He has been called “the modern Sherlock Holmes,” the “real-life Scully” and other appellations. He’s well into his fourth decade as an investigator of historical, paranormal, and forensic mysteries, myths and hoaxes. In contrast to mystery-mongerers on the one hand and so-called debunkers on the other, he believe that mysteries should actually be investigated with a view toward solving them.
He’s thought to be the world’s only full-time professional paranormal investigator — the “Investigative Files” writer for Skeptical Inquirer science magazine who travels around the world investigating strange mysteries at the very fringes of science. The role utilizes his varied background: former stage magician (Resident Magician at the Houdini Hall of Fame), private investigator (for a world-famous detective agency), and academic (Ph.D in English, focusing on literary investigation and folklore, and author of some two dozen books).
A major role is examiner of questioned rare documents. He has exposed many forgeries, including the notorious “Jack the Ripper Diary,” and he has authenticated many treasures. His books on the subject include “Pen, Ink, and Evidence” and “Detecting Forgery“.
He has investigated scores of haunted-house cases, including the Amityville Horror and the Mackenzie House in Toronto, Canada. Nickell was an inspiration for Hilary Swank’s role as a miracle investigator in “The Reaping“.
And those are only some of his roles. Like everyone, he has done many different things, but he’s pushed the envelope. He has made something of a career out of careers– blackjack dealer, riverboat manager, poet, sign painter…. (Scores are listed on his website under “Personas.”) Even in this regard he has been a detective, for it’s his way of investigating life.