Witnesses to the Unsolved: Prominent Psychic Detectives and Mediums Explore our most Haunting Mysteries
By Edward Olshaker
From the publisher’s website: A cross between Medium and Unsolved Mysteries, this award-winning book is now available in paperback for the first time…
In Witnesses to the Unsolved, author Edward Olshaker turns to some of the world’s most accomplished psychic detectives and mediums in a quest for the missing pieces to some of our most puzzling mysteries, including the cases of:
-- Martin Luther King, Jr., whose assassination is still an open case after a Memphis trial and a federal investigation reached opposite conclusions in 1999 and 2000.
-- Vincent Foster, the White House deputy counsel found shot to death in 1993. Three-quarters of Americans polled in 2000 did not believe the official ruling of suicide.
-- Kurt Cobain, the voice of his generation whose death by shotgun triggered scores of “copycat suicides” worldwide, even though America’s leading forensic pathologist maintains that the rock icon, with triple the lethal dose of heroin in his body, could not have shot himself.
Also explored are the mysteries surrounding the death of Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, the bizarre fate of former CIA chief William Colby, and much more.
The highly regarded cast of police psychics includes Nancy Myer, investigator of hundreds of homicides in North America and overseas; Robert Cracknell, who was labelled “Britain’s number one psychic detective” when he provided accurate information to investigators of the Yorkshire Ripper serial murders and other high-profile crimes; and Bertie Catchings, named “best psychic in Texas” in The Book of Texas Bests. Prominent mediums Betty Muench, Janet Cyford, and Philip Solomon provide further illumination, along with dramatic evidence of life after death.
Witnesses to the Unsolved. Anomalist Books, April 2012. ISBN: 1933665599
Reviewed for the SPR by: Tom Ruffles
We often hear how psychic detectives have passed valuable information about a case to the police, or how they were brought in when one became too difficult for conventional techniques to solve. Judging by their own claims, they have had some remarkable successes. Edward Olshaker’s idea was different: take a set of real-life mysteries, present them to a group of psychic detectives, each working in isolation, and see what happens. It’s a great idea, but it shows some of the problems of gaining information by such unorthodox means.
In Witnesses to the Unsolved, first published in 2005 and now updated, half a dozen psychic detectives (not all of whom regard themselves as mediums, hence the sub-title) gave readings to Olshaker. These were Bertie Marie Catchings, Robert Cracknell, Janet Cyford, Betty Muench, Nancy E Myer and Philip Solomon. Olshaker himself is not active more broadly in psychical research, but is a freelance journalist writing about historical issues and current affairs. Before we get going, Colin Wilson, author of the 1984 The Psychic Detectives, supplies a foreword, as he did for Cracknell’s autobiography The Lonely Sense, also published by Anomalist Books.
Olshaker asked his team to look afresh at the mysteries surrounding Bill Clinton’s boyhood friend and White House staffer Vincent Foster; US Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown; Kurt Cobain; activists attempting to determine the truth about US servicemen left behind in Vietnam; the deaths of environmental campaigners; the deaths of actress Mercedes McCambridge’s son John Markle and his family; the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr; and the disappearances of the CIA’s William Colby and John Paisley. The examples he has selected have an American focus, and some are much better known than others. A lot of the political speculations thrown up in the readings involve convoluted conspiracies, which means that for a non-US reader some of the detail can seem obscure and complicated.
Olshaker, as a journalist, is good on the background to each case study, and he could undoubtedly have written a fascinating narrative minus the paranormal speculations. But he is vague on the protocols he employed with the psychic detectives, how much information they were given, or what opportunities they had for research before he asked for their impressions. Thus discussing grunge musician Kristen Pfaff who died only two months after Kurt Cobain, he says that he took a photograph of Kristen and description of the case when he visited Janet Cyford, although she did not know in advance he was going to ask about Kristen’s death on that day.
A number of times he quotes from readings where he is asked for information. On Kristen: “‘Do you know whether she had a boyfriend?’ Cyford asked. ‘Because she’s talking about a young man there…’”, and a page later: “‘How many years to we go back with this?’ ‘1994,’ I replied.” So there were opportunities for fishing, and perhaps more cold reading occurred than he realised. This does not rule out the possibility that the readings were supplying genuine information, but such vagueness about the process weakens the impact.
Leaving aside these problems, for those inclined to take psychic detectives at their own estimations, this may prove a disappointing read. One always hopes that they can warm up cold cases, prodding an official re-examination, but while these ones come up with some interesting speculations that may be proved true in time, there is little here that has been verified since 2005 as adding to or altering current knowledge. Wilson refers to it as “investigative journalism“, but the psychic detectives do not offer proof, and no breakthroughs have been made by the police as a result of their findings so far.
In particular, it frustrating that no-one says “yes, so-and-so did it”, or provides conclusive information on previously unknown suspects, even though the verdicts of the psychic detectives are often some distance from the accepted versions of events. One can understand that the psychic detectives and Olshaker might be wary of libel writs, but the chapter on Markle, for example, casts definite suspicion on colleagues at his firm – Stephens, Incorporated – to the extent that if the nefarious activities alleged did happen there, a fairly small pool of suspects were involved. Naming the guilty would spare the innocent.
Yet concrete information that would allow a police breakthrough is always tantalisingly out of reach. Why is this? Added to the difficulties of transmission and reception of information by either side, which leads to differences of interpretation by the various psychic detectives, we are told that those in the beyond are not interested in revenge, but rather there is a “universal law that allows the wrongdoers to exercise their free will to make amends on their own”, hence a reluctance amounting to distaste by those passed over in discussing the identities of malefactors.
One can understand that earthly concerns might seem of little consequence considering the magnitude of the changes that have happened to them, but while those who have died may be unconcerned with earthly notions of justice, there is a regrettable indifference to the suffering of those left behind who need closure to move on with their lives. Historically the departed have not been so indifferent, and one wonders why they have changed their attitude to justice, relying instead on karma to restore the balance. With such restrictions on the quality of intelligence imposed by those in the Afterlife, you wonder what use psychics are for crime detection, over and above perhaps to locate missing people and bodies.
Quite often there was agreement between the psychic detectives, but as these were not controlled tests, it is impossible to know whether their readings were paranormal in origin or extrapolations from the information given which ran along similar lines. It would certainly be interesting to see a rigorous experiment in which psychic detectives applied their abilities to real-life problems with no such ambiguity surrounding the outcomes. Despite this drawback, Olshaker has made a fascinating attempt to apply psychic abilities to some intractable mysteries of recent years, and has definitely highlighted very strange goings-on, whatever the explanation. He and his collaborators are to be applauded for their efforts, and this book should be read by anybody interested in psychic detection.