The rise and fall of a ghost hunter
The star of A&E’s Paranormal State went from battling the supernatural to fighting his own inner demons.
Ryan Buell’s face is gaunt. He stares listlessly into the camera’s lens in his police mugshot. His eyes and cheeks are sunken and he looks for all the world like one of the specters he was once famous for vanquishing from homes in front of lights and cameras of a very different sort.
If you’re a true believer in an existence of an unseen world and a life beyond this one, or a fan of trashy A&E reality shows, you’re probably familiar with Buell. From 2007 to 2011 he was the star of the network’s ghost hunting reality show Paranormal State. The show followed Buell and member of Pennsylvania State Paranormal Research Society (PRS) as they traveled across America, using a mix of pseudoscientific methods combined with a mishmash of religious and occult practices to communicate and expel troublesome ghosts and malevolent entities from the homes of clients.
Today, Buell’s out on bail after sitting in custody in the Centre County, Penn. On Sept. 26 he was arrested on felony charges of theft and receiving stolen property after he failed to return a rented Kia Rio, prompting an Aug. 18 warrant for his arrest. According to reports, Buell was apprehended in South Carolina before he was transported back to Pennsylvania. After appearing at a court hearing in October, he was granted a bail modification in exchange for giving up his passport. A date for his trial hasn’t been set.
The arrest is just the latest misfortune to befall the former reality television celebrity. The path to Buell’s arrest is paved with controversies: Health problems, Taking money taken from fans for events that never happened, and fall outs with friends, family and colleagues. The incidents hang like a dark cloud above Buell, and hint at possible personal demons that the man who once claimed to be called in to investigate possession cases for the Catholic Church cannot seem to excercise from his own life.
“We all want the best for our children, and can be guilty of closing our eyes to the obvious,” Buell’s mother Shelly Lundberg wrote in a plea to his fans on Facebook shortly after the arrest. “But we do it with the best of intentions and have a hard time believing what our children can be capable of.”
Buell’s trouble began shortly before Paranormal State ended in 2011. In a post on his now-defunct blog in January of that year, Buell said the cast was parting ways and he’d no longer be on the show.
“As we started to get towards the end of the fifth season, I began to realize that I was having a hard time, physically and mentally with everything,” he wrote.
In 2012 Buell announced that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancers. His social media was flooded with messages of support from the more than 52,000 followers on his Facebook page, according to People. At the time, Buell’s message to his concerned fans was positive and inspirational in its tone. He posted a image of himself, mostly nude and holding a Captain America shirt. Its caption read “Cancer: Even the Greatest of Heroes Have to Take the Fight Within Soldier On!”
At the time, Chip Coffey, a psychic medium and friend of Buell’s who appeared on episodes of Paranormal State, voiced his support in an interview with People.
“He’s determined to be able to fight this disease,” Coffey said. “To not lie down and quit. Ryan continues to be, always, in my thoughts and in my prayers.”
But the goodwill of adoring fans and supportive friends wouldn’t last long. Citing his improving health, Buell reformed PRS in 2014 and announced a national tour, “Conversations with the dead”. Fans rejoiced, and began to buy tickets. Coffey, who was supposed to join Buell on the tour, said PRS was in charge of organizing the venture, and in an interview with a local television news station, claimed that ticket sales were in excess of $80,000.
The tour never happened. Coffey dropped out before it even got off the ground. In his interview, Coffey blamed his departure to poor management and planning by PRS. Venues, hotels, and airline tickets never got booked and just days before the tour was scheduled to start, he learned that the money for the tickets had been allegedly frozen in a Paypal account. There was no money for the tour, he said.
“At that point in time, I knew I had to bail out,” Coffey said.
Coffey said he hated to disappoint his fans, and added he walked away from a “sizable amount” of money to walk away from the tour.
“I didn’t throw Ryan under the bus,” he said in the interview. “Ryan stepped in front of the bus and I jumped out of the way. Any smart business person would have done the same thing.”
Soon after, Buell announced that the tour dates were cancelled due to problems with his health. But his fans, the ones who left all the messages of support for him just a few years ago, never got their money back. The mood quickly turned against Buell. Even today, two years later, it doesn’t appear that many, if any, of the people that paid money for the tour got refunds. Nearly every recent post on Buell’s Facebook page contains comments from former fan asking for their money back from the failed tour.
“Why don’t you return that money you stole from your fans.. that would be a start,” wrote one self-proclaimed vicim on a Facebook post written shortly after Buell was released from jail.
That post, written as a statement from Buell to his fans Oct. 2 of this year, makes no mention on when that money might ever be returned, nor does it give a reason as to just what caused the former reality star’s spiral. Many of those comments hint, darkly, at a possible addiction. But no one really knows, Buell doesn’t appear to be willing to share that information, only writing that he hoped to return to his work with PRS, but first had to “take care of himself.”
“However, I will say that I am safe and I am taking some time to heal and handle some urgent matters,” Buell’s post stated. “My family and I appreciate your understanding and for respecting our privacy.”
Buell isn’t saying much more, and the only other real clue as to the cause of the turmoil in his life was the cryptic post his mother made in the wake of his arrest begging fans to stop “enabling” her son.
“PLEASE stop enabling his situation by sending money, buying tickets to events that may never occur, buying merchandise/phone calls you may never get, paying to watch him on Twitch, and giving him offers of shelter,” the post pleads. Later she adds. “We haven’t had the TRUE Ryan in years.”
Still, for as many comments from upset and allegedly swindled fans decrying Buell, messages of support continue to flood in. The last post on his Facebook page includes a message from a fan that appears to remain the true believer.
“I have seen you command Demons,” he writes. “Ryan Buell. You will overcome this one as well.”