Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sylvia Browne, Amanda Berry and a Case of ‘Psychic’ Recklessness

A photo of Amanda circulated after she went missing.

A photo of Amanda Berry that circulated after she went missing.

On May 6, 2013, three young women were rescued from a home in Cleveland, Ohio. One of the girls, 26-year-old Amanda Berry, went missing more than a decade ago.

Berry and the others were reportedly held captive in a dungeon and treated like slaves. Berry was impregnated while held prisoner and her daughter, a 6-year-old girl, was held captive for her entire life.

Relatives of Berry confirmed that the child was born in captivity. According to investigators, there were various miscarriages and pregnancies among the women over the years. It was reported that one of the victims had three miscarriages due to her malnourishment.

The women’s rescue is the best possible outcome of a hideous situation. Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight had been missing for so long that many had presumed them dead. While it’s expected that grieving relatives would lose hope after years without news, the intuitions of some carry added weight. On a 2004 episode of the Montel Williams Show, so-called psychic Sylvia Browne told Berry’s mother that she believed her daughter was dead.

A year after Amanda disappeared, her mother, Louwanna Miller, appeared on the show and spoke with Browne.

The reading didn’t go too well.

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the psychic did not have optimistic news for the distraught mother. “She’s not alive, honey,” Browne told Miller on the show. “Your daughter’s not the kind who wouldn’t call.”

Sadly, despite Browne’s wrong prediction, there will be no reunion for Amanda and her mother. Louwanna died in March 2006 at the age of 47.

Sylvia Browne. Photo: Steve Snowden/Getty Images.

Although it was reported that Louwanna Berry died of pancreatitis and other aliments, many would argue that she died of a broken heart. She spent three years searching for her daughter, which during that time, the stress and emotional turmoil took a toll on her mind, body and soul.

Her family and friends said that the disappearance of Amanda was a reason for her deteriorating health.

In 2006, a website entitled “Stop Sylvia Browne” appeared on the Internet in an effort to stop her from misleading family members and friends of victims of kidnapping and murder.

Sylvia Browne has been an active self-proclaimed psychic and medium for decades, despite several widely-reported false predictions. This begs the question: What exactly does it take to become a psychic? Well, not too much.

With charisma and a willingness to lie, these charlatans build a following and continue on their road to supernatural success.

In 1992, Browne was convicted of investment fraud and grand theft, and over the years, many of her failed predictions have appeared in newspapers and media around the world. Still, she continued to appear every Wednesday on Montel before a national audience of daytime TV viewers.

As if it’s not bad enough when psychics deliver false news to grieving families, sometimes their predictions taken into account during an investigation.

There are endless self-styled psychics and mediums out there who claim they can help law enforcement or help bring closure to the lives of those suffering. More often than not, that’s not the case.

Skeptics argue that they are frauds who interfere with ongoing cases, and with the lives of those searching for the missing or dead.

For those who want to believe however, it’s easy to use apparent psychic successes as evidence of the practice’s validity. In the Caylee Anthony murder case, a private investigator testified that a psychic had directed him to the woods where the remains of the two-year-old were found.

In the wake of Browne’s Amanda Berry debacle, skepticism seems to be winning out as critics take to social media to express their disgust.

“Hey Sylvia, Amanda Berry is alive. Think of the torment you put her mother through when you told the poor woman her daughter was dead,” reads a posting on Browne’s Facebook page, which has over 145,000 fans. “Then the mother herself died before she could learn the truth. You are evil, evil, evil and ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

A grief-stricken parent may turn anywhere–even to a psychic–for answers. To spew falsehoods in the name of ratings and popularity is irresponsible and cruel


Jeffrey Hartinger is a writer who lives in New York City. You can visit his website at www.thewhygenerationusa.blogspot.com.

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