Freaky Friday: Defective psychic detectives?

By Ash Pryce

When someone goes missing it is only natural that the relatives may go to any and all means to find their loved one.  When people are ill they may try everything and anything no matter how unrealistic or unsupported by evidence.  These are natural, normal reactions.  However dangerous some of them may be *cough* Burzynski *cough*.  But what really grinds my gears the most is when a psychic is approached by a family of a missing person- or when the psychic takes it on themselves to approach a family- and tells them in no uncertain terms their loved one is dead.  They cannot know this based on current available evidence  psychic ability does not exist making them either liars or deluded.  Neither being something you want in a person apparently looking out for your best interests.

I came across this story recently.  James Slack, a 25 year old man from Pennsylvania who went missing after a concert a month ago.  His family are naturally worried and although they don’t necessarily believe in psychics, his sister said:

“You just explore every option, and anything that can help out is worth it. It’s worth a shot,”.

I would argue this cannot possibly help out and is certainly not worth a shot- at best giving false hope and at worse interfering with a legitimate investigation.

The family approached (or were approached by- the exact details are sketchy) two sisters, Suzanne Vincent and Jean Mckenzie Vincent who claim on their website to have helped find several people.  Now we are aware, as skeptics, that no psychic has ever been shown to have helped in cases like this in any meaningful way. So, as you would expect, there is nothing outside of the website claims of psychics and anecdotes that supports the claims that psychics have helped find missing persons or assist the police.  In fact many police forces have official policy stating they will not consult psychics.  And rightly so.

What disgusts me about this case is the conclusion the psychics have come to.  We’ll ignore their claims of having helped out in cases for now (Most notably the Casey Anthony case, the family actually said at one point- not mentioning any individual so impossible to know if they’re referring to the Vincents: “let “the professionals, the psychics and police” do their jobs”) as those claims of psychics helping with enquiries has been done to death.  Instead, I want to bring to your attention this rather worrying conclusion:

 He’s dead.  They have the vision of “train tracks” and that he died due to the elements.

There is just no way they can know this.  He is still missing, psychic ability doesn’t exist based on what we currently know, so unless they are privy to secret information or were involved in this mans disappearance themselves they cannot possibly know.  And it also gives the family a potentially false and unneeded worry. Now it is entirely possible that James Slack is indeed dead.  Entirely possible that whilst out on a drunken night he fell and injured himself, dying as a result.  It’s also entirely possible he decided to just take off and disappear.

It is fundamentally and ethically wrong to tell the family of a missing person that they are dead.  As it is to tell them they are alive.

This is all reminiscent of the vile individual Sylvia Brown.  Brown has appeared on the Montel Williams television show as resident “psychic”.  She’s not.  At least if she is, she isn’t a very good one.  In 2002 eleven year old Shawn Hornbeck was kidnapped inMissouri.  His parents were of course deeply worried.  On the Montel Williams show Brown described the kidnapper as being Hispanic with long hair in dreadlocks and really tall.  Problem was, the actually kidnapper was a porky white guy.

And here’s the kicker.  She told the parents, on national TV that their child was dead.

The parents were somewhat confused as they obtained readings from other psychics and the information they received  “didn’t match up” as you might expect if you accept psychic powers are unlikely and what these individuals are doing is nothing better than guesswork. Fortunately Shawn later turned up alive and as well as could be expected.  But Brown has also told parents their missing child is alive- giving false hope – and the child has been discovered dead.

Psychics may feel they are ‘doing good’ in assisting in such cases but they are not as their involvement can be cruel, distracting, interfering and potentially damaging to the case.  The use of psychics in law enforcement, particularly missing persons or murder enquiries, should be avoided at all costs.

If you wish to show your support for a good cause that is challenging psychic claims than I recommend you head on over to the excellent Project Barnum.

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