Did you know someone is claiming a hypnotist caused three teenagers to die unnaturally a few years ago? As a skeptic, it takes a lot to force me to accept that someone swinging a gold watch can force another person to take his or her own life. I find that very hard to believe.
So it was with considerable concern I read a story this week about Marcus Freeman, Wesley McKinley and Brittany Palumbo who all attended high school in North Port, Florida, who all died in 2011 and all are linked to amateur hypnotist and school principal George Kenny.
Freeman died in a car crash while both McKinley and Polumbo took their own lives. And Kenny, the principal who liked to hypnotize his students while claiming the recipients enjoyed better health, was blamed for all three deaths. In fact, he lost his job and the Sarasota school board agreed to pay $600,000 in relation to Kenny’s departure.
According to Damian Mallard, a lawyer who sued the school board on behalf of the families of the three victims, principal Kenny’s hypnotism was murderous. “He altered the underdeveloped brains of teenagers, and they all ended up dead because of it,” Mallard was quoted as saying.
It’s a shame the school board settled, because to prove in a court of law an amateur hypnotist swinging a watch “changed the brains” of teens that directly caused their deaths would be impossible.
There’s absolutely no scientific evidence to prove hypnotism has any effect whatsoever on the recipient, and in fact there’s much to prove it doesn’t.
During the Cold War, the intelligence agencies of both the U.S. government and the Soviet Union were obsessed with mind control techniques. The CIA spent millions of dollars in its “MKULTRA” mind control experiments, of which hypnosis was one technique studied. As with every technique they studied, hypnosis was found to be unreliable. That is, during the studies, subjects could not be controlled by hypnosis to harm themselves or anyone else. The CIA, who gave up studying hypnosis and mind control and instead moved simply to bribery, discovered what everyone else who’s studied hypnosis has found.
As pointed out in Las Vegas illusionist duo Penn and Teller’s excellent cable TV show “B.S.,” hypnosis is basically an agreement between the hypnotist and the subject to do something that they, the subject, may not normally do. Stress the word “agreement,” which means the subject knowingly participates in hypnosis. A hypnotist cannot force someone to do something against his or her wishes. Such as cause a car accident or take their own lives.
As The Skeptic’s Dictionary points out, if there was any scientific validity to the notion that hypnotists can control your mind, or alter an undeveloped brain and cause that person’s death, then hypnotism would be 100 per cent effective on every subject it’s used on (all of our brains operate the same way). As the CIA found out, it is not 100 per cent successful and there are many people will do not follow the “commands” of a hypnotist and many who cannot even be hypnotized. This suggests that something else is going on.
The tragic part of this story is the fact that two young people who had everything to live for, and obviously had some deep-seated emotional issues, had their deaths simplified into an X-Files type sound byte for television. I’m sure the parents of those kids wanted someone or something to blame for the tragedy, a tragedy that’s actually quite common. For instance, in Canada suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth aged 10-24, following motor vehicle collisions.
Maybe those parents living in denial about what really happened to their children need to see a hypnotherapist. Maybe the hypnotist can command them to accept the truth.
Stu Salkeld is the new editor of The Leduc/Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.