James Hydrick

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James Hydrick
Born (1959-02-28) February 28, 1959 (age 56)
Passaic, NJ
Residence Coalinga State Hospital, California, USA
Occupation Martial arts performer, illusionist, escape artist

James Allen Hydrick (born February 28, 1959) is an American former stage performer, martial artist, and described psychic. Hydrick used martial arts with illusions such as his trademark trick of moving a pencil resting at the edge of a table to draw students to his martial arts classes.[1] Following a nationally-televised demonstration of his abilities on the American reality show That's Incredible!, he was unable to prove his psychic abilities on another show, That's My Line, hosted by Bob Barker, and Hydrick subsequently confessed to blowing objects rather than moving them telekinetically to an investigative reporter.[2]

Early life[edit]

Hydrick was born in in Passaic, NJ to a 30-year-old father and 15-year-old mother. His father and step-mother were abusive.[3] with beatings and making him and his two siblings eat from the hog trough. Hydrick was chained to a tree in the back yard for nine months but ran away to the woods frequently. In 1989, he told an interviewer that he started learning karate at age 6 to protect himself from his father after seeing his brother nearly beaten to death. He and his other siblings later lived in a series of foster homes and orphanages including Whitten Village in Clinton, SC. [4]

Hydrick was convicted of robbery in 1977 and spent three and a half years in the LA County Jail. There he demonstrated his martial arts skills in defending himself against the Black Guerilla Family and SLA leader James ‘Doc’ Holiday in a shower showdown. A death contract put out on Hydrick and he spent two years in protective isolation using the name Sum Chi. In solitaire he practiced his illusions such as the pencil trick and moving book pages, and demonstrated for the guards, staff and other inmates. [5]

He escaped incarceration four times in dramatic fashion: He kicked through a concrete wall in a Georgia jail, broke through gates at a South Carolina prison, asked a guard to hold the phone and walked out the back door of another prison, and finally, in 1982, he pole-vaulted with a piece of irrigation pipe over a fence at a state prison in Utah.[6]

Rise to fame[edit]

Throughout the 1980s, Hydrick was arrested repeatedly for crimes ranging from burglary to assault.[6] Despite his difficult background and ongoing legal troubles, Hydrick gained prominence for his martial arts and illusions, earning national television exposure and a cult-like following. Others claimed he was able to use psychokinesis to turn the pages of books and make pencils spin around on desks, among other feats.[1][2] Hydrick also set up martial arts classes and in Salt Lake and ran the largest dojo in the free world with about 3000 students. A biographer named Steven Bo Keeley lived with him for one year as he rose to fame [7]

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).[7] 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.[7] 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."[8]

Exposure as fraud[edit]

James Randi replicated the pencil trick on That's My Line, demonstrating that it was a simple illusion and not the product of telekinesis.[9] 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.[1]

After an hour and a half of Hydrick staring at the pages (the show was edited for time)[10] 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.[7] The failed stunt discredited Hydrick but did not end his television career. He and Randi became friends and spoke by phone yearly throughout the next two decades.

In 1981, Hydrick's psychic powers were exposed by investigative journalist and professional magician Dan Korem. Using Hydrick’s biographer Steven Bo Keeley as a foil through his Christian brother Tom Keeley who had contacted Korem, Hydrick confessed to Korem that he had learned the illusions as a child in Whitten Village from Harry Blackstone Jr. and developed them in prison, and that he had not learned them from a Chinese master.[1][3][11]

Present day[edit]

Wanted on an outstanding warrant, Hydrick was apprehended after police saw him discussing psychic powers on the Sally Jessy Raphael talk show.[12] In 1989, Hydrick was sentenced to 17 years for molesting an underage teen in Huntington Beach, California.[13]

After serving his sentence, he was remanded to Atascadero State Hospital for treatment under the state's sexually violent predator law. He married Linda Sprague and became a paralegal and in-house coordinator at the facility. In 2007, he was remanded to Coalinga State Hospital and is active in legal reform.[5][14] Hydrick petitioned for release in May 2013, but a trial resulted in a hung jury.[5]

During incarcerations Hydrick has had infamous cellmates including Charles Manson, Muharem Kurbegovic the Alphabet Bomber, Roy Norris, Eric Menendez, James ‘Doc’ Holiday, Charles Ng, Pee Wee Gaskins, Randy Treefrog Johnson and Angelo Bueno the Hillside Strangler. He was the filmed in Coalinga for four days in 2012 by a NY documentary company that released his clip in the movie ‘James Randi: An Honest Liar’. In July 2015, the other footage is being held pending funding for a documentary on James Hydrick, while his ongoing biography by Keeley is being finished.


  1. ^ a b c d Regal, Brian (2009). He appeared throughout the 1980s on ‘That’s Incredible’, ‘What’s My Line’, ‘Ripley’s Believe it or Not’, ‘Jessy Sally Raphael’, ‘Paul Harvey’ and other national media. His ‘Star Magazine’ cover story sold a record 4 million copies. He got in the Guinness’s Record for breaking the most concrete (89 linear inches) with a single blow. Pseudoscience: A Critical Encyclopedia. Greenwood. p. 89. ISBN 978-0-313-35507-3
  2. ^ a b Baker, Robert; Nickell, Joe (1992). Missing Pieces: How To Investigate Ghosts, UFOs, Psychics, & Other Mysteries. Prometheus Books. p. 80. ISBN 0-87975-729-9
  3. ^ a b Korem, Dan (1983). Psychic Confession on YouTube (also transcript)
  4. ^ Rivera, Carla (January 7, 1989). "Suspect With Many Images: Man Denies Guilt in Molestations". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 22, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c Pemberton, Patrick S. (June 6, 2013). "Jury deadlocked on whether to free purported psychic from custody". The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, CA). Retrieved 2013-10-10. 
  6. ^ a b Patrick S. Pemberton (2013-05-22). "1980s TV 'psychic' and sex offender wants to be freed from mental hospital". sanluisobispo.com. 
  7. ^ a b c d Wiseman, Richard (2011). Paranormality: Why We See What Isn't There. Pan Macmillan. pp. 81-95. ISBN 978-0-230-75298-6
  8. ^ Randi, James (1982). The Truth About Uri Geller. Prometheus Books. p. 329. ISBN 0-87975-199-1
  9. ^ Randi, James (September 22, 2006). "A Look at the Past". Swift (Newsletter). James Randi Educational Foundation. Archived from the original on 2007-07-09. Retrieved 2006-11-18. 
  10. ^ "Psychic powers, Confessions, and Power Contests". Unexplainable.net. 2003-10-09. Retrieved 2013-07-30. 
  11. ^ Korem, Dan (1983). "Psychic Confession - Part 2". Vimeo. Retrieved 2013-07-30. 
  12. ^ Cite error: The named reference Patrick_S._A_manhunt_in_the_Georgia_woods_followed_involving_2000_authority_including_the_FBI.2C_Highway_Patrol.2C_Fisheries_and_Wildlife.2C_National_Guard_Sheriffs_from_four_counties.2C_and_bloodhounds._Hydrick_evaded_the_dogs_by_spreading_Cayenne_pepper_on_his_trails_and_escaped._He_called_the_FBI_agent_in_charge_of_the_hunt_and_made_a_deal_to_turn_himself_in_after_the_Christmas_holidays_on_January_1st_in_the_Circle_of_downtown_Atlanta._A_large_field_of_media_covered_the_surrender_after_which_Hydrick_was_extradited_to_CA_to_face_the_child_molestation_charges._Pemberton was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  13. ^ Johnson, Ted (August 19, 1989). "Man Receives 17 Years for Molesting 5 Boys". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2013-10-10. 
  14. ^ "Convicted Calif. Molester, Psychic Seeks Release". NBC Bay Area. Associated Press. June 7, 2013. Retrieved 2013-10-10. 

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