From Abracadabra to Zombies
Mass Media Bunk
a commentary on news stories or articles in the mass media that provide false, misleading, or deceptive information regarding scientific matters or alleged paranormal or supernatural events.
Note: Mass Media Bunk is now Skeptimedia.
September 3, 2006. The intrepid psychic crime fighter James Van Praagh was stopped at a roadblock yesterday by New York state troopers who were looking for a fugitive and sniper who shot two state troopers, one of whom died later. Van Praagh was on his way to a gig at Lily Dale, a community of spiritualists located about 60 miles south of Buffalo. Never at a loss for words, Van Praagh offered the state troopers a little unsolicited advice. He told them to look for a white house with cellar doors that might belong to the fugitive's ex-girlfriend. He didn't mention whether he'd read news reports that the ex-girlfriend's house was one of the first places that had been searched. Van Praagh also told the troopers that the fugitive, Ralph "Bucky" Phillips, might try to escape under a truck. He told the press: "They should check friends of the girlfriend, that's who they should be checking." They already had, James. A psychic should have known that, especially if he reads the local newspaper. The girlfriend, Kasey Crowe, was one of six people who had been charged with aiding Phillips since his escape from prison in April. The state trooper who died, Joseph Longobardo, was shot while on a stakeout of Crowe's house.
"He's underneath something, a basement. He's underground, that's very strong," Van Praagh said. The guy's a genius. Why would a fugitive be in such places? A fugitive should be out walking among the people, exposing himself and proclaiming his invincibility. Only a psychic could be so forward looking in his suspicions.
In Newsday.com, Associated Press writer Carolyn Thompson refers to Van Praagh as "the psychic" and quotes him as going way out on a long limb: "I think he might be caught, but it's hard to say." Yes it is hard to say, especially since Phillips is an American Indian and may be a shapeshifter with the power to transmogrify into a state trooper or psychic.
Phillips, despite his many skills, surrendered in Pennsylvania on September 8, 2006, after being cornered in a field just across the state line. He was decribed as "exhausted and unshaven," which is exactly what you would expect of someone hiding under a truck.
Van Praagh can now add to his resumé one more police case that he has assisted on.
Finally, many people have noticed the strong resemblance between Bucky Phillips (on the left, above) and Van Praagh. It is possible that the person the state troopers interviewed at their roadblock was Phillips himself. He may have been trying to throw them off the scent by disguising himself as a famous psychic. The troopers should have called in Dr. Gary Schwartz to validate the claims of the alleged psychic at the roadblock. Without scientific validation, the poor public is left to the mercy of charlatans, phonies, and mountebanks.
The photo above on the right is of John Karr, who has been arrested for implicating himself in the killing of JonBenet Ramsey about ten years ago. The drawing above on the left was posted on John and Patsy Ramsey's website in 2000. It was done by a police artist following the instructions of self-proclaimed psychic Dorothy Allison, who died in 1999 without solving the Patty Hearst kidnapping, the "Son of Sam" killings, the Atlanta child murders, or the death of JonBenet Ramsey. At least that was how The New York Times described her in an obituary.* (She gave the police 42 names of the killer in the Atlanta case, none of them correct.*)
Allison had stuck her nose into each of those cases mentioned above without any result except getting her name associated with high profile cases. But some smells never go away and the stench of Allison's failed visions has been disinterred by the media* to claim that the drawing she did greatly resembles the apparent nutter John Karr, who has implicated himself in JonBenet's death. My local ABC TV station, Channel 10, has jumped on the bandwagon of those who proclaim "Psychic's Sketch Bears Striking Resemblance to Karr," as did CBS Channel 4 in New Jersey and NBC Channel 5 in Chicago.
Allison first went public with the drawing in 1998 on the Leeza Gibbons Show. She claimed John and Patsy Ramsey had nothing to do with the death of their daughter.* She also said she thought someone named "Irving" did the crime (Joe Nickell).
As for striking similarities between the face drawn by Allison and the photo of Karr, I see that both have hair, two eyes and eyebrows, at least one ear, a nose, lips, and neck. As for striking dissimilarities, I'd note the lips (one taut and slim, the other not), the cheekbones and chin, length of neck, and overall shape of the face.
Moral of the story: people see what they want to see and some people see what has been suggested to them to see. But these two are not even close. This isn't the first time we've seen this kind of stretch by the media. Remember Ted Kaczynski?
Allison has her defenders among the ranks of the police. She hailed from Nutley, New Jersey, and a former police chief there, Robert DeLitta, worked with her and still defends her. He also dismisses skeptics. "People who were skeptics will always be skeptics," he says. "When you're dealing with law enforcement, there will always be people who are skeptical of anything but hard evidence." Shame on them! Imagine. Demanding hard evidence in a homicide? How cynical can you get? Yet, I prophesize that should the ex-chief go on trial, he'll demand that hard evidence not psychic impressions be presented.
* AmeriCares *