Home > Reflections > Why I don’t think Sally Morgan hears voices

Why I don’t think Sally Morgan hears voices

Noted charlatan Sally Morgan recently performed a show for vulnerable and gullible people in Dublin’s Grand Canal Theatre. Depressingly, there is no shortage of demand for her fraudulent pablum and the event was sold out. It would have passed largely unnoticed outside its target demographic were it not for a caller to a radio show also beloved of provincial housewives, RTÉ Radio 1‘s Liveline. Listen here .

Sue, who was sitting at the back of the stadium near the open window of a “projection room”, claimed she heard a man’s voice saying things which were then repeated by Sally. Her take was that Morgan had plants in the foyer listening to audience members share their stories, and then relaying them to her.

Another caller, sitting a few rows in front, confirmed her story.

Now this could well be the case. Many others who make a living pretending to be psychic have used this method. But I don’t think this particular fraud makes her fortune in quite that manner. Or at least not this time. Here’s why:

  • The location is problematic. I can’t see any reason why the assistant would be at the back of the theatre on the fourth floor, as far away from the stage as he could be. It would make far more sense for him to be backstage, where the wireless link would undoubtedly work better and where there would be far less risk of detection.
  • The information allegedly relayed was not particularly detailed or specific. A man named David, who had a bad back, and died suddenly. If I were a con artist like Sally Morgan, I’d be furious if that was the best my assistants could come up with. Any two-bit carnival cold-reader could come up with that on the spot.
  • The information didn’t find a mark. Despite being about as broad as a statement can be, and with 2,000 people eager to swallow her lies, Morgan failed to find a match. This suggests that she was simply using the same easy methods beloved of shysters for centuries and “shotgunning” the audience with something that’s bound to apply to someone. If the staff had picked up some information from the audience, wouldn’t it have matched one of them?
  • The management of the Grand Canal Theatre issued a statement identifying the two men who were speaking as lighting technicians in their employ, and naming them. Either this is true or they are going out of their way to embroil themselves in a potential scandal for no apparent reason.

So what do I think happened? How do I explain what “Sue” and “Dorrie” heard? Well, it’s notable that Dorrie initially thought she was hearing a heckler who was quickly silenced. She then only provided information that Sue had already given, and in fact, her recollection contradicted Sue on the point of the man’s accent (easily reconciled if there were two men speaking).

As for Sue, I think she was simply mistaken. She heard a voice (or voices), somewhat indistinctly and interpreted it after the fact to have been the same as what Morgan said moments later. Perhaps some long-dormant skeptical part of her brain was triggered and she recalled hearing about how other confidence tricksters would plant people in audiences, and then deduced that this was what must be happening. The people around her who seemed annoyed may have been annoyed merely at the distraction of people talking during the show.

Now I could be wrong. As well as cold reading, it’s certainly possible that Morgan uses other methods to trick grieving people into parting with their money. She may do research on recent murders in the area, knowing that some heartbroken relative will almost certainly turn up seeking solace. She may use information from ticket sales to do research on individual audience members or, as was alleged, plant eavesdroppers among the audience. But if she does, she’s doing it the hard way. Sally Morgan strikes me as a flamboyant phoney with a mediocre skill for cold-reading. Unfortunately, in the world of the “paranormal” that’s all it takes to become a star.

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  1. Chris Jensen Romer
    14 September, 2011 at 23:01

    Nicely said Derek. I linked to to your article on my blog, and on Skeptics in the Pub Cheltenham and Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science site. We agree I think on this

    cj x

  2. Chris Jensen Romer
    14 September, 2011 at 23:03

    Oh and for your information the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) published the link on their Facebook page too.
    cj x

  3. 15 September, 2011 at 15:45

    Thanks CJ, I’ve updated the post to include a link to yours, as you have a slightly different perspective and included a lot of extra relevant information.

  4. anthony turing
    20 September, 2011 at 10:02

    I also had doubts concerning this story. ‘Sue’ should have investigated further at the time.
    Even so I watched some of her Sally Morgan’s show on tv last week. I liked her but I thought of Arthur Daley.
    I was also taken by the passion in the comments on the Guardian article 100% of which displayed a seething hatred for matters psychic.

  5. Rob
    20 September, 2011 at 13:49

    I’m not disagreeing your overall argument but the location of the wireless equipment is not a factor as modern gear would work perfectly adequately from any location around the theatre. Indeed with the lack of obstructions directly from the stage to the control room where it sounds like the chap was located it might even be better.

    Another factor is the location of the aerials which may be close to the stage and then fed to the rear where sound would normally be mixed from.

    Also the view from above and to the rear may have been helpful if he was working from a seat plan marked with the locations of people he had information about.

  6. Dave Haith
    22 September, 2011 at 16:39

    The whole matter could be settled if news organisations did their job properly and tracked down the two theatre technicians – they’ve been named so it can’t be that difficult – and either get them to admit to the scam or deny it and explain what they were really talking about.

  7. Samphire
    12 October, 2011 at 17:20

    If I were Sally, I would not give the job of passing on messages to a couple of unknown theatre employees.

    If I were a techie at a theatre and had to spend the evening high up in a projection room during a “psychic” show then I would probably try to go armed with a frequency scanner for a bit of fun to discover if any skulduggery was going on such as even Derek admits often happens. Having discovered it I would then recite what I had heard to my accompanying mate so that he could join in the fun.

    Sue gave a convincing recital of what she had heard to the extent that she was moved the next day to telephone the talk show to discuss it and I have no reason to doubt her. Her evidence was corroborated by some-one who was sitting a couple of rows in front of her who also reported that others turned towards the projection window and pointed.

    Two thousand (really?) people in the theatre paying £40 per ticket = £80,000. That’s a lot of temptation to be fraudulent. Always follow the money trail. And the theatre management would not wish to shoot a golden goose by being too inquisitive.

    Where does Sally’s husband John sit during the shows? Not in the audience, I bet.

    “Psychic ability is a natural form of intuitiveness” says Sally. In so far as I would express it as “Psychic ability is just a fancy phrase for intuition” then I would not disagree with her. Sally may have well-developed intuition but what she does not have is any ability to hear messages from the dead and as her shows are based upon such a claimed ability I believe she is taking money fraudulently.

  8. ellis
    4 January, 2012 at 22:41

    Biggest con artist I have ever paid money to see.

  9. samphire53
    8 March, 2012 at 09:31

    “Psychic ability is a natural form of intuitiveness” says Sally.

    Intuitiveness does not enable someone to come on to stage and suddenly pluck names and places out of thin air. These are no more than guesses hoping some-one will pick up on them.

    There is a video on You Tube of Sally commencing a show “hearing” an unusual name and getting a reaction. Such was the wealth of worthless but accurate information that followed from Sally that this was clearly either a set-up or some-one had done some prior home-work on the woman knowing she was to attend the show.

    The woman was accompanied by a daughter. What price on the daughter having first primed Sally’s organisation to give her mother a treat for the evening?

    Having had a stream of accurate hits at the start of the show Sally could then relax and bumble on with her usual sorry saga of silliness. People leaving the show later would only remember the good bit at the beginning.

    It ain’t rocket science but it is rocket engineering.

  1. 15 September, 2011 at 04:53
  2. 20 September, 2011 at 15:16

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