He saw it coming.
[All quotes courtesy of the Santa Cruz Sentinel.]
January 8th, 1988; 1011 King Street, Santa Cruz, California. The small home’s décor is strewn with a profusion of religious symbols—crucifixes and ankhs vie for space with prayer beads and Christian iconography.
Emblazoned upon the walls are several airbrushed murals depicting the home’s forty-four year old resident,
Michael Bebek, decked out in Egyptian drag.
Michael is, or he was, a professional psychic.
Now he is sprawled across his bed, dead—his skull fractured by a series of vicious blows.
The weapon used in the attack and Michael’s state of dress when found have never been released;
twenty-nine years later, his murder remains unsolved.
“Growing up, he was my god. He was so one-of-a-kind, so charismatic—if you met him you never forgot him.” Michael’s sister Suzanne Gardner, January 17th, 1988
A beloved figure in the local paranormal community,
Michael—under his professional name Orion—hosted classes in psychic development and offered one-on-one readings for $75 (approximately $150 in today’s currency).
A bit of a renaissance man, he also wrote a food column for Good Times,
a local alt weekly,
and peddled vintage clothing from a stall in a downtown boutique.
In 1983 Michael told a reporter from the Santa Cruz Sentinel he’d been telepathic since childhood—“I used to get visions of people’s past lives and wait for them to laugh at me”— but he’d only begun practicing professionally at the behest of a spirit who encouraged him to share his gifts.
“A spirit guide came to me and told me to use his name and his vibration. It was on a Halloween, as a matter of fact, in 1974.” Michael on his extra-sensory résumé, October 30th, 1983
Although communing with the dead is an unorthodox profession detectives don’t believe Michael’s metaphysical work played any part his murder;
Orion wasn’t Michael’s only assumed name,
and his food column wasn’t his only connection to Good Times magazine.
For three years preceding his death he’d taken out a weekly ad in the paper’s intimate massage section
under the name Mike Davis:
“Sensitive massage for men 18-30s—first time free for the young and fun.”
In the days before languidly swiping right on Grindr the sex lives of gay men were fraught with danger;
the ad used a pseudonym but the contact number was Michael’s home phone.
“There were times he was afraid, but he was addicted to what he used to call ‘the loveline.’” Sister Suzanne Gardner, January 17th, 1988
Although detectives aren’t certain Michael connected with his killer via the loveline,
investigators do believe homosexuality probably played some role in his death.
As Sergeant Bob Henning told a Sentinel reporter, “[The killer] could have been a jilted lover . . .
or somebody who answered his ad.”
Since so few details have been released it’s impossible to gage whether Michael’s murder was a hate crime,
but considering the stigma of homosexuality in the 1980s it’s certainly possible homophobia—either overt or internalized—was involved in some capacity.
“He was aware of all the dangers [of the loveline], but he felt confident about it because he was good with people and could talk his way out of things.” Longtime friend and fellow psychic Carolyne Gaudier, January 17th, 1988
Michael’s murder has received little press coverage in the three decades since his death:
in 1999 the Santa Cruz Police Department announced they’d collected DNA samples from several persons of interest,
and in 2002 Sergeant Steve Clark told a Sentinel reporter he’d zeroed in on an (unidentified) suspect,
but too many people had access to the crime scene to justify an arrest warrant.
Since Michael was such a colorful character I’m surprised his death didn’t receive more media attention;
no forensic details have been released,
and the aspect of the crime I find most fascinating was relegated to a throwaway line in a single newspaper article:
according to his friends, Michael knew his days on earth were numbered.
“He was aware he was going to die this year. He talked about it; he joked about it.” Psychic Carolyne Gaudier, January 17th, 1988
I’m crestfallen the Sentinel didn’t pursue the story of Michael’s premonition—-did he know how he would die, or give any hints about the identity of his killer?
Murdered mediums are a pet obsession of mine;
assuming an afterlife exists, they’d be ideal candidates to come back and reveal what lies beyond—and frankly, I’m dying to know (pun intentional—deal with it).
Most professional psychics are hucksters and bullshit artists, unfortunately,
but there have been a handful of inexplicable cases that defy rational explanation—most famously the spectral voice of Teresita Basa—so I always remain open to the possibility of the paranormal.
“What is the worth of your days? What was the message of your life, what came to be?” Michael Bebek while entranced, January 17th, 1988
Although these failures never seem to get much press,
recent cold-case developments have debunked two longstanding psychic prognostications:
in 1989 a medium predicted the phrase “flowers for Joe” would be important in solving the mystery of Jacob Wetterling’s disappearance (it wasn’t).
And in 1997 a psychic dragged a frantic mother and a horde of police detectives all over Christendom looking for missing student Kelli Cox,
claiming she was alive and gaining weight in captivity (she wasn’t).
Hopes dashed, law enforcement resources wasted, and no apologies or media scrutiny forthcoming—until there’s some accountability charlatans will continue to prey on the desperate and gullible.
“To make [your life] more significant, then count the journeys of your love, count the people who touched you back. That touched back. That loved you too.” Michael entranced, January 17th, 1988
I’m always hopeful a legitimate medium will someday provide incontrovertible proof of post-mortem sentience—but in the meantime I think it’s important to expose unscrupulous “psychics” who swindle the unwise and unwary for personal glory and monetary gain.
But even if death is the end and extrasensory powers are a fairy tale Michael Bebek’s murder is still worthy of attention.
His friends and family were clearly devastated by his loss,
and I’ve always adored the remembrance chosen for his headstone, a fitting epitaph for a man with a sideline as an amateur masseuse:
Michael, if you want to chat we’re here; pick up the astral loveline and reach out and touch somebody—the young and fun await your call!