Marcello Truzzi's review of the book Psychic Sleuths in the Journal of Parapsychology 58(4, December 1994):432-441 said "Jim Lippard's essay on Bill Ward is, in my view, the most judicious and fair-minded appraisal in the book. In an exemplary fashion Lippard concludes his analysis by simply and moderately saying 'the case for Ward's psychic abilities remains at best unproved, and certainly does not support his own claims of success and accuracy.' Lippard's essay strikes me as the main analysis in the book clearly out for truth rather than blood."
Gayle Pasternak (then Crnkovic; Pasternak is her maiden name) privately published Tour of Duty: The Diaries of Psychic Bill Ward, An Authorized Biography in 1994.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
After returning home from Vietnam in 1967, Ward resumed his work at the Will County Printing Company in Lockport, Illinois, from which he has only recently retired. But for Ward, as for many other Vietnam veterans, his life was not quite the same. Before he had been back home for a year, he found that his exposure to many violent deaths had affected his perceptions of the world in a radical way: he had developed psychic abilities.
Since 1971, Ward has assisted in over 400 homicide cases, for which he has claimed a 75-to-80% success rate. He is supported in his claims of psychic powers by private and police investigators around the country who say he has provided them with assistance in solving crimes. In the course of his more than two decades of psychic sleuthing, he has shunned most publicity (initially he even required anonymity as a condition of assistance) regarding his police work and, until recently, has worked entirely on a volunteer basis. His motivation, therefore, has been neither fame nor money. Investigators he has worked with are quite convinced of his sincerity.
What is it, exactly, that Bill Ward claims to be able to do, and what evidence is there to support his claims? Is the evidence strong enough to establish the validity of paranormal abilities, or the usefulness of Bill Ward as an investigative tool? The following is an attempt to critically analyze Bill Ward's claims and answer these questions, despite objections from Ward's publicist, Gayle Crnkovic, that it is an attempt to do the impossible.
The objection is frequently made that the scientific examination of paranormal abilities is futile, because somehow these abilities evade attempts to study them. But how could this be the case? Even if Ward has little or no control over his abilities, even if he doesn't know when he's on the mark, any genuine ability should show up as an above-chance effect in a controlled experiment. Those who have worked with Ward seem to think that he can tell when he is accurate or not--he frequently supplies not only his impressions, but how strongly he feels about a particular statement. If he really can do this, then testing his abilities is even easier. Unfortunately, Ward refuses to undergo testing, which he refers to as "play[ing] games." As a result, this examination of his claims relies mostly on testimonial evidence, with all of its limitations.
The ABC's of Ward's paranormal toolkit (astrology and auras, biorhythms, and chiromancy) involve widely made claims which are not only subject to scientific examination but have also been carefully examined. Proponents of astrology, biorhythms, and chiromancy, at least, have even frequently claimed scientific validity for their practices. They claim that anyone, using them properly, can achieve repeatable success. But these claims are not supported by the experimental results. None of them has any demonstrated ability to predict human behavior or personality characteristics, contrary to their practitioners. No reliable correlations have been observed between astrological horoscopes and personality characteristics, between biorhythm cycles and human performance, or between palm creases and future actions. Astrological readings from incorrectly drawn horoscopes, biorhythms based on incorrect dates, and palm readings opposite what the lines are supposed to indicate are perceived by their recipients to be just as accurate as those based on the correct information.
The detection of human auras has also failed the test. Since auras are claimed to extend beyond the boundaries of the skin, they should be detectable in some cases when the body they surround is not. For example, a person standing to just one side of an open doorway, behind a wall, should be visible to an aura reader when the aura extends into the doorway. But the ability of aura readers to detect persons in such conditions at a rate better than expected by chance has yet to be demonstrated.
Rosalyn Bruyere, the founder and director of the Healing Light Center Church in Glendale, California, has published a description of how anyone can learn to see human auras. Her method requires the would-be aura reader to "Focus on a person, setting your focal length on their forehead. As you look, your peripheral vision will give you a kind of shadow image. ... The way to improve is by relaxing and letting your peripheral vision come into play." This technique will produce "a kind of shadow image" for any kind of object in your field of vision, not just people or other biological organisms. If you focus at one point and look at another, the separate images from your two eyes will not be consistent with each other. The image from one eye will be shifted with respect to the other, which can appear as a transparent "fuzz" on the edge of the object--an "aura."
This evidence strongly suggests that any success Bill Ward has achieved is not due to his use of these ABC tools, but due to some other skill he possesses. The above-mentioned candidates remaining are his ability to see images of spatially and temporally distant occurrences (perhaps a form of telepathy or clairvoyance) and psychometry. These are abilities which have been widely claimed, and which have also been subjected to scientific experiments. The results here, however, are not so clear cut as with the ABC's. The Parapsychological Association (PA), whose members are devoted to the scientific examination of such abilities, is affiliated with the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). There are several active journals in the field which regularly publish both successful and failed experimental results. Unfortunately, there is no consensus about what, exactly, has been established in the field. While most parapsychologists are confident that anomalies have been clearly demonstrated, there is significant disagreement about the proper explanation for these anomalies. Outside the field of parapsychology, critics claim that the existence of anomalies themselves is not well established.
Perhaps most relevant to Ward's claimed abilities to see distant events as though watching a movie are experiments testing what is known as "remote viewing." Some experiments in remote viewing have produced above-chance results, but even ignoring the criticisms that have been made of these experiments, they do not provide support for claims of psychic powers as dramatic as those claimed by most psychics. While Ward has claimed to be more than 80% accurate in his work in over 400 homicide cases, psychologist Louise Ludwig, who has worked with many psychic detectives and advocates their use by police, suggests that a more reasonable figure is 20-25% accurate, with higher accuracy on rare occasions. Even this lower figure, however, is a rough estimate rather than the result of careful calculation. Accuracy figures are also subject to varied interpretations. Does "accuracy" refer to number of accurate statements made, number of verified statements, number of cases in which the police believed the psychic to be right, number of cases in which a conviction was obtained, or number of cases in which some useful information was provided?
Ward has given one answer to this question in his claim that arrests have been made due to information he provided in 75% of his homicide cases. Of the eight homicide cases this author has specifically discussed with investigators who have worked with Ward, arrests have been made in two. In none of those cases is the arrest attributable to evidence provided by Ward. (In one case, the suspect turned himself in, in the other the suspect was arrested in another state on other charges. Both cases are described below.) An examination of all the published articles on Ward cited in this investigation reveals a total of eleven homicide cases, six of which are included in the above figures. Of the five additional cases, arrests were apparently made in all of them, all possibly on the basis of information provided by Ward. This makes a total of thirteen cases, with arrests in eight, five possibly due to Ward, giving a "success" rate (by Ward's definition) of 42%. The published information about all five of these cases comes, directly or indirectly, from Bill Ward's publicist, Gayle Crnkovic.
Jeanie Bennett's husband, Robert Eugene "Bob" Bennett, reported her disappearance to the police. According to Bennett, he and his wife had fought and she had left him for another man. Bennett became the prime suspect in his wife's disappearance, but police were unable to collect enough evidence to charge him with any crime. The case remained open but inactive.
In 1988, Portland private investigator Ray Montee, working on the Bennett case, decided to contact Ward after reading about him in the National Examiner. Montee sent Ward copies of materials regarding the Bennett case and spoke to him on the telephone. Bill Ward told Montee that either Jeanie Bennett's body or something belonging to her was buried in the backyard of the home of Bob Bennett's deceased brother-in-law. The outdoor barbecue was specifically mentioned as the most important place to dig.
Bob and Jeanie Bennett had themselves once lived in this house, which was noteworthy for various do-it-yourself improvements that had been made. The driveway had been repaved, a former greenhouse in the backyard had been converted into a storage shed, and a concrete patio and outdoor brick barbecue had been built in the backyard.
Montee obtained permission from the present owner of the house to do some digging, and began to remove bricks from the barbecue "with a soup spoon and a screwdriver." The Beaverton Police Department learned of Montee's activities, and had him removed from the site so they could dig it up themselves. According to Detective Dan Kelly, this was done "to preserve evidence and the integrity of the site." Two holes, three feet by five feet in area, were dug in the backyard by police and public works employees, but no body was found. The case of the disappearance of Jeanie Bennett remains unsolved.
What does this case demonstrate about the psychic abilities of Bill Ward? Not much, unfortunately. Ray Montee still has a positive view of Ward, and still thinks that the body of Jeanie Bennett may be buried in the backyard of Bob Bennett's brother-in-law. The Beaverton Police Department's search was less than exhaustive--two holes in the backyard, neither of which involved digging under the concrete patio or the barbecue (though one of them was next to the barbecue).
There are more ambiguities in the case. In a newspaper report, Montee was quoted as saying that "I had never even thought about the barbecue and never mentioned it to Ward" and that Ward said the body would be found on one side or another of the barbecue. In a 1991 interview, however, Montee said that he had had a hunch that the barbecue was important even before he had spoken to Ward, and that he had mentioned it to him. Montee also reported Ward saying that "either she or something of hers is under that fireplace," rather than on one side or the other. According to Montee, kids had dug up bones on the site before his abortive attempt to dig. When asked about this, Detective Kelly stated that no human bones were found.
Around 1989, according to Montee, Bob Bennett was captured in Las Vegas attempting to use the identification and credit cards of a co-worker who had been murdered in Utah. Bennett was convicted and imprisoned for this murder. (Detective Kelly confirmed that Bennett is in prison.) The Jeanie Bennett case remains open but inactive.
The evidence does not clearly show Ward to be either right or wrong. However, neither does it give any support to his claim to have psychic abilities. Even if Jeanie Bennett's body were discovered under (or in the vicinity of) the outdoor barbecue, this would show only that Montee's hunch, which he probably did reveal to Ward, was correct.
As it turned out, the bridge tender's report was in error: no one had been thrown into the river by the explosion. Gayle Crnkovic, Ward's publicist, wrote in correspondence to the author that this "is probably the only public error [Ward] has ever made.". She continues, "It turned out that the man believed to have been thrown into the river was found submerged in water in the lower level" and investigators on the site were willing to give Ward the benefit of the doubt. But Ward himself, she writes, "simply stated he was wrong."
According to Lieutenant Joe Drick of the Joliet Fire Department, however, Ward was "totally incorrect in his predictions" and was "more trouble than he was worth," contributing to a circus-like atmosphere. Drick, who was the battalion chief's driver the day of the explosion, said that no bodies were found in water. Ward's suggested search procedure, says Drick, was to begin at the perimeter of the explosion area and work to the center--but this was simply stating the obvious. It was the only possible way to search due to the way the 70,000 bushels of grain and other debris were situated. Drick also emphasized that Ward was not called in by the Joliet Fire Department.
But according to Detective Louie Silich of the Joliet Police Department, who worked closely with Bill Ward that day and who continues to use Ward as an investigative aid, a water main in the basement of the grain elevator had burst, and one of the bodies was found there. Another body was found with its legs entwined in twisted metal rebar, and the autopsy on another revealed corn grain in the throat.
Here, as in the Jeanie Bennett case, the evidence is not very persuasive. The report of the bridge tender likely inspired Ward's statement that a body would be found "in water," but even though the bridge tender's report was false, another interpretation of the statement turned out to be correct. The statement that someone involved had difficulty in breathing is a fair guess in a case where people were known to be buried under tons of grain. Likewise, the prediction that a body's legs were entwined in something was vague and unsurprising.
Dixmoor police contacted Bill Ward for assistance in the case. Of the probable suspects, Ward concurred with the police that Fair was the most likely. Ward informed the police that Fair had taken the murdered woman's car and driven it part of the way to his mother's house, taking a bus or hitchhiking the remainder of the way. Fair ended up turning himself in to the Cohoma County Sheriff's Department in Clarksdale, Mississippi, near his mother's and brother's home in Friar's Point. Cohoma County Sheriff Andrew Thompson said he thought the car was found in Friar's Point, but Dixmoor Police Deputy Chief Michael Morgan said it was found in Champaign, Illinois, where Fair had stayed in a motel and then traveled on by bus. According to Morgan, "Bill didn't know where the car was." Two independent newspaper reports said the car was found in Mississippi.
According to Deputy Chief Morgan, who took Fair into custody, Fair confessed in Mississippi at about 6 p.m. About an hour earlier, Ward was in the trailer park in Dixmoor with Chief Anton Graff, describing the details of the murders as they examined the scene of the crime. Morgan reports that when he told Graff the details of the confession, they matched what Ward had described. The most impressive point of correspondence, according to Morgan, was Ward's explanation of a bloodstain found in a hallway as the spot where Fair had set down the murder weapon (a baseball bat) after killing Gregory Augustus and before killing the boy's mother. Ward "made a believer out of me," Morgan said.
Other information supplied by Ward included a psychological profile of Fair, apparently based on biorhythms, designed to help with the interrogation process. Ward told Morgan that he should not "be in a room alone with him. You are going to be the focal point of his anger," but Morgan says that Fair was "pretty passive." Ward also advised Morgan not to "say things about the woman--focus on the child." According to Morgan, he didn't follow this advice, and when he mentioned Candace Augustus' name, Fair would "clam up." As a result of his assistance on the case, the Dixmoor Police Department presented Ward a certificate for supplying "invaluable information" which "gave the investigators a greater insight of the crime and of the offender" for his "psychic rendition of the crime and psychological profile of the offender."
The evidence for Ward's abilities in this case is again rather weak. At least one piece of information about the murderer (that he would focus his anger on Morgan, his interrogator) proved false, and the rest may well have been just common sense (e.g., provoke a confession by talking about the murder of the child). The suspect had already been identified before Ward was contacted, and checking with relatives is certainly a good investigative strategy independent of psychic advice. Ward may have been correct about Fair's driving the murdered woman's car only part way to his mother's house, but given the conflicting information about where the car was found, one can't be sure.
According to Joliet Police Sergeant Robert Kelly, Ward is "quite accurate" and is used by his department "quite a bit." The first case Sgt. Kelly used Ward in, over a decade ago, involved a missing eight-year-old boy from the northeast side of town. Ward reported that he saw the boy on the street talking to neighbor kids, and that he would be found in a two-story red building next to a one-story white building. The boy was found, dead, in just such a building (though the body's discovery was not made on the basis of Ward's description). Tracing the boy's steps backward, witnesses were found who had seen him standing in the street talking to people. The suspect in this case was arrested and convicted of murders in Texas, but has not been charged for this murder.
Sgt. Kelly says that occasionally Ward will be given six or seven fingerprint cards of possible suspects, and "he's picked the right one several times." Without more detailed information, it is impossible to conclude anything about Ward's abilities on the basis of the fingerprint card test. Nor is the other evidence in these cases very strong. Finding a fingerprint at a crime scene is not particularly remarkable. The description of the building where the boy would be found is fairly vague and unsurprising, as is the description of him talking to "neighbor kids."
Another case involved a nurse who disappeared the night before she was supposed to testify against her rapist in Naperville, Illinois in the mid-1980's. Ward was called in by the Naperville Police Department, for whom he drew a map of the area where her body would be found, which he believed to be northeast of Naperville. Despite the investigators best efforts, no body was located. About a year and a half later, a farmer in Aurora, Illinois (west of Naperville) noticed a depressed area of ground in one of his fields. The farmer guessed that one of the clay tiles buried under the surface of the ground to drain water properly had broken and began to dig. When he uncovered a white shoe--still being worn--he called the police. When Holman compared Ward's map to the field in which the body was found, he discovered that it matched very well. The map showed a highway running east and west at the north end, another road running north and south on the east side, a water tower in the northwest corner, railroad tracks and a creek running north and south on the west side, and trees in the northeast corner.
Detective Michael Krause of the Naperville Police Department, one of two investigators working on this case, does not remember any involvement of Bill Ward. He reports that the suspect was found dead after he had stabbed himself in the femoral artery while killing a boy. Among evidence recovered was a wine bottle in the trunk of his car which matched a lid found with the nurse's body.
Holman, the only source for this article who has indicated that Ward sees auras, related the phenomenon to another he says he has seen. While looking over photographs of death scenes, he and a fellow investigator noticed a bright blue pinpoint of light, sometimes with red and white wave lines radiating out from it, on them. These blue dots were found only on death scenes. When he sent film to Kodak asking for an explanation, he was informed that it was "photographer error." Holman, however, found this explanation unconvincing, and told this author that taking photographs of a fresh grave at a cemetery at different film speeds with no light source would produce the same effect.
A query of photo labs and police departments found that no one else was familiar with blue points of light associated with death scenes, including Victor Franz, one of Holman's former fellow investigators. According to an employee of the Photographic Works Lab in Tucson, Arizona, there are a number of factors which can produce all sorts of unusual images on film. Chemical splashes during processing, water spots causing pieces of the film to stick to each other, light flare in the camera lens, or a defect in the camera lens could all produce such an effect.
The ideal way to answer the above question would be to subject Bill Ward to a controlled test of his abilities, something which he refuses to do. While such tests have been conducted with other psychic detectives with the result that "the usefulness of psychics as an aid in criminal investigation has not been validated," they are open to the criticism that genuine psychics are rare (and weren't involved in the testing) or that psychics achieve success only under certain conditions which weren't properly duplicated by the experimenters. In order to evaluate a psychic who was not a participant in these experiments, it is necessary to look at his or her own track record, as has been done here.
Given the nature of the evidence, it is probably not possible to definitively answer the question "Is Bill Ward psychic?" Both apparent successes and apparent failures have been described, supported by the testimony of investigators. Those who have worked with him are generally enthusiastic about his abilities and usefulness as well as his sincerity. But this is not sufficient to establish the validity of his psychic abilities, given the social and psychological factors which are capable of convincing people of the accuracy of information provided even by phony psychics, palm readers, or astrologers--independently of any truly specific and accurate information provided by those sources.
Still, some of the stories of Bill Ward's successes are fairly impressive. It cannot be said with certainty that belief and perceptual biases, "cold reading," and the like can constitute a complete explanation of what he does. In fact, if (and it's a big if) the accounts of his successes are correct in all their details, it seems unlikely that these factors alone could be such an explanation.
In order to justify a "yes" answer to the question "Is Bill Ward psychic?", some critics of the paranormal seem to require that he be able to solve cases all by himself--to take the police directly to the culprit, if not provide his name, address, and telephone number. Psychic detectives in general and Bill Ward in particular have not demonstrated such an ability. Instead, as former Kendall County investigator Ricky Holman puts it, "What Mr. Ward does is provide information that one could ordinarily not find without his insight. ... He provides additional pieces to the puzzle." If psychic detectives, in order to prove useful, were required to do more than this, then other tools of the police trade such as fingerprint technology would also fail the test.
Perhaps a better question to ask is whether or not Bill Ward has proved useful as an investigative tool. If the testimonial accounts of those who have worked with him are correct, then the answer is clearly yes. By these accounts, Ward has demonstrated his usefulness by pointing out details overlooked by on-site investigators, sometimes without even being present at the scene of the crime.
Unfortunately, however, those who have made use of Bill Ward generally have no official guidelines for the use of psychics and so it is difficult to gauge how much information Ward has provided independently and how much information he is given by the investigators to work with. It is possible that much of what he does is common sense reasoning combined with a dash of speculative intuition. As such, the case for Bill Ward's psychic abilities remains at best unproved, and certainly does not support his own claims of success and accuracy.
It is important to note regarding astrology that the work of "cosmobiologist" Michel Gauquelin (discussed briefly by Kelly, Culver, and Loptson and more extensively by Kelly, Dean, and Saklofske and, more recently, by Suitbert Ertel in "Update on the 'Mars Effect,'" Skeptical Inquirer 16, no. 2 (Winter 1992), 150-160) has thus far managed to withstand criticism. Gauquelin apparently found correlations between positions of the planets and certain personality traits, but these do not correspond to traditional astrology, of which Gauquelin was himself quite critical.