Underwater: Psychic Renier sees Laci
Six weeks before the body of Laci Peterson washed ashore, Noreen Renier says she knew the pregnant woman's remains were in the San Francisco Bay.
The Christmas Eve disappearance of the photogenic, eight-month-pregnant Modesto woman captured national attention. Her equally photogenic husband, Scott Peterson, claimed to have gone fishing that day at the Berkeley Marina.
Renier, a psychic who first started working with police in 1979 when she lived in Ruckersville, was hired in January by Jacqueline Peterson, Scott's mother, to help find her missing daughter-in-law.
Renier works through touching objects that the victims have had contact with, a process called psychometry. Peterson sent her a sweatshirt that belonged to Laci, but it was too clean and didn't work. "Then they sent me a shoe," says Renier.
"I knew the son was a suspect, so I tried to focus on where [Laci] was. The moment I picked up the shoe I saw him," she says.
On March 2, Renier went into a trance and, assuming the identity of Laci Peterson, described riding in the back of a vehicle concealed under something. "I'm already dead," said Renier-as-Laci. And police believe the 27-year-old Peterson was killed in her Modesto home.
Renier described rocks, a bridge, a bumpy road, and a "downward cave or well with smooth, hard rock around the opening" in the water where she believed Laci was.
"It has a fishy odor," says Renier in the National Enquirer. "I think I am at the bottom. I'm stationary...the water rushing past me." She drew a map of her vision.
Scott Peterson was arrested for the murder of Laci and their unborn son, Connor, on April 18. Renier believes he used cement to weight Laci's body down. "Police found cement in his boat," she says. "And they know he bought restraints. He can't account for them."
On April 28, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that sonar had located what was believed to be the missing woman's remains in mid-March, but bad weather prevented retrieval.
The spot was in the middle of shallow shipping lanes, and heavily loaded tankers could easily churn up the bottom of the Bay and dislodge a body, ship's pilot Blake Coney told the Chronicle.
The remains of a nearly full-term fetus were found on April 13; then on April 14, a headless body identified as Laci washed up about a mile away. Renier doesn't believe that Scott Peterson decapitated his bride before dumping her in the Bay.
Renier, a nationally known psychic who has appeared on many TV shows, including America's Most Wanted, says she never solicits cases and uses her psychic skills only if a family hires her or the police call. She usually charges $650, but Jacqueline Peterson talked her into looking into Laci's disappearance for $450.
Peterson's check never arrived, but then Renier got a call from the Modesto police asking why a check for $450 was found in Scott Peterson's car.
Jacqueline Peterson sent a replacement check for $450 and then denied to the National Enquirer that she'd hired Renier. The tabloid published a copy of Peterson's check to Renier.
"Most times I don't copy my clients' checks," says Renier, but she did so in this case. "Either I was going to be the liar or she was."
Renier sent her 14-page report to Peterson and told her that she sends reports to the police as a matter of course. Once Scott Peterson read it, says Renier, "He dyed his hair and was ready to go to Mexico." Peterson was arrested April 18 in San Diego sporting a goatee and carrying $10,000 cash.
After Renier sent her report to the police, she traveled to Charlottesville and saw her old friend Kay Allison, owner of Quest Bookshop. "Kay said, 'Noreen, they've declassified it from a missing person to homicide.' That was after [police] got my report," says Renier.
The psychic investigator was so concerned about Laci Peterson that she conducted two other sessions on her own. And Renier says that for the first time in 26 years, she went to the National Enquirer to make sure the information she'd come up with got out.
Renier taught a class at UVA called "ESP: An awareness" under Ian Stevenson, the UVA professor known for his research into reincarnation. "It was at a time when I could hardly spell psychic phenomenon," she says.
The first case she worked with police was that of a masked rapist terrorizing Staunton in 1977 and 1978.
By 1981, Renier was lecturing at the FBI Academy at Quantico, and her website carries an endorsement from former FBI agent Robert Ressler. Renier calls herself a "psychic detective," and says she's worked on over 400 unsolved cases in 38 states and six foreign countries.
Charlottesville police used Renier's psychic abilities in two cases, including the notorious disappearance of 12-year-old Katie Worsky on July 12, 1982. Glen Barker served nine years of an 18-year second-degree murder sentence in that case, but Worsky's body was never found.
Charlottesville Police Captain Chip Harding spent hours working with Renier. "I saw there was no value added to the case," he says carefully. "I'm not passing judgment on her psychic abilities."
Would he use her again? "I wouldn't exclude using a psychic if I'd tried every other traditional method," he says. "I wouldn't exclude anything." Harding has no plans to call for Renier's help in finding Charlottesville's current serial rapist.
Lt. J.W. Gibson also worked with Renier. He says: "I would recommend police departments depend on investigations and scientific investigations. I'll leave it at that."
Over in Staunton, Lacy King was the lead investigator in the late '70s serial rapist case, and he's more enthusiastic about recommending psychics. "We were not trained in the field of parapsychology or profiling at the time," he says. "That was a new thing."
While the rapist ultimately was caught using more traditional methodsa stakeoutKing found after the fact that a lot of details Renier provided were accurate. For example, she described the rapist driving a vehicle with something that goes around and around. The man arrested drove a cement truck, says King.
Renier herself says a psychic investigator should be called in as a last resort, when traditional methods have been exhausted.
Modesto police refuse to comment further on the Peterson case. Renier thinks the information she sent them helped with the case, but she credits police work in solving crimes. "I don't think I solve crimes," she says. "They do."
Now living in Florida, Renier may be moving back to Charlottesville in the coming months. "I was there for the 25th anniversary of Quest, and I remembered how much I loved it there," she says.