When she was a child, neighbors thought she was a witch.
At age 14, she said she had a vision of her father’s death. A few weeks later he died of pneumonia.
Dorothy Allison suddenly came to the conclusion that she was a psychic. Her mother, a seer, warned that her visions were a gift and should never be used for profit.
So for more than 30 years, Allison used that gift to help police find missing children and those who prey upon them. She amassed a wall full of framed citations from police departments, but never accepted money, save for the occasional travel expenses or fee for appearing on a television show to discuss psychic detective work.
Nine years ago, Allison told her family she would not live to be 75.
She died Wednesday in a Belleville, N.J., hospital of heart failure at the age of 74. Her birthday was four weeks away.
In her voluntary detecting career, Allison worked on more than 5,000 cases for law enforcement agencies around the globe and was credited by many with helping to solve more than a dozen murders and find at least 50 missing children.
A nonstop talker who resembled television’s Edith Bunker and lived a quiet life in Nutley, N.J., Allison candidly conceded that she couldn’t find her own reading glasses or anything else she misplaced. She never pretended to understand her “gift,” but disputed the theory that clairvoyance is inherent in all people.
“I don’t believe everybody has it,” she told The Times in 1983. “If they did, why aren’t they using it?”
Considered the dean of the detective psychics, Allison wrote a book about her work in 1979 titled “A Psychic’s Story.”
She certainly had her well-chronicled successes.
The mother of four first volunteered her services in 1967 when she told the Nutley police she had dreamed of a blond, blue-eyed boy in a green snowsuit with his shoes on the wrong feet, drowned in a pond and his body stuck in a drainpipe. A month later a missing boy, whose description had not been publicized, was found in a drainpipe, and his shoes were on the wrong feet.
In 1974, San Francisco’s Randolph Hearst invited her to help find his kidnapped daughter, Patricia. Allison didn’t find the young woman but later called the FBI twice to say she felt Patty was hiding in Pennsylvania and then in New York City. Both “feelings” proved accurate, and Allison also was correct in predicting that the newspaper heiress would join her captors in robbing a bank.
Two years after that, Allison saw the word “MAR” and oil in connection with a missing 14-year-old girl. In 1978, two boys found the girl’s body in an oil drum on New York City’s Staten Island near a rock with the word “MAR” scrawled on it.
Before David Berkowitz’s arrest, Allison also was credited with giving an accurate description of the “Son of Sam” killer to a police artist and correctly predicting that he would be picked up on a traffic violation.
But Allison also had her very public failures.
When she was called to Atlanta in 1980 to assist police in investigating the murders of several black children, an Atlanta police detective branded her “that wacko broad . . . [who] rode around in a big limousine, ate real well for three days and then went home.” He said she gave police 42 possible names for the murderer, none of them that of the man ultimately arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced.
A year earlier, a Paterson, N.J., detective flat out called Allison “a fraud” and said she wrongly claimed credit for leading police to the body of a strangled 8-year-old boy in order to promote her book. He said Allison had led dozens of policemen and bloodhounds on a wild goose chase, and had herself given up the search when nothing was found. A witness who saw the suspect and the boy together, the detective said, actually led to the discovery of the body and the arrest and conviction of the killer.
In 1996, Allison led police to a five-acre field near Newark International Airport, after she had a vision that five black teenage boys who disappeared in 1978 had been murdered, burned and dumped there. Police dug but found only teeth which they never determined were human. They gave her a plaque for her efforts, but considered the lead a failure.
The diminutive Allison, who could hurl epithets at critics and child abusers alike, wore a medallion of St. Anthony, protector of the lost, and slept with color snapshots of her “little angels,” the missing children in her cases. The medallion and the photos, she claimed, helped her visualize locations of bodies and suspects.
Allison is survived by her husband, Bob; two sons, Robert and Alex; a daughter, Dorothy, and seven grandchildren.