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Things I Think About, by Peter Bowditch

Psychic detectives are scum

A discussion arose this week about vileness ranking for various forms of deception. What is the worst kind of vermin – cancer quacks like Stanislaw Burzynski, people selling bleach enemas to cure autism, “psychics” who pretend to locate dead or missing children, …?

I was reminded of the last one by an article on the usually reputable Mamamia web site this week. It was about a family whose 20-year-old son disappeared almost five years ago.

“Every night I go to bed wondering how he died. Every night I wonder, was it quick or was it slow?” Faye wonders.

Faye stares into the distance, her voice is a whisper. You can tell she’s thinking dark thoughts that no parent should ever have to.

The agony of not knowing what happened to Matthew, is what has brought us to this lonely and overgrown bush track in Kurnell, south of Sydney.

Faye walks close to her husband Mark, who’s carrying a shovel in one hand and a pick axe in the other. They hope today is the day they finally find their son’s body.

Debbie Malone — a psychic — is up ahead, pushing through the undergrowth towards the putrid stink of mangrove mudflats.

“Matthew showed me he had trees, above him… lantana,” Debbie says.

Debbie believes Matthew’s body is buried somewhere here. And although she has never met Matthew, she says she speaks to him often.

“When I tune into people, I see things through their eyes. Sometimes I’m the victim and I’ll see what happened to them. It’s like watching television; I can watch it through the perpetrators’ eyes as well.”

Debbie hates the term “psychic”, preferring to call herself a “spiritual medium”.

Like Allison Dubois, from the hit US TV show Medium, the Sutherland mum works with the families of murder victims: searching for new leads and new suspects when formal police investigations go cold.

But unlike detectives, who rely on facts and evidence to solve crimes, Debbie Malone says she works on pure instinct.

I posted the following comment, and then the fun started.

If my child disappeared and a psychic like Debbie Malone turned up at my door and offered to help I would call the police and have her arrested. These people deserve no respect and have never done anything to help anyone. All they offer is false hope, and if they talk to the police the cops are obliged to waste time listening to them.

I have been accused of being insensitive to the grieving parents. I have been told that Debbie Malone doesn’t charge any money for this “service”. I have been told that she didn’t approach the parents, they sought her out. Let’s look at these complaints.

I make no apology for pointing out that the parents are wasting their time and their emotions on this fraud. In the history of the world, no psychic has ever located a missing person or helped the police solve a crime. Never. Not once. All these parasites do is offer false hope and distract the police from doing real investigation. Every time one of these fools appears the police have to spend time and resources that would be put to better use elsewhere, filling in paperwork and following the “lead”. The police know these leads go nowhere. They know they are wasting their time, but like doctors who are too polite to tell their patients that homeopathy, for example, is ridiculous, the police are generally too polite to tell psychics to get out of the way. After all, one of the “psychics” might be able to tell the cops something about a crime that has never been made public, in which case the police have a suspect right there in the room. I understand that the parents are desperate. That doesn’t excuse some clown coming in to exploit that desperation to promote her business.

And that is all it is – promotion. So the “psychic” is doing this one for nothing. (She doesn’t actually say that – the quote is “It’s important to note that Debbie does not accept payment for her work on cold cases”. Of course, if she happens to accidentally stumble on a clue here she might just put her hand out for the $100,000 reward offered by the parents.) Lots of businesses offer free samples or do some work for little or no payment simply to get their names known. I don’t know how much it costs to buy a page of advertising at Mamamia, but Debbie Malone has got hers for nothing. Debbie mightn’t “accept payment for her work on cold cases” but she is quite prepared to charge $260 per hour when the meter is running. Do a bit of pro bono work, get your name in the paper and watch those dollars rolling in.

So Debbie didn’t approach the parents. Well, I’ve never been approached by a lawyer or an accountant or a plastic surgeon or a surveyor either, but I’ve seen lots of advertisements and web sites telling me where I might be able to find such people if I needed one. Debbie has a very fine web site that tells lots of stories about her successes at contacting dead people. She has been on television (in a show which, if anything, demonstrated the total inability of professional psychics to do anything even remotely approaching paranormal) so her name is known. Someone desperate enough to look for a psychic will have no problem finding one, and in this case the parents found Debbie Malone. It could just as easily have been any one of the hundreds of these parasites that advertise on late-night television or in the back pages of popular magazines.

By coincidence I picked up a book today which talks about the “psychic detective” fraud. The book is Investigating The Unexplained by Melvin Harris and was published in 1986. In it the author covers some famous cases where psychics got in the way of police investigations. One notable case was the Yorkshire Ripper, where not single psychic out of the hundreds who contacted police was able to supply any information that led to the discovery or capture of the criminal concerned. It is interesting to note that Harris has identified the origin of the psychic detective scam. It was a book called Crime And The Supernatural and dealt with a case in Dusseldorf in Germany in 1929. Needless to say, no evidence came from any supernatural source despite what that book claimed.

I’ll finish with some quotes given in the Harris book. They are from the father of Genette Tate, a Devon schoolgirl who disappeared in 1978. More than 450 “mediums” or “psychics” interfered in this case. Here are three comments from Genette’s father, and they apply to all cases where opportunists or the deluded offer assistance where it is neither needed nor useful.

“Many people came to us offering threads of hope. We clutched at them desperately in the early days … But the promises of the psychics were all lies. They raised false hopes in us. At times we really believed we were on to something. The suggestions and ideas preyed on our minds … But always, when it came to the crunch, the so-called leads and ideas led absolutely nowhere but into a pit of despair”.

“They rode rough-shod over our feelings, which were in a desperate state already. In one week, our emotions and normal grip on life had gone through a wrenching upheaval, and the influence of psychics started to have an unpleasant effect. Even when we didn’t want them they were there, on our doorstep, always expecting to be met with an open door”.

“We discovered that the work of the psychics was not just ludicrous and laughable. It was sinister and evil. Once we got into that web of deceit – and that is what it was – we found it very hard to struggle free. None of it ever led anywhere except to despair and disappointment, misery and confusion. We had become enslaved to the suggestions of the psychics”.

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