Bad Science

Amanda Berry: Why Loved Ones Turn to Psychics

psychic powers
Families of missing persons sometimes consult psychics when they feel the police aren't doing enough. (Image credit: © Benjamin Haas |

Amanda Berry, a 16-year-old girl when she went missing in 2003, was rescued from an unassuming house in Cleveland Monday night, where she and others are believed to have been abducted and held captive for up to a decade.

Tragically, a high-profile psychic told Berry's mother in 2004 that she was dead, a phenomenon all too common when it comes to missing persons — psychics seem to have all the answers though they typically turn out to be completely wrong.

For nearly two years after her disappearance Amanda Berry's mother, Louwana Miller, held out hope that her daughter would be found alive and returned to her: Maybe Amanda ran away from home and would come back some day, or was in an accident and somehow lost her memory. Miller endured the terrible limbo of not knowing, holding out hope against the odds but not wanting to believe the worst.

Berry reportedly broke through a door where she had been held captive and called for help; two other missing women, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight, were also rescued from the home. The home's owner, Ariel Castro, and his two brothers have been arrested in connection with the case. [The 10 Most Destructive Human Behaviors Explained]

But before the seeming miracle ending, "Plain Dealer" writer Stephan Hudak noted, "Desperate for any clue as to Amanda Berry's whereabouts, and tired of unanswered questions from authorities, Miller turned to a psychic on Montel Williams' nationally syndicated television show. The psychic said what the FBI, police and Miller hadn't. 'She's not alive, honey,' Sylvia Browne told her matter-of-factly. 'Your daughter's not the kind who wouldn't call.' With those blunt words, Browne persuaded Miller to accept a grim probability that has become more likely with each passing day."

Miller returned home devastated, and she died two years later, believing that her daughter was dead.

Self-proclaimed psychic Sylvia Browne was horribly wrong, telling a grieving mother that her child was dead when she was not. And it's not the first time: In an eerily similar situationin 2002, Browne told the parents of missing child Shawn Hornbeck that their son was dead, also on Montel Williams' show. His body, she said, would be found in a wooded area near two large boulders, adding that he had been kidnapped by a very tall, "dark-skinned man" with dreadlocks.

In fact, Hornbeck and another boy were found very much alive five years later on Jan. 16, 2007, in the home of a Caucasian, non-dreadlocked Missouri man named Michael Devlin who had kidnapped them.Every detail of Browne's psychic vision was wrong, including the most important: that Shawn was dead.

This horrific case also has many similarities to Jaycee Dugard, the girl abducted at the age of 11 in 1991 and discovered living in a virtual prison in the backyard of a couple's home in Antioch, Calif., 18 years later. She had been confined and horrifically abused, and raped, even giving birth to her captor's children. They were kept prisoners and were completely isolated, never having attended school or seen a doctor.

Hundreds of psychics gave information about Dugard's location while she was missing — and every one turned out to be completely wrong.Psychics make many claims of success, but are conspicuously unable tofind missing persons and rescue innocent women from years of torture and imprisonment.

Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of "Skeptical Inquirer" science magazine and author of six books including "Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries." His website is

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Benjamin Radford
Live Science Contributor
Benjamin Radford is the Bad Science columnist for Live Science. He covers pseudoscience, psychology, urban legends and the science behind "unexplained" or mysterious phenomenon. Ben has a master's degree in education and a bachelor's degree in psychology. He is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and has written, edited or contributed to more than 20 books, including "Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries," "Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore" and “Investigating Ghosts: The Scientific Search for Spirits,” out in fall 2017. His website is