Night Life
Paranormal investigators spend hours searching for it

By Peter Krowiak
Herald Reporter

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Investigators from the Paranormal Illinois Research Society use video and digital cameras as they search a residence for evidence of ghostly activity. (Photo courtesy of the Paranormal Illinois Research Society)
A camera is set to night vision and pointed at a few children's toys, including a fire truck and a Pooh bear, at a ghost investigation in Joliet by the Will County Ghost Hunters Society. The investigators said that, according to the homeowner, these two toys move spontaneously and the electric components in them turn on. (Herald Photo/Adam Nekola)


In a way, we're the ones disturbing them.

"For them, we're the ghosts," Kathy Stinson said.

Stinson, 40, is a member of the Will County Ghost Hunters Society. Unlike most people who may spend their weekends trying to find a connection with the living, Stinson and her fellow hunters spend their time trying to communicate with the dead.

Dan Jungles has been ghost hunting for almost five years, spurred on by the fact a house he moved into had paranormal activity in it. What started as an in-house investigation has turned into almost a full-time occupation.

"It's not a hobby, it's not a job, it's an obsession," Jungles, who founded the society, said.

"It is, it is an obsession," Stinson said. "Once you're into it, if you're really into it, you can be hooked."

Jungles started the WCGHS after friends and family kept inquiring into his investigations. For 2 1/2 years he and his band of paranormal detectives have gone from cemetery to cemetery, house to house, and prison to prison looking for signs of life after death.

Though his crew has changed over the years, the desire to find a shred of evidence has spurred Jungles, and others like him, to spend sleepless nights and weekends investigating what may be hiding in the dark.

Chris Williamson, 21, and Sean Clancy, 21, are no different. They co-founded their group, the Paranormal Illinois Research Society, in late 2005. For both, it's a topic in which they've always had interest and, after the two met at work, founding a group came naturally.

They both see the group's activities as a kind of service. Both the WCGHS and the PIRS provide their services free of charge.

"It's kind of rewarding when you are able to actually help somebody with what they've been feeling and be able to give them a little bit of reassurance on that," Williamson said.

Acceptance

With a number of televisions shows spanning the dial that feature ghost hunting in some form or another, the practice has started to find more acceptance. Jungles certainly has noticed that, as has Stinson.

"It actually peaks people's curiosity and they start noticing stuff," Stinson said. "They're like, 'Wow, there are other people out there.'"

The idea of acceptance spans beyond what groups like the WCGHS and PIRS spend their time doing. A lot of it has to do with the very subjects with which they are dealing face-to-face - homeowners.

Williamson and Clancy can't count the amount of times a homeowner has come up to them with the all-too-typical line of "I'm not crazy, but ..."

"It's putting their fears at ease," Clancy said. "It's not only people's fears of something being there at all but also their fear of telling somebody about it."

With acceptance growing more and more, groups like the WCGHS and PIRS are finding themselves more busy, as people's fears of being ostracized are outweighed by their desire to know. It's what Jungles thinks spurs people on to contact groups like his.

"Understanding," Jungles said. "People want to understand."

On the scene

One of those people is Marcie Clarke, who had the WCGHS at her house last Friday to do a follow-up investigation.

Clarke - who lives at the home with her husband and two children - bought the house from her mother a little over six years ago. For the past few years, Clarke has noticed some strange things afoot in her home.

"I would wake up to faint children's laughter," Clarke said.

The activity has escalated over the years. Her son began to hear someone playing on the stairs at night and came out one evening to actually see a ghostly little boy on the stairs.

Even visitors took notice.

Her father and stepmother were visiting during Christmas three years ago, and Clarke's stepmother got an unwanted invitation to a ghostly party. Waking up one night while sleeping on the couch, Clarke's stepmother awoke to find ghosts in period clothing who found the need to fiddle with the lights on a Christmas tree.

On top of that, she heard someone playing on the stairs, which Clarke's son also heard.

The Clarke's also got some home improvement suggestions from their otherworldly roommates. After a tornado ripped a part of their roof off, Clarke would hear a pounding on the roof, as though someone were trying to fix it.

"I finally had to say, 'It's OK, we know it's broken, we know there's a hole up there and we're getting it fixed, they're coming to fix it,'" Clarke said. "When I finally said this, it stopped."

Jungles said this kind of reaction from a ghost is not all uncommon. After all, the spirits lived in that house when they were living, and any changes to it - weather related or otherwise - might illicit a reaction. It would be no different than if you came home and someone had put a wall up in your house while you were gone, Jungles explained.

"A lot of people don't understand that until we actually explain it, and it makes a lot of sense," Jungles said.

An initial investigation of the home last summer produced a number of electronic voice phenomena, or EVP. Essentially, an EVP is a tape or digital recording of a ghost responding to questions asked by investigators.

"They do answer," Jungles said.

Tools of the trade

EVPs are not the only way to pick up ghosts.

Jungles said that because ghosts are believed to exist on the electromagnetic plane, they are able to manipulate electronic devices. When they first get to a house, Jungles and his fellow investigators will case it for their safety.

They then go through it with electromagnetic readers and temperature gauges in order to establish a kind of control.

"If you don't do that and you're walking through, there may be a spot where the magnetic field, because of the electric (wiring), is higher and then you're going to go 'Wow, I've got a spike here,'" Jungles explained, "but it could be something naturally occurring."

When they do get a spike, they turn on their other equipment. That includes voice recorders, cameras and video equipment. Whole nights may be spent doing this, as the group goes through the house asking questions that may go unanswered.

"If I take 800 pictures, I'm lucky if I get one good picture," Jungles said.

Though they may spend hours at the location, the real work comes in analyzing what they've gathered. Jungles said 90 percent of the work comes in reviewing evidence, which could take a week. Though it may be one of their passions, ghost hunting also has to contend with full-time jobs and families.

"I've worked on one EVP for six hours," Jungles said.

After going through all the data, the group comes back together in order to determine what passes the test. In a way, they are their own harshest critics.

"We're not there to prove that a ghost exists, we're there to prove more that it doesn't exist," Jungles said.

"We look at ourselves as paranormal investigators, but the main thing of what we do is go into a house trying to disprove it, and what we're left with is obviously evidence," Williamson said.

Williamson and Clancy's group follow the exact same procedures when it comes to their hunting. Like Jungles' group, the PIRS turns to science and records when doing its work, the latter of which Williamson is particularly fond of.

"That's one thing we definitely do," Williamson said of searching through official records and old newspapers. "I'm a history major, so that's definitely one thing that I love to do."

Safety also is a concern, and Williamson stressed that novices not trespass on cemeteries to get their Halloween fright fix. Not only is it illegal and dangerous, it's disrespectful of those buried there. That, and those caught trespassing give professionals like his group a bad name.

"It kind of hinders the public's perception of our work," Williamson said.

Face-to-face

Though their hardware may be used to try and find the dead, people skills play a roll as well.

Interviewing clients can provide a lot of insight in an investigation, and how the group presents its final report is something to be considered. Part of their job is to not only try and find the ghosts, but also to educate their clients about them.

Unlike Hollywood's portrayal, ghosts are not likely to be harmful. It is our perception of them that really makes them scary - they aren't the demonic creatures they're made out to be. For whatever reason, whether it be fear, love, ignorance or some unfinished business, that spirit has not made its final move to the beyond.

Take Clarke's home, with the child ghost that lives there. Jungles suspects that it was a child at the turn of the century that died of some illness.

"That's the only home he knew at the time and that's all he's known, so he continued to live here and that's it," Jungles said.

Of course, even the investigators admit they've had their hair-raising moments. At one investigation, Jungles felt his arm growing hot and, after lifting up his sleeve, noticed four bloody scratches. The wounds grew bigger and appeared to be coming from the inside of his body, as though the spirit were in his arm and trying to get out.

These types of occurrences, however, are rare and that spirit in particular had warned Jungles that it did not want him in the house.

"Apparently he didn't like Dan," Stinson said.

Live with them

No matter what the final outcome of the investigation, Clarke said she is not scared of the idea of the house being haunted. The ghosts, aside from the annoyance of noise, have never hurt anyone.

In fact, Clarke finds the whole prospect spellbinding, despite the goosebumps she gets when she hears an EVP.

"I think it's fascinating and as long as they're not trying to terrorize my daughter, son or me, for that matter, I'm fine with it," Clarke said.

It's that kind of interest that groups like the WCGHS and PIRS hope to pass along to their clients, turning shame and fear into curiosity and calm.

"A lot of times hauntings spur on new ghost hunters," Williamson explained.

For her part, Clarke does not mind sharing her house with her ghostly guests. After, the home was as much theirs in the past as it is hers right now.

"If they feel that they need to be here then, by all means, there's enough room here for all of us," Clarke said. "Especially since they don't take up any space."