Successes and Failures
The house telephone rang in my New York apartment. There was a man downstairs from the US Customs who wanted to see me. His identification looked kosher. Could he be sent up?
You have to be careful in New York, but I trusted the concierge’s judgment. Besides, although the visit was quite unexpected, I had an idea what it might be about. Some time previously, I had flown in from Mexico bringing the precious Colt that President Lopez Portillo had given me. I had already brought it into the United States several times, openly and legally, and had never had any problems at customs after producing my documents as an accredited agent of the Mexican security services. On the last occasion, however, the official took the gun away, returning after a long delay to explain that he would have to retain it. There was something that needed checking, and I would be notified later of the outcome.
The customs agent, whom I will call Carl, looked authentic enough, as did the badge he showed me. He was carrying a small package.
‘Mr Geller?’ he said when I opened the door. ‘I have your gun to return to you. Special orders from the United States Attorney-General to release it.’ How the Attorney-General became involved, and whether it is normal for confiscated goods to be returned by personal delivery, I have no idea. Nor do I know if Carl was acting under orders or if he was just curious to meet me. Anyway, I invited him in and we had a pleasant chat, during which it emerged that he was interested in psychic matters. As he got up to leave, he told me where I could reach him, and asked me to let him know if I ever needed help of any kind.
There was, as it happened, something I needed very badly. My mother was then living on her own in Israel, and I wanted her to come and live in the USA so that I could see more of her in between my engagements. I had no intention of becoming an American citizen myself, or of establishing permanent residence there. Indeed, it was not practical for me to establish permanent residence anywhere, since I was constantly travelling all over the world fulfilling my professional engagements. New York was only one of my temporary home bases, and my status of non-resident alien required me to spend no more than six months (183 days, to be precise) of each year in the USA, a condition I obeyed scrupulously. However, New York was the base I visited most often, and it was where I wanted my mother to be.
Carl promised to see what could be done, and shortly afterwards he came to see me again together with a man I will call Don. He, I gathered, was a counter-intelligence agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
We had a long and informal conversation, with Don doing most of the talking. He was fascinated by the whole paranormal field, especially telepathy, and was keen to see for himself what I could do. We did some of my usual drawing experiments, and he was delighted to find that, like many people, he was just as good at receiving and transmitting images as I was.
‘Look,’ I said to him at one point, ‘if I can be of any assistance to you in any way, I’d be happy.’ I had no hesitation in making the offer. The FBI is one of the most respected law-enforcement agencies in the world, and its image is a good deal cleaner than that of the CIA. I was sure that nothing they might ask me to do would conflict with my own interests or principles. If they wanted to return any favours I might do for them, that was up to them. There was no mention of payment by either of us.
Don looked very pleased, as if he had been hoping that I would say that.
I had in fact had dealings with the FBI before. This is what happened:
On 9 August 1975, a young man named Samuel Bronfman was kidnapped close to his father’s home near New York, and according to press reports his father was asked for ‘a substantial sum’ for his safe return. Edgar Bronfman was the head of the huge Seagram whisky empire and, as his eldest son, Samuel was due to inherit a good deal of the billion-dollar business.
The Bronfman family had apparently been contacted by both mail and telephone, and a tape of Samuel’s voice had been delivered to them. The written message told Mr Bronfman that his son had been buried in an underground cave somewhere in Westchester County, and left with enough food for ten days at the most. Negotiations were said to be under way for his release in exchange for a seven-figure sum, but there was no mention of what steps were being taken by either the police or the FBI. Also unreported (until now) was the fact that a member of the Bronfman family put through a call to me from his home in Toronto to ask if I could help locate Samuel before it was too late.
This was not long after Sir Val Duncan had told me I could use my natural gift for dowsing to find just about anything, and as I have said, my usual reaction to a challenge is to have a go. I agreed to do what I could at once, for I knew Edgar Bronfman was a generous contributor to Jewish causes and a strong supporter of Israel. The necessary arrangements were quickly made, and a private helicopter flew me from New York to the area where Samuel was thought to be in his underground prison.
First, I was taken to the palatial Bronfman home and shown a number of Samuel’s personal possessions in order to establish some kind of link with him. Then I climbed back into the helicopter, and we flew up and down over a wide area of Westchester County, but I received no impressions at all. Apparently, my first assignment of this kind was a complete failure. Edgar Bronfman was in his Manhattan apartment, so I decided to go along and admit my defeat to him.
The luxurious town residence had been turned into a command centre, and among those present, in addition to the desperate father, was the chief of the New York FBI. As I was shown into the living-room, the first thing I noticed was a large map of New York City attached to an easel. Suddenly, before I had even been properly introduced to anybody, I had one of those moments of super-confidence. I walked over to the easel and jabbed my finger into the map, somewhere in the Brooklyn area.
‘That’s where he is,’ I stated, with complete certainty.
That is exactly where he was. I cannot claim to have located Samuel Bronfman single-handed, because it was one of his kidnappers who eventually provided the police with the exact address. The FBI then moved in, recovering Samuel, who was unharmed, and a reported $2.3 million stuffed into rubbish sacks. It was revealed that the FBI had been staking out the area for some time after watching the hand-over of the money and following the very careless extortionist back to his home. The kidnappers, two Irish-Americans thought to have been involved in fund-raising for Irish terrorists, eventually noticed that they were under observation. For some reason, they became convinced that the Mafia had sent a hit-squad to get their money and, believe it or not, one of the kidnappers then sent his daughter along to the local police with a note asking for protection! Both kidnappers: were later jailed.
That is the story as it was reported in the press, although it is one you might not believe if you read it in a crime novel.
Although I had not made any contract with Mr Bronfman, after the happy ending to this affair I sent him an invoice for $25,000, which I reckoned he could afford. I was then receiving fees of up to $5,000 for my ninety-minute lecture-demonstrations, and I felt this was a fair sum for two or three days of hard work, especially since I had at least provided evidence for the accuracy of my impressions. I have a strong suspicion, incidentally, that at the moment I put my finger on that map, it was not known that Samuel was in Brooklyn. Not surprisingly, however, nobody told me.
I received a cheque in due course for the sum asked minus one zero! I decided to let go at that, however, since there had been no written contract and $2,500 was better than nothing.
Several years later, there was a curious sequel to this episode. I was in a hotel in Europe, discussing an assignment about which I cannot give details here except that my client was somewhat secretive, as European businessmen tend to be. When I brought up the subject of my fee, the man wrote something on a corner of his napkin, tore it off and rolled it into a tight ball, then handed it to me. I smoothed out the tiny piece of paper to find the figures
2.5 written on it. That was all, and I assumed they meant $2,500. I accepted with a nod, and the man asked for the address of my bank. He would pay at once, he assured me.
I called my bank a day or two later to check that he had kept his word. A puzzled clerk told me that there had been no recent payment of $2,500.
‘There has only been one entry in your account in the last few days,’ he added, ‘for two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.’
As soon as Don heard that I was willing to offer him my services, he said, ‘I understand you’re in need of some help yourself, concerning your mother?’ Carl, the customs agent, had evidently briefed him well.
Both Don and Carl soon became regular visitors to my apartment, and they would sometimes bring their wives or their colleagues with them. The table in my living-room was often piled high with handcuffs and bundles of keys, which they would remove in order to be able to relax in comfort. We often went out to eat together, and my relations with the FBI men became more informal as well as more frequent than they had ever been with the CIA agents I met in Mexico.
One day, Carl came to see me with a colleague from the US Drug Enforcement Administration. They showed me a stack of photographs of some very ugly-looking characters, and another one of a ship. A major drug delivery was expected soon, I was told, and they were wondering if I could learn anything from these photographs? I did my best, and passed on the impressions that came into my mind, although as is usual in this kind of work I heard no more.
This must be as disappointing to you as it always is to me, but you have to understand that a golden rule of any kind of police or intelligence work is that nobody is ever told anything at all except on the ‘need-to-know’ principle. If there is no need for you to know something, you are not told it. As several of my clients have put it, there was only one way I would ever know if I was delivering any information of value: I would be asked for more.
As in Mexico, I was asked for more. One day, Don asked me a question very similar to one of the first that Mike had read out from his shopping list.
‘If I drive you around the block where the Soviet Consulate is located,’ he said, ‘could you tell me something about what’s on one of the floors of the building?’
The consulate was only ten blocks away on East 67th Street, so we went for a ride. All the windows on the floor in question, I noticed, had been blacked out. I saw with some amusement that there was a police station right across the street.
I returned to the area several times on foot, taking care to keep out of the range of the camera slung over the front door, and as in Mexico I simply passed on whatever I had picked up with my psychic antennas, and heard no more.
Next, I was invited to a party in an isolated house out on Long Island Sound, where the host was an intelligence agent whose speciality was Soviet affairs, and one of the guests was to be a Soviet official he very much hoped could be persuaded to defect. I was asked to do two things: demonstrate my abilities to the man if I had the chance, and send him an unspoken message to defect. I found both requests somewhat unusual, potential defectors usually being much more useful if they stay put and keep up the flow of information, but it was not for me to ask questions.
Don came along with a woman who was not his wife, whom I had met, but a counter-intelligence agent. They soon arranged for me to meet the Soviet guest, a short and stocky man whose hair was white, although he was not more than middle-aged. I was not told his name. I bent a key for him, which he seemed to find intriguing and gave him my telephone number, inviting him to get in touch if he wanted to. (He never did.) All the time I was sitting beside him, I punched out my silent message as hard as I could: Defect, defect, it’s good for you, defect . . .
It was at about this time that Arkady Shevchenko, the Under-Secretary-General at the United Nations, defected after passing information to the US authorities for more than two years. In his book Breaking With Moscow (1985) he says: ‘I was grateful that even in the age of technological miracles no one could yet read thoughts.’
Some of his former colleagues at the Soviet Mission now probably know better. In 1980 I received a telephone call from a man with a thick Slavonic accent asking if I would come and give a demonstration-lecture to the Parapsychology Society of the United Nations, in the Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium.
I was surprised to learn that there was such a society, but there was – I have the printed announcement of my performance – and the evening went very well, although the lights were uncomfortably bright.
The small auditorium was well filled, and although the UN is as multinational an organization as you can find, a good many of the faces looked distinctly East European. At least one member of the audience, I believe, was an intelligence agent sent along by one of my friends – not to see my show but to check out his fellow spectators.
Cameras clicked all through my performance, and questions in a variety of Slavonic accents were asked afterwards. I was probably filmed as well, for when the lights were finally dimmed, I noticed a man in the back row packing up a very large camera-case. I posed for some informal group photographs afterwards, and a newspaper reporter who was present later obtained a copy of one of them for me, with the names on the back. Several of them were Russian.
Several months after my show at the UN I was booked to take part in a ‘psychic cruise’ to Bermuda on board the SS Britannis. As engagements of this kind usually are, it was a welcome combination of well-paid work and relaxing leisure. To my great surprise, I immediately recognized several faces in my floating audience. The last time I had seen them had been in the Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium. Later, I chatted informally with some of them, and the trip passed off without incident, although I did have an uneasy feeling of being watched all the time.
Perhaps they were wondering if there would be a repeat of the incident I described in My Story when I was on another cruise, a musical one this time, as a guest of one of the artists, Byron Janis. There were also some Hungarian musicians on board, and they had the bright idea that we should all concentrate on stopping the ship! We did, whereupon the engines suddenly stopped humming and the ship, the Renaissance, gradually slowed to an almost total standstill. Byron, with his best innocent expression on his face, went to ask the captain what had happened.
‘We just have a little problem,’ he was told. ‘The propeller drive shaft seems to be in a very contorted shape, and the fuel is not getting through properly.’ It took a couple of hours to get the engines started again. I felt like a naughty schoolboy and have never tried anything like that since.
* * *
Later in this book, I will be telling you about some of my most successful undertakings. In the rest of this chapter, I am going to describe a few of my less successful ones. I am doing this for two reasons: I do not want to give the impression that I can do anything on demand at any time and always get it right, and I hope that the serious student of the mind and its powers will be able to learn as much as I think I did from those failures.
As an investigator for the FBI, Don sometimes became involved in the hunt for kidnappers and their victims. Once, he telephoned me from Arizona to tell me that the father of a boy who had disappeared had offered to pay my expenses if I would fly out and help look for him. I agreed at once, and travelled all over the area concerned, but was unable to receive any impressions except that the boy had been killed and buried in the desert. I never heard if his body was found.
The last request I ever had from Don could have led to my greatest success if I had been proved right. It was like something out of a second-rate thriller, although from Don’s tone of voice as he briefed me I could tell he was not playing games. Nor was he merely testing me – he had done that often enough already. No, there was a major problem: what it amounted to was that there was evidence, presumably from an Eastern bloc defector, that a member of the topmost layer of the US administration in Washington was a long-time Soviet mole, a ‘sleeper’ who had been trained to remain in place indefinitely.
‘Could you just come up with a name, an initial, a general impression – anything at all?’ Don asked.
I had very little to go on, but I did what I could, and a few weeks later I did come up with a name. When I passed it on to Don, I could see he thought either that I had gone out of my mind or that I was kidding him. He just would not take me seriously, and I am sure that he never passed on the name I gave him to his superiors. So it will probably never be known if I was right or wrong. Evidently, Don thought that I had lost my touch, for he never asked me to do anything for him again.
The FBI, as you might expect, does not say much about its involvement with people like me. The only mention of it in print that I have seen was in the 27 January 1986 International Herald Tribune, in which the deputy assistant director of the bureau’s records management division, Thomas H. Bresson, was asked if it was normal for the FBI to deal with psychics. He replied, ‘I wouldn’t rule it out.’
Nor, as I know, would some of his colleagues.
In June 1978, a twenty-five-year-old New Yorker named David Berkowitz was sent to prison after being convicted for the murder of six people, and for wounding another seven, most of them attractive young girls. Sentencing him to a total of 315 years in jail, the judge expressed his ‘earnest desire that this defendant remain in jail for life, until the very day of his death’. I doubt if a single New Yorker felt otherwise, for there has never been a killer as feared and hated as the individual who terrorized the city throughout much of 1977 and became known as the ‘Son of Sam’.
It was Carl who persuaded me, without difficulty, to become involved in the case. He introduced me to a New York police officer who was clearly ready to try anything, and one evening we drove to the scene of Son of Sam’s latest murder, a lonely ‘lovers’ lane’ spot near the Verranzano Bridge. Before we set out, he showed me some police photographs of previous victims. They turn my stomach over even today when I think of them, and I could not have been more strongly motivated than I was after I had seen them. If there was anything at all that I could do to catch the maniac responsible for what I had seen, I was going to do it.
I strolled around the area, concentrating as hard as I could – maybe too hard. I began to pick up impressions, and gave the policeman a verbal description of a man. I also gave him the only word that really came in strongly: Yonkers.
I felt that I had not been much help. Yonkers is a large area of upstate New York, and there were probably thousands of men living there who fitted my none too precise description. So I cannot claim to have contributed anything useful to the solution of this case.
Later, it became known that the police had caught Berkowitz after checking all vehicles that had been given parking tickets at or just before times when there had been a murder in the area concerned. It was after tracing one car back to its owner’s Yonkers address that they finally moved in and made an arrest. It was no consolation for me to know that the limited information I had provided was correct. Correct it may have been, but it was not specific enough to save the life of at least one more innocent young girl.
To add to my feelings of frustration regarding this case, I learned later that several other psychics were called in at various stages, some of whom provided information that, had it been co-ordinated at the time with my modest contribution, might well have led to an earlier end to this dreadful case.
A more recent case on which I seemed to do everything right except solve it took place in Rome in the winter of 1983. Two members of the wealthy Bulgari family were kidnapped from their home in November, and released on Christmas Eve after a ransom had been paid. During the search a relative of theirs asked me to come and help locate the victims, a woman and her seventeen-year-old son, and with the co-operation of the Italian police I searched all the areas involved.
At first, I drew a complete blank. Then, one day as Shipi and I were tramping the streets of Rome, I received a sudden and very strong impulse to go at once to a certain piazza on the other side of town. We got there as fast as we could, whereupon a Mercedes screeched to a halt beside us, and a woman got out and rushed to a public telephone. I recognized her as a member of the Bulgari family, and she recognized me, since we had already met briefly. It turned out that she had just received a telephone message to come to this call-box and wait for another message. This was in the early stage of the case, when the poor woman was being given repeated instructions to dash from one call-box to another to receive ransom demands.
Something very similar happened again a couple of weeks later. Once more, I felt a strong compulsion to go to a certain place. I felt something was about to happen there, as before, and indeed it did. There was no telephone in sight this time, so I just stood on the pavement for a few minutes, wondering what I was supposed to be looking for.
Everybody tends to look suspicious in circumstances like these, but I did not receive any definite impressions from passers-by until a man wearing a white sweater walked right past me and tossed something into a metal litter bin. I had a good look at him, and passed on a description of somebody I felt sure was involved in the case. Had I remained on the spot, I would once again have run into a member of the victims’ family, who had been summoned by a telephone call to retrieve a package from the bin in question. It contained the boy’s ear, hacked off by the sadistic kidnappers in an attempt to force the payment of a large ransom. Evidently, the attempt was successful, for a week later the two victims were released, and the family lawyer confirmed that money had changed hands. By yet another ‘coincidence’ I had already marked the exact spot where they were found on a map, without knowing why it was to be significant.
Why had my powers led me to the exact spot at the right time, drawn my attention to an ordinary-looking fellow doing something that looked quite natural and harmless, and then let me down when it came to the information that really mattered? This kind of thing seems to happen again and again when I am dealing with dangerous people, whether kidnappers or murderers. Are my survival instincts somehow suppressing my psychic ones?
If it became generally known that I could solve any problem on demand, my name would be at the top of every hit-list in the world of organized crime, and it would not be there for long. I would have to be eliminated. Perhaps it is in my own interests not to solve major crimes?
I have had some success, however, with minor crimes. A wealthy client of a world-famous jeweller had left some priceless object at one of its branches to be altered. While the craftsmen were working on it, it was stolen. The manager was extremely upset. He did not want to call in the police, fearing that the publicity would damage him even more than the financial loss. So instead he called me.
I went to the store, scanned it in my usual way, with my hands, and told the manager that the object had been stolen by a former employee, whom I described, who was now living in a town several hundred miles away in an area I mentioned. The manager confirmed that just such a man was already on the list of suspects. To make sure, he persuaded me to fly to the town in question, where I rented a car and prowled around the area in which the suspect lived and had recently bought a restaurant. My initial impressions were confirmed, and the case was then handed over to the well-known criminal lawyer Roy Cohn. I heard no more about it.
I dislike working on kidnap or murder cases. The pressure is very great, and the feeling that desperate people have pinned their hopes on me makes it harder for me to work successfully. Another problem is that I have usually had no direct contact with the person I am supposed to be looking for. In the case of a kidnap or murder victim I might be able to make indirect contact by handling some personal property, as I did on the Bronfman case, but this is not the same as personal contact. Sniffer dogs can only find what they are looking for if they recognize its scent, and it is possible that telepathists work in a similar way.
One of my clients may have found a simple but ingenious solution to this problem. He is the head of a large chemical company with interests all over the world, and a spate of kidnappings in his country led him to take the question of personal security very seriously. Would I agree, he asked me, to enter into a contract whereby if he were to be kidnapped, he would concentrate his mind at certain precise times of the day and try to send out a ‘distress signal’ that would help me find him?
This struck me as a very sensible idea, and I accepted his proposal. Since then I have had several others of this kind, some of them also from the heads of major corporations, including one of the best-known Hollywood film studios. Naturally I hope that none of my ‘insurance’ clients will ever have to send me a telepathic claim, but if they do I am sure the fact that I have made personal contact with them will make things easier for me. Some of them have even given me such personal items as scarves, combs and old toothbrushes as additional aids to establishing contact. Once again, I cannot help wondering why it is the people at the top of their professions who are the most receptive to the kind of thing that I do. Could it be that they know, even if only subconsciously, that they would not have reached the top without using their own psychic powers?
One of my clients telephoned me at the end of 1985 to wish me the compliments of the season. I told him I was working on this book and asked how he felt about having his name mentioned in it.
He laughed. ‘If you do that,’ he replied, ‘then they’ll kidnap me – and they’ll kill you.’ So I will not mention the name of this chairman and principal stockholder of a very well-known international corporation.
Then I mentioned an idea that has occurred to me more than once recently.
‘How would you feel,’ I asked him, ‘if I were to give a news conference and confess that I was a total fraud who had been fooling the world all these years?’ I sometimes feel like doing this just to see what would happen, and I am sure I could get a huge advance for a book about my ‘tricks’. The problem is that I would never be able to explain how I did them!
He laughed again, a little more warmly this time. ‘I’d go on hiring you,’ he said. Coming from him, that was a real compliment.
Now I come to an episode of which I feel thoroughly ashamed. I have never mentioned it before in public, and I include it here as an example of what can happen when psychic powers are misused. It answers the question I have often been asked: ‘If you’re so psychic, why don’t you go and break the bank at Monte Carlo?’
I came to England in 1975 to promote the Polydor album Uri Geller, on which Maxine Nightingale – a singer I helped to launch – sang some lyrics I had written to music composed and arranged by Byron Janis and Del Newman. One evening, Shipi and I went along to a London casino near Marble Arch to try our combined skills at the roulette table.
A couple of years previously we had tried to make some quick money by psychic methods at a casino in Las Vegas. We had ended the evening so broke that we could not even afford a hotel room, but had to spend the night in our car wrapped in newspapers to keep warm.
This time it was different. Whether I was using my powers to make the ball land where I wanted it to, or whether I had precognition of the number, as I had had eight times out of ten tries in one of the Stanford experiments (which was filmed), I do not know. All I know is that our earnings rose steadily. It was more than a lucky break; it was one of those occasions when nothing can go wrong, and you know it.
We deliberately made our pile slowly, in order not to attract too much attention and risk being ‘asked to leave’, as they say. We stayed very late, then made our way back to the Churchill Hotel with all our pockets crammed with banknotes.
In the small hours of the morning, we counted our takings. We had made just over £17,000. In our excitement, we made immediate plans for a trip to Monte Carlo.
Later, after what was left of a sleepless night, a huge Daimler arrived to take me to Liverpool for a radio programme. I decided to take my bundle of banknotes with me, and as we drove out of London I kept opening my briefcase to make sure it was still there. Then something very strange and frightening happened, which is as hard for me to describe as it may be for you to believe. There was a sudden explosion in my head, and a loud cry, followed by a long echo and the building-up of a pressure that became unbearable. My mind was filled with a single thought: why had I used my powers for my own gain? I felt both hot and cold, and began to tremble. My mouth went dry. I thought I was going insane. This, I said to myself, is the end of Uri Geller. I’m about to explode because of this – thing in my head.
I yelled at the driver to stop, but he could not hear me through the glass partition. I pounded on this so hard that I cracked it. He heard that all right.
‘Stop! Stop!’ I shouted, shaking him by the shoulder.
He calmly explained that he could not stop on a motorway, but would turn off at the next exit. Mercifully, this appeared almost immediately, and he pulled up. I suppose he thought I wanted to be sick.
The door opened, although I have no recollection of opening it myself, and I was literally pushed out of the car as if by a blast of wind. The next thing I remember was lying flat on the ground with what felt like a ton weight on top of me, pressing my face into the pebbles. This is it, I thought. I’m dying. I’m dead.
Then, as if an electric switch had been turned off, it stopped as suddenly as it had started.
‘Are you all right, Mr Geller?’ said a voice above me. It was the anxious chauffeur. I looked up and saw that we were at a service station, and one or two people were staring in our direction.
‘Just leave me alone for a minute,’ I replied. I got to my feet and went over to the newspaper stand, where I started to flip through magazines compulsively, trying to hide the humiliation I felt. Then I went back to the car, like a dog with its tail between its legs, and told the driver we could go on.
When we were back on the motorway, I opened the left window, took the bundle out of my bag and threw it as hard as I could. It was well secured with several stout elastic bands, and it landed intact by the side of the road. If it was found later by a police patrol and assumed to be some stolen money that the thief had dumped, that is what it was. If the finder happens to read this I hope he will get in touch. I do not want the money back, but I would be interested to know where it ended up.
I have learned to listen to distant early warning signals in my head. I have heard them once or twice on subsequent occasions when I have been asked to do something unethical, but I have learned my lesson. Since that dreadful morning on the motorway, I have preferred to earn my living by working hard for it.
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