(The following chapter is from A Mind For Murder, Published by Hampton Roads Publishing Company)
January 28, 1984. A small-chartered plane carrying four passengers had mysteriously vanished from the sky somewhere over rural Massachusetts or New Hampshire. The Civil Air Patrol and the U.S. Air Force had searched diligently for ten bone-chilling winter days before giving up the grueling hunt. They had a limited budget, and they would come to the end of what they could do. But Jessica Herbert, the sister of one of the missing passengers, didn't want the search to end. When she asked an official from the Civil Air Patrol what he would need to start up the search again, he replied, “The location.” In February, she called me for help.
“Good morning, Ms. Renier. My name is Jessica Herbert. I need your help.” The woman on the other end of the line was clearly upset, and she wasted no time in getting to the point. “My brother has been lost in a plane wreck and they can’t find him. It’s been days. You’ve got to help me. I’m at my wit’s end. I don’t know what to do.”
A plane wreck? Why she was calling me? Yes, I had located people who were missing. But an airplane? I wouldn’t know where to begin. She sounded worried, and I didn’t want to waste her time, so I explained that I had never been asked to find an airplane. “I honestly don't believe I can help you,” I said. “I don't find things, I describe murderers. I work with the police on unsolved homicides.”
“Usually, I touch something the victims were wearing when they were killed,” I told the distraught woman. “I just can’t do this in your case.” But she was not going to let me turn her down.
“Ms. Renier,” she pleaded, “you have been highly recommended by my ex-husband, Mark Babyak, an FBI agent. You were also validated by Special Agent Ressler,” she added.
That stopped me. What could I say? Robert always backed me up, especially in the face of skeptics, and recommended my services to the police. Now it looked like I had impressed at least two people at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and I was flattered. But I still didn’t think I could help this woman find a missing plane.
“I'm so sorry your brother is missing,” I said more firmly, waving my cigarette in the air for emphasis. Too bad, she couldn’t see it. “I understand your urgency, but I don't normally find airplanes.” I started repeating myself. Maybe she just didn’t hear me the first time. “I work on homicides. Usually, I touch something that was on the victim when he or she was killed. We can't do that with your brother. He’s missing, the airplane is missing. I don't think I can . . .”
“Please! You're my last hope. Don’t you understand?” I could hear the woman’s desperation, and my heart went out to her. “They are all giving up trying to find him. The officials have stopped searching. I must find my brother. He eats health food and he’s into physical fitness—he’s in great physical shape. He played professional hockey. He could still be alive. Please try. He’s my only brother.”
I gave up. “Okay,” I agreed reluctantly. This was beyond my scope, I knew, but I just could not say no. “Can you drive out to see me tomorrow? And bring me something your brother touched or used a great deal before he disappeared.”
It was about a two-hour drive from where she lived in Washington, D.C., to my rural home in Virginia. I gave her directions and hung up.
As I stubbed out my cigarette, I thought, What the hell have I done now?
Late the following afternoon, as the sun was lazily sliding down toward the Blue Ridge mountains, I greeted Jessica Herbert at the door. She was beautiful—beautyqueen beautiful—with a perfect oval face and warm, intelligent brown eyes that smiled as she introduced herself. She was expensively dressed in a cream silk blouse and dark slacks with her jacket draped over her arm. The outfit looked good on her model-thin figure. She was clearly exhausted, and not just from the long drive down. Her brother’s disappearance had grabbed her and wouldn’t let go.
I led Jessica down the entry hall to my combination library and office, and she sank gracefully into one of theater chairs. I told her that I made no promises or guarantees, and it would be up to her to recognize and follow up on any clues I produced. As I explained how I worked, I slipped an audiotape into my recorder, which sat next to my ashtray on my old red trunk. She gazed around at the red bookshelves that lined the walls, crammed with books about metaphysics and psychic phenomena. The smoke from a stick of night jasmine incense curled upward in circles, filling the room with one of my favorite scents.
Jessica handed me an expensive billfold that had belonged to her brother, and began to tell me about him. I interrupted, reminding her that I preferred not to know any details or personal background. “Strange as it may seem, the less you tell me the more I will be capable of telling you.”
I spoke slowly and soothingly and gave her my entire attention. The room was still. In a private blessing, I envisioned a light-like energy moving from me to her, removing the hysterical edge I felt within her.
I pushed the record button on the tape recorder and leaned back in my chair, lightly stroking the wallet in my hand. I explained what I was doing. “I’m going to try to describe your brother to see if I’m tuning in to him. Then I will ask you to confirm or deny my impressions.”
“All right,” answered Jessica, “I understand.” She seemed surprised at the authoritative tone my voice had suddenly assumed.
Surrendering to the soothing jasmine scent, I closed my eyes. Breathing deeply and exhaling slowly, I began my usual warm-up period, trying to see what her brother looked like. I do this for two reasons. First, to make sure I am correctly tuning into the target and checking to see if my psychic ability is working. Second, it gives my clients confidence in me as a psychic. If this part is at least 75 percent successful, I continue. If not, I call it a day and stop.
I sat quietly for a time before speaking.
“Okay,” I began, “I want to see this young man. I want to see Jessica’s brother. Let me see . . . yes, I see a young man. Blond, straight hair to his shoulders. He is not quite six feet tall. He's good looking. I see some sort of space in his front teeth . . . no, I'm wrong, something happened to that space. He must be very nervous because I can see he bites his nails . . . “
Finished for the moment, my eyes opened. “Am I there or not?” I asked Jessica.
“Why, yes. That was very good,” Jessica smiled in amazement.
“Could you give me specifics? What did I say that was right?”
“Well, all of it. You got his hair and his size right, and the space in the teeth. He had a large space in his front teeth, but one year earlier he had gotten braces fitted, and the space closed, and it was also right that he bit his nails. He just started doing that recently.”
Satisfied, I closed my eyes again and focused my attention on the other three people in the small plane. I described the two men sitting in the front seats, and the pretty young woman who sat in the back of the small plane who was sitting with Jessica’s brother. Their faces entered my mind so easily that I felt confident I was connected. At the time, she could not confirm my information because she had never met the other passengers. It turned out later, however, that my descriptions were accurate.
Jessica was impatient. She wanted me to see the airplane. “Where is it? Where is the plane?”
The clock on the mantle ticked loudly in the stillness of the old farmhouse. I was deep inside the world that had opened to me through her brother’s wallet, calmly abiding in a place outside of time and space. Reaching into the unknown, I began searching for the airplane.
I saw the downed plane immediately. In fact, I found myself almost on top of it. I was on the side of a hill, but all I could see around me were trees. I felt walled in by them, and I knew no one could see me. This was no help. Suddenly, I remembered the advice of my early mentor, Dr. David Jones. He once told me that if a particular image was not clear, I should try changing vantage points.
I had no one here to direct me, so I had to direct myself. This was turning out to be quite an experience. Seeking a new angle, I asked my mind to go higher. Now I was above the trees. I had a panoramic view! In an instant, my perception changed and I was the plane. It was an impossible, exhilarating feeling.
The night was black, and I was circling a small, dark, deserted airstrip. Without warning, beams of lights flooded the sky, disorienting the pilot.
As the plane, I turned sharply left, veering toward towering hills. The area looked primitive, undeveloped. I caught glimpses of rocks below, and sensed quicksand and big gorges underneath me. I was flying very low, too low. Suddenly, I felt a pulling sensation and made a sharp turn toward the right, but it was too late. A down draft was sucking me into the hills. As I plummeted out of control, trees rushed to greet me. I was swallowed and concealed by their thick foliage.
The next moment numbers began to enter my mind, and I knew I was no longer the plane. I saw two sets of numbers. Breathlessly, I repeated them to my client. I could feel they were important.
Now letters came into my head. “I see three letters.” I said. “H, D, and A . . . they are significant . . . they could be initials of towns . . . they definitely have something to do with the location of the missing airplane.” (I don't remember the exact letters I saw)
Unexpectedly, the skyline of a large city filled my mind's eye. I told Jessica the approximate number of miles the plane would be from “the big city.”
The images changed again. I was back in the sky, hovering over the crash site, but I was no longer the plane. Now I was pure consciousness. I could not see the plane because of the thickness of the trees. So I began searching for something I could describe to my client. As I flew over the area, a dirt road came into focus, and I followed the thin yellow thread of a winding road down the mountainside. I told Jessica, “There is an old dirt road near the crash site, and at the bottom of it . . . is an old fashioned house. The house has been turned into a gas station . . .it's rickety . . . I see an old rusting sign . . . it looks like a Texaco sign.”
An old woman's face came into my mind. Encouragingly, she smiled a toothless grin and then vanished. I said, “There's an old woman who runs the gas station. She doesn't have any teeth. She sells a lot of junk.”
I told Jessica how confused I was about the old woman. It felt as if she was there and not there at the same time. Later, we learned the toothless old lady had died the year before.
My body jerked suddenly, startled by the sound of barking dogs. “She has lots of hunting dogs, I can hear them.”
I opened my eyes, exhausted. I looked at Jessica as I dragged deeply on my cigarette. She gazed at me, her dark brown eyes full of hope. Her unspoken enthusiasm recharged my psychic energy, and I continued.
“When you reach the gas station, take the dirt road up the mountain. You don't need to go all the way to the top. The plane will be found to the right of the road. It didn't explode.”
I pressed the thin billfold against my forehead, slowly exhaling a cloud of smoke. I was still hovering over the scene, an uninvolved observer. I looked calmly at the two dead men in the front seat of the crashed plane. Their necks were broken.
Then my attention focused on a well-built young man in the back seat. Even though my eyes were closed, I could feel Jessica growing more intent. I saw the young man lifting something with great effort and carrying it out of the mangled plane. After a few steps he placed it gently on some dark flat rocks, under a tree.
“It’s your brother . . . now he's walking away . . . he's survived the crash,” I yelled, as I continued to watch him. After he took a few steps, he lunged forward. His leg buckled under him and he sank to a sitting position. “His leg is hurt . . . it’s broken.” As I felt Jessica's increasing excitement, my logical mind broke through my consciousness and I screamed, “No! He couldn't have. There is no way he could have survived that crash.”
I was afraid Jessica’s desire to find her brother alive had affected the images I was receiving. Maybe I was reading her mind, seeing what she wanted me to see.
Opening my eyes, I was almost yelling at her. “It's you, you want me to see him alive! I'm afraid I'm telling you what you want to hear. I can't do any more. I have to stop. I'm exhausted.”
Jessica, showing more hope than when she arrived, reassured me. “It's okay . . . it's all right, Noreen. Go rest.” Gratefully, I relaxed a bit and told her that the information I had given her was just visions. Everything I saw would fall into place in the end, but it would be up to her to figure out how to put it together.
“I'll take this new information back to the officials in charge,” Jessica said, gathering her belongings. “Hopefully, we'll search again.” She thanked me, paid me, and took the audiotape. After she left, I walked slowly upstairs to bed and fell into a deep sleep.
Two days later, Jessica called me. They had found the plane! My clues had been accurate. Sadly, her brother and the other occupants of the plane were dead, just as I had seen them.
With deep emotion, she told me what had taken place. She and Mark had taken my information to the head investigator of the Civil Air Patrol in the area—the crash had already been narrowed down to a rugged area in western Massachusetts—who was pretty skeptical—information from a psychic did not impress him, and they had called off the search two days ago. But when he heard about the abandoned Texaco station and the old woman, he got a lot more interested. In fact, there was an old combination gas station–dry goods store nearby, with the rusting metal sign hanging in front. The woman who had owned it had died about a year ago—which jibed with my feeling that she was both there and not there—and the place was abandoned now. So much of my information was accurate that he felt he couldn't ignore it. In fact, the numbers I had given Jessica turned out to be longitude and latitude of the downed plane. And the letters? They were the initial letters of the names of three towns whose outskirts all connected in the area marked by the longitude and latitude.
Now everyone was interested again, and the search resumed.
Jessica, Mark Babyak, and off-duty FBI agent Jim Crouse rented a small plane and flew from Virginia to Massachusetts to the general area where it was believed the plane had crashed—near a town called Gardner. They followed directions I had provided when I was the plane—landmarks, speed, sharp turns, longitude and latitude, and they saw what I had described. But the weather worsened, and they had to return to the airport.
Agent Babyak decided to go after the ground crews, and he and a friend got into a car and began the search. Meanwhile, Jessica and the FBI pilot returned to the sky, now heavy with storm clouds. Babyak and his friend had a difficult time tracking the plane from the road because they were unfamiliar with the area. But just before they reached the abandoned gas station, they encountered the dogs, which barked so much they decided not to get out of their car.
Soon, the clouds erupted into a snowstorm. Despite the weather, the searchers persisted for several hours, but eventually the Civil Patrol cancelled the search for that day. They would resume when the weather improved. It was agonizing to be so near, yet not near enough.
But this was not the end of the story. Residents of the area couldn’t help notice the planes that had been circling overhead, and the following day, a man and his daughter who lived in nearby Templeton decided to take up the search. Carl F. Wilber, 40, and his 18-year-old daughter, Cheryl, chose an appropriate vehicle for the winter search: a snowmobile, which allowed them to explore the woods unhindered. Following some deer tracks, they soon found the crashed plane. Cheryl actually tripped over the body of Arthur Herbert.
The crash site was exactly the way I had described it. Thickly forested and rocky, with quicksand and big gorges. The hill the plane had crashed into had created a strong downdraft that had likely sucked down the low-flying plane—just as I had felt as I plummeted out of control in my vision.
When the authorities arrived, they found the plane intact. All occupants were dead. The two men in the front seat had been crushed by the impact, their necks broken. Sitting on some flat rocks under a nearby tree, as if someone had placed her there, they found the headless body of a young woman. They found the body of Jessica’s brother a few yards away, sitting on the side of a hill, his leg broken, a torn piece of his sweatshirt hanging from a tree branch above him. It was clear to everyone that he had been alive when he left the plane.
Please read the Court Transcripts of FBI Agent, Mark Babyak, FBIAgent, Robert Ressler , and my client Jessica Herbert.