by Gary P. Posner, Tampa Bay Skeptics (TBS)
The lead story [in last months issue of The REALL News from a reprinted article in the Tampa Bay Skeptics (TBS) Report] dealt with Orlando "psychic" Noreen Renier's involvement in a missing-person case, the credit she has received from the Williston, Florida, police for directing them to the murky, limestone quarry/pit where the 76-year-old man's body was found, and the subsequent media publicity surrounding the case. (That publicity includes an A&E Network program, The Unexplained, in the "Psychic Detectives"episode aired in early January, which contained skeptical input from me).
A Tampa law firm (which would just as soon remain unnamed) made a Public Records Request of the police department to provide a copy of its entire file on the case. TBS has been forwarded a copy of the records provided to the firm by the Williston police.
Of particular note are two items among the mound of paperwork: a May 12, 1995, report filed by Investigator Brian Hewitt (Renier's main contact with the department), and the notes jotted down by Hewitt regarding Renier's July 17, 1995, "psychic" reading. (Both, as well as relevant maps, are available from TBS for a self-addressed return envelope and $1.00 for copying costs: TBS, 1113 Normandy Trace Rd., Tampa, FL 33602-5771).
In his two-page May 12 report (containing spelling and grammatical errors that I will correct as best I can in the otherwise exact quotes below), Hewitt notes that a "handyman ... had recently told [name withheld by me] that [Norman Lewis, the missing person] had told him that if [Lewis] were not able to take care of himself because of illness, he would find a river or pit rather than the [retired] sailors home. ... Four days before his disappearance, [Lewis] told [handyman's name withheld by me] that if his health were failing, he would never be cared for by relatives or submit to the sailors home, that there were too many pits and canals to met [meet?] with. ... [The handyman later] arrived at the police station ... and he related [to Hewitt] the last conversation he had with Norman Lewis ... indicating it [actually] took place approx. three weeks before his disappearance. He stated Norman seemed agitated and dissatisfied with ... his life [including having] problems at the house with his girlfriend, relating she did not make him feel needed. ... Told [handyman] not to get old, and made some reference to knowing every rock pit in the county. ..."
At the time I wrote the above article, I had no idea that, as a result of his failing health and other personal problems, Lewis had threatened to commit suicide in a "river" or a "rock pit," or that such information had begun to spread throughout his tiny community and become known to the police prior to their session with Renier. I had therefore speculated in my article (as I did for the A&E program) that, based upon information in contemporaneous newspaper accounts, the previous unsuccessful land and air searches, and the prominence of limestone pits in the area (as noted on maps), simple deductive reasoning rather than "psychic" power might have led Renier to her conclusion.
We now have another plausible explanation for Renier's remarkable success in locating the missing man, and one that requires less "reasoning" than "parroting" back information possibly already made available to her by her police contact in a well-intentioned effort to assist her. As noted in our last issue, Judy Cole, the A&E producer, had visited with the police just before her interview with me. She gave me no indication that the police had mentioned knowing of Lewis' "river or rock pit" suicide plan before they consulted a "psychic."
Since it had previously been publicized that Renier's reading had been video and audiotaped, the law firm had made an effort to obtain these tapes, which would reveal the extent to which Renier received the "feedback" that she requires while performing her "Twenty Questions" or "Hot and Cold" parlor-game-style "psychic" readings. The police informed the law firm that the Lewis family had paid for the session with Renier and owned the videotape. The police did acknowledge possession of an audiotape and, after some initial hesitancy, provided what Hewitt calls "a copy of the field audio tape [which] contains portions of the session with Noreen Renier . . . "
To my dismay, upon playing the tape, it is evident that there is a cut/edit after nearly every sentence spoken by Renier (and often in mid-sentence or mid-word). Further, the entire tape runs for a mere five minutes and forty-three seconds. Yet, there are some utterances worth discussing:
"A lot of rocks" -- Did she know about the "rock pit" suicide threat? Or consult a map, as I did (see above article)?
"We have a lot of things that go straight down. No one really knows what's down there because it's so hazardous and dangerous and people don't go down there." -- Ditto.
"Let me have a starting place.... We want to get you in the quadrant from 9 to 12 . . . into that pie-shaped area." And from Hewitt's notes: "Where do you want me to start? At his house." -- Starting from Lewis' house, his body was found in the 12 to 3 quadrant, not 9 to 12.
"There's a railroad track that goes through there." -- See above article about the RR tracks on the map.
"There's a very famous river." -- Did she know about the "river/pit" suicide plan?
"Remember I wanted to go towards the river. For some reason, the river is down below." -- A hedged, hybrid "river/pit" clue?
"Speedometer is zero in front of the house.... Maybe 4, maybe 5. If it's 45 miles, if it's 4.5 miles. I want to go to my left. I want to go to 9. . . . I feel 45. 45x. You know how they have that little baby circle up there? ... Looking for H and 45." -- Lewis was found 2.1 miles from his home. The "45" was credited as a "hit" because he was found near U.S. 41, also known as State Route 45 (confirmed on a roadmap, although no such signs are posted in Williston).
"Swallowed up [down there in the water] but there's hardness higher up." -- Obvious if she was directing them to a "rock pit."
"Must be still somehow in the vehicle. I feel the metal very, very strongly." -- It was widely publicized that both Lewis and his truck had been missing for two years.
"We're not too far from an old bridge. Either it's been decayed or it's broken or it's not used.... It's called the old bridge or is an old bridge." -- She was credited with a "hit" because there is an old truck scale nearby (but no bridge).
"One point, or one-one point two. I see two-two-I [the letter "I"]. I believe a very strong H, 'Ha'-sounding or an H in it." From Hewitt's notes: "221 22 21 2I H EML E 11.2" -- Renier was credited with an eerily accurate "hit" because Lewis was found 2.1 miles from his home!!! But what about the "45" or "4.5" miles???
Among the pages in the police file is a map of Williston with a 90 degree (L-shaped) area from 11:00 to 2:00 drawn on it marked "Noreen's quadrant." The point of convergence of the two lines is correctly marked "Norman's House," and the quadrant, which was drawn with a ruler, includes the northern pit where the body was found (at about 1:00) but not the eastern pit that I suggested last issue her clues more closely fit (at about 3:30-4:00). This "quadrant" impresses me as having been drawn with care sometime after Noreen's session rather than by Noreen during it.
But did Noreen specify a 1:00 to 4:00 quadrant? Not according to the edited tape and Hewitt's notes (see above quotes). The unedited audiotape of Renier's "psychic" reading should reveal a great deal more about what she actually did and did not say, as well as what clues the police may have given her. And the videotape, if we ever have an opportunity to view it, ought to clarify what "quadrant" she may have sketched out for the police. Needless to say, we will continue to follow this story.