"I thought 'Medium' was canceled," cracked the Los Angeles Times' Scott Collins on Twitter Tuesday night as news outlets rushed to retract their breathless headlines about a (non-existent) stack of two dozen dismembered bodies. Just about every media outlet sent a breaking alert out on Twitter, from The New York Times, to Breaking News, to the Associated Press. And plenty "confirmed" the story. ABC tweeted, " 'Dozens of bodies' found in mass Texas grave." Seth Mnookin tweeted the sentiment of many this morning: "Hope "breaking news! dozens of headless bodies on Texas ranch!" was fun for @nytimes, et al, while it lasted."
The supposed story of bodies, including those of children, rotting in an unattended farmhouse on the outskirts of metropolitan Houston came from a psychic who provided a tip to police. A psychic who is now under investigation. Most outlets got their headlines updated pretty quickly, and by today they're leading with the fake-out. But Telegraph blogger Brendan O'Neill caught a Reuters alert, now apparently deleted from the news agency's site, that confirmed "Texas Authorities Find up to 30 Bodies." The headline still shows up in a Google search.
When authorities arrived at the rural property, the home of a long-haul trucker, the tip seemed like it might pan out: There was blood on the door and an awful smell. But the house turned out to be empty, the blood the result of an earlier incident, and the smell coming from a broken freezer full of meat. About a thousand reporters (well, at least two) called 44-year-old Joe Bankson, the trucker in question, on the road in Dallas, probably ruining his latest haul. "I ain't killed nobody," he told the Houston Chronicle. "We've had the cops out at our house, but never for nothing like that. Somebody called the police on my dogs one time." The blood on the door was from where his daughter's boyfriend had cut his wrist some weeks ago while drunk.
So now the attention turns to the psychic, and how she managed to convince authorities that her cold-call tip was valid enough for them to check out. Liberty County sheriff's Captain Rex Evans did the explaining to the Chronicle, telling reporter Mike Tolson that the caller's "knowledge of the premises and a precise description of the home led authorities to give her more credibility than they otherwise would have." In a call to police on Monday night and another Tuesday, she gave information that made it sound like she knew somebody in the house or had been there. "She knew things about the layout of the house and the property, the contents of the house, how the walls were configured." Evans told Tolson. Of course, she is a psychic.
Police have a name and an Austin telephone number for the tipster, but they haven't confirmed either. Perhaps it's time to hire another medium to find this one. There are plenty listed here.
Update: The Associated Press's spokesperson Paul Colford writes in to emphasize that the AP never confirmed the existence of any dead bodies. He emails, "The AP did not report at any point last night that bodies were, in fact, found. Your lede appears to suggest otherwise. Indeed, the NYT’s website notably dropped Reuters’ story and subbed in AP’s." The AP's tweet we cited ("BREAKING: Agents, deputies plan to search a rural Texas house after learning that multiple bodies may be buried there") stops short of any confirmations. Colford adds, "Here’s the advisory we moved at 6:58 p.m. ET."
¶ r vbx
¶ BC-US--Texas Search-Bodies, Advisory,52
¶ 06-07-2011 18:58
¶ The Associated Press is aware of reports that dozens of bodies have been found at a home near Hardin, Texas. The AP has not been able to confirm the source of the reports and whether they are true. AP reporters and a photographer are en route to the scene
¶ -The AP