She bills herself as a psychic bloodhound sniffing after bad vibrations. She claims she knows who the killer is, she sees him in her dreams. She taunts him to make a move. He wouldn't dare murder any more children, she vows to jousting TV cameras -- not while she's hot on his trail.
As a last resort, desperate Atlanta police have asked Dorothy Allison -- a 54-year-old Edith Bunker lookalike from Nutley, N.J. -- to use her so-called "psychic powers" to help them solve the murders of 10 black children and the disappearance of four others since July 1979.
She has interrupted a nationwide promotion tour for her book, "A Psychic's Story," to tromp about Atlanta's South Side with detectives for the last two days, hunting for clues.
"We're gonna get the louse who did it -- challenge every one of my killers to try and break them down," she says. "He's a worm and a rat. I'm not gonna call him an animal because I have a dog that's very nice."
Anxious mothers of the slain and missing children have welcomed her into their homes, shown her clothing, mementos and photographs so she can pick up the scent. They now sit on the edges of their chairs, trusting she can help.
"I believe in Dorothy Allison," says Willie Mae Mathis, whose 10-year-old son Jeffrey vanished March 11 on the way to a grocery store to buy her a pack of Pall Malls. "She is not raising false hopes, but I pray she will tell me my child is still alive."
Atlanta, frightened over the murders and a recent boiler explosion in a day care center that left four other black children dead, is ready to believe almost anything. It will even try to see if a Yankee lady clairvoyant can settle the score with the killer (or killers) who has baffled a 24-man police task force for 16 months.
"Our commitment is to solve these cases whatever it takes," says Police Chief George Napper, a Ph.D. in criminology from Berkeley who stands by his invitation to Allison.
Citizens swamped City Hall with calls to bring on the psychic after her recent appearance on the Phil Donahue Show. "We were very reluctant at first, but the public pressure was enormous," said one of Mayor Maynard Jackson's assistants.
"I see her role as generating leads for us," says Napper. "The tips generated through traditional means -- informants and police beating the bushes -- haven't led to any arrests, suspects or a motive. We're not going to leave a stone unturned, so I'm open to other possibilities," even a psychic detective with a book to sell."
In the last 12 years, Allison has worked with police in more than 100 cases, from the Patty Hearst kidnapping to Chicago's John Gacey murders. To disarm skeptics, she hauls along honorary sheriff's badges, affidavits from police departments and the FBI vouching for her, and news clippings ranging from the National Enquirer to Newsweek that count her mind trips into the unknown.
To help her "see," she wears a medallion of St. Anthony, protector of the lost and found, and sleeps with color snapshots of "my little angels" -- the dead children whose cases whe has worked on.
"They help me find the killer," she says.
Allison, who gets no pay, only expenses, claims to have helped police solve 13 murders. She says she has helped find more than 50 missing persons through her "visions."
Detective Salvatore Lubertazzi of the Nutley, N.J., police, a frequent sidekick, interprets her "messages" for officers on Atlanta's special police task force. "How you question her is very important," says Lubertazzi. "Her clues sort of get you where you're supposed to be, and then you take over from there."
"I go by feelings and mental pictures," says Allison. "I'll go with police and tell them, 'Turn down this street, turn down that one,' even though I get lost going around the block."
"Sometimes it's hard to understand her," says Lubertazzi, who has acted as a liaison between Allison and local police across the country for six years. He figures prominently in her book. Deciphering the clues she spews forth resembles a game of charades, he says. "She just sees a [geographic] site . . . a kaleidoscope of vision, all jumbled up, very fast pictures."
Then, says Lubertazzi, police must parry and thrust with questions, sculpting her seemingly meaningless information into a clue "without projecting an answer to her."
She might draw them a map, or come up with a composite of a killer. She says the Atlanta killer is a "bully," a black male -- perhaps two men -- angry about being poor, infuriated at the very sight of other impoverished blacks who remind him of his circumstance.
Only two of the slain or missing black children have been girls. The others have been boys, between eight and 15 years old, pint-sized kids born into families of little means.
Allison first volunteered for duty in 1968, when she dreamed of a blond boy with blue eyes who had drowned in a pond, his body sucked into a drain pipe. She phoned the Nutley, N.J., police and further described the boy's clothing: a green snowsuit, sneakers on the wrong feet.
Her description fit that of a missing child -- an unpublicized disappearance. A month later, the boy's body was found in a drain pipe, just as Allison had described.
"We took her to a drainage pipe we'd found in [nearby] Clifton, N.J., and she said, "This is where the boy is. Dig here,'" says Nutley Detective Angelo Ferrara in a telephone interview. "I was with her. We dug up the pipe, cut it open and found him. His sneakers were on the wrong feet.
"How the hell can a person know something like that? Where do they get those feelings? It shook me up."
Al Darden, a respected polygraph examiner on loan from the Baltimore County Police Department, is another in the entourage of doting cops following Allison about Atlanta. He said he has been a devotee ever since Allison helped him with a long-standing case, a 14-year-old Randalstown resident who had dropped from sight soon after being expelled from school for smoking. Darden says that Allison predicted the boy would turn up in California, working as a cook.
"And that's where he was later found," he says. "I believe in the lady 200 percent."
But other police officers who have worked with Allison aren't as convinced that the psychic sleuth is all she's cracked up to be.
"She's a fraud," says George Brejack, a detective with the Paterson, N.J., police, in a telephone interview.
Brejack says Allison claimed credit for leading police last November to the body of Delvis Matias, an eight-year-old boy who had been sodomized and strangled.
Allison led police on a wild goose chase, from an abandoed factory to nearby Garrett Mountain, bordering south Paterson, says Brejack. She directed dozens of police who hunted for days with bloodhounds and found nothing. Allison gave up, he says.
Days later, Brejack found an eye-witness who saw "our suspect with the boy under a bridge." He arrested Gualberto Nieves-Morales -- who confessed and was later convicted of the murder -- after Brejack found the body under a board near some railroad tracks.
Brejack says Allison asked him to "go on TV and say she was there when we found the body. She said it would be great for her book. We said, 'Hell, no.' She wanted the credit but we did all the work."
Allison says Brejack is just plain jealous.
Still, since Allison came to Atlanta her book sales have soared, said a delighted Leonida Weintraub, publicity director for Jove Publishing in New York. "We just ordered a third printing of 75,000 books on Monday."