Tag Archive | "hauntings"

Owner of Haunted House Sued!

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 The annals of weird lawsuits is about to be thicker by one more page.  A young New Jersey couple is taking the owner of their rental home to court for not warning them that their rental property is … haunted!  Yes, an actual court date has been set for later this month (April 2012).  If the Yahoo reporter who broke this story had cared enough to inform his readership of where, exactly, the house is located, I would have made plans to sit in on the proceedings in that township’s courthouse and then report back to you, dear readers, the outcome.


Lacking this information, I can only speculate as to the suit’s denouement, given the limited information that was released.  Tenants Jose Chinchilla and Michelle Callan claim to have evidence of the haunting, which includes taps on the shoulder (undocumented), sheets yanked off their bed (undocumented) and an EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) snarling, “Let it burn” (documented on audio tape).  The couple also hired a paranormal investigation team to check out the property, hinted to be located somewhere on or near the Jersey shore.  The team photographed lights turning on and off by unseen hands, and a bowling pin toppling over for no apparent reason.



Do these things indicate a true haunting?  Or were they somehow manufactured, as claims the owner of the house, to weasel out of paying the rent?  And how will a judge view the evidence?  While the flickering lights and spooky voice may be unsettling, are they enough of a basis for a lawsuit?  Was anyone harmed here? Was anyone even threatened?  Apparently, they were not.  On this basis alone, and although I believe strongly in the paranormal, were I the judge, I’d toss the case out of court. I would order the couple to ante up, and I’d issue a warning to the owner to advise future tenants concerning the unseen tenants of the property.


But what of cases in which the haunting has had definitive and deleterious effects upon the occupants of the home?  I’m speaking of cases in which documented evidence exists and multiple occupants and property owners, dating back several generations, are convinced that the site harbors not only spirits, but evil spirits?


One case of many was Summerwind.  An odd conglomeration of architectural styles, this private home once graced a seemingly peaceful tract of land in our corn belt.  Built before the Great Depression by a wealthy couple, whatever lived in that home that was not of this Earth caused every servant in the house to flee and quit on the spot.  The skeptical owners, however, remained.  But one night while all alone in the house, the door to the basement swung open of its own accord, framing a vision so horrifying that the man of the house shot at it.  Two bullet holes remained in the door, untouched for years.  The owners fled immediately, never to return.


Fast forward to the early 1970s.  Enter a family of six: two little boys, two little girls, their mother, and the man she married.  The family assumed that Summerwind, now a handyman’s special that they’d rented, would be their dream home.  It turned out to be their worst nightmare.  Gripped by a malevolent spirit felt and seen by various members of the family, the head of the house descended into paranoia, violent behavior, and a creepy penchant for playing “funeral home music” on an old organ left in the house.  As a direct result of this radical change in personality, he lost his business, his mind quickly following suit.


Friends ran from the house screaming.  The little girls, then aged 8 and 10, had planned to commit suicide, as life in the house had become intolerable.  Their mother had taken to sleeping outside in the woods, to avoid whatever had taken full possession of her husband.  Only when she was reduced to abject poverty, to chopping up the furniture as kindling to offset the lack of heat and electricity (the utility companies had cut them off) did she beg her dad to rescue them.


The man did so, in his camper, shaking his head the entire time at things that go bump in the night.  His daughter and grandchildren moved to Canada and never again saw or heard from the man so possessed that he played that organ all through the night.  The inference was that the family had been forced to go on public assistance (Welfare).  Meanwhile, the granddad had decided that his son, recently returned from Vietnam, needed a project.  The granddad then rented Summerwind, but the then-owner refused to leave her car to accompany father and son even as far as the front door.  Caveat emptor, caveat renter!


A good handyman, the Vietnam vet took on the job as a labor of love, but quickly abandoned it, refusing to speak of what had so spooked him.  Later, he confessed to hearing two loud gunshots in the house, so close that he’d feared for his life.  But all he found were the two ancient bullet holes in the basement door, no odor of fresh gunpowder and no new bullet holes anywhere.


Regressed by his sister, who had dug deeply into studies of the paranormal, the son was directed to unearth a box in the basement that predated the signing of the U.S. Constitution.  The box was thought to have contained the original deed to the land: a gift to the Caucasian owner in 1767 from the two once-feuding and then-reconciled Native American tribes that had originally owned the land.    The son, the daughter, and the granddad of the 1970s revisited the now empty Summerwind.  The niche where the box was assumed to be found was exactly where the family, through the regression, had been led.  It was a secret spot that no one would have bothered with, if not for the regression.   And yes, it was in the basement.  But there was no box and there was no deed, so the family abandoned their quest and never again set foot in the house.


Years later, Summerwind caught fire during a lightning storm and burned to the ground.  A few brick pillars remain standing but the oldest daughter, one of the kids who’d plotted to end her life with her sister and who thankfully did not, swears that she will never return to the site, house or no house.


Let’s add up the witnesses.  Conservatively, let’s assume that the original owners had two servants.  Add the original owners, the family of six from the 70s, the granddad, the Vietnam vet, and the then-owner of Summerwind.  This is at least thirteen people adversely affected by the haunted location, including three owners.  Clearly, this was a case in which two separate sets of owners knew about the malevolent haunting.  In such cases, do the owners bear the onus of alerting would-be tenants to the resident evil? 


I believe that they do.  Unless the outcome of the Chinchilla-Callan case proves favorable for the plaintiffs, no legal precedent will exist to force, say, a Summerwind’s owners to come clean.  But the owners do have a moral obligation to their tenants.  Most rental agreements stipulate that the property be “occupant ready,” a term that includes having the house cleaned.


Well, there are ways to clean houses and then there are ways to clean houses.  If the judge rules in favor of Mr. Chinchilla and Ms. Callan, we may see a legal precedent come to pass in which allegedly haunted locations must be cleansed, prior to occupancy, by spiritually-minded mediums, ministers, Catholic priests, and zealous independent paranormal investigators.  And if that’s not one for the law books, I don’t know what is!


Paranormal State

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“Despite thousands of years of theological study from every different form of religion, the duality of nature, light and dark, remains unfathomable.” ***

Everyone loves a good ghost story, particularly if the story bears evidence of a genuine haunting.  Born on Halloween and gravitating from earliest memory to “things that go bump in the night”, I relish true ghost stories.  Why, then, when I first tuned in to the A&E series, Paranormal State, was I not so much chilled and thrilled as I was thinking, “Hey, these kids are smart. They got the network to bankroll and film their paranormal investigations and made names for themselves. They’re probably theatre majors seeking careers in that vein.”

Although this reaction was probably the result of too much exposure to reality TV, Ryan Buell, founder and captain of the Paranormal Research Society (PRS), would probably appreciate my healthy dose of skepticism.  Ryan, you see, is a skeptic himself.  But he’s much more than that, and he and I have a bit more in common, as I discovered in reading his absorbing book, Paranormal State, written with Stephan Petrucha.

Tormented by paranormal activity as a child, Ryan’s nightly confrontations with things either beyond the grave or not of this world — or perhaps both — were met with confusion and ultimately, repression on the part of his family.  He grew up with these issues unresolved, turning inward for solutions that never quite materialized, as well as the writings of respected researchers and authors, which also left questions unanswered.  Driven to uncover those answers, while studying at Penn State University, Ryan founded the PRS (Paranormal Research Society) in 2001.  Its objective was to find the truth behind reported hauntings.

In establishing his core group, Ryan’s criteria was no less stringent than that of the classes created and taught by his professors.  He desired associates who were serious and hardworking; cohorts who did not frighten easily, and who could balance their course loads with the rigors of conducting investigations (primarily, long after the sun had set), gathering and documenting evidence, and arriving at well-supported conclusions, conclusions that either affirmed or refuted otherworldly activity in reportedly haunted settings.

What Ryan didn’t want were jokesters and thrill seekers, including students who showed up for investigations after getting tanked in the local taverns.  The resulting, well-culled group was a collection of unique, focused, dedicated, and interestingly diverse young people as thirsty for knowledge of the paranormal as their leader.

The team’s first cases were an old, unsolved murder that had occurred on campus and the 2001 disappearance of a coed.  For the latter case, the PRS collaborated with the local police, who welcomed the assistance.  Soon, the PRS was branching out into other cases, which people often brought to the team.

As word of their investigations spread, the PRS attracted the attention of A&E, which offered to craft a series (originally, 13 episodes) centered upon the investigations.  Contrary to my initial opinion of how the show was created, Ryan did not curry the favor of the producers or directors; they came to him.  When they did, he laid down the law.

The series, like the investigations themselves, had to be conducted with the utmost of integrity: no special effects, no coaching of clients, psychics, or anyone else concerned prior to the explorations, no subterfuge whatsoever for the sake of ratings.  The network’s onus was, essentially, to condense days’ worth of investigations into meaningful half-hour formats appealing to viewers.  In so doing, A&E financed more sophisticated equipment for the team, paid travel expenses, and perhaps most importantly, sought out and identified potential cases beyond the geography of Penn State and surrounding areas.  With input from his team, Ryan would have final say as to accept the cases or not.  And, all investigations, as they had from the inception of the PRS, were to be conducted without monetary compensation from the clients.

In crafting the series, Ryan Buell arrived at a deeper understanding of the paranormal, himself, and his talents.  He also became confident and courageous enough to share some very personal data with his readers.  Like me, Ryan was raised in a Catholic family and retains a strong faith.  While I walked away from the Catholic Church many years ago, and while I got the sense that Ryan no longer practices scheduled rituals as the Church demands, neither one of us threw Baby Jesus out with the bathwater.  We both honor the core of the faith while refusing to bow to manmade constraints that remove it from the teachings, and indeed, the life lived and the examples set by Jesus Christ.

But even with his roots firmly planted in Catholicism, Ryan is accepting of other religions — or the lack thereof.  One of his associates is agnostic; two are pagans (and before you conjure images of devil worship at the mention of “pagans,” please understand that paganism is an ancient religion that respects life in all its forms and those who created that life).  Ryan’s openness allows him to utilize the services of both priests and psychics, often simultaneously: partnerships never sanctioned by the Catholic Church at large.  (And this, I have always found odd, as 39 Books of the Bible mention prophesy, including direct references to it being a gift from the Holy Spirit).

But Ryan himself was not keen on the use of psychics, as many of those with whom he’d had previous contact proved themselves to be charlatans and thieves.  Chip Coffey, a reputable, tell it to ya straight psychic, was more or less thrust upon him by A&E as, I suspect, was soft-spoken psychic Michelle Belanger.  Ryan grew to develop a genuine respect for, as well as friendships with, both of these individuals featured frequently on the series. Michelle, in fact, wrote the enticing forward to Ryan’s book.

Lorraine Warren, a psychic of worldwide renown, was not dropped in Ryan Buell’s lap.  Initially leery of an association with the series, Lorraine came around on her own, impressed by Ryan’s focus and commitment, and that of his team. Lorraine and her deceased husband Ed were, respectively, the psychic and demonologist who had conducted the most extensive work on the “The Amityville Horror” case.  Interestingly, I have a connection to that case via less than six degrees of separation.  My uncle, who passed over several years ago, was friends with the head of the household murdered along with the rest of the family in that infamous house in Amityville on Long Island, New York. Ironically, my uncle and the murdered man had been hunting buddies.

If you’re a fan of the series, Paranormal State, and have yet to read the book, you’ll want to know what cases the volume covers.  I’m not going to give you a lot of details. :-)  Life should hold a few surprises, and those in the book include some behind the scenes information that, because of time restrictions or other reasons, never made it to the screen.  There are a few horrific cases, not limited to those involving demonic activity, the investigation of long-lived urban legend, physical manifestations of spirits at a pub, and the haunting of an asylum whose departed denizens scared two former military men away from the place, with vows of never stepping foot onto the property again.

In the book, as in the series, Ryan and his team debunked a few of the cases as having no basis in the paranormal.  They always seek, first, to attribute unexplained activity to the here-and-now.  These include the creaking of an old house, vibrations caused by nearby train tracks, blackouts precipitated by a power company, or – most interestingly — the beleaguered emotional states of some clients.  Anything else must be proven to be paranormal, as far as one can prove things in an evolving science.

The book is a very basic primer for those uninitiated into matters of the occult; it whets the appetite of those who may wish to delve further into this broad and fascinating domain.

Initially a skeptic, I came away from the book with a much greater respect for Ryan Buell and his team.  This includes original members Elfie Music, who serves as spiritual advisor, Serg Poberezhny, technical guru, and Josh Light, another original member now acting primarily behind the scenes.  Heather Taddy and Katrina Weidman began as trainees assigned to conduct interviews and historical research prior to the investigations, and who became active participants in those investigations.  As with most casts in most series, Paranormal State‘s has gone through changes demanded, in part, by the graduation of the students from the university.

What began at first as a quest for the truth behind alleged hauntings or possessions wound up being exactly that — and much more.  For Ryan and his team’s greatest joy is to bring peace to their clients, whether by helping lingering spirits to  pass over, ousting demons from other realms, or assisting clients to purge themselves of their own, internal demons that prevent them from pursuing fulfilling lives.

If you’re looking for something different in your reading material, something that will leave you still wondering, but in a good way, look no further than this book.

***  Excerpt, page 220, Paranormal State by Ryan Buell with Stephan Petrucha (2010, A&E ibooks, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)

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