ABSTRACT: The popular media give the impression that police departments in the United States use "psychics" for assistance in solving difficult cases. But do they? The present study
was undertaken to answer that very question. A survey was administered to the police
departments of the 50 largest cities in America. The results revealed that 65 percent of these cities do not use and have never used psychics. In addition, it could be argued from the results that
psychics actually hinder effective investigations.
“Clairvoyant Crime Busters,” “Cops
amazed by Crime-busting Psychics” "Can Psychics See What Detectives Can't?" These are titles of just a few of the articles published
in recent years proclaiming the ability of self-described "psychics" to help police. But do so-called psychics really help? To what
extent are they even used? To answer these questions the authors of this study undertook an investigation of the police departments
in the 50 largest cities in the United States.
People in America are frequently exposed to the belief that "psychics" aid police investigations. The mass media promote
this view. An example of a magazine doing so would be the McCall's article "Clairvoyant Crime Busters." (Wolkomir and Wolkomir 1987).
The article gives
details about individual psychics and their supposed
crime-solving abilities. Psychics Dorothy Allison and John Catchings are mentioned often. Even the possibility of an "ESP gene" is discussed because
John Catchings and his mother are allegedly both psychic! The article also states that, although the psychic gives information
to the police, it is the policeman's job to ascertain what the information means.
exclusive, "Can Psychics See What Detectives
Can't?' (Ralston 1983), says that "many" psychics help investigate various crimes and that some police departments
see this psychic assistance as a "legitimate investigative tool." This article also acclaims Dorothy Allison and says that she has to know only when
and at what time the crime was committed in order to solve the crime, and that she can do it even by phone!
A Weekly World News article, "Cops Amazed
by Crime-Busting Psychic" (Alexander 1988), focused on diviner Carol Pate. This article contends that she has helped solve
at least 65 murders and a hundred other crimes around the country.
West, the San ]ose Mercury News Sunday magazine, ran a piece titled "Sylvia Sells Sooth by the
Seer" (Holub 1988) about San Jose psychic Sylvia Brown and how she had helped find 20 missing children but never charged a
fee. The article says she helped police but preferred to remain anonymous.
Such articles continue. A 1992 article in Woman's
Day (Duncan 1992) asks in its title "Can Psychics Solve Crimes?" It answers affirmatively, and uncritically: "Yes, say
these two women [Noreen Renier and Nancy Czetli] who are hired to do it everyday—with uncanny success."
There are also many
books that proclaim psychic power. A recent example of this genre is Arthur Lyons and Marcello Truzzi's (1991) The Blue
Sense: Psychic Detectives and Crime (reviewed in SI, Fall 1991). The uniqueness of this book is that the authors give
the impression of objectivity in their investigation of psychic detection. This veil of objectivity is thin, however,
and the reader soon realizes that Lyons and Truzzi are subtle proponents of "the blue sense"—that intuitive sense that
cops and psychics have that goes beyond what they can hear, see, or smell. Another book proposing psychic power is Colin Wilson's
The Psychic Detectives (1987). In it he discusses people like Peter Hurkos, Nelson Palmer, Gerard Croiset, and Edgar
Cayce. First, Wilson contends that phenomena must be real if they are reported again and again. Second, he says that skeptics
doubt because of "everyday consciousness." Wilson also claims that there is "abundant evidence" to prove that psychic powers will "operate on demand" (p. 251). He says that dozens of psychics have proved their
powers under rigorous laboratory settings and that those who refuse to accept this evidence are not just unconvinced by the demonstration, but find "the whole idea deeply disturbing and disagreeable." Why does Wilson believe all this? He says that clairvoyants get information
from "probably the right brain." This information
is then picked up by the left brain. Where, then, does the right brain get its information? Wilson says it comes from either the subjective mind, the
subliminal self, or the unconscious. These, he believes, come from "some sort of record that already exists in nature" (p. 252).
Not all articles and books extol psychics' abilities to aid police. Several are very poignant in their disclaimers. Newsweek (Morganthau and Smith 1980) described Dorothy Allison's trip to Atlanta in 1980 to help in the case that later became known as the "Atlanta Child Murders Case." The city of Atlanta had invited Allison to participate.
Newsweek reported, "Her much publicized snooping broke no new ground
and the mother of one missing boy complained that the seer never returned her
only photograph of her son."
Henry Gordon, in his book Extra-Sensory Deception (1987),
also discussed Allison's visit to Atlanta.
Gordon reported that an Atlanta police official
said she gave police 42 names of the possible killer, but that they were all wrong. Gordon remarked,
"She rode around in a big limousine for three
days, then went home" (pp. 142-143).
the same book Gordon quotes Harold Graham, Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner (41 years with the Ontario Police) as saying, "A
psychic never to my knowledge has solved a case" (p. 141). Gordon remarks that psychic detectives "operate on a fixed formula."
The formula usually involves their providing such generalities as several different locations and unconnected details,
and when a case is finally solved, the psychic can probably then find one or two of his or her guesses that seem to fit the
facts of the case.
book that tells of psychic assistance in police investigations is The
Dungeon Master: The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III, by William Dear (1984). Dear, a private investigator, wrote about how he solved the Egbert case. He says hundreds of psychics
called him about the case during his investigation. He writes: "I always talk to psychics, though. They generally seem sincere
to me, though none has ever helped me on a case" (p. 49).
the book Careless Whispers: The Lake Waco Murders, Carlton Stowers describes how psychic John Catchings took part in the case. Stowers writes: "All in all, however, Catchings's visit was a disappointment. He provided nothing specific,
only a few impressions which he admitted reservations
about" (p. 195).
Reiser, director of the Behavioral Sciences Services Section of the Los Angeles Police Department, has done two major studies on the value
of psychics' information to police investigations. The first study, in 1979, was titled "An Evaluation of the Use of
Psychics in the Investigation of Major Crimes." Twelve psychics participated in the double-blind experiment. Two solved crimes and
two unsolved crimes were selected by an investigator not involved in the
research. The results: little, if any, information was gained from the psychics
that would help in the investigation of the crimes.
In 1980, Reiser conducted the second study, called "A Comparison of
Psychics, Detectives, and Students in the
Investigation of Major Crimes." Once again,
a double-blind was used. The sample included
12 psychics, 11 college students, and 12 homicide
detectives. Four cases, two solved and two unsolved, were chosen by a detective supervisor not directly involved in the research.
The psychic group produced about ten times as much information as either one of the
other groups. Even with this advantage, the psychics did not produce any better information than the other
two groups. The psychics did not produce any information relating to the cases beyond a chance level of expectancy.
Reiser suggested that if an investigator wants to use a psychic, it would be best to set up some verification procedure
where an objective observer could
record all events.
Ward Lucas, in his investigative article "Police Use of Psychics: A Waste of Resources and Tax Money,"
in the Campus Law Enforcement
Journal (1985), described an experiment similar to the research conducted
by Martin Reiser. In 1984 an investigative team at KUSA-TV in Denver took well-known psychics and presented them with six solved and unsolved cases from local police departments.
Original evidence was also used. Each psychic was allowed to establish what he or she considered to be fair conditions. Later,
the same cases were given to students and they made guesses. Each group scored according to chance. Says Lucas: "We
may as well have opened fortune cookies to derive solutions to our criminal cases"
indicate that opinion is divided on how useful psychics are to the police. There are those who argue they help and others who argue they hinder. But who better to ask than
the police departments themselves.
Thus, we undertook the present
study. Based upon the 1980 U.S. Census records, the police departments from the 50 largest U.S. cities were surveyed. (See Table 1). A questionnaire was
sent to the chief of police in each city.
Either the chief or his designee could respond.
Those personnel who did respond included
8 deputy chiefs, 5 homicide unit commanders, 5 lieutenants, 4 chiefs of detectives, 4 detectives,
3 inspectors, 2 captains, 2 sergeants, and
1 deputy police administrator, among
others. All 50 cities replied, although Philadelphia
and Washington, D.C., declined to answer.
five-item questionnaire was used, and either yes or no answers were to be circled by the respondent. Room was
also provided for any comments the respondent wished to make. (See Figure 1.)
Room was also provided for any comments the
respondent wished to make. It should be
stated that there could possibly be an "underrater bias" among respondents since identification with psychics among
police could have negative connotations. It is believed by the authors, however, that in this particular study this effect
was minimal, if it occurred at all. This belief was due to the conviction with which the comments were made. In the following analysis, the questions and responses were
Question 1: In
the past has your Police Department used
psychics or does the department presently use them in solving investigations?
Of the 48 respondents, 31 answered no, and 17 answered yes. As stated
before, Philadelphia and Washington,
D.C., declined to answer. Therefore, approximately
65 percent do not use and have never used
Below are some comments on Question 1 from the respondents, arranged
alphabetically by city:
S. Wodnicki, Chief of Detectives, said that
he, but not the department, had used a psychic on two occasions. "This was on my own volition and does not reflect policy of the Chicago Police Department."
P. McNea, Deputy Chief, said his department
"does not solicit the aid of psychics in solving investigations."
E. Kleiner, Inspector, Commanding Officer,
Goals and Standards Section, said his department "has not and does not solicit
Los Angeles: W. O. Gartland, Commanding Officer, Robbery-Homicide
Division, said: "The Los Angeles Police Department
does not use psychics as an investigative tool, although we are often contacted by them."
Nashville: Myra W. Thompson, Sergeant, Planning and Research, said its department has used
a psychic "once only."
San Francisco: Larry Gurnett, Deputy Chief of
Investigation, said: "Psychics have volunteered
information or the victims' families seek that service and the information
received is then given to us to evaluate for follow-up investigation."
Seattle: Roy Calvin Skagen, Asst. Chief: " 'Used'
is a misleading word, perhaps. We have 'listened'
to psychics when they contact us . . . usually at the request of a family member
of a missing homicide victim. We do it as a courtesy and to show openness to explore any possibility when regular leads run
dry. Success rate when we listen and look at a location indicated is zero.”