Thursday, October 31, 2013

Who You Gonna Call? Shelly and Andrew!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Happy Halloween! (And pass the Twizzlers.) Not to clog this with dreaded backstory, but when I attended the Midwest Writers Workshop (highly recommended!) they assigned a person to pick me up at the airport. She was lovely, and we chatted on the way to the event.

"So what do you do in real life," I asked, being curious and friendly.

"My husband and I are ghost-hunters," she said.

Now I ask you, Reds, when was the last time you heard that? 

So I got the whole scoop, of course but you all were haunting me. I knew it was a perfect blog for the Reds. 

So. No more backstory. 

Who You Gonna Call? 

by Shelly and Andrew Gage

There are a lot of ghost-hunting “reality” shows on TV these days.  Most of them do a pretty good job of showing investigations – the wandering in the dark, the use of various gadgets, and different ways of conducting EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) sessions.

  What they don’t show you, aside from leaving out the hours and hours spent reviewing footage and audio recordings in order to come up with the minute or less of evidence for the “reveal,” is how paranormal investigators work with their clients.  One of the most challenging parts of paranormal investigating is not dealing with the dead, but working with the living.

The first step in any investigation is getting familiar with the client.  We need to build trust with the client while at the same time gathering enough information to make a judgment call as to how reliable a witness he or she is.  Ideally, we’ll feel that the client is experiencing something, and the client will trust us enough to feel comfortable leaving us in his home, unsupervised, for several hours late at night.  (It’s not impossible to investigate with the client present, but it can be a hindrance particularly if the client is not familiar with investigative methods.)

A key thing to figure out is what the client wants.  What’s her motivation for calling us in?  What is he hoping we’ll find?  Some clients want confirmation that their house is haunted; others would much prefer that it wasn’t.  Our job as investigators is not only to capture evidence but also to manage expectations.  We aren’t going to manipulate our findings but our presentation of them will vary based upon what the client is looking for.  

If she’s really hoping that the activity she’s experiencing is grandma’s spirit lingering but all we find is evidence of bad wiring, we need to present that in a way that doesn’t belittle her feelings.  If he’s hoping we can prove that there are no ghosts and what we find can’t be debunked, then we need to find a way to assure him that paranormal presences aren’t automatically a threat. 

Clients call us in for many reasons.  In one of our first investigations of a private residence, we learned that our client was hoping we’d find proof that his mother’s home was haunted by the spirit of his grandfather.  While we did capture some evidence of a haunting, we weren’t able to say definitively that the presence was his grandfather.  Because we handled the situation with sensitivity, we were able to establish a good relationship with that client.  He’s joined us for other investigations, and referred people to us for help.

In another investigation, we discovered in the midst of reporting that we’d found nothing paranormal that our client was having trouble with her live-in boyfriend.  She’d been hoping we’d find a presence in her house which might be responsible for the changes she was seeing in him.  It was a tricky situation to handle - we’re paranormal investigators, not relationship counselors.  To our relief, our client was satisfied with our report, and she was so pleased that she referred her sister to us.

In addition to investigating private residences at the request of home-owners, we also investigate public sites.  In these cases, our concern is assuring the clients that they will control access to the results. 

Some sites would rather not announce that they’re haunted.  Others embrace it and are pleased to share whatever evidence we bring them.  We’ve investigated both.  A local bar was glad to have us in to investigate, but we had to promise not to share our results or even reveal we’d investigated there.  We have been scrupulously careful to not reveal anything about our investigation. 

On the other hand, the civic theater was thrilled to have us in to investigate and pleased to have us share our results on our website.  Because we’ve honored our agreements with both clients, we are welcome to return to investigate again and we are able to use the theater as a reference when talking with other places about investigating. 

If we do our jobs correctly, we will leave our clients feeling satisfied, regardless of what evidence we do or do not capture.  The client should feel that we’ve done a thorough job, that we’ve listened and considered what he’s reported to us, and that we’ve addressed any concerns she might have.

 In the end the ghosts might prove unreliable, but we never should.

HANK: Amazing, huh? Thank you for such a unique insight!  Okay, I have a LOT of questions. Like--tell us more about these photos! But you guys go first.


  1. Thanks for a most unexpected Halloween treat, Hank!

    Okay, Shelly and Andrew, I have to ask how you got into the ghost-hunting business in the first place . . . and do you have a favorite ghost-hunting story or experience?

  2. Did something ever happen to you that, if it happened to me, I might believe in ghosts? Because right now I'm not buying it.

  3. Wow, fascinating! Did any unexpected guests come along to the airport Hank?

    Seriously, we'd love to hear more about what an investigation is like.

  4. Just had this vision of Hank in the car — along with the tag-along ghosts from Disney's Haunted Mansion....

  5. The radio program Coast to Coast - in the middle of the night - often has guest ghost hunters - that's where I learned about them.. Thelma in Manhattan

  6. Yay - lots of great questions!

    First, I'll tell you about the pictures. The first, third, and fourth show orbs. Orbs are a subject of some controversy with ghost hunters. Some maintain that all orbs are dust. Others (us included) say that while there are cases of dust resembling an orb, there are also orbs which are paranormal in nature. The theory is that the orb is a spirit trying to manifest. Because that requires a good deal of energy, the best the spirit can manage is an orb.
    The second picture does contain an orb, but it also contains an apparition. If you look closely at the space to the right of the brick pillar and behind the chair, you can see the faint outline of a figure. It appears to be a little girl. It's very faint. I actually didn't see it at all the first time I examined the picture. It was quite a surprise when I took a closer look and spotted the figure!

  7. Joan asked about how we got into ghost-hunting, and favorite experiences. I'm going to say that this whole ghost-hunting business is all Andrew's fault! I had never really thought about ghosts before I met him. He'd been interested in them since childhood and had collected a lot of books about true hauntings, real-life ghost stories, etc. I was looking at them one day after we were married and asked him if he'd ever thought about trying to go out and look for ghosts himself. He hadn't, but he went online not long after and found out about a ghost-hunting group having an open meeting not too far from us. We decided to go along and before long we were running their new chapter in our home-town. It was quite a learning experience for us, both on how to conduct investigations and how not to run a ghost-hunting group. We decided to leave that organization and form our own.

    My favorite ghost-hunting story is kind of funny. I was investigating with a pair of new investigators. We were sitting in an upstairs bedroom, doing an EVP session, and we kept hearing a scratching sound from an attic doorway just outside the room. Our clients believed there was a small girl haunting the attic (that is where the apparition photo was taken). The newbies were pretty excited, thinking that "Laura" was trying to communicate with us. After a few minutes, I went to the attic door and opened it, intending to check for any explanation for the sounds. I got quite a start as one of the client's cats came bounding out at me! He'd gotten locked in the attic during our set-up! The newbies were very disappointed but it was a good reminder of the importance of not jumping to conclusions during investigations.

  8. Jack asked about something happening to me which might convince him that ghosts are real. I'm not sure that I have a story which will convince you, Jack, because I don't know what it would take to convince you ghosts are real. I've captured voices on audio recordings that I did not hear with my ears while investigating (EVP), I've heard footsteps in rooms where no one was present, I've seen things out of the corner of my eye, and I've even been touched by something on an investigation. When I add all that to all the stories of paranormal encounters I've heard from others or read in publications, I am convinced that there are ghosts.
    When Andy & I investigate, we go in as skeptics. We look for a way to debunk the claims. What we want to take back to our clients is something we can't refute, and we want evidence - a photograph, a recording - rather than just personal experiences.

  9. Lucy asked about what an investigation is like. The short-answer is, we spend a lot of time sitting in the dark, asking questions of the air. :)
    The long answer is, there's a lot more to it. There's the prep work - talking with the client, hearing the claims, touring the location, deciding what equipment to use and where to put it, coordinating with our other investigators and the client to find a date and time for us to go in - all of that has to be done before we ever set up a piece of equipment.
    On the day of the investigation, we do our last minute checks of equipment. We make sure we have lots of batteries, we charge up anything that needs charging (including ourselves - naps are important), and we get everything loaded up. At the site we let our investigators know where we're putting the different pieces of equipment and where our base camp is going to be. Once everything is in place, we like to take about 20 minutes or so to just let the place settle. Once that's done, we will split into teams. One person stays at base camp, monitoring the view from our cameras. His job is to radio to the team(s) if he sees something on one of the cameras. Depending on the size of the site, we might send two teams in to investigate in different areas or we might only have one team. That's when the sitting in the dark part begins. We ask our questions. We tag our audio (ie we say "car" whenever a vehicle drives past - you'd be surprised how different that can sound on a recording days later). Every 30 minutes or so we rotate, leaving someone else at base camp.
    Once we wrap up the investigation, we have evidence review to do. We have to watch all the footage from our cameras, listen to all the audio, go through any photos taken, compare notes on any personal experiences, etc. This is the part that takes a long time. We have 8 cameras as part of our dvr set-up. If we ran all 8 for a 3 hour investigation, that's 24 hours of footage to watch! We try not to watch too much at one time because after a while your eyes start playing tricks on you. The same goes for reviewing the audio - short bits at a time are the way to handle it. We don't just listen or watch once either. If we do hear something, for example, we cross-check other recorders (audio and video) to confirm that the sound isn't coming from somewhere else. We work on all of this in our spare time - when we aren't doing our real jobs - so it can take some time to get our review completed.
    Once all the evidence as been reviewed, we set a time to meet with our client and go over what, if anything, we captured. We ask if there's been any increased or decreased activity since our investigation, review anything we were able to debunk, share any personal experiences our team might have had, and give them a copy of any evidence we captured. An investigation isn't complete until this final meeting with the client is done.

  10. oh oh oh - how perfect is this for Halloween! I love ghost stories and I keep hoping that some day I might have my own encounter with a ghost, but so far nothing like that has happened. Donald and I visit Savannah and Charleston fairly often and our favorite B&B in Savannah is said to have a haunted room or two, but ghosts seem to not want to have anything to do with us, which kinda hurts our feelings, truth be told.

  11. Hank, you've brought us a real treat for Halloween. Welcome to Jungle Reds, Shelly and Andrew!

    What is the most common result of your investigations--debunking or confirming a presence?

    Have you ever had a client who tried to con you about a ghost with some of the setups that fake mediums have used for years?

  12. Oh wow--what a great post, you two.
    I grew up in a big old house in England that I was always sure was haunted. When I mentioned this to my brother when we were adults he replied "Of course it was." I thought it was just me being over-imaginative.

    Have you ever encountered a truly malevolent spirit?

  13. A guy in my 1969 high school class has been a TV ghost hunter for about 35 years, on and off. We've never really had a good conversation about it, since he lives in California and I've only seen him two or three times in the last 45 years, but I hope to chat with him at the next reunion. He is a cameraman, too, though, and knows a jillion movie and TV stars, and it's really hard to get close to him at our reunions. Everybody wants to know about his Hollywood experiences!

    Two friends talk about ghostly presences at their centuries old places of business, and I myself witnessed an honest-to-God ghostly phenomenon this July. I'm definitely a believer after that!

  14. Hi Linda! Ooh - good question! I'd say it's probably 50/50 on the debunking versus finding. Often within the same site there are elements we can debunk and other things we can't. One of the things we look for is high-levels of Electro-Magnetic Frequency. This can be caused by something paranormal, but it can also be caused by faulty wiring or by certain appliances (water heaters, for example). High EMF can make a person feel everything from creepy-crawly sensations to physically ill. There have been many times when we could explain feelings reported by a client in a certain room as being most likely caused by high levels of EMF.

    We have never had a client try to trick us, fortunately. We are careful with who we investigate for, which is why we interview them before we agree to investigate. So far we haven't encountered anyone looking to trick us!

  15. Hi Rhys! We'd love to hear more about your experiences growing up in a haunted house!

    Have I ever encountered a malevolent spirit you ask. I think so. When we investigated an old jail, I wound up going to the basement alone (I know - what was I thinking?). I had a camcorder with me and I was looking at the screen on it to see my way around. I felt like if I looked up from that screen, there would be a man standing right next to me, just out of the viewfinder's line of sight. It was not a pleasant sensation and after about 5 minutes, I went back upstairs. I got Andy and another investigator and we went back down to the basement. The sensation didn't repeat.
    I say "I think so" on this experience because I have no proof. Nothing appeared on the video I shot, no audio was picked up, and the EMF meter I had with me never spiked. It was just a personal experience.
    We did try to test this though. The next time we returned to the jail we had a new investigator with us. We asked him to go to the basement on his own, not telling him about my experience so as not to prejudice him. He returned after a few minutes and reported that he felt so creeped out down there that he'd backed himself into a corner so that nothing could sneak up on him!
    I've returned to that basement a few times since my first investigation but I've never had the same feeling there. I still don't know that it was anything paranormal. It is a creepy place, even with all of the lights on.

  16. RUnning in...had to do tv work this AM, imagine that!

    Karen, what happened?

    And yes, can you imagine my delight in realizing Shelly was such a wealth of interesting info?

  17. DO I think there are ghosts? Hmm. I hope so.

  18. Shelly and Andy, how fascinating! And what patience you must have! (And anyone with a Tardis for their icon gets my business:-))

    I've never had an individual ghost experience--well, maybe one, but that's a different story... But I do feel that there are places that are repositories of energy. For instance, I am so sure that Glastonbury Abbey is "haunted" that I wrote a novel about it.

  19. Oh, yes, Debs. At Stonehenge, you can feel the energy, even through all the prerecorded auido tours stuff, the hokey New Age idiots, and gift shop. Some places are repositories of so much psychic or paranormal energy that nothing much can damp it down.

  20. Can't say I've ever seen a ghost, but I can say I've had a couple of paranormal experiences, one when I was in high school and my family moved into a new/old house and the second after my parents died and I (along with my husband and two kids) were spending a last night in the house before it sold. The first experience was the appearance of something very scary, not a ghost, and which I still find hard to discuss (after 40 some years). The second experience was more of a presence of evil that was threatening to me as I lie on the living room trying to go to sleep. My husband and two children were with me on the floor, as most furniture had been cleared out already in anticipation of selling house. It was a threatening feeling/force that I could not shake off and chalk up to my imagination. I knew I was not alone in my unease when I suggested to my husband that we go to a hotel (late at night) and spend the rest of the night, and my husband readily agreed. He is an extremely practical person who has a reasonable explanation for everything. We literally grabbed our belongings and fled the premises. Our children weren't aware of why we were leaving in the middle of the night. I think we made some excuse which they accepted. It's as if the house was not going to let me go, and I had no choice but to run for my life. I know this all sounds too crazy, but I have never regretted following my instincts and leaving the house that night. Now, to give my story a little more credibility, one of my sisters was there at night during this time working on something, and she heard things and felt uneasy, which caused her to vacate the premises. I should add that the noises she heard and the threatening feelings I experienced seemed to emanate from the basement. I know. Of course, the basement. However, it was what it was. I could say more, but even after almost 20 years, it still bothers me to think about it.

  21. Deb and Linda,

    I think there are definitely places which hold energies. One (of the many) ghost hunting theories hold that certain types of soil allow for more paranormal activity - granite and limestone in particular occur more frequently in haunted locations.

    In the case of a place like Stonehenge, you have a history of rituals and worship which would be able to leave an impression. You also have the fact that leylines are present, which are also supposed to contain energies. I'm sure that's a factor in what's felt there too.

    And did I find a fellow Whovian? :) I'd actually forgotten that icon was the one I had set up on Blogspot. Glad you like it.

  22. My own experience isn't really a haunting, but the night my grandfather died, I dreamed about him. I have always regarded it him visiting me on his way out of town, so to speak. It has remained a wonderful memory of him.
    I have friends who lived in a haunted house for years. They were always full of interesting stories. They had photographs of apparitions. My favorite story is the one where guests pajamas would be folded and up away under their pillows every morning.
    As the Cowardly Lion says, "I do believe in ghosts, I do, I do, I do."

  23. Hank, it was in Thermopolis, Wyoming this summer, when I kept hearing, smelling, and then FEELING someone (laying a hand on my shoulder) in my room at a small hotel--when I was completely alone, with no other possible explanation for the sounds and smells. I told this story here not long ago.

    It did not feel malignant towards me, and when I asked it to leave me alone so I could sleep, it did.

  24. What a fabulous Halloween post! Thanks for sharing, Hank!

    I believe in ghosts, and I think this is fascinating.

    Shelly, how do new clients find you? do you have a website, or an ad in the yellow pages, or something?

  25. KAthy, that is disturbing! Good for you for follwoing your instincts..can't hurt, right?

    Viccy, the pajamas were FOLDED? Really?

    Shelly, have you had times when the "ghosts" (or whatever) DO something physical?

  26. Kathy - that experience sounds very disturbing. I don't blame you for leaving.

  27. Viccy - folded up pjs - how neat!

    I think most spirits are not malevolent, and I've heard many stories of ghosts serving as guardian angels. Years ago, when Andy & I first started doing this, we had a friend who as a volunteer firefighter. He told the story of being called to a house fire. The fireman asked the homeowner what alerted her to the fire (it was an electrical fire which began inside the walls of the house). She told them that her husband had sat on the bed to wake her and tell her there was a fire. They asked to speak to the husband and she said, "You can't. He's been dead for 3 years."

  28. Hi LynDee,

    Clients mostly find us through word-of-mouth - they hear from someone else who had us in or they meet us giving a presentation somewhere (we do talks on how to ghost hunt as well as sharing local ghost stories; we've also guested on radio programs). We do have a website ( and are on Facebook as well (East Central Indiana Paranormal Investigators).

  29. Great article Hank

    I find ghost hunting fascinating as I have a ghost/spirit that has been following me since I was about 11, shortly after my Gramps died....

    I do believe it is Gramps watching over me - my spirit has always made it's presence known to me within a few days to a few weeks of moving to a new place (16 moves)

    My spirit has never been violent, just lets me know he's there

    ... Two of my dogs have reacted to "Gramps" when he has walked down the hall or stood in doorway (black shape)

    Had a neighbor in TN who would see black orbs fly through their house, their cats hair would stand straight up and they'd arch when orbs flew by.

    Got into a conversation about hauntings, ghosts, spirits with an insurance rep when we had damage from 2 nasty storms in 4 weeks - he was from catastrophic division..

    Rick had gone to evaluate damage on a house - he asked the owner to meet him there, he refused saying it was haunted.....he thought "ya, ok" and went on to the house. Opened the door and was hit with a blast of cold, damp air, walked into kithen and all the cabinet doors and drawers started opening and closing

    Rick said it was the fastest investigation he'd done in all the years of working for insurance.

    I have several friends who have had experiences with spirits

    I think if you don't believe there is a good chance you will not see or "feel" spirits, if they are friendly

    Mean, violent spirits, I think show to everyone, whether they believe or not.....JMHO



  30. Hi Hank!

    I have been touched by something on an investigation. This was in an old jail and I was sitting back near the cells. One of our new investigators was speaking to any ghosts that might be present, telling them maybe it'd been a while since they'd been around a woman, and he invited them to touch our hair. Right after he said that, something touched my ankle. It was a light brushing sensation and my first thought was that it was one of the cats who lived there, but we'd already chased them out of the cells. That's the most physical anything has been for me (and I'm fine with that).

  31. Great to see so many comments and stories. Thank you all for sharing, and feel free to let us know if you have any more questions.


  32. Hank, this was a lot of fun today. By the time I got here, all my questions were answered.

    Shelly, thanks for this—so interesting!

  33. Maybe I do have one...

    A friend gave me a photo a number of years ago. Her husband was acting in a play at the Yale Repertory Theatre. She took his picture backstage on opening night, and when it was developed (as a slide)—yes it was that long ago—there was a cloudy figure looking over his shoulder. He looked to be in an Elizabethan era costume, but that's just a guess. There were no photos on her film that were in any way related to that type of costume. They had no friends who looked like him, and they didn't recall anyone else being in the immediate vicinity when she took the photo.

    Have you ever seen anything like that? It bothered my friend so much she gave it to me. I was interested, and she was afraid to throw it away. I put it away, but it bothered me, too. She felt like it held some kind of curse.

    She had never shown it to her son, but when he returned home from school in England he heard about it and asked if he could have it. I haven't seen it since. He died shortly after. I don't blame the photo/slide, but it adds to the mystery

  34. Whoa, Reine. So interesting.

    Thank you, Shelly and Andrew! What a terrific day....xoo