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Authors: Grant Wilson Jason Hawes

Ghost Hunting (9 page)

BOOK: Ghost Hunting
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By 4: 00, we found ourselves wishing we had more time there. It was such a fascinating place, and we had barely scratched its surface. But morning was coming and we had to wrap up.

Back at our headquarters in Warwick, Rhode Island, Steve and Brian set about analyzing our data. They found only one anomaly, but it was an interesting one. In cellblock 12, where people had reportedly seen a dark entity either standing or darting around, our camera had picked up a mysterious image.

It was a little vague, but it looked like someone in a dark robe approaching the camera and then turning to go back the way it came. When we measured it against the rail next to it, the figure couldn’t have been more than four feet tall—an unlikely height. We ran the footage again and again, wishing we could see it a little more clearly.

Was it possible that someone had pulled a hoax on us? We always had to ask ourselves that question. But our team was eating at the time, and so were the penitentiary people who had stayed with us overnight. And as far as we knew, there wasn’t anyone else around.

We kept running the image again and again, but we could not make it out any better. So we sent it out to a professional lab to have it lightened up. If we had something, we wanted to get the best image we could.

I also made a point of congratulating Brian for finding the image. He and Steve had spent hours and hours poring through uneventful footage to pick out that one brief but promising morsel. I wanted him to know I appreciated it and that I took note of the good work he did as well as the bad.

But even if we got a great look at the figure, it wouldn’t be enough. T.A.P.S.’ reputation was on the line here. Before we conceded that the image was evidence of a haunting, we had to do everything in our power to debunk the notion.

That meant going back to Philadelphia. And this time, we wanted to have two full nights to run a thorough investigation.

In other words, two more nights away from home and work—two more nights we would have to explain to our wives. But when we told Kris and Reanna that it was a matter of credibility for T.A.P.S., they understood. In fact, they found it kind of exciting that we might have gotten such a dramatic image. Go figure.

So we drove down to Philadelphia again and set up the equipment the way we’d had it before, but we added a new item. In cellblock 12 this time, Grant and I walked side by side down the pitch-black corridor with a thermal-imaging camera, which picks up variations in temperature and offers a more discerning image than infrared.

We also brought along more help in the form of former police officer Brian Bell, a tech-savvy guy who had been helping us with various applications back at headquarters. He had expressed a desire to go out on investigations, so we were giving him an opportunity to do so.

Bell’s job the first night would be to man our split-screen monitor station in The Rotunda. If anything came up, he was to tell us.

Grant and I went directly to cellblock 12, where our infrared camera had picked up the image of the cloaked figure. We checked out the structures overhead to see if someone might have been up on the third level using lights to create the image we had captured. Grant even went so far as to climb up there. But after trying every angle, we decided the idea wasn’t plausible.

We also scanned the cellblock with our thermal camera. Almost immediately, we saw something dart by across the mouth of the corridor, but it was only a cat. A little later, we picked up a bright spot that seemed like it might be something interesting. Unfortunately, it was nothing more than a reflection.

At the same time, Steve, Brian Harnois, and Sheri were checking out death row, also known as cellblock 15. Finding a vaporous anomaly that showed up on their still pictures, they followed it around. After taking a half-dozen photos of it, they lost it and decided to return to The Rotunda.

Grant and I had the same idea. But when we got back to The Rotunda, we found Bell’s chair empty. He had disappeared somewhere. Now this really annoyed me. Whoever was watching the cameras had a responsibility to the team. No matter how many hours he might have to spend staring at the same image, there was a reason for it. Something important might appear at any moment—and last only a second. We had counted on Bell to do this job.

I asked around, and it turned out that he’d gone across the street to a gym, supposedly to wash his hands. I was steamed.

“You assigned him,” I told my partner.

Grant nodded. He knew what I was getting at. He hates doing this kind of thing, because he just wants everyone to do their jobs, but he agreed that he’d have to have words with Bell. And he knew it would go down better if he did it instead of me, considering the mood I was in. People who must leave their posts are supposed to find substitutes so the monitors don’t go unattended. It was just one more unprofessional act by a T.A.P.S. member at this investigation, so I was aggravated.

It was tough for Grant to address the problem, but he told Bell in no uncertain terms that we had to be able to count on him. He was not to leave his post for any reason without someone covering it. We thought he understood, but truthfully, we had no way of knowing.

Before we knew it, we were pushing daylight. It was time to wrap up. Securing our equipment, we went back to our hotel for a few hours’ shut-eye.

At nine o’clock, we gathered for breakfast downstairs. We had plans to make for the second night of our investigation, and we wanted everyone to be present as we made them. Everyone was on time…with one exception.

Brian Bell.

After waiting for half an hour, Grant and I went up to his room and knocked on his door. When he answered it, I said, “Good morning, Sunshine.”

Grant had another talk with him. He told Bell that he kept dropping the ball. “We can’t count on you,” he said.

I was less than optimistic that Bell would come around. In a very short time, he had established a track record, and not a good one.

Anyway, we all had breakfast, made our plans, and showed up again at Eastern State. A little after nine o’clock, we got the enhanced video footage back from the lab. We all gathered in The Rotunda, eager to take a look at it.

Unfortunately, the processing had only lightened the image a bit. The figure was still difficult to make out. I felt we needed more of a perspective on the situation.

Then I got an idea. I asked Brian Harnois to pull a blanket over his shoulders so it would look like a cloak, then position himself in cellblock 12 where our camera had recorded the mysterious figure, and run forward and back again. In this way, he would be simulating what we had seen on the videotape.

Brian complained that he couldn’t see, so he couldn’t run. Still, he did his best to cooperate. Then we compared the results with what we had in the can, but nothing in Brian’s performance even came close to replicating the image we had recorded. For one thing, he was much taller than the ghostly figure, as we had expected.

Just after two in the morning, we all got together again in The Rotunda. All of us except…you guessed it. Brian Bell was nowhere to be found. He wouldn’t even answer his cell phone. Obviously, he had a lot to learn about teamwork, let alone ghost hunting.

(Not long after this investigation, we let Bell go. He was just too much trouble, too high-maintenance.)

Grant and I took one last look at cellblock 12 with our thermal-imaging camera. But it wasn’t a thermal image that grabbed us. It was a feeling of heaviness—the same one in two different places—as if we were walking through a cloud. Grant even went so far as to say he was having trouble moving his feet.

We also saw things. Grant caught a glimpse of a shadow in the space above us. I saw one slip out of a cell and disappear. Those experiences alone were worth the trouble of returning to the penitentiary.

We logged it all and added it to the data we had accumulated. It was about 3:30 a.m. That’s the time, worldwide, when the most paranormal activity is reported.

When we got back to Warwick, Steve and Brian Harnois took a couple of days to go over everything. In the end, all they had to show for it were the stills they had taken on death row—the ones that showed the vaporous anomaly moving about the corridor. However, we had four separate personal experiences to go by, not to mention the footage of what we had come to believe was an apparition.

We decided to put the footage on our website. We wanted to see if other people were as impressed with it as we were.

Our final report to the people who ran the penitentiary was that we believed the building was haunted. What’s more, we had had so much fun there that we wanted to visit the place again in the future.


t takes some work to find people who live up to what they say they can do. Lots of people are eager to go on a ghost-hunting jaunt, and they assure us they’re serious, but the tedium of the long hours deep into the night puts them to the test—and not everyone passes. Only a few will stick with us, investigation after investigation, and those are the ones we come to trust the most.

The thing about voluntary groups is that some people interpret “voluntary” to mean it’s not as serious. To us it’s very serious. We’re driven by the desire to know what the paranormal is all about, and we rely on a team of responsible people who understand the agenda and will do their part to support us.


he smell of roses. In a storage cellar.

That was a new one on us. However, that was one of the claims made by Francine Gore, owner of the Topton House restaurant in Topton, Pennsylvania. Whenever one of her daughters went down into the cellar, she smelled roses.

Gore also claimed that a mischievous entity, the spirit of a little girl who had died of pneumonia in the building back in 1870, was haunting the non-smoking dining room. It got its kicks by tripping the restaurant’s patrons, who were then puzzled as to what had tripped them. If someone left a soda on top of the bar, the girl spirit would move it out of reach.

People had also seen a woman in a light blue dress with her hair wrapped up in a bun. She would stroll past the doorway, enjoying the place like any living patron. But when someone pursued her, she disappeared.

Built in 1859, the Topton House was originally used as a restaurant and inn by people using the nearby railroad line. During the Prohibition era it was a speakeasy, an illegal public house. One of the beams in the basement is charred from a fire many years ago—more than likely the result of an illegal still.

We were brought to the investigation by Rick Bugera, president of the Berks Lehigh Paranormal Association, a T.A.P.S. family member. Rick and his group had conducted an investigation of Topton House on their own, with inconclusive results. He wanted to see if we could find anything definitive.

Even if we did find evidence of the supernatural, Gore didn’t want the spirits evicted. She wanted them to remain part of the ambiance of the place. She told us about a customer who had walked into the restaurant, announced that there were twelve spirits in evidence there—which, apparently, was too many—and walked out again. However, most patrons seemed to find the possibility of ghostly presences charming.

For this investigation, Grant and I had brought along a bigger group than usual—not only Brian, Steve, Andy, and Keith but also Amy Andrews and Sheri Toczko. Amy was a Reiki master, Reiki being the art of healing through energy manipulation that had sensitized me to the paranormal when I was younger. Of course, most people don’t have the reaction I did.

We had included Amy because we knew she would bring a different perspective to the investigation. Sheri was a novice who wanted to learn more about ghost hunting. She was also fast becoming Steve’s girlfriend.

That was fine for Steve and Sheri, but it was a problem for T.A.P.S. It’s difficult enough to remain focused throughout an all-night investigation. When your love interest is sitting right next to you, you’re too likely to miss the three-second phenomenon that might make the trip worthwhile.

To be honest, we hoped the relationship would fizzle out before it went too far. If it didn’t, we were going to have to talk with Steve and Sheri. Life is full of choices. We just hoped they would make the right ones.

The easiest claim to check out was the one about the glass of soda. We put a glass full of Coke on the bar and trained a camera on it. If it moved any time during the investigation, we would know it.

The smell of roses in the cellar was a little trickier. However, when we went down into the cellar, we saw a hole lined with leaves that gave access to the outside. Obviously, a smell or combination of smells might have made their way through the hole into the basement.

On the other hand, there weren’t any rosebushes near the hole. There were some in front of the restaurant and in the florist shop across the street, but those places were too far away to be of consequence. So why would we concern ourselves with the hole?

The answer lies in the concept of matrixing, in which the mind creates sensory impressions when it tries to interpret certain stimuli. Sometimes somebody smells a campfire when there’s nothing around but bug spray and lemon meringue pie. We believed that kind of thing was happening in the cellar of the Topton House.

It was Grant who came up with the idea of testing the possibility that the smell might be coming from outside by taking a bottle of cologne and spraying it in the garden. The Gore daughter who had smelled the roses joined us in the cellar for our experiment. When Grant sprayed his cologne, we could smell it in the cellar—no doubt about it. Now, the smell of cologne is stronger than the smell of roses, I’ll grant you. But even a faint smell can be detectable if it’s manufactured over the course of days or even weeks.

Francine’s middle daughter told us she was sensitive to supernatural occurrences, and that she had experienced something in the cellar as well. On Friday nights, she was sometimes called on to bring up a case of beer for the bartender. She wouldn’t even get halfway down the stairs before she got the feeling she was being watched. As soon as she went back up the stairs, the feeling would be gone.

We sent Steve, Brian, Sheri, and Amy down to the cellar with the girl in the hope that she would attract the spirits she usually attracted. Unfortunately, they got mixed results. Every time the girl felt something, it would disappear—as if the spirits in question didn’t want to be detected.

Brian suggested that they break a rule we have in T.A.P.S. and split up to examine different rooms in the cellar. In this case, it was excusable. No one was going to be more than ten feet away from the next person. Still, they didn’t find any evidence of the supernatural.

Having broken one rule, Brian decided to break another one. He asked the young girl to come down the stairs the way she usually did—this time with an audio recorder in her hand—and see if she got the same feeling. “Are you a happy spirit?” she asked as she descended. “Why are you here? Are you afraid of something? Are you afraid of me?”

Nothing much happened. However, we had another audio recording to go over when we got home. That might prove to be valuable.

While we were there, we asked Amy to perform Reiki on the middle daughter, as a way of testing her claim that she was sensitive to the spirit world. Amy observed that the girl had great energy in her. And afterward, Amy said she felt calmer and lighter for the experience.

When we checked on the glass of Coke, we saw that it hadn’t moved. Having covered pretty much all the ground we had hoped to cover, we called it a wrap. Thanking Francine Gore and her daughters, we headed home.

Brian and Steve conducted our analysis back in Warwick. They found a weird shadow on the wall, which could have been the result of an internal adjustment in our infrared camera. Unfortunately, that was it.

We believed that we had debunked the smell-of-roses incidents, and we couldn’t come up with documentation of any of the other claims at Topton House. So while we couldn’t say the place wasn’t haunted, we hadn’t found any evidence to say that it
All that remained was to apprise Francine Gore of our findings.

We wondered how she would receive them. Not well, we expected. Grant is better at handling delicate situations, so we decided that he should be the one to speak with her.

Discussing our findings with clients—what we call the “reveal” stage of an investigation—is sometimes a problem for us. After all, most ghost hunters “find” ghosts wherever they go. We, on the other hand, end up debunking eighty percent of the cases in which we get involved. In other words, eight out of ten times we have to tell our clients their place probably isn’t haunted.

In some instances, people are relieved to hear that. More often, they’re disappointed, because they want some validation of their experiences. They don’t want to have to consider the possibility that they’re crazy, or at least misguided.

In cases like Topton House, there’s an economic consideration as well. Hotels and restaurants can often bring in more business if there’s credible evidence of a haunting there. And the people who own these places are almost always people we would like to help out.

But we can’t base our results on whom we would like to help, or how we would like to help them. We find what we find, and we report accordingly. Which is what we did when we met again with Francine Gore.

As we predicted, she wasn’t pleased, and she expressed her disappointment that we hadn’t found anything. However, she was every bit the lady we’d hoped she would be. We were able to leave feeling good about our investigation, which is really all we can ever ask for.

Incidentally, Sheri didn’t stay with us too much longer. She was a sweetheart, but she had an interest in graphic arts that she wanted to pursue. Steve still keeps up a relationship with her, but only as a friend.


hy am I the one who’s always got to give people the bad news? Because, of the two of us, I’m the one with all the patience. Or so my partner keeps telling me.

BOOK: Ghost Hunting
13.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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