Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Psychic Detectives

Lake Waco and the Psychic

Three teenagers, a boy and two girls, were found stabbed to death in Speegleville Park near Waco, Texas.  It was July 13, 1982, and though there had been plenty of violent incidents that year, this one was different.  It wasn't an obvious drug deal or a domestic dispute, nor an incident due to stress brought on by the stifling heat.  It looked more like a thrill-kill, with the kids just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Several psychics were involved, giving conflicting stories but occasionally affirming some of the detectives' ideas about suspects.

Among the three victims, the medical examiner counted 48 stab wounds.  Kenneth Franks had 20, 10 of them into the heart, but several had clearly inflicted great pain before he had died.  Jill Montgomery had taken 17 wounds, mostly to the chest, and her throat was cut.  There were also small bruise marks on the right shoulder and chest, and the girl had been stripped and sexually violated.  Raylene Rice was stabbed nine times, with evidence of genital injury.  Investigators believed that the victims had been killed elsewhere and dumped here, but only the boy was in a place where he could easily be found.

Carlton Stowers describes the incident and investigation Careless Whispers: The Lake Waco Murders, including in his story the psychics who "saw" the killers in terrible visions.  He makes no judgment about their accuracy; he simply records their recollections, or those of the police officers who interviewed them, and shows how they affected the investigation.

As the murder was happening, Karen Hufstetler living near Dallas, Texas, had a nightmarish vision of two men brutally killing three teenagers and transporting their bodies.  She had fallen asleep after work in front of the television, and upon awakening, she was startled by a vivid image of a car full of strangers moving slowly through an unfamiliar wooded landscape.  Then she made out three males and two females.  A bearded driver and an Indian-looking man were clearly older and the other three were teenagers.  The older men were drinking beer and laughing, but the kids looked scared.

This was nothing new to her.  She'd had such visions since she was a child, and her most memorable were the series of visions she'd had in 1979 of black children being murdered in Atlantaa string of violence that came to be known as the Atlanta Child Murders.  She knew the ages of the victims and where and when they would be found.  She had clear ideas about who the killer was, but then Wayne Williams was caught dumping something from a bridge where a body was found that night.  He was arrested, tried and convicted.  Karen believed he was not the right man for most of the murders, though he was dubbed the Atlanta Child Killer.  In subsequent years, there has been reason to doubt his association with the earlier deaths.  Although the string of murders had stopped, Karen thought it was for reasons other than Williams being imprisoned.

Wayne Williams (Corbis)
As her vision continued, she saw an earlier moment when the three teenagers were together at a picnic table.  The brunette appeared to like the boy and Karen sensed that one of the three rings on her fingers had come from him.  Then the two other men drove up, and the boy introduced the bearded man to the girls.  They all got into the car and at some point, the Indian man reached over the blond girl in the back seat and stabbed the boy with a knife.

The car continued and then pulled over.  The driver got out, removed the boy's body and left it off the road.  The brunette got out and ran, but the driver caught her and forced her to watch the other man put a knife into the throat of her friend.  She broke away and ran again, but was caught and brutally beaten before she was finally murdered.  One of the men took a ring off her finger and put it into his pocket.  He then carried her back to where the other bodies were, stabbed her again several times, took a lock of her hair, and left the scene of carnage.  He and the other man drove to where they had found the kids, and the driver tossed something into the lake that, when it hit something, had a metallic sound.

Karen did not know who any of these people were, and found nothing in the Dallas paper the next day, so she had no idea what to do with these horrifying images.

That same night, Glenda Thomas had a similar experiencesomething quite new to herand she related it to a detective on the case.  She was resting from studying for a nursing exam when the vision hit her.  She described two men similar to those Karen Hufstetler had seen, but thought there was a third in the background.  They had not known the victims and had faked a need for assistance.  Taking the teenagers with them in a red van, they had killed them near a road.  On the arm of the leader was the tattoo of an eagle.  Glenda had then tried contacting the victims through automatic writing and said she had heard from Raylene, who had indicated that a bra was around her legan accurate and specific detail not reported in the papers.  Raylene also said that she had not known the killers.  Glenda sensed something about a ring, but did not know what it meant.

In the meantime, the police were losing ground as several days passed with no clear leads.  The funeral for the three children took place and the families begged for answers, but investigators had none.  They turned their sights on Kenneth's father, suspecting his involvement, but that, too, went nowhere.

They decided to bring in a psychic, John Catchings, who'd been on other cases and who claimed to be successful 60% of the time.  He told them that no psychic gets things 100% right and they should only use what seems to be fruitful.  Catchings went to the crime scene itself.  After spending some time there, he said there had been three men involved and one of them had murdered the kids in a flat-bottom boat.  He believed that a dark-haired woman in her 20s would be instrumental in helping them learn the murderer's identity.

In fact, the detectives had their eye on a 19-year-old brunette, a known liar, who had said she knew nothing but who they guessed knew a lot.  Her boyfriend, a man known as "Chili," whose real name was David Spence, was in prison for another crime.  He was acquainted with Muneer Deeb, who had confessed to a friend of the victims' that he had killed them.  Then he'd retracted it, passed a polygraph, and was allowed to leave.  Yet he'd told someone else that he'd taken out an insurance policy on a girl, Gayle Kelley, who was a look-alike to Jill Montgomery, one of the victims.

In the end, it wasn't anything a psychic said that broke the case.  It was the persistent work of a detective, Truman Simons, who figured out from statements made by various peopleincluding the primary killerthat Deeb had hired Spence to murder Gayle, and Spence had made a mistaken identity, killing Jill and her friends.  Deeb had expected to collect on an insurance policy that he'd tricked Gayle into signing, and that plan had failed.  Shortly after the murders, Spence had been arrested for aggravated sexual assault, and being a parolee, was held in prison until his hearing.  There he'd talked far too much, owning the murders as if they were his property, and eventually he'd been tried and convicted, along with his two reluctant accomplices.  Deeb, too, was convicted, and he and Spence got the death penalty. 

Glenda Thomas had been correct that there was a third man involved and that Spence had wings tattooed on his arm.  Both she and Karen Hufstetler (who eventually went to the crime scene and declared erroneously that they had been killed where they were found) had seen the ring that Spence had taken from Jill as a trophy, but contrary to what Catchings had said, Christy Juhl refused to come forward to help.  No other brunette gave them information, either. 

The only aspect of the psychic testimony that had been instrumental in moving the case along was an item from Glenda's vision that Truman Simons had used to get a confession from one of the participants.  Recalling what Glenda had said, Simons described to the man what he'd been wearing that night at the crime scene, leading him to believe the police knew more than they actually did, and he decided to come clean.  Yet he lied in several places, and it was his brother's testimony that actually made the case.

All of the psychics had been wrong about several significant aspects of the murdersespecially where the murders had occurredand two had misidentified the transport vehicle.  Yet if this story is accurate, the two females who had psychic visions on the night of the murders clearly had some detailed flashes of truth as the crime was occurring, indicating some support for psychic phenomenon.  Unfortunately, this story has been regarded as one of those successfully solved by psychics, when a look at the investigation as a whole shows that clearly is not so.  The same can be said of the next high-profile case.  

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