Paranormal Investigators Search for Answers, Responsibly
It was a promising investigation. The problem? Footsteps. When the client was alone at home, he heard someone else thumping down his hallway.
The location? An old farmhouse with some history – nothing that remarkable, but people had died there.
The client? He seemed sane, reasonable. So WOOPI, the Western Oregon Organization of Paranormal Investigators, sent two pre-investigators, including Elaine Davison, to scope it out.
They examined the hallway. They talked to the client. They even looked under the house – and that’s when it happened. Her co-investigator radioed to Davison: “we’ve got a huge rat down here.”
Further investigation revealed a pipe that ran under the hallway. Deduction: giant rat + tight pipe = regular thumping. Every step the rat took to struggle through the pipe sounded like a footstep in the house.
Davison, who lives in Lebanon and recently stepped down as the leader of WOOPI to focus on educational outreach, has been investigating PNW paranormal activity for more than 10 years. She has dozens of stories like that of the farmhouse rat, moments where the potentially paranormal turns out to be rationally explainable: a 100-year-old barn that’s haunted by a cougar. A door that’s rumbled open by the UPS truck that sits in the nearby driveway. A live person found living in a supposedly haunted closet.
“I believe everyone who calls is experiencing something,” Davison said. “But to jump to ‘It’s a ghost’? No.”
At a recent WOOPI meeting, the group discussed their latest client, an elderly woman who said bugs falling from her ceiling were waking her at night. WOOPI set up cameras, and they saw nothing; the woman was waking when her neighbor came home. But they knew that the elderly often have trouble seeing, and Davison suspected a spatial frequency disorder. The client, a retired doctor, scheduled a visit to the doctor.
“Mentally, she knows that she’s dealing with shadows,” Davison says. “But it’s hard at night. She was so scared by what was happening that she was willing to believe anything.”
She turned to the group, “The good news is that we have helped her,” she said. “The bad news is that it’s again not a ghost.”
More common than ghosts are wild animals, mold, mildew, mentally ill clients, and strong electromagnetic fields. Davison, who authored a safety pamphlet and book of investigation case studies, speaks nationally about paranormal safety, and makes sure her team is rigorous and thorough in their investigations.
WOOPI uses a “problem-solving method” for investigations and focuses on finding ghost-affirming evidence. They research the location’s history and run up to six cameras overnight to document activity. Afterward, they comb through the more than 30 hours of video and audio footage, looking for things they cannot explain.
They have forms for pre-investigation, consent, investigation protocol, and logging evidence. Their member rulebook is two full pages. Above all, members are never allowed to take money from their clients.
“We have to be above reproach,” Davison said.
WOOPI is one of nearly a dozen paranormal investigation teams in the Albany, Corvallis, and Lebanon areas, Davison said, and with members from as far away as Portland. Some investigating teams charge for their services – before WOOPI investigated the spiders, the woman paid another team to “close the portal to hell” in her house – and other teams have a reputation for less-than-professional behavior.
At the meeting, WOOPI member Michael Underwood recalled one team that posted a drunk investigation video on YouTube.
“I’m not gonna say they are bad people, because they aren’t,” he said. “But this is stupidity. This was a classic, ‘Here hold my beer,’ moment.”
Bad behavior on investigations diminishes the credibility of all teams, making convincing skeptics of genuinely unexplainable evidence more difficult. So far, WOOPI has only found a handful of situations it can’t explain.But that’s okay with Davison, because for her, it’s about the investigation.
“We don’t know that there’s really ghosts,” Davison said. “We think there might be, or we wouldn’t be doing this.”
Davison grew up in what she believes was a haunted house, out in the country near Lebanon. She said that every night until she was 12, a shadow figure would tuck her into bed. Other times, her mother would enter the kitchen to find a baby bottle already prepared for her. Her mother’s great, great, great, great uncle lost his wife and four kids to fever in that house, and Davison wonders if the mother is still taking care of her kids. Now, a mother herself, she still wants to find out what happened.
“What was I experiencing?” she said. “Was I just a little child meeting an imaginary friend, hallucinating? Are imaginary friends really ghosts? I don’t know. I want to know. And if I don’t investigate, I’ll never know.”