BARRINGTON, R.I. (AP) — A police chief in Rhode Island gives out some unorthodox advice for those who have lost a loved one: Seek a connection to the afterlife by meeting with a medium.
John LaCross, the police chief in the Providence suburb of Barrington, lost his 21-year-old brother Joey to suicide nearly 40 years ago. Seeking comfort, he began meeting with people calling themselves mediums, but it wasn't until 2000 that he met someone he says gave him evidence of an afterlife.
Years later, he met with another medium who he says correctly described his brother's timing and cause of death, down to the manner: hanging. "But can you give me his name?" LaCross said he asked.
"It's a J name; Joseph," LaCross said the medium responded.
After that, he started keeping his brother's picture in his patrol car, talking to him and asking him for signs. Later, a different medium, he said, confirmed his brother was sending him messages.
LaCross said that medium called him out of the blue after a year of no contact — just after LaCross had asked his brother whether he was on the right spiritual path — with a message from his brother that yes, he was.
It wasn't the evidence he usually dealt with as a cop — wiretaps, witness corroboration, fingerprints — but it was enough to convince LaCross. Now, after waiting several months until they have absorbed the loss, he recommends mediums to people he judges are in pain and would be open to the idea.
"More than half the time people come back and they tell me they are thankful that they went to see a medium," LaCross said.
One of them is Dan Converse, who lost his teenage son to a car accident 10 years ago. LaCross delivered the news.
"My wife just dropped to the ground," Converse said. "I looked into her eyes and knew she was in a dark place. When we got home, she curled up in a fetal position in our dead son's bed."
Later, when Converse called LaCross for updates on the investigation, he suggested that Maureen Hancock, the medium who correctly identified his brother's manner of death, might be able to help them cope.
"I never believed in mediums before, but now I do believe there is an afterlife, that I am still connected to my son spiritually and that we will meet again," said Converse, now 60. "I'm not afraid of death anymore."
Hancock said in an interview, "When the physical body is done in this earthly experience the energy continues; the energy is like an imprint that sticks around."
Maximillien de Lafayette, an 80-year-old Manhattanite who is founder of the American Federation of Certified Psychics and Mediums, said that according to people who responded to his surveys, there are more than 21,000 people in the U.S. who claim to be mediums.
Their fees vary depending on the person and their popularity. One prominent medium, Matt Fraser, charges $450 for a one-hour Skype reading and $350 for a one-hour phone reading. In Michigan, Kristy Robinett charges $175 an hour. Some mediums do personal readings for free; Hancock, for instance, spends much of her time with the sick and dying but does occasional live group events.
Although it's scoffed at in many circles, law enforcement agencies have sometimes worked with psychics and mediums to help find missing children and solve cold murders. The practice spawned the NBC drama "Medium."
The president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police said he's not ready to dismiss mediums as crack science.
"I'm not going to discount anything simply because it does not line up with logic," said the president, Jack Rinchich, former police chief at the University of Charleston in West Virginia. "There are occasions where mediums have been spot on; you can call them coincidences.
"Out of desperation, people will try anything if they can't find healing through conventional methods," he said.
Others are not so charitable, saying people calling themselves mediums use "cold reading" to get enough information to seem credible, essentially "throwing out a lot of statements and seeing what sticks," said Michael Shermer, co-founder of the Skeptics Society, which advocates against pseudoscience.
"It makes it appear they are psychic when they are not," Shermer said.
Even though LaCross said no one he has approached has ever called him crazy, he knows many are skeptical about an afterlife, much less that people can communicate with the dead. Some skeptics included his colleagues.
"I was a skeptic," said James Cunha, Barrington town manager. "I would say I've heard enough stories that I'm not a skeptic any longer. If he believes in it, it gives me enough evidence it is probably true."
LaCross, who says he doesn't get compensated for referrals and pays the going rate for sessions, believes there are good and bad folks calling themselves mediums. He trusts the ones who are able to get information they can't Google. He sometimes suggests people use fake names so the mediums "really have to get information through the spirit."
"There are scammers, people out to take people's money," he said, "so you have to sift through and find someone reliable by word of mouth."