A media frenzy ensued this week when a psychic led law enforcers on a fruitless search for a mass grave in East Texas. The psychic's phone call to the Liberty County Sheriff's Department — which summoned not only sheriff's deputies but also F.B.I. agents, Texas Rangers, cadaver-sniffing dogs and an army of news media personnel — was only the latest milestone in a long and uneasy relationship between law enforcement agencies and people claiming extrasensory powers, reports the New York Times.
Despite Hollywood's romance with the notion of clairvoyants solving crimes, a passion that spawns television shows like “Medium” and “Psychic Detectives,” the use of psychics by police departments is occasional at best. In one survey of the nation's 50 largest police departments, published in the magazine Skeptical Inquirer, 65 percent of the departments responded that they had never made use of psychics. And those that had were quick to play down the official nature of the association. Yet clairvoyants have played a role in some of the country's most notorious murder cases, including the John Wayne Gacy murders in Illinois. And when leads are scarce, even the most skeptical detectives may find themselves hoping that a psychic's intuitions might turn out to be useful.