I get why people become psychics, honestly. Most of them just want to help gullible people part with their money via saying exactly what they want to hear. You're feeling lonely? I sense a new love interest in your future. Grieving a lost loved one? I can hear your mom coming through and [rubs temples] she wants you to know everything is OK.
But that kind of motivation doesn't easily fit Troy Griffin, who applies his "intuitive medium" talents to murder investigations. He claims he's been hired by several police departments to shake out new clues on dead-end cases and has regularly made media appearances for the visions he gets when handling photos of victims or crime scenes.
You could argue this is an even more dubious use of psychic abilities, but it also comes with a hell of a lot more ways to be exposed for making shit up. With this risk in mind, we caught up with Griffin on the phone from Colorado to ask why he wants to solve cold murder cases.
VICE: Do you call yourself a "psychic"?
Troy Griffin: I prefer intuitive medium and psychic investigator. The reason I say intuitive first is because I'm not a big fan of the word "psychic" and the reputation it has. It gets used by a lot of flakes. I don't do storefront tarot card readings; I don't have a crystal ball. These are people's real lives, so I don't let divination tools direct me.
When did you start applying your skills to solving crimes?
I learned about my gift at the age of 12, but when I saw things that were going to happen, I always chalked it up to deja vu. Over the next 30 years, I didn't investigate my intuition too much—when I received a book that taught me about gifts I actually threw it away. Then in my 40s, I was at a friend's gift shop, and I was introduced to a woman there. She looked at me and asked if I was psychic, and I don't know why because I never admitted it, but it just came out that I was. She said I'm working on a case for a family with a police department. She gave a name and location and said tell me what you see. I told her what I saw, that it wasn't a missing person, she was hit with a pipe. I went through all that completely stunned with myself—I didn't know where it came from; it just came naturally. About three to four weeks later, I found I was 98 to 99 percent accurate in the case. After some soul searching, I thought, Is this real? Is this my calling? And in conversation with my wife, it came to me that these opportunities were opened to me for a reason—maybe this was my calling. Now, I do probably 30 cases a year—some of them can just be a matter of everything coming to me in a day; some take much longer.
You say that you've worked with actual police detectives.
I do work with some police departments. With police, I should be the last resort when they have no clues. I first started working with families who want me to work with the detective. The police are the ones who solve crimes. I do not. I can give new clues, direction, and guidance. Then all that stuff goes to the police department.
Are police open about working with you? Can I call them up and ask for a review?
Police departments won't verify I work with them. Here's the reason why; I said the same to Nightline: just like in journalism, if I give up source, then I'll probably never work with them again. At a lot of police departments, it's ego-driven—can you imagine if it's publicized that this department uses a psychic? They'll get a lot of backlash, which happened before in another case. They say the police department doesn't know how to do their job if they're talking to a psychic. I have a detective that doesn't necessarily believe in what I do.
How do you usually get started on a case?
So, I get contacted by families all around the world. Ninety percent of my cases come through the family. I choose by having a remote viewing—I have to connect through the victim's eyes. They show me pictures and tell me what happened, and I just have to go to the last known location, and my intuition guides me from there. If I don't connect, then I go no further. I don't want to give false hope. I'm there to be honest.
Police detectives hit the streets, interview people, and gather evidence. What's your process like?
I'll just look at a picture of the victim and of their last location—things like that trigger me. When I travel, I get the strongest visions. When I travel, I'll start to viscerally get a lot of anxiety. I'll start sweating and have a hard time breathing. That tells me I'm feeling something and have to figure out what I'm feeling. I'll give an example: Out in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, police contacted me on a case that was 28 years old [Editor's note: VICE contacted Sunbury Police, which declined an interview for this story]. The new chief has been there a couple years. He got a lead on a potential victim being buried in concrete in a foundation wall. He got a warrant and thought he saw a tooth in the concrete. They tore out the foundation wall, to see if they were on the right track. I asked about the wood chipper. He said they believe she was cut up, put into a wood chipper, and mixed in with concrete and sawdust. So what I did after that—it doesn't always come instantly—but over the next couple weeks, I remember saying tell me about jewelry. The suspect is an ex-detective in the town who was fired for embezzlement and pawning stolen jewelry. I found a suspect that lives in the same town and went to the same high school. He owns a construction company and went to jail for pawning stolen jewelry. My job was to give this new suspect's name—here's somebody else that's connected, interview them.
If you're giving suspect names, surely you must worry about getting the wrong guy?
I do worry about that. I won't give it unless I'm pretty confident in myself. It's also up to the police department to interview them and investigate that. I'm just giving them a name. The thing about me is that I have to sleep with myself at night. I won't say anything until I have enough to say this is somebody to look into.
Why do you get involved in murders? Why not help people in other ways?
I think I was drawn to it because of that meeting at the gift shop. It intrigued me, and I get bored very easily. I only want to work on things that are meaningful. A lot of the other cases, they're just not meaningful to me. For example, I'll get calls saying my daughter took off with her boyfriend, can you find her? She's 22. Well, whatever. I have to do something I can make a difference and connect with. Other stuff is not me. I do medium readings for closure and to help people move forward. These families have been through so much.
You seem to have a lot of media following you around...
Usually, the families tip the media or it just gets leaked out that I'm coming. In Ohio, I was working on a case and was swarmed by media, which was unfortunate. On one side it's also good because it brings the case back into the public eye, and sometimes people do call in with more information. There are pros and there are cons.
The media has helped in different ways. In the Kelsie Shelling case, the Pueblo Police had the file for four years. This is a 21-year-old girl who was eight weeks pregnant went down to show her boyfriend the ultrasound and never returned. Her mother lives four hours away and would drive there to search for her body. She asked to transfer to Colorado Bureau of Investigations, but as with most bureaus, it has to be referred by the police department. I wrote a note to the police chief. When my interview with ABC came out on television, a week later, the case was transferred.
I went down to Pueblo with her mother, she took me to his grandmother's house, I was in the backyard and I just felt strongly that there was something there. I knew she had been in the basement at some point. As we went down the street, there was this ditch and I had a vision there. I was looking through sewer drains and I just felt they were there. After I got the case switched to the Colorado bureau, they tore up that grandma's backyard and found evidence. They also dug into the ditch.
What do you say to haters who are skeptical and don't think you should meddle in investigations?
For people who don't think I should be meddling, what it comes down to is I come with good intentions and feel like I'm making a difference. I've never been to a [psychic] development class. I don't go to seances. That's too dark for me. I'm not going to give any false hope. I'm just telling what comes to or through me. My job is to help people moving forward find closure, in a murder situation where that family will never find closure. But if I can come in and even help one person start to move forward, I will do it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Follow Sarah Berman on Twitter.