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Texas mass grave hoax: Do police actually hire psychics?

A self-described psychic brought swarms of police and federal agents to an alleged mass grave near a farmhouse outside of Houston, Texas. Do police regularly act on tips from psychics?

By Benjamin RadfordLiveScience's Bad Science Columnist / June 8, 2011

So-called psychic detectives have an abysmal track record when it comes to solving crimes. Then again, without people calling themselves psychics, we would have never had Carnac the Magnificent.

Chris Haston/NBC/AP

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The chaos that ensued Tuesday (June 7) as helicopters, reporters and onlookers descended upon what a "psychic" claimed was the scene of a grisly mass murder at a rural farmhouse in Houston, Texas, may suggest that psychics help out police on tricky cases.

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Well, in this particular case, what the woman claiming to be a psychic insisted would be dozens of dismembered bodies, including those of children — a la "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" — turned out to be nothing.

So not only was the tip unhelpful, it was all a waste of time and energy. "There's no validity to the report," one law enforcement official confirmed.

Part of the reason that Houston police took the psychic seriously is that they initially found some evidence corroborating her claims, including blood on the ground and the smell of decomposition on the property. The psychic also seemed to know the layout of the house and other details that weren't public knowledge. [Top 10 Unexplained Phenomena]

Mysterious? Not really: The blood was from an unrelated drunken incident that had occurred weeks earlier; and the smell was from rotting meat in a broken freezer. Police believe that the woman had been to the property at least once; her information came not from psychic abilitiesbut instead from ordinary personal experience.

So does this case prove that police use psychics in investigations?

No. There's a big difference between police using psychics in an investigation and police listening to (or following up on) information provided by people claiming to be psychic.

Police must follow up on all credible tips about crimes, including those from dubious sources. They routinely deal with liars, hoaxers, jailhouse informants with dubious motives, people with drug habits and mental illnesses, and so on.

Police cannot simply ignore a lead or tip even if it comes from a psychic — after all, just because a person claims to be psychic doesn't mean that he or she is not involved in a crime. Suspects in criminal cases who have inside knowledge of crimes sometimes try to pretend that the information they have came from psychics.

For example, on March 15, a New Mexican woman called police to report that a woman named Ebelyn Garcia was at her front door with a garden shovel, demanding access to her backyard, where money confiscated from Mexican drug lords was buried. Garcia, who has a history of felony drug convictions, told police that she had nothing to do with the money, but that a psychic named "Flaco" instructed her to go to the woman's backyard and dig up the mafia drug money. It's not clear whether loot was buried in the backyard or not, but police recognized Garcia's "psychic information" as simply a ruse designed to divert suspicion away from her.

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