Just before dawn on Dec. 3, 1967 Dorothy Allison, a housewife from Nutley, N. J., dreamed she saw the body of a small boy wedged in a drainpipe in a shallow pond. He was dressed in a green snowsuit and his shoes were on the wrong feet. In the background, Allison told police early in January, she had seen a gray wall, a building with gold lettering and the number eight. On Feb. 7 the body of 5-year-old Michael Kurcsics, who had disappeared two hours after Allison’s dream, was discovered in a drainpipe in Clifton, N.J. He was wearing a green snowsuit, and when police removed his tiny rubber boots, they found his sneakers on the wrong feet. Nearby were a gray concrete building, a factory with gold lettering on the front door and an elementary school—P.S. 8.
Since that tragic vision attracted public attention, some 8,000 bereaved parents and relatives have sought Allison’s help in tracing their loved ones. Though she has had to turn down most of the cases and has uncovered little in some she has worked on, Allison’s record is studded with eerie successes. Twenty-six times she has conjured up images—they come to her like TV pictures, she says, sometimes in color, sometimes in black and white—that later proved to be uncannily accurate descriptions of the whereabouts of missing persons. Since 1973 she has provided information that has led to the arrest of no fewer than six killers. Ample testimony to her preternatural prowess is her treasured collection of badges and notarized affidavits, bestowed by police officials whose skepticism melted after they reluctantly brought her into a case.
One former doubter is Nutley police detective Salvatore Lubertazzi, who had searched for weeks for missing banker John DeMars before turning to Allison out of desperation early in 1974. “I’d known Dorothy for years, and I thought she was crazy,” Lubertazzi recalls. “When I knocked on her door, I wondered, ‘What am I doing here?’ ” Remarkably, he had barely finished describing the case for her when images began appearing on Allison’s cerebral picture tube. “She told me that DeMars had drowned—which seemed unlikely—and that she saw a burned-out building, two guys, an archer and a long row of tires,” Lubertazzi remembers. “We searched and searched through junkyards and gas stations, and then she told us Feb. 22 would be an important date. Sure enough, on Feb. 22 a body was found in the Passaic River. On one side was a burned-out factory; on the other, a Two Guys discount-store sign and a row of tires at the bottom of a hill. The body had been discovered by a boy and his father who were shooting arrows by the river.” Police later theorized that DeMars had fallen asleep on his commuter train, awakened when the train stopped on a bridge, and—thinking he had arrived at his stop—plunged to his death when he bolted from the car.
With that case solved, Lubertazzi volunteered to become Dorothy’s liaison with police all over the U.S. He screens every request for her help and explains carefully how Allison works. “A lot of cops think they can just come over here and then find the body,” he says. “It doesn’t work that way. Dorothy sees the past, present and future all together. She has no concept of time.” Often, too, her pronouncements are Delphic. “Once we were working on a case and she saw the word ‘eclipse,’ ” Lubertazzi recalls. “What were we supposed to do—wait for an eclipse? That was the only association I could think of. It turned out to be an Eclipse Bowling Alley. It was so simple and yet we couldn’t find it. Sometimes it gets very frustrating.”
It is more than frustrating for Allison, who is often deeply depressed by her mission. “Cases involving babies make me especially upset,” she says. “I quit for three years once because I couldn’t take it, but whenever I get a call for a lost infant I stop everything and think, ‘Oh God, maybe I can bring one back alive.’ ” She accepts no payment for her work and frequently pushes herself to the brink of exhaustion. “I’ve learned to go without eating all day and then eat 10 times too much at night—hamburgers and French fries in the back seat of a police car,” she says. “One night they sent me into a swamp where all these big furry animals were jumping around. They told me they were bunny rabbits. Some bunny rabbits! They were rats! I turned my St. Anthony medal around and cursed them.”
Her most disappointing case? “Patty Hearst,” she says. “I didn’t know who she was when her family called me, but I flew out to California and traveled around with the FBI. I told them she was in jail or in a small space without light, but I couldn’t find her. Then in July 1974 I was working on a case in Pennsylvania, and I had an impression Patty was there. I called the FBI, but it was 2 a.m. and they treated me as if I was bombed out.” Only later did they learn that Patty had been in Pennsylvania. “Dorothy Allison is honest and reputable,” says Randolph Hearst. “I wouldn’t laugh at what she does.”
Dorothy has been aware of her psychic gift ever since, at 14, she dreamed her father would die. He did—the very next weekend. Dorothy was understandably horror-struck. “I said, ‘Well, who needs this thing? I hate it!’ ” Her mother, who had experienced similar visions herself, reassuringly told her daughter, “You won’t always see bad things. They’re just little warnings, and nothing to panic about.” The teenager remained unconvinced. “She made it all sound so simple,” says Dorothy, “but I didn’t like it, and wished I didn’t have it.”
Today Dorothy, 54, tries to keep her intuitions out of her private life. It isn’t easy. As a young woman, she dreamed of dating her engineer husband, Bob, two weeks before she met him. Recently, when her daughter (she also has three grown sons) insisted on driving despite Dorothy’s admonition not to, her car was damaged in a parking lot accident. Ordinarily, however, Dorothy ventures neither warnings nor prophecies. “I’ve never said to my girl, ‘You’re going to meet a tall, handsome prince.’ ” she says. “Let her go out and find a tall, handsome prince! Sometimes it’s good for you. Besides, I work so damned hard that there really isn’t time for me to have premonitions.”