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Carla Baron, Psychic Detective?  Not Quite

by Brian Hart
Skeptical Inquirer, Sept/Oct 2006

Psychic detective. The very phrase conjures up an image of Peter Falk as Columbo, wearing his trademark rumpled raincoat, albeit with a dowsing rod in place of his ever-present cigar.

Reality is another story. The Independent Investigations Group (IIG), in Los Angeles, went in search of a self-described psychic detective named Carla Baron. On her Web site, she makes many specific claims about working on such high-profile cases as those of O.J. Simpson, JonBenet Ramsey, Elizabeth Smart, and others. It was because of the specific nature of her claims that the IIG thought her worthy of our attention.

A group of IIG members recently attended an all-day Learning Annex seminar called "The Three Psychics." We sat through the first two psychics, who gave very general and vague readings with lots of doses of "feel-good-about-yourselves" New Age advice. Carla Baron got up last, and started naming names and specifics about police cases that she claims to have worked on. When the audience pressed her for details, she would readily comply with names of victims, family members, state-police-department names, cities, etc. We took careful notes.

Coincidentally, three IIG members were randomly called to the front of the room for "personal readings" from Carla. A computer consultant fed her the false scenario that he was a screenwriter, and she went into quite an elaborate and detailed story about what he was to expect from his soon-to-be-successful (nonexistent) screenplay. She told another IIG member that he would form his own company and produce a "product or a service," and even told the executive director of CFI/West that his boss was "stealing all the company profits and was under IRS investigation." She also told him that he would soon have a job as a television sportscaster.

Despite the fact that we had all shaken Baron's hand and sat no more than three feet from her while she did her "readings," she never picked up on the fact that none of us were who we claimed to be. If this is how well her psychic powers work at close range, I can't imagine how she "reads" over the phone. Since we were already suspicious of her, starting even with her supposed "credentials," we actually fell more into the role of Columbo, as we were able to question her and listen carefully and critically to her answers.

Armed with fourteen specifically named cases, the IIG went to work on this matter the old-fashioned way. Our lead investigator, Owen Hammer, spent several months tracking down and calling police departments and official spokespersons for victim's families. He even attended a second session with Baron to gather more information.

We found generally that if the policemen in question had heard of Carla Baron, it was because Carla had contacted family members and convinced them to call the police with her psychically derived leads. With one or two exceptions, the policemen we spoke to were either polite in saying, "We have to investigate all leads," or laughed directly at the question of "Do you ever use a psychic in your detective work?" One young police officer in Pennsylvania, working on his first major missing-person case, firmly believes that Baron has given him "some great leads," despite the fact that this particular case is still unsolved four years later.

All in all, we found that of the fourteen cases we looked at, some had been solved by standard police "shoe-leather" detective work, and the rest remain unsolved to this day.

The IIG has put all this information onto its own Web site (www.iigwest. com) and sent out over 100 press releases. Almost immediately, we heard from two organizations that help track missing children and adults. One of them, the ChildSeek Network (at www.childseeknetwork.com), instantly changed its Web site to remove any positive links to Carla Baron, and the other one thanked us for posting accurate information on Baron and her "cases."

Cindy, a representative from angels missing.com told us:

I cannot tell you how many of these
people prey on the missing families
and loved ones.... People in these situations
will believe whatever you tell
them, as they are so vulnerable. This is
why hundreds of missing person's
families and loved ones lose money to
these kinds of people. It saddens me--they
are so disappointed in the end. I
wish more families of the missing
could see [the report].

Carla Baron, psychic detective? Not this time. Give Lt. Columbo back his cigar, take away the dowsing rod, and let him start acting like the smart cop we always knew he was.

Brian Hart is one of the founding members of the Independent Investigators Group (IIG) in Hollywood, which has investigated many claims of the paranormal since 2000.

2006 Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal

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