Author/Entertainer Steve Allen and Leading Paranormal Investigator Joe Nickell Question Validity of Psychic Detective Work
AMHERST, NY -- Self-claimed "police psychic" Dorothy Allison is trying to insinuate herself into yet another high-profile murder case, that of child beauty princess JonBenet Ramsey, whose tiny body was bludgeoned and strangled in her parents' Boulder, Colorado, home on Christmas night 1996.
The Nutley, New Jersey, great-grandmother was featured on the April 27 airing of LEEZA (The Leeza Gibbons Show), a program titled "Dorothy Allison: Tracking JonBenet's Killer." Allison insisted that the little girl's parents were "absolutely not" involved, and that the real killer was a former handyman. She perceived "connections" to Germany and Georgia, the numbers 2-8-9, and the names "Martin" and "Irving" -- the latter, she said, being "the one I think that did this" (the murder). Working with a police artist, Allison produced a drawing of the alleged killer.
Leeza emphasized that Allison had gone far out on the proverbial limb, and some audience members seemed quite skeptical of the clairvoyant's "clues." One woman challenged Allison to tell where the alleged murderer was, as Leeza tactfully took the opportunity to go to a commercial break.
Psychics thrive on the media attention they can get from high-profile cases.
According to celebrated author and entertainer Steve Allen, co-chair of the Council for Media Integrity:
"The important question, in cases of this sort, is to determine whether a) the alleged psychic is a barefaced liar or b) honestly self-deluded, in the way that many religious fanatics are. In the meantime television producers must be urged to consult scientists and other authorities who are perfectly aware of the essential absurdity of claims made by psychics, fortunetellers, tarot-card readers, or astrologers. It is relevant to quote here a little quatrain I wrote years ago in an album for children titled 'How to Think':
Look for the evidence. Look for the proof. Or else you're acting like an awful goof."
Although Allison was billed as a "police psychic who helped solve 5,000 cases," the truth is quite different. A look at some of her prior "successes" is revealing.
For example, in various media venues Allison is touted as having located a missing child's body in 1967. According to an episode of TV's Crackdown on Crime (1997), "Nutley Police asked her to find a missing five-year-old boy.
She did. He had drowned in a pipe during a storm."
In fact, every one of those statements is untrue. It was Dorothy Allison who approached the police with her "vision." She did not find the boy's body, nor did she in any way assist others in doing so. The body was not even in a drainage pipe, as Allison alleged, and the police wasted considerable effort and manpower in digging up a pipe she identified. The child's body was actually discovered later, floating in a pond, by a man looking for a place to bury his dead cat.
What self-styled psychics typically do is simply toss out some vague "clues."
Those invariably prove meaningless until after the crime is solved or the victim located, whereupon the psychic interprets the statements in light of the true facts. As an unimpressed Georgia police chief summed up a case in which Allison had made pronouncements: "She said a whole lot of things, a whole lot of opinions, partial information and descriptions. She said a lot.
If you say enough, there's got to be something that fits."
This process of after-the-fact matching, what critics call "retrofitting," is the explanation for Allison's reputed success in another case, the murder of Susan Jacobson. In fact, Jacobson's body, discovered in 1976 on Staten Island, was found neither by Allison nor the police, but rather by a 13-year-old boy who had been playing with friends. Allison's prior statement that she had clairvoyantly seen "horses along a trail" was subsequently interpreted as a "hit" because the cemetery where the victim was finally laid to rest had, Allison stated, "once been a bridle path."
Psychics have other means of scoring apparent successes, including making exaggerated or false claims about previous cases to uncritical reporters, shrewdly studying local newspaper files and area maps, gleaning information from family members or others associated with a tragedy, even impersonating police and reportedly attempting to bribe detectives. Some credulous police officers even help the psychic in the reinterpretation necessary to convert a failure into an apparent success. The result is like painting a bullseye around an arrow after it has lodged somewhere.
The fact is, there is no proof that Dorothy Allison - or anyone -- has ever psychically located a body or solved a crime.
STEVE ALLEN, the creator of the "Tonight Show," is known as Hollywood's "Renaissance Man." He is the author of several detective novels as well as Dumbth and Gullible's Travels, guides to critical thinking (Prometheus Books.)
JOE NICKELL is recognized as the world's leading paranormal investigator and is the author or editor of fifteen books including the forthcoming Crime Science (University Press of Kentucky.)