Life after Death–
Zammit's 'blue-eyed boys.'

Harry Edwards

(Investigator 114, 2007 May)

One of Victor Zammit's favourite blue-eyed boys is John Edward, an American who, in recent times, has become a household name in the business of contacting the spirits of the dead.

Edward performs in live concerts, conducts seminars, is a popular talk show guest, has written books and appears in a TV show called Crossing Over. In the show, he allegedly receives messages from the deceased for their relatives or friends in the audience. His motive according to him is to help the bereaved. The fact that he is also making a lucrative living out of his act is incidental.

His modus operandi is exactly the same as the necromancers, mediums and clairvoyants who have preceded him.

A 'spirit' whose name begins with a randomly selected letter of the alphabet allegedly contacts him. Let's say it's the letter 'J' which could stand among others for Jack, John, Jim or Jeff. As the letter also sounds like a hard 'G' it could also be Geoff, Gerald or George. (Bear in mind the spirit has no vocal cords, the intelligence is travelling over an infinite distance and is subject to atmospheric conditions, hence the alleged difficulty in precisely identifying the name or letter!)

Given an audience of say 200, each of whom would probably have 50 or more relatives, friends and close acquaintances, the odds of someone in the audience knowing somebody with one of the seven names is statistically very high – in this example there are approximately 70,000 chances.

Once it appears that the spirit has been recognised by a member of the audience the patter begins. More questions are asked of the audience than information presented, there is a reliance on statistical probabilities, and guesswork, vague and ambiguous comments abound. Mistakes and incorrect guesses are frequent and quickly glossed over. The spirit does all the talking through the medium; no effort is made to authoritatively establish the identity of the deceased person and the audience participant is not allowed to ask a direct question.

Such fundamental questions as, 'of what are you made/constituted/created/composed and how are you able to articulate without a larynx and vocal cords?' are essential requisites in ascertaining the genuineness of the claim to be a spirit.

There are few hits and many misses and the audience participants only tend to remember the hits. Little if anything is ever forthcoming that can be tested, checked or verified, and certainly nothing 'other worldly.'

Most remarkable to my mind is the coincidence that out of the billions of persons who have passed on over the ages, there are always a few known or related to the audience that seem to have been hanging around just to turn up at the scheduled time of a show!

Let's suppose for a moment that it was possible to communicate with the deceased. Just imagine the difference it would make.

Murder victims would be able to identify their assailants. Mysteries would be solved. The enigma of life would be no more. Contacting the pirates who buried it could unearth fabulous treasures. Executors of wills could ascertain precisely what the late benefactors intended and history would no longer be subject to the whims and persuasions of those who record it. The list is endless.

Let's take look at just one classic example of a mystery that could be solved – that of the Mary Celeste.

On December 4,1872, the Mary Celeste, a 103-foot-long brigantine of some 282 tons, was found by the Dei Gratia abandoned and drifting at sea between the Azores and Portugal. When Captain Moorhouse and the crew of the Dei Gratia boarded the ship, which had been carrying Captain Briggs, his wife, daughter and a crew of eight, it was found to be deserted. Everything appeared to be in order; the only lifeboat had been launched, rather than torn away. From then on, the descriptions of the condition of the ship and the circumstances surrounding the mystery have varied in detail and have undergone embellishment.

Speculation as to what had happened was rife, ranging from murder through a drunken mutiny (the ship was carrying a cargo of alcohol) to insurance fraud. To this day exactly what happened is still a mystery.

An afterlife communication with Captain Briggs, his family and crew would solve the enigma.

John Edward could devote a whole show to interviewing the Briggs family and the crew of the Mary Celeste and solve the mystery once and for all. Of course forewarned is forearmed, and with a little research prior to the show Edward could no doubt come up with an interesting and plausible story. It would however be a construction of his own imagination and who could prove him wrong?

Better still, when next in Australia, John Edward could contact the spirits of missing persons, believed murdered, to locate the remains of their physical bodies. The Bruce Burrell/Kerry Wheelan and the Bradley Murdoch/Peter Falconio cases spring to mind. Some tangible, constructive and verifiable information for a change instead of the usual mundane trivia would bring conclusion and peace of mind to those still mourning their loved ones.

Another of Zammit's 'blue-eyed boys', David Thompson, is promoted as one of the World's Foremost Direct Voice and Materialisation Mediums. He allegedly communicates with the deceased through a 'control' called William who sometimes pops out of a cabinet* and materialises spirits by means of 'ectoplasm' – an ethereal material made popular by fraudulent mediums such as Kathleen Goligher nearly 100 years ago. In her case ectoplasm was exposed as being made from cheesecloth and other very earthly materials.

(*The cabinet is an essential piece of equipment for the act that I will describe in detail later.)

Mr Z reports that on Sunday, March 11, 2006 (Sic) in an 'exciting development', William allowed a red light to be left on in the séance room. This implies that what goes on during Thompson's séances usually goes on in darkness. The usual excuse for the necessity for darkness being that the spirits are sensitive to light (a euphemism for sceptical scrutiny?)

I wonder if there would be any objection to a sceptic being present at one of these séances with a pair of night vision glasses!

In another report dated March 18, 2007, William again allows a dim red light and this time while Thompson was out of the cabinet, three sitters were allowed to check that his gag was still in place. Thompson and William then exchanged a few words. Highlight of the evening was the materialisation of Louis Armstrong (d.1971) who said "hello". Had 'Satchmo' played his trumpet and sung 'Mac the Knife' even I would have been impressed! Does Zammit really expect people to accept this sort of farce as 'empirical evidence'?

If William is what he claims to be then perhaps he can explain how he materialises, de-materialises and travels the universe. Such knowledge would be of inestimable value and would revolutionise the world's transport systems. Just imagine waking in the morning and in the blink of an eye de-materialise oneself and instantaneously reconstitute in the office! No more peak hour traffic or road rage!

Reading through the chronological list of the medium's engagements over the past year or so on Zammit's web-site brought tears to my eyes – tears of laughter that anyone could possibly be deceived so easily by such a transparent act. Like other mediums practising this kind of deception, Thompson is patronised by the bereaved seeking consolation and comfort. Tapes of séances and his conversations with the spirits (his voice only) are available – for a price no doubt.

Other alleged manifestations by the Auckland Spiritual Alliance afterlife team in New Zealand are reported and include Houdini and Dodi Al-Fayed!

Illusionists around the world 'saw people in half', make them 'disappear and reappear' and 'dismember and reassemble them.' Unlike Zammit, who evidently accepts a staged illusion as reality rather than a magic trick, anyone else with an iota of common sense would agree that the performance of an illusion is not 'irrefutable scientific evidence' of an afterlife.

Exponents of this type of illusion date back to the Davenport brothers in the 19th century. Ira and William Davenport were two American mediums who gave séances in America and Britain during the decade 1860-70. They attained a considerable measure of fame and won a great many people to the belief that their performances were genuine spirit manifestations. They were finally exposed as frauds during a provincial tour in Liverpool, UK. Given the technological advances made during the 20th century, one can safely assume that more sophisticated, and in the case of legerdemain, less detectable devices are now available. One can no longer believe that which one perceives is what one sees.

All the tricks used by Mediums in the 20th century, including materialisations, can be read in Joseph Dunninger's Complete Encyclopedia of Magic, Gramercy Publishing Co. N Y. 1987.

Back in 1996 I challenged psychic radio star and clairvoyant magazine columnist Bridget Pluis to substantiate her claim to communicate with the spirits of the dead for a prize of $550,000 – she declined. (Sunday Telegraph, Feb. 25, 1996.) She also claimed to 'console the bereaved' saying, "if you bring them to tears it helps relieve all that pent up hurt." Mrs Pluis forgot to add that she was also relieving members of the audience of an estimated $2,000 an hour! (The Skeptic, Vol.16. [1]) Perhaps the Department of Fair Trading should take a look at such activities.

As an aside, I note not only in the case of Mrs Pluis but every other psychic who claims to speak to the dead, that the spirits contacted all say they have met old friends and that they are happy in their new abode. (Tacitly implying that they are in 'heaven'). Oddly enough, none seem to complain about the heat or the working conditions in 'the other place').

That it is quite easy to call oneself a medium, pose as one and talk to the dead, was amply demonstrated in the May 18, 1987 issue of People magazine. The subject medium claimed to have had a radio transmitter explode in his face, the shock re-aligning his electro-chemically-operated brain circuits. This enabled him to communicate with the dead. He was requested by the magazine to contact various well-known and deceased stars, among them Marilyn Monroe, Rock Hudson, Grace Kelly, John Wayne and James Dean.

This he did quite successfully and the information he received from the stars was reproduced verbatim for the readers. The medium's name? Sceptic Harry Edwards!

On August 26, 1986, I entered the London Sun newspaper's contest to find Britain's top psychic. The contest called for six predictions covering the six months commencing September 3; the results to be announced in March 1987. My entry was based solely on probabilities. The result was announced in The Sun on February 23, 1987. An all-correct entry by a young woman and two runners up with three correct forecasts each raised my suspicions that the protocol involved was not above reproach. I had four spot on and two close enough to be called hits; why did I not get a mention? (I wuz robbed. The Skeptic Vol. 9. [3])

There were other occasions too; once as 'James – the gifted clairvoyant' (The Skeptic Vol. 17 [4]) and again in 'A Skeptic's Dilemma' (The Skeptic Vol. 11 [2]).

Even Zammit admits that there are many fraudulent mediums ripping off the public but how does one determine the genuine from the fake? You can't of course, one's conclusion depends entirely on the persuasiveness of the person making the claim to be a medium/psychic/clairvoyant and a proclivity to believe.

Finally, on page 1 of Mr Z's web-site is a report dated March 16, '07. Under the heading COMMENTARY, the writer spends much of his time denigrating those holding contrary views and variously describes them as, 'armchair critics, cynics, losers, and defeatists who are uninformed, incapable, incompetent, impotent, negatively prejudiced and closed minded.' He challenges these 'cowardly debunking skeptics' to put up or shut up.

Vituperation and sarcasm is a ploy usually resorted to in the absence of reasoned argument and does nothing to advance one's cause whatever that may be.

Erroneous definitions are evident where the writer states: "We, the sitters of the Circle of the Silver Cord"; We are not spiritualists"; and "We are not using religion".

As the sitters in this circle are expecting to see materialisations and receive messages from the spirits through a medium, they are taking part in a séance. According to every dictionary I've consulted this is spiritualism. Those attending séances do so because they seek confirmation of their religious beliefs. Therefore, they are using religion.

As for skeptics being cowards, this smacks of hypocrisy. You'll remember when I challenged Zammit to debate his 'empirical evidence' he declined!

<>* Cabinet. For the benefit of those unfamiliar with 'the cabinet' perhaps this brief description of its function will be of help. Similar to a wardrobe and big enough to hold two people, the cabinet plays an essential part in the charade of materialisation. To the casual observer, the interior of the cabinet appears bare apart from a chair on which the medium sits, sometimes with his hands tied to the armrests.

When a materialisation takes place, the spirit emerges from the cabinet while the medium remains inside. On examination after the materialisation, the medium will appear not to have removed his restraints or to have moved from the chair. On other occasions, both the medium and the spirit emerge together. The séance room is always dark, or at best lit with a dim red light. In the dim lighting and an atmosphere of expectancy, sitters see and believe what they will.

<>The performance begs two questions. Why is it necessary to have dim lighting and why the necessity for a cabinet? Commonsense answers suggest that the dim lighting prevents the sitters from seeing what the medium doesn't want them to see. And the cabinet conceals a multitude of useful appurtenances for use during the act – such items as extension rods, lazy tongs for 'spirit pinching', luminous buttons for 'spirit lights' and musical instruments.

How does the medium get out of his bonds? Simple. An accomplice sitter ties his hands with what's known as 'the fool's knot' – easy to slip off; or the arms of the chair are specially designed to allow one to get free. (The Davenport brothers were caught out when someone other than an accomplice tied the knots!)

Who or what is the spirit? In some cases it's the medium himself, in others it's an accomplice.

<>When a medium manifests a talking spirit it should be incumbent on the materialisation to explain its ability to speak. Speech sounds are the product of a pulmonary airstream as it passes between the vocal cords and through the pharynx, oral cavity and nasal cavity. The sounds are articulated mainly by the tongue, palate and lips and modified by syntax to verbally convey intelligence. What the sitters hear can only be the voice of a living human being.

Logically, the manifestation cannot be what the medium claims to be. We are being asked to believe that the medium has resurrected the dead as a living, functioning human being. It begs the question, why does an ostensibly well-educated and intelligent individual such as Zammit promote such nonsense?

With today's electronic wizardry one could do away with the cabinet and produce a very convincing spirit with a hologram. But most sitters would probably be fooled anyway.

Victor Zammit
challenges "flamboyant, extroverted, closed minded skeptics who use dirty language" for half a million dollars to duplicate David Thompson's materialisations.

Among the fundamental conditions: Neither party will know the location of the venue until two minutes before the materialisation experiment and all sitters and the medium would be tied to their chairs or to each other by experts.

Should the skeptic fail to duplicate the experiment he would be obliged to pay David Thompson half a million dollars. According to Zammit, that's fair, reasonable, just and equitable. Is it?

First, the venue. Who chooses it and what guarantee is there that the medium doesn't know its location or has had prior access to it?

Second, who will be and who chooses the "expert" knot tiers?

Third, who will select the sitters?

Four, why does the medium need sitters anyway?

Although not mentioned, is this materialisation to be performed in the dark or dim light, and will the medium's usual cabinet be in the room? The set-up is far from fair, reasonable, just and equitable for the following reasons.

  • As previously explained, knots that can be slipped are well known to and used by magicians. Trick chairs and the all concealing cabinet are old hat.
  • There is also a simple way of convincing people that they are tied together (or holding hands for that matter) when in fact they are not.
  • A confederate can be hidden in the cabinet, be among the sitters, or enter a darkened room unseen and unheard.
  • The simplest, definitive, easiest and fairest way to determine whether or not David Thompson can do what he claims, is to use a police interrogation room devoid of furniture. Only the medium clad in a pair of speedos to be allowed inside; no sitters are required and no cabinet provided. Any activity can be monitored through the oneway window.

    As the late great racing commentator Ken Howard used to say, "It's London to a brick on" that in those fraud proof conditions, the only manifestations likely to appear would be the sweat on the medium's brow and a red-faced Victor Zammit!