When people experience the devastating trauma of a missing friend or relative, they want answers, but too often, those answers never come. Louwanna Miller, the mother of Amanda Berry, one of the three women who went missing in Cleveland, Ohio, wanted answers, so in 2004, she went on “The Montel Williams Show” to speak with psychic Sylvia Browne.
Browne told her, ”I see her in water … She’s not alive, honey” and “Your daughter’s not the kind who wouldn’t call.” After appearing on the show, Miller went home and began the difficult process of letting go of her daughter, taking down her pictures and selling her computer. “I’m not even buying my baby a Christmas present this year,” she told a reporter in 2004.
A year later, Miller died of heart failure. She died thinking her daughter was dead.
Psychics are obviously less than reliable guides to the past or the future, but that doesn’t mean that people believe in them any less. Especially a psychic as high profile as Sylvia Browne. Was it wrong for Louwanna Miller to want to believe what Browne said? Is it wrong for a grieving mother to want to believe in anything that might give her closure? We can’t blame Miller, or any other parent for seeking comfort and answers in unlikely places. But we can criticize psychics like Sylvia Brown for taking advantage of their weaknesses. Browne charges a hefty $700 fee for her services, which have historically garnered inaccurate results.
In response to the news, Browne took down her Facebook page, and she released the following statement on her website:
For nearly six decades, Sylvia Browne has dedicated her life to helping others as a spiritual psychic and guide. She has been called upon to assist individuals, families, and law enforcement agencies across the U.S. and Canada on hundreds of high profile criminal investigations. She has received numerous commendations for the positive impact her contributions have provided, resulting in important information and leads that have ultimately led to the closure of major investigations.
“For more than 50 years as a spiritual psychic and guide, when called upon to either help authorities with missing person cases or to help families with questions about their loved ones, I have been more right than wrong. If ever there was a time to be grateful and relieved for being mistaken, this is that time. Only God is right all the time. My heart goes out to Amanda Berry, her family, the other victims and their families. I wish you a peaceful recovery.” — Sylvia Browne
The obvious good news is that Amanda Berry is not dead. But the case does bring up a larger issue — how culpable psychics should be for making a profit off of what is obviously an ungrounded science. As Gordon Bonnet writes on the blog Skeptophilia:
What Browne did is reprehensible. She is a swindler, a con artist, a master cold reader who takes money from people so vulnerable from grief or loneliness that they do not have the wherewithal to see what she’s up to. But by their response — or lack thereof — the rest of the psychic world is equally culpable. Even if you have no intention to retract your own claims of ESP, you should call out Sylvia Browne for having failed, spectacularly, and at least lay claim to a few square inches of honor and fair play.
What do you think? Is Sylvia taking advantage of desperate families, or is she providing a valuable — and comforting — service?