Tapping Into the Supernatural to Crack Crimes

APA train crew member carrying his belongings away from a Moscow-St. Petersburg train that was derailed by an explosion Aug. 14, 2007. Hypnotists helped investigate the bombing, Bastrykin said.
A police investigation into a burgled office safe was compounded by the lack of evidence.

The company's owner had locked her staff's salaries in the safe and gone home. The next morning, a secretary opened the office to discover that it had been ransacked, the safe opened and the money missing.

Suspicion fell on an elderly employee, but he denied wrongdoing. The owner decided to consult a psychic. Under hypnosis, the elderly employee admitted that he was the thief. His confession was recorded and used by police as evidence.

The incident, as told by Moscow psychic and hypnotist Darya Mironova, is not unique. Law enforcement officials are actively working with paranormal experts to solve crimes, a little-discussed practice that goes back decades.

Law enforcement agencies, perhaps understandably, are reluctant to talk about the use of paranormal experts. But in a rare revelation, Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin said earlier this year that investigators had used hypnotists in several recent cases, including the bombing of a Moscow-St. Petersburg train.

Oksana Onipko / MT
Grabovoi, jailed for fraud in July, participated in a state study of psychics.
In fact, law enforcement agencies are so keen to find people with paranormal powers that they have employed Mikhail Vinogradov, a prominent forensic psychiatrist, to watch "Bitva Ekstrasensov," or "Psychics Competition," on TNT television for possible recruits, Vinogradov said.

"If I personally like someone, I direct them … to the special services," Vinogradov said. "If a person works out, they get him involved."

He said he has recommended less than 10 contestants, and he refused to elaborate on which agencies he was assisting, citing the sensitivity of the issue.

"There are about 20 really powerful psychics in Russia, and they all wear epaulettes," Vinogradov said, referring to their membership in law enforcement agencies.

Vinogradov said the KGB first engaged him 40 years ago, when as a medical student he worked out a method to predict how people would act in emergencies based on their appearances.

To test his skills, the KGB asked Vinogradov to detect spies at diplomatic receptions in embassies a few times, and his guesses proved accurate, Vinogradov said.

Darya Mironova
Mironova said she has assisted the police for a decade and helped them draw up a psychological portrait of the so-called Bittsevsky Maniac when his name was not yet known. Serial killer Alexander Pichushkin, dubbed the Bittsevsky Maniac because he killed most of his victims in Moscow's Bittsevsky Park, was sentenced last year to life in prison for 48 murders.

The Federal Security Service and the Foreign Intelligence Service asked that questions for this article be submitted in writing.

Questions sent in July had not been answered by Friday.

The Investigative Committee rejected a written inquiry, saying it did not want to "hamper investigations."

Bastrykin, the Investigative Committee chief, said in March that hypnotists had helped investigate the August 2007 bombing of the Nevsky Express train, which injured 60 people. "Witnesses under hypnosis remembered the numbers on the license plate of the car used by the criminals," Bastrykin said, RIA-Novosti reported.

Bastrykin also said hypnotists were involved in an investigation into the March killings of two Dagestani journalists, Gadzhi Abashilov and Ilyas Shurpayev.

Mikhail Vinogradov
The head of the Investigative Committee's forensic department, Yury Lekanov, said forensic experts started involving psychics in their investigations about 20 years ago, Noviye Izvestia reported.

The first state laboratory to study paranormal activities was created under Soviet leader Josef Stalin, Vinogradov said.

The law does not prohibit involving psychics or hypnotists in investigations, but questions have been raised about the credibility of evidence obtained through their counsel.

"Prosecutors and courts should not consider testimony given under hypnosis as evidence because they cannot be sure that the idea was not planted into the person's mind," said Lev Ponomaryov, a leading human rights campaigner and former State Duma deputy.

Incidentally, the elderly employee hypnotized by Mironova in the safe robbery never went on trial. The company owner ultimately forgave him and deducted the stolen amount from his paycheck, Mironova said.

The reliability of psychics' predictions is very low, according to studies conducted by the Emergency Situations Ministry in the 1990s, Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a 2005 interview with Rossiiskaya Gazeta. The ministry conducted the studies after being flooded with offers from psychics who claimed that they could predict catastrophes.

Among the psychics was Grigory Grabovoi, who in July this year was sentenced to 11 years in prison on fraud charges after promising to resurrect children killed in the Beslan school attack in 2004. The ministry said Grabovoi had examined airplanes for hidden defects during the government studies.

Western law enforcement agencies are cautious about the use of paranormal experts.

In Germany, hypnosis is only allowed when questioning witnesses, and even then restrictions apply, said Rudolf Egg, director of the Criminological Center, a state-sponsored think tank in Wiesbaden.

"I can indeed imagine that someone remembers more under hypnosis, but the question is whether this can be used later in court," he said.

In Britain, police do not actively seek the help of psychics during investigations, but all information received from a psychic who feels he is "able to assist … is given due consideration," Scotland Yard spokeswoman Kate Southern said in an e-mailed statement.

Southern said, however, that she was unaware of any investigations that progressed significantly because of information provided by a psychic.

Southern had no information on the use of hypnotists in connection with investigations.

The Interior Ministry declined to comment for this article.

A Moscow police officer said he had been consulting a psychic in missing persons investigations since 2000. The officer, who requested anonymity, saying he feared that his superiors would label him "helpless" if they knew, said the psychic helped him solve cases faster by pointing him in the right direction.

He said the psychic typically gives him a large area to search for a missing person and then he uses his experience as an investigator to determine which parts to comb.

"Sooner or later, any case is solved, even without a medium's assistance," he said. "I turn to the medium to save time."

Staff Writer Nikolaus von Twickel contributed to this report.