Virginia Levy's unsuccessful "$1,000 Challenge" effort and the extent to which
she maliciously lied to the reporter for this 8/8/2008 St. Petersburg Times article.
See here for our corrective Letter to the Editor (published 8/15/2008).
On September 19, 1998, at the appointed hour and not a moment sooner (thus leading to some momentary trepidation), Titusville's self-styled "psychic/prophet" Virginia Levy arrived at the downtown Tampa Main Public Library to demonstrate one of her paranormal abilities for the TBS "$1,000 Challenge." Witnesses present in the auditorium included members of TBS, a reporter for the Tampa Tribune (see his article), several students from the University of South Florida, and Levy's young daughter. And just as we at TBS had predicted, Levy failed to demonstrate any evidence of her alleged powers.
The controlled test of "psychometry" (reading the vibrations of objects) involved locating the box into which, moments earlier, she had placed her own object (a tiny "crystal stone"). Ten small cardboard jewelry boxes were placed before her, one of which contained the stone, the rest empty. The boxes had been mixed such that no one in the room could possibly know which contained the stone, unless the person possessed "psychic" power.
To facilitate her reading of the vibrations of their contents, Levy was permitted to place her hands near, and even touch (without rattling) the boxes. Once she made her selection, that box was so marked, all ten boxes were placed securely aside (still closed), and a second run was performed with another stone and set of boxes. The results would not be revealed until the completion of the final run.
In all, seven such runs were conducted, with the probability of success in any given run being 1:10 without benefit of "psychic" power. The probability of being correct all seven times by chance were 1:10,000,000 (1:10 to the 7th power) and, as per the "Challenge" protocol signed by Levy and TBS just prior to the first run, Levy was required to succeed all seven times in order to win.
During most of the runs, Levy did not get within a foot or more of the boxes as she psychically scanned them. She chatted and joked throughout much of the test, and at one point professed that, regardless of the results, she would leave the auditorium just as confident of her "psychic" powers as before.
After the final run was concluded, Tribune reporter Sean Ledig, who had earlier been mutually agreed upon to hold TBS's $1,000 check (which he would have handed over to Levy had she succeeded), was tapped to also open the boxes. In the first run, Levy had selected box #6. As Ledig opened the boxes one by one, the stone was ultimately found to be in box #10. Although Levy had already lost the Challenge at that point, the results of the rest of the runs were also divulged. Levy turned out to have selected the wrong box all seven times.
Levy's zero-for-seven performance was the second-most-likely outcome in the absence of "psychic" power. Given seven trials to succeed at a 1:10 task, the most likely chance result would be one correct guess (0.7 to be mathematically precise). Next most likely would be zero correct (the whole number next closest to 0.7). Progressively unlikely would be two, three, four, and so on.
After she was found to have been wrong in the first two runs, Levy predicted -- correctly -- that she would be found to have gotten all the rest wrong as well. As tempted as we were to award her the prize for that "hit," we opted to adhere to the protocol and render the check "void."
Levy had initially contacted me after seeing a July 31 story about TBS on Orlando's Ch. 6 News. Following several telephone conversations and e-mails, we reached agreement on the protocol for the "$1,000 Challenge." In an e-mail dated 9/3, Levy told me, "God will provide for this whole venture. I also finally saw the outcome of it today. I won't tell you what it is so I don't jinx it (Who knows? I could be wrong - it has happened before). . . . Am looking forward to this challenge . . . " It sure sounded like she expected to succeed. Yet, she was to claim after the event that she had known for many days that she would fail.
Although she would have preferred to do what are known as "cold" readings, during the course of our negotiations I had explained that, unlike her claimed "psychometry" ability, the "success" of such readings are subject to interpretation and are simply not acceptable to TBS as the focus of a scientific test.
Nevertheless, following her unsuccessful performance, at Levy's request we let the videotape continue to run as she performed a reading in an effort to locate 7-year-old Amanda Brown, missing for about a week from her Tampa home. Working with a Tampa roadmap (from my car) and a newspaper photograph of the girl, Levy made the following predictions:
As for Levy's reading, Amanda had actually been noted missing early one morning from the bed in which she, her mother and Crain had fallen asleep the night before. Crain, who had previously served time for child molestation, was subsequently charged with child sexual abuse related to additional alleged prior crimes -- during the media publicity surrounding the Brown case, his face was recognized by two other alleged victims. (Also see "Update" below.)
In a 9/20/98 e-mail to friends/supporters (with copy to me), Levy had this to say about her performance at the TBS "$1,000 Challenge" (although she didn't say it at the event one day earlier):
Looks like the stress of the past three months, along with major oral surgery and medication four days before the challenge (along with five days of non-intentional fasting) proved to be more than I was capable of. Gee, I'm not Superwoman after all.
No excuses, just observations. Just the facts.
Well, there goes my membership with the "Men in Black"!
Sept. 1999 Amanda Brown Update: On Oct. 1, 1998, Crain was arrested and charged with Amanda's murder. Although her body remains missing, blood matching hers was found on his underwear and in his bathroom, which he had cleaned (but not sufficiently) with bleach. The location of his mobile home (not "brown wood") is in Seffner, approx. 15 miles east of the area pinpointed by Levy, and nowhere near the water/waves. In September 1999, Crain was convicted of Amanda's murder and sentenced to death.
Sept. 2008 Virginia Levy Update: In the 8/8/08 St. Petersburg Times article about TBS, Levy maliciously claims that our above-discussed "$1,000 Challenge" was a "scam" and that she was treated in a patronizing manner in a room filled with negative energy and people mocking her. Our behavior was allegedly so appalling that she professes to believe that we were "working on behalf of the dark side." This tortured recollection is at 100% variance with the truth, as our videotape documents. And she hardly stormed out in a huff after the "Challenge," as she also claims in the article -- the final results were determined at 1 hour/15 minutes into the video (at which time she received a warm round of applause for her efforts, though unsuccessful), and she lingered until her final thank-you to us at 1 hour/52 minutes. We have converted the video to DVD (available on request) and have also uploaded the entire video in twelve annotated parts to YouTube. Our corrective "Letter to the Editor" can be found here.