Back in March, when the police seemed to be making no progress in hunting down South Auckland’s serial rapist, a community newspaper ran a story effectively chiding the police in general and Detective Inspector John Manning in particular for taking no notice of the advice being given him by one of Auckland’s leading clairvoyants, Ms Margaret Birkin, who has her own programme on Radio Pacific.

Ms Birkin had received a letter from an “amateur” who claimed to know the name and address and other information which would identify the rapist and put the matter to rest. Inspector Manning said they knew the name and received scores of letters from clairvoyants claiming to be able to identify the criminal.

Ms Birkin complained in the story that despite the letter and two visits to the police station by Mrs Birkin’s husband they had still not responded. “They don’t want to know and people’s lives are at stake” she protested. “I know a lot about the rapist, but I would know a lot more if I could hold a piece of clothing.” The police insisted they had better things to do with their time.

Not to be deterred the reporter then printed six responses to a street “survey of locals” pointing out that “Clairvoyants are used frequently in the United States of America and Australia.” Five out of the six seemed to think it was a good idea. Two believed it depended on the quality of the clairvoyant. One claimed to “be a sort of clairvoyant” herself (just what sort she didn’t say). One said he didn’t believe in it but thought that in desperate times the police should try anything. Our single sceptical hero was Mr Len Hewgill of Manurewa who alone didn’t think it would help. “I like to be able to see things and touch things,” says Len, narrowly escaping a sexual harassment charge.

Skeptics may have noticed that when the police finally apprehended the serial rapist there was silence from the clairvoyant community. Certainly none rushed forward claiming “I was right, I told you so.” Your Editor was prepared to concede that this might have reflected uncharacteristic modesty on the part of the psychics and so he telephoned Detective Inspector Manning to see if any of them had been right all along.

He laughed.

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