The world of law enforcement has a large arsenal of techniques, equipment, technology, and training at its disposal to help hunt down criminals and solve the many crimes that plague society. Yet, sometimes leads go cold, evidence is sparse, and not even all of these resources seem to be able to penetrate the murk, leaving a case to go unsolved. In some such instances police and even the FBI can be tempted to look past their usual repertoire of technology, to go out past known science and attempt to harness the powers of the unknown in an attempt to find answers, seeking the help of those with psychic gifts. Who are these people and do their powers really do any good? Welcome to the weird world of police psychic investigators.
One quite well-known supposed psychic who has claimed to have lent his unique set of mysterious skills to the police and FBI is a man named Troy Griffin. According to Griffin, he first became aware of his powers at the age of 12, when he had a vision of his friend in a car accident and the predicted crash happened exactly when and how he had seen it. Fortunately, no one was injured, and the young Griffin became convinced that he had the gift of clairvoyance, intuition and foresight, which he believed he could further hone with practice and use for good.
In later years he says he found he could discern what people were going to say before they said them, or predict certain events down to amazing accuracy, and he also became aware of another gift lurking there in his mind. As well as being able to predict the future, Griffin claims that he developed the ability to talk to the spirits of the dead, and that it is this ability which would end up making him popular among law enforcement, although it started mostly as a freelance hobby. Among his many supposed successes is the case of a missing woman named Lora Hale Costner, whose sister approached Griffin for help. The psychic would then divine “impossible” information that he should not have known about what had happened, saying that she was killed, how it had been done, and that he knew where the body was. When the sister sent this information to authorities they supposedly found the body exactly where he said it would be. Not only that, Griffin was able to point police to the perpetrator, 19-year-old, McKinley Lane Cody, who was found to have killed her after a drug deal gone bad.
This case and others like it apparently got Griffin on the police radar, and he became a sort of unofficial, unpaid psychic investigator for both them and he says the FBI as well, and he has supposedly worked over 100 cases in various countries such as the United States, Germany, Canada and Australia, mostly called in as a last resort when all else fails and the mysterious case has gone ice cold. Griffith says he has some sort of innate ability to look through pictures of missing people, such as the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System database and get a sort of psychic “hit” just by looking at the person’s eyes, as if that person is somehow calling out to him from beyond the grave. He says he will get further information when these people subsequently appear to him and talk to him in his dreams.
It sounds rather amazing, and to the families of the victims of crimes he has successfully “solved” it is, but he has also raised his fair share of skepticism. One problem is that the law enforcement authorities he claims to have worked with, including the FBI, have remained silent on Griffin’s involvement, neither confirming or denying his assistance. There is also the fact that by Griffin’s own admission he typically has an 18 to 20 percent success rate, which doesn’t sound really all that impressive, although he defends himself by pointing out in an interview with ABC News, “When you look at murder cases and unsolved missing persons, they’re very few percentage that actually get solved.”
Adding to the skepticism is that Griffin has been very close-lipped about exactly which cases he has worked or which ones were successes and why he thinks so, nor has he provided any proof that he really has ever worked with the FBI and police at all, making it all rather murky. Nevertheless, there are many who are confident in his abilities, and he has managed to make quite a living for himself, charging up to $300 dollars an hour as a freelance psychic or also as a spirit medium, although he says his work on crimes and his police and FBI work he does for free. For his part, Griffin says of the skepticism aimed at him:
I don’t take advantage of people that are grieving. Most are referred to me from what I did. I don’t charge them. I’m not coming with false hope either way. I’m not here to tell you yea or nay. I’m here to help. What I say to skeptics is, if you have never been in the people’s shoes that I walk with, don’t judge or put opinion on it until you really know if it’s real or not. The only way you’re going to know is if there’s ever a day that you need somebody like me. Then you’ll know. Before then you’ll probably never believe in me but the people that I help and walk away with closure moving forward. They’re the ones who believed in me. That’s why I continue to do what I do.
Another psychic detective who has claimed to not only have helped on official cases but also given training and lectures on criminal profiling to police officers, the CIA and the FBI, is profiler Deborah Schurman-Kauflin. She is well-known for her incredibly accurate profiles, which she in part credits her psychic abilities, of which she says in an article on Psychology Today:
I trained thousands of police officers, CIA and FBI agents and interviewed 25 serial killers and mass murderers. I was famous for how accurate my profiles tended to be. Many, many times, shrewd detectives told me I was so accurate it was eerie. There was a reason for that, a truth that I kept secret. I kept this secret because telling the truth about this subject is often taboo. The truth is that I am a psychic medium.
From the time I was little, I had spirits around me. I didn’t think it was strange because I thought everyone did. My family was very open to psychic phenomenon, and my mother’s aunt was also a practicing psychic medium. But even though I experienced things firsthand, like knowing people’s secrets, I was very skeptical. It became harder and harder to hide my abilities when working with police because I’d come up with things I had no way of knowing. And more than one shrewd detective outright asked me if I was psychic.
With her we face the same situation as Griffin, as police and FBI tend to shy away from talking about involvement with psychics, but she claims that these agencies most definitely are willing to use such gifts to get answers in times of desperate need. She also says that law enforcement and psychic prowess sort of go hand in hand, and that the police and FBI believe in these powers much more than they let on, of which she has said:
In law enforcement, it is not something that is widely accepted. However, the majority of detectives who I worked with admitted to going to crime scenes and asking deceased victims for help in solving their murders. I even know a homicide lieutenant who used a psychic to locate a body only to say he’d never admit that publicly for fear of ridicule. The interesting thing is that the best police officers are the most intuitive. They get gut feelings about suspects which later prove to be true. Some have prophetic dreams. How often have detectives pursued something “on a hunch?”
The reality is that people use their intuitive skills every day. You know when you meet someone, and your gut tells you that something is wrong even though the person looks normal? Perhaps something tells you not to take a certain route to work, and you later learn by doing so you avoided an accident. I’m sure many of you have stories of where your intuition saved you from something bad. I believe that those in police work have lots of protection from the other side, so it is not surprising that police can be some of the most intuitive people. Though not commonly accepted in police circles, psychic abilities are being used. With time perhaps people can be taught how to better ‘tune in’ to their own abilities and learn to trust their gut instincts. There is more to this world than meets the eye.
Whether they really believe in or rely on this power or not, and whether they want to admit it or not, state and federal law enforcement certainly do turn to psychics on occasion, although perhaps not as much as many may think, and not typically treating this information as some magical solution. In a 1993 survey on the matter it was found that a third of the 50 police departments surveyed admitted to using psychics, although in most cases this information was not treated any differently than tips from other, more ordinary sources. The FBI also uses psychics, although they typically deny it, and one former senior investigator for the FBI has explained that “psychics may be used as a last resort and as an investigative tool with caution,” although this information is not typically admissible in court. One retired Police Commander named Rick Bruno has also said of law enforcement and psychics:
We didn’t necessarily employ psychics. They sort of came out of the walls. Especially when reward money was set up. But we listened to anyone who might add something to the case. We still do. We had five innocent women murdered in cold blood in a clothing store. They were moms and sisters and daughters whose only crime was to be in the store when a monster walked in with a gun.
We had a hundred detectives working on the case. We even asked NASA if they had any available photos of the exterior environment to see if we might catch a glimpse of a getaway car or the murderer running away on foot. We sent cops to Texas and to England to follow up on leads. We were doing everything we could think of to find that son of a bitch. So when someone would call and say they had “a vision” of who the murderer was, or where he might be found, we listened. And we send cops out there to interview them.
It certainly does not help the case of psychic investigators that unfortunately some of the psychics who have helped law enforcement have been exposed as frauds. Before her death one of the most well-known and talked about psychic detectives of all was a woman named Sylvia Browne, who appeared on countless TV programs such as regular appearances on The Montel Williams Show, as well as news outlets, expounding her abilities and the important work she had done for the police and FBI. Indeed, she allegedly had many endorsements from some of these officials, such as that of former FBI agent Ted Gunderson, who said of her powers, “I’ve worked with numerous psychics in the past and very few are really on target, but Sylvia Browne is probably one of the most accurate psychics in the country.”
However, despite this, an eye-opening article in a 2015 edition of The Skeptical Inquirer managed to mostly smash this illusion by digging into her past and scouring files requested from the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act. This research showed that not only had Brown made many misleading and outright false claims as to the extent of her police and FBI dealings, but also that there were no records of her dealing with the FBI at all. The author of the article explains:
There is no documentation released by the FBI to support the claim that Browne conducted any psychic readings for the FBI, either directly or indirectly. Moreover, Gunderson’s name appears nowhere in her FBI file, and the topics in the FBI release do not discuss working with the FBI. Thus, there is no evidence from the records that Browne was involved with the agency. Assuming Browne worked with Gunderson, it appears to have occurred after he retired from the FBI and when he was investigating aliens, “Satanic” child abductions, and numerous other conspiracies.
In addition, further damning evidence against Browne was her big mistakes, such as declaring a missing girl dead when she was later found to be alive, and she seems to have had just as many misses as hits. It was also discovered that not only had she apparently never worked with the FBI before, but her and her organization, the Nirvana Foundation for Psychic Research, had actually been investigated by them in the 1980s for “selling securities without a permit,” and “violations of federal law in applying for loans from federally insured financial institutions.” This in no way means that every psychic detective is a charlatan or fraud, but it certainly makes them look bad, and gives fuel to those who would doubt them. It has been pointed out that these people are merely very good at tricking everyone and feeding off of desperation, grief, and a potent desire for any answers at all, throwing out vague clues and relying on confirmation bias to do the rest. Famed skeptic Joe Nickell does not mince words when he says of their supposed abilities:
What people should realize is psychics cannot do what they claim to do. They have been reviewed by mainstream science, and they can’t do it. If they can do it, let’s see that they do it. It could be defined as ‘after-the-fact matching. In other words, the detectives have a missing person. They assume the person might be dead, but they’re looking to find that person. In comes the psychic, often ingratiating himself or herself with the family, forcing the police, pretty much, to have to pay attention to the psychic. The psychic will say things like, ‘I see water. I’m getting the number 7. I see some sort of tall structure,’ and so on. They call these clues.
Is this accurate? Are these and the many other psychics allegedly helping law enforcement merely frauds feeding off of suffering and strife, trying to make a name off of tragedy? Are their abilities really all bogus? Or are there some who under the right circumstances manage to reach out and touch some force that allows them to see into where others cannot? Whatever the case may be, there are many who believe this phenomenon to be genuine, and as long as there is hope that it could pry open cold cases and unsolved cromes there will likely be people in times of desperation that will seek these psychic detectives out, whether they really believe or not.