Victims In Psychic-Inspired Hoax Sue Police

Photo (Image credit: The Skeptical Inquirer)

A Texas couple who own a ranch that police searched following false information that was provided by a psychic are suing the police and several major news organizations for defamation.

The case began June 6, 2011, when a psychic called police and described a horrific scene of mass murder: dozens of dismembered bodies near a ranch house about an hour outside of Houston, Texas. There were rotting limbs, headless corpses, and, chillingly, many were children in this mass grave they described.

Deputies from the Liberty County Sheriff's office went to investigate but didn’t see anything amiss. After a second call the following day, dozens of officials from the Texas Department of Public Safety, the FBI, and the Texas Rangers were on the scene -- not to mention cadaver dogs, news helicopters, and gawkers. It all turned out to be a false alarm. There were no dead bodies; the psychic was wrong (or lying).

Though the incident became a national embarrassment, the police refused to apologize, saying that procedures were followed and that the severity of the claims warranted an investigation: Whether a tip comes from an ordinary citizen, an anonymous informant, or a self-proclaimed psychic, information about mass murders cannot be ignored.

Now the couple that owns the ranch are suing. According to a story in The Dayton News,

Joe Bankson and Gena Charlton, through their attorney, Andrew B. Sommerman, filed a lawsuit on June 5, 2012, in the 193rd Judicial District in Dallas claiming that the sheriff’s office and the media groups acted in reckless disregard and caused damage to the couple’s reputation and good name. Bankson and Charlton...are now unable to return to their rented home in Hardin because “everyone looks at them askance because of the accusations made against them."

Bankson and Charlton accuse The New York Times, CNN, Thompson Reuters, ABC News, and other news media of publishing false statements claiming that bodies had been found on their property.

This is only one of many false psychic tips given to police. In March 2004, a Florida psychic contacted the Transportation Safety Administration to inform them that a bomb was aboard an American Airlines flight headed for Dallas, Texas. Nothing was found, but the delay caused by the psychic’s tip forced cancellation of the flight, and over 100 passengers were placed on later flights, most delayed until the following day.

Psychic information often wastes police time and resources following up on false leads. Despite popular belief and claims to the contrary, there is not a single documented case of a missing person being found or recovered due to psychic information. Psychics have consistently failed to find missing persons, including high-profile disappearances like Natalee Holloway and Holly Bobo (the Tennessee woman abducted in April 2011 who remains missing despite efforts by dozens of psychics).

In perhaps the most glaring and tragic failure of psychics, Jaycee Dugard, the girl who was abducted and held hostage by a California husband and wife, was subjected to continual sexual and physical abuse for nearly 20 years while psychics offered wrong and contradictory information about her location and condition.

Whether the Bankson and Charlton will win their defamation lawsuit remains to be seen, though it will likely make police think twice about following up on psychic information.

This story was provided by Discovery News.

Benjamin Radford
Live Science Contributor
Benjamin Radford is the Bad Science columnist for Live Science. He covers pseudoscience, psychology, urban legends and the science behind "unexplained" or mysterious phenomenon. Ben has a master's degree in education and a bachelor's degree in psychology. He is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and has written, edited or contributed to more than 20 books, including "Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries," "Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore" and “Investigating Ghosts: The Scientific Search for Spirits,” out in fall 2017. His website is