In Pursuit of Ghostly Encounters

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Ghost Hunters Northwest
Doug Sanders, front left, and Chris McCauley, front right, co-founded Ghost Hunters Northwest in 2011. Since their formation, they’ve added Hannah Stiffler, back left, Dustin Wilson, back right, and David Sanders, not pictured.

[quote style=”2″]Ghost Hunters Northwest works to prove — or debunk — the existence of ghosts[/quote]

In the dead of the night, when most of us are safely tucked under the covers sound asleep, five Umatilla residents can often be found in a stranger’s home or business, in the pitch black darkness.

They aren’t burglars quietly looking for valuables to pilfer, but rather investigators of the supernatural. Their names are Chris McCauley, Doug Sanders, Dustin Wilson, David Sanders and Hannah Stiffler and they are members of Ghost Hunters Northwest, a nonprofit organization aimed at debunking or proving – whatever the case may be – claims of paranormal activity.

And, yes, they are serious. They’ve invested thousands of dollars in high-tech equipment used to collect evidence during their investigations into the paranormal.

“A lot of people ask if we’re really serious about all this,” said McCauley, who, along with Doug Sanders, founded the group in 2011. “We’re like, ‘We’ve dumped $7,000 into this – yea, we’re serious.’ ”

Ghost Hunters Northwest
The Ghost Hunters say the lid to this trunk flew open and off its hinges during one of their investigations into a possible haunting.
All five hold full-time jobs but dedicate their off hours to looking into claims that a particular building is haunted. Since their formation, Ghost Hunters Northwest has investigated about 15 buildings but has been able to officially declare just two to be haunted. One was a home in Umatilla and the other was a business in Kennewick, Wash.

The investigation into the Kennewick business was actually covered by a television station. There they saw unexplained shadows, faces in mirrors, lights turning on and off, disembodied voices and the sounds of footsteps going up and down a staircase.

In the Umatilla home, the team also experienced several strange phenomena including a fishing pole moving on its own. They also heard the voices of a man and woman who appeared to be arguing with one another. But don’t just take their word for it – the evidence was captured on video and audio recordings.

In fact, capturing evidence on recording devices is critical to making a determination that a building is haunted.

“If we don’t get it recorded, we don’t consider it evidence,” said Wilson, 29. The group makes the findings of their investigations available for the world to see in webisodes posted on their website.

The ghost hunters use a wide range of equipment to detect the presence of ghosts. They’ve spent good money on

Ghost Hunters equipment
Ghost Hunters Northwest employs a wide array of equipment during their investigations. Some of it they buy, others they manufacture themselves.
infrared cameras, a special unit that measures the intensity of electromagnetic fields, a white noise generator, a thermometer that measures ambient air temperature, decibel meters that pick up frequencies the human ear cannot, a laser grid that picks up shadows in the dark, and many more.

Their toolbox also includes a golf ball.

“That’s really high-tech,” jokes the 26-year-old McCauley. “We set that on the floor to see if the foundation is level.”

It turns out that most strange occurrences experienced by people in their homes can be easily explained with a little detective work.

“A lot of people describe what we call the Funhouse Effect,” said Doug Sanders. “People feel off-kilter for some reason and it messes with their equilibrium. They think some unexplained entity is causing it.” That’s where the golf ball comes in. They set the golf ball on the floor and if it starts rolling on its own, it’s likely not a ghost pushing it down the hall, but a foundation that’s not level.

One of their more interesting cases involved a family in Stanfield who believed their house may have been haunted. Their boy, who was about 4, claimed to have been visited by a Native American and a young child. He told his parents that the Native American warned him not to play with the young child. That was enough to get the family to call in the ghost hunters.

The team set up camp in the home and spent several hours late at night with their recording equipment. They also conducted a visual inspection of the home, particularly the boy’s bedroom. And while their equipment managed to pick up two spoken words that couldn’t be attributed to anyone in the house at the time (“why” and “yea”), they were unable to make an outright declaration that ghosts were present in the home.

“There wasn’t enough to call the place haunted,” said McCauley.

They were, however, able to provide the family with a possible explanation for what their son was experiencing – a perfect storm of electromagnetic activity that could have caused their son to, well, hallucinate.

The boy slept next to the home’s breaker box, the refrigerator was on the other side of the bedroom wall, a nearby bathroom had a ceiling fan and there was faulty electrical wiring in areas of the house. Together this created what the team members call a “fear cage,” caused by electromagnetic field poisoning, which can purportedly interact with the brain to cause such dizziness, hallucinations and other neurological symptoms.

Sanders, 33, said their advice to the family was fairly simple: move the boy’s bed and try to reduce the amount of electricity running near the bedroom.

“We basically told them to feng shui the house,” Sanders said.

When the team does encounter spirits, they have a variety of methods to get the entity to respond. If it’s a female entity, the team will have their newest member, Stiffler, 21, attempt to communicate with it. Other times it’s a case of good cop-bad cop.

“We call it a provoking session,” said Wilson. “We’ll do things to make it angry, to see if it will respond. We might mess around with some items in the house.”

“We can either be really rough with them or very nice,” added McCauley. But they always ask permission from the residents before they get mean and nasty with the spirits.

“We don’t want to make it mad and have the entity retaliate against the family after we leave,” Wilson said. “If that happens, we’ve created bigger problems for them.”

Along with investigating potential haunted houses, Ghost Hunters Northwest also provide an educational program called Project Spooky in which they visit libraries and schools to offer insights into paranormal activity and how they conduct their investigations. They’ve taken their program to Umatilla, Hermiston, Boardman and La Grande. Anyone interested in arranging a presentation by the team can contact them on their Project Spooky webpage.

Although they clearly have fun doing what they do, each member of the team takes ghost hunting seriously. It’s a subject they have been drawn to long before they formed Ghost Hunters Northwest.

“I’ve always had an interest in the paranormal,” McCauley said. “In the beginning I was afraid of what lies beyond. Then the fear turned into interest, then into a passion.”