Several years ago the "Late Show with David Letterman" had a recurring sketch called "Psychic Sandwich," in which Deborah Lynn, a self-described "intuitive," tried to intuit the sandwich being made by Rupert Jee, of Hello Deli. She never got it. Everybody laughed, and nobody got hurt.
Tune into the "Primetime Nightline: Beyond Belief" special "Psychic Power," airing on Wednesday, Aug. 17 at 10pm/9c on ABC
But when psychics leave lunch meat and enter criminal justice, they're often wrong. Here are four examples.
Grave Error: This past June saw potentially the largest police investigations ever in Liberty County, Texas. A woman called in with an alarming tip: Dozens of dead bodies, she said, some of them children, were buried outside a rural home.
Federal agents joined the search. Media trucks gathered. Locals fretted. All this time, money, energy and attention were wasted: The tipster had no hard knowledge but was rather a psychic with a vision that did not match up with reality.
Lisa Stebic: In 2007 Lisa Stebic, a 37-year-old mother of two, went missing. According to LiveScience.com, a psychic came forward saying Stebic's remains were in a nearby state park. Bones eventually were found, but they were of a deer. Stebic has never been found.
Sylvia Browne: Sylvia Browne is a "spiritual teacher and psychic" whose latest book is titled "Afterlives of the Rich and Famous." She claims to be able to communicate with the dead -- directly and via her spirit guide, Francine -- a service for which grieving families hire her.
In 2002 Browne appeared on "The Montel Williams Show" with the parents of Shawn Hornbeck, an 11-year-old Missouri boy who had disappeared on Oct. 6 of that year. She told them Shawn was dead and described his kidnapper as having dark hair and dreadlocks. In January 2007 Shawn was discovered, along with another abductee, in the apartment of Michael J. Devlin, in Kirkwood, Mo. Not only was Hornbeck alive, Devlin had neither dark skin nor dreadlocks.
Linda Rossi, Browne's business manager, said "Sylvia has always said she's not God, she's not 100 percent correct." She said Browne has been correct in other cases, such as telling Paula Zahn in a TV appearance that Chandra Levy would be found "in a wooded area."
"With a doctor or lawyer, do you throw out a whole career over one terrible mistake?" she said.
Atlanta Murders: In 1979-80 around a dozen black children were murdered in Atlanta. According to her obituary in The New York Times, Dorothy Allison gave the police 42 names of possible killers. None were Wayne or Williams. A man named Wayne B. Williams was eventually convicted of the crimes. In Allison's defense, she did provide police with accurate information in other cases, and she told the Times: "If you asked me if I believe in psychics, I'd say no -- only very few."