Sensing Murder, or sensing nonsense?
Doug Blakie wants to know who killed his daughter.
In February 2000, Lisa Blakie was hitchhiking to the West Coast from Timaru when she caught a ride with Timothy Taylor. Four days later, her body was found under a boulder near Arthur's Pass. She had been strangled and stabbed.
And although Taylor was convicted of her murder in 2002, Doug Blakie still maintains others were involved.
Like other families whose loved ones have gone missing or were murdered, he has been approached by psychics since 2000.
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"We were first approached a week or two after Lisa's murder and it went on for almost a year. Genuinely these people were trying to help and spread some light and information of the case."
"Any family who are dealing with a loss would grasp at anything to get some sort of closure of finality."
Blakie says he's a sceptic and he never took up the offers, but about six months ago he contacted the producers of TV show Sensing Murder in an effort to shed some light on the case. He was turned down because there was a risk the psychics may already know too much about the high-profile killing.
"The reason I asked was to bring it again to the public's attention and to try to get the truth. We are still pushing for answers and evidence."
Sensing Murder sets out to do just that – find answers by asking the dead.
The psychics, Sue Nicholson, Deb Webber and Kelvin Cruickshank, are currently filming another series of the popular show, set to screen on TVNZ next year.
With only a photo, or item of clothing, the trio attempt to piece together the final moments of a victim's life.
But are they spiritual swindlers, preying on grieving families, or gifted souls who can communicate with the spirits?
For years academics have claimed to prove talking to the dead is impossible.
Often referenced in their arguments is a British report from 1996 which compared self-proclaimed psychics with psychology students.
Each participant was given an item that was involved in a crime, such as clothing, and the subjects were asked to say what may have occurred.
They were also given a list of statements about the crimes, only some of which were true.
When the answers were tallied up and tested, the psychics had come no closer to the truth than the students.
A team at Yale University are currently testing to see if psychics' ability to control the voices in their heads could be learnt by schizophrenia sufferers.
New Zealand Skeptics Society President Mark Honeychurch says time and time again, evidence proves shows such as Sensing Murder, and those on it, are a con.
When he met psychic Sue Nicholson in 2013 he walked away believing she genuinely thought she is gifted.
"Having met her I came away thinking she believes she has powers."
Science, however, proves she is mistaken, according to Honeychurch.
"They are claiming they can talk to the dead when they have no good evidence they can actually do it.
"They should look at themselves and ask if they are 100 per cent confident they have these abilities. If they are not, then they shouldn't do it," he said.
He points out no police department has ever solved a crime due to the help of a psychic.
New Zealand police do not solicit the help of psychics but will review any new information when it comes to hand.
In the past they have played ball with Sensing Murder.
One of the more notable moments of the show was when Cruickshank and Webber delved into the disappearance of Kaye Stewart.
Stewart, a retired Wellington physiotherapist, vanished on June 13, 2005, after visiting Rimutaka Forest Park for a short walk.
No-one has been charged in relation to her disappearance, and the case remains open.
During the filming of the show, Webber uncannily gave police the name of a man who was a person of interest in the case.
Both psychics also claimed she had been hit on the back of her head.
Detective Senior Sergeant Ross Levy said at the time that he was "very impressed" the psychics were able to disclose information that had not been publicly released.
Last year, it was revealed police suggested the last person to see Stewart alive might have accidentally hit her with his quad bike.
Stewart's daughter, Jane Galanakis, says that although the psychics were able to paint a picture of what may have happened, they didn't provide any fresh leads.
"Unfortunately nothing gave us new information. Unfortunately, we were not able to find Mum or any more clues based on any of the information given to us."
The lack of answers and mounting pile of questions has enticed them to seek help from the programme.
"For us, our Mum was gone. There was no sight of her, we had to try and do everything we possibly could.
"It was worth looking into on a practical, research level."
SEEKING HELP FROM THE SPIRITS
The desire for a fresh lead also prompted Judith Furlong, the mother of murdered Auckland woman Jane Furlong, to allow the psychics to review the case in 2008.
Jane, a sex worker, went missing in 1993 along Auckland's Karangahape Road.
At the time Sensing Murder was filmed, her body remained missing and the case was cold.
When Cruickshank and Webber supposedly began communicating with Furlong's spirit, they both sensed her body was missing.
They then tried to pinpoint her remains.
"She's not outside the city, she is inside the city. She is making reference to a park," Cruickshank insisted.
"She keeps saying, 'I was not removed from the city'."
Webber was drawn to the Auckland Domain where she believed Furlong may have been killed.
However, in 2013, Furlong's remains were recovered, not in foliage at the domain, but in the dunes of Sunset Beach at Port Waikato.
In 2008, Furlong dismissed the psychics' findings as hogwash.
"I did anything at that stage. Any publicity is good publicity.
"I am a bit like the police, I only deal in facts. But people do watch it. The police, well they might pretend they don't take any notice, but they do."
Furlong voiced her concerns earlier this year when TVNZ began re-showing old episodes without telling victims' families.
"What annoys me is the way it is portrayed as entertainment. It is not bloody entertainment, it is people's lives.
"They made truckloads of dollars out of that programme. I hate the way they put it as entertainment."
TVNZ is coy when it comes to saying what new cases are under the microscope. But a spokeswoman said family involvement was crucial to the series.
"The production team works closely with the victims' families and they are involved and kept informed through various stages of filming and production.
"In fact, in many instances, the cases are selected following an approach by a family member."
Grief specialist and Youthline chief executive Stephen Bell said the hunger for answers could be problematic.
"I am cautious of people offering a solution to something which can't be solved."
Coming to terms with the unthinkable was always tough, but accepting the finality of death was an important step.
"I don't think it is unusual for people to be reaching out to find some sense of support, or some sense of answering the unanswerable questions.
"I get concerned for people being taken advantage of our desperateness, loss and shock.
"It is very easy to turn to something which gives you a sense of hope."
When psychics get it wrong the cost can be high. In 2004, world renowned psychic Sylvia Browne announced on US television that missing woman Amanda Berry was dead.
She appeared on a daytime show to pass on a message from Berry to her mother, Louwana Miller. She said Berry was, "In heaven and on the other side" and that her last words were, "Goodbye, mum, I love you."
Her claim was proven false in 2013 when Berry, along with her six-year-old daughter, escaped from a sex dungeon she had been kept in by Ariel Castro for 10 years.
Following Berry's escape, a wave of criticism came down on Browne.
"Only God is right all the time," Browne said at the time.
The true effectiveness of psychics will likely never be proven.
What is certain is grieving families are left hungry for more answers when their loved ones are taken in cruel and unusual ways.
As a new series is being filmed, new families will be embarking on the Sensing Murder journey.
Fantasy or fact, Judith Furlong says you can't blame families for turning to the programme for clarity.
She may have washed her hands of psychics after their false findings, but she has no regrets trying.
"I look up to the sky and see a big question mark when it comes to Jane."
"Ultimately, people just want answers."
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- Sunday News