Unexplained changes in temperature; sudden drops in the energy of batteries; feelings of "heaviness" in the air - these are the tools of the paranormal investigator.
Well, the low-budget paranormal investigator at least.
"Because I can't really afford anything, I can only rely on the five ordinary - and maybe one extraordinary - senses," says Justin Bergen, a senior at Free State High School. "It's kind of hard to explain sometimes because people end up thinking there might be something wrong with you if say that an area is 'busy' or 'full of activity.'"
If you live near the Oak Hill Cemetery, you may be familiar with Bergen. He's the soft-spoken 17-year-old with the mohawk and the insatiable curiosity for the unknown. While other cemetery visitors are planting flowers, he's calmly mulling around in search of paranormal activity.
"There's a very large mausoleum where a lot of people say they feel things, myself included," he says. "On warm summer nights, what's really disconcerting is to walk into an area that's cold."
Such experiences don't scare Bergen, though his stories often scare his friends. Bergen's research has led him to the conclusion that ghosts are simply residual traces of past occurrences. These spirits are essentially harmless, he says, and they're certainly not demonic forces like the ones rumored to exist in Stull Cemetery.
If Bergen had his way, he'd already have visited other purportedly haunted locales like The Eldridge Hotel, The Masonic Temple and the former Sigma Nu fraternity house.
Unfortunately, otherworldly spirits aren't the only barrier to such investigations.
"Most of the places in Lawrence that are haunted are private residences that I can't get into," Bergen says. "I'm totally cool with that, because I know how weird it would be if somebody walked up to my house and said, 'I heard this place was haunted. Can I look around?'"
Thankfully, there still are plenty of people who do want strangers coming to their house to see if it's haunted.
These afflicted souls can enlist the assistance of a handful of paranormal investigation units scattered throughout the Kansas City area, the closest being The Olathe Society for Paranormal Research & Investigation (OSPRI).
- An example of electronic voice phenomena (EVP), which OSPRI members say sounds like the voice of a ghost
- Diane Gonzalez of OSPRI talks about how OSPRI maintains its credibilty and sniffs out pranksters.
- Diane Gonzalez of OSPRI talks about how OSPRI's investigations work.
- Diane Gonzalez of OSPRI talks about the equipment that OSPRI uses for its investigations.
- Diane Gonzalez of OSPRI talks about why she believes in the paranormal.
- Sueanne Pool of KC Ghost Hunters talks about how she organizes her investigations and why it's important to have a psychic.
- Sueanne Pool of KC Ghost Hunters talks about "the dead people behind you."
- Sueanne Pool of KC Ghost Hunters talks about why you can't get rid of ghosts.
Founded in May, OSPRI is composed of 12 volunteers who spend their weekends investigating haunted locales in Kansas and Missouri. Armed with infrared-enhanced video cameras, digital voice recorders, electromagnetic-field detectors and thermal probes, OSPRI aims to deliver answers to those who desperately seek them.
"A lot of people think they're going nuts, because they don't understand what's going on," says OSPRI President Kari Morrison. "If there is a true haunting, we're here to help you, and we can give you further context."
Within OSPRI's inner circle, the existence of ghosts is a given. Many of the group's members have interacted with ghosts since childhood and still do on a regular basis.
"I've witnessed all I can witness, so my ultimate goal is to have scientific proof that there is something out there," Morrison says. "I think everyone has had something happen to them - they just might not want to acknowledge it."
Morrison, 26, regularly visits with a doctor and emphasizes that she has no history of schizophrenia or mental illness. As a child, she regularly saw "shadow people" (vague outlines of entities). As she grew older, the ghosts became clearer and occasionally touched her arm.
"Sometimes they'll just come and sit by your bedside," says Morrison, a stay-at-home mother of three. "I'm not scared of it. I don't necessarily encourage it, but it's all right if it does happen."
Much of OSPRI's credibility hinges on their policy of not charging a fee for investigations. Their combined investment in ghost-hunting technology (most of which can be found at your neighborhood department store) came straight out of their pockets - around $100,000 total, by Morrison's estimate.
All they ask in return is the opportunity to pursue their paranormal muse.
"It's a hobby like anything else," says Richard Gonzalez, a bomb disposal technician who works as OSPRI's lead evidence analyst. "The whole idea is to make sure we remain 100 percent credible. If there's any doubt or the evidence is inconclusive, it's simply not going to make the cut."
Gonzalez, 40, is the resident skeptic of the group (he was enlisted by his wife Diane, who founded the group). He considered himself a "30 percent believer" when he joined OSPRI, but a recent investigation at a private residence in a small Missouri town turned him into a "60 percent believer."
The most convincing piece of evidence obtained at the site, he says, was an electronic voice phenomena (EVP) that sounds like the voice of a ghost.
"Those are the kind of things that have really pushed me over the fence because of the controls that we establish on our investigations," Gonzalez says. "Things are starting to pop up that I simply can't explain."
According to "Judy," a current occupant of the aforementioned house who spoke on condition of anonymity, OSPRI confirmed her suspicions that she was being haunted by her fiance's deceased ex-wife.
"They put out these motion detectors, and you could hear those go off as she was pacing about," she says. "Everything they said about the reasons why she does what she does was right on the mark."
Since moving into the house four years ago, Judy has experienced several unexplainable events that she attributes to her fiance's ex-wife. Mysterious voices emanate from her closet. The sink mysteriously sprays water. The garbage can hops around like an animal is trapped inside.
Such poltergeists still occur from time-to-time, Judy says, but the situation has become more livable since OSPRI visited.
"They were able to give us more of the story," she says. "Then they told us additional things to help us work with it."
In the world of paranormal investigation, a theoretical divide exists between groups that rely on technology and groups that employ psychics.
Sueanne Pool of KC Ghost Hunters falls into the latter category. Her five-year-old company - which was recently featured on a Travel Channel program titled "Haunted Atchison" - takes advantage of her ability to contact spirits.
"You need to have the psychic element," Pool says. "I actually talk to dead people. How many people can claim that?"
Though some of Pool's competitors deride KC Ghost Hunters for charging a psychic fee, Pool says the minor fee (about $50) is appropriate for someone with her experience.
"This is our livelihood," she says. "A lot of these people are jealous because we are on television. I think that's creepy."
One thing that Pool has in common with her competitors is her inability to get rid of ghosts.
"Anybody that tells you that you can get rid of a ghost is an idiot," she says. "They can go anywhere they want to ... they're not restricted to time or space like we are."
The good news, Pool says, is that 99 percent of ghosts pose no harm. Ghosts will, however, occasionally take exception to remodeling efforts.
"You have to remember that it's their house," she says. "They're just allowing you to be there."