The paranormal has its place in American courtrooms, in police stations, and even in business strategies.
Lawyers sometimes use psychics to select favorable juries, for example, or may consider supernatural phenomena in their clients’ defense. Proprietors of supposedly haunted historic sites, restaurants, and other venues weigh how their ghosts factor into business plans.
Consultant Loyd Auerbach helps in all these situations.
With a Master’s in parapsychology, he is the director of the Office of Paranormal Investigations (OPI), has taught at Atlantic University in Virginia and at JFK University in California, and created the Certificate Program in Parapsychology Studies formerly at the HCH Institute. His OPI work involves not only investigating the paranormal, but also consulting on such phenomena.
With a background in the legal world, he specializes in advising lawyers in particular. He works at LexisNexis Group, which offers online legal, business research, and risk management services. Auerbach said that lawyers often consult him about paranormally-related argument in cases.
Killing a ‘Witch’
For example, a husband and wife in San Francisco were convicted of killing their roommate, whom they believed was a witch. The wife thought this roommate, a self-professed wiccan, was stealing her beauty and energy. The couple said they were abiding by their spiritual beliefs in not suffering the witch to live.
Law allows for persons who think they are being attacked physically to use force, within reason. Their lawyer decided to employ these grounds, and asked Auerbach to testify that a psychic attack could compel such a belief.
However, the prosecutor asked Auerbach whether — holding this belief that a witch might inflict physical harm — the couple could have taken a different course of action to defend themselves, whether it was necessary, in their belief, to kill the “witch”? Auerbach said, one might argue that there were, indeed, other means of handling the situation from that perspective.
In the end, the couple were convicted.
In another murder case, a defense attorney asked Auerbach whether “possession” might constitute a potential defense, since his client thought himself possessed when he acted. “I advised the attorney to have the client evaluated for psychological/psychiatric issues, since that defense had already been tossed out in other courts,” Auerbach said.
When lawyers or police ask him about psychics, Auerbach directs them to ones who are more bona fide, and to manage their expectations.
Psychics don’t solve cases necessarily, but may provide leads. They also work in multifarious ways. Some don’t want to be told anything about the case and will simply come up with what they can on their own. Others want to be told it all so they can focus on finding new leads.
In the first instance, results can have an amazing impression on officers. “Wow, this psychic didn’t know anything about the case and he came up with all these details we know to be true,” they may say. But where does it take the investigation if they already have those details?
The second instance might envoke more skepticism. “There’s no magic here,” they might say. “He just made a good guess based on the information we gave him.” Yet in addition to what they already knew, they obtained a new clue leading in a useful direction.
Psychics may have other talents, Auerbach said. He knows one psychic whose special ability was visualizing a perpetrator. She works well with a sketch artist. When she describes the face she “sees,” it often turns out matching one of the suspects, which can help police direct more attention to the case of that individual.
One of the most useful lines of inquiry Auerbach advocates to police consulting psychics is, “Where can we find hard evidence?” This is what they need, after all, to secure a conviction.
Should I Use My Ghost to Make Money?
Proprietors of “haunted” venues sometimes consult Auerbach. Most such locations tend to be restaurants, he said. Owners want to know what to do with their ghost stories; would it be good for business to publicize them? What might the potential outcomes be?
He often asks them, “Is your food good?” Customers may come once for the ghosts, but may not return unless they enjoy the experience — including the food. Return customers are better for business than one-time diners.
Auerbach has helped business owners build better urban myths around their spooks. He helps gather witness testimonies, investigates claims and the history of the spots, and reconstructs authentic ghost tales.
Media professionals are the largest group of OPIs consulting clients. But Auerbach has observed a strange reversal in how the paranormal is investigated in making movies and TV programs today versus back in the day.
“The reality TV folks don’t seem to care whether they talk to anybody in the field, or not these days — they used to, but they don’t [now],” he said. It’s the screenwriters working on fiction who want the actual facts more often.
He noticed a change in the news media, too. When “Ghostbusters” came out in the ’80s, for example, he would get media inquiries along the lines of, “We know it’s not like that in real life, what do you guys [paranormal investigators] actually do?” Now, however, with supernatural flicks focused on phenomena that are purportedly truer to life, interested parties ask Auerbach to take them to locations to witness such phenomena. This is a less realistic approach, he said, than those he got in the days of “Ghostbusters.”
He encourages would-be investigators to carefully check the credentials of paranormal “experts” they interview.
More than 3,000 amateur ghost-hunting groups exist in the United States, at the time of writing. Many of them call themselves professional but clearly aren’t, Auerbach said. Using some device or other to measure electromagnetic fields doesn’t qualify a group’s work as “scientific.”
In the Classroom
It’s hard to find accredited courses in parapsychology in the United States. But, Auerbach noted, the UK has more than 20 universities offering parapsychology classes.
Auerbach also teaches courses in various formats — such as online classes at the Rhine Education Center.
Yet, many in academia are skeptical of such phenomena, which blocks them from being studied more widely.
“I deal with skeptics all the time, and I’ve dealt with some of the top guys over the years. People have these experiences, and the scientific and academic community wants to simply write them off,” Auerbach said. It would be great, he thinks, if skeptics took it upon themselves to thoroughly investigate such claims, even to disprove them, rather than just ignoring them or attributing standard explanations, such as hallucinations, to them across the board.
“You’ve got millions of people who have these experiences,” he said. “You can’t just write them off.”