Steve Bank was out of options.
In March 2004, a 23-year-old woman named Kimberley Anne Sarjeant went missing. She’d last been seen hiking near the Rail Trail, but that was all Bank had to go on. He was lead investigator on the case for the Nelson Police Department at the time, and went through all the routine procedures used to look for people such as ground and air searches.
Nothing turned up. It was as though Sarjeant had vanished.
“It was just at that particular point in the investigation when I had nowhere else to turn,” recalls Bank, who retired after 32 years of service in 2012.
“I had nothing else that I could possibly do other than carry on searches, which were general searches because we did not have, if memory serves, any specific area where we could focus and concentrate our search. It’s a huge wilderness out there.”
It was then that Bank received a call from Norm Pratt. Bank knew Pratt personally because they played hockey together, but little else. Pratt told Bank he thought he might be able to help find Sarjeant, that his intuition was giving him clues about where she might be.
Bank agreed, and the pair began scouring a large, remote area Pratt had identified. In his impression, as he describes it, Pratt had seen Sarjeant go into the snow-covered woods. There she’d taken off her clothes, hung her jacket over a tree branch as a sort of signpost, and taken her life.
“The very first day I went looking for her, later I came back and I just had the impression I’d gone right past her,” says Pratt. “But where was that? I was in the woods, it was like a needle in a haystack. I wasn’t sure about any of it. I was just hopeful, I really wanted to help. I wanted to be right of course but I didn’t know if I was and had nothing to base it on.”
They found animal bones, but no remains. Then in January 2005, Pratt picked up a bone and started to cry.
“I knew it was her and I even knew what bone it was because my leg started to shake and I could just feel it was my femur.”
DNA testing confirmed the bone belonged to Sarjeant, with more of her remains found shortly after.
Bank remembers the relief he felt for himself and for Sarjeant’s family after finding the body. When contacted by CBC about the case, Bank said he couldn’t have found Sarjeant without Pratt.
‘Can you predict the lottery?’
Norm Pratt is, by his own design, not easy to find.
The 57-year-old lives with his wife Kim on a 20-acre lot outside Ymir, where their small home is hidden from view. It’s how he prefers it. He’s got a website, but doesn’t really promote himself. His participation in cases doesn’t get publicized. If people find out about him, it’s usually through word of mouth, and discretion is either implied or requested.
Pratt calls himself a spiritual intuitive, which he prefers to being described as a psychic. He says he’s had premonitions since he was a child. Back then it was for small things, like knowing who would be on the other line when a phone rang. But in his teens he had a vision of a friend dying in a climbing accident.
“I didn’t know when it was going to happen,” he says. “I really questioned it and doubted it and I was as probably as skeptical as anybody would be. I didn’t even tell anyone about it. For me it was quite uncomfortable and quite disturbing too.”
The vision came true. Although he was unsettled, Pratt never told his family. But he did start taking his premonitions more seriously with meditation, and found that knowledge came easier with a quiet mind.
Sometimes what he saw were murders, which led to failed attempts at ridding himself of the visions altogether. But usually Pratt would come to know more mundane things, like if he was about to get a job.
“The thing about intuition is it isn’t always about trauma or drama or something that you’d want to write about,” he says. “Sometimes it’s just gut feeling, instinct, hunch, a sense of things. You know when you meet people for the first time you have impressions about them. Sometimes those impressions are based on thought, but a lot of times they’re based on feeling and for me feeling is intuitive.
“So some of it was about just tapping into my feelings and realizing they were guiding me and that I could really rely on them.”
Pratt’s intuition also came with its own rules.
“People think, ‘Can you predict the lottery?’ or ‘You should be playing poker.’ What I love about this actually is it’s not self-serving, it’s not about me. I rarely know anything about my family or myself. It’s really about service and unless it’s about serving people in some way, it’s just not happening.”
In 1991, Pratt found a use for his ability. Michael Dunahee, a four-year-old boy from Victoria, went missing in a public park. The case made national headlines and deeply affected Pratt, whose own son was the same age at the time.
Pratt didn’t get involved in Dunahee’s case — 26 years later his disappearance remains a mystery — but that was the moment he realized he might be able to find others.
Sgt. Nate Holt is a believer in Pratt’s ability.
Three years ago the Nelson Police Department officer was in charge of the search for Jade Giesen, who had been missing for several days when another officer recommended he reach out to Pratt.
Pratt had already been thinking about Giesen. He told Holt that he had seen her next to running water, near rocks or a cliff, on a steep forest bank. She was resting next to a log and had begun to pull her pants down. That was all he could get before losing focus.
Holt invited Pratt out to talk about the file and work with Nelson Search and Rescue. Pratt joined the search for a few hours, and said Giesen was higher up the mountain than they were looking. SAR found her later that evening in exactly the way Pratt described, next to a log with her pants halfway down.
“The fact that he thought about those things and they lined up with what we found was too weird,” said Holt. “It was strange that he was so bang on about that stuff.”
In the days that followed, people questioned Pratt’s knowledge of Giesen’s death. A coroner’s report found no foul play, that she’d died of exposure.
“There were a few people calling saying, ‘Well of course he knew where the body was. He murdered her,’” said Holt. “People automatically jump to the fact that he knows all this stuff because he’s your suspect. But no, I don’t buy that, knowing Norm.”
Pratt has worked with police departments across the country on cases. He finds middle ground with skeptics by linking intuition to instinct, which Bank said any good investigator has.
“A gut instinct is sort of a conscious manifestation of sub-conscious cues,” said Bank. “You’re bringing things up but you really haven’t put your finger on it yet. You just get a feeling that these things together mean something. That’s really what it is. That’s the essence of intuition and that sixth sense or whatever you want to refer to it.”
Holt’s trust in intuition is also rooted in a personal experience.
One day he was driving with his family to Kokanee Creek Park when he had a strong feeling he should see his grandmother. He went to her and visited for a week. She passed away shortly after.
“She’d had cancer for four years,” he said. “Eventually everybody dies, but that was an overwhelming feeling that I should make time to see her because she wasn’t going to be around.”
Pratt leads a quiet life.
He runs in the morning and goes for walks in the forest to quiet his mind. About 10 years ago he retired from property development in favour of phone counselling, which usually takes the form of grief support or personal growth. Every few months he gets a call about a case, but he doesn’t always take them on.
The reasons for that can be complicated. He might not have any feeling for the case, or he does but factors like religious beliefs, skepticism or fear keep people from letting him in.
The cases also weigh on him. He’s never found anyone who is alive. Usually Pratt is called well after the fact, when searches have already been done. Sometimes the person has been missing a week, sometimes years. He’s worked on cases 20 years old.
“People are really grasping at the last straw, and I’m the last straw,” he says. “Which is a funny position to be in because you never want to take advantage of people, and I don’t, but I also don’t want to give them false hope.”
A few years ago Pratt decided he’d stop working on missing persons. He’d had a string of failed cases and was weary of the work.
But within days of the decision he got a call from a First Nations community in Fort Nelson. A missing body had been found but the case was unsolved and divided residents. Pratt was asked if he would visit to assist in healing support. He ended up going there three times.
“It was a really profound experience for me and I think for the group I worked with too,” he says. “So I love doing that stuff, I’ve done it with a few different communities over time.”
Pratt doesn’t care to know why he has his ability. He doesn’t know anyone who can do what he does — Pratt’s met with other psychics and come away unimpressed — and he shrugs when asked about biological explanations. He prefers it to stay an unsolved mystery.
What he sees can still be a burden. Pratt says he relies on his wife for support and advice, and that he copes by letting in his emotions rather than blocking them out.
“I’ll tell ya, doing this work is all about heart opening. If you’re heart’s not open, it’s not going to happen. It’s not really about mind, it’s about heart, it’s about feelings, it’s feeling very, very deeply, letting things bubble up and knowing what they mean and then trying to do something with it.”