Famous ‘Psychic’ Blindsided

July 10, 2009

For seven years the “internationally known psychic” Rosemary Altea was bilked of roughly $200,000 by her bookkeeper. Apparently the British-born Altea—who bills herself as “The Voice of the Spirit World”—failed to “see” what was happening.

I have followed Altea’s career for years. Like others of the new breed of spiritualists—Sylvia Browne, John Edward, James van Praagh, and others—Altea practices “mental” mediumship. That is, unlike those of yore who produced “materializations” and other fake physical phenomena, thus risking exposure and possible arrest, the new spiritualists merely purport to use psychic ability to contact departed spirits. Typically, they engage in “cold reading,” an artful method of gleaning information from a person, then feeding it back as revelation from the spirit realm.

I was an open-minded skeptic of Altea’s claimed ability when I appeared on a radio program with her, “The Gil Gross Show,” New York, June 15, 1998. I began by inviting her to contact a deceased relative whom I named. Apparently fearing a trap, Altea declined, saying she had nothing to prove to skeptics—a standard response of psychics when challenged. Her evasiveness made me even more skeptical of her alleged powers. (See Joe Nickell,   Real-Life X-Files , 2001, pp. 194, 196).

Altea has claimed success as a psychic sleuth. However, many—including homicide detectives—regard her as a quack. Neither she nor any other psychic helped find the body of missing Washington intern Chandra Levy. Levy’s remains were finally discovered by a dog accompanying its owner on a morning outing.

In 2003, Altea was accused of taking advantage of an elderly Vermont woman for whom she was “spiritual advisor.” The woman rewrote her will twice, finally leaving her entire $720,000 estate to Altea. A probate judge’s decision denied Altea’s inheritance, citing “undue influence” over the woman, but a Superior Court jury decided in Altea’s favor in 2003 (“Jury Decides for Spiritualist,”   Times Argus , March 6, 2003).

In mid 2009, Altea’s former bookkeeper admitted she had bilked the not-so-psychic psychic from early 2001 to mid 2008. The bookkeeper embezzled and diverted up to $200,000 using four credit cards to obtain cash, forging various checks, and providing herself with unauthorized electronic paychecks (Christina Kumka, “Feds: Bookkeeper Steals Fortune from Psychic,”   Rutland Herald , June 11, 2009). Where were Altea’s psychic gifts, the tip-offs from otherworldly witnesses? It’s enough to make one a skeptic.