My cousin came back enthused about the Theresa Caputo Experience and was joined in her gush fest by several Facebook Friends. I refrained from responding, as my spiel would have been a bit much for a social media reply and more appropriate for a blog post. So here we are.
Caputo uses a mix of hot and cold reading techniques. The latter refers to throwing out general guesses, vague enough that they will connect with multiple persons in an arena audience. It also requires a trained mind and ear, the ability to read body language and facial cues, and a talent at gauging reactions and adjusting fire. Caputo also employs a tragic-comic emergency chute if the reading flops. She will ask if someone near the subject can relate to what she is saying and if so, will insist that was the spirit she was picking up. It’s sort of like a radar-gun cop who clocks the wrong driver for speeding, except in Caputo’s case there are no crossed signals, just a fabricated one.
Illusionist and skeptic leader Mark Edward calls this technique piggy-backing, borrowing a phrase Caputo uses to gloss over misfires. When Caputo gets something wrong, Edward notes that she says the silent missive must have been meant for someone else, who will usually pop up after a few more generalities are tossed out. She gives herself even more leeway by using phrases such as “brotherly” or “father figure” to describe someone, meaning it won’t necessarily have to be a male relative to resonate.
As to hot reads, there are the flaming ones favored by televangelist Peter Popoff, who had his wife funnel information about congregants to him via an earpiece. Caputo’s preferred hot reads are not quite that scorching, but they are above room temperature. Her team scours social media sites to learn specifics about selected audience members. Further, those with whom she spends most of her time are seated near the front and have received Captuo readings before. The cousin lavished praise on Caputo for knowing so much about a woman whose husband had died in a plane crash. But Caputo could offer accurate specifics of the tragedy and the deceased man’s life because she had gleaned this information from multiple in-depth sessions with the widow.
Caputo’s capers were most vividly revealed by Edward on Inside Edition. In the exposé, Caputo was heard asking a subject, “Why am I picking up baby clothes?” The woman answered, “I just put up a bunch of pictures of baby clothes on my Facebook page.” Indeed she had, which is why Caputo mentioned the infant apparel. She has similar tidbits on select attendees and a corresponding seating chart during her performances. Plus, she is cued, directed, and clandestinely corrected by staff members — persons who should be superfluous for a woman with a direct line to the netherworld.
Audience members swoon over these supposed revelations, but Caputo is a grief ghoul who for a hefty charge will dole out words loved ones think they want to hear but which in the long run keeps them in a perpetual heartbroken state and prevents them from moving on. Making it seem like the deceased are in the same room communicating with them provides temporary comfort, but this blossoms into an extended mourning which can only be alleviated by another peace-for-a-price session.
Captuo feebly tries to counter the charge of cold reading by saying there are only so many ways to die. While that may be true, the number of ways one can meet the end is a separate issue from whether she is cold reading. And when she speaks of “a sister who was lost at night on the highway,” it will likely score a hit in an audience of 6,000. Caputo would have zero chance of success were she to say, “Bonnie Adamson from Elkhart, Ind., who died from a stroke on July 1, 2010, wants her sister from Plainfield, Ohio, who is seated in the eighth row to know that she is at peace.”
Of course, they are ALWAYS at peace or forgiving or where they want to be. In thousands of reads, Caputo has yet to find a spirit with a tinge a bitterness, regret, or who is plotting revenge from beyond the grave.
Jaime Franchi of the Long Island Press approached a Caputo live show with what was initially a gullible mindset. Frachi been impressed by an earlier psychic who described Frachi’s father as a veteran who liked to cook and who had a needling sense of humor.
But as she learned about cold reading, she came to see what was happening. At the Caputo show, the host told audience members anything they could relate to was a message from deceased loved ones. She continuously reminded those in attendance that she was speaking for the dead. For an audience that needed little prompting, this admonition from their anointed one was sufficient. Indeed, Caputo events are filled with subjective validation, a yearning to believe, and creative interpretations.
Audience members even help her fill in the tractor-trailer-sized blanks. Frachi wrote that Caupto addressed a woman who had lost her uncle, saying he had drowned. After the niece said he had died of pancreatic cancer, Caputo continued to hammer the death-by-water theme. When the niece stood firm, Caputo tried to piggy-back that notion onto someone else, again without success. She then insisted there was a mother present whose toddler had died in a small swimming pool, but again no one spoke up to rescue Caputo from this floundering. Eventually, the family member mentioned that during his final days, the uncle’s lungs filled with fluid, and Caputo declared victory for what any skeptic or impartial observer could clearly see was a resounding public defeat.
There are many such times, where Caputo’s creativity enables her to claim success no matter the outcome. Frachi wrote that she asked one audience member, “Why do I feel like you were holding your son when he died?” When this failed to register, Caputo clarified that she meant the mother was always there for her son. Of course, this flexibility is only displayed when Caputo is wrong. If the mother had said, ‘Yes, I was grasping him on his deathbed,” Caputo would never have replied, “Oh no, I just meant it figuratively, that you were always there for him.”
Philly Mag journalist Victor Fiorillo also attended a Caputo event and came away equally unimpressed. He wrote, “She says generally vague things that she’s getting from the beyond — an older man who has passed, a young man who died violently, someone who committed suicide, the number seven, etc., and waits for someone to nod their head or raise their hand affirming the connection. She doesn’t walk up to a particular person and say, ‘“Your father died three weeks ago of cancer.’”
She homes in on members who connect with her and meanders from those who don’t. If initially failing to get an affirmative response, she plows on until someone relates. According to Fiorillo, she asked an attendee, “Did he write you a note shortly before he died saying I’m sorry?” When told ‘no,’ Caputo grabbed her own rebound and insisted, “The next time you’re in a card store and you see a card that says, ‘I’m sorry,’ know that this is from him to you.”
And next time you read that Theresa Captuo is a grief ghoul who uses cold reading to prey on victims who are at their most vulnerable, know that that came from me.