The Oracle at Nutley

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:22

    "I was present with her during interviews regarding the homicide," DeLitta relates flatly, recalling the 1993 case, "and in my opinion she was very accurate with the information that she supplied us." The chief instructed her to concentrate on the unnamed suspect's residence. "She said you had to go by a produce market to get to his house." True. "She made a statement that he lived on a street that had a double letter in it, and that his last name had a double letter in it." Both true. "I asked her to key in on the suspect's vehicle, and she said that one headlight was out?and one headlight was out." And she advised the cops that the murder weapon could be found in a river. "A year later, when we apprehended the individual, he gave us a statement that the weapon was in a river."

    For more than 30 years, Nutley housewife and mom Dorothy Allison assisted U.S. police agencies in their efforts to find missing persons, often children, and to locate homicide suspects. A wall in her home groans with citations sent to her by grateful cops, some of whom have testified to her psychic abilities. Like DeLitta: "I know there're a lot of fakes and charlatans out there who prey on the personal loss of an individual. But in Dorothy's case I really felt that she had the gift."

    Born and raised in Jersey City, one of 13 kids of a mother she called a "seer," Allison claimed her first psychic episode occurred at age 14 when she predicted her father would die within two weeks. He did. Pneumonia. Her psychic detecting career began when she approached the Nutley police in late 1967, telling them she'd had a "vision" of a little boy?blond, blue eyes, green snowsuit, shoes on wrong feet?who had drowned in a pond and was now stuck in a drainpipe. In early February 1968, a missing child, dressed in a green snowsuit, his shoes on the wrong feet, was found drowned.

    "From there," reports Allison's son Alex, "things just snowballed," as his mother worked on more and more missing persons/homicide cases, sometimes volunteering her services, sometimes summoned by stymied detectives, always accepting money only for travel expenses. In 1974 Randolph Hearst requested she assist in the search for his daughter Patricia, abducted by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Allison's "feelings" told her that Patty had been hiding out with the group in Pennsylvania and later in New York City. Eventually, it came to light that the SLA fugitives had spent time in both places. More than two years later she provided NYC cops with what proved to be an accurate description of Son of Sam killer David Berkowitz, adding that his capture would be related to a traffic violation, a tidbit that also proved correct.

    "Clairvoyance, telepathy, and extrasensory perception aren't words I use to describe what I do, because I don't know anything about those," Allison explained to Paulette Cooper and Paul Noble in their 1996 book The 100 Top Psychics in America. "It's just natural for me to see a kaleidoscope of pictures in my mind."

    With an increased caseload through the 70s and 80s came fame: appearances on tv, profiles in countless magazines, including People, Newsweek and Time. She acquired a publicist and, with Scott Jacobson, wrote 1980's Dorothy Allison: A Psychic Story. At 5 feet, 2 inches and 135 pounds, a tousled mound of dark hair framing a face distinguished by oversize glasses, Allison's garrulousness and penchant for self-promotion catapulted her to "America's Most Famous Psychic Sleuth" status, as investigative writer Michael Dennett dubbed her in his chapter of the same name in the 1994 book Psychic Sleuths: ESP and Sensational Cases.

    Not surprisingly, Allison's notoriety riled many pooh-poohers, among them magician James Randi, the big debunker. Speaking from his office in Fort Lauderdale, Randi wastes no time eviscerating Allison's rep: "I spoke with so many detectives in so many towns all over the U.S. who said she came in, sat with them for two or three hours, and said things like, 'There's a red color here. I get a double initial, like an R or a B. Also, there's water, flowing water. And rain?I get rain. And newspaper. And the smell of oil or gasoline?oh, it's very strong. And I see a small car, a light-colored car, somehow involved.' It goes on and on, with all this generalization. It's a case of giving a tremendous amount of data, and hoping that some of it will prove to have some relationship to reality."

    Dennett reached a similar conclusion after meticulously examining several of the more than 5000 cases Allison claimed she'd helped solve by the time she died of heart failure at age 74 on Dec. 1 (fulfilling her prophecy, Alex says, that she wouldn't live to see 75). In the 1980 Atlanta child murders, Dennett points out that of the 42 names she offered Atlanta detectives in connection with the killer, none panned out. He also rounds up quotes from cops who worked with Allison and considered her psychic detecting bogus. Ultimately he asserts, "Her success rate in solving crimes or in finding bodies is very close to, if not actually, zero."

    "And yet there are people who absolutely swear by her," observes author Cooper. She shares a telling anecdote: "I interviewed her for a story about missing persons 10 years before I did my book. I was in heavy litigation at the time. We got into a discussion, and she said she also was going through heavy litigation. I said, 'How is this going to end?' And she told me, 'Fine.' So I asked, 'How will your situation end?' And she said, 'Oh, I see the number four-five-zero-zero.'

    "So I turned in my story, but was asked to get somebody to back up her claims. So I interviewed her lawyer, the one who was handling her litigation. He said, 'She's wonderful, yadda-yadda-yadda.' Then I said, 'I understand you're involved in a case with Dorothy.' He said, 'Yes, the other side offered $4500.' I dropped the phone!"

    Send tips regarding departed worthies to: