Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Psychic Detectives

Seeing the Future?

Dorothy Allison, an American psychic famous for locating missing persons, reportedly predicted the murders of two teenaged girls before the incidents occurred, but did not supply enough detail to prevent their deaths.

In March 1991, young Melanie Hall disappeared from her home in Niagara Falls, Canada.  Police called Dorothy Allison.  She asked for a photograph of the girl and a small item of the girl's property.  She needed the birth date and hour, and she made an astrological chart (one of her primary tools).  What she saw was a girl dismembered and her various parts encased in cement.  One leg would be "popping out."

There was no such discoveryat least, not right away.   Allison agreed to come to the area, and as they drove past a lake, Allison had a strong impression of a girl to whom something had happenedit was still the same vision.

Leslie Mahaffy, victim
Then on June 15, 1991, 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy turned up missing from Burlington, which was halfway between Scarborough in Toronto and Niagara Falls.  After attending a memorial service for a schoolmate killed in a car accident, she had gone to a store called Mac's Milk.  Then she went home late in the company of a male friend but found the doors locked.  No one responded to her knocking.  Her friend went home, and Leslie disappeared. 

Two weeks later on the evening of June 29, her dismembered body was found along the shore of Lake Gibson in St. Catharines, a town close to Niagara Falls and about 30 miles east from where she had lived.  Her body was in separate pieces.  Seven concrete blocks containing her parts were initially pulled from the water, each of which measured approximately two feet by two feet by one foot.  Only her torso was missing.  One block contained a foot and thigh, and a second block contained a severed foot and a calf.  Oddly, the block containing her head was spray-painted black. 

The next evening in another area across the lake, a fisherman stumbled across the missing torso.  It had floated free from its concrete coffin, which was larger than the others.

Yet they did not find clues that would lead to the killer; so after a while they again contacted Dorothy Allison.  She told them that the body of another victim would soon be found, within a week.  Even as she said it, the wheels were already in motion.

On April 16, 1992, honor student Kristen French, 15, began her daily walk home from Holy Cross secondary school in St. Catharines.  Her half-mile walk home along the busy Linwell Road took about fifteen minutes, and a friend driving by had seen her there at 2:50 p.m., near Grace Lutheran Church.  Nevertheless, she never made it home that afternoon.

The Niagara Regional Police acted quickly.  Within twenty-four hours, they had called the press, assigned a team, and searched both sides of Linwell Road from Kristen's school to her home.  Based upon the thorough neighborhood investigation, they developed several witnesses to Kristin Frenchs abduction.  Each had observed different aspects, and together they provided a good account of what had happened.  It seemed that a car had slowed and the driver had spoken to the girl.  Perhaps he had lured her to the car.  He had an accomplice.  She was grabbed and forced inside as the car sped off, leaving behind her shoe and a map of the area.

Kristen French, victim
Then two weeks later, on April 30, Kristen's nude body was found, unclothed and lying on its side on Number One side road in Burlington.  Her hair had been cut short and she was partly covered with branches, leaves and debris, near a culvert.  It was clear from extensive bruisingespecially on her face--that she had been repeatedly assaulted and then strangled or asphyxiated.  Dried blood ran from her nose to her upper lip.

In retrospect, one of the investigators recalled that Allison had said the girl would be strangled and she would be found underneath some brush, where one could hear trickling water.

Ultimately, good police work solved the case.  A DNA test identified Paul Bernardo as a serial rapist who had prowled the area, and his wife, Karla Homolka, had already gone to the police on a complaint of spousal abuse.  Under pressure, she turned him in as the killer of the two girlsand of her own sister.  After she cut a plea deal, police learned that Homolka had been fully part of each of these horrendous crimes.

The A&E program claims that it is on record that Allison predicted the finding of Mahaffy before she was even missing, and even had she learned about French's abductionit was international newsshe could not have known in advance the state of the dump site.  Either the police are recalling her description more specifically than she reported it or she clearly had an uncanny sense of precognition.  If no one took the time to document it, then it would be difficult to tell which of these two events is closer to the truth.  If it was indeed documented, detail by detail, then perhaps it should be published to make it accessible to those seeking to know.

Randles and Hough refer to Allison, now deceased, as the 20th century's most extraordinary psychic detective, based on 5,000 cases, and the solution credited to her of a dozen murders.  In 1974, for example, she supposedly gave police the location of where kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst was held captive and said correctly that the serial killer known as the Son of Sam would be arrested based on a parking ticket. 

In Nickell's Psychic Sleuths, Michael Dennett, who writes for The Skeptical Inquirer, tried looking into Allison's impressive record of "hits."  When he requested police commendations that would spell out just how she had helped to solve a crime, he says that her publicist assured him that he could send hundreds, but he sent only three.  Of these, only one offered the information Dennett was seeking, but the case in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, failed to pan out.  The implication is that Allison picked out a killer's photo and when he was told this, he confessed.  Unless one can discover from the killer what his actual motive was for confessing, this can't be taken as a psychic solving a crimeespecially since he was already in custody when she picked him out.

"No case," Dennett says, "identified in the many magazine articles, newspaper clippings or in her book provide independent, unambiguous verification that Allison's participation resulted in her finding a body."  For the most part, even police who were quite impressed with her had to fit their facts into her scenario afterward. 

At the time he was writing in the early 1990s, Allison's publicity stated that she had worked on more than 4,000 cases, including the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and the Atlanta Child Murders.  In Atlanta, she apparently claims to have offered the name "Williams" among the 42 other names she gave, and it's not so impressive when one learns that there were nearly 7,000 Williams listed at that time in the Atlanta phone book.  In another case, a boy that she said was dead turned out to be alive and part of a cult.  Allison countered that she had seen his "spiritual death."

Dennett checked with police officers with whom Allison worked and learned that some had experienced her making many wrong guesses and wasting their resources for as long as a week.  Then she would request a letter of commendation for her files.  One officer apparently told Dennett that when she was denied this letter in a specific case of a missing girl, she offered to pay them for it.  While Allison's actual request of this commendation appears not to have been put into writing, Dennett affirms the officer's account in a letter.  Allison apparently then claimed credit for solving the crime, so the cop went public with his part of the tale. 

As humans, Dennett says on the A&E program, we try to make sense out of nonsensical information, so we tend to see in psychic predictions what we want to see.  These psychics are not nearly as impressive as they claim to be.

"I give them what I've got," Allison said in her defense, "and they do what they want with it."  She never did see the original missing girl in the Canadian case, and though a killer confessed to murdering her, Allison's clues failed to send authorities to the body.  It was never found.