A Haunting in Umatilla?

Ghost Hunters Investigation
Dustin Wilson sits in a darkened room while attempting to communicate with a spirit. The homeowner had reported strange activity and asked the Ghost Hunters to investigate.

[quote style=”2″]Ghost Hunters Northwest Investigate Strange Occurrences in Umatilla Home[/quote]

The e-mail landed in my inbox on July 22. It was short and to the point:

“We have an investigation in Umatilla lined up for July 31. If you would like to join us, please let me know so I can give you the details.”

I think I hit “Reply” before I even finished reading the last words. “Absolutely – count me in,” I wrote back. This was not a crime investigation I was going to take part in. Law enforcement agencies aren’t in the habit of inviting reporters along on their investigations. But ghost hunters? Sometimes – and this was one of those times.

I first met the members of Ghost Hunters Northwest earlier this year when I wrote a profile on them just prior to the launch of Northeast Oregon Now. I told them I would love to go with them on one of their future investigations. But that was back in February and I assumed they had forgotten about my request. They hadn’t.

Ghost Hunter Vehicle
The Ghost Hunters arrive at the home on the evening of July 31.
The investigation would take place at a house in Umatilla. The resident, a mother of two named Liz (who prefers not to have her last name or address published), reported strange occurrences in the home she had been living in for the past 10 weeks. Her manual heating unit would turn on by itself. On several occasions she would find her shed door open. No one claimed responsibility and nothing was ever missing. Bedroom windows would close on their own. She would feel someone touching her when no one else was near her. She could hear footsteps upstairs when no one was on the second level. Then, one day, while in her kitchen, a bottle of Dawn dish soap began wobbling on the kitchen windowsill. This freaked her out. You see, her first name is Dawn, but she goes by the abbreviation of her middle name, Elizabeth.

She called Ghost Hunters Northwest, a five-member team of paranormal investigators whose investigations have led them to the Tri-Cities, La Grande, Heppner and places in between. I arrived at their Umatilla headquarters at 6:30 p.m. on July 31. Three members of the team, Chris McCauley, Dustin Wilson and Hannah Stiffler were there. Two others, brothers Doug and David Sanders, would join them later in the evening. McCauley co-founded the group with Doug and is the team’s tech manager.

McCauley outlines the plan for the night.

Ghost Hunter House
Chris McCauley, left, and Wilson determine where they will position their cameras.
“We’ll use the basics to start with,” he says. The basics include employing a K2 EMF meter which measures electro-magnetic fields (EMFs), which, according to the Ghost Hunters, spirits emit when manifesting themselves. The team will also try to record electronic voice phenomena using devices that can pick up voices at lower frequencies than the human ear can detect.

“As the night goes on, we’ll start using more complex equipment,” McCauley explains. He says if the team busts out the big artillery right from the get-go, whatever spirits or entities might be in the house could be intimidated and decide to lay low and out of eyesight and ear shot. During an earlier investigation at the Pheasant Café & Lounge in Hermiston, their digital voice recorder picked up the voice of an older woman saying, “We’re having a drink together.”

McCauley says it’s unlikely the team will be able to make any sort of definitive determination as to whether the Umatilla home is haunted until later, when they’ve had time to go over all the data from their equipment.

“The analysis will tell us everything,” he says.

Ghost Hunter Equipment
McCauley, Hannah Stiffler, center, and Wilson begin to unpack their equipment and prepare for the night’s investigation.
The team packs their equipment into their vehicle and heads out just after 7:30 p.m. A few short minutes later, they arrive at the house and begin unloading their gear. McCauley and Wilson check out the “hot spots,” areas of the house where Liz reported the strange phenomenon. Meanwhile. Stiffler walks around the house looking for anything that could cause “shadow play,” such as tree limbs that could trick the resident into thinking something is present in the house. It takes about 40 minutes for the Ghost Hunters to set up their cameras, digital voice recorders, EMF meters, motion sensors and more, not to mention 400 feet of cable. They set up cameras in four rooms of the house which can then be monitored in real time from a laptop. The team also takes baseline readings of the temperature and EMF in each room. If the readings change during the night, it could mean some sort of entity is present. Then again, it may mean nothing.

“A lot of people don’t understand how normal activity could be misconstrued as paranormal activity,” McCauley says. In the case of Liz’ home, the EMF readings are very high right from the beginning.

“It’s probably due to poor wiring,” Wilson explains. “It’s an old house.” The temperature on the bottom floor is much cooler than the upper floor, but that’s because the air conditioning unit is on the main level and doesn’t reach the upstairs where it’s a toasty 85 degrees.

After everything is set up and nightfall arrives, McCauley gives the go-ahead to start the investigation.

“Let’s go dark,” he says. And with that, all the lights in the house are turned off.

The team quickly notices that the motion sensor reacts every time the air conditioner kicks on, prompting McCauley to suggest turning off the AC unit. Stiffler winces.

“We’re just going to have to cook ourselves tonight,” McCauley says.

I follow McCauley and Wilson to an upstairs bedroom where one of the cameras and the EMF meter is set up. They begin by asking a series of questions in the hopes of getting a response.

“Do you live here?” McCauley asks. After a long pause, McCauley assures any potential entity in the room that none of the equipment in the room will cause it any harm.

“It’s just here to help us communicate with you,” he says. “So if you have anything to say to us or want to show yourself to us, you’re more than welcome because we’d really like to see you or hear from you.”

“If you want to scare us, go ahead,” Wilson says.

“It’ll take a lot to scare us, though,” McCauley adds.

“Maybe not me,” I chime in. McCauley then asks some additional questions in order to get to know the entity. He asks his or her name. He asks its gender, how long it has been in the home, if it is upset with the current residents, and several others – none of which get a response of any kind. After about 20 minutes, Wilson and McCauley move to a different bedroom and repeat their line of questioning. McCauley brings out a flashlight, sets it on a bed and adjusts it so it will turn on with just the slightest touch. He and Wilson then begin to ask if the entity had worked out at the Umatilla Chemical Depot in the 1940s. The house is believed to have been built in the early 1940s as part of some housing units for depot workers.

Ghost Hunter Monitor
McCauley uses a monitor to keep an eye on the four rooms of the house where cameras have been set up.
The first signs of possible paranormal activity emerge when the flashlight begins to turn on and off during questioning. It’s determined, however, that it is happening too randomly to be any sort of attempt at communicating by a spirit. These procedures are repeated in various rooms throughout the house.

Then, right around 11:20 p.m., a motion sensor upstairs begins to flash. No one is upstairs. The Ghost Hunters have no immediate explanation for this development. At 11:35, Doug and David Sanders arrive to join the investigation.

Later, past midnight, the laptop monitor shows one of the cameras in a bedroom that appears to have been bumped by something. Again, no one is upstairs. Strangely, the team’s geophone, which records even the slightest vibration, picks up nothing. It does, however, pick up Wilson’s footsteps when he goes upstairs to check out the camera.

During a break, McCauley seems pleased with how the investigation is going.

“We’ve actually had some pretty good activity,” he says.

Little else happens the rest of the night – or morning. Around 2:30 a.m., the team tells Liz they will get back to her within a week with their final verdict after going through their data.

Six days later, we meet back at the house and McCauley goes over all the data with Liz. In the case of the motion sensor mysteriously going off, McCauley said the team determined it was the result of a car driving by the house. The headlights flashed into the bedroom window, setting off the sensor momentarily. As for the camera that appeared to be bumped? That was harder to explain.

“The geophone reacted when Dustin walked into the room, so it should have picked up any vibrations when the camera moved,” McCauley tells Liz. “But it didn’t.”

Next, McCauley plays a recording picked up by the digital voice recorder. Liz puts on some ear buds and begins to listen.

“At 2:06 into the session, you’re going to hear something speaking,” McCauley tells her. “It’s like a whisper.”

“My God,” Liz says when she hears it. She can’t quite make out the words.

“We think it’s saying, ‘Oh, yea,’ ” McCauley says. I take a listen and hear the words.

Regarding the dish soap bottle moving, McCauley says it was likely a bird or some object hitting the window. As far as feeling as if she’s been touched, she’s told that is probably due to the high electro-magnetic fields in the house. The team, however, had no explanation for why the manual heating unit turns itself on or why the shed door or bedroom windows close by themselves.

After going over the data with Liz, McCauley says the team has determined there is paranormal activity in the house.

“We don’t see the house as ‘haunted,’ ” McCauley says. “We see it as possible paranormal activity. But you can rest easy. There might be something in here, but I don’t think you have anything to worry about. Whatever it is, it’s not malicious. It wants attention, though.”

Liz seems reassured, particularly when McCauley tells her that whatever entity may be in the house is not malevolent. McCauley says he is satisfied with the investigation, even if there were no physical manifestations of ghosts or direct communication with spirits.

“In the long run,” he says, “it’s not about finding ghosts. It’s about finding answers.”