Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Sensing Murder: Insult

The news that Sensing Murder was returning filled me with dismay, but not surprise. The mix of psychic tomfoolery, murder mystery and graphic 'recreations' could hardly fail, and by making the programs look like CSI style drama, the producers may have quietened concerns about their shameless recycling of real pain and death and grief as entertainment.

I watched part of the previous series, and wrote a critique (1) of the episode featuring the murder of Olive Walker. Others have provided very detailed eviserations (2) of two other episodes from that series.

The new series was preceded by a special episode, titled Sensing Murder: Insight. It promised two things, First, a sceptic would witness the filming of a Sensing Murder case, featuring star Aussie psychic Deb Weber. Second, we would be up-dated on the progress of cases featured in the last series. The programme was astounding.

The most astonishing thing was the identity of the sceptic - what was Nigel Latta doing in this schlocky tabloid absurdity? Latta is a respected criminal psychologist, known for working with some of our most dangerous young killers (3) and with child abusers. He's a professional, sensible chap, with keen insight. I can't underastand what prompted him to lend crediblity to this balderdash.

His presence was especially odd, given the reservations he expressed about the honesty of the producers, suspecting - as I do - that a lot of footage is left out, and only the occasional correct guess is left in. The producers are also guilty of manipulating and distorting what the psychics say to try to make it credible, as shown in the Olive Walker case (4). Why Latta thought he would get a fair showing from people with a vested interest in protecting the program's shaky credibility is unclear.

Offered access to the filming, Latta should have insisted on the right to producing his own commentary, with control over content and context, rather than allowing the producers to pick what they wanted. Perhaps he made a trade off in the hope of being able to do a seperate expose. The producers suggested he wasn't able to account for what he witnessed, and was left with his scepticism severely tested by the end of it. I'd like to hear his side, unmediated by the producers of Sensing Murder.

At one point, he said that he thought Weber was genuine, and though he was clearly meant that he didn't think she was manufacturing a performance, the producers presented this so that it seemed he was endorsing her supposed psychic powers. Similarly, it seemed that many of his comments were cut off. I wondered how many but's or however's were left out. We don't know how long Weber spent communing with the spirit of the dead woman. We don't know how many false leads she followed before getting lucky. She managed to spell out part of the dead woman's name, but this was could have been little more than hangman style guessing, retaining correct guesses and discarding the incorrect.

Perhaps by watching for signaling - concious or unconscious - between Weber and the producers, Latta was looking in the wrong place. Perhaps the truth was simpler. The case Weber was 'investigating' was the murder of Margaret Walker. This had previously been featured on New Zealand television, on 20/20. The son of the dead woman has maintained - in spite of police findings of accidental death - that she was murdered by an unknown party. He has campaigned for the case to be re-opened (5). So the case is not obscure and it is reasonable to wonder if Weber may have been familiar with it. This would account for what Latta found most puzzling - Weber's ability to lead them straight to the house where Walker died - though if Weber was communing with the spirit of Walker, why the need to go walk-about at all? (6)

Once Weber was inside the house, I noticed that something interesting happened, or didn't happen. In the hallway where Walker died, after (according to the police) falling down the stairs, Weber walked straight up the stairs to describe how Walker went to the toilet before she met her death. In doing so, she passed right over the spot where Walker's body was found, without a moment's hesitation. It is surprising that the shade of Margaret Walker felt the pressing need to tell us about her bladder, before telling us about how she met her death. Maybe the dead have different priorities from the rest of us. If Weber was familiar with the case, it would also explain how she 'sensed' the death wasn't a murder. Naturally, the producers claimed was dramatic confirmation of the police version, though it confrimed nothing at all. I can stand in a hallway and declare whatever I like. It doesn't make it so.

The remainder of the program reviewed the six cases of the previous series. We were told that the police were investigating new information as a result of the series. They didn't explain - though it was apparent from comments made by a policeman interviewed early on - that this new information had arisen from the boost given to the cases by the programs, not from the 'leads' provided by the psychics. So, at best, you could say Sensing Murder is a tacky sort of crimewatch, encouraging people to come forward with information that might be helpful.

As it is, none of the cases featured in the previous series have been solved. Sensing Murder's producers claim they have managed to identify suspicious individuals, where descriptions or photofits have lead to a name being suggested, but police investigations have not lead to any arrests. Some of the details given by the psychics were clearly wrong - it was suggested the killer of Olive Walker had a distinctive tattoo. Police identified someone they already had in custody, based on the photofit composed by Weber. But no confirmation that he had the tattoo. Surely, with the person incarcerated, it would be fairly easy to check? So presumably, no tattoo.

The bottom line is that Sensing Murder has failed to provide any information that has lead to arrests. The six cases still remain unsolved. The psychics failed. The series, a nasty, tacky, exploitative piece of tabloid junk, should be shunned as an insult to the memory of the murdered people, and because of the insult it offers to their grieving kin, seeking comfort in the falsehoods and lies peddled by the program-makers and the so-called 'psychics.'

1 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/02/sensing-murder.html
2 - A general over-view otf the series, highlighting its flaws, and then two detailed examinations of the episodes 'A Bump in the Night' and 'A Fallen Angel' are available here: http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~nogods/murder.html#heading-1a
3 - As described previously on lefthandpalm:
http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/07/bailey-junior-kurariki-applies-for.html
4 - See note 1, above.
5 - "Mother's Mysterious Death Haunts Son," unattributed One News article, 16th of September, 2005. (
http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/411365/611552). The 20/20 clip is available at the same web address.
6 - Weber hasn't always been so assured. The analysis of 'A Bump in the night' (see note 2) includes a descrption of Weber standing in the street, pointing at houses, one after the other, saying "That one?" until the 'positive statement' is confirmed by the production team, who also helpfully point the camera at the house before she has identified it. The other psychic on the case, Kelvin Cruikshank, was even less successful, eventually having to be told which house was the right one. Doh!

8 comments:

Cinna said...

You may be interested to read Nigel Latta's comments about the filming experience on his website www.goldfishwisdom.co.nz

Also, you have named the victims incorrectly in your blog.

They are Olive Walker (featured in series 1 - not Olive Senior) and Margaret Walker (featured in Sensing Murder Insight).

lurgee said...

Thanks for the heads up on the names. A quick google blast advises thatOlive Senior is a Jamaican writer, and casting my mind back, I recall that one of her books was a set text at universtiy. How my mind retains this information, and regurgitates it and inconvenient moments, is beyond me.

I was one of about 15,000,000 (I may be exaggerating) people who emailed Nigel Latta begging for him to reveal how he was misrepresented by the Sensing Murder team, and hoping he'd be able to reveal THE TRUTH to us.

Not so. The idea that Sensing Murder would mispresesent Latta, on reflection, was a bit naive. After all, he'd be quick to point out the deception and that would give the show's critics ammunition. So they played it straight. It is also unlikely that they'd try any funny games while being observed.

This leads me back to my suspicion that Weber may have been familiar with the case. In the opening post, I pointed the way to a couple of detailed critiques of the previous episodes, and fgrom these it is clear just how hopeless the 'psychics' can be. The fact that Weber was so 'on the money' this time around suggests that she wasn't in the dark about the case. Perhaps she didn't know what case she was reading, at first, and just groped her way through the cold reading. She might not even remember having seen the episode of 20/20 that featured Margaret Walker's death, but drawn on it un- or sub- consciously.

Anonymous said...

Do you have an open mind? Have you been to see a Medium? Have you sat in the audience in a show of Deb Webber or one of the other Psychics? If you have answered NO to any or all of these questions, then YOU don't know what you are talking about!!! Before you judge, go and sit in the audience of a show by Deb Webber, you will see how genuine she is, until then, shut your trap and open your mind some!!!!

lurgee said...

Do you have an open mind? Have you been to see a Medium? Have you sat in the audience in a show of Deb Webber or one of the other Psychics?

I'm more than happy to attend a psychic's show, but not if I have to pay for it. If you, Weber, Kruickshank or anyone else cares to provide complimentary tickets for a Palmy show, and I have nothing better to do with my time, I would attend.

If you have answered NO to any or all of these questions, then YOU don't know what you are talking about!!! Before you judge, go and sit in the audience of a show by Deb Webber, you will see how genuine she is

I make no claim to knowing what I am talking about when it comes to live performances by Weber or anyone else, but my comments about Sensing Murder are informed by viewing - as you'll note, in some detail - the work of the psychics on the show. Surely, watching her on Sensing Murder counts for something and allows me to advance an opinion based on that evidence

Or are you admitting that Sensing Murder is worthless, schlock entertainment?

until then, shut your trap and open your mind some!!!!

I'm totally open minded to something that can be proven under scientific conditions. If Weber or any other psychic will consent to a trial of their ability under pre-agreed, controlled, scientific conditions, then I'll accept they have demonstrated some form of 'paranormal' ability.

Until then, open your own mind and ask, why haven't the psychics ever taken up a challenge like this? Since they like to bag each other and claim that the profession is riffe with charlatans, wouldn't it be in their own interest to establish who had true abilities.

Anonymous said...

I have seen two episodes of Sensing Murder only, the first being the little tot who disappeared from a holiday home. Was anyone ever arrested as the psychics claimed to know who the killer was. If there was an arrest I would have faith in their powers.
Jan W

ama8 said...

Sensing Murder Insult

its amazing how no matter what conditions are in place to support that the mediums dont have prior knowledge or are being fed info along the way , the skeptic will always find a way to suggest this.

if its not deception on the mediums part then it must be dishonest producers, cameramen, editing or anything really ,just so long as the skeptic can discredit it. obviously a days filming has to edited down to one hour or else it would be an all day programme wouldnt it, complete with the crew having lunch and morning tea etc ,

basically all levels of people in this show are risking their reputation when involved in this type of subject, i guess the skeptics dont feel others reputations are worth anything , therefore someone , dont know who but someone must be up to something

i dont know if the skeptic can read a street map , but even in your own suburb one can get lost or have to look things up , let alone be flown fron aussie to auckland and put in a hotel with a photo that most dont even look at until having usually decribed the exact race, gender, age and physical description of the person and personality traits , lucky guess aye ,

well heres a go , imm i feel its male european about 44 , hes giving me a 6 an a 93 , so I say he died on the 6th or 6th month (june) 1993

answer wrong its a girl , young , indian etc, etc , not that they would say
lucky guesses , how many millions of impossibilities are there for the medium to fall flat on their face in an environment that is mostly skeptic in the first place

even when they use another medium that says the same thing , even brought in a third psychic who also validated the same info ,
it amazing that the extreme skeptic still cant bring themselves to believe anything

I think if the extreme skeptic saw a fully fledged ghost standing in their living room , they could not accept it , better go to the doctor must be an eye problem , maybe chemical imbalance , or dehydration , brain tumour , has to be something because their is no such thing , worst case scenario its a clever trick , could someone be projecting it somehow into my place

basically there is no actual way convince the skeptic at all
and why do we need to waste time and energy on trying to when others can see it

i would imagine that the skeptic doesnt beleive that people can see auras or that there is any such thing , but this has been measured and proven without a doubt by science

as a matter of fact mediums have been tested by the scientic university of arizona with results of 85% accuracy compared to 37% the average person in the same experiment, their brain patterns and heart rates were all measured

incidentally Im a kiwi living in sydney now , having just been in NZ for 5 wks over christmas , there were 10 murders in NZ in the first 2wks of the new year this 2008 yr ,

so how does that stack up against the comment , oh they must have remembered the case or seen it a few years ago on tv or 20/20
especially when they havent even turned the photo over (skeptic answer " theyll have a mirror hidden down there somewhere , mark my words"
its not the mediums fault the the police cant arrest , because of the system we live in , the mediums could give them the description , the address , the name , anything
in fact they do , one person provides as much info as a room full of detectives working years on the case,
but in our society a photo taken with some ones phone and them saying they saw them ,is more beleived thanks to a skeptical system


its only sad that any passed relatives of the skeptic , can never get their messages through ,

one day the skeptics will be in that position themselves as we all will,

but unfortunately the only people that will be able to hear their apologies will be the mediums

lurgee said...

its amazing how no matter what conditions are in place to support that the mediums dont have prior knowledge or are being fed info along the way , the skeptic will always find a way to suggest this.

They may not need to be fed information, they may already have information that thye can draw on. The fact that the Sensing Murder team make it even easier by confirming correct statements is a further boost.

Think about it. In the context of Sensing Murder, the conditions are minimal - New Zealand is a small country, there are a relatively small number of unsolved murders that 'psychics' would be called on to investigate. So some dilligent research would be enough to familiarize themselves with most well known cases.

While not all cases were recent or well known, many wer, and Sensing Murder wasn't above bending the truth to suggest the cases were far more obscure than they really were. The Olive Walker case in Series One was actually high profile, and anyone researching unsolved murders in Rotorua would be familiar with it. It was mentioned in the local papers just a few weeks after the Sensing Murder episode was filmed - suggesting that it was still well enough known to be worthy of a write up.

Ditto the Margret Walker case viewed by Nigel Latta. It was in no way obscure - I knew about it, as it had been featured on 20/20 a few months before. The segment was available to view on the internet, and was the very first hit when I googled 'unsolved death Wellington.'

if its not deception on the mediums part then it must be dishonest producers, cameramen, editing or anything really ,just so long as the skeptic can discredit it.

It's more a case of Sensing Murder discrediting itself, with its hyperkinetic editing style, tacky reconstructions and spooky music and other silliness. 90% of the editing in the show has nothing to do with time contraction, so is unnecessary. If the producers were interesting in turning out a credible piece of psychic television, they would cut back on the reconstructions and the frenetic editing, so we could see what the psychics were actually doing, not what some overworked Johnny in the editing suite was trying to make it apper they were doing.

ibasically all levels of people in this show are risking their reputation when involved in this type of subject, i guess the skeptics dont feel others reputations are worth anything , therefore someone , dont know who but someone must be up to something

Sorry, that's a weird argument. The 'psychics' spout a few random names and the Sensing Murder unleashes their tame detective (retired) to nose about and see if he can find any semi-credible suspect with the same name, who they then identify to the police ... and you say the sceptics have no respect for people's reputations?

Anyway, as said earlier, it should be perfectly easy for the producers to producer a show that - while it might not convince - would atleast answer most of the obvious criticisms about the editing, biased presentation, and possible prior knowledge. You have to wonder why they don't.

Or a psychic could take the Randi Challenge, whch would simultaneously silence 99% of sceptics, advance the case of genuine psychics and make the successful challenger $1 million richer. You have to wonder why they don't.

lucky guesses , how many millions of impossibilities are there for the medium to fall flat on their face in an environment that is mostly skeptic in the first place

The environment they operate in isn't remotely sceptical. The Sensing Murder team don't question ther ability, point out thei failures, or even indicate how much bumff ends up on the editing room floor.

Also a skilled cold reader would be adept at changing their reading if they didn't get the sought after positive response. So if they guess young male and didn't get a hit, they'd then switch to female, suggesting "She's strong, quite a powerful presence, that's why I thought it was a man at first. She had real strength, this one," quickly moving away from their initial mistake.

even when they use another medium that says the same thing , even brought in a third psychic who also validated the same info ,
it amazing that the extreme skeptic still cant bring themselves to believe anything


Problem being we don't know if the other medium said the same thing in the 90% of the footage we don't see, or if we only see the minority of instances when they do coincide. Differences between accounts can be cut out, and the occasional matches left in. Again, the Sensing Murder format makes it impossible to view it as evidence of anything other than that they over-work their editors,

as a matter of fact mediums have been tested by the scientic university of arizona with results of 85% accuracy compared to 37% the average person in the same experiment, their brain patterns and heart rates were all measured

I am familiar with Gary Schwartz's experiments. They are very dubious as science and I think (dodges libel suit) that the statistics you quote are manufactured by statistical manipulation. Hence they haven't been published in a proper peer reviewed scientific journal.

incidentally Im a kiwi living in sydney now , having just been in NZ for 5 wks over christmas , there were 10 murders in NZ in the first 2wks of the new year this 2008 yr ,

so how does that stack up against the comment , oh they must have remembered the case or seen it a few years ago on tv or 20/20


Most of these homicides will be solved in due course. Sensing Murder doesn't deal in recent cases, so none of them will be relevant for the 'psychics' involved in the series. Hopefully, the programme won't be around in another ten years when they might be due for a Sensing Murder investigation.

especially when they havent even turned the photo over (skeptic answer " theyll have a mirror hidden down there somewhere , mark my words"

No need for anything as obvious as a mirror. A simple cold reading will do. "It's a female presence. No response. "Wait, I'm feeling a stronger male vibe nw. It was a man, but he was quiet sensitive, perhaps almost feminine, to people who really knew him ..."

its not the mediums fault the the police cant arrest , because of the system we live in , the mediums could give them the description , the address , the name , anything

in fact they do , one person provides as much info as a room full of detectives working years on the case,


Bullshit. And an insult to the police officers who put in all these hours.

It's pretty sad that the posts that have lead to most responses are the ones on Sensing fucking Murder and party fucking pills.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...so closed minded people all over the world then...pity you havent had some of my experiences you could do with the s**t being scared out of you my dear..Mari Barton uk.

Nasty little shit

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