Friday, December 29, 2006

Psychic Investigators 5

This week's episode synopsis makes it sound like, after a few episodes where the psychic was irrelevant to the police investigation, that this series is now starting to scrape the desperate bottom of the psychic barrel:

As all his leads grew cold, Detective George Mazzacane consulted psychic and time walker Mary Pascarella Downey who came up with the following clues: the colour blue, the smell of garage oil, water and she stated that "blood would tell". Mary also said it would take a very long time to apprehend Penney's killer. The psychic's clues created more questions than answers. Then Mary "saw" a uniform with a name tag and she made out the letter "E", greasy hands being wiped on a dirty cloth and then she developed a terrible headache. Twenty-six years later, a fingerprint database identified garage worker Edward R Grant from Waterbury as a suspect and a blood test confirmed he was Penney's killer - blood told - and he had been in New Haven at the time of the murder for treatment for a head injury.

EoR knows of people who have accepted this series, particularly because of its placement in the Thursday evening "science" slot, as documentary proof of psychics' real powers. But it seems to EoR that psychics don't just fail to solve crimes, they make it harder by muddying the waters. They never provide solid evidence. It's always cryptic clues like "blue", "garage oil", "water" and "blood will tell" (EoR imagines spooky music, lowered lights, and thunder crashing when that phrase is spoken). Even a "uniform" and the letter "E" (the most common letter in the English alphabet!) do not provide any assistance to the police.

Even twentysix years later the psychic had still failed to solve the crime.

In fact, the particular murder featured in this episode is so far from being a success for the psychics, that it is considered a classic case of how forensic science can solve crimes.

The murder victim's sister also makes clear exactly what role psychics had in solving the crime:

In testimony before the Administrative Oversight and the Courts Subcommitte, Rosemary Serra said that analysis of DNA from a blood stained parking ticket led to the May 2002 conviction of Edward R. Grant for her sister’s murder. Police would never have found Grant, however, had a state forensic scientist and former New Haven detective Christopher Grice not matched Grant’s fingerprints -- taken after a 1994 arrest on domestic violence charges -- with one found on a tissue box in Penney Serra’s car. "If it weren’t for the fingerprint, it would have been a needle in a haystack. He would never have been arrested," Rosemary Serra said. [...] "The story could have died along with my sister if it were not for the qualified and dedicated personnel who worked on this case, or the wide spectrum of forensic science analysis available in this country," Serra said.

That's right. No psychic assistance at all. And note also that "blood" didn't tell, a fingerprint did.

The psychic who, according to this poor fictional mockumentary, was so invaluable to the police is Mary Pascarella Downey. Unlike other psychics she seems to keep a fairly low profile on the internet, but prefers radio and television.

Mary Pascarella is a radio talk show host, paranormal investigator and.... Timewalker. Mary is a gifted psychic, and has appeared on numerous television networks, including Court TV. Mary will join in the discussion of the Amityville case, and other hauntings that she has been involved with!

She seems to be associated with investigating the house featured in The Amityville Horror, where she also explains clearly what a "timewalker" is:

As a time walker, Downey goes to the point of origin of an incident and collects the facts, then tries to prove these facts as either accurate or inaccurate. Downey’s specialty falls into archaeological sites and finding old towns. "Time walkers have a string that they reach in and grab, it is like a big library," Downey said.

Strangely, EoR thought a timewalker was a fictional character in comics. Which is not actually that different from the tricks and stunts that psychics perform.

The program itself added very little. Of note only was Ms Pascarella's reiteration of the Psychics' Credo: "We don't solve crimes, we only provide clues". Cryptic, very unhelpful clues. For example, the "blue" that she saw and thought was "so important" wasn't the colour of the victim's car (it was, indeed, blue, but Ms Pascarella wasn't consulted until some months after the high profile crime had obviously been widely reported), but rather the colour of one of the floors of the carpark where the murder had happened. Unfortunately this colour coding had been discarded with years prior (so of what relevance was it to solving the crime? in what sense could it be considered a "clue"?), nor was it made clear whether it was even the floor the murder occurred on.

It was also interesting to watch the "dramatic" reconstruction of the psychic being shown the murder scene by the detective. She asked questions, and he told her where the murder occurred, what the witnesses saw and so on. This was "psychic power" in some strange surreal sense of the word.

EoR is also interested to note that the length of time between psychic revelations, and this particular dramatic "reconstruction" continues to become longer and longer. This week's episode had a gap of over thirty years between the events and their recollections.

And an amusing coda: when EoR was researching this story Google showed a sponsored link advertisement for ("Find Aussie Psychics"). Fearing finding the wrong psychic (but how would he tell the difference?) EoR clicked on it. Unfortunately, he never got to the site since Opera blocked it with a fraud warning:

The page you are trying to open has been blacklisted as fraudulent. It will likely attempt to trick you into sharing personal or financial information. We strongly discourage visiting this page.

Now, that's spooky. How did EoR's browser know that psychics perform cold reading by asking you for all sorts of personal details, and take your money off you?


  1. A segment in James Randi's Swift column this week, called "Dump this Series" says:

    ...staff members of Australia’s ABC-TV don’t look upon the current use of the US pseudo-scientific series, “Psychic Investigators," as “harmless fun” but as an affront to their viewers. They have asked their managing director Mark Scott, and the head of television Kim Dalton, to take it off the air. In a letter copied to 22 members of the science and religion units, they claim that the program – running over the summer in the prime timeslot of 8pm, Thursdays – damages the broadcaster's reputation for presenting quality science programs....

  2. Mary - I just watched the episode of penny Serra case-My mom,Mary Badaracco- vanished 22 yrs ago from her dream house) she had just renovated in sherman Ct - after all these years= I just want the truth and maybe ,bury her still her body has not been found- if you could find it in your heart- to please check out our "story" -

    God willing -maybe mom will come through ! Wishing you many blessings ,Beth

  3. Beth: please read the post again. Psychics will be more than happy to lead you a merry dance with vague "clues" and feel-good statements, as long as you keep the money flowing their way. Psychic do not solve crimes. In fact, psychics generally muddy the waters.

    It's also more polite to make comments that are relevant to the post, rather than just copying and pasting posts from your own blog.


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