Sylvia Browne — full-time psychic, part-time facilitator of nightmares, and cornerstone of The Montel Williams Show — is very much caught up on the wrong side of a story gripping the nation with a heartbreaking work of staggeringly bad fortune-telling. In 2004, the professional (and very well-paid) psychic told the mother of one of the women kidnapped in Cleveland that her daughter was dead. Louwana Miller believed the talk-show psycic, and now she'll never know that her daughter, Amanda Berry, was found alive Monday night: Berry's mother died two years after Browne foretold the future incorrectly... again.
Much of the kidnapping case remains at turns uplifting and depressing — the discovery of the long-lost women quickly turned to reports of basement sex slavery, the heroic neighbor became an Internet hero for all the wrong reasons — but this is perhaps the coldest sideshow of a cold case come alive. The Cleveland Plain Dealer republished its article about Louwana Miller's visit to The Montel Williams Show in 2004 — Berry had gone missing in April 2003 — and her search for answers about her daughter. Here's the key excerpt:
"She’s not alive, honey," Sylvia Browne told her matter-of-factly. "Your daughter’s not the kind who wouldn’t call."
That is Browne being absolutely wrong. And Fox Cleveland has a little bit more:
"So do you think I’ll ever see her again?" Miller asked.
"Yeah, in Heaven on the other side," was Browne’s answer.
That is, indeed, pretty cold. But that matter-of-fact style is one of the reasons Browne was so popular on TV and beyond. Even more infuriating: The Plain-Dealer reported at the time that Miller really trusted what Browne was saying:
Miller said she believes "98 percent" in Browne.
"Please don’t misunderstand me. I still don’t want to believe it. I want to have hope but, after a year and a half, what else is there?" Miller said. "It seems like the God-honest truth. My daughter would always call home."
Miller died in 2006. And according to a book written by investigative journalist James Renner, she died thinking her daughter was dead, even as Amanda remained officially vanished, and not officially dead at all.
This is not the first time Browne was wrong — not nearly. The website StopSylvia has a litany of all the reasons why you and/or grieving mothers should not believe this particular psychic, but one particular standout case comes from 2003. As The Guardian's Jon Ronson reported, Browne told the parents of Shawn Hornbeck that their son's body was buried beneath two jagged boulders. That was wrong:
Four years later, in January this year, Shawn was found alive and well and living with his alleged abductor, Michael Devlin, in Kirkwood, Missouri. This miraculous happy ending became headline news across the US. Shawn's parents told journalists that one of their lowest points was when Sylvia Browne told them their boy was dead.
Browne had said that the disappearance and subsequent death was the fault of the other missing Missouri children: "I think what I did was I got my wires crossed. There was a blonde and two boys who are dead. I think I picked up the wrong kid," Browne told Ronson, sounding not unlike someone who chose the wrong blouse out of the closet that morning.
Blog posts bashing Browne now abound, and many on social media have begun calling her nothing short of scum. Browne has not commented on Barry's reappearance, but this very public mishap for this very unbelievable person should make her next few public appearances — she'll be in DC at the end of the month — pretty uncomfortable. (Yes, that's a prediction.)
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.