Stuart Landsborough has an interesting night out with one of the Sensing Murder mediums.

On 12 May, 2009, Kelvin Cruickshank of Sensing Murder fame came to Wanaka to wow the locals with a one night show in the local town hall. It sounded like an interesting and educational night out for my wife Coleen and I, so we booked a couple of tickets.

Now, at this stage I had better inform you that both Coleen and I are very skeptical about the psychic art, and I should also inform you that I do operate the tourist attraction at Wanaka called Stuart Landsborough’s Puzzling World. It is designed to be a fun place, and has 160,000 visitors a year. One very small part of the attraction is my $100,000 challenge to psychics to find two hidden promissory notes. This challenge is highly visible in the entrance hallway to the business. Seven people who obviously believed in their own psychic abilities have tried, and seven have failed. There is a $1,000 participation fee for the psychics; this is to make sure that we are not over-loaded with thousands of other people just annoying us with guesses. Actually, until the last challenger, all the deposits were given back. The last one was partly refunded and the balance given to a local playcentre group.

During the last year, I have also established another challenge, this time specifically to the psychics of the programme Sensing Murder and its director. The challenge is to join with me in scientifically-based experiments that will prove or disprove their abilities. The challenge has a total of $300,000 in prize money. Although I have had a response from the Sensing Murder director, they have refrained from participating. Now, to continue with our interesting night out, it is often said of skeptics that they are closed-minded and should go along to psychic demonstrations that would then certainly change their minds. We decided to go for a good night out and to be educated – one way, or another!

When we entered the hall, we purposely headed for the middle to be less conspicuous. We were there to sit, listen and learn. We were surrounded by some two to three hundred people.

Kelvin Cruickshank came onto the stage to a round of applause. He started to relax himself and the audience with a few jokes (he shouldn’t give up his day job to become a comedian). He came across as a nice cuddly young man that mothers would be happy to have as a son-in-law. Later, we were to see the other side of him.

After about 15 minutes of warming us up, he suddenly got into the real purpose of his visit. He gave a microphone to a woman in the front row; we could see her well in a close-up shot of her on a big screen on the stage. He then turned to the middle of the crowd, looked straight at Coleen, and asked for another microphone to be handed to ‘the woman in a red top’ (Coleen). She was mortified!

But then he seemed to ignore Coleen and carried on with the first woman in the front row. While he was doing this, he drew an upright line on a whiteboard and at the top of the line placed eight to 10 stars. He then turned to the audience and stated that each of these stars represented a spirit, most of which related to Coleen. Going through our minds was that surely he must know who we were and must be setting us up for a big fall.

Again ignoring Coleen, he moved on to another woman in the front row, with less success than the mediocre reading of the first woman. He then talked to yet another woman in the front row and stated that someone in her life had suffered from a brain haemorrhage. The woman said no. Kelvin then turned to the woman next to her, and asked her the same question, saying that it must be coming from her and it was in her family; the response was again negative. Finally, in utter desperation, he asked the whole of the 15 people in the front row if that illness was in their family. Absolute silence! What an embarrassing failure. How psychic did that sound? He gave up on the haemorrhage.

Before we went into the hall, my wife and I had discussed how we would react to any of his questions in the very unlikely event we were picked on. Obviously, we were to respond honestly; however, we were to give him nothing else other than the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’, either in words or body language.

At last, he turned to my wife. Coleen was now a head-and-shoulders picture on the big screen for all the audience to see. First, he asked Coleen if a woman’s first name (we can’t remember it now) meant anything to her. Coleen said No. He then added the surname of ‘Stokes’. Again it meant absolutely nothing to her. While he was saying this, he dramatically wrote the names on the whiteboard. “Your father has passed over,” he said. This was news to Coleen as she had only talked to him a few days previously. (Would it be possible for us to sue him for creating unnecessary stress?) In fact, Coleen is one of those truly lucky people that has got to her mid-fifties and has not had a single person important to her die. Where were all those stars coming from?

“You are the reader in the family,” he stated. (What is that to do with connecting with spirits?) “No,” said Coleen, “my husband is.” He ended up asking a total of four questions and not obtaining a single hit. “Could you pass the microphone to the woman beside you?”

Coleen breathed a successful sigh of relief. Curiously, during the whole evening, that was the only time he used the whiteboard. Why? What did he think he knew?

Kelvin asked the lady next to Coleen just one question – the same name that she had asked Coleen. The woman failed to recognise it as someone she knew. He then asked for the microphone to be passed over to ME! “There must be a god up there!” I thought. Did Kelvin really know what a skeptic he was talking to? If he did, then was he savouring that moment too? There was an audible murmur from the crowd as some of them recognised me. Was this to be a battle of the Titans?

His first question/statement was that my parents were dead. Looking at my white hair, he could obviously tell that they would be in their mid-nineties now, so that was a reasonably safe guess, rather than a psychic connection. He fired off two or three statements about my mother including that she had a hard side to her. That was the furthest from the truth about my mum! (Since then, I asked my ex-wife about it; she just laughed.) He then said that she had died before I could get back to see her. I stated that this was correct. (I suppose by now he would have heard my English accent and taken a guess that she died in England.) He then stated that she had unfinished business with me. I said that I doubted that this was true. (I had only seen her a few months before; she knew she was dying then, so no doubt expressed all that was needed.) He wasn’t getting very far with me so must have decided to give me away. However, before he could move on, I stated in a loud voice to him that apart from one of the guesses, he hadn’t got much right! There was an audible gasp from around the hall.

“I think it is time for a break,” he said, and unhappily walked off the stage. Immediately, the woman beside Coleen leant in front of her and starting abusing me! “Why did you come here if you don’t believe, why did you come, you are spoiling it for everyone,” she said. Then, in front of me another woman turned around and abused me too. I was astonished at the vehemence in their voices.

We lived through the short break with no more abuse. Kelvin came back onto the stage with applause from the audience. No smiles; he focused on me. “I know who you are,” he pouted. “You are the person that has The Puzzle Place [actually ‘Puzzling World’], well that is certainly one place I won’t be going to.” A round of applause exploded from the audience at this childish outburst. Somebody must have told him about me in the break. “You have a challenge for $100,000 that is like finding a needle in a haystack – why don’t you just give it to charity? We have given $26,000 to charity, I challenge you to do the same,” he hissed. An even louder round of applause came from the audience – they were really getting into the mood and he was working on it. Then he mumbled something else, then said something like “you expect people to pay twenty thousand dollars to try this challenge.”

This shows how he was muddling up the information he had; this $20,000 challenge is by Tony Andrews, another Sensing Murder challenger, nothing to do with me. Actually, it is prize money, whether they succeed or lose. Not a participation fee. (There is yet another challenge to these psychics in New Zealand for a massive prize of two million dollars – the biggest reward in the world). I couldn’t let this all go by, so with a strong voice I broadcast to the hall that some of the things he was saying were not completely true. Before I could say any more, I was shouted down by what seemed a roar from his adoring fans, it felt that a large minority of the audience were involved.

They shouted out things like: shut up, get out, and other stuff. For the first time in my adult life, I felt intimidated by public aggression against me. It made me uneasy. I thought we may be thrown out! Kelvin continued to scowl but said no more. Where had that cuddly young man gone?

It was time for me to say no more, so that is what I did.

Kelvin then ‘interviewed’ a couple more people but did not achieve many reasonable ‘hits’. He then tried to find a person that owned a Suzuki Vitara. A woman behind us owned up to having one. He stated it was parked in a lean-to against the house. With an enigmatic, Mona Lisa kind of smile she said No. He asked her three more questions and got the same single word negative reply and same smile. Maybe she was a fellow skeptic.

Finally, he turned to an elderly woman at the back of the hall, who happened to be wearing a red top. He played her like the master that he is supposed to be and she gave him all the help he could ever desire. For Kelvin’s fans this was absolute proof that he had special powers. For him it was a great ending to finish off these one-to-one sessions.

It was then that Coleen pointed out to me that whilst most of the audience were wearing wintry dull colours, there were only three women wearing a red top; one was Coleen and one was the last lady to be interviewed, or whatever you call what he was doing. Could it be that one of Kelvin’s ‘spies’ had mingled with the crowd before they entered the hall and picked out the woman in a distinctively red top with whom he set up a casual conversation and therefore found out some useful information? Could it be that Kelvin was given that information and was told to pick on a woman in red? Could it be that by an incredible piece of bad luck (for him) he picked the wrong woman in red? What an amazing piece of bad luck to pick on my skeptic wife, then worse luck to transfer his attentions to me – one of a very few people in New Zealand that has a challenge to him and Sensing Murder?

Kelvin then asked for a few questions from the audience. The show drew to an end and was rounded off by an amazingly loud round of applause from the audience.

Were Coleen and I the only sceptical people in the audience? I doubt it; I just think they were safely keeping their mouths shut. Coleen and I saw it as just a farcical manipulative show, couldn’t others see it too, or was it that we were just typical ‘closed-minded skeptics’? Why didn’t the believers wonder why Kelvin not only got so much wrong, but also wonder what happened to all the spirits that were marked on the white-board that wished to communicate with Coleen? Kelvin soon conveniently forgot about them.

We thoroughly enjoyed our unusual night out.

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