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Maddie and esotericism: means or ends?

Opinion article by Paulo Sargento*

Before anything else, I must confess that I hesitated quite a bit about publishing this post. Firstly, because many other bloggers have already done so, with the acuity that the theme so deserves, and then also because I wasn’t sure that I should defend ‘dames’ who allow for their name to be used in vain by the press, without a single remark, which surely allows for space for any interpretations that one may want to make.

What am I talking about? The news, a front-page exclusive, that the ‘Sunday Express’ published on the 19th of October: “FBI mediums present new suspect in Maddie case”. The news is reported, as anyone can verify, over two pages, where a new “photofit” of a new suspect appears, as well as the photographs of two supposed FBI medium-detectives and one clairvoyant. In a subtle manner, a small inset box next to the aforementioned photo announces an apology to the Tapas Seven, particularly to Drs Russell O’Brien and Jane Tanner, due to news that they could also become arguidos in the process, even advancing that the first allegedly had helped to conceal some relevant facts. In this public apology, the newspaper adds that it has also agreed upon the payment of substantial compensations which, it asserts, the victims will donate to the ‘FindMaddie’ fund. A coincidence? I don’t think so.

The aforementioned FBI medium-detectives have elaborated a new “photofit” of a man who is suspected of having abducted, murdered and buried Maddie, supposedly through the reports from a psychic. The paranormal investigators spent a week in Portugal, where they collected data that supposedly allowed for them to reach such conclusions and to present them during a programme on American television. They also mention that they have informed the Police and Kate and Gerry’s private investigators, who prefer to wait for the show’s images in order to evaluate the evidence.

Now for the first question. If we search the website of the well-known investigation agency, the FBI, we don’t find any one of the names that are cited by the ‘Sunday Express’ or even any mention of the use of said paranormal investigation methods. So we may ask: is the FBI aware of this and other news articles that use its reputation as an argument of authority to sustain unofficial theories (we may also recall the alleged forensic painter of the “photofits”, although those were based on reports from real persons and not some paranormal entities)? And does it give permission? Or do these detectives abuse the FBI sigla? Or was it just a bit of “press freedom”? My understanding is that these questions should be clarified in order to avoid any remaining doubts about persons and methods.

The second question that I raise concerns the paranormal investigation itself.

I should state, before anything else, that I don’t hold anything against any type of knowledge, no matter how esoteric or exoteric. I possess no type of knowledge about the methods of paranormals. What I do know about is some lines of scientific investigation into so-called paranormal phenomena and into the actors of this phenomena, namely in the areas of neurosciences and cultural anthropology. But there is something that shocks me in a significant part of the approaches that are made by so-called psychics, mediums, or other pseudo-professional adjectives: the immoral sense of opportunity to manage expectations and coincidences ‘a post hoc’. After holding a reasonable set of information concerning a certain phenomenon, many people are skilled in creating illusions in others with their pseudo premonitory sense. On the other hand, it’s strange to notice how most of these paranormals can only experience their visions and perform their work in cases that can obtain some sort of retribution, one way or another (and if it’s only for notoriety). Under this perspective, why hasn’t this team of paranormal detectives discovered something concerning the thousands of cases of unknown missing children? And finally, why don’t they ever explain the methods that they use in order to demonstrate the evidence that only they can see, thus claiming to be seers?

The third question, which could easily be called laughable if it weren’t for the seriousness of the situation, concerns the fact that a vision from some medium can generate a “photofit”. I know that Jane Tanner’s report has been evaluated as lacking credibility, but still…

The fact is that if we compare the so-called “photofit” that was built with the aid of perfectly unbelievable methods, with some of Dr Gerald McCann’s photographs, we encounter notable similarities. A superficial comparative analysis of the facial proportions and asymmetries (particularly observed in the right ocular cavity) of the “photofit”, following anthropometrical principles, suggests a level of coincidence in said measurements that is much higher for the face of Gerry McCann than for the face of the President of the Egyptian Republic. I should remind you that a similar conclusion could be reached concerning the “photofit” that was published by Clarence Mitchell, when said so-called forensic production was compared with the photograph of Mr Joaquim Agostinho or with the face of Kate McCann. This data means simply that said productions are naturally inconsistent and add nothing to the Maddie case except for confusion.

Nevertheless, as if the para(ab)normality that is referred to in the ‘Sunday Express’ of the 19th of October wasn’t enough, on the very next day (20th of October) ‘The Sun’ publishes a quarter page with a premonition from Kate McCann concerning the fateful holidays of May 2007. The Payne couple comes forward this time, to ensure that this premonition actually is a premonition and not a ‘a post hoc’ coincidence management. They both assert that Kate had a bad feeling about the vacation and that she even considered the possibility of not going. But apart from this, unnecessary and demonstrative references are made to the consequent bad emotional state of Kate and Gerry and again the idea that said premonition was transmitted to the Portuguese police is affirmed. Let’s hope that this is described in the process. If it’s not, then we have yet another serious mistake to blame on our PJ. Patience! Not everyone can function in the way that we fantasize the FBI functions.

I understand that the newspapers want to sell paper. I understand that the newspapers take advantage of folkloric news in order to hit one on the nail and one of the hoof, because they obtain great relational marketing (in this case by presenting public apologies in order to advertise their financial contribution to the ‘FindMaddie’ fund). The fact that some characters want to sell television shows of disputable aesthetic taste, does not particularly disturb me, either. The fact that the FBI doesn’t take public action to deny their relationship with medium-detectives worries me a bit more. But while we’re at it, the use of an esoteric argument in news that involve the family of a little girl that an edition of (British) ‘Metro’ has assumed to be dead, within a compensation payment that has already been mentioned in this text, shows a lack of sense that defies qualification.

I confess that ‘Halloween’ is one of those popular celebrations that have never managed to seduce me. But presuming that there are persons that enjoy this type of party, it could be suggested that they should play with something else.

source: Câmara de Comuns, 27.10.2008

* Paulo Sargento is a renowned forensic psychologist, university professor and author; he was part of the team that produced a 3D simulation of the evening when Madeleine disappeared


  1. Certo! Também eu achei que o "retrato robot" dos paraanormais fazia lembra o g.,colocaram-lhe a tez morena.
    Comentei isso quando saiu a notícia,aqui,dos "videntes".É só ir ver.
    Tb avisei os homens com barba de 3 dias para se cuidarem.

    E o que é que a baiana tem?

    O que é que o B. da Costa tem?

    Grandes polvos.

  2. The photofit does suggest Gerry. perhaps it's meant to.

  3. Yes,If I had understood anonymous I think really all the photofits sugest all the time G. and K.
    All are linked to them.

    And Textusa ´s words,my words also.

    A big Thank You to Joana and Astro.

  4. I think that occasionaly the FBI and other american police forces have recurred to mediums or psychic investigators as a last resource to attempt solving cases. I've watched several documentaries about such colaboration ( Discovery,Odissea that sort of cable channels), so maybe there's something into it, hence the FBI silence on this.
    About the new "suspect", by looking at it, if asked from what origin I think the man is, the last place that would come to mind would be Egypt. I know how the common egyptian male looks like, I've been there, and never met one that looked like this. In fact he looks like Gerry if Gerry would have gone through a rough time as a homeless person, living in the streets for some time, having it hard, no bathing, feeding poorly,etc.


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