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Montel: Johnia Berry Reading
Sylvia Browne does a reading for the mother of a murdered young woman.
Published: May 26 2008
On Dec 06 2004, 21-year-old college student Johnia (pronounced Jonna) Berry was stabbed 22 times by an unknown assailant in her apartment in Knoxville, Tennessee. She was able to make it out of her third-floor apartment seeking help, and knocked on the doors of apartments on all three floors. Nobody opened their door to her, and Johnia died from her wounds.
Her roommate - also stabbed by the assailant - survived, giving law enforcement a description from which a composite sketch of the murderer was created.
Blood from an unknown male Caucasian was found in the apartment, from which DNA was extracted. A search of the DNA database came up with no matches.
Nearly two years later, the case still unsolved, Johnia Berry's mother Joan appeared on the Montel Williams television show, to give the case national exposure, and to consult Sylvia Browne.
Joan Berry, Johnia's mother.
The Montel episode first aired on Sep 20 2006. The following is a transcript of the segment of that show which dealt with Johnia's case (all emphasis mine).
"A Look Back: The Best of Sylvia Browne"
On May 21 2008, the Montel Williams show ran an episode titled "A Look Back: The Best of Sylvia Browne" in which they showcased what they considered to be some of Browne's best moments on the show over the past seventeen years.
Of the more than one hundred times on the show Browne did readings for the families of missing and murdered loved ones, the Johnia Berry reading is the only one the show's producers chose to include.
After showing a slightly edited version of the reading transcribed above, Montel said the following:
So, who had been charged with Johnia's murder? And did that person match up with Browne's reading?
Taylor Lee Olson
Taylor Lee Olson
On September 24, 2007, 22-year-old Taylor Lee Olson was arrested for the murder. He had been arrested earlier in the year on an unrelated burglary charge in which he had allegedly used a cinderblock to smash a glass door, then took a laptop computer, CDs, a safe, cash and jewelry.
A DNA sample was taken after the earlier arrest, and had been found to match the DNA from the unidentified blood which had been found in Berry's apartment.
In a video showing Olson being escorted in handcuffs to a police vehicle, the following exchange takes place between Olson and reporters:
So, was he the person who murdered Johnia Berry?
Regular readers of this site may notice that I generally do not write about Browne's murder case "readings" until after they have been solved by police, and the murderer convicted.
With this case, that may never be possible. On March 24 2008, Taylor Olson was found dead in his cell, hanging from a coat hook on the wall by a bed sheet tied around his neck.
Despite his blood at the crime scene, his "confession" of sorts to the press, and the fact that he closely resembled the composite sketch drawn from eyewitness testimony, he claimed, in a note left in his cell, that he did not kill Johnia Berry. He stated that he and another man named Noah Cox broke into the apartment, Johnia stabbed him, the other robber came to his defense, and it was the other man who stabbed and killed Johnia as Olson fled the apartment.
So, did he kill Berry? Or did the other man? If the other man did, why did Olson take his own life? If the other man did, why did the composite sketch look so much like Olson?
We may never know the answers to these questions.
How Did Browne Do?
The "Best of Sylvia Browne" episode aired nearly two months after Olson's death. Perhaps it was taped prior to it. Either way, since Montel Williams saw fit to imply that Browne's reading was accurate (because Olson was still in the Knoxville area when arrested), let's compare all of her statements in the reading to Olson.
"The guy's name was [censored]."
We do not know what name Browne gave, as it was censored by the producers of the show, for legal reasons. So we do not know whether or not Browne was correct.
She also said that the killer's last name was "not a common name" (like Smith or Jones). While "Olson" is not as common as either of those names, it is by no means uncommon. "Cox," the name of the man Olson implicated in his suicide note, is even more common.
He was "a guy that was around her that she rebuffed."
...but the evidence seems to indicate otherwise.
Police were unable to find any connection between Olson and Berry. Also, a car stereo and CDs - belonging to neither Berry nor her roommate - were found in the apartment after the murder, leading police to believe that the murder was likely a robbery which had gone wrong.
This, along with Olson's prior record (and the suicide note), seems to makes it far more likely that he was burglarizing Berry's apartment than stalking her.
The composite sketch "does not look like him at all."
The composite sketch is strikingly similar to Olson, particularly when you consider that the description resulting in the sketch was given by the roommate, who was being stabbed at the time he was observing the face.
His face is "much more leaner" than the composite sketch.
Olson's face is shaped very much like the one in the sketch.
"He had dark hair."
Olson has sandy hair.
"He was always hanging around the school."
But doubtful, since Browne was tying this in with her contention that the killer knew Berry.
"He did some kind of horticulture work."
I find no mention of Olson's line of work, other than that for which he had been arrested.
He will be found.
Olson was found.
He is still in Knoxville.
Actually, he lived in (and was arrested in) Fountain City, some seven miles from Knoxville. And it is unknown where he was at the time of the reading. But I will still count this statement as correct.
He was short - "maybe 5' 1", 5' 2" tall."
In the video of Olson being escorted by three law enforcement officials (see images above), it is obvious that he is taller than all of them - considerably taller than two of them. Unless these officers are all less than five feet tall, Olson is nowhere near as short as Browne describes.
Additionally, I have found online discussions where those who claimed to know Olson personally said that he was around 6' 3" tall.
So, here is a summary - again, under the assumption that Olson was the killer:
So, if indeed Olson was the murderer, Browne only got two statements we can judge as right out of the ten she made. Even if we only count the statements which we know are right or wrong, she only got two right out of six, or 33% - still far less than her claimed 87% accuracy rating.
It should also be noted that if Olson was the murderer, he was caught through standard law enforcement procedures - DNA evidence, eyewitness descriptions - and that Sylvia Browne's "reading" apparently played no part in it.
Elsewhere on this site, I have documented many cases where Browne was mostly, if not totally wrong in her readings for the families of the missing and murdered.
In this particular case, either:
I think it speaks volumes about Browne's abilities that this case was chosen by the people at the Montel Williams Show as the best reading of this type she has done in seventeen years on the show.
Not long after the murder, a blog at the web site JohniaBerry.org was set up as a clearinghouse for information regarding the case.
Of particular interest is the page regarding the Johnia Hope Berry Memorial Scholarship, where donations can be made in her name towards a scholarship "for any individual who encompasses her dedication in bettering the lives of children."
Clicking on any of these links will load a separate browser window for viewing the linked page.
StopSylviaBrowne.com is not responsible for the content of any of these linked pages.