Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Psychic Detectives

Getting Too Close

In 1980, Etta Smith, a shipping clerk in Los Angeles, heard an announcement on the radio about a house-to-house search for Melanie Uribe, a missing woman from her neighborhood, as documented in A&E's film and Larsen's Psychic Sleuths.  Smith had an impression that the woman was not inside a building but outside in a certain area, and though she'd never before had such an overwhelming sense of something, it seemed so vivid that she reported it to the police.  "It was like someone was talking to me," she said. She felt that the nurse had been hit in the head and dumped in a canyon, which she showed to a detective on a map.  She said there was a dirt path going to her.  When he seemed not to take her seriously, she decided to go have a look on her own. 

As Etta drove through the target area in Lopez Canyon, she had a feeling of "urgency."   Spotting some tire tracks in the dirt, she felt them and sensed the trauma that had taken place there.  "It was like a thermometer going up."  She got back into her car and drove, but her daughter told her to stop because she'd seen something.  What she had spotted were a pair of white nurse's shoes.  

Smith knew who was there.  She drove away and spotted a policeman.  She waved him to a stop and told him about the body.  He told her to go home.  She did, but then two detectives came to bring her in for questioning.  She agreed to take a lie detector test, and the police later said that she'd been judged "deceptive," so she was treated as a suspect, strip-searched, and put into a cell for three days.  They planted an undercover cop in the cell with her to try to find out why she had come forward and whether her information had come from neighborhood gossip, as suspected.  The cop reported that her motive was money.

Then three men confessed and Etta was released.  She filed a wrongful arrest suit, asking $750,000 in damages.  The jury awarded her $24,000. 

She says she never had another such vision, or if she did, she was smart to not report it.

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