Psychics and Missing Babies -- Dissecting the Phenomena

Discovery News/December 2, 2011


Ten-month-old Lisa Irwin went missing October 4 from her home in Kansas City, Missouri, and is presumed to have been kidnapped. The case attracted nationwide attention, sparking an Amber Alert and several massive searches including of the neighborhood and a nearby Kansas landfill -- twice.

Weeks came and went without an arrest, clue, or even a suspect. Enter Stephanie Almaguer, a woman in Dallas, Texas, who claims to be psychic. Almaguer said that information about Baby Lisa's death came to her in a vision, and she sketched the area she saw. That sketch was later circulated to the family, police, and volunteer searchers.

About a week ago dozens of volunteers searched for Baby Lisa in an area roughly described by Almaguer, in some woods near a closed casino about two miles from her parent's home. They found nothing. Almaguer appeared in many media outlets including Fox News. Doug Magditch of KDAF-TV described Almaguer's involvement in the case—and a strange twist:

Psychic Stephanie Almaguer says she had an "out-of-body" experience, showing her where to search Lisa Irwin.

 The day 'Baby Lisa' went missing, Almaguer says she had a vision. "All of a sudden I felt like I was there," said Almaguer.

 She put pen to paper drawing everything she saw, and posted it on her blog.

" If I don't put it on there and it is important, I may have helped keep somebody lost," said Almaguer. Then, something… unexplainable:

 "The things that I posted, came to happen. The names, everything," said Almaguer.

 The things Almaguer saw exist in Kansas City.

 "It's amazing. You feel like, 'Wow, this baby may be found,'" said Almaguer.

 The post convinced a few dozen people to search the area Saturday. "I didn't tell these people where that place was. They told me based on what I had given them," said Almaguer.

Even though everyone admits that the psychic information was wrong (so far anyway), Almaguer and others insist that there must be some validity to her powers because otherwise how could she, without leaving her Texas home, have accurately sketched and described the Kansas City area the volunteers searched? Isn't this proof of psychic powers?

What Magditch considers "unexplainable" and Almaguer considers "amazing" is in fact quite the opposite if you understand what happened: After Almaguer made the sketch from her vision public, hundreds or thousands of people saw it via her Web site, Facebook page, and other Web sites devoted to missing persons and finding Baby Lisa. Some of those people who were trying to be helpful took Almaguer's rough sketch and looked for potential matches in and around Kansas City. Almaguer's description is very vague (including "some kind of tall structure," "an old crumbling concrete slab foundation," a "hidden drain or culvert," etc.) and could match literally hundreds of locations in the region.

Of course Almaguer's information roughly "matched" a location described, photographed, and sent to her by one of her correspondents (where the searchers later looked); that's the reason it was sent to her in the first place! It's like posting a photo of your uncle online and asking anyone to send photos of people who look like your uncle; then being amazed when, out of the thousands of potential responses, a few of them look like your uncle.

While it's easy to point out that a psychic was (once again) wrong, the fault is not entirely hers. After all, Almaguer did not actually misdirect police and searchers to the wrong location. She never claimed to know the specific physical location of Baby Lisa -- only to have a rough idea of what the area where the baby might be found might look like (she cautioned that the features on her sketch may be "symbolic" and not literal). The matching of Almaguer's visions to any real location was done by well-meaning but misguided locals, and of course she happily accepted the match as validation of her powers.

Instead of accepting any responsibility for the misinformation, Almaguer insisted that she'd been right all along, posting on her blog complaints about "all the lies, gossip, and hatred surrounding not only me/my participation in trying to help in the Baby Lisa Irwin case, but the hatred towards even my family/children....because people believe [I] was lying about the baby's whereabouts to gain cheap publicity."

Police said that this is not the first bogus psychic information they have gotten about Baby Lisa; all the others provided bad information as well. This is the second time this year a Texas woman claiming to be psychic has given false information about a murder or crime. In June, a psychic called police describing a horrific scene of mass murder at a ranch outside of Houston, Texas. Police, the FBI, and the Texas Rangers investigated, and it all turned out to be a false alarm. There were no dead bodies; the psychic was wrong.

High-profile psychic failures are nothing new. One of the most recent cases involved Holly Bobo, a young nursing student abducted in rural Tennessee. Bobo was last seen April 13 being led into the woods near her home by a camouflaged individual. Despite extensive police searches and dozens of self-proclaimed psychics offering hundreds of incorrect, vague, and often contradictory tips, neither Bobo nor her abductor have been found. (In fact, police complained that psychics were actually harming the investigation.)

Despite claims to the contrary, there is not a single documented case of a missing person being found or recovered due to psychic information. And despite Almaguer's obvious failure in finding Baby Lisa, she insists she is doing a public service and will continue to provide psychic information about missing persons.

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