Midweek Cuckoo: Danie Krugel
I just submitted this story idea to Carte Blanche, a local investigative reporting show that is quite well known for exposing scams, frauds and corruption in South Africa. This was in reaction to the episode aired on Sunday, featuring the following insert:
What if a special scientific device could track a missing person anywhere across the globe using only a single strand of hair? Or trace diamonds, or even deadly bacteria? Most would agree that it would be the invention of the millennium. It may sound far-fetched, but a local Bloemfontein inventor claims it’s highly possible with his secret device. Carte Blanche puts him to the test.
Carte Blanche needs to do a follow up story on Danie Krugel (featured on Carte Blanche 2006 12 03), the inventor of a device that supposedly can find people using only a clipping of their hair. The story aired last Sunday was credulous to a point that is not what I have come to expect from Carte Blanche. The same level of investigative journalism that is used in stories about other scams and frauds was not brought to bear on this story, and instead it almost seemed as if Carte Blanche wanted to believe his claims without really bothering to check them. Items that were not followed up on are:
Only suporting interviews were made. Where are the interviews with people Danie has ‘helped’ who do not support the validity of his claim – see for example this article in the PE Herald:
The couple in question are quite obviously talking about Danie (unless there’s someone else in South Africa claiming he can find people with hair clippings and a mysterious device), and they say that he and his device told him that their son was alive and well and moving all over the country, when in actual fact his skeleton was in the Knysna Forest. Add to that the fact that on the story shown last Sunday, in one clip while the voice over spoke of Danie’s various successes, the camera focused on a list of what could only be supposed to be these successes, which included ‘Skeleton in Knysna Forest’. If Danie is reporting this as a success, and the parents of the boy are ‘still bitter’ about his involvement, do the producers of Carte Blanche not think that there is some scammery going on here?
In addition, interviewing a microbiologist who is obviously this man’s friend is not what anyone would consider balanced reporting. How about interviewing an impartial forensics expert who actually knows how much effort is required to extract DNA from hair?
How about demanding to know why Danie has not published his findings for the scientific community to scrutiny? If this device does what he claims, he would be in line for the Nobel prize. Why is he appearing on television instead of publishing in peer review forensics or engineering journals? Why is he seeking publicity instead of scientific review?
Also, how about getting an actual scientist familiar with correct testing of products and claims to design a test that Danie cannot fake his way around? How about subjecting him to a proper double blind test, where there is absolutely no chance whatsoever that Danie could have ascertained the position of the target by guessing, or by overhearing a conversation, or by asking leading questions? How about not hiding people in his home town? How about hiding the person in the same building? How about seeing how well it works when cutting a piece of hair from a wig, then hiding the wearer of the wig somewhere, and the wig somewhere else, and not telling Danie it’s a wig? There is an endless list of better tests that would easily show whether Danie is cleverly playing the producers of Carte Blanche, or actually has a device that works. Any person with experience in designing experimental tests will be able to assist Carte Blanche in this.
How about asking Danie why it picks up the person, and not the hair on their hairbrush? In the course of a lifetime we drop hair clear across the country – how does Danie’s machine differentiate between the hair on your head and the hair in your bed? Volume? How about doing the experiment with someone who is balding?
Overall, the level of investigative journalism displayed in this piece was highly lacking, and a followup where Carte Blanche exposes this man for the obvious fraud he is, is needed. Will Carte Blanche really be satisfied with leaving this story as it stands, knowing that families of missing persons could potentially be giving their hopes and rands to a charlatan who will lead them on a wild goose chase around the country, as he did with the Gouws family? If Carte Blanche is so easily taken in by this man’s claims, what hope do the viewers have? Carte Blanche has a responsibility to interview scientists, forensics experts, and unhappy customers, rather than only interviewing friends and the small handful of ‘hits’ he could easily have obtained by chance or clever guessing.