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Visions of death: Can psychics 'see' what detectives cannot?

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Editor's Note: As part of CNN.com's new Crime section, we are archiving some of the most interesting content from CourtTVNews.com. This story was first published in 2002.

(Court TV) -- When the search was on for 24-year-old Washington intern Chandra Levy following her disappearance in April 2001, D.C. police were flooded with calls from self-professed psychics claiming to have had visions of her whereabouts.

"They've got her in a cave. Some have her in Nevada. Some have her in water," D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey told The Washington Post in August 2001. "How can all these psychic radars be all over the country? Who's right?"

Nine months later, his question was answered. None of the psychics was right in this case: A man walking his dog discovered the skeletal remains of the young woman in a Washington park.

While some law enforcement agencies say they do not employ the use of psychics -- the FBI forbids it -- others across the country seek out their help when investigations stall. And while some give little credence to their predictions, others swear by them and say that they sometimes provide valuable information leading to evidence they would not have otherwise obtained.

Kathlyn Rhea, a psychic investigator based in California, has worked with law enforcement and victim's families all over the world for three decades.

In one high profile case of a child who was kidnapped and murdered, she predicted that the little girl was dead before her body was discovered. In another missing child case, she had a vision that the child was taken out of town.

"I could see feathers," she said. "I said, 'Find the dog, you'll find the child."

According to Rhea, when police searched the area, the little girl was found in a gulley near a chicken ranch with a dog nearby.

"Everything I told them to look for, they found," she said.

One of the most notable crime-solving psychics, Dorothy Allison, gained notoriety in the media for her work regarding high profile cases such as the Patty Hearst kidnapping, in which she claimed she predicted Hearst would later help her captors rob a bank. She also reportedly predicted "Son of Sam" killer David Berkowitz would be captured with a traffic ticket.

A year before her death in 1999, Allison appeared on the now-defunct talk show, "Leeza," and offered her insights into the JonBenet Ramsey case. During that show, Allison not only declared that the slain child beauty queen's parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, had nothing to do with her 1996 murder, but described a man she "saw" commit the crime. A composite sketch of the man she described is posted on the Ramsey's Web site. Boulder police, however, have stated that they do not use psychics in their investigations.

The case remains unsolved.

But skeptics remain doubtful about similar claims, calling some charlatans and others well-intentioned people who are merely delusional, according to Joe Nickell, a senior research fellow for the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.

"Where's Jimmy Hoffa? Where are all these missing children? Where were they during the sniper case?" he said. "There's not one case of clairvoyance, mental telepathy or spiritual communication that has ever been proven by science."

"One of the great tricks that they use is to tell reporters these tall tales to get it into print," said Nickell, who authored a book, Psychic Sleuths, that takes an in-depth look at the claims of 10 crime-solving psychics.

Another trick, he said, is to offer very vague information initially, and then after the case is solved, "retrofit" the general predictions to accommodate the facts.

They may even use maps to aid in their predictions, such as taking the geography of the area or highway routes to predict whether a person may be found near water or to say a certain number has any significance. For example, if a person was last seen in a desert, it stands to reason that no one would guess that they would be found in a body of water, he points out.

"It's a scam and a travesty. These are vultures preying on very vulnerable people," Nickell said.

Rhea concedes that there are some phonies who "just tell lies" and exploit victims, but she says that isn't the case with genuine psychics who can aid an investigation that is otherwise at a standstill.

"I don't mind skeptics  I hate stupidity," Rhea says. "People say you can't do it, and I've been doing it for years."

But Nickell disagrees, saying that dead-end tips do more harm than good by wasting police resources. He cites numerous cases in which police followed up on tips digging for bodies or searching areas and came up empty.

"I recommend police departments who want to use these psychics to buy a Ouija board. It's a lot cheaper," he said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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