08/31/05

    BY MARGARET F. BONAFIDE
    TOMS RIVER BUREAU

    Call it intuition. Call it a phenomenon or instinct. But those who sort clues to solve crimes won't turn away tips even if they sometimes come from unusual sources.

    Like a psychic, for instance.

    In missing persons cases, psychics may offer their help to law enforcement, but it is less likely that police departments will solicit psychic assistance about a particular case.

    For instance, Barbara Mackey, an Island Heights resident who works as a psychic, said she recently went to Florida in connection with a case involving a missing teen. But Annamarie Cruz Randazzo, 17, of Cape Coral, was found dead as Mackey was arriving in Florida.

    A detective working on the Randazzo case, Bennett Walker, said he received a call from Mackey, who said she wanted to help. She told him she saw "water and a bridge," which could describe many places in Florida, Walker said.

    "When she asked if I would meet with her," Walker said, "we just had a missing girl. I knew (Mackey) had come, but we did not do anything with her because the day she came down" turned out to be the day police obtained confessions of the two men charged in Randazzo's murder.

    However, "we will listen to anybody, anyone," Walker said. "We are not going to necessarily direct resources" away from other things that are more solid, but officers are free to "follow up and go right ahead" to check out tips, whether from a psychic or not.

    "I just knew things when I looked at people," Mackey said of her experiences as a psychic. "I didn't ask for this. I was a writer for children's plays. I wanted to be a screenwriter."

    On occasion, Mackey has offered assistance locally. That information is not ignored, said Executive Assistant Ocean County Prosecutor Robert A. Gasser, but forensic science and DNA evidence are, of course, given much more weight.

    "Skeptical or not skeptical, (investigators) certainly are attuned to any information one might suggest; whether you believe in it or not is irrelevant," Gasser said. "Information or a suggestion is made, and the source would be given consideration."

    Melissa Ellis is a search-and-rescue K9 trainer with Bay Area Recovery K-9 of Florida, which was involved in searching for Randazzo and also in the search in Aruba for missing Alabama teen Natalee Holloway, she said.

    Ellis said her organization works strictly for law enforcement. If someone comes to the nonprofit organization for help, they are first directed to the police, Ellis said.

    Ellis met with Mackey on Aug. 6, the same days the girl's body was found. The two worked together in searching for clues in Randazzo's murder, Ellis said.

    "Every once in a while we will work with psychics, if the family wants it and law enforcement wants it," Ellis said. "We don't want to pass up any leads."

    Working with dogs, Ellis has a profound respect for the animal's intuition and instincts, and believes the gift lies with dogs as well as people.

    "I think that probably there are people out there who are psychic, because some seem to have good tips which pan out and others seem to not pan out," Ellis said. "I haven't worked with them that long, but some of them may be real."

    (STAFF PHOTO: TIM MC CARTHY) Barbara Mackey, an Island Heights resident, talks about her experiences as a psychic, which include lending assistance to police.