Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Norman Collins: The Co-Ed Killer

Enter the Psychic

When it appeared that the police, despite all their resources, were getting nowhere with their investigations, a citizens group called the Psychedelic Rangers decided to act. The entire community was beginning to see some supernatural force behind the string of murders, although it wasn't clear whether it was God's divine plan or the devil at work. One mother was convinced that her daughter was sent to her fate to save others. A few amateur astrologers stepped in, but no one had an answer.

At that time, Peter Hurkos was one of the most famous psychics in the world. In 1941 at the age of thirty, he fell off a ladder in the Netherlands while painting a house and survived a four-story plunge. Suddenly he found he had psychic powers, especially the ability to "read" a person by being in close proximity or touching an object associated with that person. He visited the United States in 1956 under the sponsorship of a research society and decided to remain. He became a regular celebrity. Among his accomplishments by 1969, he listed his success in solving 27 murders in 17 countries.

Peter Hurkos
Peter Hurkos

He had offered his assistance in the Boston Strangler case which had shown his powers to have potential. He did identify a shoe salesman as the multiple murderer, but police determined that this person was not who they sought. When DeSalvo confessed, Hurkos insisted that was not the man and that his suspect was still at large. Investigators ignored him, although the public perception that he was instrumental in the case remained intact.

Archie Allen led the Psychelic Rangers into negotiations for Hurkos' services. The psychic had requested $2,500, plus traveling expenses, so the group sent out a plea for money. They received only a few donations, which amounted to $1,010. Hurkos was initially insulted, but then agreed to come for the cost of his travel — perhaps because it was a high profile case, and any success could only boost his newly-revived career. He arrived on July 21, 1969.

His method was to hold pictures of the murder scenes in closed envelopes, reciting reconstructions of the murders in remarkable detail. (In a book about him, the author claims he went to the grave of a victim, and then went off into the woods and pinpointed the murder sites and how the victims were found.) Several officers commented later that he had turned them into believers, particularly the one who was accurately told that he had a gas leak in his camper. However, many of the facts had already been published in newspapers. A clever person could have boned up on all of that. (In fact, on July 14, a reporter from The Detroit Free Press came to California where Hurkos lived with photos of the victims, a map of the area, and some articles of clothing that had belonged to the victims. He might have filled Hurkos in.)

Several times, Hurkos insisted he could solve the case within the next day or two, only to recant. He gave them a name, but it was just one more suspect to investigate. He said the killer was a genius who was playing with the police. He also called him a sick homosexual, a transvestite, a member of a blood cult, a daytime salesman, and someone who hung around garbage dumps. He said the killer was about five-feet, seven-inches, blond and baby-faced, 25 to 26-years-old, and about 136 to 146 pounds. He drove a motorbike and went to school at night. He was also associated in some way with a trailer. Hurkos also thought the murder count would reach nineteen. It was now a battle between larger-than-life adversaries — the killer and Hurkos — and he assured the public that, as a representative of the good, he would triumph.