A look at the claims, predictions and behavior of a media "psychic".

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Follow-up to "Montel: Shawn Hornbeck Reading"

More about Browne's most famously wrong reading to date.

Pam and Craid Akers

Pam and Craig Akers

Background

On January 12 2007, fifteen-year-old Shawn Hornbeck was found alive after having been missing for four years.

Three years before Shawn was found, his parents - Pam and Craig Akers - appeared on the Montel Williams show to ask Sylvia Browne's help in locating their missing son. She told them Shawn was dead.

On the day Shawn was found (very much alive), I placed an article on this site about the Shawn Hornbeck reading, but at that time I did not have the video footage, and relied on newspaper articles to describe what had happened on the Montel Williams show that day.

Here now is the promised follow-up article, containing the video and a transcript of the reading.

The Reading

The episode of the Montel Williams show in which the Akers appeared was first broadcast on February 26 2003.

The Akers' segment in the show started with a pre-taped video showing details of Shawn's disappearance, and footage of some of the search efforts. After the video, Montel Williams introduced the Akers, seated in the audience.

(View the video of this reading here. mp4 format, 13mb.)

(Montel) Williams:: Please welcome Shawn's parents, Pam and Craig, to the show. You have done everything--almost everything conceivably possible to at least try to find a clue, something, from organizing search parties and the community has gotten involved, and still yet, not even a whim, is there? Is there any whim at all of what happened?

Craig Akers: There's absolutely no evidence to support any--any kind of theory.

Williams:: He left the house--I'm sorry, he left the house at what time?

Craig Akers: 1:15.

Williams:: And there was some children who said that they saw him at what time? Around 4.

Craig Akers: There's been sightings up to 4:30.

Williams:: But he was only traveling to a friend's house, which was 7/10ths of a mile away, so he could have gotten there in five or six minutes. So what do you think--and--and none of his other friends anywhere in--around saw him--Correct?--between that time.

Craig Akers: No, most--the friends that he played with normally on a regular basis didn't see him that day. There were just some other kids that he normally didn't play with that have seen him.

Pam Akers: ...(Unintelligible).

(Sylvia) Browne: Who does--who did he know, or who do you know of by the name of Keith?

Craig Akers: Keith?

Pam Akers: Is it a kid or an adult?

Browne: No, no, it's a young kid. Because there's somebody by the name of Keith, a blond kid, who saw him after this 4:30 period.

Craig Akers: Doesn't--doesn't ring any bells. We'll have to look into that.

Browne: Well, I'd ask, ask around. 'Cause he doesn't live that far from where the friend is. Do you see what I mean? He wasn't a best friend, but he sort of goes in and out of the group. Because he was picked up in a--in a blue-colored sedan by a guy by the name of Michael, and the last name sounds like (censored).

Williams:: Is this somebody who lives in the area? Somebody passing through the area?

Browne: Somebody passing through the area.

Pam Akers: So it wasn't su...

Williams:: I'm sorry? What was that question again?

Pam Akers: Was it anybody that Shawn knew?

Browne: No.

Williams:: Was he abducted when you say picked up?

Browne: Abducted, yeah. Yeah.

Williams:: He was grabbed.

Browne: Grabbed. Yeah.

Craig Akers: Is there any better description of the vehicle other than just a blue sedan?

Browne: The vehicle is a blue sedan, and I think it's a Chevrolet. It's an older Chevrolet. It reminds me of what I had years ago, you know, sort of with the tail fins on 'em, which was what, around '58, '59?

Williams:: So an old model car.

Browne: Old model car. I think they called them--what were they, Impalas?

Williams:: Could have been Impala.

Browne: Were they Impalas? Yeah, I'm pretty sure it was an Impala.

Craig Akers: Is there any kind of a description of the person driving the car?

Browne: Yeah. The--the guy was dark-skinned, although he wasn't black. He was more Hispanic looking, had real long, dark hair. And strange enough, Hispanic, but he had dreadlocks. He was really tall and really--almost like what you think a basketball player's build would be.

Sylvia Browne telling the Akers that their son is dead

Sylvia Browne telling the Akers that their son is dead

Craig Akers: Can you tell how far from the area he was taken?

Browne: Maybe about 20 miles.

Craig Akers: And he's still within a 20-mile radius even now?

Browne: He's still within a 20-mile radius of--let's say, here's where you are, 20-mile radius, but it's really southwest of where you are.

Craig Akers: Southwest.

Browne: So whatever is Southwest, because it looks like this is--here we go again with the wooded, with the--you know, the wooded areas. So southwest of you.

Pam Akers: Is there any landmarks around?

Browne: Yeah. Strange enough, there are two jagged boulders, which look really misplaced. Because everything is trees, and then all of a sudden, you've got these stupid boulders sitting there.

Williams:: And he could be found near there?

Browne: He's near the boulders.

Pam Akers: Is he still with us?

Browne: [shaking her head] No.

[Pam Akers breaks down.]

Craig Akers: Do you see the bicycle anywhere?

Browne: I think the--see, here's what's strange. I think the--the--the bicycle is in another state in a dump.

Williams:: Let me take a little break. We'll be back right after this.

Anderson Cooper Interview

Anderson Cooper interviewing the Akers

Anderson Cooper interviewing the Akers

In the surge of unwelcome publicity Browne received for her part in the Shawn Hornbeck case, Browne herself granted no interviews of which I am aware. Twice she was asked to appear on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 show, and declined both times. The first time, her staff sent a statement from Browne's business manager. The second, Browne again declined, sending the business manager (Linda Rossi) to speak for her.

On January 22 2007, the first of these two AC360 episodes was broadcast, containing a lengthy story about Sylvia Browne and her connection to the Shawn Hornbeck case. The story's title: Dead Wrong.

Towards the beginning of the story, a clip of Browne telling the Akers that their son is dead is played, after which the following tape of Cooper interviewing the Akers was shown:

(Anderson) Cooper: Thankfully, Shawn Hornbeck was found last week alive and well. His alleged abductor, Michael Devlin, is not Hispanic and he didn't have dreadlocks at the time of the abduction. Browne did say Shawn was abducted by a man named Michael, but she was terribly wrong about the most important detail of all.

Craig Akers: Hearing that was one of the hardest things we ever had to hear.

Cooper: [voice over] The search for Shawn was diverted, according to his parents, based on the misinformation Browne had given, costing the effort valuable man hours. Shawn's parents, Craig and Pam Akers, also say Browne offered to help them for money.

Cooper: [on camera] Is it true she also offered to help for $700?

Craig Akers: Yes, we were told if we wanted to talk with her additionally, that we could at her normal standard fee.

Cooper: And that's $700 an hour?

Craig Akers: I believe that's what it was.

Cooper: [voice-over] In a statement issued today, Browne's business manager wrote, "Sylvia has never charged a fee to any law enforcement person, agency or any individual for her work on a missing person's case and has worked on hundreds of such cases over the years with positive results." The statement goes on to say, quote, "She cannot possibly be 100 percent correct in each and every one of her predictions. She has during a career of over 50 years helped literally tens of thousands of people."

Analysis

Michael J. Devlin, accused of kidnapping Shawn Hornbeck (AP photo)

Michael J. Devlin, accused of kidnapping Shawn Hornbeck (AP photo)

Here is a breakdown of Browne's predictions in the reading, comparing them with reality.

Browne Statement Reality Right/Wrong
A "blond kid" named Keith saw Shawn after 4:30 Unknown Unknown
Abductor's first name Michael Accused abductor's name is Michael Devlin Right
Abductor's last name sounds like [censored] Unknown Unknown
Abductor drove blue-colored 1958 or 1959 car with fins, possibly an Impala Devlin drove a white pickup truck Wrong
Abductor was someone Shawn did not know Unknown Unknown
Abductor was dark-skinned - not black, more Hispanic-looking Devlin is Caucasian Wrong
Abductor had real long, dark hair in dreadlocks Devlin has straight, short brown hair Wrong
Abductor was really tall, built like a basketball player Devlin is moderately tall and stocky Wrong
Shawn was in a 20 mile radius of the Akers' home Shawn was in Devlin's home, fifty miles away Wrong
Shawn was southwest of the Akers' home Devlin's home is northeast of the Akers' home Wrong
Shawn was in a wooded area near two boulders Shawn was in an apartment building Wrong
Shawn was dead Shawn is very much alive Wrong
Shawn's bike was in a dump in another state Unknown Unknown

This gives Browne a score of one prediction known to be correct out of thirteen, giving her a score of less than eight percent correct. This is far lower than the eighty-seven percent accuracy rating she claims for herself.

And she only scored eight percent because I broke down her statement about the abductor into its individual pieces. Had I instead put them together as "The abductor was a dreadlocked, tall, thin Hispanic man named Michael," her score would have been zero percent.

Also, this analysis of Browne's reading assumes that Michael J. Devlin was indeed the abductor, although that has yet to be proven in a court of law.

If we drop that assumption, then all her predictions relating to the abductor go into the "Unknown" category, leaving her once again with a score of zero percentage correct.

It should also be noted that according to the U.S. Social Security Administration, "Michael" is the most popular name for male babies born in the United States over the past fifty years.

Conclusion

As was mentioned in the original article, Browne's "psychic visions" once again added anguish and horrible mental images to the burden already being carried by the parents of a missing child, as well as wasted man-hours for search teams as they tried to follow up on her worthless leads.

The Akers being told Browne would help find Shawn's body for $700 an hour is also very distressing. Browne and her people insist she would never do such a thing, but they also insist she has never charged law enforcement for help, a claim which will be disproved in an upcoming article on this site.

The statement from Browne's staff that "She cannot possibly be 100 percent correct in each and every one of her predictions" was certainly true. From what I have seen, her percentage of correct predictions is extremely low, around that you'd get with simple educated guesses. But even were her accuracy as high as she claims (87%), it seems beyond cruel to tell the parents of a missing child that their child is dead, when you do not know that for a 100% fact.

As soon as any of the predictions currently categorized as "unknown" become known, I will update the article to reflect them.

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