XPI lead investigator, Allan Barnes, and his team, spend a night in one of the most haunted houses they have ever investigated — an unassuming ranch house in Upstate New York.
I stepped out of the car and shivered as the cold October air blasted through my thin jacket. At the end of the driveway stood a single level ranch house with a converted garage — perhaps a bedroom or a den. Most likely a den due to the bay window, oddly jutting into the crumbling driveway.
The house wasn’t old. It was built in the 1970s. The hedges along the perimeter and the all-concrete walkway with cast iron railing leading up to the front door continued to make the case for dating the property back four decades.
There were some signs of deferred maintenance. The rain gutters were stuffed with leaves, and since most of the leaves were still attached to the trees, it was a distinct possibility that the brown, half-rotted leaves jamming the gutters were from last October.
The all-perennial flower garden was overrun with weeds. Even the number “11” next to the door had been neglected. One of the “1's” was missing while the other hung crookedly by just one nail.
Paul came up beside me, his eyes fixed on the house.
“No way is this place is really haunted,” he said. “Did you read the case file?”
“No,” Lourdes chimed in. Usually, she reads the case file before arriving at a location. However, we quickly learned that the vast majority of times, the case file contains nothing but the clients name, contact information, and a line or two about what they are experiencing. There is not much to read.
“It just started happening a few months ago,” Paul said, no doubt enjoying the fact that he was the expert on this particular haunting right now. “One day, the house was fine, the next, it was haunted.”
“Huh,” Claire muttered as she picked up the case file, looking it over.
“Oh, but that’s not even the best part!” He said. “They’re gone! They vanished!” Paul said, clapping his hands together to add unnecessary impact. “Our client isn’t the owner of the house. The owners are gone. Nobody knows where they are!”
Claire pulled out the missing persons report. “Murdered?” she mused.
“Could be.” Paul said. “Maybe they’re buried in the back yard somewhere. The sister, our client, was questioned briefly by police after their disappearance.”
“Well, it doesn’t say she was a suspect,” Claire said.
Paul lifted the two, black hard cases of equipment out of the trunk of the car.
“Hello!” A voice called from the side yard opposite the driveway. Within a couple seconds, a middle-aged woman with dirty blond hair and professional attire walked across the front yard with her hand outstretched.
“Where was she hiding?” Lourdes muttered quietly under her breath.
“She was just making sure the graves out back weren’t too visible,” Paul jokingly whispered in her ear. I heard that whisper loud and clear, three feet from Lourdes. I cringed and looked at Mary, who didn’t seem to acknowledge hearing anything.
Paul’s “telling a secret” voice wasn’t always a whisper.
“I’m Mary,” she called out with the air of a commission-hungry realtor trying to sell you on a house that needs too much work, and that you can’t really afford. I stepped forward and shook her hand.
I introduced her to the team. She stood there smiling at them for a couple awkward seconds.
“Shall we see the place?” I finally asked.
Mary blinked, looked back at the house and said: “Oh yes, of course.”
She fumbled in her purse for the house keys and handed them over to me. I had never had somebody just hand me keys to their house. Usually, we do a walk through with the client, first. But she showed no interest in actually entering the house.
“Will you show us around?” I finally asked.
Mary looked back at the house nervously. “I, ah,” she began. She shuffled her feet and turned toward the house. She took a deep breath and motioned for us to go ahead of her.
The four of us filed past her along the narrow walkway and up the stairs to the front door. I opened the door.
I was relieved to find that the interior of the house wasn’t as unkempt as the exterior. The walls were recently painted. The furniture all matched and was in good condition. A big screen TV perched on an entertainment center opposite the couch. Above the chocolate brown sofa was a painting — and not just a mass produced print, but an original work of art.
“They brought that back from Mexico a couple years back,” Mary told me from the doorway.
She stood right by the open front door and gestured while she pointed out the location of the kitchen, the den, basement entrance, and bedrooms (down the hall). She made no effort to lead us on a walk-through.
I peaked my head into the kitchen and den, and looked down the hall. There was no need for a tour. The house was modest, and any sort of walk-through would serve to only bottleneck us in that narrow hallway as we went from room to room.
I asked Mary to tell us exactly what had happened here that lead her to call us. She didn’t actually call us. We were referred to her.
She turned and looked out at the front yard, then stepped into the living room towards us.
“Well, my sister and her husband have lived in this house since they bought it in 1997,” Mary began in a hushed tone, as if she were afraid the neighbors would overhear. “They never once complained about it being haunted up until March. It’s as if the house was fine one day, and the next, it was haunted. My sister complained to me about how they would be awoken in the middle of the night by strange sounds. They’d experience strange odors that would come and go.”
“What type of odor?” I asked, butting in.
“Sulfur,” Mary replied. “She’d be down in the basement doing laundry and suddenly there would be an overpowering sulfur smell that would last just a few seconds and then it would be gone. That’s what she told me.”
I shot a look over to Lourdes. She noted the sulfur smell in her notebook. While not a definitive sign of a haunting, a sulfur smell was a pretty common symptom of a ghostly resident-or possibly worse.
“Okay, well, go on,” Paul implored. “What else did they experience?”
“Oh, she told me about strange sensations that they’d feel, like somebody was standing behind them and just lightly brushing their finger across the back of their neck. Or they’d feel like they were being watched.” Mary paused for a second, looking around the livingroom.
“And then there were the dishes that were put away in the cupboards the night before only to be found shattered on the floor in the morning,” she continued.
I tapped Lourdes on the shoulder and nodded for her to write this all down, but she was already scribbling in her notebook. This was sounding more and more like a full fledged poltergeist — but why did it only start suddenly?
“What changed in March?” I asked.
“Did something traumatic happen in the house? Did they purchase or inherit an antique item?” Paul chimed in.
I’ve researched cases of so-called possessed objects, but I have never actually encountered one during an investigation.
“Nothing changed. It just happened out of the blue,” Mary said. “Police were called to this home five times in a two week period,” Mary continued, “but they never found any evidence of a break-in. They had three different exterminators out here, but none of them could find mice, or squirrels in the walls or attic — nothing like that. They probably thought they were going nuts. They never believed in ghosts or spirits, but at that time, my sister told me that she thought that her house was haunted.”
“And what is your sister’s name, again?” Paul asked. Paul tended to hijack interviews, and I didn’t mind because he was more of a people person that I was. I just let him run the interview. Lourdes held up the case file and pointed to their names, but Mary answered anyway.
“Her name was Margaret. And her husband, Frank.” I detected a flash of sorrow wash over her face. Paul makes eye contact with me, then steps forward and says, “Was?”
Both Lourdes and Claire glared back at Paul as if they were concerned he’d turn the interview into an interrogation.
“Yes, was,” Mary answered. “On the night of April 7, I received a call from Margaret at 2 in the morning. I could hear her breathing into the phone, but she didn’t speak. I hung up and called her back. She said that everything was fine, but she sounded strange and distant. I asked her if she was sure, and she said yes, that she had just knocked her phone onto the floor and that it accidentally dialed my number.
I didn’t think much of it after that and went back to sleep. The next morning, I dove by their house on the way into work and saw both their cars in the driveway. They both work, so it was unusual to find both of their cars in the driveway at that time that time of day. I stopped, knocked on the door but there was no answer. Neither of them answered their phone, which is not at all like them. I called the police, they came and we entered the house. Nobody was home. Their wallets and medications were in place. Nothing was missing — except for the two of them.
A missing persons case was filed but turned up no leads. It’s as if they just vanished into thin air.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that,” Paul said, breaking the silence. “My condolences.”
The rest of us muttered our condolences as well.
“Thank you,” Mary said. “I just hope that in hiring you guys that maybe you could find out if there is any connection between the strange things that Marge and Frank experienced and their disappearance. Perhaps you could shed some light on what might have happened to them.”
“Or where they might be,” Paul said. An uncomfortable pause followed.
“We’ll see what we can do,” Paul and I said almost in unison.
I explained to Mary that we had to treat this as any other haunted house investigation. At least we now have a possible direction when we conduct our EVP session later this evening.
“But, I can’t make any promises because we don’t yet know what we’re dealing with here,” I said.
“Oh, I understand,” Mary said. “Anything you could come up with would be great.”
I have conducted numerous pre-investigation interviews with clients, and I always become hesitant and fidgety when it was time to ask the next question. There wasn’t really any easy way to ask it without sounding condescending or worse, offending the client.
“I’m sorry,” I begin,“but this is a question we ask every client before an investigation. Um…was their any history of, you know, psychological distress in either Frank or Margaret? Did they take any medications? Did they have any reason why they might want to leave their lives — you know, like debt? Any enemies?”
“Oh no, no, no, no.” Mary didn’t look the least bit offended by my question. “Neither of them had any history of mental illness. They’re not the type to take drugs either. They owned their home outright, and had a good nest egg in the bank, so there wasn’t any reason to escape their lives.”
“And no enemies, either?” Paul was at it again, wresting control of the interview. It wasn’t a power struggle. It was just Paul being Paul. He was used to being a solo investigator. He was new to the whole team dynamic. His curiosity leads and he jumps in whenever he thinks of a question. That habit would irritate many, I’m sure. But it hasn’t been a problem. Maybe I’m just too easy going.
“Oh no, everybody loved them,” she replied. “They were quite involved with the community. Besides, the police conducted a thorough investigation and it just went cold. We have no suspects, and no motive. No money or valuables were taken.”
“Okay, thanks,” I said. Before I could open my mouth, Paul buts in with a: “One more question, then. Have you ever experienced anything unusual at this house?” I give Paul a nudge and he realizes what he’s doing. “Sorry,” he mutters to me.
Mary looked back at the front door as if all she wanted to do was to run outside and get out of the house. She looks around the living room again, uneasily.
She did act strange as far as typical clients go. Most people I have investigated for are at their wits end. They tend to be frustrated, scared, and desperate for relief from the mysterious and frightening events going on in their own homes. They often feel trapped by their house, but not yet ready to give up on it.
But Mary — there was something strange about her. She acted like she was extremely uncomfortable in the house, which is normal, but I’ve never seen a client so agitated to the point where they didn’t even want to be in the house.
She looked like she couldn’t wait to leave, or that she expected something terrible to happen at any minute. Her anxious energy was making me just a little bit anxious. I could see on Claire’s face that she was feeling an oppressive energy as well. I will ask her about it soon, but not here, not in front of the client.
“I have spent some time in the house since that day,” Mary answered. “Before March, it was just a normal house. I’d house sit for them, you know. But now there is a strange vibe here that I’ve never experienced before. When I’m in here, I feel like I’m being watched. I have smelled sulfur in the basement, and heard the door to the master bedroom slam shut when I was in the kitchen. I was alone at the time.”
“And the door was shut?” Paul asked, once again taking on the role of interviewer.
“It was,” Mary answered.
“Any open windows?” he asked.
“No,” Mary said.
“Okay, well, you’ve given us some helpful information,” I but in just as Paul opened his mouth to ask another question. “As I told you on the phone last week, we’ll be here overnight. We should be out of here by 6:00 AM. Then just give us a few days to go over the video and audio evidence, and we’ll set up a meeting to share our findings with you.”
“Okay,” Mary said with half a smile. “Good luck. Call me if you need anything at all.”
Without saying another word, Mary quickly made her way to the front door. She half shoved Claire out of the way and without apologizing or looking back, she walked out of the house, shutting the door behind her. Lourdes and I watched Mary out the window as she rapidly walked to her car, got in and drove away. The speed at which she left was strangely unnerving.
“I’m telling you,” Paul said, “she has something to hide! I bet Frank and Marge are in the back yard! Maybe we should start our investigation there.”
“What, you really think Mary killed her sister and brother-in-law?” Lourdes said to Paul, sarcastically.
“Dude, did you see she assumed they were dead? Who does that with a missing person’s case? Family always hopes for the best — that they are out there somewhere. I think she knows something that she’s not telling,” Paul asserted. “I can tell. This ain’t no haunted house. Something’s up, and it’s not EMF.” He held up an EMF meter and smiled as if he had just thought up the most clever line ever uttered. Both Claire and Lourdes rolled her eyes.
“Then why go though all the trouble with hiring a team of investigators to investigate a haunting?” Lourdes asked. “Your theory just doesn’t make sense, Paul”.
By now I was in the kitchen. There was a large counter top and breakfast bar with bar stools. It would make a great staging area. I told Paul to set up the DVR and run cameras to the basement.
We spent the next hour rigging every room of the house with full spectrum cameras, audio recorders, EMF meters, motion-sensing lights, and thermometers.
All of the cameras wirelessly transmitted a live feed to a couple laptops on the breakfast bar — our “command center” where the four of us would spend the next 8 hours or so drinking copious amounts of coffee, hoping to pick up something interesting on camera or audio.
Lourdes and I stepped into the back yard to take in a little fresh air before we’d be cooped up in the house all night. The cool autumn light contrasted with the warm glow from the lights inside the house.
Claire remained inside. She preferred to spend some time alone in a haunted place to get a proper reading. I liked to give her a solid hour to see what details she could pull from her intuition.
Paul poked around the perimeter of the yard, where the grass gave way to overgrowth at the edge of the woods. He squinted at the ground grabbed some dry, sandy soil in his fingers, and tossed it to the side.
Suddenly, the lights blinked off inside the house.
“Did we lose power?” Lourdes asked.
A split second later, we heard a loud sound from inside the house, like a bedroom door slammed hard.
My walkie talkie crackled, then Claire’s voice shouted: “Guys, I’m not alone in here!”
To Be Continued…
Allan Barnes is a lead field investigator for Xpara International, a global paranormal research organization. (This story is fiction.) Read more paranormal investigation field reports.