The New ‘Best Case’ For Psychics: Did ‘Intuitive Visions’ Locate Missing Boy?
July 14, 2013
The remarkable case of a missing California boy whose body was apparently located by a psychic is making headlines across the country. Terry Smith Jr., an 11-year-old California boy missing since July 7, was found buried in a shallow grave near his home in the Riverside County community of Menifee.
A woman named Pam Ragland, who claims to have psychic or intuitive powers, is being credited by police and others as having located the boy through her visions. Driven by recurring visions of the boy along with a distinctive home and tree, Ragland called a police tipline and was encouraged to drive to Menifee to join in the search. So she did, joined by her two children and an off-duty fireman who offered to help. They searched the area where the boy was last seen, and found to her astonishment a home and tree that matched her visions-even though she lived sixty miles away and had never been to the location.
Psychics claiming to find missing persons is not new, but Ragland's account has been confirmed by police. Riverside County sheriff's detective John Powers was quoted as saying that we was amazed by what happened: "Not in 23 years have I ever seen anything like this." It's a genuinely bizarre case, and within days it was being discussed as an amazing "best case" for psychic detectives. Many news reports claimed that police have confirmed that a psychic directly led to the recovery of Smith's body; the Vancouver Sun, for example, offered the July 13 headline "Psychic Finds Missing Boy's Body in California," and a CBS News headline crowed, "Police: Psychic Found Body Of Murdered 11-Year-Old Boy."
Discussions about the case appeared on the Doubtful News site, the JREF Forums, and elsewhere. The case is strange and intriguing, but not unexplainable. Clues to solving the mystery may lie in both psychology and statistics.
Since Ragland had never met the Smith family nor been to their property, how could she possibly have recognized their home from her psychic visions? The answer is simple: She saw it on television. Ragland stated that she had been following the extensive news coverage about the missing boy, and that she had her first visions about him while she was watching a news report about the search.
Television reports included photographs and video footage of the Smith home and property, and whether or not Ragland remembered paying attention to those images, she had indeed seen the Smith property before she arrived there. The fact that a house and tree in her vision "matched" the house and tree where Smith was finally found is not surprising, and merely evidence of not remembering where she saw an image, not psychic powers.
Ragland believes that she and her children are "intuitive" and that the senses, ideas, and intuitions that come to her are important. She had been focusing on conjuring or receiving feelings about the missing boy, and clearly assumed that whatever impressions came to her were relevant and meaningful. This is not unusual; in high profile missing persons cases it is common for police to be inundated with hundreds or thousands of visions, hunches, and feelings from psychics. Over the course of many missing persons cases and tens of thousands of visions and predictions, eventually some of them will turn out to be correct simply by chance. In this case, however, Ragland's odds of correctly guessing where Smith's body would be found were much better than chance.
Psychics and Statistics
Most homicide victims, including children, are killed by a family member. There are exceptions, of course, but the odds are that a missing or murdered child will be found in or near the family home. Given the profile of the alleged killer, reported to be Smith's 16-year-old half-brother, it's likely that the boy's body would be found near where he was last seen (the family's home), and not, for example, hundreds of miles away.
Ragland could not have known this, of course, but the point is that police and searchers had already identified the Smith property and nearby areas as among the most likely places where the Terry Smith Jr., alive or dead, might be found. In other words, Ragland's visions of the Smith house, which likely came to her through TV news reports instead of ESP, happened to also be the most likely place where Smith would be-and in fact eventually was-found. Psychics often play the odds, intentionally or not, by making likely predictions such as that a body will be found "near water" or "near trees."
Ragland did not show up at the Smith property by random chance, nor psychic vision. Instead, after driving to the town of Menifee where the search command center was located, she met an off-duty fireman who volunteered to drive her around the area. Once Ragland and her children were on the Smith property, it was the smell of the boy's decomposing body, not a psychic vision, that located the corpse. In fact Ragland did not find Smith's body; her daughter Sydnee found it while investigating the stench. It's not as if Ragland contacted the police with a detailed, accurate description of where Smith's body could be found.
The fact that police and searchers missed Smith's body-which, after all, was found about 75 feet from the Smith home-is troubling and may suggest negligence or incompetence, but is not as incredible as it may seem at first glance. Police and searchers are only human, and it is not unheard of for a piece of evidence, or even a body, to be found in an area previously searched. It is also possible that the body was buried there after the area was searched.
Police have investigated the possibility that Ragland might have had some role in Terry Smith Jr.'s disappearance, though it seems unlikely. It is far more probable that Ragland is neither psychic nor involved in any crime, but simply someone who unknowingly mistook a television news scene for an intuitive vision and whose instincts correctly told her where the missing boy was statistically most likely to be found-and eventually was.
What seems at first like an amazing, iron-clad "best case" of psychic detective powers may not be so unexplainable with the application of critical thinking, psychology, and skepticism. The scientific principle of Occam's Razor suggests that, other things being equal, the simplest explanation is often the correct one. Either Pam Ragland is the first person in history to find a missing person through psychic visions, or the accuracy of her predictions was due to a combination of psychology, statistics, and luck.
A more in-depth analysis of this case will appear at LiveScience.com, and I will be discussing this case and others involving psychic detective claims next week in my July 21 talks in Los Angeles and Costa Mesa.