Last week, the Herald reported that a woman was bilked out of $160,000 by a band of rogue hypnotists. (I like hypnotists.) A couple days later, I spoke with the Amazing Kreskin (who, with all due respect to Miss Cleo, is the greatest television mentalist the world has ever known). He doesn't buy it.
"I absolutely, absolutely positively can say she was never
hypnotized. She never, never, never was hypnotized," Kreskin told me from his office. (A word to the wise: if you find yourself on the phone with Kreskin, don't bother with formalities. "I'll be Mr. Kreskin when I kick the bucket," he told me, rebuking me for being too polite.)
"There is no way on earth to show someone's in a trance. Was
[the victim] hypnotized? No. There's a number of things that could have happened. She
could have been embarrassed. She could have been humiliated. She could have
been conned. She could have been coerced. There's more to this story.
"In the 1900s from the 1830's to the 1920's, thousands and
thousands of cases in the United States in England went to trial in which the
common defense was hypnosis. In fiction books, up until 1910, one of the most
common themes of mysteries was the person was hypnotized. Years ago, when people did things that were embarrassing or
humiliating, that put them in a compromising position, the common excuse was 'I
was hypnotized'. . . but I demonstrate in my
performances, especially in universities,how everything in hypnosis can be
produced through the power of suggestion."
But it goes much farther than that. For the past 30 years, Kreskin has been locked in a one-man battle against the hypnotic defense. "I've appeared in courts regarding hypnosis, and because of my
findings, evidence gained under hypnosis is not admissible in most courts in
the United States," he said. "There's no evidence of a hypnotic trance in any way, shape
or form. In 1986, I was tried by a jury. It's the only case in modern history -- psychologists
and law professors have told me they've never heard of such a case. I offered
$50,000 to anyone who could do one of two things: one, show a person was in a
hypnotic trance and two, show what you could do with that person that you
couldn't do purely through the power of suggestion. I won the case. The person
wanted to sue me for $50,000, and after two days, the judge said, 'You have
wasted the time of this court and made a mockery of our trial.'"
Kreskin no longers offers that reward and now offers $100,000, plus any expenses resulting from a potential lawsuit. "Even though I won the case, it cost
me $112,000," he said. "I've had enough of American justice."