Psychic Detectives and the Chandra Levy Case

The Washington Post has been running a 12 part series on the now seven year old Chandra Levy murder case. As one article in the series describes, rather sadly, the DC police department wasted time and resources with predictions from self-described psychics.

Tips were pouring in to the D.C. police department from all over the world at a furious pace, each one stranger than the last. Hundreds of psychics and oddballs were phoning in with their hunches, their visions and their sightings. Some of the tips were plausible. Others were not. All took time away from the case. Police were frustrated. They were spending an unprecedented amount of time on the case and not getting a meaningful break - a witness, a piece of physical evidence, a solid tip from an informant.

Instead, they were hearing about ghostly visions.

One psychic said that Chandra's throat was slashed and that she was put in a body bag and stowed in the basement of a Smithsonian storage building in Anacostia. Police checked the building but found nothing.

Another said Chandra was murdered and dumped in the Potomac near the Memorial Bridge. A dive team found nothing.

Another caller said Chandra was a victim of a suicide bombing in Israel. Police called their counterparts there; it wasn't true. Another psychic told a Maryland state trooper that Chandra was buried in Howard County. Troopers checked the site, but it was another false lead.

One tipster said that Chandra died in Nevada during a botched abortion by a veterinarian and that she was buried in the desert, a tip that fed a persistent rumor that Chandra was pregnant. The private investigators went out West, but came back empty-handed.

The history of psychic sleuths is a colorful one, a history I learned working with Joe Nickell at Skeptical Inquirer magazine back during the late 1990s. Joe has appeared on the Point of Inquiry podcast series to discuss his investigations of psychics and their use by police. Among the many articles he has written on the topic, this one is also available online.

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