Texas 'Grave' Mistake: The Psychic Dilemma

Experts say psychics give countless false leads, some still worthy of follow-up.

June 8, 2011, 11:30 AM

June 8, 2011 — -- It was a bombshell tip that led to potentially the largest police investigation in the history of Liberty County, Texas: an informant said that dozens of bodies, some of them children, were buried in a mass grave outside a rural home. As law enforcement officials -- from local police to federal agents -- swarmed on the home, their every move followed closely by eager reporters, a small problem emerged. The tip had been called in by someone claiming to be a psychic and it turned out to be completely wrong.

"No bodies were found [and] there is nothing to indicate a homicide occurred here," Capt. Rex Evans of the Liberty County Sheriff's Office told the assembled group of reporters outside the home Tuesday night, after hours of waiting and speculation.

While the local and national media may have seized prematurely on the sheriff's office interest in the case, the department is hardly the first law enforcement group to take seriously claims made by people claiming to be psychics and to mobilize significant resources to investigate those claims.

"In 30 years in law enforcement, it happens in every high-profile case," former FBI agent and ABC News consultant Brad Garrett said. "The more high-profile, the more the psychics call."

READ: Psychic Tip Proves False, 'No Bodies Found' at Texas Home, Police Say

Though the Texas mass grave case was not high-profile until after the so-called psychic's tip started it all, Garrett said that usually even psychic tips out of the blue warrant at least a low-profile follow-up by police.

"You never know what information they have and it's your job in law enforcement to listen to everybody. You don't have to act on everything. You have to decide how much emphasis you're going to put on this," he said.

Stuart Grabois, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, said he does not believe psychics are the real deal, but agreed their tips have to be investigated.

"My belief is you leave no stone unturned," Grabois told ABC News. "You're always concerned that if this is the person you turn away, that's going to be the information you need."

Garrett said that across the board, the people calling in to law enforcement claiming to have clairvoyant information are not attempting to mislead investigators, but are well-intentioned and strongly "believe they see what they see."

During the massive investigation into Chandra Levy's 2001 disappearance, Garrett said investigators received dozens of tips from psychics from around the world about the Washington, D.C., intern -- some with startlingly specific visions of the location of Levy's body -- but none of them were accurate.

After Florida toddler Caylee Anthony went missing in 2008, investigators were flooded with thousands of tips -- many from psychics -- about where the girl could be, including one detailed hand-drawn map, according to a report by The Orlando Sentinel.

When 7-year-old Kyron Horman disappeared from his Washington state home last summer, Fox News reported a Portland, Oregon, psychic joined in the hunt, assuring investigators that the boy had been taken out of state. Kyron is still missing.

READ: Kyron Horman's Mother Speaks Out on One-Year Anniversary of Boy's Disappearance

When Psychics Are Right... Kind of

Despite some public failings of psychics, Grabois said he was personally astounded by one back in the 1980s when he was investigating the disappearance of New York 6-year-old Etan Patz; not because the psychic was able to find the boy who had been missing since 1979, but because most of the other leads she described panned out. The woman, a schoolteacher referred to Grabois by a state official, knew things about locations she could not have seen before and even predicted children's clothes would be found in certain locations, Grabois said. She also gave an accurate description of the prime suspect in Patz's disappearance, a man currently in prison on other charges, he said.

Though the boy was not where the psychic said, she was so specific with other facts that Grabois "took a second look" at her as a possible accomplice in the case before clearing her of any involvement.

"To this day I still shake my head," he said. "I have no explanation for the accuracy of this woman."

Despite his experience, Grabois said he does not believe psychics generally help solve cases. Garrett said other investigators may disagree.

"There are detectives that state that psychics have helped them find people, they've helped them find bodies," Garrett said.

Sometimes, like in the case of an Australian psychic, it's just not the right body.

Last year an Aboriginal elder claimed she had a vision of a missing 6-year-old in a wooded area outside Syndey, according to a report by The Associated Press. But when she went to investigate, she instead found the dismembered torso of an adult woman.

Also last year, a psychic appeared to have predicted the location of the victims of what police believed to a serial killer on Long Island, the New York Post said. The psychic said that a body would be found buried in a place looking over the water and there would be a "G" on a sign nearby. In December 2010 investigators uncovered the remains of several victims on Long Island's Giglo Beach -- but none were buried.

Still, in a telephone interview with ABC News, the owners of the Texas property surrounded by police Tuesday appeared amused by the unwarranted spectacle. They had been out of town when the authorities descended on their home.

When told a psychic had started it all, they just laughed.

A spokesperson for the Liberty County Sheriff's Office did not return requests for comment on this report.

ABC News' Richard Esposito contributed to this report.

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