notes that Malcolm worked with Elizabeth McMahan. While I cannot find information on Ann, I can on McMahaan: she was in Rhine’s laboratory before moving on to become an entomologist.
Turner eventually graduated from Duke in 1952, though he did not give up parapsychology entirely. After Duke, he moved to North Carolina State College, where he received an M.S. in 1955 (thesis: “A study of the relationship between intelligence test scores and certain circumstances of birth”) and a Ph.D. in 1959 (dissertation: “The single process law: a study in nonlinear regression”). He then moved between a number of academic and scientific institutions. As the titles of his North Carolina work suggests, he was interested in applying statistical models to biological processes—in both classical areas (models of growth) and newer fields (ecological patterning).
In 1963, Turner was hired to start the department of biometry-that is, biological statistics—at Emory University, in Georgia. He would later move to the University of Alabama, Birmingham, from which he eventually retired.
But he had not given up on parapsychology entirely. He gave a talk on the importance of statistics to parapsychology before a parapsychological organization in 1959, reportedly. And he co-authored at least three papers for the American Society for Psychical Research, one in the late 1960s, the other two in the early 1970s:
Osis, Karlis, and M. E. Turner. "Distance and ESP: A Transcontinental Experiment." Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research 27 (1968).
Turner, M. E., Jr., and Osis, Karlis. “A Probability Model for Symbol-Calling Experiments.” Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 64 (1970).
Osis, Karlis, M. E. Turner, and M. L. Carlson. "ESP Over Distance: Research on the ESP Channel." Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 65 (1971).
Malcolm Elijah Turner—now referred to as III—died on 24 November 2004.
I do not know that Turner was much of a Fortean—the evidence is scant. Parapsychology is obviously a Fortean accomplice—the two have overlapping but not identical interests, and parapsychologists and Forteans were sometimes the same person. But, first and foremost, parapsychologists attempted to make their field of enquiry a respected science, hewing to the methods and practices of science. There were, of course, Forteans interested in science-as-science, and some who wanted to take the phenomena that Fort chronicled and bring them into science—to fold them into existing disciplines or even use them as the basis for new species of science. Fort himself did not stand in this tradition, and there were plenty of other Forteans hostile to the very idea of science, or who saw science not as a probe into the structure of the material world, but evidence of a vaster metaphysical or religious reality. Parapsychology, its nuts and bolts approach to an anomalous set of phenomena, would have had no interest for these Forteans.
It is clear, from his career path if nothing else, that Turner had no truck with the anti-science camp, the Theosophers, and mystery mongers. He was a scientist, and parapsychology was a scientific problem—to be solved by scientific (especially statistical) means. In the one instance of his connecting to the Fortean Society, he was looking for anomalous data so that he could study it—Fort was a source not of science fiction plots, but of scientific investigation. Maybe he mentioned Fort in one of his articles, but, if so, I have no uncovered it, so have no other insight into his Forteanism except this one request.
The question came to be printed in Doubt 33 (October 1951), under the title “Duke Asks Us”:
“MFS Turner is working at Duke U in the Parapsychology Laboratory. He writes:
“‘I am very much interested in the problem of unusual direction-finding in animals. The sort of thing I am referring to is exemplified by the case of “Bobbie,” a collie dog who found his way back home to Oregon six months after being lost in Indiana. . . .’”
“‘Will members send data directly to Malcolm E. Turner, Jr., please? Duke is at Durham, North Carolina?”
Thayer had nothing in his archives under that category, but he did find a story, from 21 December 1950, about a cat that walked 17 miles to reach home—and got hit by a car as it crossed the last street. (Merry Christmas, I guess.) I do not know that there were any other replies—since any of them would have gone directly to Turner, they didn’t show up in Doubt. And Thayer never mentioned Turner again, in the magazine or his correspondence. Given that I can find no mention of Fort by Turner—or Forteanism or the Society—this seems to have been the extent of his Forteanism.
Except, of course, that at some point he had to take out membership in the Society. There are, of course, any number of ways that he could have come into contact with the Society—he might have been an avid reader of Fort, or of science fiction, or seen the advertisements in the Saturday Review of Literature. (Did dentists stock their waiting rooms with magazines in the 1940s as they did when I was growing up?) All of these are possible—they cannot be ruled out. And more I have not thought of.
But if I’m going to speculate, I need to do so based on what I have found, and, in this case, there is another ready-made way for Turner to have found the Fortean Society. Rhine’s lab at Duke was well known to the Forteans, and, most likely, the reverse was true: at least some of the people who worked there had to know of the Forteans.There were too many overlaps between the parapsychology community and the Fortean community—Eileen Garrett, Nandor Fodor, Hereford Carrington—for awareness not to run both ways. And so it is likely that by the late 1940s and early 1950s—deep into the Rhine’s laboratory’s life history—Turner would have come across the Fortean Society and Fortean ideas.
Beyond that, though, more is not known than known. As is so often the case in Fortean history.