A psychic claims his paranormal abilities enable him to contact the spirits of the dead.
James Van Praagh
Can James communicate with the dead?
On April 24, 1994, in Burbank, California, a collage of photographs celebrated the brief life of a young man named Don Raskin. One week earlier, the 32-year-old brilliant attorney and accomplished outdoorsman had fallen to his death while climbing Mount Fuji in Japan. Doug’s parents, Sue and Don Raskin, were shattered by his untimely death. Sue searched for answers:
“It just seemed like nobody could comfort us, and one of my relatives had mentioned James Van Praagh, who was a medium, and I kind of picked up on it real fast because I was looking for anything or anybody who could help Don and I at this time.”
But Don wasn’t so sure:
“I couldn’t imagine anybody having the ability to be able to see somebody in another place, and I was very, very skeptical.”
Before their meeting with James Van Praagh, the Raskins gave the psychic no details whatsoever about themselves or their son. Throughout the reading, the Raskins were impressed with Van Praagh’s knowledge of their son’s death, but that wasn’t all that amazed Don:
“When he told us about these events and named all the people that had been gone for many, many years, he was able to get their personalities so right-on. There’s just no possible way.”
James Van Praagh says he’s a clairsentient and clairvoyant:
“I’m an individual who senses feelings and emotions with spirit people, people that pass to the other side. I’m a sensitive. I’m able to pick up their thoughts, and I feel their emotions when they come through. And that’s what I relate to people.”
For the Raskins, any residual doubts that they may have had were erased when Van Praagh spoke of another family tragedy that had occurred 33 years earlier: Sue’s miscarriage:
“I had completely forgot about that, because I was there only for Doug, and I said, ‘What?’ I made him repeat it. He said, ‘Your daughter’s all grown up today.’ I said, ‘Oh, my god, he knows about our daughter.’ Then I became a believer.”
The session brought enormous comfort to Sue and Don, even though Van Praagh was not 100% correct. In fact, Sue felt that he had completely missed the mark when James told them that Doug liked the picture of himself taken at the base of Mt. Fuji. According to Sue, they knew of no such picture:
“Two months after we had been to James, I went to the mailbox and saw an envelope from Japan. I came running into the house…”
As it turned out, Doug’s climbing team had gone back to the spot where their friend perished and found his camera. Inside the package was the exact photograph James Van Praagh had talked about.
Does James Van Praagh have genuine psychic abilities that allowed him to communicate with the dead? Unsolved Mysteries invited 10 people to a session with Van Praagh. None had ever seen or talked with him before. They all hoped, however, to make contact with specific loved ones who had passed away. The session lasted several hours.
Van Praagh was unaware that a skeptic had been planted in the group. The man, Professor Michael Shermer, investigated claims about psychic phenomena:
“Van Praagh is a mentalist. A mentalist is a magician doing an act. He’s doing what we call “cold reading.” You meet somebody you’ve never seen before and you tell them things about them. You start general, you throw things out rapid-fire, you watch their facial expressions to see if you’re getting hits or misses. When you get a miss, you go right on to the next thing. When you get a hit, you follow that ‘til the end, until they start saying no again. And then you go to the next thing. And you keep doing that.”
Van Praagh explained how his abilities worked:
“The reason I ask yes-or-no questions is, number one, I am also very human. I have to validate that what I’m getting from the spirit is indeed on the right level with this individual I’m speaking with. I want to make sure the spirit person is coming through right. The information is correct.”
Stan Wheel attended the séance with his wife, Theresa. They intentionally sat on opposite sides of the room. The Wheels came to the session hoping to find out about their 19-year-old son Kevin, who had been innocently gunned down by gang members in a drive-by shooting in 1991. Though Stan was skeptical, Theresa was amazed by the reading:
“He said, ‘I see a big K.’ And the first name he said was Kevin. You can’t get that off of just being in a room. It was just amazing. I think he’s wonderful, absolutely wonderful.”
Skeptic Michael Shermer explained how Van Praagh knew about the Wheel’s son:
“First of all, she had her son’s ring on. Big black ring with a K in diamonds on this ring, on the necklace around her neck. Now, maybe he saw that, maybe he didn’t. I don’t know. I was watching her eyes. She starts crying. Her eyes are like saucers. And he already knows it’s her son that died. The two most common names for boys starting with a K are Ken and Kevin. He says, ‘Ken or Kevin?’ she says, ‘Kevin.’ Bingo, Kevin. Now she’ll run home and tell everybody, ‘He got my son’s name right just like that, and I didn’t tell him.’ No, he didn’t get it.”
However, Theresa claimed Van Praagh could not have seen the ring because she kept it hidden in her dress. But perhaps disagreements about details are beside the point. Six of the ten participants felt Van Praagh correctly identified the people that they had hoped to contact, and most felt a sense of comfort and healing. For Van Praagh, that’s enough:
“When one realizes there is a life after death, it indeed will change their life and how they live on the earth and how they treat each other. And that is really my most important belief, my mission.”
Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season seven with Robert Stack and in season eight with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.