REALLity Check

by David Bloomberg

This month we have an all-psychic edition of "REALLity Check," with a mixture of good and bad news. Unfortunately, the bad news involves increasing psychic presence in the media and, perhaps not coincidentally, increased belief in psychics and other paranormal phenomena. It's rather doubtful that more than a handful of people will even notice the first report, which takes a look at the specific claims of now-deceased "psychic detective." And while more people certainly saw the other positive item, whether or not it changes their thoughts about it is another issue entirely.

One Month/Six Years—Whatever

In January 1995, a dog came home to its owner carrying a severed human leg. A few days later, it found the other one. Eventually police identified the remains as those of 25-year-old Stacey Frobel. But before the body had even been conclusively identified, at least one "psychic detective" was already on the case.

As long-time readers may recall, I appeared on Downey, Morton Downey Jr.'s attempt at a talk show comeback, all the way back in early 1995. REALL's friend, Investigator Bruce Walstad, and several "psychics" also appeared there. The most notable was Dorothy Allison, who ended up getting so mad at me that she stood up out of her chair and pushed me (see "Don't Push Me, Lady!" The REALL News, Vol. 3, #3, March 1995).

But Allison wasn't just there to push people around—she had been specifically brought in by the show to solve this murder. Staff from the show took Allison around and videotaped her in action. We heard that the murderer has knee problems, and that he travels down a certain highway. Not exactly clues that could spur detectives on to a quick solution. She also pointed out a cemetery near the road and proclaimed psychic success, because she had predicted that there would be such a cemetery, with somebody named "White" buried there. In my article I noted that it would be a much more difficult chore to find a cemetery without somebody named "White" in it.

More specifically, Allison also predicted that there would be advancement of the case around February 15-18. It would have been difficult for her to be much vaguer, as she could have pointed to pretty much anything and claimed it was covered by her prediction. Indeed, it was similar to the way in which she claimed to help catch John Wayne Gacy—by telling the police when and supposedly where a body would be found. I have news for Allison and her believers: Even if all of those predictions turned out true, she still hadn't helped the police find anything; she merely told them when they would find it!

However, we don't even have to worry about that, because even that vague prediction didn't turn out to be true. The police used DNA matching to determine who the legs belonged to, but this occurred in March, not within the time frame she gave. And do you know when they solved the case and made an arrest?

June 14, 2001.

Yes, that's right. Over six years later. If you saw the newspaper articles about the alleged Chicago-area serial murderer, Paul Runge, being arrested, then you saw the solution to this case. Strangely, nowhere was Allison credited.

In fact, it's been so long that both Allison and Downey have both died. You'd think she might have foreseen something like that. Alas, it rather puts a damper on the idea of having a reunion show to discuss why her prediction was so far off.

Overflowing with Psychics

Do you believe in magic? Well, it appears TV executives think you do. Just to be sure we're speaking the same language, I'm not talking about the magic of David Copperfield or the like, but the magical thinking of John Edward and James Van Praagh and other purported psychics or mediums or whatever they are calling themselves these days. (Alas, none of them seem to be interested in using the more descriptive terms like "fraud" or "con-man" or "cold reader.")

As was mentioned in this space earlier, John Edward is expanding the number of people who will be able to fall for his shtick. He can currently only be found on the SciFi channel - which is quite appropriate seeing as the second part of the channel's name is "Fiction." However, his show, Crossing Over, is going into syndication next season as well and stations in all the major markets have picked it up.

TV Guide reports (6/16) that he is not alone in the psychic TV biz. The producer of The Weakest Link is preparing a new psychic show for NBC syndication starting in 2002. His show will feature Char, who TV Guide describes as, "a psychic and talk-show staple since the '70s who also chats with the dead." Of course she does—wouldn't want to miss out on a trend like that one.

Ferdie Pacheco, an Internet astrologer, is also developing a show. And you know Miss Cleo, the Jamaican tarot reader from the infomercials? Yup, her too.

We can't forget about James Van Praagh, author of Talking to Heaven and Reaching to Heaven, who not only has his own series in the works, but is also the subject of an upcoming CBS miniseries starring no less than Ted Danson. Oh, how far Danson has fallen since his Cheers days.

This particular article contained no hint that maybe these guys (and ladies) aren't all they're cracked up to be. That shouldn't be surprising, though, since it was written by contributing editor Michael Logan, who is the True Believer who debated James Randi regarding John Edward's powers in an earlier issue of the magazine (discussed here last month).

TV is overflowing with reality shows, but now it appears we can all look forward to a lot more unreality TV in the next few seasons.

Dear Abby: Psychic Hotlines Are Bunk

"Dear Abby" is more often known for spreading urban legends as if they were true than for doing good things that would get her/them into this column (I say "her/them" because the "Dear Abby" column is now being written by both Pauline Phillips—who has been doing so for a long time—and her daughter Jeanne Phillips as well). But their June 15 column was a nice surprise, as it featured a letter from a former psychic hotline worker who confessed that her real job was to take money from people who could not afford it.

The writer said in her letter: "Please, Abby, warn callers of psychic hot lines that they are dealing with people with no more knowledge of the future than they themselves have—probably less."

I don't have any solid proof to back it up, but I somehow get the feeling that there is a significant overlap between those who would call psychic hotlines and those who would read "Dear Abby." So while Abby didn't really address that issue in detail, just having the letter in there is good anti-advertisement.

Paranormal Beliefs Still Rising

Speaking of psychics, a recent Gallup poll has found that belief in psychics—and, indeed, almost all areas of the paranormal-is up. The only belief that was asked about that went down was possession by Satan, and that was still up at a whopping 41%!

54% of people polled believe in psychic or spiritual healing or the power of the human mind to heal the body; 50% believe in ESP; 33% believe that aliens have visited the planet; 28% believe in astrology; 25% believe in reincarnation. Yeesh....

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