After Madeleine, why not Bin Laden?

October 13th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in badscience, dna | 40 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian
Saturday October 13 2007

Danie Krugel is an ex-policeman in South Africa who believes he can pinpoint the location of missing people anywhere on the map. He does this by using his special magic box, which works through something to do with “quantum physics”, but you aren’t allowed to know any more than that: these are “complex and secret science techniques”, driven by a “secret energy source” driving a “matter orientation system machine“. By simply popping a strand of the missing person’s hair – or some other source of DNA – into his box of tricks, Krugel can pinpoint that person’s location, anywhere.

This might sound ridiculous to you – or rather, it might sound like the familiar nonsense from psychics, who frequently involve themselves in cases of missing children – but this week both the Telegraph and the Observer, as well as several tabloids, featured Krugel in completely serious news stories on the hunt for Madeleine McCann.

“Traces of Madeleine McCann’s body were found on a Portuguese beach weeks after she was reported missing,” said the Observer under the headline “Forensic DNA tests ‘reveal traces of Madeleine’s body on resort beach'”. (Disappointingly, since the Observer has led the field for non-bonkers McCann evidence coverage.) In its own special grown-up voice the Telegraph informed us that “it emerged the couple had used a scientist to help look for the missing four-year-old using a DNA-tracking device”.

Neither of these papers made any mention of the top secret “matter orientation” quantum stuff. So what do we make of this box made by a retired police officer (described in one report as “Krugel, of the University of Bloemfontein”) now working as head of health and safety at a university? The device will have to analyse the DNA at a sufficiently high level of resolution that it can pick out the DNA specific to one person, apart from anything else, before locating more of that DNA, anywhere on a map.

It’s amazing, of course, and the military applications alone are incredible. Why not find Bin Laden, every house burglar in Britain, and Lord Lucan too? In fact, if it works, this machine is a guaranteed Nobel prize winner, and in the meantime, psychic debunker James Randi has a million dollar prize for anyone who can demonstrate paranormal powers like these. Krugel’s claims fit the bill perfectly. Why not use the device to locate Randi, and claim his million?

I rang Krugel to ask him. Are his powers paranormal? He says no. He made a discovery while experimenting with some off-the-shelf electronic devices. I asked if I could see the device: sadly, he says, no. I asked him what he measured, how he knew he was measuring anything, but he wouldn’t say. I asked about the theory, but that’s secret of course. I asked him about his background in electronics or quantum theory, and he demurred. Desperately trying to give the guy a chance, I scanned the memory banks and asked “what is a capacitor?”, and “what are the SI units for Planck’s constant?” He was offended. I apologised.

Meanwhile here is Krugel in a South African documentary on his work finding missing children. “If you get a signature sample of something … let’s call it organic or non-organic … a very small sample. I have developed a method to use that small sample and to create data that I use to search for its origin. So you transmit and you receive.”

“Is there anything metaphysical involved? Are you psychic?” Krugel: “I’m a Christian and I put it clearly … this is science, science, science!”

Krugel is gushing. You might feel the power of his words more if you put yourself in the shoes of someone who has lost a child, watching the television through tearful eyes, hoping against hope that your little baby is still alive, not dead, not murdered, not tortured, and will one day be found, brought back to you alive by some inconceivable miracle worker sent from God.

Hear Krugel’s words: “Now that’s fantastic. To phone the dad and say, ‘Look, I’ve got him’ or ‘I have got her. You can come and get him’ or ‘you can come and get her’.” “How many of those have you had?” asks the interviewer. “A lot, a lot, a lot,” replies Krugel. Nice.


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40 Responses



  1. Robert Carnegie said,

    October 13, 2007 at 12:38 am

    Shergar?

    Civilian mass graves in name-of-country-here?

    Incidentally, do we need or want non-bonkers McCann evidence coverage, or isn’t it better to have dignified respectful distance while the police investigate, or, alternatively, good-quality imaginative fiction, including this Torchwood stuff?

  2. AitchJay said,

    October 13, 2007 at 12:38 am

    “Why not find Bin Laden?”

    Excellent question Ben! LOL

  3. raygirvan said,

    October 13, 2007 at 3:15 am

    Jimmy Hoffa?

  4. Nellie Dean said,

    October 13, 2007 at 6:24 am

    Lord Lucan? – A policeman should be really interested in catching murderers.

  5. shpalman said,

    October 13, 2007 at 7:17 am

    So did he know what a capacitor was? Or the units of Planck’s constant?

  6. doris said,

    October 13, 2007 at 7:41 am

    Channel 4 is doing a ‘Dispatches’ special next Thursday at 9pm;it will examine the evidence in the McCann case,with the help of a team of experts.
    Secondly,in the 1930s,a woman named Ruth Drown designed a device called the Black Box,which used,I believe, a drop of blood to make an accurate diagnosis,regardless of geographical location and distance.
    Krugel’s device seems similarly nebulous in its claims.

  7. woodchopper said,

    October 13, 2007 at 8:33 am

    Capacitor? I recall that the Flux Capacitor was invented in the 1950s by Dr Emmett Brown. Perhaps this is the secret of Krugel’s revolutionary discovery.

  8. schrodingerspig said,

    October 13, 2007 at 9:48 am

    as per woodchopper above, perhaps Krugel doesn’t want the Libyans finding out what he did with their plutonium. Hey, maybe he’s already paid for a conversion, so it runs on rubbish.

    It is rather worrying that so much time and resources have been given to Krugel and the findings of his Box of Delights. If the papers were just looking for an angle to report on, perhaps this would be a position that they could stand on high ground and jeer at the Portuguese police.

    BTW, a cursory search on the University of Free State (Bloemfontein) draws a blank for staff members under the name of Krugel.

  9. Puplet said,

    October 13, 2007 at 9:57 am

    Sod, Bin Laden, what about Elvis? Would there be any way of extending the device’s range to incorporate nearby galaxies? Also, does it work on extra-terrestial DNA? or cats?

  10. rongraves said,

    October 13, 2007 at 10:03 am

    Krugel’s gadget seems to me to be related to Radionics – that’s bollocks as well. No way he’ll look for Bin Laden, though, as someone is likely to put a bullet in his ear – just in case. So perhaps he should be encouraged to do so, then…

  11. woodchopper said,

    October 13, 2007 at 10:13 am

    Schrodigerspig – Krugel works for the Central University of Technology, Free State (CUT). Which is also located in Blowmfontein. His entry on the staff page is here: www.cut.ac.za/sdirl?d=PROTECTION%20SERVICES

  12. Darren said,

    October 13, 2007 at 10:25 am

    Stuff Elvis, I want Ian Hobson found. I lent him a fiver in 1986….

  13. jobrag said,

    October 13, 2007 at 10:50 am

    Are there no anti-witchcraft laws still on the books, that could be used to prosecute theses bozos? Imagine the fun to be had burning TAPL at he stake!
    Jobrag

  14. schrodingerspig said,

    October 13, 2007 at 11:18 am

    woodchopper – Cheers, got confused on that one. He’s in Protection Services. Seems to be a bid department too!

    I want him to find the body of the real Paul McCartney, just to add a twist to the divorce proceedings. The papers would be all over that one.

  15. misterjohn said,

    October 13, 2007 at 11:58 am

    woodchopper, your link is wrong.

    Can you repost, please?

  16. Dudley said,

    October 13, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    “If the papers were just looking for an angle to report on, perhaps this would be a position that they could stand on high ground and jeer at the Portuguese police.”

    No – the horrible and yet scandalous fact is that this guy has been hired by the McCanns directly. Which means that his fees are being paid for, not by the Portugese police, but by all those people who gave to the various Find Madeleine McCann charitable funds.

  17. odtaa said,

    October 13, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    apparently the device is not always so accurate.

    www.mirror.co.uk/news/topstories/2007/10/08/don-t-trust-the-bodyfinder-89520-19913118/

  18. MostlySunny said,

    October 13, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    as (I think) the only resident South African posting on this board please accept my sincere apologies on behalf of all rational South Africans.

  19. Ambrielle said,

    October 13, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    Has anyone seen a reply from the Observer reader’s editor yet? I would like to know if they are even the littlest bit embarrassed about their article.

  20. raygirvan said,

    October 13, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    More military possibilities: use it for missile targeting if you want to assassinate someone.

  21. Ambrielle said,

    October 13, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    Your mind works in interesting ways, Ray!

  22. MJ Simpson said,

    October 13, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    According to the Leicester Mercury (which has a specific interest in the case as the McCanns live in Leicestershire) the family’s spokesman has specifically stated that they have not hired Krugel.

  23. woodchopper said,

    October 13, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    Ambri – no reply from the Observer readers editor to my polite email. Lets see of they print anything tomorrow.

  24. plentyofants said,

    October 13, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    am i the only one to wonder if there’s a connection between mr krugel’s methods and the bbc’s recently begun broadcasts of dirk gently’s holistic detective agency?

  25. raygirvan said,

    October 13, 2007 at 7:17 pm

    Your mind works in interesting ways

    The wealth of possibilities is another reason why it’s so unlikely. If the device worked, he’d have long since been made an offer he couldn’t refuse by any number of military and/or spook organisations.

  26. Ambrielle said,

    October 13, 2007 at 7:41 pm

    You’re right Ray. This is also one of the reasons I can’t understand why everyone is not pointing at him and saying “Fraud!”.

  27. woodpecker said,

    October 13, 2007 at 8:08 pm

    If this guy knows where the body is buried, it’s because he put it there. Otherwise he’s an evil fraudster. Why are we even giving him the benefit of any ‘doubt’?

  28. marcdraco said,

    October 13, 2007 at 8:15 pm

    He might find it with the McConn’s help if they are guilty. Otherwise I wouldn’t give him one chance in a googol.

  29. woodchopper said,

    October 13, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    I have received a reply. There will be an article on Krugel by the Observer Readers’ editor on Sunday.

  30. Ben Goldacre said,

    October 13, 2007 at 11:58 pm

    media.guardian.co.uk/presspublishing/comment/0,,2190829,00.html

  31. Ambrielle said,

    October 14, 2007 at 12:08 am

    Thanks Ben.

    At least it was better than the MMR/autism reply, but doesn’t really go far enough. In addition to the “That criticism can often be shrill, intemperate and inaccurate,” phrase (unnecessary?), it seems that their journalists got their ‘confirmations’ from the internet. If the bloggers had the same resource and picked up the flaws in very short order, what on earth are the journalists being paid for?

  32. pv said,

    October 14, 2007 at 12:14 am

    #
    Dudley said,

    October 13, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    “PV – One might infer from your comments a position on the McCanns that differs substantially from “innocent till proven guilty”. If you are correct, it will make not a shred of difference to the police investigation. However, if you are not correct, then you are adding to a negative climate surrounding two innocent people who have just had the worst thing in the world happen to them, which would be unforgiveable.

    It’s an awful thing if charity money is being used on this fraudulent man who preys on other people’s misery, and it’s possible to say so in a public forum without intruding onto the currently unresolved tragedy of the Madeleine McCann case.”

    Dudley, I don’t have a view about the McCanns specifically. I don’t know them. But I do have a view about so-called psychics, dowsers, mediums and quacks in general who prey on parents and families who have lost family members in suspicious or mysterious circumstances. I have a view too, and not a good one, about the money grubbers and idiot media hacks who give them the oxygen of publicity because they are complicit in a scam. Now I don’t know if it’s true that the McCanns employed or sought the help of this individual but if they did, and they are reportedly intelligent people, then I think it opens up many possibilities and question. As I wrote, one could take a cynical view.
    As I understand it, and correct me if I’m wrong, in the real world of child abuse and violence inflicted upon them, away from the fantasies of tabloid headline writers, the biggest dangers to children are close family members followed by close family associates. An investigation into the disappearance, abduction or murder of a child should never eliminate the parents, just because they are the parents. An investigator would need a better reason than that – like alibis and evidence.

  33. halpin said,

    October 15, 2007 at 1:53 pm

    Ben,

    Maybe, he’s got some funky DNA, like one of the characters in Heroes.

  34. moonflake said,

    October 15, 2007 at 3:53 pm

    Ben

    I see you didn’t manage to get any more detail out of Danie than I did. Is it just me, or are discussions like that usually an indication that there’s no detail to get?

    If you care to hear my personal theory, I believe Danie made up the device so he could have an excuse to keep helping out on local police investigations. Then the media got hold of the story and he had no choice but to either play along or admit he was lying to stay involved in policework. I think the whole thing has gone completely beyond his capacity for inventive untruth, and the cracks are showing…note he only started calling it ‘quantum’ after 3 years on the scene – usually a dead giveaway someone has run out of creative excuses.

  35. testtubebabe said,

    October 16, 2007 at 2:12 pm

    It really would not suprise me if the Mcanns believed in this box of tricks as it is as credable as believing a visit to the pope would do the trick. If you can stretch your belief as far as transubstantation, where else?

  36. Gramlin said,

    October 18, 2007 at 8:35 am

    There was an ex-copper named Krugal, //
    whenever the clues became frugal, //
    he’d whip out his quantum- //
    -O-matic (oh, bunkum!) //
    and use it to blow his own bugle.

  37. robin said,

    October 23, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    But details of his technique were published years ago:

    “We place the hair in the resonating chamber. you understand, each individual is unique, and the arrangment of genetic particles is quite distinct…Well, as soon as it’s analysed, the information is coded in a series of anbaric pulses and transferred to the aiming device. That locates the, the origin of the material, the hair, wherever she may be. It’s a process taht actually makes use of the [...] many-worlds idea…”

    The Amber Spyglass – Philip Pullman 2000

    Don’t tell me that’s fiction too??

  38. marcdraco said,

    November 10, 2007 at 6:41 pm

    Weeks later and little Maddy is still missing. Anyone else noticed?

  39. Ben Goldacre said,

    April 10, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    brilliant email.

    it’s a national pride issue:


    I take it you’re a brit…

    Don’t go and make fun of Danie Krugel and his locating invention just because you people couldn’t come up or create such a device yourselves.

    Keep doing your experiments in your bedroom and maybe someday you’ll also become an inventor just like Danie!

    Good luck!

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