|James Van Praagh, cough, cough,"psychic"|
The 32-year-old Towanda man did not want to talk about why the three mediums - two of them television personalities, all of them authors - had to die. But the man Mr. Vaughn spent about two weeks soliciting to kill for him had a secret of his own.
While Mr. Vaughn allegedly spoke about James Van Praagh, an author, television producer and self-proclaimed medium; Maureen Hancock, another TV medium credited with a series on the Style Channel; and David M. Baker, another professional medium who has written books, investigators from the state police and Wyoming County district attorney's office listened to the conversation, which a hidden microphone recorded.
And just moments after Mr. Vaughn got out of the car, climbed into his green Chevrolet 1500 and pulled out onto Route 29, the undercover state trooper he had just hired to kill three people on the West Coast radioed the arrest team.
The state troopers took Mr. Vaughn into custody on three counts each of criminal solicitation of criminal homicide, criminal attempt to commit criminal homicide and criminal use of a communication facility.
Despite the brazen plan, the whole arrangement took only about two weeks to put together, according to an affidavit of probable cause supporting the charges against Mr. Vaughn.
That is at least as long as state police knew about Mr. Vaughn's intentions - on Dec. 5 an unidentified source told troopers at the Towanda station that Mr. Vaughn planned to hire a hitman to take out the three mediums at the price of $1,500 per head.
Mr. Vaughn would pay up to $10,000 for the job if he had to, the source told them, but he could only afford that price on an installment plan. He had $3,000 for a down payment.
When Mr. Vaughn called the source at 9 a.m. on Dec. 7, the individual had already arranged to have the conversation recorded, according to the affidavit.
"I'd like to get this done," Mr. Vaughn said during the call. "Soon as I could."
The source then gave Mr. Vaughn a phone number for the state trooper who would pose as a hired gun and told him that the man would get the job done.
Over the next week or so Mr. Vaughn repeatedly called the trooper, leaving messages seeking return calls.
On Tuesday, the trooper arranged to have his phone call recorded and dialed Mr. Vaughn, who agreed to meet him at Wal-Mart in Eaton Twp. on Thursday with the $3,000 he promised him.
As they discussed the job minutes before his arrest, Mr. Vaughn did not explain to the trooper why he wanted the three mediums killed. He offered to tell him the trooper the whole story once he finished the job.
It was also not clear Friday if and how Mr. Vaughn came to know the three mediums.
Mr. Van Praagh, the highest-profile among them, has published books, hosts live seminars and online courses on topics like meditation and recovering from grief and has appeared on a litany of television shows, from "Unsolved Mysteries" to "Larry King Live," according to his website.
Ms. Hancock, who is identified as Nina M. Hancock in the criminal complaint against Mr. Vaughn, had a special on the Style Channel called "Psychic in Suburbia" which Mr. Van Praagh produced.
The special features the blonde-haired, blue-eyed "soccer mom who talks to the dead," as a news report once referred to her, finding herself overcome with psychic visions in innocuous places like the neighborhood hair salon. She has also written a book and is affiliated with organizations that help emotionally prepare the terminally ill for death.
Mr. Baker's resume is the most modest among the three mediums, as far as his website relates it. The page credits him with writing at least one book, appearing on various radio programs and podcasts and also mentions that an encounter he had with Mr. Van Praagh is what made him realize that all his life he had been suppressing his psychic abilities.
Efforts to reach all three mediums were unsuccessful on Friday. It was not clear if Mr. Vaughn had retained an attorney.
After his arrest on Thursday, Mr. Vaughn was arraigned before Magisterial District Judge David Plummer and was sent to the Wyoming County Jail in lieu of $250,000 bail.
A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Dec. 26
Source: Scranton Times