Grief Vampires – An Update

Susan Gerbic

I am often asked why we are still fighting the same old fight with these psychics. Why won’t they go away when we have exposed them over and over again? It is frustrating; they do seem to be everywhere. But I think we are seeing some hope.

Data shows that the psychic world is a multi-billion-dollar business, at least from self-reported numbers. I expect it would be in the tens of billions if we could track all the cash sales and even more if we counted the numerous scams in which victim lose their life savings. See here for a Skeptical Inquirer article and an online presentation by Rob Palmer on this very subject.

Private investigator Bob Nygaard, who specializes in psychic fraud, told me in a recent interview that he is busier than ever. People write to him every day asking for help.

Journalists Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken researched the Maria Duval psychic scam and wrote the book on it, A Deal with the Devil: The Dark and Twisted True Story of One of the Biggest Cons in History. In it they expose the multi-decade crimes of Duval’s handlers. Probably many billions of dollars have been lost.

And yet I still do not think it is as bad as we fear. Don’t get me wrong; it is still very bad. And taken collectively, the psychic business is still huge.

What I feel is shrinking are the days of the specific psychic mediums that we associate with mediumship. Names such as Theresa Caputo, John Edward, Tyler Henry, Thomas John, Matt Fraser, Chip Coffey, and others have less and less market share. They are fighting for existence in a sea of pop-up psychics who can appear with no overhead on Facebook and using Zoom and YouTube Live to interact with sitters all over the world.

Cold reading is a skill that gets better with practice, but many of these sitters don’t notice how bad the readings are from these new psychics. Hot reading is simple when the psychic already has the person’s social media information in front of them.

Websites are cheap to produce, YouTube channels are free, and creating social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever else are also free. They don’t need administrators, accountants, licensing, agents, or publicists. A great deal of psychics’ income is probably not even reported. It’s tax-free money. They can manage everything themselves, working when they want and where they want. All they need is an internet connection.

The stage psychics, those who claim to communicate with the dead, are my specialty. We call them grief vampires. And this is my prediction: their days are numbered. They will continue to be given the stage, the TV shows, even a Vegas gig on occasion. But they can’t keep the fame for long; it’s a dog eat dog world out there, and there is always someone fresher, prettier, funnier, or younger with some new angle that the sitters will gravitate toward.

Social media is facilitating this. If your grief vampire seems a bit off, snarky, or seems to be losing their freshness and shine, there is another one only a click away.

How do I know this?

I’ve been following these grief vampires for years. Occasionally, they get a break and something great comes their way—but not for long. There are those of us in the skeptic community who are doing our best to make their lives uncomfortable. The last thing they want is attention from us. Like fictional vampires, they fear sunlight; they don’t want it to illuminate their methods. Their very presence on social media facilitates our work to expose them. We can create our own fake social media accounts, follow them around, leave some tantalizing bait on our Facebook pages, and with a bit of patience (just like what is needed while fishing) they may just bite. And then we can expose them for the hot readers that they are.

Cold readers, which are more common, also get their share of attention from the skeptic community. It takes a bit of patience, some transcribing, and many hours watching them give readings. But with some effort, they have also received some sunshine from us.

So, Susan, what’s your evidence that all this exposure has helped mark the end of careers?

I’ll make my case using one of the top websites in the world: Wikipedia.

The Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW) project has been writing and monitoring the Wikipedia pages of these grief vampires for a few years, and trust me: fans visiting these pages will get an eye full. There isn’t anything malicious, unkind, or against the rules of Wikipedia on these pages. The same rules apply to any biography of a living person, be it a scientist or a psychic.

Let’s look at some numbers.

Starting with someone whose career as a grief vampire I was able to watch from beginning: Tyler Henry, the Hollywood Medium. He came out of nowhere with massive media attention for his show that premiered in January 2016. I was on him right out of the gate, as I knew people would be learning about him for the first time, and there would be a lot of interest in who he was. I wanted to make sure they had something to find. A Wikipedia article was created, and the GSoW team improved it with notable articles from researchers. Some pure fluff Hollywood stories are there for readers to find as well. I’ve written ten articles for the Skeptical Inquirer website about Henry detailing how he appears to communicate with the dead. The Wikipedia page for Tyler Henry now tells the whole story, and we have found direct quotes from this article repeated in other media writing about him. And they aren’t positive quotes. So, we know that the media is using this Wikipedia page for research.

But, Susan, what about the numbers you promised us?

Exhibit A:

These are the Wikipedia page views for Tyler Henry from thirty days, July 2–August 1, 2020. We see 13,882 page views, or 448 views daily. Those are okay numbers, I guess, but not bragging numbers.

For comparison, Bill Nye in the same time frame is at 204,599 views, a 6.6K daily average. And Bill Nye doesn’t claim to communicate with the dead. Just imagine if he did that on top of the other things he’s known for!

Now let’s look at Tyler Henry’s page views since the beginning of his career.

The Wikipedia page has been viewed 2,401,303 times. Impressive … I guess. But each of the spikes happened when the show was airing. People were only interested in learning more about him when he was in front of their faces on TV.

Henry didn’t predict the pandemic, and in fact he put out a tour schedule through May 2021, postponing all the venues closed down because of COVID-19. That might have been valuable to know ahead of time. In fact, his website doesn’t give any indication for when we will be able to meet in person again. How can he not know this? I suppose there won’t be another season of The Hollywood Medium recorded because he isn’t going to be back in Hollywood for quite some time. I’m no psychic (who is?), but maybe there is a new show right around the corner for Henry? We will just have to wait and see.


Next up: the Long Island Medium Theresa Caputo.

She seemed unstoppable: sold out arenas, TV show, crystal shoes …

Well here are the Wikipedia pageviews: from July 1, 2015–August 1, 2020 there were only 1,534,816 views. That’s just 826 views a day on average. Tyler Henry had more attention. Theresa is also still doing live shows, or at least she was until COVID-19 happened—an insignificant event she had no reason to foresee and warn us about.

Here is John Edward during the same time frame. At least he has some consistent numbers. The daily average is 558 views: 1,036,897 from July 1, 2015–August 1, 2020. No wonder he also is on tour, or at least was on tour. Just like Tyler Henry, he scheduled shows during the pandemic, an event he didn’t foresee coming.

Next up: Chip Coffey, star of Operation Bumblebee. He seems to be making a comeback doing para-conferences. Check out his Wikipedia page. You gotta love this, because there is only one correctly licensed photo of Chip on WikiMedia Commons; that is all the Wikipedia editors are allowed to use. And it’s of Chip and Suzanne Wilson (which is me in a fake persona). While his pageview numbers are up, they aren’t all that impressive. From July 1, 2015–August 1, 2020 there were only 187,843 pageviews. That’s just 101 views per day on average. Not very impressive for someone communicating with dead people.

Now let’s look at grief vampire Matt Fraser. This star of Operation Peach Pit has seen recent success with the January 2020 show Meet the Frasers. His Wikipedia page views began on September 30, 2019, and through August 1, 2020, are a weak 129,679. That’s only 422 views a day. This is for a person who just released a TV show a few months ago. Unimpressive!


And lastly, let’s examine one of my favorite grief vampires, Thomas John. He is the star of Operation Pizza Roll, and I’ve had such a blast researching his methods: ten online Skeptical Inquirer articles so far. He is the gift that keeps on giving. In June 2020, CBS All Access released a new TV show called The Thomas John Experience and began hyping it in the media. So how is he doing fame wise? Are thousands flocking to know who this amazing medium is?

Well … not so much. On the day of his show’s release, he received an unimpressive 1,800 page views. Waa Waa Waa.

Here are the stats for the Wikipedia page views from December 30, 2018–August 1, 2020: only 72,330 views. I seriously think a majority of these views are from skeptics trying to learn who the heck this person is that Susan Gerbic is always writing about and mentioning in her lectures. The big spike you see in Feb 2019 is unquestionably due to the New York Times story that exposed John’s methods, uncovered in a sting, written by reporter Jack Hitt: “Inside the Secret Sting Operations to Expose Celebrity Psychics.”

So, in conclusion, I believe that what we in the skeptic community have been doing has helped toward exposing specific grief vampires. They can’t hide; they have to use social media, television, and YouTube to continue getting eyeballs, but we can review all of these places. We can infiltrate their world. In many cases, we are still there interacting with them, and they can’t tell we are fake accounts—because they aren’t psychic.

These Wikipedia page views might seem impressive, but think about it. These people are claiming to be able to communicate with the dead. That’s a serious claim. If they really could, they wouldn’t be talking about how grandma liked to work in the garden with a big floppy hat. As Mark Edward tells us all the time: if they could really communicate with the dead, they wouldn’t be on a stage at the local casino. They would be either hiding their abilities from the world, huddled in a corner of their room, or they would have been spirited away by one of the governments of the world, locked up in an undisclosed location with electrodes implanted in their brain, ordered to reveal the most important secrets of enemy governments.

Every ray of light we shine on their methods is daylight that these vampires don’t want. When we investigators write up (or make videos of) our research, sometimes it can be used as a citation on their Wikipedia pages. Once there, it is available for all their fans, the media, and the curious to find. The rules of Wikipedia are the rules for all. The moment one of these people scores a positive test in a double-blind scientific study, then I’ll be the one adding that amazing fact onto their Wikipedia page. But alas, we are all still waiting.

Mediumship isn’t going away, and belief in psychics isn’t fading either. The industry is profitable, and unfortunately networks are happy to produce these reality-like TV shows for us to watch. That isn’t going to change for a very long time. Maybe it will change when our society starts demanding content that is based on reality. Maybe it will change when we start teaching our children to think critically starting in elementary school. Maybe it will change when we start appreciating the methods of science and learn about the heroes behind the scenes who are the engineers of our future, saving our environment and future generations.

We still have a lot of work to do, but we are making progress. Don’t give up hope; we are making great strides. This look at the Wikipedia stats of these grief vampires shows us that people grow tired of them once they leave the TV screen. They look for the next thing. Unfortunately, it might be premiering on Netflix right at this very moment

Would you like to join our Wikipedia editing team? We train and mentor. Find out more on our website (www.GSoWproject.org).

  • Want to read more about the Guerrilla Skeptic’s investigations into grief vampires? It’s all here waiting for you.
  • Do you want to play around viewing Wikipedia page stats like the examples I’ve included? Well, here you go. Have fun. Remember whatever page you want to look at needs to be written exactly as the title appears on Wikipedia.

Acknowledgment

Thanks to Rob Palmer for his proofreading skills.

Susan Gerbic

Affectionately called the Wikipediatrician, Susan Gerbic is the cofounder of Monterey County Skeptics and a self-proclaimed skeptical junkie. Susan is also founder of the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW) project. She is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and writes for her column, Guerilla Skepticism, often. You can contact her through her website.