Sylvia Browne Born October 19, 1936
Kansas City, Missouri
Occupation Self-described psychic and medium Children Christopher Dufresne, Paul Dufresne Website sylviabrowne.com
Sylvia Browne (born Sylvia Celeste Shoemaker October 19, 1936) is an American author who describes herself as a psychic and spiritual medium. She has made several appearances on Larry King Live, was a weekly guest on The Montel Williams Show, and hosts her own hour-long show on Hay House Radio, discussing paranormal issues and giving callers advice in her role as a psychic.
In 1992, Browne was convicted of investment fraud and grand theft, and has been involved in numerous controversies regarding her claims and predictions, with reports about her failed predictions and claims appearing in several newspapers. Critics such as James Randi, with whom she has had a long running feud, say that she is a cold reader whose readings are indistinguishable from those achieved by mentalists using cold and hot reading techniques. Recent press coverage has asserted that she is overall inaccurate. A detailed three-year study of her predictions about 115 missing persons and murder cases, published in Skeptical Inquirer, concluded that despite her repeated claims to be more than 85% correct, "Browne has not even been mostly correct in a single case."
- 1 Biography
- 2 Paranormal claims
- 3 Predictions
- 4 Television and radio appearances
- 5 James Randi feud
- 6 Legal issues and criminal convictions
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Browne was born in Springfield, Missouri to Bill Shoemaker and Celeste Coil and she is the elder of their two daughters. Her father was Jewish and had many jobs including mail delivery and jewelry salesman, and was vice president of a major freight line. Her mother was Episcopalian, and her maternal grandmother Ada Coil was a devout Lutheran. However, Browne said in 2001 that she was Jewish.
Browne says that visions started appearing when she was five years old and that her grandmother Ada Coil, who she said was a psychic medium, helped her understand why she had them. Browne also asserts that her great-uncle was also a psychic medium and was "rabid about UFOs."
Browne started to give claimed psychic readings in 1974 and has attracted followings of supporters and detractors. She has given thousands of one-on-one readings and with a wide variety of groups and individuals; as of 2008, she charges $850 for a 20-30 minute telephone reading. Browne claims to have provided information to police departments and the FBI as a psychic detective. James Randi has researched this and in at least one case found that a police officer Browne claimed to work with did not work at the police department.
In April 2008, Sylvia Browne launched a new website billed as "an online spirituality destination that includes articles, blog postings, and videos from Sylvia."
On March 21, 2011 Browne suffered a massive heart attack in Hawaii and her website asked supporters for donations. Previously in May 2003, she told Larry King in an interview that she will die when she's 88 years old.
Marriages and children
She was married to Gary Dufresne from April 1959 until 1972. in that time she moved to Kansas City, Missouri. Dufresne said in a February 10, 2007 interview that he does not think Sylvia has any paranormal abilities, and that she admitted it, saying that the gullible deserve to be taken advantage of. Dufresne again called Browne a "fraud" in a 2010 interview with KMOV-TV.
Sylvia acquired the surname Brown from Kenzil Dalzell Brown during the third of her five marriages, and added a final e after she was indicted on security fraud charges. In September 2002 she and Larry Lee Beck ended their marriage. On Feb. 14 2009, Browne married a man she calls “Michael, my archangel,” an owner of a jewelry store.
Sylvia Browne Corp. and Novus Spiritus
Browne is the head of the Sylvia Browne Corporation, Sylvia Browne Enterprises, and the founder of a church in 1986 in Campbell, California, known as the Society of Novus Spiritus. In a 2010 interview, Linda Rossi, Browne's business manager, told KMOV-TV that Browne's business earns $3 million a year.
According to its website, the church has forty ministers, though only a small number are actually paid employees. Those that are paid also work for Sylvia Browne Corporation and Sylvia Browne Enterprises, and are members of the Board of Directors of Novus Spiritus.
Novus Spiritus refers to itself as "Gnostic Christian." It states that it follows the same traditions and teachings which Jesus himself followed, yet does not exclude Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, or Hinduism. The society teaches the Biblical works of Jesus Christ while also incorporating the Gnostic Gospels (ex: Gospel of Mary Magdalene), and says that while the Bible is a "marvellous book" and should be used as a teaching tool, it is not the "unaltered word of God".
Browne is the author of dozens of books on paranormal and spiritual topics, including The Other Side and Back, Adventures of a Psychic, Astrology Through a Psychic's Eyes, and, most recently, All Pets Go To Heaven: The Spiritual Lives of the Animals We Love.
In Browne's books, she discusses ways that she believes people may better their lives and be more loving towards people and other living beings. She discusses a wish for people to feel that they are loved by God. Browne reports that the entity of God comprises a male and female part, named Om and Azna respectively. She states that the entity of God loves all people and living beings equally, no matter what one's specific religious or spiritual beliefs are. According to her, this includes atheists, people who do not believe in a God or Gods. Browne writes that people's actions and intentions are what define a person and soul, and that people of all religions, spiritual beliefs, and non-beliefs may go to Heaven or the Other Side, as she refers to Heaven. Browne writes that she presents her beliefs in a way that allows readers or listeners to take what they want from her teachings and leave behind what they do not agree to be true.
Browne says she knows what it is like in heaven. In her book The Other Side and Back, she says the temperature is a constant 78°F (25.6°C), that there are no insects–-unless one wants there to be, that pets go to heaven, and that one can build one's house wherever one wants unless it obscures the view of a river or some trees, in which case one needs permission. She asserts that the "other side" exists approximately three feet above ground level and at a "higher vibrational level" and so is difficult for humans to perceive. However, like other psychics, she claims to have been born able to perceive a wider range of "vibrational frequencies".
Browne declares that she can see angels and that they look similar to depictions in paintings, but have different traits depending on their "phylum." She has also claimed that they do not speak. Her granddaughter, who is purportedly psychic, claims to have witnessed the angels that Browne states surround humans.
- That Bill Clinton was falsely accused in the Lewinsky scandal -- proved incorrect.
- That Bill Bradley would win the 2000 U.S. presidential election with the Reform Party coming in second -- he didn't and they didn't.
- The "hiding in caves" of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein -- Hussein was found in a "spider hole" in the ground and Osama bin Laden was hiding in a mansion in Abbottabad, a city in Pakistan.
- The death of bin Laden -- later revealed by the Central Intelligence Agency to be incorrect.
- A guilty verdict in the 2005 child molestation trial of Michael Jackson -- Jackson was acquitted of all charges.
- The cure and prevention of breast cancer by the end of 1999
Janet McDonald, an author of books for young adults, describes her experience receiving a psychic reading via phone, for which she paid Browne $700. Browne predicted a "really long life" for McDonald, who died of cancer at 53 just over four years later.
On September 3, 2001, Browne stated on Larry King Live that she would accept the James Randi Educational Foundation's $1,000,000 challenge to demonstrate supernatural abilities in a controlled scientific test. James Randi stated in 2007 that Browne had not contacted him and no longer wished to reach him.
A January 2007 episode of Anderson Cooper 360 featured Linda Rossi, Browne's business manager for 35 years, and James Randi. Randi proposed that Browne undergo a test where she would provide readings for ten sympathetic people, each of whom would then identify their own reading among the ten. Rossi declined on Browne's behalf.
A detailed three-year study of her predictions about missing persons and murder cases, by Ryan Shaffer and Agatha Jadwiszczok for the Skeptical Inquirer, has found that despite her repeated claims to be more than 85% correct, "Browne has not even been mostly correct in a single case." The study's authors collected Browne's televised statements about 115 cases and compared them with newspaper reports that are believed to be factual. They found that in 25 cases where the actual outcome is known, she was completely wrong in every one; and in the rest, where the final outcome is unknown, her predictions could not be substantiated. The study indicates that the media outlets that repeatedly promote Browne's work have no visible concern about whether she is untrustworthy or harms people.
Investigator Joe Nickell believes modern day self-proclaimed mediums like John Edward, Sylvia Browne, Rosemary Altea and James Van Praagh are avoiding the Victorian tradition of dark rooms, spirit handwriting and flying tambourines as these methods risk exposure. They instead use “mental mediumship” tactics like cold reading or gleaning information from sitters beforehand (hot reading). Group readings also improve hits by making general statements with conviction, which will fit at least one person in the audience. Shows are carefully edited before airing to show only what appears to be hits and removing anything that does not reflect well on the medium.
Her performance scheduled for Halifax, Nova Scotia, on April 1, 2011 was cancelled "due to unforeseen circumstances." It was later confirmed that she suffered a massive heart attack while in Hawaii on March 21, 2011.
Television and radio appearances
Browne has been a frequent guest on US television and radio programs, including Larry King Live, the Montel Williams Show, and Coast to Coast AM. During these appearances she usually discusses her abilities with the host and then performs readings of audience members or callers. Browne hosts her own hour-long show on Hay House Radio, discussing paranormal issues and giving callers advice in her role as a psychic.
On some occasions Browne is paired with other guests, including skeptics such as James Randi. These shows often feature verbal sparring between the two, with each trying to convince the audience that the other is wrong. One such Larry King show, in 2001, involved Browne agreeing to be tested by Randi to verify if her abilities were true. As of 2010[update] she has not yet conducted the test. In March 2004, their feud escalated on the popular St. Louis radio program The Paul Harris Show when Randi accused Browne of lying.
Browne appeared on CNN's Larry King Live eight days before the September 11, 2001 attacks, but did not predict the event. After the fact she claimed she had disturbing dreams involving a lot of fire in the week preceding the attack.
Sago Mine controversy
On January 3, 2006, Browne was a guest on the U.S. radio program Coast to Coast AM with George Noory. At the start of the broadcast it was believed that 12 of 13 miners trapped by the Sago Mine disaster had been found alive. When Noory asked Browne if she had had any psychic premonitions regarding the men—if she had felt "that this was a very gloomy moment -- and that they might have all died?" she replied, "No, I knew they were going to be found." Later in the program it was revealed that the earlier news reports had been an error, and only one of the men was believed to have survived. At this point Browne contradicted her earlier statement, stating that "I don't really think there's anybody alive", and, "How crazy for them to report that they were alive when they weren’t!" Browne later argued that she had never specifically stated that the miners would be found alive, only that they would be found, and that she was referring to the bodies of the dead miners being found. In the October 3, 2007 episode of Coast to Coast, Noory identified this incident as the reason he has not invited Browne back to the show.
The Montel Williams Show
Browne was a weekly guest on The Montel Williams Show for many years. In the episodes in which she appeared, known as "Sylvia Wednesdays," she took questions from audience members asking for advice about health, love, and finance, as well as information about deceased or missing loved ones. In 2000, Brill's Content "examined ten recent Montel Williams programs that highlighted Browne's work as a psychic detective (as opposed to her ideas about "the afterlife," for example), spanning 35 cases. In 21, the details were too vague to be verified. Of the remaining 14, law-enforcement officials or family members involved in the investigations say that Browne had played no useful role."
In 2002, Brown told Gwendolyn Krewson that her daughter Holly, who had been missing for seven years, was living in Hollywood, California and working as an exotic dancer in a nightclub. In 2006, dental records were used to positively identify a body found in 1996 in San Diego, California as that of Holly Krewson.
Browne stated that Ryan Katcher, a nineteen-year-old who disappeared during the night in November 2000 in Illinois, had been murdered and could be found in an iron mine shaft a few miles away from the Katcher home. Katcher was later found in his truck in a pond in Illinois and had died of drowning.
In 1999, Browne told Audrey Sanderford that her six year old granddaughter Opal Jo Jennings had been taken from Tarrant County, Texas to Japan and forced into "slavery", in a town she named as "Kukouro" or "Kukoura". No such town exists in Japan. In August of the same year, Richard Lee Franks was arrested and charged with Jennings' abduction and murder; he was convicted the next year. Jennings' remains were found in December 2003, and autopsy revealed that she had died from trauma to the head within hours of being abducted.
In 2002, Browne told Lynda McClelland's daughters that their mother had been abducted by a man with the initials "MJ" and taken to Orlando, Florida, but was still alive. McClelland's body was found buried less than two miles from her home in Pennsylvania. The man charged and convicted for the murder was David Repasky, McClelland's son-in-law, who was present for the reading.
In 2003, Browne claimed that eleven year old Shawn Hornbeck had been abducted by a very tall man with long black dreadlocks and a blue sedan, and that his body could be found near two large, jagged boulders in a wooded area about 20 miles southwest of Richwoods. Her claims led to a refocusing of search efforts of numerous people calling in with tips regarding possible spottings of the rock formations Browne had mentioned. Hornbeck was found alive four years later, having been abducted by a white man with short brown hair who drove a small white Nissan pickup. Browne told the New York Daily News, "I'm terribly sorry that this happened, but I think my body of work stands by itself. I've broken case after case...I think it's cruel to jump on this one case in which I was wrong."
In 2006, Browne told the fiancée of Robert Hayes, who was murdered, that Hayes was robbed by a man at a casino for his poker winnings and there was video evidence. However, it was later revealed by police that Hayes was having an affair and was robbed by the woman and three people in a set up Hayes and he was shot at an ATM. There were no press reports about his going to a casino or playing poker. She predicted the crime would take a "good two years," but the case and trial happened within the year he was killed.
In January 2007 Anderson Cooper reported on Browne's 2003 claims and interviewed the Hornbeck parents, Randi, and Browne critic Robert S. Lancaster (Browne declined to be interviewed). Hornbeck’s parents, Pam and Craig Akers, reported that in order to “talk to [Browne] additionally,” they would have had to pay her standard fee. Craig Akers recalled the standard fee as being $700 for one hour. Browne’s business manager issued a statement denying that Browne has ever charged a fee for her work on a missing person’s case.
In August 2007 the Montel Williams Show was awarded The Truly Terrible Television (TTTV) Award for peddling pseudoscience and superstition to its audience for every episode that has showcased Sylvia Browne, Other winners have been Psychic Detectives, Paranormal State and SciFi's Ghost Hunters.
In June 2008, Ofcom ruled that ITV2 "breached standards with a repeat of the Montel Williams Show in which a 'desperate' couple were told by a psychic their missing son was dead - even though he turned up alive last year." The ruling concerned "breaching rule 2.1 of the Broadcasting Code, which relates to protecting viewers against offensive material."
At the Gibson Amphitheater, Universal Studios, Los Angeles, Dec. 29, 2009 Skeptic/Mentalist Mark Edward approached the microphone during the question portion of Sylvia Browne's show and said he had been hearing voices in his head, they were giving him the names...Opal Jo Jennings...Terrence Farrell...Holly Krewson and the Sego Miners. Browne could not tell he was lying and explained the voices were his spirit guides.
James Randi feud
James Randi, a retired stage magician turned investigator of paranormal claims, has been a vocal critic of Browne. On September 3, 2001, Browne stated on Larry King Live that she would accept the James Randi Educational Foundation's $1,000,000 challenge to demonstrate supernatural abilities in a controlled scientific test. As of 2011[update], Browne has not taken the test.
There are several reasons Browne cites for being unable to complete the JREF challenge:
- She was unable to contact Randi.
- She does not need or want the money.
- Neither Randi nor the JREF has $1,000,000.
- Randi would not put the money in escrow.
- She has "nothing to prove" to Randi (apparently no longer accepting the challenge)
In support of her final statement, Browne often quotes Randi as saying that he'll never have to pay the money because "I always have an out." Randi, in turn, states that this quote is taken out of context and his actual words were "I always have an out—I'm right," referring to his belief that no one can win the challenge because no one possesses any kind of paranormal ability.
Some have questioned the logical inconsistency of her statements that she is not interested in the money, yet at the same time requires proof of its existence. In addition, Randi demonstrates that the money is held by an independent investment firm, Goldman Sachs, and that proof of its existence can be obtained by requesting a copy of the most recent account statement from the JREF, by telephone, fax, letter, or e-mail. Though a few persons have requested and received copies of the documentation, no request has ever come from Browne.
Browne retorts that the JREF refuses to put the money into escrow, a decision that she says implies that the money does not exist. Randi originally defended the decision, highlighting the allegation that the challenge rules clearly state the money will not be placed in escrow. However, as of November 2003, Randi decided to make an exception for Browne, and declared that the money will be placed in escrow, proposing either Larry King or Montel Williams, both supporters of Browne, as suitable escrow agents. Though formal letters were mailed to both King and Williams notifying them of their nomination as possible escrow agents, neither made a reply. Browne never accepted nor acknowledged Randi's exception concerning the escrow matter.
After making this announcement, Randi stated on his website, "We have now met each and every objection made by Sylvia Browne, except that she does not like me."
Browne's website posted a message sometime after August 1, 2005, apparently directed at Randi, stating that Browne never received confirmation of the existence of the million dollars (which Randi said he sent by certified mail), and suggesting that perhaps Randi sent the package to her previous business address. However, Randi's May 30, 2003, weekly newsletter indicates the documents were mailed over two years before the date Browne said she relocated. Randi said he has a certified mail receipt from the U.S. Postal Service (Certified Mail item #7003 0500 0002 3034 8133) indicating that the package was refused by Browne at 12:08 p.m. on May 22, 2003.
Legal issues and criminal convictions
In 1992, Browne and her estranged husband, Kenzil Dalzell Brown, were indicted on several charges of investment fraud and grand theft. The Superior Court of Santa Clara County, California, found that Browne and her husband had sold securities in a gold-mining venture under false pretenses. In at least one instance, they told a couple their $20,000 investment was to be used for immediate operating costs. Instead, the money was transferred to an account for their Nirvana Foundation for Psychic Research. Browne pleaded no contest to securities fraud and was indicted on grand larceny in Santa Clara County, California on May 26, 1992. Browne and Brown received one year probation each. Dalzell's disposition included "County Jail 4 months with credit for time served of 21 days," while Sylvia's included 200 hours of community service.
Additionally, the airing of one of Browne's false predictions in June 2008 caused Ofcom to rule that ITV2 "breached standards with a repeat of The Montel Williams Show in which a 'desperate' couple were told by a psychic their missing son was dead - even though he turned up alive last year." The ruling concerned "breaching rule 2.1 of the Broadcasting Code, which relates to protecting viewers against offensive material."
Browne has often spoken of working with the police and FBI as a psychic detective, but according to The Skeptics Dictionary, in 21 of Browne's 35 cases, the details she gave were too vague to be verified, and in the remaining 14 Browne played no useful role.
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- ^ Sigman, Leroy (2003-02-27). "Psychic's clues lead to new searches, but no luck". Daily Journal Online. http://www.mydjconnection.com/articles/2003/02/27/community/news2.txt. Retrieved 2007-01-20.
- ^ "Transcript of conversation between Sylvia Browne and Craig & Pam Akers on the Montel Williams Show". CNN. 2007-01-20. http://www.cnn.com/CNN/Programs/anderson.cooper.360/blog/2007/01/psychic-once-pronounced-hornbeck-dead.html. Retrieved 2007-01-20.
- ^ Sauerwein, Kristina (2008). Invisible Chains: Shawn Hornbeck and the Kidnapping Case that Shook the Nation. Globe Pequot Press. pp. 134-135. ISBN 978-1-59921-344-6. http://books.google.com/books?id=bzQiDcA2K-oC&pg=PA134&lpg=PA134&dq=%22I'm+terribly+sorry+that+this+happened,+but+I+think+my+body+of+work+stands+by+itself.%22&source=bl&ots=937FuWVgPS&sig=4WF-tfMRpLZ-UBGOa8xz5eD-njo&hl=en&ei=Gr2kTuO_GuHN0AGIwITeAg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBsQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22I'm%20terribly%20sorry%20that%20this%20happened%2C%20but%20I%20think%20my%20body%20of%20work%20stands%20by%20itself.%22&f=false.
- ^ Psychic Powers Debunked in Shawn Hornbeck Case CNN'S Anderson Cooper January 19, 2007 (CNN Transcript)
- ^ "IIG | The IIG Awards". Iigwest.com. 2010-08-21. http://www.iigwest.com/iigawards/2006/index.html. Retrieved 2011-07-01.
- ^ a b "ITV wrong over psychic claim repeat". The Press Association. June 23, 2008. http://ukpress.google.com/article/ALeqM5gmU4PA7E5v8xyyCPFw-cXo7cFWtQ. Retrieved 2008-07-31.
- ^ "Sylvia Browne Gets Punked". YouTube. 2010-10-02. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BradlE-Uloc. Retrieved 2011-02-07.
- ^ Randi, James (2006-11-10). "In conclusion.". James Randi's Swift. http://www.randi.org/jr/2006-11/111006big.html#i6. Retrieved 2007-01-03.
- ^ a b "Sylvia Browne: Psychic Guru or Quack?". http://www.quackwatch.org/11Ind/browne.html. Retrieved 2007-01-03.
- ^ a b Randi, James (2003-05-23). "Sylvia Emerges!". James Randi's Swift. http://www.randi.org/jr/052303.html. Retrieved 2007-01-03.
- ^ "Copy of the Randi's Goldman Sachs account balance". Skeptic Report. 2005. Archived from the original on 2006-06-30. http://web.archive.org/web/20060630132436/http://www.skepticreport.com/images/investmentaccount.gif. Retrieved 2006-08-06.
- ^ Randi, James (2003-12-19). "Browne's Back!". James Randi Educational Foundation. http://www.randi.org/jr/121903lins.html. Retrieved 2006-10-25.
- ^ Randi, James (2003-11-07). "Sylvia's Problem Solved!". James Randi Educational Foundation. http://www.randi.org/jr/110703.html. Retrieved 2005-08-06.
- ^ Randi, James (2003-05-30). "Sylvia Wriggles Away...". James Randi Educational Foundation. http://www.randi.org/jr/053003.html. Retrieved 2005-08-06.
- ^ a b c d e Nickell, Joe (2004). "Psychic Sylvia Browne once failed to foresee her own criminal conviction". Skeptical Inquirer. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2843/is_6_28/ai_n6361823. Retrieved 2006-08-18. [dead link]
- ^ "Spiritualist, Ex-Husband Plead No Contest in Securities Case" by Bill Romano, San Jose Mercury News March 9, 1993
- ^ "Psychic Gets 1-Year Probation For 'Good Feelings' About Venture," by Sandra Gonzales San Jose Mercury News December 18, 1993
- Official website
- The Society of Novus Spiritus -Browne's church
- Sylvia Brown's Online Talk Show at HayHouseradio.com
- Chronology of the feud between Browne and Randi from the Skeptic Report
- Sylvia Browne and James Randi's challenge from James Randi Educational Foundation
- Sylvia Browne's predictions as listed on "True or False", an online psychic watchdog
- King of the Paranormal from Committee for Skeptical Inquiry July 31, 2003
- Friedman, Roger (2006). "TV Psychic Misses Mark on Miners." FOXNews.com.
- Crystal Bawl, Salon.com by Janet McDonald
- Stop Sylvia Browne, is Robert S. Lancaster's comprehensive site criticizing and exposing Sylvia Browne.
- Psychic Defective: Sylvia Browne’s History of Failure, article appeared in Skeptical Inquirer magazine.
- Sylvia Browne's 2008 and 2009 Predictions - from the SpiritNow.com website
- Wayback Machine - Past predictions appear here
- Browne's predictions for the year 2000 Still viewable directly from her site.
Media and transcripts
- Video: Browne's predictions analyzed January 19, 2007 Live with Anderson Cooper on CNN. (CNN Video)
- "Official transcript: Are Psychics Real?". Larry King Live. September 3, 2001. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0109/03/lkl.00.html. (Browne and James Randi)
- "Official transcript: Are Psychics for Real?". Larry King Live. March 6, 2001. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0103/06/lkl.00.html. (Browne and John Edward)
- "Official transcript: Psychic Powers Debunked in Shawn Hornbeck Case". Anderson Cooper. January 19, 2007. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0701/19/acd.01.html. (Browne's manager and Randi)
- "Official transcript: Psychic Psychic Reality Check". Anderson Cooper. January 30, 2007. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0701/30/acd.01.html. (Browne's manager and Randi)
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