Mind Games

When 19-year-old UNT student Kelli Cox vanished, her desperate parents turned to a Florida "psychic" as their last hope. Hope was all he gave them.

But, even in the face of what was considered a massive and sustained police effort and publicity campaign, no solid clues surfaced. Leverton, who was designated to lead the investigation after about two months (and who subsequently won Bynum's confidence), says they never found anyone who actually saw Cox with someone or getting into a vehicle or into a tussle.

"There was no commotion when she left. I feel sure someone would have seen something if there was any type of commotion," Leverton says. "You know you could say she willingly left, but hypothetically, if somebody put a gun to your ribs or a knife to your ribs, you're going to willingly leave, too."

And that was the bottom line for the investigation. Police did what they considered their best and still had no clue what happened to Cox, and Bynum wasn't happy with the police work she'd seen even though it was not atypical for a case like Cox's. The Bynum family was getting dozens and dozens of telephone calls a day from old friends, concerned neighbors, people who'd seen news reports, psychics and others with tips.

Denton police investigator Mike Leverton stands near the spot where Kelli Cox was last seen as she called her boyfriend for help. Leverton, who is still working on the case, holds onto one of the many posters used in the effort to find Cox after she disappeared on July 15, 1997.
Mark Garham
Denton police investigator Mike Leverton stands near the spot where Kelli Cox was last seen as she called her boyfriend for help. Leverton, who is still working on the case, holds onto one of the many posters used in the effort to find Cox after she disappeared on July 15, 1997.

By this time Bynum was understandably desperate and willing to try just about anything. A couple of months after Cox vanished, someone at the police station gave her Monti's name, she says. Bynum says she is religious and her faith is strong, but she doesn't usually "go in" for palm readings and that sort of thing. She called Monti's home in Florida. She was about to become a believer.

Though often called upon as a last resort to help families like the Bynums, psychic investigators such as Monti have yet to prove they've helped police with the Cox case or any case anywhere, says Gary Posner, a critic of those who claim to have special psychic or magical abilities. Posner, who has appeared on television news programs and written many articles debunking supposed miracles of the supernatural, wholly discounts the "powers" of those who claim to possess some psychic ability. Psychics cast a net of clues wide enough to capture any evidence that eventually surfaces through real police work or tips based on fact. Then, Posner says, even though their visions were of no real use to an investigation, the psychic finds a way to take credit.

"As is typical of all of the so-called psychic detectives, it appears Monti's 'clues' are generally not only of no value to helping find anyone, they result in the police and other officials going on wild goose chases and wasting a lot of time, money, manpower for no good purpose," Posner says.

Nevertheless, Monti is a familiar figure in high-profile missing persons cases. In 1993, he was featured as a family's "psychic advisor" in People magazine when the abducted 10-year-old Katie Beers was found sexually abused but alive, imprisoned in a secretly built dungeon in Long Island, New York. News accounts credit police investigators--not Monti--with finding the girl.

In 1996, he was in Bushnell, Florida, looking for 17-year-old Cheryl Barnes, who disappeared after visiting a shopping mall. Monti was blasted by a local reverend as being "satanic" for saying he had a "strong feeling" about storage sheds near the mall and their possible relationship to the girl's disappearance. Monti worked with television news reporters, going up in a news helicopter to search for the girl. Monti wasn't credited with anything in the widely publicized case because Barnes turned up unharmed in New York. She had run away from home.

Monti was also involved in the fruitless search for Tiffany Sessions, a 20-year-old University of Florida student who disappeared without a trace in 1989. A few months after the search for Sessions started, Monti was encouraged by a television station to go to the Gainesville campus to find clues to the disappearance. Tiffany's mother, Hilary Sessions, a resident of Valrico, Florida, (where Tiffany's room is just as she left it in 1989) says in no uncertain terms that Monti has no special powers and that he found nothing.

"He [demanded] $2,000 in cash from me, and it had to be green dollar bills, $20 bills or nothing at all. I had to pay him that, plus I had to pick up his expenses on top of that," she says. "We sat down and he gave me enough to get me interested, and then basically he said I've got you interested, I've got you hooked. Now, fork over the money."

With television and newspaper reporters in tow, Hilary Sessions and Monti traveled to Gainesville and checked into a motel. On a Saturday morning, Monti began his search for clues that would lead to "Tiffy," she says.

"We had satellite trucks, I mean the great big ones, following us down the road with cameramen with five and six batteries on their backs running down the road following us, and John's going off on this little jaunt," she says. "All along he is saying, 'Oh, this is a good sign. This is a good sign.' He found a body of a dog that was partially decomposed [and said], 'Oh, that's a good sign. I know we're going in the right direction,' and I'm saying, 'Why is the body of a decomposing dog a good sign?'"

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