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Psychic detectives and the search for truth

Of the 3,000 tips that came to the attention of the authorities after Jessica Lunsford's disappearance,  over 400 were from self-professed psychics or self-identified clairvoyants. But should law enforcement really listen to what they have to say?

In the recent search for missing 9-year-old Citrus County Florida resident Jessica Lunsford, investigators had to sift through 3,000 potential leads that came from the public and from other agencies.

As we now know, a "person of interest" (the current politically correct term used to refer to a person we formerly called a suspect or a subject) in young Jessica's disappearance was identified as 46-year old previously convicted sex offender John Evander Couey. After undergoing an 11-hour interview by Sheriff's investigators and FBI agents, which included a polygraph exam, Couey confessed to kidnapping, sexually assaulting, and murdering Jessie. He then led authorities to her body that he had concealed behind his sister's residence, a distance of approximately 150 to 200 yards from Jessica's home. Apparently, Couey had told a relative and two other people about Jessica's murder, and now all three are charged with obstructing police and remaining quiet about this unthinkable crime. Couey has been charged with capital murder.

Of the 3,000 tips that came to the attention of the authorities after Jessica's disappearance, over 400 were from self-professed psychics or self-identified clairvoyants. Police say their information was vague and unsupported, not unlike most tips provided by psychics. But even though authorities questioned the value of such mystically-generated information, teams of detectives and FBI agents still had to be assigned to track down these leads, resulting in the use of valuable investigative resources (to no avail). 

This was also the case in the disappearance of eight month pregnant Laci Peterson where local authorities received hundreds of similar tips from individuals identifying themselves as psychics. One so-called psychic Website claims that its members specialize in finding missing adults as well as lost, "misplaced," and abducted children, pets, and jewelry. 

Is this snake oil—  or the beginning of the future for law enforcement and a quantum leap for criminal investigative analysis?

A law enforcement obligation to follow all leads
As an FBI agent for 25 years, I know that law enforcement has an obligation to run down any information that might lead to the location of a missing child or adult, or that could help solve a kidnapping or a murder (let's put the misplaced pets aside for the moment).

In the case of a vulnerable young child like Jessica Lunsford, the survival clock starts ticking right from the moment she goes missing. Such a clock has only a few hours on it. Statistically, a child is kidnapped, assaulted, and murdered in the United States every other day. It is a startling reality to deal with. How we utilize our law enforcement investigative resources in the first few hours, days, and weeks, depends on the quality of information that we are able to develop from the crime scene; from our investigation of family, friends and neighbors; and from information provided by the public— including all so-called tips. 

Clairvoyants date back to Nostradamus
Clairvoyants are said by some— usually those who want to believe— to have the power to see the future, perceiving things beyond the natural range of the five senses. Television has played and replayed stories of 17th century clairvoyant Michel de Nostredame, commonly referred to as Nostradamus.  A physician and astrologer, some of his obscure imagery is said by believers to have predicted events in the 20th and 21st centuries, including the 9/11 attacks on America.  For example, in 1654, Nostradamus wrote:

"Five and forty steps the sky will burn. Fire approaching the large new city. Instantly a great thin flame will leap, when someone will want to test the Normans." 

This has subsequently been "enhanced and amended" by believers to read:

"In the year of the new century and nine months, from the sky will come a great King of Terror.  The sky will burn at forty-five degrees.  Fire approaches the great new city.  In the city of york there will be a great collapse, 2 twin brothers torn apart by chaos while the fortress falls' the great leader will succumb; third big war will begin when the big city is burning."

"Five and forty": How did this rather innocuous sounding number become 45 degrees north latitude, and become close enough to New York City's location at 40 degrees, 42 minutes north latitude to "confirm" what Nostradamus wrote some 347 years prior to 9/11?  Why not equate this number to 45 degrees south longitude or even to 5:40 PM? 

"Fire approaches the city": What are the chances that some large city somewhere will somehow have a large fire sometime during its existence? 

And on and on, noting that the current information of myth, i.e.,— that Nostradamus had made a reference to the city of York and to the Twin Towers being torn apart and World War III beginning, is all a hoax perpetrated either on, or by, those who seek a reason to believe. But its origins are still in fiction and are not in historical, scientific, or investigative fact.

Check back Wednesday to read the second installment of Clint Van Zandt’s article on psychics and investigations, including his advice into whether or not you should employ one in your investigation.

(Downloadable facts on child protection and other personal security issues can be found at .)

Clint Van Zandt is an MSNBC analyst. He is the founder and president of Inc. Dr. Van Zandt and his associates also developed , a website dedicated "to develop, evaluate, and disseminate information to help prepare and inform individuals concerning personal and family security issues." During his 25-year career in the FBI, Mr. Van Zandt was a supervisor in the FBI's internationally renowned Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He was also the FBI's Chief Hostage Negotiator and in his current position, was the leader of the analytical team recognized with identifying the "Unabomber."