Sylvia Browne claims to talk with dead people.
And, according to the self-proclamed psychic, they talk to her too.
Five years ago, Craig and Pam Akers, the parents of Shawn Hornbeck, went on the Montel Williams show to see if Browne could give them fresh clues about what may have happened to their missing son. The show aired four months after Shawn's disappearance.
"Imagine your loved one vanishes without a trace," said Williams during the opening segment of his show. "Who do you turn to for some answers? Well, we called the right person and they're here to help. Please welcome the world-renown psychic Sylvia Browne."
Browne entered the room to standing applause and Williams kissed her on the cheek.
After helping Browne sell her book, Williams introduced the Craig and Pam Akers, then played a taped segment about Shawn's disappearance.
Immediately following the report, Williams introduced the Akers.
"There's absolutely no evidence to support any kind of theory" about what happened to Shawn, according to Craig Akers.
Desperate and willing to try almost anything, the Akers decided to see if Browne could help.
Here are her claims, if her revelations were TRUE or FALSE and what really happened:
1. Shawn was dead.
FALSE Four years later, Shawn was found alive in an apartment in Kirkwood.
2. Shawn was "picked up in a blue colored sedan. It's an older Chevrolet. Sort of with the tail fins on them, which was what 58, 59."
FALSE Shawn's kidnapper forced him into a pickup truck.
3. The kidnapper "was a guy named Michael" who was "passing through the area."
TRUE The kidnapper, Michael Devlin, lived in Kirkwood.
However, Michael has also been one of the most popular names in the United States for decades, according to the Social Security Administration, which means if the kidnapper wasn't named Michael he probably had a friend or close contact with that name. In other words, it was a safe bet.
It also seems logical that the kidnapper was from out of town. If he lived in the small community of Richwoods, it would have been much easier to find Shawn.
4. The kidnapper "was dark-skinned, although he wasn't black. He was more Hispanic looking. He had real long, dark hair....and he had dreadlocks."
FALSE Michael Devlin is white. He had a scraggly beard, short hair and did not wear it in dreadlocks.
5. Shawn was within a "20 mile radius" of his home in Richwoods and could be found in a wooded area "southwest of where you are."
FALSE Shawn was found nearly 50 miles northeast of Richwoods. He was living with Devlin, and recently kidnapped Ben Ownby, in Devlin's apartment in Kirkwood.
6. There were prominant landmarks in the wooded area where Shawn's body could be found. "Strangely enough there are two jagged boulders, which look really misplaced," she told the Akers. "Everything is trees, then all of a sudden you've got these stupid boulders sitting there. He's near the boulders."
FALSE Again, Shawn was found in an apartment.
When Sylvia Browne arrived at a St. Louis hotel Saturday night, I asked her if there was anything she wanted to say to the parents of Shawn Hornbeck.
The legendary self-proclaimed psychic looked very uncomfortable and quickly responded "No, no, no."
The woman who claims to talk with the dead and has always been eager to share her insight to strangers on almost any subject, still refuses to answer questions about her most controversial case.
Shawn's parents politely declined to talk about Browne or her claims about their son.
Sylvia Browne's involvement in one of America's most famous missing child cases speaks for itself.
I've provided several links in this blog, including one for Sylvia Browne. However, after reading numerous e-mails from our viewers I decided to provide two additional links for websites operated by Robert Lancaster and James Randi, her two most vocal critics. Both men have been following her for a long time and are skeptical of her alleged psychic powers.
The information in our story, and my blog, was taken directly from the Montel Williams show, then compared with various media reports, mostly the coverage of KMOV. I also used websites operated by Browne, Randi and Lancaster. However, KMOV covered the Hornbeck case extensively and our files provided the overwhelming majority of information in my report.
Randi and Lancaster were very helpful. Unfortunately, as you know, Ms. Browne and her staff never cooperated with us and Ms. Browne granted us only a very brief interview as she arrived at her St. Louis hotel.
I encourage anyone interested in our story to read all of the links.
Clearly, our story about Sylvia Browne has touched the nerves of many supporters and critics.
I appreciate the feedback from everyone.