Kelly Roberts lays on the blue eye shadow a bit too thick for anyone other than a fortune teller. But there are no crystal balls or tarot cards in the jumbled single-wide trailer where she lives with her children in a valley near Durango. Take away her mascara, and the slender blond would look more like a California beach girl than a famous psychic detective.
Roberts, who claims she can track murderers and other criminals by using her psychic powers, has worked as a consultant to numerous law enforcement agencies, tracking a missing child in Missouri and investigating the murder of a missing prostitute in San Diego. She recently sold the rights to her life story to a film company, and her exploits as a psychic bloodhound have been detailed in such publications as the Los Angeles Times, Women's World and Trooper, the in-house magazine for Virginia state troopers. She's also gained the attention of the tabloid TV show Hard Copy--first for her psychic sleuthing, then later because she shot and killed her own husband when he attacked her with a baseball bat.
The 34-year-old Roberts moved to Colorado from California in 1991 in search of a lost secret she says was delivered by beings from another world and guarded by the now-vanished Anasazi Indians. It's a secret she believes will unlock the mysteries of mankind's past and future and allow for the materialization and dematerialization of matter (the "Beam me up, Scottie" technology of Star Trek).
She hasn't found it yet, says Roberts, who's kept such a low profile around Durango that the only people in town who know she's a psychic are her friends at the town's new-age bookstore. But in the meantime she's kept busy trying to rebuild her once-lucrative client base, which she says fell apart after her work for a police task force caused a scandal in San Diego.
Times are tough for Roberts. An old state law aimed at wandering gypsies that requires a $75-a-day fee for "fortune-tellers" prevents her from setting up an office in Durango. So most of her income comes from longtime clients who telephone or write, anxious to have someone divine the eternal questions of love, money and the future.
Roberts's crime-solving techniques are as unorthodox as her belief that the Anasazi held an extraterrestrial key to the cosmos. But among those who have faith in her psychic abilities are a bunch of guys with badges: cops from California to New Mexico who began as skeptics and, for want of a better expression, became true believers.
When she's working a case, her information comes to her in a variety of ways, says Roberts. Sometimes it's only sounds, like train whistles, or voices. Sometimes it's smells or even tastes. She recalls the flavor of rocks and soils from one experience in which she "descended" into the earth, searching for oil for a private client.
Arriving at a crime scene, she says, she often finds herself dragged back in time to see the incident through the eyes of the perpetrator or the victim. The worst experiences are reliving the last few moments of a murder victim--such as the San Diego prostitute whose body was discovered several days after she testified against two police officers. The woman's mouth had been crammed full of sand and rocks, apparently a not-so-subtle message about the benefits of keeping one's mouth shut. "I felt like I was suffocating," Roberts says. "I can still feel the rocks in my throat."
Roberts, who lived most of her life in California, recalls her first psychic experience as nearly being her last. She was fourteen years old and on vacation in Hawaii with her family and two other families. Left to their own devices one evening, the kids drove to a beach park near Honolulu.
One of the boys in the group announced that he was going body surfing and headed for the beach, unnoticed except by Roberts. Concerned when he didn't return after a few minutes, she says, she walked to the water's edge and called out his name. Suddenly, a wave bowled her over, pulling her down into deep water.
Then, as suddenly as she had been pulled under, she says, she found herself floating above the waves. Looking down, she at first didn't understand what she was seeing. Then it came to her. It was her body beneath the waves, and that could mean only one thing: She was dead. The next thing she knew, says Roberts, she was lying on the shore, just beyond the surf, vomiting sea water and gasping for air.
The incident, she says, seemed to release her psychic abilities. At first it was small things, like predicting when the telephone would ring and who would be on the other end of the line. But as she grew older, the incidents increased in number and scope. At stores, she says, she'd pick up thoughts of nearby shoppers in bits and pieces as if someone was toying with a radio dial in her mind. Her mom found her daughter's predictions "uncanny"; her father thought she watched too much television.
Still, Roberts began reading everything she could get her hands on about psychic abilities. Then she says she began work on channeling her "gift," tuning out unwanted psychic noise and focusing her mind on gathering useful information. Like boys.
When she was seventeen years old, she went on a blind date her sister had arranged with a sailor from the nearby San Diego naval base. That night she returned home and told her mother, "I just met your future son-in-law."
Seventeen days later, she married the sailor, James Davis, who she told when they met, "I saw you in a dream and wondered when you would show up."
For several years after her marriage, her psychic "gift" seemed in remission, Roberts says. Then, when she was 21, she began "feeling" earthquakes when no one else in the room could. She became convinced she could predict earthquakes, and tried to interest California scientists in her abilities. They politely refused.
But Roberts was sure that she had been given her gift to help others. If the scientists weren't interested, who would be? She called Jim Connole, the chief of police of Escondido, California, where she'd moved with her husband, and offered her services free of charge.
Connole says he figured that he had another nut on his hands but decided to play along for a few minutes. Grabbing an old case file of an unsolved rape off his desk, he sarcastically asked if Roberts was ready for a test. Telling her only that the rape had occurred in an apartment building, he waited. "I was absolutely skeptical," he says.
A moment later, his skepticism took a nosedive. Roberts described the rape suspect to a T, even noting that the dark ski mask the suspect wore had red piping around the mouth and eyeholes.
Shaken, Connole passed her name on to his detectives. One of them, John Allen, had been working on a series of robberies all thought to be committed by the same man. With nothing else to go on, he contacted Roberts.
The psychic cited a city block where she claimed the suspect lived. "We later caught him," Allen says. "He lived half a block away."
While she didn't score with every case, Roberts hit often enough--such as locating the vehicle of a suspect in the stabbing death of an elderly man--that Connole came to consider her "our psychic."
In 1984 Roberts decided to make a buck from her talents and opened the Parapsychology Resource Center in Escondido to provide psychic counseling for private clients, beginning at $50 an hour and eventually working her way up to $150 an hour (half off during the Christmas season).
One morning while meditating for a client, she says, her thoughts were interrupted by a voice ordering her to pay attention. Suddenly, a vision came to her of a place she had never seen before, a land of red cliffs and juniper-studded hills. "Go there," said the voice. "It is imperative."
For the next three days Roberts pored over maps trying to find the place. She kept returning to the map of Colorado and the little town of Hesperus, near Durango.
As she meditated, she says, she was shown visions of a place near Hesperus that the Anasazi Indians once guarded. In that place were writings and clues that had been left with the ancient tribe by beings from another world.
She had been chosen to discover this site, the voices said. Over the next seven years, Roberts traveled often to Durango, searching the hills for their lost secret. But it wouldn't be until 1991 that she moved there and settled into her single-wide. She still had missing children to find and murder cases to crack.
One evening in November 1986, Roberts was watching a television newscast when a report came on about an unidentified man who had abducted, sexually molested and then released a nine-year-old girl in San Diego. Roberts sensed that she would be able to help, and reached for the telephone.
Sergeant William Southwell of the San Diego County Sheriff's Office was manning the police hotline that morning. The line had been flooded with more than 500 calls, including a lot of cranks. He thought he was dealing with another one when a young woman called claiming to be a psychic.
"Most cops don't believe in what I do," Roberts began the conversation, "but I've worked with the police department in Escondido, and you could call them."
Southwell did just that, and received a glowing report about Roberts. So he called her back and invited her to come to San Diego the next day. "I decided I wasn't going to shut the door on anything that might help me," he says, "especially to catch someone who could do what this guy did. I mean, it sounded crazy, but what if she could help?"
When Roberts arrived at the sheriff's office the next morning, she was led to a room with five detectives, including Southwell, who were laughing and giggling. They joked about wrapping tin foil around their heads to prevent her from reading their minds. Brushing off the teasing, Roberts sat down and quietly asked for a photograph of the victim.
The detectives stopped smiling when she told them that the little girl had been carried to a field and bound with her own shoelaces. No one but the detectives in the room had been told about the shoelaces. "I was blown away," Southwell, now a lieutenant, recalls. "And the thing was, she was all business--not weird with a bunch of crystals or bizarre talk."
But it was what Roberts did next that won over the detectives. Roberts and a detective went for a drive in his car. At first she seemed to be lost, but about five miles from the office, she suddenly began telling the detective where to drive. They arrived at an apartment house where she pointed to an apartment and said, "That man has molested children."
It turned out that the resident wasn't the cops' suspect. But shortly before Roberts arrived that morning, police had pulled the man--a registered sex offender--in for questioning. The man, who would later be convicted of another child molestation, had been sitting in the same chair Roberts was offered when she arrived. "It was like I was covered with the guy's psychic slime," she says. "I had picked up the wrong guy's energy."
The detectives were impressed. Still, there were troubling discrepancies about what Roberts told them. For one thing, she was adamant that the suspect's house was green, but the little girl had told investigators it was red. And the little girl had described the suspect's car as an old, beat-up, off-white Travelall with rust spots. Roberts told Southwell it was a new off-white vehicle with purple trim.
Although he says he was concerned about the discrepancies, Southwell asked Roberts to come back the next day. The following morning detectives took her to the scene of the abduction. She led them to a tree in a nearby field. "This is where [the girl] was tied while he went to get his car," she told them. Recalls Southwell, "We even found evidence at the base of the tree."
Police began directing the investigation based on Roberts's information. The call went out to watch for a new-model Travelall with purple trim and to concentrate surveillance in the rural section of the county where Roberts said the suspect lived.
That afternoon Southwell and Roberts went looking for the suspect. She directed him to a long, looping road in a remote area of the county. They had just headed down the back side of the loop when Roberts suddenly blurted out, "Something's going on here." A minute later they came into view of a vehicle matching Roberts's description of the suspect's car. At the same time, Southwell noticed one of his detective's cars parked in the drive.
The detective told Southwell he had been driving down the road from the opposite end, also concentrating on the area defined by Roberts. He had spotted a new, off-white Travelall with purple trim and noted that the driver matched the suspect's description. The detective had just slapped handcuffs on the man.
Southwell looked at the house. It was green, as the psychic had indicated, but the interior trim of the windows was red--the only part the girl, who had been blindfolded when brought to the house, could see as she looked out.
"Kelly was so accurate, it was spooky," Southwell says. "Because of her, the detective who arrested the guy was in the right area, looking for the right car and the right house. Believe me, I'd recommend Kelly Roberts to anyone who asks."
Word about Roberts spread on the police grapevine. The San Diego Police Department enlisted her help in tracking fugitive felons. She began receiving calls from detectives all over the country, mostly on missing persons and murder cases. Her exploits--especially the story about helping locate the child molester--began appearing in newspapers.
A producer with Hard Copy called. The show had seen some of the articles and wanted to do a story on her. At the time she was working with the San Diego police on a serial murder case that she wasn't allowed to discuss. Her only other contact was in Missouri on a missing-persons case. She and the producer agreed to try to set up something there.
But Roberts's success wasn't sitting well with her husband, Jimmy, who was out of work and staying home with the kids. Because he took care of paying the bills, she didn't know he was withdrawing hundreds of dollars from their household account every week to support a cocaine habit.
On the evening of September 10, 1989, says Roberts, her psychic warning bells were going off. She and her husband were arguing. She told him she wanted a divorce. Leaving the room, she got her gun, a .38 semi-automatic, and tucked it into the back of her pants. Then she sat down in the living room to wait.
Suddenly, she says, there was an enormous crack as she heard as much as felt a baseball bat slam into her skull. Jimmy had clubbed her from behind. She recalls hearing a voice scream in her mind, "Move, or you'll die." She raised her left arm as the bat descended again, she says, deflecting the next blow but leaving her arm numb and useless. Turning as she rose, she reached back with her right hand and began to pull her gun.
She began to pull the trigger, not waiting to aim. The first bullet entered her right leg above the kneecap and exited her calf even as the bat swung again, dislocating her jaw. But the next five bullets found their mark.
The shooting made all the Southern California newspapers. But even though the Escondido police investigation determined that Roberts had killed her husband of fourteen years in self-defense, nervous clients stopped calling.
As Roberts recovered from the beating and shock, she decided she needed to work to take her mind off Jimmy's death. She re-established contact with police in Missouri who were looking for a missing man and also working a separate case in which a little girl had disappeared. But now Hard Copy wasn't half as interested in her abilities as a psychic detective as it was in the grisly details of Jimmy's shooting. She refused to cooperate, she says, and flew to Missouri at her own expense (Roberts claims to have spent $80,000 of her own money helping police over the years).
Roberts led Missouri detectives to a barn where she said the man who had disappeared had been taken. It was as far as the cops could go. No judge was going to issue a search warrant based on a psychic's word, and the owners of the property were not the sort to help the police. "The case was never solved," says one Missouri detective who asks not to be identified. "To this day, I can't drive by that place without wondering what we would have found."
Roberts says she was prepared to assist police in a nearby county in the case of the missing girl. But the media, by way of a television station contacted by Hard Copy, got wind of her activities. After that night's newscasts, the sheriff's offices of both counties were deluged with angry calls from people accusing the police of employing a witch and promoting satanism. The publicity forced the sheriff to drop Roberts as a consultant.
"You have to understand," notes the Missouri detective, who says he wishes to remain anonymous to avoid rekindling the controversy, "this is the Bible Belt, and there's not a lot of open minds about such things.
"But I'm a Christian, and I never saw or heard her do anything weird--no calling on demons or strange incantations. I personally believe she has a gift, and I know for a fact that every major law enforcement agency has, and does, use psychics, including the FBI."
Roberts returned to California only to become embroiled a year later in another scandal involving a secret police task force formed to investigate the murders of 44 prostitutes and transients in the San Diego area. There were allegations that the deaths were tied to police corruption. Roberts was brought in to assist investigators.
But a confidential internal-affairs investigation report mentioning Roberts's participation on the task force was leaked to the press. The controversial decision to give a self-described psychic access to confidential police information made headlines for weeks.
Embarrassed, police chief Bob Burgreen told the Los Angeles Times that he was unaware Roberts had been used as a consultant by his department. "I would be very skeptical about using a psychic in a criminal investigation," he said. "My feeling is that if psychics were truly psychics, they'd go down to the racetrack and win a million dollars every day."
As the scandal swirled, Roberts watched her private client base, already damaged by the death of her husband, shrivel further. It wasn't until later that another internal-affairs investigation report was leaked to a columnist for the Times, who defended her in a column, noting that she had told San Diego police things about the killings that weren't public knowledge.
Her business ruined by the bad publicity, Roberts decided to leave California. She remembered the hills of Durango and the voices that urged her to find the lost secret of the Anasazi.
Two years later, Roberts waits to hear from Citadel Pictures, which purchased the rights to her life story for a movie or mini-series. She also hopes to resurrect the Hesperus Foundation, a nonprofit organization she created several years ago to fund a group of psychics and private investigators to look into unsolved disappearances and murders of children. And she still offers her assistance to police agencies, with varying degrees of acceptance.
This past year, says Roberts, she contacted police departments in the Denver area regarding the highly publicized kidnapping and murder of Alie Berrelez and the case of a boy taken from an Englewood church and later found alive in Adams County. She never heard back, she says. However, Lieutenant John Tapia of the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Department joined her list of admirers after she helped the department in locating a murder suspect.
"I must admit that I was somewhat skeptical when I learned that Ms. Roberts had contacted our agency," he wrote in a letter that has joined a dozen others that make up her psychic resume. "However, that skepticism quickly vanished. What I found not only helpful, but impressive, was the accuracy of the information."
Another true believer. Still, Roberts hasn't told a whole lot of people about her other quest--the one for the secret to the universe. Experience has taught her that most people might think "it sounds a little crazy."
She recalls a letter she wrote to Louis L'Amour, the famous Western novelist, shortly before his death in 1988. L'Amour, who owned a large ranch near Hesperus, had just written a book, Haunted Mesa, that included references to a doorway to the past guarded by the Anasazi.
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Roberts was sure that either consciously or subconciously, L'Amour had tuned into the same vision she had. So she wrote to him, telling him about her vision and asking if he knew of any local legends that might help the search.
L'Amour, who would die a month later, wrote back. But instead of information, he provided her with a warning not to set foot on his property. "If you do," he wrote, "I have a large foreman who will show you the way off."
Roberts shrugs as her jade-green eyes peer out from behind the mask of blue eye shadow. "Not everyone believes me," she says. "At least not right away.