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Binoy Kampmark: Using Psychic powers in Policing

‘Clairvoyant Crime Busters’: Using Psychic powers in Policing

Where does the role of the psychic lie in policing? The secular, rationalist follower of hard facts and evidentiary reason might well question their very existence, let alone value. But moments of crisis can increase the emphasis on faith and desires to communicate with the world of the dead. As far back as October 1987, the American magazine McCall’s published an article entitled ‘Clairvoyant Crime Busters’ featuring the feats of such ‘psychics’ as Dorothy Allison and John Catchings. In recent times, a global audience has revelled in the predictive powers of Octopus Paul, predicting sea creature par excellence who managed a near perfect record for the football world cup in South Africa.

Events in Australia have recently are more proof of the fact that the psychic world, and the idea of communicating with the dead in a tangible way, is never far away. On record, the Australian police forces do not tend to accept the work of psychics. One federal police officer was even suspended after it was revealed he had sought clairvoyant assistance in foiling a purported plot to assassinate former Prime Minister John Howard. That said, the case of a missing six-year-old Kiesha Abrahams, now missing for two weeks, is another indication that such injunctions are far from being hard and fast.

The investigations of one particular clairvoyant, Cheryl Carroll-Lagerwey, has turned up a discovery near the edge of Eastern Creek at Doonside. It was unlikely to be that of Abrahams, but instead, the lone torso of a woman. Detective Chief Inspector Pamela Young was more impressed than suspicious. ‘It’s quite interesting that there’s a woman and she had a sense or feeling it was worth her while to come to this particular area of the park’ (Sky News, Aug 12). A post-mortem investigation might reveal it to be that of Kristi McDougall, missing since June 19. The British Sun was happy to run another discomforting headline from its stock-in-trade: ‘Psychic finds wrong corpse.’

Law agencies around the world have sought at various times to use such powers, and laughing off such measures as those of the superstitious and deranged is not a profitable exercise. Cheryl, herself an Aboriginal elder, was convinced that she had dreamed ‘about a little girl being murdered and that her body was about here’ (Sun, Aug 13). That said, deep scepticism does remain. Within the United States, a country not averse to experimenting with the feats of the paranormal in security matters, surveys in the early 1990s showed that 65 percent of police departments in 50 of the largest cities refused to use psychic material. Those who had done so reported disruptions in investigations.

At times, the information provided by psychics can not only be sketchy, but deleterious to police efforts. The investigations of the murdered British teenage model Sally Anne Bowman was a case in point. The celebrity clairvoyant in that case, Joe Power, supposedly had the victim tell him the name of her killer, a certain ‘Stephen’. Such patchy information did little to assist law enforcement officers, though that has not discouraged him from advertising his skills as Britain’s ‘finest psychic medium profiler… renowned for his involvement in helping police solve high profile crimes’ (Skeptics Report, Jan 1, 2007). He had cut his teeth on one particular case – that of Southport resident Lynsey Quy, who vanished in December 1998. It took over a year for her husband to admit his role in her death, but Power was convinced that Lynsey had communicated to him about her dismembered whereabouts.

The use by police forces of those of psychic prowess has been condemned in various quarters. When examinations were being done on their effectiveness in the United States, the sceptics came out in force. Ward Lucas, after examining research pitting psychics against six solved and unsolved cases, was unimpressed. As he noted in the Campus Law Enforcement Journal (1985), ‘We may as well have opened fortune cookies to derive solutions from our criminal cases’.

It may be well and good to heed the advice of under water oracles predicting the results of sporting fixtures. But law enforcement authorities will have to be wary of the sheer complexities of dabbling in the business of psychic consultancy. Such measures can prove all too tempting in frustrating conventional operations of gathering solid evidence, wherever one stands on the complex business of understanding the dead. Even the staff of the Sea Life Aquarium in Oberhausen have tired off Paul’s seemingly prodigious talents. Convention will prevail. He will now go back to the true and tried business of making children laugh.


Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

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