Exclusive: Opening The Dead Files – An In-Depth Interview with Steve DiSchiavi
“The Dead Files” on Travel Channel
A few weeks ago we had the pleasure of sitting down with Amy Allan (interview here), physical medium and co-host of Travel Channel’s compelling series “The Dead Files.” Today we spoke with her partner in crime, Steve DiSchiavi.
Devoting more than 21 years of active service to the New York City Police Department, retired Homicide Detective Steve DiSchiavi is now lending his expertise to the series that has paranormal fans worldwide absolutely buzzing. Based on the powerful premise that every property has a story to be told, DiSchiavi and Allan combine their unique skills to solve unexplained paranormal phenomena in haunted locations across America.
We began by asking Steve how he initially got involved with Amy and the show.
“I had been on a documentary for the NYPD called “NYPD 24/7″ for ABC News,” says DiSchiavi. “Once it aired, there was a lot of buzz. It even won an Emmy. After it aired, I retired, and a producer from Hollywood called me to see if I would be interested in doing television. I was like, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ and that’s basically how my relationship with the creator of the show started. Fast forward a bit and he reached out to me again to do “The Dead Files.” My initial reaction was, ‘No, I’m not interested in doing a paranormal TV show.’ After some talking he convinced me to fly to Denver to meet Amy and film a sizzle pilot with her, and once I met her, I was hooked. Amy is unbelievable. I used to get into arguments with people over her in regards to her credibility with the people I worked with, but now I just tell them to spend a couple of hours with her and then talk to me.”
If you’ve never seen “The Dead Files,” let us assure you… for television this is as scary as it gets!
“It’s weird; whenever I post a picture of myself smiling, people ask me, ‘Wow, you smile?’ Yeah, I smile! On the show we’re not exactly portrayed as jovial. It’s a scary show, a docudrama. I get that, but we have a happy side, too, ya know? However, I get a lot of Facebook comments saying, ‘Steve, your facial expressions are hilarious. You don’t even have to say anything!’ I don’t do it on purpose; it just kind of happens. It’s reality TV, what can I tell you? When they asked me to do the show, I was like, ‘Are you sure you want me for it?'”
Before accepting the job working with Allan, he was naturally very skeptical, having had bad experiences with mediums in the past.
“When I was on the job, I had worked with a couple of psychics on some homicide cases that I had. There have been times in my career in which I would have done anything to get a break on a case, you know? For me to turn to a psychic was a clear indication that I had nothing to go on. Unfortunately they ended up letting me down and leading me astray. This left me with a really bad taste in my mouth, and I decided I wouldn’t be working with them again. Some of the people who claim that they have abilities have a tendency to say some pretty off-the-wall things like, ‘I see pink elephants and they make love to me’ or some happy horseshit, and I’m like, ‘Really? Are you kidding me?’‘
DiSchiavi continues, “With this show we are dealing with people who have legitimate problems and are going through some very serious stuff. I guess you can say if you’ve never had it happen to you, you just don’t know how it feels. It’s like getting robbed. You don’t know what that feels like until it happens. Or even getting shot at, you have no idea what that’s like, and believe me, I can tell you first hand. Unless you’ve experienced the traumatic things that some people have, it’s hard to empathize with them. We do our vetting thoroughly when it comes to “The Dead Files.” We don’t want to deal with any kooks who are just looking to get their fifteen minutes of fame on TV. We only want to go with people who have legitimate problems. Knock wood, things have been working pretty well. Amy has been able to help a lot of people.”
Being a homicide detective, Steve is no stranger to helping people, but with this latest gig he found some great surprises.
“When I first started doing this show, helping people was the furthest thing from my mind, Steve marvels. “I had no idea what anyone was looking for. I was brought in to do a job, an investigation. For me that’s the easy part. I just didn’t know what kind of clients we’d be handling. I didn’t want to have to deal with the woman who’s on tranquilizers and drinking a martini in the afternoon telling me that she sees ghosts coming out of the wall. No shit you’re seeing ghosts coming out of the wall, you’re drinking martinis and taking Valium! *laughs* Again, we look for normal people with serious things going on in their lives.”
Allan and DiSchiavi have created quite a trusting relationship that’s built on their dependence on one another. One that plays a key factor in the proceedings of the upcoming third season.
“Amy and me talk a lot when we’re not doing the show, and I have learned so much from her. She’s at the point now where she expects me to understand everything about what she does, I’m like, ‘Amy! I still don’t understand everything that you do so you’re still gonna have to explain some things to me.’ We just had a new case last week that I can’t really talk about yet because it hasn’t aired, but man, it was something that I had never even heard of before. We’ve seen things in this third season that neither of us have had to deal with. I’ve gotten some pretty wild statements from people who have witnessed things. Amy is seeing things she has never seen before. I’ve taken some statements from people and think to myself, ‘Really? Is that what really happened?’ but when Amy comes to me and says, ‘Yes, that IS what really happened,’ I’m like, ‘Okay. I’m buying it now.’ The last three cases we had… man, they were all very different, and I’ve ended up loving every client we’ve had so far this new season. One of them is with a girl named Tisha in West Virginia, and she and her family were going through one hell of a hard time. To be able to help out people like that? That’s worth everything to me and Amy.”
When asked how working these cases compares to working in the field of law enforcement, DiSchiavi offered some truly interesting insight.
” When working homicide, you can’t solve every case. I had a pretty good clearance rate, but those ones that get away… they eat at you. When you have to tell a mother that you can’t find who killed their kid…” Steve pauses for a moment while reliving the horrors of the things he’s seen as a detective. “Man, it’s just so tough. With what we do with this show, at least there’s some kind of closure for the people who are involved. There’s an answer. This is what’s going on, and this is why it’s going on. In certain ways doing this is a little more rewarding than working homicide. It’s a little strange to say that, but that’s just how it is.”
“Amy is 110% legit. I get very protective of her. What she goes through is a process. I didn’t understand it at first, but I damned sure didn’t dismiss it. Amy is her own worst critic. She’s the first one to say that no psychic or physical medium is 100% accurate. I respect her immensely for that,” added DiSchiavi.
Working homicide has made Steve no stranger to bullshit. We asked what compelled him to do the show despite his initial and completely understandable reservations.
“The first thing we did was a sizzle reel out in Denver. There was an open double homicide case from 1971. There was this house that is now a bed and breakfast. I was able to talk to one of the lead detectives who worked it and knew a lot about it. As a homicide detective you do two things… you always find out everything that you can, and you always hold back a key piece of evidence from the media. This way when you’ve got the guy in the box, if he knows about this key and you know it, then this is your guy. He didn’t read about it anywhere, he didn’t hear it from the news, and it’s not on paperwork anywhere. He has to be the one you’re looking for.”
“That being said, I asked this detective, ‘What piece of news did you keep from the news and is not documented?’ He told me that in this particular case a girl had her arm broken and she was stuffed under the bed naked. Finally I got to see Amy’s footage from her walk, and she nailed both of these bits of information. She said her arm was broken and that she didn’t like what they did to her body when they stuffed her under the bed. I gotta say the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I saw the autopsy reports and the protocols. None of that information was on there. From there I turned to the producers and told them, ‘If I am going to do this show, I am going to do it with her.’ The rest is basically history. I have to thank the Travel Channel and David Gerber for taking a chance on this show. Without David’s insight, nerves, and guts, we wouldn’t even be talking right now.”
DiSchiavi continues, “To executive producer Jim Casey’s credit, he knew the kind of integrity that Amy and I have as well as the amount of passion that we have for what we do. When we all got together, I told him straight out, ‘I’m not jumping through hoops to make the show look good. If you’re looking to make me look like an ass, then this is not happening.’ When Amy told me about her method, I knew we were on the same page and that the show would work because if I think that she knows the details on a case, then it’s all bullshit, ya know? I told Jim that he had to let me do an investigation as I would normally conduct one. I would never have done a lot of the research stuff that you see me do on TV before. What I did on the job was Victimology, in which I’d get into the background of the victim. This is sort of like the same thing. like going back in time to find out how we came to where we’re currently at. You want to learn every step. Every move that was made. Both our reputations and our integrity was on the line. Neither of us would jeopardize that for any TV show. That wasn’t happening. I was retired, I had my pension coming in… I didn’t need any bullshit, ya know? I was adamant that if we weren’t gonna do this right, then we weren’t gonna do it at all. Jim understood and respected that. Jim believed in me and Amy, and here we are doing our third season and hopefully getting set to do a fourth. We wouldn’t be here without him.”
Throughout his long career Steve has witnessed many things. Some thing’s he’d prefer to forget. So we wanted to know what, if anything, he had seen while working with Amy that still gets his ghost…
“The one thing that still fascinates me to this very day is an episode from Season One in which Amy sketched the face of a killer from Asbury Park who is still alive [Season One, Episode Two – “Plan B Restaurant, Asbury Park, New Jersey”]. I just interviewed that guy earlier in jail, and then I pulled out that sketch… I was like, ‘How in the world were you able to see this person?’ She literally sketched the guy who did the murder. She then explained to me that she can see residual energy, but that still just blows me away. I can see her seeing someone who is dead, because that’s what she does, but for her to nail the guy? I knew she didn’t have a photo of him, and I knew she didn’t know about the homicide. The place was a friggin’ antique shop when the murder occurred, and now it’s a restaurant. She didn’t have a clue.”
To be a New York City Homicide Detective for over two decades, you need to have one thing in particular… balls of steel. So the question beckons… does anything rattle him in the paranormal field?
“To be honest with you, nothing really rattles me. People always ask me what the scariest location we’ve been to is, but you know what? Locations don’t scare me. Two-legged living people scare me, nothing else. You never know what a person is capable of. The dead don’t bother me, and I’ve never seen anything that shook me. Even the Santa Fe episode. [Season Two, Episode Ten – “Death Sentence”] For a lot of reasons I felt that that was our best investigation yet. I walked the jail for an hour and a half all by myself with a flashlight, and I didn’t encounter anything. Don’t get me wrong; it was a creepy place and it was very scary looking, but unless someone is coming at me with a shotgun or is shooting at me, I never get bothered. I’m not saying that if I ever saw anything that it wouldn’t bother me. Honestly, I have no idea how I’d react if I ever saw something that I couldn’t explain, but so far I haven’t. Amy thinks I’m such a pain in the ass that they stay away from me, so who knows!” *laughs*
We then wondered if there were any cases that he’d love to work on with Amy.
” The JonBenet Ramsey case immediately springs to mind, but I also want to sink my teeth into the Villisca Axe Murder House in Villisca, Iowa. Once I learned about that case, I knew I wanted to do it. If something like those cases came across our desks, me and Amy would jump on it. The Ramsey case is still an open homicide so we’ll never get that, but I would love to try my hand investigating it. Amy wants to do the Amityville house. We both have different locations we’d love to try, but we’re both in agreement that we’d love to do Villisca.”
Investigating infamous crimes has to be a dream for a detective so Steve then talked about a very famous case he and Allan had done earlier… The Lizzie Borden House.
“The best part about doing the Lizzie Borden house [Special investigation that took place between Seasons One and Two] is that I got to see everything. Find out what really happened. I got to study the crime scene and see the evidence that wasn’t taken into account. That case was screwed up from the beginning, from the minute they started moving the bodies to take photos of them. With the way we investigate today and the forensic tools at our disposal, things would have turned out very different for Borden. I am fully convinced she would have been found guilty. There are a lot of people who think that she’s innocent, but once I saw the evidence… I got to see the stuff that John Q. Citizen couldn’t get ahold of. But it is what it is. What Amy did on that case did a lot to solidify my suspicions.”
Still, despite the way the facts are presented on “The Dead Files,” there will always be people who are likely to call bullshit on what they are seeing. Steve doesn’t blame them and fully understands where those folks are coming from, but he did have some parting words regarding just what their purpose is.
“You can ask any client that we’ve dealt with how legit what we do is. They will tell you. You’ll get it from the horse’s mouth. What a lot of people don’t realize is that Amy goes through a lot of physical pain. Her walk can last over eight hours, and you see like, what, ten minutes of it on the show? The reveals themselves can last about three to five hours, and there’s only nine minutes of it being televised. There’s so much stuff that goes on. So much you don’t see. I have a great respect for the editors on the show and what they have to go through in terms of figuring out what it is they should use and what they shouldn’t. I will say this, though, I’m very proud of the fact that we do not leave our clients high and dry. We never leave them just holding the bag. Even when we’re done filming, we’ll sit there and spend time with them, answering any questions that they may have to the best of our ability. We really try and go above and beyond to do whatever we can to help these people. We don’t just say, ‘Yeah, sorry, you’re house is haunted. You take care now!’ Not to throw stones at anyone, but that’s what a lot of these investigators do. When we visit a location, we have a responsibility to our clients to help them and work with them to try and figure out what they should do. It doesn’t matter what a person does or doesn’t believe. What’s important is that you provide them with help.”
New episodes of “The Dead Files” return beginning Friday, October 5th, and this season also features a number of “Dead Files Revisited” episodes in which Amy and Steve look back on previous investigations and follow up with the clients.
Big thanks to Steve for his time, and a shout-out to Stephanie DePietro for her help in making this happen.
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