A psychic detective is a person who claims to use psychic abilities to investigate criminal cases. Psychic criminology is a popular field and has inspired many books and television series. Most "celebrity psychics" include at least some detective work in their repertoire—even if it's just to occasionally comment on high profile missing person cases.
Some psychics make a specialty out of this type of investigation. This has led to much criticism, especially of psychics who solicit employment from the recently-bereaved.
How do psychic detectives work?
Many psychic detectives claim to speak directly to spirits of the deceased (often a murder victim). This appears to be an imperfect method, however, as the spirits rarely (if ever) provide concrete information. In most cases the information is too vague to provide tangible leads for the police.
Two other common methods are postcognition (sensing past events) and psychometry (sensing information from objects). Typically a psychic will examine objects owned by a missing or deceased person and visit places of interest in the case. Some psychic detectives may also attempt to use telepathy, numerology, tarot cards and other methods.
Skeptics claim that psychic detectives use the same methods employed by any other psychic, especially cold/hot readings followed by retrospective re-interpretation to make it appear as if they had provided clues when in fact they hadn't.
How effective are psychic detectives?
In 1993 a survey was administered to the police departments of the 50 largest cities in America. Approximately one third had used psychics, but none said psychics provided information more useful than that from other sources.1 FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt claims to have accepted information from psychics with an open mind, but in his 25-year career he never saw a case solved by a psychic.
It is worth noting that many psychics claim to have provided information to police, but very few provide evidence to back these claims up. Many psychics say "I gave the police some vital clues", but few psychics say "and the case was subsequently solved as a result of my information". In one of the most famous examples of misrepresentation, the NBC television show Medium was based on psychic Allison DuBois' claim to have worked for the Phoenix, Arizona, district attorney's office as a psychic researcher. This was later discredited and the show's official website was edited to remove the unsubstantiated claim. However the show itself continued unchanged, even winning awards.
In researching this article we found many cases which appeared to support the use of psychics in crime-solving. However, more research in each case showed that the usefulness of the psychic was debatable.
For example, well-known psychic Dorothy Allison worked with police on the 1978 John Wayne Gacy case in Illinois, USA. Her involvement is well documented and she is widely reported as having played a part in solving the crime. Closer investigation shows that she actually contributed nothing of value and most likely hindered the investigation more than helped it2,3,4.
(Note: If you are able to cite a verifiable example of a psychic solving a police case, please let us know.)
Examples of psychic detectives in popular culture:
- Medium (NBC TV series about Allison DuBois, a research medium for the Phoenix, Arizona, district attorney's office)
- Psychic Detective (1995 video game developed by Colossal Pictures and published by Electronic Arts)
- Psychic Detectives (StoryHouse Productions for Court TV)
- Sensing Murder (Ninox Television Ltd)
2. Psychic Criminology: A guide for using psychics in investigations, Whitney Hibbard, Raymond Worring & Richard Brennan (Charles C. Thomas Publisher Ltd, 2002)
3. Psychic Sleuths: ESP and sensational cases, Joe Nickell, (Prometheus Books, 1994)
4. The Blue Sense: Psychic detectives and crime, Arthur Lyons & Marcello Truzzi, (Mysterious Press Books, 1991)