current issue all-star newspaper archive message boards search
Current Features
A Gambling Gambit
Roundup: Dubya's Press Posse
Golden Global Politics
Maxim-um Spin
China Online
An Executive Embargo
Publish and Perish
Truth in Advertorial
Spinning a Biblical Battle -- In New York
Sitting on a DUI Scoop
It Happened One Night
What's Your Number?
(Dis)counting the Votes
Current Issue
Recent Headlines
Reader Feedback
Search Brill's Content

current issue
February 2001

Online Only -- 11.27.00
Prophet Motive
Larry King and Montel Williams routinely feature psychic Sylvia Browne, who claims to have solved hundreds of missing person cases. They get ratings, she sells books -- and the cases remain unsolved.

By Joseph Gomes

The self-described psychic Sylvia Browne is a frequent guest on such TV programs as Larry King Live and The Montel Williams Show. She drops by to promote her books (most recently, the best-selling Life on the Other Side) and her New Age pantheism, and occasionally to solve a missing-person case. For the most part, Browne delivers simple entertainment. But her claims that she has solved crimes, assisted enforcement, and directed victims to missing loved ones are something else entirely. They concern real people and real tragedies, and exploit misfortune for lively programming. What's more, talk-show hosts such as King and Williams fail their audiences by accepting Browne's claims without question or, in Williams's case, enthusiastically endorsing them.

Browne has appeared on Larry King's show three times since 1999 and The Montel Williams Show about 25 times since 1995. Whenever she appears on either program, Browne asserts her legitimacy as a "psychic detective" with claims that range from the vague and unverifiable to the patently false. The following exchange, from a recent appearance on Larry King Live, is typical:

KING: Do you ever work with, like, police?

BROWNE: Oh, yes, I have 250 cases, in fact, right on my...there's a lot of cases I've solved right on Montel's show.

KING: You've been on Montel Williams, like, on numerous...


KING: Give me an example of something you would solve.

BROWNE: There was a woman that came that wanted closure on her son that was killed, and I said that there was two lakes together. I said, "I'm pretty sure it's in Pennsylvania, and there is a space in between, and there is a tree, or a name of a tree." Well, she knew exactly what I was talking about. I didn't know. And they went was called Willow, I think. And there, I said, "On the left pond is where your son is," and they found him. I also cracked the ski-mask-rapist case. I also found a girl in Seattle. I mean, it just goes on and on.

King did not inquire further about any of these cases. Browne's business manager and spokesman, Larry Beck, offers little help: "It's just too private and painful to give out that sort of information," he says. Beck says Browne has assisted authorities on several occasions but refuses to cite specifics.

Producers at Larry King Live would not comment on the veracity of Sylvia Browne's claims. Says CNN spokesperson Erin Sermeus: "Larry King's responsibility is to be a fair host and interviewer, and it's up to the viewers to draw their own conclusions."

As for Williams, he often seems more of a cheerleader than a disinterested observer. In February 2000, on a show titled "Psychic Sylvia Browne: A Family's Last Hope," Browne claimed to have directed a Texas family to the body of their missing father. "I'm pretty positive that constitutes the third body that [Browne has] found on this show," Williams said. "So there are a lot of people out there perpetrating and saying what they can do." However, he added, "You looked exactly where [Browne] said and bingo-bango, he was found." Bexar County, Texas, homicide detective A.J. Damiani disagrees. "[Browne] said it was buried in a hillside about 12 miles northwest of the new house," Damiani says, "but we found him floating in the water....We didn't find any evidence to suggest [Browne] was accurate." There's no evidence that Browne's "clues" on Williams's show have ever led to the discovery of a body or missing person.

Producers for Montel Williams refused to comment for this article.

Brill's Content has 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.

"These guys don't solve cases, and the media consistently gets it wrong," says Michael Corn, an investigative producer for Inside Edition who produced a story last May debunking psychic detectives. Moreover, the FBI and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children maintain that to their knowledge, psychic detectives have never helped solve a single missing-person case.

"Zero. They go on TV and I see how things go and what they claim but no, zero," says FBI agent Chris Whitcomb. "They may be remarkable in other ways, but the FBI does not use them."

Have an opinion about what you just read?
Join the discussion on our message boards.
Send a letter to the editor.
We post some of the letters we receive, and may edit for length and clarity. Please tell us if you don't want us to share yours.
Attention Readers!
BUY books at 25% below retail prices.
FIND a whole slew of products and editorial related to psychics.


to Brill's Content with any purchase at Contentville. Shop NOW and get your FREE subscription! more info

DISCUSS this article on the message boards.
SEND a letter to the editor.
READ recent feedback.

  Free Brill's Content
  Email Newsletter


Brill's Content Home   |   Current Issue   |   The All-Star Newspaper   |   Subscribe   |   Archive   |   Message Boards
Customer Service   |   About Brill's Content   |   Press Releases   |   Contact

© Brill Media Ventures, 2001