February 28, 1959|
New Ellenton, South Carolina
|Residence||Coalinga State Hospital, Coalinga, California, USA|
James Allen Hydrick (born February 28, 1959) is an American former stage performer and self-described psychic, and a convicted child molester. Hydrick claimed to be able to perform acts of telekinesis, such as his trademark trick of moving a pencil resting at the edge of a table. Following a nationally televised demonstration of his abilities on the American reality show That's Incredible!, he was unable to prove his supernatural abilities on another show, That's My Line, hosted by Bob Barker, and Hydrick subsequently confessed the fraud to an investigative reporter.
Hydrick was born in South Carolina to a 30-year-old father and teenage mother. His father was allegedly abusive. In 1989, he told an interviewer that he started learning karate at age six to protect himself from his father after seeing one of his brothers beaten to death. He and his other siblings later lived in a series of foster homes and orphanages.
Hydrick was convicted of kidnapping and torture in 1977. He escaped incarceration three times: he kicked through a concrete wall in a Georgia jail, broke through gates at a South Carolina prison, and finally, in 1982, he pole-vaulted over a fence at a state prison in Utah.
Rise to fame
Throughout the 1980s, Hydrick was arrested repeatedly for crimes ranging from burglary to assault. Despite his difficult background and ongoing legal troubles, Hydrick gained prominence for his karate and sleight-of-hand tricks, earning national television exposure and a cult following. He claimed he was able to use psychokinesis to turn the pages of books and make pencils spin around on desks, among other feats. Hydrick also set up martial arts classes and claimed he could pass on the gift of psychokinesis to children through special training techniques, which was shown in 1989 to be a front for his coercing children into performing sexual favors for him, and was a factor in his conviction for sexual assault of a minor.
Hydrick's most visible demonstration of his skills was on the series That's Incredible! The episode originally aired in December 1980 and was later repeated in 1981. He performed the pencil-spinning trick with the host John Davidson's hand on his mouth to block him from exhaling (after Davidson suggested that he could hear Hydrick blowing). However, Hydrick had readjusted the pencil beforehand so that it was as precarious as possible and would move with the slight manipulation of his hands. He also caused a page from a telephone book to turn over, allegedly by telekinesis. Magician and paranormal skeptic James Randi awarded the program a 1980 Uri Award, later renamed the Pigasus Award, "for declaring a simple magic trick to be genuine."
Exposure as fraud
James Randi replicated the pencil trick on That's My Line, demonstrating that it was a simple illusion and not the product of telekinesis. In a follow-up episode, Randi and Hydrick both appeared. When Randi placed small pieces of polystyrene on the table around the phone book (to show if Hydrick was actually turning the pages by blowing on them), Hydrick's "powers" suddenly failed him. Hydrick claimed that the stage lights were giving the foam pieces a static electric charge which, when added to the weight of the page, required more force than he was able to generate to turn the page. Randi and the judges, though, declared that this hypothesis had no scientific basis.
Without any results, Hydrick finally admitted that he was unable to complete the challenge. The judging panel, which included a parapsychologist, stated that, in their opinion, no supernatural phenomenon had taken place. The failed stunt effectively ended Hydrick's television career. To further discredit Hydrick, Randi was shown performing the same trick.
In 1981, Hydrick's psychic powers were conclusively exposed as frauds by investigative journalist and professional magician Dan Korem. Hydrick confessed to Korem that he had developed his trick in prison, and that he had not learned it from a Chinese master as he originally claimed. Hydrick confessed, "My whole idea behind this in the first place was to see how dumb America was. How dumb the world is."
Wanted on an outstanding warrant, Hydrick was apprehended after police saw him discussing psychic powers on the Sally Jessy Raphael talk show. In 1989, Hydrick was sentenced to 17 years for molesting five boys in Huntington Beach, California. After serving his sentence, he was remanded to Atascadero State Hospital for treatment under the state's sexually violent predator law. Psychologist Jesus Padilla described Hydrick as "an extremely difficult patient" who suffers from pedophilia, paraphilia, and antisocial personality disorder. Hydrick petitioned for release in May 2013, but a trial resulted in a hung jury. He now resides at the Coalinga State Hospital.
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