Offers to help in rapist case
She predicted President Reagan would be shot, assisted in the hunt for Laci Peterson and claims she can relive a murder through the eyes of a killer.
But when Noreen Renier took her first case 25 years ago, to help find a serial rapist in Staunton, she did not foresee a career as a psychic investigator, let alone one that would gain national attention.
In a way, the 67-year-old psychic’s career has come full circle. She moved away from Ruckersville in the ’80s and went on to assist in more than 400 police investigations, only to return in January to Central Virginia, where she has finished a book she started two decades ago.
By an eerie coincidence, or perhaps no coincidence at all, Renier has come back to the area at a time when another serial rapist is making headlines, one who has baffled Charlottesville police for seven years. Renier said she would help the police, free of charge.
“I do think it’s apropos. An unsolved crime is waiting for me here,” she said. “This guy really has been around long enough.” Police Chief Timothy J. Longo said he would not rule out working with a psychic investigator.
At twilight on a recent evening, Renier was moving gently back and forth in a yellow rocking chair on the front porch of a log cabin she rents in the wooded hills of Free Union. She rattled merrily on about her career – recalling some of her most memorable cases, people she enjoyed working with, and stopping periodically to run inside for a transcript or other document but rarely finding it in good time.
“I can find an airplane thousands of miles away, but I can get lost in my own house,” she joked.
Always beleaguered by skeptics, Renier started out as one herself. Incredulous, but equally intrigued by psychics, she set out to disprove them by mimicking their practices, she said. Around age 35, she started reading up on psychics and meditating. “Then things just started happening,” she said.
Renier calls herself an armchair psychic. Early in her career, she would visit crime scenes and look for clues, but she found she was distracted by the energies of detectives and others around her.
These days, she performs most of her readings at home, often by phone. Holding an object that a victim or suspect has touched and going into a light trance, Renier says she can gain impressions about those involved in a crime and share them with a detective during one or more sessions.
She said she works best when she knows nothing about a case, because news accounts or other information can give her preconceived notions that distort her thinking.
Often, a victim’s family member hires Renier and urges authorities to cooperate with her. Sometimes, police are reluctant to pay for a psychic, and many are embarrassed to admit it when they use one. Renier usually charges $650 for two sessions, which last between 45 and 90 minutes each. The average missing-person case requires two readings, she said. It just takes one for most homicide and rape investigations.
Renier used to feel intimidated by police and would fortify herself for a session with a glass of wine. She’s no longer nervous around cops, but the old habit, the single glass of red wine, stuck with her.
Renier claims she can become the victim and even feel the pain of the killing: She has been stabbed multiple times in the head, shot with a shotgun, burned alive. That was the worst, being burned alive.
“I’ve been killed lots of bad ways,” she said.
Asked whether she has foreseen her own end, she shivered and shied from the subject, saying, “I never think about my death.”
In her first police case, the one in Staunton in 1979, Renier gave clues to investigators seeking a masked serial rapist connected to five sexual assaults and suspected in several other attacks.
She visited one of the crime scenes and, according to Ronnie Whisman, a former investigator who worked the case, Renier correctly described how the rapist sneaked in and where he hid while waiting for his victim. Renier also said the rapist had a scar on his leg and drove a truck that went “round and round.” As it turned out, the man who confessed to the crimes had a scar on his leg and drove a cement truck.
Whisman said that Renier, although far from solving the case, helped detectives by reinforcing their theories and easing their minds. Renier emphasizes that she is only an investigative tool.
“We just looked at each other and said, darn, maybe we’re doing something right,” Whisman said. “I can’t explain what she has. She has some type of … She’s gotta have something. She knew stuff she wasn’t supposed to know.”
Renier has worked on numerous missing-person investigations as well. One of the most high profile of these was the case of Laci Peterson, who washed up on a California shore along with her unborn son. Authorities charged her husband, Scott, in the killings.
Scott Peterson’s mother previously had hired Renier to find the missing woman. Renier was mailed a sweatshirt, but it appeared unworn and was no use to Renier. So Renier tried to call Peterson’s mother but reached Scott instead. She explained she needed an object that had been well worn by Laci. Scott Peterson sent Renier a shoe, also barely worn, she said.
Ultimately, she used his handwriting on the addressed package to perform three readings, she said. She described a place where there was water, a bridge, flat rocks and a “fishy smell,” she said, and sent transcripts of her readings to investigators.
Renier takes credit for Laci Peterson’s discovery. A spokesman for the Modesto Police Department in California declined to comment.
‘If it works …’
Her most recent case involved two missing sisters abducted by their mother, police believe, in Dickinson, N.D., last year. Their father hired Renier, and Investigator Rick Shirey of the Dickinson Police Department had no objections, as long the father paid for it.
Renier told Shirey she saw a fork in a river, an old factory or plant, a flat area with a few canyons, a cemetery. She saw the girls and their mother in a building, maybe a trailer, in a small community somewhere north of Texas. Police peppered that general area with posters of the missing girls.
It’s too early to tell whether Renier’s visions will be of any help. Shirey said he’s skeptical but open-minded.
“You use search dogs. You don’t actually see how they work, but all of a sudden they lead you to the right place,” Shirey said. “It’s something you can’t see or quantify. But if it works, it’s not something you can refute.”
One of Renier’s biggest detractors is Gary P. Posner, founder and executive director of the Tampa Bay Skeptics, a nonprofit group that critically examines paranormal claims. The organization has followed Renier’s career, seeking to poke holes in many of her claims. In 1990, the group challenged her to prove she was psychic by taking a test. She could have won $1,000 if she passed.
“We’d be happy to share the Nobel Prize with her if she would succeed in the first experiment to prove that psychic power is genuine,” Posner said sarcastically.
“Anyone claiming to be a psychic in my opinion is either fooling themselves,” he said, “or they know better and they’re just out to fool the public.”
If Renier is a skeptic-turned-believer, Posner is her polar opposite. (Renier calls him her nemesis.) Posner said he once believed in the paranormal but gradually concluded that UFO fanatics had hoodwinked him.
In her defense, Renier said she refused to take the Tampa Bay Skeptics’ test after someone warned her that the group meant to trick her.
Of Posner’s remarks, Renier said: “That’s calling me a fraud. Now that’s nasty. That’s not nice. Why doesn’t he do something nice for mankind?”
Renier returned to Central Virginia because she loves the area and to find some peace. She hopes her book, “An Open Mind for Murder: From the Files of Psychic Investigator Noreen Renier,” will hit the shelves in the next couple of months.
She said she would be happy to help with the local serial rapist investigation. The police, she said, have nothing to lose by giving her a chance. Renier has worked for the Charlottesville police before – in the early ’80s, she assisted in the case of Katie Worsky, a 12-year-old who was murdered. Police never found her body, but a jury convicted a man of killing her based on other evidence.
The serial rapist
Now, Renier wants to turn her attention to the black serial rapist blamed for six attacks on women since 1997, and police have requested DNA samples from about 200 black men, some of whom were reported to resemble a composite sketch. This investigative tactic drew public cries of racial profiling, and Chief Longo earlier this month tightened the department’s guidelines for deciding who is asked to be tested.
The department has used a behavioral profile and a geographic profile in the investigation, but never a psychic. Longo said, though, that he would consider using one after he meets with an FBI investigator who will take a fresh look at the case and make suggestions.
“I don’t rule out any possibility that could be helpful in solving a criminal investigation,” the chief said. And referring to some police officers’ embarrassment about using psychics, he said, “I don’t think you should be too proud to acknowledge you’re reaching out and trying to access any information that could help you solve a case.”
“Good for him,” Renier said. “I’ll be here.”
Despite her powers, Renier said she is unaware whether Longo will seek her help.
“I never tune in to my future,” she said and then paused. “Well, I do cheat if I’m really, really curious.”