Psychics and Serial Murder

An Excerpt from The Killers Among Us

by Steven A. Egger

The extent to which the area of parapsychology or the utilization of a psychic has contributed to serial murder investigations has not been well documented. In fact, other than a survey by Sweat and Durm (1993), there are no empirical data on the police use of psychics in any type of investigation. Although the use of a psychic in a criminal investigation always receives a great deal of publicity in the press, psychic involvement in a serial murder investigation has generally received notice and attention only in the more publicized and infamous cases. Also, in many instances, regardless of the nature of the criminal investigation, police agencies have been reticent to admit to the use of psychics during or following the completion of an investigation given the risks of criticism from the public as well as other members of the law enforcement community. Psychics often become involved in highly publicized serial murder investigations. They either make predictions about the killer to the media or secretly provide advice to agencies or individual investigators.

During the early stages of searching for a missing teenage boy in December 1978, Des Plaines, Illinois, police began to strongly suspect that John Wayne Gacy was responsible for the boy's disappearance. A local psychic was utilized to uncover information about the missing youth. Information given to the police by this psychic was subsequently interpreted as very accurate in describing John Wayne Gacy, his method of killing his victims, and his disposal of their bodies. Gacy was arrested and convicted of killing 33 young men and boys in Cook County, Illinois. The young boy missing in Des Plaines had been one of Gacy's victims; however, the boy's body was still missing. (According to Gacy's confession to the police, the boy's body had been thrown off a bridge into the Des Plaines River, about 55 miles south of Chicago.)

Search for the missing boy's body continued until April of 1979 when his body was found floating in the Des Plaines River in Grundy County, Illinois. During the intensive search for the body, the local psychic and a well known psychic from the east assisted the Des Plaines Police.

The psychics used by the police did provide investigators with some "very pertinent information" (Kozenczak and Herickson, 1989, p. 24) regarding the location of the missing boy's body. Had weather conditions not been prohibitive, investigators argue that the boy's body might have been found earlier as a direct result of psychic assistance.

Peter Hurkos was well known to the law enforcement community in the early 1950s. This famous Dutch mystic had reportedly helped solve a number of murders in the United States and Europe. He also claimed to have helped Scotland Yard recover a famous painting that had been stolen.

In January 1964, at the urging of an anonymous citizen who offered to pay his fee, Hurkos was asked to assist the Massachusetts Attorney General's office in their investigation of a series of homicides occurring in and around Boston since 1962. The homicides were already being referred to as the "Boston Strangler" case.

After spending a week in Boston, Hurkos identified the killer as a 56-year-old shoe salesman with a history of mental illness. Hurkos assured the police that they need look no further. Boston police then coordinated an exhaustive investigation of this suspect, ruling him out as a suspect in the killings. Not long after this, Albert DeSalvo confessed to these killings (see Frank, 1967).

Over five years later in 1969, Hurkos, who by this time was working as a psychic detective in California theaters and nightclubs, was contacted by private citizens from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and asked to assist police in Washtenaw County in solving the "Coed Murders." At this time, these murders consisted of the deaths of six young females in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti areas between 1967 and 1969.

Although there was a great deal of controversy as to whether the three major police agencies involved would cooperate with Hurkos, the Ann Arbor police finally agreed to provide some limited cooperation to the psychic. Hurkos agreed to come to Ann Arbor provided that his travel expenses were paid. With a great deal of fanfare and media publicity, Hurkos arrived in Michigan in late July 1969. For almost a week Hurkos was accompanied by two homicide detectives in his efforts to assist the investigation. Following the finding of a seventh homicide victim during this time, Hurkos left Ann Arbor claiming that the police were too hostile to his presence in the investigation (see Keyes, 1976).

In briefly discussing a psychic consultant brought in by the Atlanta Police Department to assist them in the Atlanta "Child Murders," Detlinger and Prugh (1983) states: "The Atlanta police did everything possible -- including providing official police escort service -- to facilitate her 'communion' with the killer(s) or the spirits driving the killer(s) (p. 60). Detlinger is no less strident in his criticism of this psychic consultant and others who attempted to assist the Atlanta police in investigating a serial murder, which would officially list 30 victims. Media hype and self promotion was apparently a major problem in utilizing psychics during this investigation.

Notwithstanding the tendency of law enforcement and to a lesser extent, the public to be very negative regarding the use of psychics in a serial murder investigation, psychic consultants are often used in these investigations. The extent to which psychics are forced on the police or the amount of cooperation that police provide to these people is not well understood. In some cases, when all leads have been exhausted, turning to a psychic may be necessary, if only to show that the agency is willing to use any and all sources that might lead to resolution of the murders.

There has been no known or credible evaluation of psychic effectiveness in assisting a criminal investigation. A review of a number of serial murder investigations conducted over the last 20 years reveals the presence of psychics (invited and uninvited) in a large number of these cases. A number of investigators claim that psychics are very useful, but the majority appear to remain skeptical. However, the involvement of a psychic in a a serial murder investigation may provide an unintentional benefit. Psychics approach the investigation from a very different perspective and this may, through the questions asked by the psychic, cause investigators themselves to begin to ask questions that have not been asked before. These answers may produce new information that provides further progress in the investigation.

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