are the modern day ghost hunters? Is there any such a
thing as a professional ghost hunter, namely somebody
whose nine to five consists of being a detector of all
things specter? After all, bounty hunters are out
there picking up regular wage checks, as the recent
case involving fugitive Max Factor heir Andrew Luster
has shown. Duane "Dog the Bounty Hunter"
Chapman spectacularly nabbed Luster in Mexico after
Luster performed a vanishing act from his LA trial for
a series of date rapes. Do ghost hunters make a
first myth regarding professional ghost hunters is
that they actually get paid. The modern day ghost
hunter works for love, not money. The people who are
actively involved in hunting for ghosts today fall
broadly into two categories: well known investigators
(who also write about their work), such as Loyd
Auerbach, Jim Graczyk, Patti Starr and Richard
Southall, and the equally devoted investigators who
make up the membership to some of the 300 ghost
hunting organizations out there today. But neither
group makes a living from their actual ghost hunting.
Widely regarded as a leading authority on ghost
hunting, parapsychologist and author Loyd Auerbach,
who's also a consulting editor/writer for Fate
magazine, warned me outright that wage earning ghost
hunters simply don't exist. "There are
parapsychologists, like myself, who focus primarily on
field investigations or 'ghost hunting' and there are
some amateurs who have made full time status by
running ghost tours or pre-paid membership
organizations. But there is currently no funding for
spending one's time doing such investigations and the
cases pay relatively little (and
often nothing at all)", Loyd explains - a
viewpoint echoed by most other ghost hunters. "We
are all just everyday people with regular jobs",
adds Karen Travis-Eaddy, a member of the South Jersey
Ghost Research Organization, based in New York and
Pennsylvania."Ghost hunting is something that we
do because we have questions about the paranormal and
have the drive to pursue a deeper understanding. We're
a non-profit organization doing what we do because we
But it's not only enthusiasm that drives them on;
there's also a clear need for their services. Who are
these clients? "Clients come from all walks of
life. Anybody who believes they have a legitimate
haunting could call. People who have made renovations
on an older house or live near a location that has
significance of some sort are the most frequent type
of client", explains Richard Southall, author of
' How to Be a Ghost Hunter' (Llewellyn). "Hauntings
are caused mostly by either a repetitious action (such
as looking out of a window) or a very traumatic event
(say, a Civil War battle or a
murder) being ingrained into an area. Renovating an
area tends to 'recharge' the impression",
Southall continues. Jim Graczyk, author of 'A Field
Guide to Chicago Hauntings' (Whitechapel) says,
"The majority of people who contact us are the
general public. They may give us a lead on a business
that may be haunted if they work at that location.
Otherwise, it's your basic home or apartment that may
have some activity going on and they call us to set up
Todd Roll, lead investigator for the Wausau Paranormal
Research Society adds that his clients include factory
workers, college professors and small business owners,
"anybody who believes they have experienced a
ghost", he says. "Mostly our clients are
just home owner's who have experienced something
strange in their home and want to know what is going
on. With business owners it's a crap shoot. Some of
them don't want the public to know they have a ghost
and others are looking for us to
certify that they have a 'haunted' business. Any
publicity is good publicity, don't you know. But if we
don't find any evidence of a haunting then that is
what we’ll tell the owner: "Sorry, but we
cannot confirm that your business is haunted",
Patti Starr, President of Ghost Chasers International,
has a wide variety of clients that include businesses,
hotels, restaurants, museums, historic landmarks,
cemeteries, as well as private apartments and homes.
"Most of the time, they just want to know if the
disturbance they are experiencing really is paranormal
- or whether we can find a logical explanation",
Chad Lewis, a Paranormal Investigator based in
Wisconsin, also hosts the television show
'Unexplained'. He has been investigating the
paranormal for nearly ten years. He describes his
average client: "The majority of people I
encounter with ghost cases are just normal, rational,
intelligent people who want some answers to what is
happening to them. They do not want to get rich off
their stories and are not seeking attention or fame.
Many don't want their names released for fear of
ridicule. Many of them are skeptics who never believed
in the paranormal until it happened to them. Some of
the witnesses still don't believe in the paranormal
even after they have experienced it first hand. Often
they just want some reassurance that they are not
going crazy and
that other people have experienced similar phenomena.
Many people have an emotional investment in their
belief system, which makes it extremely difficult to
adapt to new experiences".
So how exactly do modern day ghost hunters actually
help their clients? "The help is in the
confirming or denying the existence of a ghost",
says Brandy Stark, founder of the S.P.I.R.I.T.S.
organization in Florida. "Most people just want
to know if there is any validity to the experiences
they are having", she adds. "One of the
biggest concerns people have is whether or not the
haunting can hurt them", says Richard Southall.
"If it is a ghost recording, I will explain that
in most cases this type of manifestation is
harmless". Karen Travis-Eaddy says the South
Jersey Ghost Research group aims to help people
understand what they're experiencing and to not be
afraid. "We try to
help people understand that this phenomena is natural
and part of our existence", says Karen.
Loyd Auerbach mostly gets asked to help people
actually DEAL with the phenomena. "This may
involve some form of resolution; removing or stopping
the phenomena", he says. "However, we always
make it clear that no one can guarantee the removal of
"Once people know what kind of a haunting it is,
they become more comfortable with living with the
energy", says Patti Starr. "If, however,
they are not comfortable, then we do a cleansing and
prayer to help send the ghost away from the earth's
plane". Todd Roll tries to explain to clients
that there is no way to 'get rid of' a ghost. "We
tell them the best thing they can do is learn to live
with it. If this fails, we'll direct the client to
local clergy who will be willing to bless the
home", he says.
The S.P.I.R.I.T.S organization, which does not perform
exorcism, uses more hands on methods of removing
unwanted visitors. "We try to empower the clients
into setting 'house rules'. Basically, we recommend
they talk out loud to the entity - ask it outright to
leave. We also burn sage and 'smudge the area', Brandy
Patti Starr uses a combination of psychics and
credible scientists on her investigations. Ron Kolek,
founder of the New England Ghost Project, uses a
Franciscan Monk in his investigations. "Religious
exorcism and psychic cleansing are also options
available to our clients", he says.
So what exactly does the actual 'hunting' involve?
"A lot of sitting around watching a TV monitor of
an empty room or hallway", says Todd Roll.
"You spend countless hours reviewing the tapes
you recorded or the pictures you took", Jim
Graczyk adds. Chris Peterson, co-founder of the Utah
Ghost Hunters Society describes ghost hunting as
"long hours spent after dark in places most
people wouldn't be caught dead in".
Richard Southall explains the process of ghost
hunting. "It's really like working a puzzle where
a few pieces are missing. Over time, with
perseverance, the pieces tend to fall into place.
Firstly, you interview the people who report the
haunting in order to find consistencies and patterns.
You have to determine if the person is performing a
hoax or misinterpreting a natural phenomenon",
Southall says. Loyd Auerbach adds that these
interviews become an ongoing process throughout the
investigation. "It is the experiences of the
witnesses that drive our investigations and determine
our goals", he says.
The next step is the research. Southall usually starts
in a local courthouse or library that may have
documentation related to the haunting (newspaper
clippings, official documents etc).
"Specifically, I look for obituaries, previous
owners of the place, what may have been standing on
the site before the current building, any news stories
of foul play etc. After you've got the background
info, it's time for the on-site investigation".
This is where the equipment comes in.
Ghost hunting equipment generally falls into three
categories, says Southall. Firstly, we use equipment
to capture images such as 35mm cameras and video
cameras. Secondly, we use various recording devices to
capture sound. And lastly, we use equipment to capture
changes in temperature and electromagnetic energy such
as Geiger counters and infrared thermal probes.
Technology plays an ambiguous role in ghost hunting.
The Tri-Field Natural Electro Magnetic detector,
originally designed to detect environmental pollution,
is proving useful at detecting unusual magnetic
fluctuations. "Such equipment does not detect
ghosts per se, but it is useful in looking for
physical correlations", says Auerbach.
"However, even with a Tri-Field Natural EM Meter,
one cannot determine from a reading the source of the
anomaly, one can only rule things out", he adds.
Patti Starr uses the Trifield to detect radio waves,
static electricity and basically filter out man-made
currents (interference from computers, fans, and air
conditioning and electricity sources). "I also
use five different cameras at a time", she says.
"I use a digital Nikon 950 3.2 Pixel, a 3-D
camera with double lenses, a Cannon 35 mm, a Bell
Howell 35 mm, and a Polaroid instant shot. I get
pretty excited when I get the same anomaly show up in
the different cameras", adds Patti, who also
penned 'Ghost Hunting in Kentucky' (McClanahan).
Polaroid and digital cameras are favored for their
instant results ending the anxious wait to develop
film as the images can be examined on the spot.
"Most of the equipment can be found lying around
a person's house. If a person decided to start from
scratch, they could get a basic kit together for as
little as $100", says Richard Southall. "In
fact, one of the most impressive ghost photos I've
ever seen was taken by a disposable camera".
Chris Peterson agrees, "There are a lot of people
right now trying to sell all kinds of ghost hunting
equipment. The truth is 99% of it is a waste of money.
Most people spend a great deal of time and money on
equipment they don't even know how to use. Here's over
twenty years of experience talking. Get a camera and a
tape recorder and call it good. Don't waste your money
on sensors and gadgets. Infrared equipment? People
tell me all the time "Well, even if
infrared doesn't find a ghost, it will still let you
see in the dark". I tell them "Sure, you
drop a thousand bucks in infrared to see in
the dark and I'll use a flashlight for a buck
Technology has its downside, as well. Photographic
software, such as Adobe Photoshop, has made hoaxes
easier to perpetrate. Digital cameras have a knack for
picking up orbs of light. Whilst some believe they are
the manifestation of spirits, others put it down to
serious lens refraction. "There are a lot of
people out there skulking around in dark places taking
pictures of little dots of light and calling
themselves 'ghost hunters'", says Ron Kolek.
"Reliance on cameras and recorders to capture
paranormal phenomena is a relatively new thing",
says Loyd Auerbach. "More related to the growth
of the amateur groups than to what parapsychological
field researchers have been doing. This is
because of the enormous potential for false hits on
tape, film and digital media, without the ability to
rule out any of the causes of such false
Chad Lewis elaborates: "I use a lot of equipment
during a ghost investigation (4 track audio recorders,
digital and High 8 video recorders, motion detectors
etc). However, it is still speculative to say whether
ANY of these devices actually help pick up ghosts.
Coming from a science based research background, I am
extremely skeptical of unsubstantiated claims.
Basically, I just use it to try to rule out any
conventional explanations for the phenomena".
Constantly having to deflect references to
Ghostbusters, the real life ghost hunters have mixed
feelings towards Hollywood's sensational approach to
the paranormal. When movies like The Amityville Horror
and Poltergeist were becoming blockbusters in the late
70s and early 80s, it provoked dramatic media interest
in hitherto unknown investigators. Auerbach remembers
fending off journalists that begged him to show them
haunted houses. "The first thing I'd ask is
"Do you know how badly funded parapsychology is?
Do you know how little respect we get from the other
sciences? If I could take you to a house where stuff
is flying around all the time, do you think that would
be happening?". But press interest has evolved
since then, now the journalists are asking questions
such as mine, "So what do you guys really
Not all ghost hunters are as media friendly as
Auerbach, who has gone on to become Director of the
Office of Paranormal Investigations, former President
of the California Society for Psychical Study,
regularly appearing on TV and radio. Many ghost
hunters are understandably wary of media probing and
fear coming across as cranks or worse, money-making
scammers. They are often at pains to point out that
they investigate hauntings out of their own pockets.
"Sometimes we have to travel far and pay the gas
and hotel costs ourselves", says Jim Graczyk.
Although Auerbach doesn't make his living directly
from ghost hunting, he will occasionally charge a
nominal fee for investigations, usually no more than
$150. "This is partly because of the
educational aspects of what we do", he says.
"We provide what is almost a mini-course in
parapsychology for clients". Interestingly,
the people most willing and eager to pay something are
those with the least money. Rich folks bristle at
having to pay anything to 'researchers' or
'scientists', even though they have no problem
shelling out to psychics", Auerbach adds.
Chris Peterson believes that ghost hunters who ask for
money should be avoided. "The problem is
this", he explains, "If they don't turn up
evidence of a ghost, they don't get paid. They're
liable to accept anything as 'proof' and will try to
convince you of it, too. Those of us who don't get
paid to find a ghost have no problem telling anyone
'I've looked, I just don't find anything'".
Loyd Auerbach: "This is something I disagree with
to a point. Ghost hunters who ask for LOTS of
money, usually justified by touting how much expensive
equipment they bring to the case, should definitely be
avoided. However, sometimes NOT charging
invalidates one's professional standing and even
causes the people you're trying to help to ignore your
findings and advice. If the 'value' of an
investigator and the investigation were dependent on
finding evidence, then many of us wouldn't even try to
help people. The truth is that in many cases, it
may turn out that the clients were mistaken (though
still afraid), or that fraud was involved (one family
member fooling the others). How much help we provide
for people - and how effective we are as investigators
of the paranormal
- is absolutely independent of whether one turns up
'evidence' of a ghost", Auerbach insists.
Regardless of the issue of charging for their
services, ghost hunters are living proof of the rule
'don't give up the day job'. In his other life, Todd
Roll works as a reference librarian at a college in
Wisconsin. Jim Graczyk earns his daily bread as a
bodyguard, whilst studying for a Masters degree in
Education. Loyd Auerbach also performs as Professor
Paranormal, dazzling his audiences with a variety of
psychic entertainment and mind-reading effects. Chris
Peterson works in the transportation industry - his
fellow ghost hunters consist of blue collar workers,
doctors, lawyers and police officers; Patti Starr
teaches ghost hunting courses at a Community College
Richard Southall works as a consultant for a
vocational rehabilitation company; Brandy Stark is
also a successful artist and college lecturer; Chad
Lewis works as a grant writer/planner for a non-profit
How did their interest in ghosts develop? "Ghost
hunting actually chose me", says Richard Southall.
"When I was a teenager, we would periodically
hear the sound of heavy boots coming down the stairs.
There were cold spots that would appear out of
nowhere. On one occasion, an actual apparition was
seen", Southall explains. "So, I did some
investigating and found out that this was a
'recording' of a soldier who had passed through the
Brandy Stark also had a first hand experience of a
ghost: "When I was in my early twenties, I was
awakened by a wonderful aroma of flowers and an
intense feeling of peace. Four hours later, I was told
that my grandmother had died. She was letting me know
it was OK, she was OK".
Brandy went on to study for a Religious Studies
Masters Degree, writing about 'the evolving role of
ghosts throughout Ancient History' for her MA thesis.
"Ghosts can be found in the earliest epics (Gilgamesh),
the Central High Middle Ages, and right through to the
modern era. They're found in every culture", she
says. "Ghosts play an important role in religion,
offering proof of life after death and the existence
of a soul".
Brandy's current home is also 'mildly haunted'. She
describes the experience: "I kept feeling a
sensation of being watched and disapproved of. It was
a sensation of annoyance and included episodes where
my dogs started to bark at nothing. The culmination of
it was when I actually saw a single mist in my living
room. It hovered in the middle of the room, but wasn't
affected by the fan that was on. That morning,
my dogs had been whining, something they never usually
do. I hadn't been cooking, the windows weren't open
and yet there was this spiral of thick, pure white
mist in the room. I remember being cross because I had
no witnesses and there was no equipment in the room
with me. I went around checking nothing was on fire
and when I came back it had gone".
Did she unravel the mystery? "Whenever I'd been
working on my computer in the evenings, I'd get this
image in my mind of an angry old woman. Usually around
10.30 pm. The image was quite specific: long, thin
fingers; very pale hair; hunched back. I asked around
the neighborhood and was told about the former owner
of my house, who had lived here in the 70s. She was
thin, pale and had a hump caused by osteoporosis.
Apparently, she went to bed very early. The neighbors
would hear her yelling at her housemate who liked to
stay up late. The yelling started at.....you guessed
it, around 10.30 pm".
What did Brandy do about it? "Simple. I put the
computer in a different room and the phenomena stopped
completely. Some S.P.I.R.I.T. group members who are
sensitive tell me she is still here but is placated
and pretty mild. I still get the occasional feeling of
being watched, especially when I have a friend
in", she says.
Chad Lewis's curiosity for the unknown developed out
of his studies in psychology, bringing a Masters
Degree in Applied Psychology to the table. "I
first started researching the paranormal to
investigate the duality of belief in the paranormal.
If these things are real and happening, then we must
try to answer the salient questions that Humankind has
always asked itself - are we alone? What happens after
death? If these things are NOT real, then we must
investigate what it is about human belief systems and
perception that causes people to believe whatever they
felt they experienced".
How do the ghost hunters feel about the view that they
are 'dabbling with the unknown' and the various
religious attitudes that condemn such interest?
Richard Southall, whilst respectful towards other
peoples' religious views, has this to say: "Since
I believe that most hauntings are simply recordings, I
highly recommend that an investigator should try to
help that spirit move on or become 'unstuck'. Spirits
are usually encountered when one of four events have
taken place: the person died so suddenly that they do
not realize that they are dead; they have 'unfinished
business' or an unkept promise, they want to protect
or keep an eye on a loved one; or they are actually
kept back by loved ones who are grieving".
He continues: "As for dabbling with the unknown,
one practice I do not condone is the use of a ouija
board. I believe that they are simply asking for
trouble. I consider ouija boards to be a beacon for
entities to come forward".
"I believe that all the talk about evil spirits
is a load of bunk", says Todd Roll. "The
paranormal is just that part of nature which we don't
yet understand. It's not filled with demons and evil
spirits, but rather with measurable natural phenomena.
There is enough evil in the flesh and blood world
already. We don't need to go conjuring up
anymore", he adds.