Satanic Panic in the News: Ouija Board Possession

On June 23, Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, the Daily Mail, several paranormal websites, and other media outlets reported on this video of a “possessed” Mexican woman. The girl seen in the clip, Alexandra Huerta, alternates between growling and laughing while restrained on a hospital stretcher.

These initial reports stated that Alexandra, 22, had begun to convulse and speak in tongues after using a Ouija board with her 23-year-old brother and a teenage cousin in the village of San Juan Tlacotenco in southwest Mexico. The Blaze article is headlined, “Terrifying Video Allegedly Shows Effects of Young Woman’s Use of a Ouija Board”, and the Daily Mail article stresses that many Christians perceive Ouija boards as dangerous occult instruments.
All three were taken to hospital to be treated for symptoms that included double vision and blindness, hallucinations, numbness, difficulty swallowing, muscle spasms, and deafness. The girl’s parents had sought an exorcism, but were reportedly refused one by local clergy on the grounds that the family didn’t attend church.

Two days later, the real story emerged: The two young men and Alexandra (who is 16, not 22) had ingested Brugmansia on the advice of Alexandra’s guardian, 48-year-old Maria Camaño.
Brugmansia, also known as Angel’s Trumpet, is an extremely potent (and poisonous) hallucinogenic plant that produces states of delirium in which a person can’t distinguish reality from fantasy and acts out in bizarre, sometimes violent, ways – “temporary insanity” is a term commonly used in relation to it. Effects can include fever, paralysis, convulsions, elevated heart rate (tachycardia), migraines, frightening visual and auditory hallucinations, vomiting, cycloplegia, photosensitivity, confusion, memory loss, and death.

datura drzewko-resized

Brugmansia in bloom. Psychoactive ingredients: the tropane alkaloids atropine, hyoscyamine and scopolamine.

Camaño reportedly told the young people that Brugmansia would help them contact the spirit world and perhaps receive messages from Alexandra’s deceased parents. After the girl began to convulse and “speak in tongues”, however, Camaño began to believe her body had been taken over by a spirit. She called the paramedics only after the youths’ conditions didn’t respond to prayer and the priest refused to perform an exorcism.


Typical Ouija board. Psychoactive ingredients: None.

All of the symptoms experienced by the three young people in Mexico can be attributed to Brugmansia ingestion. There is no need to blame the spirit world, the Devil, or a piece of wood with letters on it.

Ghostbusters Part III: The B.S. in Connecticut

A Haunting in Connecticut

The haunting of a Connecticut funeral parlour that was turned into an apartment building was featured on the Discovery Channel series A Haunting in 2002, and is the basis of the recent horror movie The Haunting in Connecticut. The Discovery documentary should be the more factual of the two retellings, but as we’ll see, the story isn’t as straightforward as Lorraine Warren or celebrity psychic Chip Coffey would like us to believe.

In A Haunting, the family is called the Parkers. Mother “Karen Parker” does some of the narration, but does not appear in the show. The recreations feature actors.

14-year-old Paul Parker, diagnosed with cancer, was given six months to live despite aggressive treatment. The long trips to hospital were wearing on the family, so they made the difficult decision to move closer to the hospital. With four kids, Karen had a hard time finding a place to rent in the area. She finally found a fine old house with hardwood floors, with two bedrooms plus a basement that could serve as a bedroom for two of the kids. It seemed out of the Parkers’ price range, but wasn’t.

As it turned out, the house had a secret. Mortuary equipment was still in the basement, including a bone saw, freezer, and jars of embalming fluid. Karen didn’t want her sick child living in a former funeral home, so most of the equipment was removed before the Parkers started moving in. They didn’t tell Paul about the house’s past.

The first terrifying thing happened immediately. As Karen mopped the kitchen floor, the water turned blood-red for no apparent reason.

Paul was creeped out by the basement. He felt cold chills there, and felt he was being watched. In other parts of the house he heard creaking footsteps, heavy breathing, a voice calling his name, and other strange sounds. Karen began to fear that because her son was close to death, he could sense that the house had been a funeral home. She and Ed took Paul to their priest for a “healing”.

Despite his fear of the house, Paul liked to play in the old morgue room, which (in this version of the story) still contained a steel gurney. One day he took his younger brother Bobby into the room, told him to lay on the gurney, then spun it around in circles until the boy became dizzy and frightened.

The boys’ little sister, Connie, saw a ghostly woman in her bedroom. Karen assumed the boys had told her about the funeral home, and scolded them. They denied it. A short time later, the boys also saw a shadowy figure walking around in the basement. They decided to sleep in the living room. Bobby was reluctant to go into the basement after that. When Karen insisted he go down there, he could hear a voice calling Paul’s name. Karen, who didn’t believe in ghosts, teased and chided the kids for their behaviour. Ed Parker finally told the kids they were living in a former funeral home, but insisted it was not, could not, be haunted. They were growing concerned about Paul’s mental health. Karen wondered if Paul’s medication could be causing hallucinations. Paul’s doctor assured her it couldn’t.

One morning, Karen set the dining-room table for breakfast before returning to the kitchen. When she re-entered the dining room, the table was completely bare, all the dishes mysteriously returned to their cupboards. She tried to ignore the incident.


Paul and Bobby, forced to sleep in the basement, continued to see apparitions in the basement. Now they were so well-defined that both boys could clearly identify them as four men, talking amongst themselves. The men picked up objects, read papers, and went about their business as if they were still very much a part of the living world. To calm his sons, Ed checked all the windows and doors for signs of entry. Everything was locked up tight. This sort of thing happened nightly. Ed and Karen grew exasperated. The boys, frustrated that their parents didn’t accept the reality of the ghosts, slept with the lights on and discussed their experiences with each other. “That’s where we got our strength from,” a shadowed “Bobby Parker” says, “because no one believed us.” Paul stopped talking to his parents about the things he experienced, becoming “more reserved and quiet.” He set up his own bedroom in the basement, wore dark clothing, took little joy in anything, wrote dark and disturbing poetry. Nothing unusual, particularly for a boy who had been through a devastating illness.

The family was under great financial strain, due to Paul’s medical bills and high electrical bills. To ensure the boys wouldn’t continue to sleep with their lights on, Ed removed all but one lightbulb from the basement. One night, Bobby woke to see one of the bulbless lights flicking on and off. His sister Connie was standing at the top of the steps, flicking the light switch on and off. When he chased her upstairs, however, she vanished. Karen told him Connie had been upstairs asleep in her own bedroom for hours.

That winter, Paul’s cancer went into remission and a 13-year-old cousin, Theresa, came to stay with the family while her parents went through a divorce. Paul began to confront his fears. When he heard voices whispering his name from the morgue room, he entered it and faced the apparition of a bearded man in an old-fashioned suit.

Theresa noticed the changes in Paul. He was angry, mean, hateful, seeing things. He complained to Theresa that a demon-man came to his bedside every night and told him to say bad things to his parents and siblings. Paul was unable to resist; the man had total control over him. Eventually, he wasn’t even able to move when the man came to him. The man threatened to harm him if he didn’t do as he was told.

Theresa told Karen about these visitations. She was now fearful of her cousin. So was Bobby. Theresa slept with rosary beads for comfort. One night, Ed and Karen heard struggling in the room Theresa slept in, and entered to find Paul grappling with her on the bed. Was he trying to sexually assault her? Ed pulled him off and subdued him, with difficulty. The family called an ambulance for Paul. He screamed and struggled as paramedics led him out of the house. At the hospital, he told his parents, “Now that I’m out of the house, they’ll be after you.” Karen feared that her son would never be mentally well again.

Early that morning, before dawn, Ed left for work. Exhausted, Karen descended into the basement and sat on the bottom step, gazing around, hoping to see some of the same things Paul had seen so she could be reassured that her oldest child wasn’t really disturbed. She saw nothing. She went upstairs to take a shower. She became tangled in the shower curtain, and was convinced that an unseen force had wrapped her up in it. At almost exactly the same time, Theresa felt the covers of her bed being pulled away from her by invisible hands, and heard her aunt’s muffled cries for help. She ran to the bathroom and disentangled Karen from the Shower Curtain of Death. Both of them were now certain that the house was haunted. Theresa sobbed in fear. Downstairs, the kitchen phone rang. Karen answered it, and heard only the eerie giggling of a child. Both women felt and saw a “darkness” like black smoke descending over them, “like a thousand hands”.

Theresa cries during this part of her story, re-experiencing the terror and helplessness she felt at that moment. Theresa and Karen actually saw the form of a man develop in the “smoke” that crept across the dining room ceiling. The rosary around Theresa’s neck levitated into the air.

Meanwhile, at work, Ed watched his truck start up by itself and cross the parking lot of its own volition. It slammed through the wall of the small outbuilding in which he was standing. He phoned Karen, who was by now hysterical, to tell her what happened. They agreed to ask their priest for help immediately.

Bobby, asleep in the living room, was awakened by Paul calling his name, asking for his help.

Karen alerted their priest to what had been happening. He advised her to forget about it. Acknowledging the evil presence would only give it more power.

The Warrens Investigate

Karen had recently read about the Warrens in the newspaper, so she turned to them for help. After hearing the family’s stories, Lorraine did her usual walk-through of the house. She felt drawn to the basement, where she sensed a “horrible infestation”, a non-human presence. The Parkers needed an official Catholic exorcism, the Warrens declared. They recommended the entire family stay together in the house, even sleep together in the living room, for safety as the Glatzels and Johnsons had done. The Warrens would stay with them. John Zaffis, Ed Warren’s nephew and another demonologist/investigator working with the Warrens, declared this the worse demonic infestation he had ever witnessed. He experienced cold spells, “which means a lot of energy is being drawn”.

Michael Cuneo, author of American Exorcism, appeared on A Haunting to explain that people who request exorcisms typically believe in such infestations of houses, rooms, or individuals. The Catholic clergy is trained to take a more skeptical stance.

Exorcism can be a “very effective therapy”, at least in the short term, Cuneo says, because people have a strong expectation that it will work. It can be like a supernatural placebo.

The Haunting Worsens

Karen felt “crushing guilt” for initially disbelieving Paul’s stories. According to the narrator, this guilt made her very vulnerable to the entity in the house. She suddenly collapsed in the living room, overwhelmed by every negative emotion. Her neck swelled up. She experienced an out-of-body sensation. Prayers by the family and the Warrens eventually brought her around, after she had been “out of body” for 8 hours.

That night, Karen saw the mattresses on which the family slept “breathing”. Zaffas felt a sudden drop in temperature, and descended alone into the basement. He saw the bearded man at the foot of the stairs. Before his eyes, the “man” morphed into a demon, then a fireball that roared up the steps, blasting Zaffis backwards in a burst of heat and smoke.

A priest, “Father Frank”, arrived to determine if an exorcism was needed. After listening to Karen and the investigators, he approved an exorcism and assigned a “Father Richard” to perform it. This is not how official Catholic exorcisms work, however; approval from a bishop is required.

“Father Richard” experienced poltergeist activity in the basement, which was witnessed by Karen; his shirt seemed to pull away from his body momentarily, as though being plucked at by invisible fingers. Later, upstairs, books and figurines flew off shelves of their own accord. A strange fluid leaked from a statuette of the Virgin Mary. Karen was thrown against the wall, levitated, then dropped to the floor. Theresa was levitated and choked.

But at the conclusion of the exorcism, the house suddenly felt warm and comfortable. The investigation/exorcism had lasted nine weeks.

The Parkers moved out of the house a short time later, anyway, for fear the entity could return. Paul was released from hospital in the spring.

The Real Haunting

The real case of the Snedeker family, as related by psychic Chip Coffey in his essay “Demons from the Dark“, is not quite as dramatic as the events portrayed in A Haunting.

Allen and Carmen rented the house in Southington, Connecticut in 1986, shortly after it was converted from the Hallahan Funeral Home. They soon encountered multiple entities, described by Carmen: “One of the demons was very thin, with high cheekbones, long black hair and pitch black eyes. Another had white hair and eyes, wore a pinstriped tuxedo, and his feet were constantly in motion.” The family often smelled foul odours. According to Carmen, they learned that “one of the men who worked in the funeral home was guilty of necrophilia, so perhaps his heinous actions stirred up the demonic forces.” The most disturbing poem written by her son Philip involved necrophilia.

Zaffis saw an apparition and heard the sound of flapping wings; Coffey makes no mention of a fireball that blasted him off his feet.

Carmen, Zaffis, and Coffey planned to release a book about the case in conjunction with the movie.

According to a March 23rd story on Yahoo Movie News, the house’s current owner, Susan Trotta-Smith, has experienced nothing unpleasant aside from curiosity-seekers invading the neighborhood. She loves the house, but hates the attention the haunting has brought to it recently. “It’s been a total change from a very quiet house in a very quiet neighborhood to looking out the window and seeing cars stopping all the time. It’s been very, very stressful, and sometimes worrisome.” Police have been forced to add extra patrols to the area, thanks to trespassing.

Neighbor Katherine Altemus: “It’s disgraceful. None of the haunting took place, and now it’s ruining the lives of that wonderful young family that lives there.”

Lorraine Warren is quoted: “In the master bedroom, there was a trap door where the coffins were brought up. And during the night, you would hear that chain hoist, as if a coffin were being brought up. But when Ed went to check, there was nobody down there.”

In 1991, a writer was commissioned to write a book about the case. The author of the book In a Dark Place, Ray Garton (now a writer of horror fiction), wanted to publish the Snedekers’ story as fiction, but because of his agent at the time and a contract he was bound by, the story was labeled “a true story” against his wishes.

According to Mr. Garton: “Elements of Carmen Snedeker’s story clashed with elements of Al Snedeker’s story, and it seemed everyone was having a problem keeping their stories straight. Frankly, I didn’t notice until I had nearly finished all my interviews and began going over my notes, then I started having trouble matching up the details.”

Garton said Ed Warren told him to just “make it up and make it scary” when he approached the Warrens with his concerns over the inconsistencies. They told him they had videotapes of some of the activity in the house, but never produced them because they had been lost. He told Damned Connecticut, “Since writing the book, I’ve learned a lot that leaves no doubt in my mind about the fraudulence of the Warrens and the Snedekers — not that I had much doubt, anyway. I’ve talked to other writers who’ve been hired to write books for the Warrens — always horror writers, like myself — and their experiences with the Warrens have been almost identical to my own.” He said the Snedekers did know the house was a former funeral home prior to moving into it.

The Real Paul

Garton also had a niggling suspicion that Philip might not have had cancer. The Snedekers were vague about what kind of cancer it was (Carmen now identifies it as Hodgkins), and people who knew them at the time told Garton they weren’t aware that the boy had been sick. He did have drug problems and mental problems, though. “Personally, I have no solid evidence that the boy did not have cancer, and I’ve never said that he didn’t. But the evidence that he did is pretty flimsy, and when you combine that with the other holes in this story and some of the disreputable details about the Snedekers and the Warrens, it’s difficult not to question it.”

Skeptic Joe Nickell investigated the Snedeker case in ’92-’93. According to his report, “Demons in Connecticut“, Allen and Carmen Snedeker moved into the Hallahan House on June 30, 1986, with Carmen’s two sons from a previous marriage (ages 13 and 11) and their own two children (a 6-year-old girl and a 3-year-old son). Two nieces would also move into the house. The house had, indeed, once been the Hallahan Funeral Home, and relics remained: coffin handles, a blood-drainage system, a coffin-hoist pulley.

The behaviour of the oldest boy, Philip, was far more disturbing than the Warrens and Snedekers have let on. He was using drugs, vandalizing property, and molesting both of his cousins. He was picked up by police, not an ambulance, after being caught at this. He confessed that he had tried to rape his 12-year-old cousin. Rather than being in hospital, he was sent to a juvenile detention center. He once broke into a neighbor’s house with the intention of stealing a shotgun. He told Carmen he wanted to shoot Allen with it. The Snedekers chalked up this erratic behaviour to the cobalt treatments Philip was receiving at the time. Later, Philip’s behaviour was extensively sanitized to make him look like a normal boy preyed upon by evil, supernatural forces. In reality, he was diagnosed as schizophrenic.

Carmen and Al allegedly suffered sexual attacks from an unseen entity, but this part of the story didn’t emerge until after the Warrens came on the case. This is also what happened in the Smurl case, which I’ll examine in the next post.

The Warrens had already made a book deal before their investigation was complete, allegedly promising the Snedekers a third of any profits. That book was Garton’s In a Dark Place, released around Halloween 1992. The Snedekers appeared on Sally Jesse Raphael, The Maury Povich Show, and A Current Affair to promote the book.

Kathy Altemus told Nickell that most of the events attributed to ghosts were probably caused by mundane neighborhood events. For instance, she claimed that around the time Lorraine Warren heard chains rattling in the basement, a rattling truck was driving down the street. Nickell concluded that other “mysterious events” that occurred at the time of the alleged haunting, such as a power outage caused by a falling tree limb, had ordinary explanations.

Though A Haunting claimed the family voluntarily moved out a short time after the exorcism in ’88, their landlady said they had been served an eviction notice for failure to pay the rent. Both the landlady and the upstairs neighbor had witnessed nothing out of the ordinary, and suspected the Warrens and Snedekers were perpetrating a profit-driven hoax.

Garton has disowned his own book about the case, explaining, “The family involved, which was going through some serious problems like alcoholism and drug addiction, could not keep their story straight, and I became very frustrated; it’s hard writing a non-fiction book when all the people involved are telling you different stories.”

The House

Built in 1916, the house was the Hallahan Funeral Home from 1936 until shortly before the Snedekers moved in (it was under reno at the time).

Far from shielding the family from outside intrusion that might have made their situation worse, the Warrens immediately publicized the case. The first story about it appeared in the Bristol Press of August 11, 1988, under the headline “Southington Family Spooked by House”.

The Catholic church has declined to confirm or deny that an exorcism actually occurred. In 1988, after the exorcism supposedly took place, the family priest told A Current Affair that no exorcism had been scheduled.

There is no recorded evidence of a necrophiliac ever working in the Hallahan Funeral Home.

The Family

The Snedekers experienced a string of tragedies during the time they lived in the house. In addition to Philip’s cancer, mental illness, and criminal activity, Carmen’s father died in 1987, suffering a heart attack during a home invasion that was never solved. Her sister was diagnosed with AIDS. Her brother died in an auto accident.

Garton was initially excited about writing a book about the case, as he found the Warrens “entertaining.” But instead of finding a haunted and terrorized family, he found a rather dysfunctional one. Carmen was allegedly running an illegal interstate lottery business. Philip admitted, in a phone interview, that he stopped hearing voices and seeing strange things after he went on psych meds.

When Garton approached Ed Warren with his concerns about the family’s conflicting accounts, Ed told him, “Everybody who comes to us is crazy. Otherwise why would they come to us? You’ve got some of the story – just use what works and make the rest up. And make it scary. You write scary books, right? That’s why we hired you. So just make it up and make it scary.”

Carmen eventually divorced Allen Snedeker and is now known as Carmen Reed. She claims she has been psychically gifted since childhood, having been born with the caul, but suppressed that ability at the time she lived in Southington; that’s why she initially disbelieved her sons’ stories about ghosts. Her first supernatural attack occurred not in the late ’80s in the Hallahan House, but in another rented home in a different city in 1980. She has a spirit guide named Jaco, and like Lorraine Warren is a consultant to others experiencing hauntings.

Once again, the Warrens took a highly suspicious “haunting” and turned it into a profitable tale of supernatural evil and terror. So did the makers of the 2009 film, The Haunting in Connecticut, which deviates even more dramatically from the original story by turning the fictional undertaker-ghost into a sinister spiritualist who conducted seances in the basement, when he wasn’t horribly mutilating the bodies of his clients. In the movie, the character based loosely on Philip Snedeker is called Matt (Kyle Gallner), and he dramatically relives the seances that occurred in the house many decades before his family moved into it. The movie includes CGI ectoplasm, doors that operate by themselves, and a pastor who warns the family to get out of the house immediately. There is no mention of criminal activity (molestation, robbery, etc.), though father Peter (Martin Donovan) has a drinking problem and Matt lashes out violently on one occasion.
Gold Circle Films is reportedly planning two “sequels”, based on other installments of A Haunting.

Ghostbusters: Ed and Lorraine Warren Part II

The Arne Johnson Case

In February, 1981 Arne Cheyenne Johnson of Connecticut was charged with murdering his girlfriend’s employer. His attorneys presented the novel defense that while Arne physically committed the murder, he wasn’t ultimately responsible for it because he had been possessed by the same demons that plagued his girlfriend’s little brother.

Ed and Lorraine Warren had investigated this possession shortly after it began, and concluded it was initiated by “a devil of a very high order”.

This account comes from Gerald Brittle’s 1983 book The Devil in Connecticut, reprinted three years ago.

The Beast and the Waterbed

The Johnsons came from the Warrens’ hometown, Brookfield, Connecticut.
In the summer of 1980 Mary Johnson, 42, was a divorcee raising two daughters and a niece while working as a motel housekeeper and battling cancer. Her son Arne, 18, had been the man since he dropped of out tenth grade to help support the family. He was planning to marry his girlfriend, Debbie, that autumn. Debbie was a dog-groomer who had been renting a room in the Johnson home for four years, with her 7-year-old son from a brief teenage marriage. Arne was just 14 when they met.

On July 2, Arne and Debbie began moving the whole family into a rented country house in Newtown. The kids and their sheepdog, George, could romp safely in the yard. Arne, aspiring to be a tree surgeon, looked for landscaping work. Money would be tight, but Arne and Debbie seemed prepared for the challenge; both were mature, hardworking, and responsible. Yet Debbie’s parents, the Glatzels, thought it was a potentially disastrous move: A lot of time, money, and effort had to go into such a large family.

Brittle hints that the old ranch house itself held a disturbing presence. George the dog began barking as soon as he reached the threshold (just as the Lutzes’ dog behaved strangely at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville). Debbie felt a sudden chill in the stifling-hot hallway, and moments later had an uncharacteristically angry outburst at Arne. Such outbursts were also reported by George Lutz.
Debbie’s mother pronounced the house “creepy” and “not a happy home”, complaining of odd feelings when she was in it. A storage room in the basement was locked; the owner’s daughter explained that no one was allowed in there. Again, this “secret room” has a counterpart in the “red room” in the basement of the Amityville house, and such rooms will show up again in other cases investigated by the Warrens, notably the “haunting in Connecticut”.

Debbie’s three little brothers, ranging in age from 11 to 14, pitched in to clean up the house on that afternoon. 11-year-old David, a chubby and cheerful boy, was actually assaulted by the transparent apparition of an old man while he was alone in one of the bedrooms. The man shoved him backwards onto a waterbed left behind by the previous tenant, pointed at David, said, “Beware”, then faded into invisibility. David immediately fled the house and refused to re-enter it. A short time later, his brothers were momentarily trapped in the same bedroom after the door slammed shut by itself and refused to open.

The Johnsons didn’t say in the house that night, but George was left there to guard it. David told everyone about the ghost-man, and made the unnerving claim that he could still “see” events occurring in the house from a distance. He said the man had sprouted horns and was chasing George, causing the dog to scratch frantically at the front door and the door to the locked room in the basement where the old man “lived”. David was also receiving telepathic orders from the ghost-devil to remove all Catholic paraphernalia from the Glatzel home. Debbie was spooked enough by her brother’s story to announce that she had changed her mind about moving the Johnsons into it.

David next received a telepathic warning that no one was to tell Mrs. Johnson about the ghost. The boy announced, “Mary is his, he says. He’s been ‘interfering in her affairs’ for a long time …he’s going to break her down; he wants her to do his work.” (1, 29) Then he made two predictions: The waterbed would burst by 3:00 in the afternoon of the next day, and Judy Glatzel (his mother) would be blinded by midnight if anyone told Mary Johnson that her home was already occupied by…something.
“And if there’s any more impertinence…there’s going to be unrelenting pandemonium…” David was in special ed classes at school, and had never used big words like these. The family didn’t know what to think. They were certain the boy hadn’t taken any drugs or watched any scary movies, and mental illness or trickery apparently didn’t cross their minds.

As it turned out, George had scratched up the doors in the rental house.

Ghost Chickens and other Horrors

When the Johnsons returned to the Newtown house, they found the landlady had lied to them; her daughter was still living on the property, and utilities would not be included in the rent as originally agreed. The daughter calmly informed Debbie that the man-devil was merely the ghost of her granddad, a harmless old man. Despite this and David’s warnings, Mary Johnson moved in immediately. But Arne and Debbie packed to their stuff and moved in with the Glatzels. Mary was upset that her son and his fiancee had backed out of their arrangement, especially on such a flimsy and bizarre pretext. Because of this, Arne became estranged from his mom and sisters.

At the Glatzel house, David was giving forth a new string of prophecies and warnings. Among other misfortunes, his own hand would be burned, and he would also be stabbed. Then he announced, hysterically, that the ghost was coming to get him at that moment. He charted the spirit’s progress as it floated over trees, houses, and roads, finally landing in the next-door neighbors’ yard. Mrs. Glatzel ran to fetch her holy water, splashing it across every door and window in the house to bar the devil-man’s entrance. This repelled him for a little while. According to David, the spirit returned to the Johnson house.

On July 14th, Debbie recorded in her journal, David was “stabbed” twice by an invisible knife wielded by an invisible entity. A few hours later, he was “shot” in the stomach by an invisible gun loaded with invisible bullets. Since he wasn’t injured in any way, the family merely doused him with holy water and recited the 23rd Psalm, as recommended by their priest.

Judy was “blinded” at 11:45 PM when her son accidentally poked his finger in her eye, scratching the cornea. David burned his hand at a 4th of July picnic. And the ghost that David now called The Beast finally penetrated the holy-water-saturated Glatzel house via an attic window. David told his mother The Beast was molesting the Johnson girls, and had ordered David to begin praying to him as his new “Father”. The boy received slaps from an invisible hand for talking about these things, he said. At night, the Beast demanded David’s soul, but David, being a good Catholic boy, held onto it.

Amazingly, nearly everyone in the Glatzel family (four adults and four boys under 14) bought into David’s weird stories, as did Debbie, and to a slightly lesser degree, Arne. They began hearing thumps, scratches, and footsteps from the attic. They swore that the Beast threw David around the room, banged on walls, and caused all other kinds of chaos in the household. They began sleeping in the living room out of fear. Only David’s dad, Carl, didn’t believe they were being haunted. He thought his son needed help. Carl Jr., 14, didn’t believe any of it either. He became angry, foul-mouthed, and confrontational, mocking everyone else for believing David’s stories. At one point he called his mom a bitch who deserved to be killed. He insisted the whole family had gone crazy, and needed mental help rather than a priest.

After The Devil in Connecticut was reissued in 2006, Carl Jr. filed a lawsuit against Brittle and the Warrens for defamation. Ed Warren had said of him, as quoted by Brittle: “Denial of the truth is the way of the devil, and young Carl’s behaviour was a classic illustration of that fact” (1, 164). Carl says the demonic possession of his brother was a hoax cooked up by the Warrens, and accused the Warrens and Brittle of invading his privacy with the publication of the book. In self-defense, Lorraine Warren declared the possession had been judged genuine by six priests, “the cream of the Catholic Church.”

When she arrived to collect her waterbed (which had indeed sprung a leak), the previous tenant of the Newtown house told Arne and Debbie of poltergeist activity in the house, including cold drafts and the clucking of ghostly chickens. For some reason, she believed the locked room held a “profane altar used by witches”.

Enter the Warrens

The Johnsons and Glatzels were all devout Christians. Mary had even spent four years in an Episcopalian convent prior to her marriage. She had reared all her children as Baptists, attending church and Sunday school every week. Sadly, this devotion had primed them to believe in some strange things, and they were all very concerned about the haunting. On July 6, a fellow dog-groomer told Debbie about the Warrens, who had helped her friend deal with a ghost. The following night, Debbie saw the Beast crawling across the living room ceiling in the Glatzel home.

The Warrens agreed to take the case. They would later call it the worst they ever saw.

They arrived with a Bridgeport physician, Dr. Anthony Giangrasso. Carl Sr. tried to dissuade them from entering the house, saying his family had gone crazy, but Judy welcomed them with relief. Dr. Giangrasso examined David. David was the only member of the household who could hear and see the Beast and the 43 demons, which he said had materialized from balls of light in his bedroom one night. The Beast claimed to be Satan, and said it had no soul. It liked to sit in a rocking chair in the living room (rocking chairs played prominent roles in the Amityville case and the story of the Ocean Born Mary House), while the other entities flocked to the attic to bask in the heat.

The Diagnosis

Lorraine could sense the Beast’s presence, and the fact that David could see and hear the Beast from the very beginning indicated to them that it was an unusually powerful entity. They were alarmed by the speed with which the phenomena had progressed; barely two weeks had elapsed since David’s first encounter with the “ghost”.
David, they concluded, was a victim of “transient possession”.

The Warrens quickly pinpointed the cause, though it would later be replaced by a more sinister explanation: In the early ’70s, Debbie had taken an elective high school course on witchcraft and the occult. (It seems unlikely to me that a Bridgeport high school would offer something like this, but I’ll let it slide. It’s not exactly the most problematic aspect of this case.) Debbie had also used a ouija board, receiving messages from entities the Warrens identified as incubi and ghosts. Even though she had disposed of the board, the “law of invitation” left the entire, extended family vulnerable to the entities that dwelt in Mary Johnson’s rented house.
Weirdly, the demon horde commuted between the Glatzel home and the Johnson house, but the latter manifestations were limited to strange noises heard by Mary’s youngest girls, ages 9 and 12. Mary would later move her family out of the Newtown house because the girls were afraid to live in it.

There were other factors, too: Carl, Sr., had never been baptized, Carl Jr. was non-religious, and Debbie and Arne were living in sin.

Possession x 2

For a couple of weeks, David’s possession worsened. He became hateful and vulgar, pulled a knife on one of his brothers, showed an aversion to holy water, and tried to strangle Arne. The family summoned the Warrens, Dr. Giangrasso, or John Kenyhercz (one of Ed’s assistants) whenever he got out of control.

Then, in the latter half of July, all was relatively quiet. Until David and his brother Alan reported hearing strange noises: a girl calling out for help, a snake hissing, disembodied whispers. The Glatzel house, like the Amityville house, became thick with flies. Activity resumed full-force when Father Dennis, the family priest, departed for a vacation in Ireland. Objects levitated and struck people, apparitions appeared, a humming or vibration permeated the house. The Beast returned to tell David there be death in the family, and no one would be able to help them. The physical attacks on David increased in frequency and violence. Judy kept him indoors at all times, and watched him continuously. She also refused to be left alone with him.

Fathers William Millea and Steve DiGiovanni, filling in for Father Dennis, were summoned to the house by Judy. They urged a superior, Father Grosso, to help the family. He was skeptical until he witnessed David being levitated, strangled by an invisible force, and speaking in a strange voice.

Meanwhile, Arne took matters into his own hands. As the demons demanded David’s soul and threatened to kill someone, he splashed holy water in the directions indicated by David and commanded them all to begone. “Without realizing it,” Brittle writes, “Arne was violating the essential precept that man can command such spirits only in the name of God… one of many sincere but tragic mistakes Arne would make in the case.” (144)
Arne even begged the demons to leave David’s body and possess him instead. Soon, Arne was able to see the Beast as clearly as David saw it.

David’s possession continued to escalate. He spoke backwards and in tongues, and his body swelled to such enormous proportions that his skin cracked. On August 5th, his head rotated 180 degrees. On August 6th he woke from a nap to find he had undergone a physical transformation: bloated, nose like a pig’s snout, limbs limp. He spoke and laughed only in a throaty growl. Such dramatic and horrifying transformations are rarely reported in poltergeist cases, but they pop up again and again in the Warrens’ cases. Recall that Kathleen Lutz saw a floating demon-pig, and took on the appearance of a hideous hag while sleeping. The Smurl haunting, which will be discussed later, included a demonic pig-monster and a physical transformation.

The entity that possessed David’s body attacked Alan and Arne, called Judy a “strutting harlot”, and made sexual overtures to Judy and Debbie. David could merely point at an object to make it fly across the room. Despite continuous observation, David was able to get his hands on knives, fireplace pokers, and other dangerous items with which he tried to kill members of the family. Throughout this period, it was Arne who protected the family from assault. Certain her son was now fully possessed, Judy summoned the Warrens.
Ed Warren told the family that if Arne hadn’t been present, someone would surely have been killed. This statement will become important later.

The family sought, and was denied, an official Catholic exorcism, but a Father Virulak agreed to perform a cleansing and perhaps an exorcism in the Glatzel home. He had worked with the Warrens in 1972, exorcising a house on Hartford’s Beelzebub Avenue.
Later, the bishop gave the go-ahead for a deliverance (not a full exorcism) to be performed in the chapel at St. Joseph’s on September 2nd. David had to be tied to a chair for transport to the church, where four priests performed the deliverance under the Warrens’ supervision. At the ritual’s conclusion, Lorraine announced that the lesser of the 43 demons had been successfully expelled, leaving only Gluttony, Lust, a demon named “Gaytois”, and one murderous devil that raged, spit, and blasphamed. Overall, in other words, the deliverance was unsuccessful.

FYI: There isn’t a “Beelzebub Avenue” in Hartford, but there is a Beelzebub Road in South Windsor, which is in Hartford County. And don’t bother Googling “Gaytois” unless you’re looking for a sale on buttplugs.

Ed Warren later described seeing a devil during David’s deliverance. “The room grew cold, and a dark form materialized. Normally, the features of the entity are not discernible, but I saw a face…changed from human to inhuman to Satanic to snakelike to lizard…I never want to see anything like that again.” (2)

The Case Continues, Unfortunately

The following Sunday, Arne cursed loudly and blacked out in the middle of a church service. He said he had seen a black entity standing at the altar, mimicking all the priest’s movements.

Later that week, David predicted someone would be stabbed to death and Arne would end up in prison. He then rattled off a string of unfamiliar names that would turn out to belong to judges, lawyers, and court officials involved in the murder trial of Arne Johnson. None of these names are given.

A psychiatric examination of David found no mental abnormalities, and family therapy was recommended. This angered Judy Glatzel and the Warrens. How dare qualified professionals suggest that people who are afraid to be alone in their own homes with their demon-infested children might be in need of professional help!

On September 8th, a second deliverance was conducted on David in a convent. Again, the boy broke out of his restraints and had to be held down on the floor by the priests. At one point he stopped breathing for over a minute, yet no one thought to summon medical help. This would be a good time to point out that there have been many fatal exorcisms performed on women and children in the past several decades. Exorcists, professional and amateur, have strangled, starved, suffocated, and beaten people to death in their efforts to roust demons.

This second deliverance, too, was only partially successful. Ed complained bitterly that this was because the Church had refused to allow the ancient rite of exorcism, the Rituale Romanum. Without it, the demons couldn’t be banished fully. Judy shared this view. “The church abandoned us,” she said. She claimed that a monk had visited them in a chauffeur-driven limo just to tell them that demons don’t exist.

The family’s troubles were not at an end. The Warrens believed there was still potential for danger in the Glatzel/Johnson household as late as October 1980, and broke their confidentiality agreement with the family to warn local police. Their fears were not unfounded. Carl Jr. allegedly stabbed his brother Alan, beat his mother, and harassed and tormented Arne by destroying his belongings. Police were called to the house up to two times per week, until the incidents died down in November.

Also in November, Debbie and Arne moved into a nearby apartment so that Debbie could manage a kennel for her new boss, 39-year-old Alan Bono. Having delayed their wedding, she and Arnie now planned to marry in the spring of ’81. Other than experiencing a few fleeting “posessions” that transformed his features into a demonic visage, Arne was a perfectly normal guy.

The Murder of Alan Bono

On Sunday, February 5th, Arne and Debbie picked up his little sisters at Mary’s house for an overnight stay at the kennels.

The following day, Arne felt flu-ish. He called in sick to work. Around 11:00 AM, Alan Bono invited the whole family out for burgers. He was already drunk, being (according to Debbie), an alcoholic. Alan drank wine throughout lunch, then continued to drink wine throughout the afternoon and evening while Debbie and the girls groomed dogs. Arne took a nap. Theyall planned to go to the Glatzels’ house for dinner at 6:00. Debbie later said she had felt uneasy throughout the day for no obvious reason, and Judy claimed she could feel tragedy closing in on the family. She phoned her daughter that evening with pleas to come over ASAP, before anything bad could happen.

Around 5:00, Alan Bono asked Arne if he could fix a stereo speaker in his office. Then he implored Debbie and Arne to have dinner with him. Debbie relented. She ordered pizzas. Rather than eating, Alan became belligerent; banging on his TV set, playing loud music. Debbie decided to go to her parents’ house, after all. But Alan refused to let the three Johnson girls leave his apartment.

At this point, Arne experienced one of his transitory demonic possessions. Without provocation, he knocked Debbie to the floor and began kicking her viciously in the stomach and head.

Alan and Arne soon got into a fight in the yard. Suddenly, Alan collapsed to the ground. He had been stabbed four or five times by a knife that Debbie and the girls claimed they hadn’t seen until they found it on the ground nearby, covered in blood. By that time, Arne had left the yard. He was found wandering on the side of a road in a daze.

The Defense

Charged with murder, Arne Johnson claimed to have no memory of the evening’s events, and insisted he would never have killed his friend unless (you guessed it) he was possessed by demons. And the Warrens backed him up. Brittle: “There was no intent or premeditation on Arne Johnson’s part to harm anyone; his body was simply siezed and used as instrument to kill.” (1, 239)

The Warrens’ take on the story was, essentially, that because Debbie dabbled in the occult as a teenager, she left her family susceptible to demonic attack. Years later, her little brother David wandered into a house owned by a “witch” and encountered a powerful demon which summoned dozens more demons to possess the boy. By challenging the demons without invoking God, Arne inadvertently left himself open to possession. Then, six months later, the demons made him go batsh** insane and stab his landlord to death.

A likelier story: The somewhat religious, heavily superstitious Glatzel and Johnson families interpreted the theatrics of David as actual demonic possession, and the story became more elaborate and more dramatic after the Warrens got involved.

Months later, Arne Johnson was beating the hell out of his girlfriend in front of his sisters and his landlord. Alan Bono tried to intervene, and Arne stabbed him to death.

Afterwards, Debbie and the Johnson girls wanted to keep Arne out of jail. So they crafted a story about him being possessed by the same demons that supposedly exited David months earlier, and painted the victim as a belligerent drunk.

The “Real” Explanation

A priest from Quebec, Father Deschamps, later examined David Glatzel. He informed the family that David’s possession stemmed not from his sister’s academic interest in the occult, but from a Satanic curse placed upon Carl Jr. and David by a family they joined every year in Old Forge, New York, for a snowmobiling vacation. These people were practicing Satanists who had pledged the souls of the two boys to the Devil in exchange for some unknown benefit. This was why the Glatzels suffered misfortunes like broken bones and sciatica after every trip. Judy and Carl Sr. confirmed that this middle-aged, married couple with two kids had a houseful of “occult paraphernalia” such as black velvet furniture, chalices and daggers, an altar, even a skull.

Hence, by the end of this awful story, every iota of blame has been removed from the Johnsons and the Glatzels. According to the Warrens and Father Deschamps, there was nothing they could have done to prevent the crazed, violent behaviour of David or Arne’s murder of Alan Bono.

In October 1981, Father Deschamps performed a Charismatic deliverance on David inside an old stone church in Quebec City. At the conclusion of the ritual, the spirit identified itself as Beelzebub. David didn’t speak throughout the deliverance. His voice was projected from the mouth of one of the priests, instead. Uh-huh.

Also in October, Arne went on trial for murder. His demonic possession defense – the first in U.S. criminal history – was quickly squashed, thanks to Judge Robert Callahan’s ruling that David Glatzel’s behaviour was not relevant to Arne Johnson’s state of mind.
Arne refused to accept a plea baragain for the lesser charge of manslaughter, was convicted of manslaughter anyway, and was sentenced to 10-20 years in prison. His lawyers declined to appeal the decision. He was released in 2001.

The Warrens continued to defend Arne Johnson, and they would go on to defend several other criminals whom they declared weren’t really responsible for their own actions due to possession by devils, demons, ghosts, and werewolves.


1. Brittle, Gerald. The Devil in Connecticut. iUniverse, 2006.
2. Stanley, John. “A Strange Dinner with ‘Amityville’ Demonologists”. San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 26, 1982.

Sylvia Browne, Psychic Clown

Psychic Detectives Part III: Sylvia Browne
I’m willing to give Noreen Renier the benefit of the doubt when it comes to honesty. Maybe she simply isn’t as gifted as she thinks she is, and is sloppy when it comes to doing follow-ups.
But Sylvia Browne won’t be getting any such slack. She is a bald-faced liar and an utter fraud, the dagger-nailed embodiment of epic FAIL. I’ll admit that her whiskey-and-cigs voice and deadpan delivery are weirdly endearing. She’s like the lovably gruff white-trash aunt who sits in her trailer all day, knocking back black coffee while she waits for bingo. I’m not taken in by this, though. She can call people “honey” all she wants; this woman is evil.
Browne has been making her living as a psychic since the ’70s, offering phone readings for hundreds of dollars and establishing the Nirvana Foundation for Psychic Research (now defunct). In the ’90s she gained national fame as a regular guest on Montel Williams’ TV talk show, Montel. She made weekly appearances until the show’s cancellation in 2008. She steadily churns out books on reincarnation, heaven, psychic healing, and assorted New Agey topics.
Her son, Chris, claims to be psychic too. Psychic ability often runs in families, as with the mother-and-son team of Bertie and John Catchings and the family of “lesbian psychic to the stars” Terry Iacuzzo. There have been psychics in Browne’s family for the past three centuries. Don’t worry if your family lacks the clairvoyance gene, though: Browne’s Hypnosis Training Center offers classes on how to hypnotize your children and bring out their psychic abilities.
Much of Browne’s information about the afterlife comes from her spirit guide and co-author, Francine. No one knows just how Francine entered Browne’s life, because she has given conflicting accounts of their first meeting.
She is also in contact with many different kinds of angels, as well as fairies and humanoid aliens, but insists there are no demons (as we’ll see in a post about Ed and Lorraine Warren, other psychics vehemently disagree). After her psychical research outfit went bust, she founded a New Age/Christian church called the Society of Novus Spiritus.
In 1992, Browne and one of her many husbands, Kensil Dalzell Brown, pleaded no contest to several charges of investment fraud and grand larceny. They had been selling securities in a gold-mining venture under false pretenses, telling investors that their money would be used for operating costs when it actually went straight to their (now defunct) Nirvana Foundation for Psychic Research. Shades of Peter Hurkos.
Browne is cast firmly in the folksy New Age mold, but lately she’s venturing into conspiracy theories and pop eschatology to attract an even wider audience. Her latest book, Secret Societies, deals with staples of conspiranoia culture: the Knights Templar, Freemasons, Catholics, and the New World Order.

I first realized that Browne was full of it when I watched her give a past-life reading on Oprah. A woman in the audience wanted to know why she had a phobia of leaving beverages unattended for even a few minutes, and Browne casually informed her that she had been poisoned in her former life as an Egyptian “high priestess”. Then came the kicker: “I know because they poisoned me, too. I was the high priestess right before you were.” How amazing, then, that they would end up in the same Illinois TV studio on the very same day! I wonder why Browne didn’t pick her successor out of the audience right away to share some old times? “Hey, you, remember when we were both murdered in ancient Egypt? Wasn’t that da bomb? Whatcha been doing lately?”

If I listed all of Browne’s other false predictions, lies, and errors here, I’d have Carpal Tunnel before I was halfway done. So here are just a few of her “greatest misses”:
  • She solved the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. She actually was interviewed by the FBI, but the only suspect she could describe was “Salzeman”, perhaps a reference to Emad Salem or Mohammad Salameh (if you’re charitable). However, Salameh had been arrested 12 days prior to her interview.
  • Saddam Hussein wouldn’t live to see his trial.
  • She predicted 9/11. She didn’t, and the information she put on her website on 9/12 wasn’t accurate either; it contained names of organizations and weapons that don’t even exist.
  • Clinton was falsely accused in the Lewinsky scandal.
  • Bill Bradley would win the 2000 presidential election. He didn’t even make it past the primaries.
  • Bush would bring the troops home in 2007. Not one of the predictions she made in ’06 was accurate; she actually advised people to buy property because it would be going up in value. Her predictions for ’08 weren’t any better; she said the auto industry would improve thanks to the introduction of new hybrids. At least she was smart enough to avoid making any stock market predictions.
  • During one of several appearances on Larry King Live, Browne claimed to be working on numerous criminal cases, including one with Detective Stephen Xanthos of the Rumson, New Jersey, police department. She said she was getting ready to close the case. Xanthos turned out to be a former policeman and former P.I.
  • She cracked the case of a serial rapist in San Francisco in the ’80s. The extent of her participation was declaring the man’s last name began with S.

When Browne is questioned about a missing or deceased loved one, she reacts almost instantaneously to whatever information is provided, as though her mind and the Great Beyond are in a neverending teleconference. This can’t even be called cold reading; it’s just wild-ass guessing. A woman says she has lost her mother and Sylvia automatically offers a statement that can’t be refuted: “She was a beautiful woman.” If she’s wrong, is this woman going to admit on national television that her mother wasn’t beautiful? Probably not. It’s the safest possible statement Browne could utter. But sometimes this hairtrigger response doesn’t work in her favour, and those occasions are very enlightening. During a taping of Montel, a tearful young woman with a New York accent rose to tell Sylvia that her boyfriends’s body hadn’t been found. Quick as a flash, Browne told her, “That’s because he’s in water…you can’t find somebody in water”. The woman looked puzzled, and for good reason: Her boyfriend died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. How did Browne get out of this one? She didn’t. She continued to insist she could “see” the firefighter in water. “Is there any way he could have drowned? He says he couldn’t breathe and he was filled with water.” Finally she grasped at her last straw: Perhaps water from the fire hoses drowned him in the rubble.

Maybe this kind of mistake could be overlooked, if it hadn’t happened again and again on Montel (and elsewhere). Just a few examples:

  • The parents of a 17-year-old girl named Michelle asked Browne how she had died. “She was shot,” Browne replied without hesitation.
    The mother’s brow furrowed. “But…she just collapsed in her room.”
    Again, Browne simply refused to admit any margin for error. She said something had hit Michelle in the chest. Told that the autopsy had revealed no external injuries, she snapped, “I don’t care. Something hit her in the chest.” I suspect she lost a few fans that day.
  • In 2004 the mother of missing teenager Ryan Katcher was invited on Montel to consult Browne. 19-year-old Ryan vanished in 2000. A friend said he drove Ryan to his parents’ Oakwood, Illinois home after a party and helped him lay down on the living room sofa, but by morning he was gone. His truck was also missing. Browne listened to the whole account of his disappearance, then explained that Ryan aspirated some of his vomit. Panicked, two friends dumped his body in “a metal shaft of some kind”, somewhere across the state line (Linda Katcher had already told her they lived near a state border). A third friend took the truck.
    In 2006, Ryan’s truck was discovered at the bottom of Kickapoo State Park Pond. Apparently, he had driven himself to the area while still intoxicated and accidentally drove into the water. He drowned.
  • The mother of 12-year-old Weyman Robbins asked Browne how her son died. He had been found dead in the backyard of his home in 2002, a bandana around his neck. Though the death was suspicious, investigators declared it a suicide. Browne declared that he had accidentally asphyxiated while playing the “choking game” with three other boys, and the boys didn’t want to step forward.
    In the end, private investigators hired by Misty Robbins found the killer: Her own brother, who had been living with her for seven years.

If there’s anything worse than telling parents their child is dead, it’s offering false hope to people that their missing loved ones are alive. As mentioned in Part I,

  • On a 2001 Montel, the daughters of Lynda McClelland asked Sylvia what happened to her. Lynda disappeared from her home in Forest Hills, Pennsylvania in 2000, shortly after visiting with her daughter Amanda and Amanda’s husband, David. Browne instantly announced that Lynda was still alive, which sent Marcie into tears. Browne went on to say that Lynda had gone crazy, and was taken to Florida by a man with the initials M.J. She advised the young women to check all the mental health facilities in Orlando. Two years later, David Repaskey (Amanda’s husband) told an acquaintance that he had been having an affair with his mother-in-law. When she threatened to tell Amanda about it, he strangled her and stomped on her throat until she was dead. He and friend Donald Wall, who were both involved in a burglary ring, then buried Lynda on a hillside close to the home of David’s grandmother. She never had a chance to go to Florida.
  • As mentioned in Part I, Browne told the grandmother of missing 6-year-old Opal Jennings that Opal had been sold into white slavery and was still alive in a nonexistent place called “Kukouro or Kukoura”, Japan. One year later, Richard Lee Franks (a sex offender with no known ties to white slavery or Japan), was convicted of kidnapping Opal. Three years after that, the little girl’s body was found roughly 13 miles from her grandparents’ home. She had been murdered within hours of her abduction.
  • In 1995, 23-year-old Holly Krewson went missing from La Mesa, California. In 2002, Brown told Gwendolyn Krewson that her daughter was working as a stripper in Hollywood, California. In 2006, the body of a Jane Doe found near Descanso in 1996 was finally identified as Holly’s. Sadly, Gwendolyn had died three years earlier.

Knowing her track record, another of Browne’s Montel guesses seems almost as unconscionable as her location of missing people. A woman (incidentally, the same one who was told her mother was “beautiful”) asked Browne what her mother had been trying to tell her as she lay dying in hospital. “This is not easy to tell ya, but your father is not your father,” Browne said. She didn’t appear to find this difficult to say.

Despite all these disastrous errors, a few fans of Browne have tried to rehabilitate her public image by posting video clips of notable successes. In one instance, she supposedly helped a woman locate a ring owned by her late sister. She also guessed that Chandra Levy would be found in the park where she was last seen.

Browne’s biggest mistake, from a PR point of view, involved the disappearance of Shawn Hornbeck. The boy’s mother and stepdad, Pam and Craig Akers, turned to Sylvia Browne in their desperation. The 11-year-old had gone missing the previous year, en route to a friend’s house, and there were no clues to his disappearance. On a 2003 Montel, Browne solemnly informed the Akers that their son had been murdered by a Hispanic-looking man with dredlocks. His body was in a wooded area about 20 miles southwest of their Missouri home, near two boulders. When she heard this news, Pam Akers lowered her head and began to sob. She had always held out hope that her son was alive. “Hearing that was one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to hear,” Craig Akers said. Hornbeck was found three years later, living in the apartment of the man who abducted him. Michael J. Devlin is not Hispanic and never had dredlocks.
This miss attracted a huge amount media attention, and may have been more damaging to Browne’s image than any other colossal mistake of her career. Her days as a psychic detective are effectively over.
Still, she tried to save face. Asked by the producers of CNN’s 360 with Anderson Cooper to provide documentation that she had actually solved hundreds of cases, as she claims, Browne provided little more than two testimonial letters from people to whom she had given psychic readings over the phone. One was from Sharon James, a woman who paid $700 to ask for Browne’s help in finding her missing son in 2003. She was assured that the young man was living in Tennessee, suffering schizophrenia. Two years after James wrote the letter, her son reappeared. He had not lived in Tennessee at any time, and had no mental illnesses.

The second most damaging error of Browne’s career was made on the January 4-5, 2006 broadcast of the paranormal radio show Coast to Coast AM. Soon after rescuers reached the 13 men trapped in West Virginia’s Sago mine and it was reported that 12 of them were alive, Browne informed host George Noory that she had known all of the miners would be found. “That’s what I said,” Browne told Noory, without a hint of surprise in her voice.
Noory accepts his guests’ stories of alien abduction, time travel, and Bigfoot encounters, but even he couldn’t let Browne’s comments slide a short time later, when it was learned the reports had been in error: 12 men died, only one survived. He bluntly asked Browne to explain herself. Rather than give herself a graceful out by explaining that her powers are far from perfect, she actually tried to convince the listeners that she had correctly predicted the deaths. “I said they would be found. I didn’t say dead or alive.” Well, of course people trapped in a mine would be found. Who needs a psychic celebrity to tell them that?

How has Browne gotten away with this for so many years? For one thing, people are reluctant to criticize Browne because she cloaks her psychic ability in the language of religion, referring to it as a gift from God. Her publicist calls her a “spiritual teacher” and a humanitarian. It’s far easier to criticize a psychic detective who says “I find stuff” than it is to criticize one who says, “I was sent by God to help you.” Nonetheless, some brave souls have confronted Browne’s nonsense over the years. Robert Lancaster started the website Stop Sylvia Browne, which contains many negative testimonials from people who paid for Browne’s phone readings. James Randi urged her to take his Million Dollar Challenge to prove her psychic abilities (she initially agreed, then backed down with a long string of flimsy excuses).

As for law enforcement, conspiracy theorist Ted Gunderson (known for his outrageous and entirely insupportable statements about Satanic crime) is one of the only former law enforcement agents to provide a testimonial for Browne, calling her “probably one of the most accurate psychics in the country.”

Sadly, he could be right.

Most Boring

Since I don’t live in a kid-dense area, Halloweens are pretty quiet. I’m spending much of this one watching the Most Haunted marathon on the W network. Tell me, does anything ever happen on this show? The historical tidbits at the beginning are interesting, but then the program just turns into an hour of people bumbling around in that celebrity-sex-tape nightvision, jumping at noises and asking the spirits questions that never seem to get answered. It’s not even remotely suspenseful or scary.

Derek Acorah in a sex tape, now thatwould be scary.


Part II of Desteni’s “interview” with the spirit of Anton LeVey

Dead People and Budgies are Smarter

A South African woman called Desteni claims to channel…well, just about everybody. To date she has posted at least 579 videos to YouTube, most of them explaining New Age concepts or answering questions in the guise of dead occult/New Age figures like Osho. Desteni begins each session by taking a deep breath and slipping into a trance-channeling state. Then, usually without change of facial expression, she launches into a spiel from beyond the grave. Her impersonation of Anton LaVey (as a demon) is interesting, because she talks with her hands and looks exuberant. LaVey was just the opposite in his interviews. Apparently, being dead not only makes you wiser – it makes you happier.

Desteni’s website:

Desteni’s YouTube videos:

“Parrot intelligence researcher” Ryan Reynolds, an occasional guest on Coast to Coast AM, has a long-term budgie communication project going, called the Budgie Research Group. Reynolds teaches each bird as much English as possible, then records them to see if they’re saying anything meaningful. This by itself is sorta pointless and weird, but now he’s convinced that all budgies are clairvoyant and/or telepathic! He listened reeeallly closely to some recordings and thought he heard “Tsunami Indonesia” and “earthquake” and “Christ is coming soon”. I heard “bwak bwak bwak”, but whatever…