Texas: Police: We were right to act on tip about bodies

By Juan A. Lozano

Associated Press

HARDIN, Texas (AP) -- The anonymous caller claiming to be a psychic offered police a startling tip: Multiple bodies, including those of children, had been buried at a rural Texas home.

Officers searched the property and quickly concluded the tip was a hoax but not before a flurry of media reports indicated that a mass grave had been found containing the remains of as many as 30 people.

Still, authorities insisted that they were right to take the information seriously because of the severity of the crime that was alleged. Experts and other law enforcement agencies agreed, explaining that most tips must be investigated regardless of the source.

The female caller first contacted the Liberty County Sheriff's Department on Monday, claiming that the bodies were at a home near Hardin, about 70 miles northeast of Houston. After a search of the area turned up nothing, she called back Tuesday and said deputies had gone to the wrong house.

Deputies went to a different home and found blood on a back door and detected a foul odor. By Tuesday afternoon, county deputies, the Texas Rangers and FBI agents were in the neighborhood awaiting a search warrant so they could go inside.

Sheriff's Capt. Rex Evans said the fact that the tip came from someone claiming to be a psychic did not make it any less valid. Although his agency had never acted on a tip from a psychic, the department has received valid anonymous tips that resulted in arrests.

"I do believe there was perhaps a moment of pause, yes," Evans said. "However, due to the severity of the allegations she was making, we felt it prudent to at least make the attempt to investigate it and to determine whether or not the information she had given had any validity or not."

Psychics have played a role in previous high-profile cases. About 600 psychics contacted authorities in the search for Elizabeth Smart, who in 2002 was kidnapped at knifepoint from her Salt Lake City home. The then-14-year-old was held captive for nine months before she was found alive.

Some of the psychics claimed she had been killed. Police said they did not turn away anyone with possible insight into the case.

In the case of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, who was found beaten and strangled in 1996 in her Boulder, Colo., basement, the girl's parents posted a psychic's composite sketch of a suspect on their website to no avail. A grand jury investigation ended with no indictments.

Word that deputies were investigating a possible mass grave got out before a single body had been confirmed, producing numerous erroneous news reports.

Evans said "some media outlets perhaps distorted some of the information they had been provided or perhaps utilized distorted information from third and fourth parties" that went beyond what was released at the scene.

The Associated Press advised subscribers that its journalists were looking into the matter, but never reported that any bodies had been found.

Evans said investigators are still working to track down the psychic tipster, who could face charges.

Published: Fri, Jun 10, 2011