On February 26, 2019, the New York Times published an article by journalist Jack Hitt, featuring the two-year investigation I and my team had conducted on mediums Thomas John and Matt Fraser. These operations were named Operation Pizza Roll and Operation Peach Pit. Also included in the NYT article was a mention of research I had completed on Thomas John’s Lifetime TV show, Seatbelt Psychic. I’m preparing to catch you all up on what has happened since the release of the NYT article. If you aren’t already on board, then jump into the rabbit hole of articles and get caught up. You really need to check out this very fun video done by Holy Koolaid as well (at the time of this writing it has already been viewed 122K times). I’ve linked to the main articles above, but the full fifteen-minute audio, all the screenshots from the Facebook pages, and other interviews I’ve done are linked on my website SusanGerbic.org. Enjoy!
For those who are caught up, this article will be about Thomas John Flanagan, variously known as “Thomas John,” “The Manhattan Medium,” and “Seatbelt Psychic.” I will leave Matt Fraser for another day, as he didn’t get a lot of coverage in the NYT piece, mainly because he would not speak to them. I was told that his manager (who is his mom) would not allow it.
In my opinion Thomas John was quite upset. He obviously knew about the NYT piece as he was quoted in it, and he wasn’t happy about it. And why should he be? He was just caught hot-reading two people in a blind controlled sting. And his television show, Seatbelt Psychic, was revealed to be him driving around a bunch of actors.
Thomas John’s frustration led to a Facebook Live video, which I will discuss. He also posted several times on social media about a “scientifically controlled reading” he had done with a friend. I’m going to be breaking that down for you here. Let’s just say that we have a different definition of “scientifically controlled.”
After the NYT article, I received a flood of media attention asking for interviews and my expertise on stories they were writing about the psychic industry. The New York Times has quite a readership; we not only were on the front page of the NYT, we made the front page of the Drudge Report, and later we appeared in The Week Magazine. I’ve heard from people all around the world, some reaching out asking questions, others with information about Thomas John, and others just congratulating us. It has been a wonderful experience.
The one thing that was made clear to me was that the world is ready for stories such as this. People are sick of reality television and lying cheats getting away without consequences. I speculate that it probably has a lot to do with politics, #MeToo, college admission scandals, and so much more insanity in our faces every day. I don’t think television producers have quite understood this yet, but hopefully in a season or two we will start seeing more real reality shows and less of these scripted “reality” shows.
Oh, and yes, I was approached by at least six production companies wanting to work with me to do a series, movie, or documentary. I let them talk and I listened. They told me all the things I wanted to hear and for the most part I told them that I wasn’t interested, looking at the shows they had produced in the past: Haunted Fish Tank, Paranormal Cheese Bread, Who’s Farting Under The Bed?, Why Don’t You Turn on the Lights Ghost Show—you know what I’m talking about. This is a big reason we are in the mess we are in today. And I explained that to them. Several were honest enough to agree but explained that this is what viewers want. That might have been true in the past, but I don’t think so now.
So, let’s get on to Thomas John.
He seems to be doing quite well, judging from all the emails I receive from him offering me special offers for his personal readings, spirit circles, workshops, events, and so on. I’m on his mailing list you see, not as Susan Gerbic, but I guess he will have to use his psychic powers to tell who I am. This is also true with Matt Fraser and others. I see that Cosmopolitan magazine showed Thomas John’s photo, along with one of my biggest fans, Tyler Henry. Cosmo asks Thomas some very softball questions about mediumship. It was a total fluff piece.
In the Facebook Live video, Thomas John makes many statements that I’ll quote here. It appears that the video was pulled down. Good thing I have a copy of the video.
“Since my reputation is being attacked I want to talk about what can’t be attacked. There’s a YouTube video online which I’m sure this woman [that would be me, Susan Gerbic] will probably find and try to deconstruct and spend hours of her time doing, but anyways, that’s fine. BUT … There is a blind reading that I did online. I told a woman very specific things. The realm of somebody Googled me, somebody went on Facebook, somebody called my mother, well that’s all taken out because I didn’t know anything about her. I didn’t even know her first name. So that’s taken out. So it was a blind reading.”
“I have a 95 percent accuracy rate.”
“I just want to say categorically, NO I do not Google people. NO I do not research people. NO I do not go onto people’s obituaries. I do not go onto Ancestry.com. NO I do not go to the graveyards the night before the readings. All of this nut job stuff.”
“Skeptics cannot run their own experiments okay. They can’t be the sitters … we need unbiased testing. As psychics we need to be open to being tested … .”
Wow that is a lot to be digested.
Let’s start with the statement that he does not Google people. We heard from a lot of people who have had readings from Thomas John in the past and later realized that everything they were told was also on their social media accounts and, in one case, their father’s obituary. If you read the comments on the Holy Koolaid video, you will find people telling stories about their experiences. But we are skeptics, right? We can’t just accept YouTube comments as evidence of anything. Let’s look into this further. I have brilliant researchers on my team, and they came up with quite a lot, too much for this article, but there is this one thing.
Among the swag Thomas John sells on his website are webinar workshops called “Developing the Intuitive Mind.” One of the team members noticed that at one point John’s mouse pointer slips, and he reveals what is on his personal computer screen. The investigator paused the video and collected screenshots. When examined, they are quite enlightening; one is of his Google inbox, which shows five upset customers with their full-names and in one case a phone number. Very interesting.
In Screenshot One, we see he has typed in the Google search box the letters “go” and, as you Google users know, Google will try to help you out with some suggestions … here we see not only a Google alert for himself, but we see two obituaries, one for Holy Missner in Wilmette, IL, in the Chicago Tribune, and another for Phyllis Hudry in the Racine Journal Times from Racine, WI. Maybe these are legitimate Google searches for his personal genealogy project? No, I don’t think so, why would a medium need to go online to research their family history? He can reach out to family members whenever he likes and hear the family stories directly from them.
The second screenshot shows that saved on his reading list a past Google search for Leza Rochelle Verna in Chandler, AZ. It also shows the website intelius.com. According to that website, “It’s a confidential way to find people so you can reconnect or just get more info on a person. People Search reports can include phone numbers, address history, age & date of birth, relatives, and more. Find a person you’re curious about — search today!”
I should mention that psychic readings and webinars aren’t the only products you can purchase from Thomas John’s website. He has a book, guided meditations, healing bracelet, healing candles, psychic remodeling, workshops, a calendar, and a musical called “Dead Serious.” For only $9.99 you can purchase one of these MP3s: Vibrational Enhancer, Grief Buster Meditation, Ancestral Karma Clearing Meditation, Calling All Angels, The Fruit Tree, and the Miracle Mastery Workshop. You can have a psychic pen pal service for only $1,200 or join his Inner Circle for $2,500. Oh, and how can I forget, for only $9.99 you can get a yearly prayer request.
Personal readings are available in several different price ranges based on time, but if you are grieving and in a rush to talk to the dead, he has an Emergency Reading available. I suppose, for the right price it allows you to jump the line.
What is up with this waiting list that so many of these mediums claim to have? A one-year to five-year wait in some cases. Really? How do we know that? Do we get to see the list? The only evidence for this is from the psychic themselves. How much do you want to bet that the person on the wait list will get a call saying, “We had a cancellation for tomorrow, for only an extra $100 we will waive the normal emergency price and have you in contact with your son right away, how does that sound?”
Now let’s get to the item that Thomas John so badly wants me to investigate, the Scientifically Controlled Blind Reading Demonstration. Looking at his social media feed, which of course I follow, I counted seven times he shared this video within a week of the NYT article. Here is an example of him asking for people to share this video:
Before I get into the meat of this scientifically controlled blind reading, let me give you a bit of background.
This was organized by a Facebook friend of Thomas John who runs a parent’s grief organization; this person now also works for Thomas John, doing social media and customer service. One reason I have delayed writing this article was because I had to really think about the ethics of revealing the name of this organization and the people who run it. These grieving parents, the organization they belong to, and the people who run the organization are the prey not the perpetrator.
Everything is public, if you want to investigate; it will only take a few minutes to find everything. I have decided to not link to the video here or mention their names.
My team researched this organization; they operate in many cities and also online. It is a grief group made up of parents, widows, and others who are looking for solace with each other. I have heard from two people who are in this organization about some serious concerns. They explain that the organizers are clueless; they really think you can communicate with the dead. They think they are doing things scientifically and often quote people such as Dr. Gary Schwartz (whom skeptics know is the gold standard of uncontrolled psychic experiments).
The mediums are allowed free access inside these Facebook grief communities, which require admin approval before you are allowed to enter. I’m not aware if it was clear to the families that they would be mixing with these grief vampires or not. Once a medium is inside, they are able to view members’ Facebook accounts and read about their grief and, of course, they can also contact these members. It’s like a piranha being allowed in a pool of fresh meat. The mediums ply their trade and claim that they will be able to help them move past their grief (see insert for one of Thomas John’s upcoming grief events). Keep in mind that psychic mediums are unlicensed and have no formal training to become grief therapists.
The fake names I’m using for telling this story are “Grief Parents” or (GP) for the organization, the lead organizer is “Don,” his wife is “Natalie,” and the sitter is “Joan.”
So, the story is that apparently Thomas John has been doing readings for members of the GP group and was accused of doing hot-readings. (I don’t know who accused him.) Don decided that he would put together a tightly controlled reading, film it, and release it so there was evidence that “[T]here was no possibility of a hot read in this case.”
The control was that the woman chosen as the sitter was not someone in the GP group. Natalie and Don had met her once but he didn’t know her full story apparently. Thomas John would not know who the sitter was until he was signed in for the reading. And Thomas John would only be able to ask the sitter to answer questions with a “yes or no.” Here is what Don says at the beginning of the video: “I was the one that chose the sitter. The sitter is unknown to Thomas, Thomas has had no contact with the sitter. The sitter did not know who the medium was until about five minutes ago when she signed into the Zoom call, so there was no possibility of contact between the two of them. Joan is the sitter today.”
I sincerely think that Don and Natalie think they controlled the reading. I believe that they thought that there was “NO WAY that Thomas John could do a hot-read on the sitter.” I really think that GP is sincere, which only makes this sadder.
First, we are shown Thomas John sitting on a couch looking at his laptop. Joan is sitting in a car; we can clearly see and hear her. Most of the video shows Thomas John on screen, and only sometimes we are able to see Joan. BUT to Thomas John, on his laptop he can see Joan the entire time, which opens up all the feedback a psychic uses to cold-read. Joan believes in communication with the dead, so refraining from giving feedback would be difficult. A believer is going to nod and smile and frown and cry, and someone with a lot of practice such Thomas John will have no trouble reading her like a book.
I quoted Don above saying that the sitter did not know who the medium was until “five minutes ago when she signed into the Zoom call,” which means that Thomas John had at least five minutes knowing her first name.
One of my team members gave me a list of all the hits that Thomas John got during the reading (and there were a lot of them), and then my team member gave me screenshots of Joan’s Facebook page where she posts things that are the same as what Thomas John told her. Another team member took the Google approach, came back with screenshots of Joan’s daughter’s death, the court case, and even legal filings against the people that Joan holds responsible. It was very public and quite a lot of documents, including her daughter’s obituary, yearly memorial, and a scholarship that was opened in the name of the daughter and more.
Now wait a minute, how was my team member able to learn who Joan actually was? What can you do with just a first name, approximate age, and knowing what she looked like? (Remember we can see her on the video.) I asked this same question.
My team member said he went to Don’s Facebook page (it is open), and when he searched for the name “Joan” nothing came up, so he went to Natalie’s Facebook page, which was linked to her husband Don’s page, and then searched for the name “Joan” and within seconds he had Joan’s full name and access to her Facebook page. Once he had that, we had full access to Googling her. And yes, it took just minutes. My team member was able to confirm he had the right Joan because he could match the photos on the Facebook page to the woman in the car getting a reading.
Don states that it is not possible for Thomas John to be able to research someone that quickly, saying “[H]e must have the best memory of any person on the planet.”
Well not really, Don. When you watch the video of this scientifically controlled blind reading, you can see that Thomas John is quite interested in something to the side. We can only see Thomas John from the neck up. He does explain to Joan that he will be “writing something on a pad while he is channeling.” To be fair, Thomas John is quite expressive with his hands and does a lot of looking all over the place. But in a scientifically controlled experiment, this would never be allowed. Not only would he not be able to see the sitter, no feedback would be allowed. And we would know who and what is also in the room with Thomas John during this reading. He says he has a pad of paper next to him for him to “take notes on.” How do we know there weren’t notes already on that paper, or that there isn’t someone quietly sitting beside him writing notes as they scroll though Joan’s Facebook feed in real time? Maybe it is nothing and he really is getting these pretty accurate messages from Joan’s dead family members? What is more likely? What is clear is that this is not how to design the protocol for a scientifically controlled blind reading.
When asked after the reading about how the reading went, Joan was blown away and said, “I have never been with a person who got everything right on, every single thing, there is no way … .” Then Don says this: “I will get in touch with Natalie” so he can get the video to her, as he “did not have Joan’s social media information.” Just one more reminder that Joan is on social media and is his wife’s friend.
One more thing we should discuss. Don has written a blog article about Operation Pizza Roll. Actually it’s not clear he read the articles or listened to the audio of the fifteen-minute recording or viewed the screenshots on my website SusanGerbic.org. He parrots the same excuses that Thomas John gave in his Facebook live video after the NYT article came out.
Thomas John claims that weeks after the reading (but before he knew about the NYT interest) he received an email from a woman sitting behind me at the event. The woman asked if it was possible that I hijacked her reading. She states that she had a brother who passed over from cancer that was in his stomach and all over his body. At some point in his life he had lived in Michigan. His name was Andrew, but they always called him Mike. She had thought about it and was convinced that my twin Andy was really her brother Mike.
Well first of all, we don’t know if this woman really exists. Secondly, why would he bother try to contact her through Thomas John as an Andy when they always called him Mike and his real name was Andrew? Do you have to use your legal name or something on the other side? Was this woman also his twin? Did he pass recently and from pancreatic cancer as my twin Andy did? Was her bother also married to a Maria and they had a dog named Buddy? Did he quit smoking? And what about the spot-on reading of Mark’s father, Steve?
No, I don’t think so. In my opinion, this was just a desperate story told to explain away the hot-reads.
Don probably didn’t take the time to listen or read anything about what happened, choosing to only listen to the story that Thomas John told him. Thomas John, in his Facebook Live video, said that he only read for us for a couple minutes. Oh really, then why do I have the full fifteen-minute reading up on my website?
Thomas also says to his fans, “Examine the evidence yourself,” which I completely agree with. I’m laying out some of the evidence that has come my way since Operation Pizza Roll was published. And I’m happy to share more with anyone that asks. Please, please, please review everything I’ve laid out. Plus, you can go to these videos yourself and examine away. Although Thomas John tells people to “look for yourself,” any links to anything critical that was shared to his social media have been removed. The New York Times article that gives him a lot of press is not listed on the media section of his website. He also hasn’t shared, to my knowledge, anywhere on social media any links to any of these numerous articles.
His fans have asked me to get a reading from him, that it will show me how accurate he really is. Thomas John also tweeted that he will give me a free reading anytime I like. These people really don’t understand they have such a low threshold for evidence. They think there is “no way anyone could know” so if he gets something right, then it must be because he is psychic.
So, to sum up, in my opinion, I think that if Thomas John was unable to find Joan’s social media accounts, then it would have been a cold reading, just using his skill as someone who is very good at giving readings. If it had been a flop, then it would have been a video that almost no one would have known about. Thomas John might have said “I wasn’t at my best that day, can we do it again?” and possibly Don would have agreed as a favor to his friend. Thomas John only wants us to watch this “scientifically controlled blinded sitting” because he thinks it makes him look good.
I and my team will keep watching. We are integrated with his followers on social media, he is interacting with us, and has no idea who is a fan and who is a part of our team. We are still on his mailing list, and he is feeding us names of other mediums that he vouches for. As one example, we now know the name of the “woman in green” mentioned in the Operation Pizza Roll article, it’s Cate Coffelt who calls herself an “evidential medium and psychic”. Interesting … evidence, huh? Thomas John ought to know if Coffelt and others are psychic or not, so when one of them is outed, then what does that say about his special skills?
Thanks everyone for reading; please do your own research. And if you have audio from one of your readings, Thomas John or anyone, please send it my way; I would love to listen and give you feedback. Thank you to Monica Rathbun and Joshua Waitwhat for proofreading.