Ghost Hunters

There are no proton packs. No positron colliders. No Ecto-Containment unit. Turns out, the world of ghost hunting, like most everything else, is a lot less sexy than the movies would make it.

“A lot of people think it’s just like TV,” says Vicki Stinson. “But, there are all of these reports and standard operating procedures. Sometimes it’s grimy. Sometimes you get doors slammed in your face. It isn’t all that romantic intriguing stuff. It’s a lot of work.”

Stinson would know. She serves as a Team Leader for the Iowa Paranormal Advanced Research Team (IPART), organizing crews for on-site investigations of paranormal activity “once or twice a month.”

While neutrona wands are not standard equipment, IPART teams do come well-equipped for their nighttime stakeouts. Armed with night-vision video cameras, microphones, laptop computers, heat sensors and electromagnetic field meters, groups of ghost hunters respond to calls from concerned citizens in search of the unexplainable. The investigations never cost the client a dime.

“A lot of times, people will say ‘It’s my imagination. I must be seeing things.’ They try to rationalize it,” Stinson explains. “But they know deep down—they have a gut feeling that something just isn’t right.”

When a call comes in from anywhere in the state, it goes to a case manager who walks the caller through 50 questions to screen out the frauds and jokesters and unearth promising leads. If the story has intrigue, it gets funneled to Dan Berger, the manager of IPART. Using his 20 years of paranormal research experience as a guide, Berger makes the decision to send out a team from one of IPART’s nine chapters throughout the state.

“It’s kind of slow in this area,” says Jay Caffery, referring to the Iowa City metro. “We’ve only had one case recently, in North Liberty.”

Caffery is the Team Lead of the Cedar Rapids chapter of IPART. His team has investigated about a dozen leads from Oskaloosa to Dubuque in his year and a half on the hunt. But, they’re still searching for that big ghost story.

“We’ve had some interesting cases, but nothing you could take to a skeptic that says there is definite proof of paranormal activity.”

Still, Caffery is satisfied that the group has been able to help concerned homeowners by debunking their paranormal fears, letting them sleep a little easier at night.

Back in Des Moines, however, Stinson says things have been much more active.

“We had a case at an old farmhouse in Waukee,” she says, her voice rising at the thought of it. “We always rate a case from zero to 10. Zero is nothing; 10 you’ve got blood coming down the walls. This one was a six.”

Her team had been summoned to investigate multiple hauntings on the property. What they found didn’t disappoint them.

“We had a full body apparition on one floor. We had wicked laughter on the tape recorder. We also had the presence of a shadow man—who was intelligent to boot. He would move into a closet if he knew you had seen him and anyone who stayed near that closet would get sick.

“The people ended up having the house blessed because the entity on the second floor was not a good person. The first floor entity wasn’t bad though.”

Whether the activity is natural or supernatural, uncovering the truth is the mission of IPART according to Caffery.

“We don’t want to be the group that does publicity stunts,” he says. “We want to help families. If we catch evidence of paranormal activity, ‘great!’ Otherwise first and foremost we’re out to help people.”

Playing it safe is important. After all, according to Stinson, you never know what you may open the door to if your goal is to provoke.

“It’s possible to bring something in that wasn’t there before. We want to remain neutral and scientific. We don’t call them names. It would be disrespectful. If it is a ghost, they were people too at one time. How would you like it if someone came into your house and started saying things to you?”

I wouldn’t like it one bit. But if I do start hearing whispers in the night, at least I’ll know who to call.

The original article contained a possibly unintentionally misleading statement which has been removed to avoid confusion.