HAUNTED HOUSES: WHO YOU GONNA CALL? HOW TO FIND A GROUP THAT'S RIGHT FOR YOU
Haunted houses exist but not all cases of residential hauntings warrant an investigation. For some cases of hauntings in a home, no one is in danger and the residents living there can sometimes either live with their haunting or discover the reason behind it. Unless anything negative is taking place within the home or it causes emotional distress, some cases of a home being haunted can continue without a paranormal investigator or researcher taking time to study it.
In the event a resident would require an investigator to come to their home, however, one important thing to have before finding someone to do this is evidence accumulated to prove strange activity is going on. This is where any journal entries, tape recordings and photos with questionable figures come into play.
“I would most definitely ask that the person who is having an infestation problem do some research on their own before contacting anyone,” Lisa Cox, of MAJDA (http://majda.net/), said. “One may try taking photos or recordings. If there is a result, then I would contact several investigators for various opinions on the findings before deciding who to bring one into your home.”
“It depends on the type of situations and the type of haunting that is occurring in the home,” John Zaffis, a paranormal investigator of 32 years and Director of the Paranormal Research Society of New England (PRSNE, http://www.prsne.com/) in Stratford, Connecticut, said. “If they are dealing with human spirits, it’s a lot easier type of a situation. If you are dealing with something that is on a negative level, there’re certain people in organizations that deal with that.”
This begs the question of who exactly one should contact in such an instance. With reports circulating of psychics explaining away hauntings within a home and the university-based team of researchers setting up shop to study the goings-on, who exactly should be called to the scene can be confusing for some residents. “I think a group of investigators such as ours is probably the best choice for investigating a haunted house,” Kristyn Beaty, Acting Assistant Director of South Jersey Ghost Research, said. “As our home page states, "We conduct discreet investigations, assist people in need, educate the public, conduct field research and promote the learning and understanding of ghosts and other psychic phenomena. We use the latest scientific methods and tools as well as psychic investigators in our research." We try to offer a balance between the scientific and the empathetic. I would categorize our group as a group of ‘paranormal investigators.’”
Zaffis cautions, however, that a negative situation calls for specific help the resident would need: “If you are dealing with a negative type of haunting, there are researchers and organizations that have people in their organizations that deal with that and in a lot of times bring in clergy to be able to help the people.” He suggested that contacting clergy and researchers in such situations would be the wisest thing to do. “You would get in a situation where certain types of things might need to be done with that person or in that home. On my end, it is very important to bring in the person to help them and clear that home.”
For all other instances of hauntings in which it is not negative or life-threatening, residents within such homes can locate paranormal investigators through a variety of channels. “The Internet provides many Web sites for this sort of thing,” Cox said. “Contact various organizations and stay in contact with those you trust. Always keep a wary eye out for those who charge money for their services. Many of us are into this sort of thing for the experience and possible findings instead of for the monetary issue.”
The Internet is especially a good idea to locate and compare various paranormal investigating services, mainly because the field isn’t so prominently displayed in your average perusal of advertisements and mailers. “Right now, groups like ours don't have listings in easy-to-find places like the telephone book,” Beaty said. “There are groups, though, on the Internet. Like any organization or business, we advise people to contact the groups and talk to them. Residents should ask questions about how many and types of cases that they have experience with. Our Web site has a link which lists other paranormal organizations in other locales, http://southjerseyghostresearch.org/links.htm.”
Once the call is made, can a resident expect a team of vans to suddenly pull up into their driveway and their home evacuated as cameras and other equipment comes rolling in? Not exactly. In fact, during the initial phase of communication between a resident and an investigator, time is spent in a relaxed and comfortable manner where questions are asked and forms are filled out. “We usually get contacted via E-mail, but sometimes we do get phone calls,” Beaty said. “However we are contacted, we E-mail the prospective client a questionnaire, which they fill out and E-mail back to us. When that is done, then we can set up what we refer to as a “preliminary visit.” At the preliminary visit, we talk with the client, and go over the questionnaire. We go over our procedures for an actual investigation, and get release forms signed. We also take a tour of the building, looking for natural EMF readings (from computers, for example) and cold spots that we could mistake on an actual investigation for an anomaly. Lastly, but still very important, the investigators and prospective client attempt to schedule the date for the actual investigation.”
“MAJDA always asks the person having a problem with spirits to conduct a little of their own investigation before we come out,” Cox said. “Send us a photo or a recording first as we, too, must be way of where we go to investigate. We do have a lengthy interview with the subject, both on the phone as well as in person.”
As for Zaffis and his team, the initial contact is likewise crucial. “When a person contacts me, the first thing that I do is to communicate with them and talk with them,” he said. “If it is a haunting situation, I determine if it is going to be a situation that I am going to have to investigate and to see if it is a type of situation that is close enough to me or to refer them to someone in their area.”
Investigators also use this initial contact for another reason: To see if the case really does sound like it’s an actual haunting. “I can usually tell by having a conversation with the people to find out what type of haunting it is then decide if it is a real haunting or if it’s just what the people are going through or to decide that it might be something on a psychological end,” Zaffis said. Cox agrees on this point. “For the most part, we can pretty much tell who is actually on the up and up or if there may have some sort of a mental/drug/alcohol problem by the initial conversation.”
“Usually, we are able to tell the kind of case that we have,” Beaty said. “It is imperative that clients answer us honestly on our questionnaire so that we are not going into someone's home in a different situation than we have been led to expect. It is kind of like going to the doctor: it is important if you are honest and open with your doctor in order to get the best possible care.”
Cox makes one exception on this point: “If there seems to be an urgency to the caller's request, we will make exceptions and be there as soon as possible to do whatever we can and to ease the minds of those who may be frightened or perplexed by a possible spirit infestation.”
As the investigators prepare to make the initial visit to a home, one common thing they do is an inventory on the equipment they use. “We ask a lot of questions first to make certain that the problem may be something that is unexplainable,” Cox said. “We then gather out equipment and prepare to conduct a full investigation.”
Zaffis asks a lot of questions, too. “Some of the most important questions to ask the people that are going through this are, have they experienced things prior? Did they grow up in a haunted home? Have they ever been involved with any type of spirit summons? Did they get involved with any type of practicing things, such as casting spells, playing with Ouija boards, doing séances? These are some of the most important questions I will ask I will ask when they have things going on in their homes.” From that point on, Zaffis turns his attention to his equipment when it comes to the initial visit. “One of the things that we do in regards to preparing to go on these is to have a lot of our different equipment with us to be able to determine and document if there is any activity in the home,” he said. “This is the initial visit when dealing with these types of cases. You never know what might be going on when you go to do your initial investigation so it is very important to always have your equipment with you.”
As for the investigators at SJGR, Beaty explained the steps taken in preparation of the initial visit. “Our director, Dave Juliano, puts the team of investigators together,” she said. “There is one ‘Team Leader’ assigned, who is in charge of the investigation. Only one person-the Team Leader-is aware of the specifics of the activity; the team goes into the investigation without any information that might influence their findings.”
Another thing the investigators will do when visiting with a resident living in a haunted home or with a situation that seems to be a haunting is ask more questions. “We have a full interview with all of those involved and with those who have had experiences,” Cox said. “We ask first and foremost that they sign a ‘permission to investigate’ sheet to conduct a field investigation, as well as to absolve us from any liabilities. We ask for information concerning the location, date built, history if known, areas where paranormal activities occur, occupants in the home, how many, what ages? How long they have lived there, what kinds of activities are going on? Rappings or knockings? Smells or voices? etc. Renovations? Appliance problems? Any hoaxing going on with another occupant, neighbor? Are there certain times that these occur? Is it constant? Is there is any history of drug use, psychological conditions in the family? Many questions to try to decipher and sort what we may be dealing with.”
Beaty explained the steps the investigators at SJGR take when they make their first visit. “When the team arrives, approximately a half-hour before the investigation, we set up our equipment cases in a room,” she said. “We take a walk around the home, familiarizing ourselves with the layout while the lights are still on. Then, the Team Leader divides the group up (unless the building is small enough for one single team), and we take our equipment and set it up in the various rooms. Once we are settled, the lights and electricity go out, and we begin our investigation. We are constantly taking pictures, checking for EMF and temperature anomalies, and listening for the motion sensors being set off where no one is set up.”
She added, “The team is there surveying the area, waiting to see if the electronic equipment indicates any anomalies, and taking pictures, at random or as a result of a feeling that they might pick up. We also take video of the area, and attempt to capture electronic voice phenomena on our recorders.”
“One of the things I do is to have everyone set up their equipment with me in different areas around the home to see if we can record and document any of the activity that the person is claiming to happen in those certain areas of the home,” Zaffis said.
Cox added, “We can generally tell simply by walking in if the feeling is there or not. Many homes hold a powerful energy that is felt immediately.”
After all of the preliminaries have been covered and forms are signed, and once investigators are ceratin that a haunting is very likely, this is when the actual investigation on a case of a haunted house takes place. “Once the team has been assigned to the area, the equipment set up for optimal reading, and the electricity turned off, we basically sit in the dark and survey the area,” Beaty said. “We may be inclined to take pictures, or we will take them at random. If one of the EMF meters indicates an anomaly, the team might take pictures, or use other equipment to see if the temperature has dropped in the direction that the meter was pointed. Someone taking a video recording of the area we have under surveillance might see an anomaly, and instruct the team to take pictures in a certain area to capture the anomaly on film, or take a temperature reading of that area, or point the EMF meters in that area.
“After a designated amount of time has passed, the team switches locations. For example, they might start out investigation the basement, and then move up to the first floor of the home. Moving around the house allows the teams to experience things that might be going on in different parts of the building.
“Once the investigation is over-- after about 3 hours-- the team gathers the equipment, and puts it all back in the cases that they took it out of. We then tell the client that they should be hearing from us within 48 hours to touch base and see how they are doing, and perhaps if they have any questions for us. We each have 2 weeks to go over our evidence and compile our reports. After about 6 weeks, the client will receive their formal report, containing any physical evidence (photos, electronic voice phenomena, video).”
Once on the scene and all questions have been answered, the team at MAJDA use equipment to get to work. “We have much equipment to try to verify any feeling that we may have in a more scientific way,” Cox said. “We use infrared video, digital as well as 35mm camera, motion detectors, EMF detectors which measure electrical energy, recorders, both analog and digital, thermometers to measure temperature changes, and the experience of knowing what if feels like to be in the presence of a strong entity.”
When it comes to the equipment used during an investigation, some common tools are video cameras and EMF meters. “Video cameras don't lie,” Cox said. “We get some wonderful shots of orbs in motion as well as ectoplasm forming. My personal favorite bit of equipment is my recorder. There has been little one can debunk when you receive an answer to a question and the reply is in an unknown voice. I try to ask questions that can be verified through public records, and may times receive answers.”
“Personally, I think that the Trifield Natural Electromagnetic meter to be most essential for an investigation,” Beaty said. “The reason is that this piece of equipment is very sensitive and investigators know that it does not generate false readings very often, if even at all. If the ‘Trifield’ is making an audible alert to an electromagnetic anomaly, investigators have consistently had excellent results with photographs that they have taken coming out positive.”
“The type of equipment I use can vary with all types of things,” Zaffis said. “To me, the most important items that we use are video camera, tape recorder and doing a lot of photo work inside the homes. We also use the different types of meters to tell us if there are any types of cold spots or any types of situations where the activity that might be occurring.”
While investigators are busily moving through a home with their equipment in tow, studying their surroundings and audibly recording observations, residents are pretty much left to tend to their own matters. This, however, is a crucial part of the investigation and the investigators offered some important tips to residents who have a study being conducted in their home. “The residents are welcome to walk along with us, but we do prefer that they stay seated in one area and not to speak,” Cox said. “The movement can produce false orbs on our equipment, and if there are words spoken, even if there are whispers, they can produce a false EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena).”
“We ask that the residents stay in one place in the home during the investigation-- they can speak to each other in their normal speaking voices,” Beaty said. “Also, we need residents to refrain from smoking or lighting candles-- the smoke and scents can interfere with our investigation, causing false positive evidence. Next, we ask that residents do not have anyone over but themselves. Also, we turn all the lights off and shut off as many electrical appliances as you allow. Television and radio interfere with the audio and video equipment, and our infrared cameras need almost total darkness.”
During an investigation within a home, investigators know too well that sometimes nothing will happen. Though rare, there are occasions in which no single piece of evidence along the lines of a haunting can be found through both equipment and human abilities. This, however, doesn’t exactly mean that their time and effort was wasted. In fact, some instances may only require that the investigators show up. “Even if the home is incredibly quiet, our more sensitive investigators could be picking up on events and activity in the surrounding area, too, so our results sometimes reflect this,” Beaty said. “The theory behind this is that spirits can tell if someone is receptive to communicating with them, and rather than wasting their energy trying to communicate with a nonresponsive human being, the spirit instead seeks out someone with whom they will not need as much energy to communicate.”
“We have indeed investigated homes where there seems to be no activity,” Cox said. “Sometimes it has gotten worse for those living there, most times it has gotten better. If we are unable to resolve a problem that they have had, we will try to pass on any information and help them by finding the person that they may need, such as a person who cleanses homes. We do not do this. We are investigators, not cleansers. We will do our best to help in any situation in any way possible.” She added, “Unfortunately, time does not allow us to keep investigating one place if we merit no results. We will keep in touch with the tenants to log any new activity.”
“One of the things that will be a weighing factor, if I am going to continue with the investigation is the fact is are the people going to listen to my recommendations that I have given to them to try and stop the haunting,” Zaffis said. “Sometimes it can take several trips to a home to try and break the activity. If it turns into a situation where the people are not going to follow through with their recommendations, then sometimes I will make a decision at the point myself that the organization cannot help out that particular case.”
While Zaffis noted that “sometimes the investigation can take several trips back to the location,” Beaty explained that “most residences don't have third and fourth trips out, because usually we are able to get the information and validation that the clients were probably interested in having.” She added that it “depends on what the client wants out of the investigation.”
“On a related note, a couple of times I have had a prospective client fill out a questionnaire and even schedule a preliminary visit, but then their activity subsides a bit, and they decide not to have an investigation. Of course, this is their choice, but we find that with a home, activity does tend to go through periods where nothing happens, and then the activity starts back up again. We are content as long as the client does not feel frightened or upset.”