Yelenic case to be featured on Biography channel series
It was "lights, camera, action" in Blairsville this past weekend, as a television crew from Canada focused in on the community for an upcoming episode of "Psychic Investigators." The show, which airs on A&E's Biography channel, will explore one of the less traditional methods used by those who sought the guilty party in the April 2006 slaying of Blairsville dentist Dr. John Yelenic.
Former state trooper Kevin Foley was convicted of the killing in March and recently appealed the jury verdict and a subsequent life sentence.
The television series follows psychics who aid in police investigations, offering their unique insights.
In the Yelenic case, a pair of psychic sisters, Suzanne and Jean Vincent of Butler County, became involved at the request of Yelenic's friend and neighbor, Melissa Uss. What originated as a personal psychic reading for Uss developed into the sisters offering local police extrasensory details they claim to have uncovered.
The information psychics provide typically can't be used in a courtroom, but, Suzanne Vincent indicated, psychics can sometimes point the investigation in a previously unseen direction.
"They can offer a second look," added Stephen Scott, director of the "Psychic Investigators" episode based on the Yelenic case. He noted family members are most often the ones who enlist the help of psychics, but a police department occasionally will bring in a trusted psychic as a fresh set of eyes.
Two seasons of "Psychic Investigators" have aired on the Biography channel; the third season, including the Yelenic episode, is slated to run later this summer and in the early fall. Associate producer Tanya Blake believes the show will air sometime in late August.
The production company that creates the show is Cineflix Productions, based in Toronto, Canada.
"All of the episodes have to include a (working) relationship between a psychic and police officers," Blake said. Most of the cases covered by the series deal with a murder or missing persons.
Blake said the crews typically interview the psychic, police officers, at least one family member and a journalist who was involved in covering the case.
For the Yelenic episode, interviewees included the Vincent sisters, Yelenic's cousin, Mary Ann Clark, and Uss, as well as Janelle Lydic of the Blairsville Police Department, Jennifer Miele of WTAE-TV Channel 4 Action News and Anthony Krastek of the attorney general's office in Pittsburgh, who prosecuted the case against Foley.
The series is considered a "docudrama," combining interviews, archival material and dramatized recreations of certain aspects of the case.
Scott said the recreations are staged with actors and shot in Toronto. "It helps people follow the story more easily," he noted.
According to Blake, a research team began work several months ago to gather as much information as possible on the Yelenic homicide and Foley's subsequent trial.
"It's really been a team effort," Blake said of the production process. "It takes us a little while to get all of our ducks in order."
A lot of Blake's job as associate producer is familiarizing herself with the case as much as possible and helping the interviewees be comfortable during filming. She makes a point to get to know the community in which she's shooting. She said that many shots of the local scenery were taken during the crew's few days in Blairsville.
"It's been a good couple of days in Blairsville," said Blake. "We really liked it."
She noted that she especially likes filming in a small-town atmosphere.
"The small-town stories are especially interesting, specifically this town because Blairsville comes off as such a tight community," observed Blake. "It seems to me that (the Yelenic murder) affected a lot of people."
The crew arrived last Thursday to begin filming interviews the following day and wrapped things up in Blairsville Monday night.
"Psychic Investigators" producers had originally contacted the Vincent sisters because they were working on an unrelated case in Indiana County. Suzanne Vincent said she told the producers that she and her sister would be doing readings for the Yelenic murder case, but nobody anticipated such a fast resolution in the courtroom, so it wasn't considered as an option at first.
When the case wrapped up, the producers contacted the sisters again and gave the greenlight to start production on a show centering on their role in the Yelenic murder case.
"This is what we call angel intervention, with criminal cases," Jean Vincent explained. "We can't take credit for it, it was just that a beautiful family was having so much misery and grief. God brought us to the situation and helped us piece it together."
The sisters are both Catholics, according to Suzanne Vincent, but they also believe in spiritualism -- namely angels and spirit guides and the ability to contact "the other side."
"The spirit comes in and lets the people know that they are OK on the other side," Suzanne Vincent said.
How it started
The Vincent sisters first got involved in the Yelenic case when Uss showed up at a psychic tea party in Indiana in May 2006.
"My mom had called me about a month after the murder, asked if I wanted to go to a psychic tea party, and I thought, 'Oh, that'd be great, maybe that would be a way to get in contact with John to find out some answers,'" Uss recalled. A believer in extrasensory abilities, Uss had participated in such readings before for fun.
So Uss attended the reading in Indiana, and, never having met either of the Vincent sisters, she was astounded by what they had to tell her.
"During the first part of the reading, Suzanne immediately said she saw a black cloud around my house, as if we had recently lost a loved one or a friend," Uss said.
"Melissa didn't say anything, and about halfway through the reading, she asked if we knew about the man in Blairsville who had been killed, and we said no, we live in Butler County," Suzanne Vincent recalled.
"Everything that she did come to me with was not coached. It was formed from her vision; she saw it herself," Uss said.
After that first reading, Uss was so impressed, she asked Suzanne Vincent to come for a second reading. Uss arranged for entrance into Yelenic's home for the session, which included both sisters.
According to the sisters, during the reading in Blairsville, they could feel what they believed to be Yelenic's spirit in the room with them.
From that, they said, they were able to pull certain details about the murder case, including specifics about the crime scene and any suspects that only law enforcement could know, according to both the Vincent sisters and Uss.
"We gave her a lot of information -- information that she didn't know was going on, to give to the law enforcement," said Jean Vincent.
"Things like that John was stabbed with a knife," Suzanne Vincent added.
"We also described what we were sensing the killer's occupation was, what the kind of knife was, and who the person would resemble," said Jean Vincent.
"In hindsight, the similarities were very much there" between the sisters' description and Foley, the man ultimately charged and convicted of the crime, Uss said. "They didn't know anything about the case. That's what was so surprising about it."
"When they did that reading, it was amazing, the information they could provide, so I went to the police with the information they gave me and asked if they would like to meet with them," Uss said.
She noted that the police were "definitely receptive" to meeting the sisters, and arranged for another session at the Yelenic house.
When Uss suggested to Clark that a psychic be brought on board to provide any further details for the investigation, Clark said she was in favor of it.
"I was for anything that would bring more attention to the case," she said. "We were afraid it would become a cold case" if new headway wasn't made soon. "The three-year wait was very frustrating."
The Vincent sisters met with members of the Blairsville Police Department in June 2006, giving them the details they had already relayed from previous readings and expanding on other details.
The sisters said they have great respect for police work and don't normally get involved in such investigations, but their mother, who also claimed psychic abilities, had always encouraged them to use their gift to help other people.
"We respect those in law enforcement and what they do, we think they do a great job," Suzanne Vincent said. "We just give the clues and it's the wonderful police work" that wraps up these cases.
"We just give them another angle, a way of looking at things," Jean Vincent added. "We give details and allow them to break those details down."
That reading with the Blairsville police paved the path for the sisters' participation in one of their favorite television shows, "Psychic Investigators."
They filmed their portion of the show last weekend, with footage at the Heritage House in Indiana and at Yelenic's Blairsville home.
The Vincent sisters said they were asked a myriad of questions by the show producers, including what details they were able to give the police, how they met Uss and what topics are usually touched upon during a psychic tea party.
Working on the show
"The company that came, they were out of this world in the way of making you feel comfortable," Uss said. "They were very pleasant, very nice. I really enjoyed it."
Like the Vincent sisters, Uss was familiar with the show "Psychic Investigators" before her involvement.
"I love those kinds of shows," she said, adding that after Yelenic's death, she watched them with a new angle, trying to come up with new techniques or technology that could aid Yelenic's case in any way.
Clark sat down Monday evening to film her portion for the show.
Clark's role in the taping is that of a personal reference, as someone who knew Yelenic and could tell about him as a person and his role in the community.
Clark said she and Yelenic weren't that close -- there is a 20-year difference in their ages -- but that after the death of his mother, Yelenic looked to Clark's mother and father as parental figures in his life, and who had dinner with Yelenic at least once a month.
"John would be so mortified to know that all of this attention was being paid to him," Clark said with a laugh.
Suzanne Vincent called Clark about two months ago, informing her that the producers of "Psychic Investigators" was interested in telling Yelenic's story.
"I said from the beginning that I didn't have a lot to offer because I didn't attend any of the (psychic reading) sessions," though she's met the sisters, Clark said. But she agreed to cooperate in any other way she could, though she acknowledges that she's a skeptic when it comes to psychic abilities.
In light of that fact, she noted, she believes the Vincent sisters definitely helped Yelenic's case in garnering attention it otherwise wouldn't have received, and is thankful to them for that.
In preparation for the interview, Clark had talked briefly with Blake, who e-mailed her a list of questions that she might be asked in regard to her cousin's life, the murder investigation, the Foley trial and the Vincent sisters' role in the outcome. Blake had asked her to have ready any photographs or keepsakes Clark had of Yelenic.
On the day of filming, Clark sat alone on her couch, with Blake across from her spouting off questions. Only Clark and her voice will be seen and heard on film -- Blake's role is that of a prompter, asking questions.
Blake asked Clark a number of questions covering her relationship with Yelenic, her thoughts on the trial and its outcome, what role she believes the psychics played, and what she was feeling when Foley was finally convicted of taking her cousin's life. They also asked her about Yelenic's relationship with his adopted son, J.J.
The crew is continuing on to Maryland to conduct interviews for a separate "Psychic Investigators" episode, then it's back to Toronto to piece all of their footage and information together into a half-hour show. Blake estimates that the filming and production process takes six weeks per episode, but that doesn't include the preparatory research leading up to the filming.
Both Uss and Clark agree that the Vincent sisters helped bring justice to Yelenic's murderer.
"I don't know that they played a big role," Uss remarked, "but I think they confirmed a lot of the information they already knew.
"They helped us to keep this case alive for ourselves. When we didn't have answers, they were able to give us some, even if they weren't confirmed. It was a light at the end of the tunnel."
"I am for anything that keeps this case out there," Clark said. "The more publicity out there about this case, the better."
"We're here to help people," Suzanne Vincent said. "God gave us this gift, and we want to use it to help people. I want people to know what a great community Blairsville is, what a great person John was, the role that Melissa played and what a great person Mary Ann is."