Psychic Sleuths – Times Publications, August 2011

psychic sleuths

The missing woman came to Sunny Dawn Johnston in a dream. Her name was Loretta, a 69-year-old Phoenix business owner who mysteriously vanished just days before Christmas.

Johnston had never met the woman but somehow knew her tragic fate. Loretta had been murdered, and soon her killer would be dead too.

“For two weeks every night I dreamt about her. She told me what happened. She showed me what happened. I saw where her body was buried, everything,” says Johnston. “I knew she was dead, and I knew her boyfriend was going to kill himself. And he did.”

Nine days after Loretta’s disappearance, her companion of 18 years hung himself in the couple’s garage. A year later, Loretta’s bones were discovered buried in the desert, just as Johnston had foreseen in her vision.

This wasn’t the first time Johnston had predicted the end of a horrifying murder mystery. The dead are a part of life for the Glendale medium, who works with a squad of psychic crime fighters to locate and recover the missing.

After retiring from his career in law enforcement, Kelly Snyder launched Find Me, a volunteer organization that uses psychics to locate the missing.

After retiring from his career in law enforcement, Kelly Snyder launched Find Me, a volunteer organization that uses psychics to locate the missing.

It’s the healing and the closure for the families—that’s really why we all do it,” she says, “whether it’s to connect them to their deceased loved ones once they have passed, or give them answers to the question of where the body is.”

While many detectives have long been skeptical of so-called psychic investigators, an increasing number of police departments are using soothsayers to solve some of the most confounding crimes. And the recent resurgence in psychic crime fighting has one former cop determined to change law enforcement’s perception of the paranormal.

Fortune Tellers

With salt-and-peppered hair and a ruddy complexion, Kelly Snyder looks every bit the part of a dogged veteran police detective. For more than two decades he worked as a federal agent, and never once during that time had he ever used a psychic in an investigation.

“I never had anything to do with them because I never saw a need for them. It never entered my mind,” Snyder says gruffly. “But I wondered, what if?”

After he retired, Snyder began devoting his time to helping kids, working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It was only then that he decided to seek out supernatural assistance.

“The pedophile or the criminal who has stolen the child has the upper hand so I’m thinking, other than my 26 years of law-enforcement knowledge, what I can I get as an additional tool?” he says. “So I’m trying to think of different methodologies, and finally it just dawned on me: I wonder if this psychic stuff is real.”

Snyder says his skepticism disappeared the first time a psychic helped him locate a missing person. Shortly after, in 2002, he launched Find Me, a volunteer organization that uses psychics to locate the missing. While originally dedicated to finding children, it has since expanded to include missing adults and unresolved homicides. Over the past nine years, Find Me has assisted in numerous criminal investigations and helped find nearly a dozen missing people.

Serving as the filter between psychics and police, Snyder collects the information on cases and sends out an email blast to his network of 100-plus “intuitive consultants.” The emails contain little more than the name of the missing person, their date of birth and when and where they went missing. Each psychic in his arsenal works individually and privately to generate extrasensory information.

When psychic medium and forensic astrologer Dave Campbell receives a case, he goes into a meditative state where he says he can communicate with spirits.

“I get visions, pictures, words, ideas,” he says. “I’ll use Google Earth to see where they were last seen and use all those clues to let them guide me.”

At times, he says he can pinpoint a location of a body down to the longitude and latitude. Campbell, who owns the Astrology Store in Glendale, also uses forensic astrology to chart a person’s likeliness to commit a crime based on the zodiac.

“Using the astrology charts I can rule out who is innocent, determine who is guilty, who was involved and match up a suspect,” he says. “It’s a complex system.”

Benjamin Radford, a science-based paranormal investigator, says mainstream science has never validated any psychic ability.

Benjamin Radford, a science-based paranormal investigator, says mainstream science has never validated any psychic ability.

Mediums like Sunny Dawn Johnston, who owns Sunlight Alliance Healing Center in Glendale, channel the dead through visions and in her dreams. Before joining Find Me, Johnston says she would see cases on the news, as she did with 69-year-old Loretta, but had no way to help.

“I would get very frustrated because I would try to go to police and tell them what had happened and they wouldn’t take me seriously, and I couldn’t contact the family, so it was very frustrating,” she says. “For me it was like, I had to do something.”

Working with Find Me provides not only accessibility to these cases, but also credibility with law enforcement, she says.

When Snyder receives his responses from the psychics in his network, the replies are typically convoluted, including information on the planetary alignments and sourced through ghosts and spirits. Snyder drops the mystic mumbo jumbo such as, “because Mercury is in retrograde,” and leaves in the information like, “the missing person is deceased.” Snyder then turns his information over to police.

Although there tends to be some stigma surrounding psychics, Snyder says an increasing number of police departments are beginning to utilize them in criminal investigations.

“No cop wants to let another cop know that he’s using psychics to solve his case. He wants everyone to think he is solving the case,” Snyder says. “But no cop is solving cases without some sort of tool—computer program, informants, forensics. We’re just trying to tell cops this is just another tool. A progressive police officer will utilize anything and everything to solve a crime.”

Missing and Exploited

It was October 1, 1993, and 12-year-old Polly Klaas was hosting a slumber party in her bedroom. At around 10:30 p.m. she opened her bedroom door to retrieve her sleeping bag and was snatched by a man with a knife. She was never seen alive again.

Over the next two months, more than 4,000 people searched for Polly, while over 2 billion images of the girl were distributed worldwide. Polly’s father, Marc Klaas, was devastated and desperate for answers. During the time, he says he was flooded with calls from so-called psychic detectives who sent the family on one fruitless search after another.

“They went right at the family, right past law enforcement,” he says. “We were inundated with these people. Quite frankly we had no idea or experience with psychics and we listened to them for awhile.”

Certain psychics requested money for their information; others, who were allowed into the family’s home to assist in the search, stole items from the girl’s room.

On December 3, 1993, Polly Klass’ body was discovered buried in a shallow grave. Her killer was ultimately apprehended, convicted and sentenced to death.

“There was no getting away from these characters,” says Klaas. “At the time you’re thinking, what’s the harm? But they can cause huge harm. I call them part of the second wave of predators. They’re vultures.”

An astounding 2,300 adults and children are reported missing every day nationwide. In the past three decades, reports of missing persons have increased six-fold from roughly 150,000 to more than one million per year.

In almost every high-profile case, the loved ones of the missing are hounded by purported psychic detectives, says Benjamin Radford, a science-based paranormal investigator with the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.

“Any notable missing person will have psychics coming out of the woodwork to provide information,” says Radford. “I think that most people who claim psychic powers actually believe that. Often that makes them more dangerous because they sincerely believe. And because they are sincere, people believe them.”

Mainstream science has never validated any psychic ability including clairvoyants, diviners, spirit mediums, and soothsayers, says Radford. False information provided through psychics wastes valuable resources and time on investigations. Most disturbingly, it can wreak emotional havoc on the victim’s family.

“What about the family of missing persons who get their hopes raised?” he says. “Often they are at their wits end. Even if they don’t believe in psychics, at that point they are desperate for any answers they can get. They’ll contact a psychic, or a psychic will contact them, and a lot of time it will raise false hope.”

While there are many unscrupulous psychics that prey on vulnerable families, Snyder says Find Me works quite differently. His psychics never contact the family or law enforcement directly, and the group does not charge for their services.

“Any psychic that ever says, ‘Give me money and I’ll help find your loved one or solve a crime,’ is a criminal,” Snyder says. “No legitimate psychic would ever charge to help someone who has a lost loved one. That is so wrong on so many levels.”

Snyder also contends that physics around the globe have directly assisted in thousands of investigations that have resulted in the recovery of hundreds of missing people. In addition, he says scientific research into the psychic phenomenon is ongoing, but early studies have been promising.

Psychic detective work, as with all criminal investigations, is not an exact science. Most of the information comes to the medium in bits and pieces and needs to be matched with the facts, evidence and witness interviews.

No psychic is correct all the time, says psychic Shellee Hale, founder of Psychic Crime Fighter, a team of volunteer psychic detectives.

Shellee Hale, founder of Psychic Crime Fighter, claims her psychic abilities often tell the location of missing people.

Shellee Hale, founder of Psychic Crime Fighter, claims her psychic abilities often tell the location of missing people.

If anyone tells you they are 100 percent accurate all the time, they’re lying,” says Hale, who also works with Snyder and Find Me. “I am one of the best out there, and I’m only right about 40 percent of the time. I’m either 100 percent right or I’m wrong.”

While it is rewarding to help loved ones locate the missing, Hales says it can be disturbing to deal with death on a daily basis. Although psychic investigators have found missing people alive, the majority of the cases end in tragedy.

“Most of the time when we get a case, the person has already passed,” Hale says. “It’s so sad. Every day it’s sad. Living with these kind of abilities is sad.”

Finding Willie

January 15, 2011, was the last day of Willie Jigba’s short life.

In the early hours that Saturday morning, 24-year-old Willie left a party in Tempe that had just been broken up by police. He had been drinking and had no money for a cab, so he decided to walk to his apartment near University and McClintock, just two-and-a-half miles away, but Willie never made it home.

When he didn’t show up for work the following Monday, his family and friends began canvassing the neighborhood, knocking on doors and hanging missing-persons posters. Police, however, initially didn’t take the case seriously, Snyder says.

“He was drunk that night. He was probably sleeping it off at some chick’s house and don’t worry about it—that’s what the Tempe Police department told all of his friends and his father,” Snyder says. “They knew he would never do that.”

Early in the investigation, Find Me took on the case, and Snyder sent out an emergency assignment to his psychics. When Shellee Hale read the details of the man’s disappearance, she knew instantly Willie was dead. She told Snyder that he had fallen from a high structure, hit his dead and was somewhere in the water.

Snyder immediately connected Hale’s vision to Tempe Town Lake. Snyder began to comb the lake with Arizona Search Track and Rescue, as well as a pack of canines. On the first day of the search, the dogs detected a human scent which was later determined to be Willie. His body was later recovered from the lake below the Mill Avenue Bridge.

While Hale’s prediction turned out to be correct, she says Willie’s body would have never been recovered without the police.

“The thing is I can’t do this without law enforcement and search and rescue, because I personally can’t go searching for every single person that goes missing,” Hale says. “I’m relying on good search and rescue, good law enforcement.”

Without the cooperation of open-minded cops, Find Me can’t function. Snyder says that is the biggest challenge: convincing police that information from psychics can assist in investigations. Snyder is currently working to get the message out to law enforcement around the country that psychics can solve crimes, if their information is taken seriously.

“We are nothing more than an investigative tool, and that’s how they need to look at it,” says Snyder. “It doesn’t always come together that perfectly, and the reason for that is the psychics get images and they have to interpret… I tried to explain to them this is an interpretation thing. The information is coming in accurately; somewhere in my report is the truth. The police have to figure out what makes sense.”