A detective with long experience in tracing missing persons gave the 1993 Skeptics Conference the word on how useful psychics are in police work.
During the last 25 years a number of police investigations have gained prominence in the news media due to the disappearance (sometimes permanently) of a victim. In the 1970s there were names like Jennifer Beard (West Coast), Mona Blades (Taupo), Gail McFadyen (Wellington); in the ’80s Yvonne Bennett (Auckland), Kirsa Jensen and Teresa Cormack (Napier), Maxine Walker (Auckland); in the ’90s the Swedish tourists (Coromandel), Dahlberg (Nelson), Cruickshanks (Lake Wakatipu), and Mavis Harris (Dunedin).
Many of these cases have become well known, and in some of them the bodies remain to this day unrecovered. The well-known “psychic,” Doris Stokes, claims in one of her books to have assisted the police to recover the body of Mona Blades, though the police themselves have no knowledge of this. Since the detective inspector who handled this particular investigation died some years ago,we can speculate that the psychic may have passed the information as to the whereabouts of the body on to him direct — in some other world!
In a number of these cases when the media have built up psychic speculation on the whereabouts of the missing persons, this has attracted the attention and proper scorn of the Skeptics Society.
My own personal involvement in such cases included Gail McFadyen who, despite psychic suggestion, was located (after a week) by routine police searching, and with the disappearance of Kirsa Jensen at Napier in September 1983. Having been the officer in charge of that investigation, I was in a position to review all of the information that came forward during the course of the inquiry. Thousands of people were seen by the police, many of them providing useful information that assisted the investigation. To this day the remains of Kirsa Jensen have never been found.
On reviewing the investigation about six months after the disappearance, the police found that several hundred offers of assistance and advice had been made by people who were not actually witnesses to any incidents at all, and thus their information became part of a “miscellaneous file”. As it transpired, two-thirds of this information came from psychics, clairvoyants and dreamers and did not advance the investigation one bit. Most of the information was not specific as to any area where a body might be located, but some was quite graphic in detail and disturbing by its very nature.
In more recent times, the disappearance of Amber-Lee Cruickshanks, a 2-year-old child, near Lake Wakatipu, brought a further flood of assistance from those inclined to the paranormal. An officer working on the investigation commented that he had received “letters from clairvoyants, card readers, star watchers, prayer groups, crystal readers, palm readers, spiritualists, people who have visions, premonitions and total lunatics”. None of them assisted the search.
The media compounded the situation with a television programme actually taking a psychic to the scene of the disappearance. It should be noted though, that in this particular case the victim’s mother seemed to place some reliance on the use of this type of person, she having consulted psychics in the past.
Once again, the case was not advanced at all by the intervention of such people, and indeed rarely was any specific information provided. This is not uncommon, and I would guess that in 95% of the situations, only vague suggestions or descriptions are provided as to the whereabouts of the missing person, such as remarking that they will be found near water or trees. Indeed I would go further and predict myself that around 90% of people who go missing in New Zealand will be found near trees or water — and I have no special powers!
If people with some psychic ability really were helpful, then they would be of great assistance to the police. We could employ them on an “as required” basis and use them to supplement our dog section, search and rescue squad, and other investigators. Thus assisted, the police could go straight to the victim or missing person without the extensive and expensive investigations and searches that now take place.
The reality is, however, that psychics provide no assistance whatsoever and to the best of my knowledge, never have. I have canvassed all of the police districts in New Zealand and no one has been able to provide details which confirm accurate predictions. Occasionally instances have seemed to come close, but on detailed examination have proved negative — that is, the body was found by some normal means and the location may have accidentally coincided with some “psychic suggestion”.
With the thousands of opportunities that offer themselves and the numerous pieces of information provided by psychics, sooner or later there has got to be a discovery that could be attributed to psychic intervention. I suggest this will be nothing more than coincidence.
Why Listen to Them?
Do the police attach any significance to psychics’ submissions, or appear to be doing so?
I believe that New Zealand is unique in the world because nearly every homicide case is solved, and almost all missing people are found. This is due in large part to public support. We cannot invite such support on one hand and then on the other dismiss it.
It is possible, too, that a genuine witness, after pondering for some time on what they have seen, may become concerned as to whether they have actually seen an event or just dreamt it. As well, a witness may elect, for whatever reason, to pass genuine information through a third party or medium (in whatever sense of the word), or finally the person passing on some dream or psychic inspiration to the police may in fact be the offender and be seeking a way to pass that on to the authorities in some roundabout way.
It is possible that some police officers, with no previous experience of dealing with psychics, could be inclined to accept them at first sight. Serious involvement with such people soon changes this belief. It is necessary, though, that the police listen to all of the suggestions that are made and act as they consider appropriate on the information they receive.
So much for the New Zealand experience. One reads of psychics being used overseas to assist the police, but any article that I have read suggests such assistance is as useless there as it is here.
A few years ago the Los Angeles Police Department conducted an experiment using 12 psychics, two-thirds of whom were “professional” (ie, earned their living by this means), to determine whether they could solve crimes. Four real crimes were examined, two that had been solved and two that remained unsolved. Some 20 to 30 key indicators were developed for each incident and the psychics were asked to examine an exhibit and speculate on the crime itself. At best they were able to guess correctly five or six of the indicators, and some got none at all right. The only degree of accuracy they achieved was in guessing the sex of the victim (or where it was known, the suspect) — they were correct on half of the occasions!
“Evaluation of the Use of Psychics in the Investigation of Major Crimes,” Reiser, Ludwig, Saxe and Wagner, Journal of Police Science and Administration, March 1979.)
A second experiment was later conducted using psychics and as well control groups of students and detectives. At the conclusion of the research, the researchers stated that “the data provided no support for the theory that psychics could produce investigatively useful information. In addition, the data failed to show that psychics could produce any information relating to the cases beyond a chance level of expectancy”.
“Comparison of Psychics, Detectives and Students in the Investigation of Major Crimes,” by Clyver and Reiser.
It is my view that psychics, dreamers, clairvoyants and the like have not provided any material assistance whatsoever to the police in New Zealand, and that accords with overseas research. Suggestions are certainly received, but they are rarely specific and often they raise false hopes in the minds of victims’ families.
The results of psychic intervention never stand up to test. There may occasionally be situations when it appears that some such suggestion has been useful, but that is not surprising in light of the volume of suggestions put forward for there must eventually be some coincidence.
Psychics and clairvoyants would be better off concentrating on Lotto numbers and race horse winners so that the profits thereby gained could be used to develop their science further and thus convince my colleagues and me of their ability.