It’s a still-warm Saturday night in October, and a team of investigators in street clothes spends about four hours in a small brick house along a rural road in southern Grand Prairie. In the darkened house, they ask questions like “Can you tell me your name?” and “Why did you do it?”
But they’re not looking their subjects in the eyes.
There are no eyes to stare at. Indeed, no corporeal object at all.
These investigators are more interested in the paranormal. And in this case, they’re hoping to connect with the spirits of a man and a woman embroiled in a violent murder-suicide here more than a year ago.
The members of this three-person DFW Ghost Hunters team, led by longtime member Lyn Deaton, along with assistants Keli Teich and Byron Nelson, are hoping for a sign. Something that might validate claims by the owners — the murdered woman’s grown daughters. They say they’ve been hearing strange noises, seeing inexplicable things for months now.
Three knocks on a wall or door. The sound of kitchen cabinet doors opening and shutting. Unexplained whispers at bedside. The sight of a man in a white short-sleeved shirt walking by the kitchen near the victim’s bedroom — all events witnessed by the daughters and other family members.
It sounds like a fitting activity for the month of Halloween, that time of year when folks of all ages plop down big bills to be terrified and entertained by gory sights and piercing screams at the area’s many high-tech, effects-savvy haunted houses, or when the box office receipts for horror flicks like Ouija and Annabelle are especially high.
But these ghost hunters, and many amateur paranormal seekers like them, do it year-round — for no charge — hoping to prove to their clients that they’re not crazy.
‘Looking for peace’
Deaton, a Fort Worth native and L.D. Bell High School graduate, grew up in a family that lightly attended a Baptist church, but he never considered himself religious or spiritual. Where the paranormal was concerned, he was a skeptic.
“I never really gave it a second thought,” he says.
Then he and his wife moved into a house in a middle-class neighborhood in Richland Hills. He had young daughters (now in their teens), but it wasn’t their voice in a little girl’s words he kept hearing, clearly speaking to him, while trying to sleep. It happened frequently enough that he started wondering if something had happened to a girl in that house. It hadn’t — but at his neighbor’s house, he soon found out, a little girl had drowned in the pool.
“That’s when it became clear to me,” he says. “I became interested in the paranormal. People I talked to said they had had some similar experience but wouldn’t admit it to most people.”
His quest to find out more led to him join a team in 2002, then called True PINT (Paranormal Investigations of North Texas), which eventually changed names to DFW Ghost Hunters. Early in 2014, he and the founder split and he took on the operation himself. (Note: You can search for “DFW Ghostbusters” on Google, but you won’t find Lyn and his crew; instead you’ll find the local fan club for the 1984 cult classic.)
Beneath his shaved head and creased brow, Deaton’s eyes droop a bit, lending to a serious, melancholic face. A former commercial truck driver, Deaton’s current day job is working for a national healthcare company delivering oxygen tanks to the sick and/or elderly — which, as in any medical field, means dying is part of life.
“I’m not sure why my life is surrounded by death,” Deaton says. “But that’s what has happened.”
His involvement with his paranormal venture has him occasionally investing in equipment, and a lot in time and gas.
“I’ve spent a lot of time and money to help people find answers,” Deaton says. “A lot of times they’re just looking for peace of mind. We hope we can bring them that.”
On a typical assignment, the DFW Ghost Hunters spend about half an hour listening to the stories by the people living there, getting the scoop on the unusual happenings and the property’s hot spots. After everyone except for the investigators leaves, modest equipment is set up around the home, mostly in the most active rooms. Air conditioning, ceiling fans and beeping kitchen appliances are turned off.
“You want to eliminate any external noise,” says Nelson, as he goes through the home and inspects the windows (they are completely shut) and doors (locked).
Then, it’s lights out, and before you can say “Who you gonna call,” there’s dead silence. It’s that way for most of the investigation, except for questions spoken into the air by the team and the faint tick-tock of a clock.
In this house, family members say, the boyfriend chased the woman from the garage into the adjacent kitchen. When she locked the door between those areas, he kicked it open and shot her several times. He then turned the handgun on himself. There are still bullet marks on the ceiling and walls and in the hardwood floor.
The team’s hope is to hear from the spirits of the woman and her murderer. But before specific questions, Teich, Nelson and Deaton ask general ones (“Is anybody here?”) and the journalist and photographer accompanying for this story are urged to participate.
In a later interview, Deaton tells of experiences in other homes, notably a large Fort Worth ranch, with exceptional activity ranging from thrown objects to the sound of footsteps running on the second floor. But those situations are rare. Mostly, ghost hunting is about waiting through hours of silence and non-activity for something — anything — to happen. Deaton says in all of his cases, he has uncovered some kind of paranormal evidence.
Deaton and his all-volunteer team do not charge for their services, and choose their clients based on the urgency of activities that are reportedly happening in the homes. For instance, when one client reported that something was picking up his 100-pound dog and turning it on its back, it was a priority situation.
“I think if someone’s charging for [ghost hunting], they’re doing it for the wrong reasons,” Deaton says. And although a privacy clause in his contracts with clients means that we can’t talk to them to gauge whether it works, he says he’s happy with his success rate.
At the Grand Prairie site, we hoped for a sign from infrared sensors and lighting equipment that picks up electromagnetic energy, or from a new toy that Nelson purchased online: temperature-sensitive liquid crystal paper. If we’re lucky, a spirit might reward our patience with a handprint.
“Spirits can use that energy,” Teich says, noting that in the year that she’s been on the DFW Ghost Hunters team, she “has seen a few things.”
But if there’s any sign that something is in the room besides the humans, it will most likely be electronic voice phenomena picked up by one of several digital recorders. Deaton has one — attached to headphones — that is especially sensitive, and whenever he hears something that might be an EVP, usually very faint, he notes it by saying “mark” so that he can find it when going through the file in audio software at his home office. (This initially caused confusion on my part, as he hadn’t explained this and when he kept saying “mark,” the first few times I responded “Yes?”)
For me, the most thrilling part of this experience came when Teich brought out the Ovilus III in the den, a room where much activity had been reported. The device picks up electromagnetic energy, and there are multiple settings to gauge it, such as graphs and dots.
But she set it on “dictionary” mode, which means the device translates these bursts of energy into English words, like some kind of audio ouija board. Sometimes they’re spooky (ours included “disaster” and “mommy”), other times they’re nonsensical (“deplete” — huh?), and a few times they’re proper names — for us, “Carol” and “Antony,” which were not the names of the two people killed. And some words could be loaded with meaning, like “fifteen.”
Fifteen what? Bullets? Spirits? Years left to live?
At one point, Deaton let me wear his headphones and hold his recorder as I wandered around the house hoping to hear something. At one point I said “mark,” spurred by something that could have been a whisper that did not come from the other four people in the house.
Belief and interest in the spirit world has existed for at least as long as humans, such as the ancient Egyptians, have documented their own existence. In the past 500 years or so, calling on the dead, often via a medium and seance, is well documented in nonfiction books and especially in the works of fiction authors like Henry James, Shirley Jackson and Charles Dickens. Is it any surprise that a ghost instigates the chain of murderous events in one of the world’s greatest works of literature, Hamlet?
In the television era, classic shows like Sightings and In Search Of invited viewers into the world of paranormal and unexplained phenomena, but reality TV has really ratcheted up interest in recent years. The Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, hosted by the large-gunned Zak Bagans, began its 10th season Oct. 4, and there’s SyFy’s Ghost Hunters, whose characters are as loved for their outsize personalities as for their ectoplasmic pursuits.
Such shows have the benefit of studio money and access to America’s most haunted sites, such as abandoned prisons and sanitariums, homes where infamous ax murders took place, or sites of mass hangings.
“They’re great for entertainment,” says Deaton, who, based on what he has seen on those shows, thinks they’re not focusing enough on EVPs. He also admits that in his career as a ghost hunter, he has twice been approached by television producers, although no follow-up was made either time. “If someone offered that kind of money for this, I’d probably do it.”
Perhaps because of those and many other shows, the field of amateur ghost seekers is steadily growing across the country. According to the Paranormal Societies website, there are more than 30 paranormal investigation organizations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, not to mention the plethora of tours of historic cemeteries and haunted sites happening on any given weekend.
Interest in the paranormal is so high that you can find ghost-hunting starter kits on Amazon.com, stocked with infrared cameras, medium-tech audio equipment and gadgets such as the aforementioned Ovilus, an object that garners the most scorn by debunkers across the Internet.
Or, if you have a passing interest and are low on cash, there’s an app for that. Type “ghost hunting” into your app store of choice and Ovilus-like applications, from Ghost Radar to DemonSpeak, populate the results. YouTube is filled with videos purporting paranormal activity, and on DFW Ghost Hunters’ website you can view a few videos (one is of Christmas tree ornaments inexplicably shaking) and hear audio clips of what Deaton believes are EVPs.
Perhaps the hype of amateur ghost hunting on the tube has fed interest in the idea of hearing or seeing dead people, whether ancestors or whomever is making your dresser drawers open and close.
Of course there are vocal skeptics everywhere, charging pseudoscience. But it’s a good bet that more people believe in ghosts than are willing to admit it in public.
A few days after the house visit, I set up an interview with Deaton in his home, where he has already been going through the audio. In an email, he mentions the section when I was using the headsets and “marked” a spot to notate that I may have heard something. Two words in his email took the wind out of me.
At his home office, using a basic desktop PC and free audio downloads, he takes me through the process of listening to the audio for EVPs, something he claims to have gotten more sensitive to. It’s the part of this job that takes the most time and patience, but he claims to have picked up identifiable phrases from several voices from our recent investigation.
He plays them for me, and sure enough, they sound like faint whispers with discernible words. To my novice ears, it’s hard to make them out until Deaton offers what he hears, and admittedly, his explanations sound plausible.
Among the EVPs from the Grand Prairie home: “I’m not talking” and later, “I had to kill her,” both from a male voice; and from a woman’s voice, “Kicked the door in.”
As for the words when I thought I heard something: “Behind you.”
DFW GHOST HUNTERS
For more information, visit DFWghosthunters.com.