Police all over the world have been using the psychic powers of American Noreen Renier to help crack seemingly unsolvable crimes and track down missing people. ANDREW SMITH met her on her first visit to Britain.
Twenty years ago, Noreen Renier didn't believe in psychics- in fact she was so skeptical about them that she tried to ban one from lecturing in the hotel where she was a public relations manager. But that decision was a turning point in her life. Until then she had been an average mother of two daughters with a high-profile job, and using her mind for anything other than her daily business had never occurred to her. Then she met the psychic she had tried to turn away, along with others interested in the subject, and her eyes, and most importantly of all her mind, were opened.
"I thought this woman would have a wart on her nose and weird clothes but when we met, of course, she didn't have as much as a pimple," said Noreen during a break in a seminar on the scientific investigation of crime in Durham City where she was lecturing yesterday.
She gave me a few books to read and I became obsessed with the subject, I would go round to a friend's house and practice using my psychic powers. "At the office, I couldn't concentrate and anyone who came to see me I would try something on."
"Eventually I was fired which was no surprise as I hadn't worked for three months." By then, Noreen had started to develop some of the techniques she has now perfected, including psychometry, where she takes an article, such as a ring or a piece of clothing, closes her eyes and instantly sees an image.
Her analysis of the people who owned the items was so uncannily accurate that she became the object of exhaustive studies at universities in California, where it was worked out that when she used what she called her psychic powers, she was using an entirely different part of her brain that in "normal" life.
She became a respected lecturer on the subject and was then asked about helping to track a rapist who had been eluding police in Virginia.
The information she gave turned about to be 85% correct and it launched her career as a "psychic detective".
It's a strange title and one that many would scoff at, but talking to Noreen Renier you realize that she is as "normal" as the next person - she just has an extraordinary gift that she has adapted as a tool for police investigations.
Doubters, of course, always need proof, but Noreen's track record is impressive.
In 1981, while lecturing at the FBI academy in Virginia, she predicted out of the blue that President Reagan would be shot and two months later, John Hinckley Jr. made his assassination attempt.
Last year, she helped police find an elderly man who had disappeared in his truck for no apparent reason. Without visiting the scene, she predicted the man would be found a few miles from his home in a water-filled pit. The man's body was found within hours in a water-filled pit.
Her most unusual case came when she was asked to locate a missing airplane which had disappeared without trace.
"I came out with the longitude, latitude, and the number of miles away it was - not bad for someone who can't find their way around a grocery store!" she laughs.
The secret of Noreen's gift is that she manages to transform into her psychic persona by simply closing her eyes and concentrating on the article in her hand.
She is often handed items such as skulls, blood-covered clothing and murder weapons, which would have many falling into a dead faint, but she takes in all in her stride.
"One side of me cannot stand the sight of blood but the other side is programmed to accept it. When people ask me about details the day afterwards, I cannot remember them."
She describes her talent as like having a television set that can be switched on and off, and claims that everyone is capable of it if they are prepared to accept that it is possible.
"Everyone has a skill -- writers have inspiration and some artists have exceptional talent and my gift is no different to that. The problem is that nine out of 10 people don't listen to the signs."
Not only can she predict the future and recreate events in the past, often feeling the pain of the victim, Noreen claims she can also communicate with the dead.
But once more there are no frills, no moaning fits or joining hands around a table - she simply contacts the person required directly - the problem comes in relaying the message to the living.
"Most people want to know if the person on the other side is happy, which does not relate as they are in a brilliant, wonderful space."
Her ability has taken her all over the world, but often she can help police in far-flung countries simply by being sent an article from the case and picking up a telephone to give them information.
She can describe in minute detail places she has never visited in her life, and although she has never been called in to help with a British case, the tide is turning and psychics are becoming part of police procedure.
Gradually, the use of psychic detectives is becoming accepted as another tool of police work, although Noreen encounters skepticism every day wherever she goes.
But she has always managed to prove herself and even convert doubters and critics, just as she was transformed 20 years ago.
"Skepticism is healthy - everyone should have it. What annoys me is when people try to debunk me without listening to the facts."