Operation Tater Tot: Following Up On A Grief Vampire

Susan Gerbic

Image from the movie Nosferatu

At the time I wrote the “Grief Vampires Don’t Come Out Only at Night” article for Skeptical Inquirer, January 21, 2016, I wasn’t really thinking of making Tyler Henry a “project” but since the article came out and a few weeks have passed, it has morphed into something that others in past psychic operations have become involved in, and it looks like it will be something I will be working on for the foreseeable future. To keep it on the level of past psychic engagements, Operation Bumblebee and Operation Ice Cream Cone, this new installment will be called Operation Tater Tot. It’s only been a few weeks, but I have received some updates and a lot of support, as I feel like we are all on this journey together, I would like to report back. If you have not already read the first article, now would be a great time to do that.

As I stated, I had never heard of Henry and wrote the article at the same time I was learning who he was. Prior to Hollywood turning him into a psychic star, he was known by his real name, Tyler Koelewyn. Henry, I suppose, is his middle name.

A quick recap:

I was approached by a local woman who had read about the Monterey County SkeptiCamp we held January 2016; she watched a lot of TV and rarely used the Internet and wanted to know my thoughts about a very young man that the E! Network was promoting as the “real deal.” That man was twenty-year-old Tyler Henry, who came out of nowhere to have his own TV show called Hollywood Medium. I sat down to do some research not knowing what kind of show it was, after-all it is showing on an entertainment channel. I was not sure if this was a case of someone playing the part of a psychic, all for fun, or if this was someone who was playing it for real? As soon as he started talking about his ultimate goal of counseling parents whose children had committed suicide, I knew I was looking at a grief vampire in training.

I felt that we had a unique opportunity to educate beyond the skeptical community, but only if we acted quickly. My plan was to get the article published online before his TV show was aired. I wanted people learning about him for the first time, to find more than the fluff pieces that I was finding. Because he was unknown, he had no baggage, and only positive articles from a very aggressive Hollywood media publicity campaign. His handlers had him giving readings to celebrities on the E! Network: Kim Kardashian, Jamie Pressly, Bella Thorne, Tom Arnold, Margaret Cho, and more.

When doing research for the article I wrote for SI, I discovered that the deadline had moved up a couple days; he had already shot an interview with Dr. Phil, and according to Henry’s Facebook page, was going to be endorsed on the Dr. Phil Show. I knew I had to get my article out in time for that.

I was a bit worried that my article wouldn’t rank high enough in the Google rankings when people started searching for “Tyler Henry” or “Hollywood Medium.” So I asked several of the most prominent bloggers in our community to lend a hand, do their research, and publish online articles before the Dr. Phil show aired. After consulting with Tim Farley who helped with some ideas on how to force my SI article to higher Google rankings, I asked for other’s help. Everything worked like a charm. As busy as these people are, they still dropped what they were doing and came together to help. Hemant Metha writing on Friendly Atheist blog from Patheos responded first with his article.

Quickly followed by Sharon Hill from Doubtful News, Jerry Coyne from the Why Evolution is True blog, Steven Novella from Neurologica from the NCSS blog, and David Gorski from Respectful Insolence on Science Based Medicine blog. Next round was Caleb Lack, Great Plains Skeptic, writing from Skeptic Ink blog network and finally Stephen Propatier writing for Skeptoid.

So let’s just stop here for a minute. I managed to pull together some of the top bloggers in the skeptical community all united for one task, just to help push my Skeptical Inquirer article higher in the Google results and hope that people searching for Tyler Henry’s name on an Internet Search Engine would find more than fluff articles about him. We wanted to address the “What’s the Harm?” question right up front and explain to people that this is not harmless fun, it is not entertainment. It is Hollywood making a grief vampire that if left unchecked could become the next John Edward or Sylvia Browne, and we know how much trouble they have caused over the years.

Think about what we achieved. In this community filled with train-wreck drama every time you turn around, it’s great to see that at least there is a group of us that see the enemy, and it is not us. If nothing else happened, just the actions above were enough of a success to make the whole thing worthwhile.

I want to add that besides these bloggers there is a network of skeptics across the world that is working with me, that honed their chops during Operation Bumblebee and Operation Ice Cream Cone. So when Tyler Henry preemptively blocks me from his Twitter account (which he did, even though I had not sent him a Tweet, and which proved that he had looked me up obviously he had seen the SI article), I am still able to see all his posts. Some of our team are within his borders; we know how to behave like true believers. We are invisible, but no worries, Henry should have no problem using his psychic powers to find out who is friend or foe.

The goal was to get these articles out before the Dr. Phil endorsement on January 23. We knew that if we weren’t aware of Henry, neither will most of the audience. My goal was to get these articles out so that viewers would have something to read that wasn’t all fluff and Hollywood hype. And we succeeded with that task.

For a time we were able to see some odd results when checking what was coming up in Google searches. Hemant’s article was ranking pretty high, on page one of the search results for many hours. Currently the SI article is on page 3 of an Internet search.

When I wrote the SI article, I stated that Henry had 10,046 Facebook Likes and 7,130 Twitter followers. Those numbers were pre-Dr. Phil (which was before Henry’s TV show was released).

So after three shows have aired, what are the numbers? Facebook went from 10K to 49,307 and Twitter went from 7K to 31K followers.

That is a pretty big gain percent wise. But to put it in perspective, this is the person that E! Network is claiming is the “real deal” and they have given him two more shows. This is a TV personality, and he just came back from Australia where he was promoting the show along with a few of the other celebrities. Grief vampires John Edward and Chip Coffey have endorsed him. And he only has 50K Facebook likes and 30K twitter followers?

Tweet from Tyler Henry to Chip Coffey

Here is more perspective. The SGU has 41K Twitter followers, Jerry Coyne has 27.2K, Skeptical Inquirer has 30K, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson has almost 5 million followers. Of course Tyler Henry is only twenty and sprang on the scene a few weeks ago. Time will tell; it will be interesting to track these changes over time.

Last, I wanted to show you this. I went back and forth on if I should or should not create a Wikipedia page for Tyler Henry and finally decided not to. What happened was that some editor that normally does not write on skeptical topics, and that I do not know, wrote the page.

I love this line he added: “He reportedly had his first psychic experience at the age of 10, when he woke and told his mother that his elderly grandmother, who had cancer, was about to die and that they should immediately leave to see her. The sensation was ‘almost like a memory that hadn’t happened yet.’ His grandmother’s death was confirmed a few minutes later with a telephone call.”

His elderly grandmother with cancer died and he knew it was going to happen… WOW that’s some psychic experience.

The really good news is that this Wikipedia article is trending on the first page of Google results, right under Tyler’s twitter URL. We could not ask for better ranking. As the world wants to know more about Tyler Henry, they will learn all that is written by noteworthy people publishing from noteworthy sites. Fluff and Criticism, as it should be. After one month of being published, the Wikipedia page has received 51K views. So obviously it is being accessed.

It might be too early to gauge results yet. And while I sound a bit flippant that these numbers are pretty mild for someone who reportedly can communicate with the dead, and has his own TV show, he should not be taken lightly. His numbers are increasing pretty steadily after each show and while he is not even a tiny star, there is potential if left unchecked.

You might have seen that video of the Inside Edition takedown of psychic Laurie McQuary that has been all over Facebook the last few days. Everyone seems to be talking about it. Turns out it this sting was from 2011 but suddenly it is hot news. The Internet is a funny animal; something posted today might catch the eye of other news agencies, maybe even Inside Edition might take a look. They worked with Mark Edward on an investigation of Theresa Caputo in 2012 after all and might be interested in Tyler Henry as well.

Since the SI article came out, I have been receiving some very interesting correspondence. One man felt that I should sit down with Henry over coffee and see if he is the real deal or not. I explained that there was no way I would be able to fairly evaluate him over a cup of coffee. Even if I discovered clear evidence of cheating, that would mean little to believers. Henry could just claim that he planted that evidence in order to see what my reaction would be. Or he could say that he sometimes cheats in order to get a little “help” when he is having a bad day, or…or…or…or…and on and on with the excuses. What people need to understand is that it is NOT my responsibility to disprove Tyler Henry or any other psychic. The burden of proof lies in the person who is making the extraordinary claim to prove they have the ability they claim to have.

We in the skeptic community understand this. What needs to happen is that the rest of the world understand this. Why would someone ask to see some sort of evidence of qualifications from your heart surgeon, contractor, or mechanic, but these same people give a pass to someone who says they can communicate with the dead? I just don’t get it. Has the world always been this stupid? This is 2016; we have sent robots to Mars and have just discovered evidence of gravitational waves, and yet a percentage of the world still thinks that someone claiming to see dead grandma walking around the garden with her hat on is somehow evidence of life after death. They blindly trust the psychic, probably because they want to believe. It’s just that simple.

If psychic detectives are among us, then why do they never seem to solve crimes, or prevent them? They can hear someone playing with change (or is that keys) in their pocket, (does that mean anything to you?) but they can’t find one single missing child? Ali Lowitzer got off her school bus on April 26, 2010, in Texas and started walking the few blocks to her part-time job at the Burger Barn to pick up her check. Nothing has been seen or heard in almost six years. Why are Tyler’s fans not calling for him to tell this grieving family what happened to their daughter, and with specifics? Instead, they are sending him kisses and praising his readings with celebrities. Sierra LaMar went to her bus stop one morning on March 16, 2012, in California and has not been found, though every weekend volunteers search for her body. It’s been almost four years. If alive, she would be almost the same age Tyler is now, yet why isn’t he telling the police where to find the body instead of chatting with comedian Margaret Cho about the “energy” of Robin Williams? How disgusting is this situation?

And to answer the questions I receive most often, why do I persist in working to educate the public about these grief vampires, and what do I have against Tyler Henry?

Tyler Henry is one of many of this ilk; he has the potential to wiggle into the hearts of viewers “what a sweetheart he is, looks like an angel, what a gift he has” and while that is annoying to watch this battle, I harbor no ill-will against him personally. I think once the disclaimer contracts expire, Henry will be able to cash in on a tell-all book. But in the meantime if I don’t speak up and encourage the rest of the community to do so, then they win. While it seems like these grief vampires are popular and everywhere, the comments I read on articles outside his Facebook and Twitter pages give me hope that we are not as stupid as Hollywood thinks we are.

Just a reminder, do you remember Rosemary Altea? The British “fuzzy sweater” medium that is all over the media with filled stadium shows and years long waiting list to get thousand dollar personal readings? What you don’t remember her? The one that Penn & Teller on their Pilot Episode “Bullshit” hired mentalist Mark Edward to expose. After that aired, she continued on, appearing on Larry King Live with James Randi, until 2009 when her accountant embellished over $200,000. Pressure, exposure, and the media’s help can make a difference.

Yes, it is whack-a-mole in the world of the grief vampire. But I’m optimistic. Maybe I’m wrong and am wasting my time, but then again I wouldn’t know, I’m not psychic.

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.