Benjamin Haas | Dreamstime.com
Families of missing persons sometimes consult psychics when they feel the police aren't doing enough.
Before their rescue on Wednesday, three Ohio women -- Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight -- endured a living nightmare for a decade. Kidnapped and held captive in the house of Ariel Castro, whose brothers are suspected of being accomplices in his crime, questions are now being raised over how the three women could have been hidden and trapped for so long.
In 2012, there were 661,593 missing person records entered with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Crime Information Center. But of those, the vast majority, 659,514 to be precise, were cleared or canceled because the subject returned home or law enforcement quickly tracked the missing person down. Ninety-four percent of children who are kidnapped are found within the first three days.
For the rare cases such as the one that occurred in Ohio, three long-term abductions by strangers, even with a rescue, there's really no such thing as a happy ending.
Kidnapped in 2002 at age 14, Elizabeth Smart was among the most high-profile missing person cases in the United States. During her 9-month captivity, her kidnapper, Brian David Mitchell, who had been hired by Smart's mother to fix the family's roof, forced her to consume alcohol and watch pornography, and he repeatedly raped her.
The attention her case received during her confinement, however, helped bring it to a conclusion by a biker who reported spotting Smart. Her captors, Mitchell and his accomplice Wanda Barzee, were sentenced to life in prison and 15 years in prison, respectively, for their crimes.
Since her rescue, Smart has become a vocal advocate for kidnapping and sexual abuse victims.
For 18 years starting in 1991, when she was 11 years old, Jaycee Lee Dugard was held captive and abused by sex offender Phillip Craig Garrido and his wife, Nancy. Abducted while walking home from school, Dugard would be handcuffed and chained at Garrido's house. During the time with the Garridos, Dugard bore two daughters, 11 and 15 years old at the time she was released from her homemade prison. As is the case with many other kidnappings that endure this long, there were several missed opportunities to rescue her from her ordeal, particularly given that Garrido had a criminal record.
In 1998, on her way to school in Vienna, Austria, Natascha Kampusch, then 10 years old, was abducted by Wolfgang Priklopi. For the next eight and a half years, Priklopi kept her as a sex slave in a small, windowless, underground cell. Kampusch eventually managed to escape on her own, leading Priklopi to commit suicide that same day.
This is the face of Josef Fritzl, who held his daughter, Elisabeth Fritzl, captive for 24 years in his house in Amstetten, Austria. Over that time, he physically and sexually abused her frequently, fathering seven children with her. Following her ordeal, Elisabeth suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and her children still require therapy.
In the case of Shasta Groene, she and her brother, Dylan, were kidnapped by serial killer and sex offender Joseph Edward Duncan III, who brutally murdered her mother, older brother and her mother's fiance, in Coeur' DAlene, Idaho. Groene was rescued weeks later when she was recognized while at a restaurant with Duncan; her brother Dylan's remains were found weeks after that.
Michael Devlin, pictured here, was sentenced to 74 life sentences for kidnapping, child molestation and child pornography. He was arrested in 2007 during a search for a boy, William Benjamin Ownby, who had been missing for four days. However, Ownby wasn't alone. Devlin had another captive that he had been holding for four years, Shawn Hornbeck, who went missing when he was 11 years old. Hornbeck went on to create a foundation to support the search and rescue of missing children.
Amanda Berry, a 16-year-old girl when she went missing in 2003, was rescued from an unassuming house in Cleveland Monday night, where she and others are believed to have been abducted and held captive for up to a decade.
Tragically, a high-profile psychic told Berry's mother in 2004 that she was dead, a phenomenon all too common when it comes to missing persons — psychics seem to have all the answers though they typically turn out to be completely wrong.
For nearly two years after her disappearance Amanda Berry's mother, Louwana Miller, held out hope that her daughter would be found alive and returned to her: Maybe Amanda ran away from home and would come back some day, or was in an accident and somehow lost her memory. Miller endured the terrible limbo of not knowing, holding out hope against the odds but not wanting to believe the worst.
Berry reportedly broke through a door where she had been held captive and called for help; two other missing women, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight, were also rescued from the home. The home's owner, Ariel Castro, and his two brothers have been arrested in connection with the case. (The 10 Most Destructive Human Behaviors Explained)
But before the seeming miracle ending, "Plain Dealer" writer Stephan Hudak noted, "Desperate for any clue as to Amanda Berry's whereabouts, and tired of unanswered questions from authorities, Miller turned to a psychic on Montel Williams' nationally syndicated television show. The psychic said what the FBI, police and Miller hadn't. 'She's not alive, honey,' Sylvia Browne told her matter-of-factly. 'Your daughter's not the kind who wouldn't call.' With those blunt words, Browne persuaded Miller to accept a grim probability that has become more likely with each passing day."
Miller returned home devastated, and she died two years later, believing that her daughter was dead.
Self-proclaimed psychic Sylvia Browne was horribly wrong, telling a grieving mother that her child was dead when she was not. And it's not the first time: In an eerily similar situationin 2002, Browne told the parents of missing child Shawn Hornbeck that their son was dead, also on Montel Williams' show. His body, she said, would be found in a wooded area near two large boulders, adding that he had been kidnapped by a very tall, "dark-skinned man" with dreadlocks.
In fact, Hornbeck and another boy were found very much alive five years later on Jan. 16, 2007, in the home of a Caucasian, non-dreadlocked Missouri man named Michael Devlin who had kidnapped them.Every detail of Browne's psychic vision was wrong, including the most important: that Shawn was dead.
This horrific case also has many similarities to Jaycee Dugard, the girl abducted at the age of 11 in 1991 and discovered living in a virtual prison in the backyard of a couple's home in Antioch, Calif., 18 years later. She had been confined and horrifically abused, and raped, even giving birth to her captor's children. They were kept prisoners and were completely isolated, never having attended school or seen a doctor.
Hundreds of psychics gave information about Dugard's location while she was missing — and every one turned out to be completely wrong.Psychics make many claims of success, but are conspicuously unable to find missing persons and rescue innocent women from years of torture and imprisonment.
Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of "Skeptical Inquirer" science magazine and author of six books including "Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries." His website is www.BenjaminRadford.com.
More from LiveScience:
Top 10 Mysteries of the Mind
Spooky! The Top 10 Unexplained Phenomena
Teleportation, ESP & Time Travel: 10 Tales of Superpowers
This article originally appeared on LiveScience. Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.