Ghost Hunters: WPRS Interview (Originally published in Paranormal Underground Magazine)
By Michelle M. Pillow, www.michellepillow.com
At a Bordersí book signing a few years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting several members of the Wichita, Kansas based Wichita Paranormal Research Society (WPRS). Their passion for the paranormal, as well as the professionalism in which they talked about their craft was evident. With new TAPs family member cards fresh from the printers and an assorted display of paranormal themed WPRS t-shirts, they were about to leave for an investigation at the Brown Grand Theater in Concordia, Ks.
The group includes founder Shane Elliot, Case Manager-Public Relations Manger & Investigator Sherrie Curry, Photographer & Investigator Derek Pinkston, Investigator/Tech Bob Gilmer, Tech Manager Shaun Reeves, Investigator Ted Thomason, Historian Lori DeWinkler, Software Tech Manager Jeremy Webster, and investigators Donna Chaffin and Charles Harding. WPRS is 100% non-profit. Their services are free of charge.
Three WPRS members took a moment out of their buy schedules to talk with me about their recent investigation and their group in general. A big thank you to Sherrie Curry, Shane Elliot, and Bob Gilmer.
Q: Tell us a little about the investigation at Brown Grand Theater.
Shane: This was a beautiful location to investigate. With original seating in the balcony boxes, and many of the original Theatrical posters framed around the theatre you couldnít help but feel like you were being pulled back into the early 1900ís.
Theatres can be very tough to investigate because of the acoustic qualities. So we started off with just a couple of investigators at a time actually investigating the theatre. We had plenty of room to cover with all the seating area on the main floor, the balcony, the stage, the catwalk, and the basement with boiler room.
Some of the claims where of a door that opened and closed regular on its own, the sound of footsteps in various locations around the theatre, and of apparitions witnessed on the stage, and up in the second balcony. And we were hoping to either prove or disprove some of these claims.
Sherrie: The theater was in outstanding condition and the employees were great. Derek was able to take some great pictures of the location. During the investigation I personally saw 2 questionable shadows. The first one I was up in the catwalk above the stage and saw a shadow walk into an electrical room heard some questionable female voices from that location. Once on the stage I saw a dark shadow up in the balcony chairs, I thought it was one of ďusĒ however found out later it was not.
Q: What other locations have WPRS investigated?
Bob: Wow there is so manyÖ The best one to me was a house just north of town. I got touched and had a conversation with something via the k 2 meter.
Sherrie: Well there are so many great places, a few I canít mention due to privacy issues. Iíll just mention a couple. The Orpheum Theater is a great place. We have investigated there several times, during a tour of a guest investigator she felt something tug on her pant leg, we dismissed this occurrence thinking it was possible her pant caught on a chair while walking by, however later in the night we were in the same spot sitting down taking pictures and I felt a finger run down the back of my left leg, from the knee down to my ankle. Heard nothing. Later going over the audio recordings and coming to that spot, there was a female voice that spoke one word very loud right after I was touched, she had said ďPeaceĒ. Investigating the Orpheum we have always had several unknown EVPs.
Cowtown, on the other hand we have investigated multiple times throughout the year. Several locations are very active with paranormal activity. The Murdock house is always interesting seeing shadow people, mists, voices, bangs, and footsteps. These seem to happen inside the house and outside the house. We have also had footsteps from the Devore Farm, enclosed wind chimes moving 5 times within a 30 minutes period, voices and camera movement. This is just to mention a couple hot spots at Cowtown there are several others.
Shane: The Old Cowtown Museum. We have recorded close to a hundred EVPís from that location and recorded on video items moving on their own. And we have record on video a strange occurrence with multiple lights in one location being turned off and on in separate rooms, at separate times from one another. We have had several investigators witness a shadow person, or persons around the location, and have heard claims from employees and guests of the Museum that have witnessed the same thing.
The Orpheum Theatre. We have investigated several times, and we have recorded what could be paranormal activity, but at the same time we have debunked a lot of claims there as well.
The Beaumont Hotel. Over the years this has been an interesting location to investigate. One of the claims is of a Cowboy that roams the halls of the hotel named Zeke. During one of our first investigations there most of our EVP questions were directed towards Zeke. At the end of the night one of the EVPís we captured said ďWhat's Zeke?Ē
Q: To date, what is the most interesting location your team has investigated?
Sherrie: Iím sure we all have our favorites. I guess mine has to be my first investigation in a local Wichita business. I had over 50 EVPís during that investigation, saw my first shadow person, heard a voice of a person I couldnít see, and footsteps. It was all the way around crazy. Only thing captured to provide as evidence was the EVPís. Several were very clear and very loud, what was interesting was the disembodied voice I heard along with 3 other females was a male voice, no one caught that on their audio recorder.
Bob: Got to be Cowtown. We get so much from that place. Itís hard to just pick one out.
Shane: The Old Cowtown Museum. And most interesting piece of evidence so far would have to be the EVP screaming at two investigators to ďGET OUT! I WARN YOU!Ē. That is still one of the loudest EVPís Iíve ever heard, and yet we didnít hear it until playing it back.
Having said that we have had a lot of personal experiences that if only we had moved the camera a few feet, or even a few inches we probably would have caught on video. But because we didnít they are just personal experiences now.
Q: What criteria do you look for when deciding a location?
Sherrie: Activity, stories, history and if the place looks interesting we will approach the owner to see if they have any reported claims.
Shane: If children are involved there is no question we are going to get in there and try to help the family as quick as possible. Other than that it just depends on the claims, and/or the history.
Q: Have you ever been disappointed by a location?
Sherrie: Every location is interesting in its own way. We have been disappointed with lack of activity during investigations many times. Then we go over the evidence and find great things. We were investigating a school with great history and tons of stories from past students of sightings of the ghost and mists etcÖ we investigated and found nothing. Once we went over our recordings we found lots of EVPís, which proved otherwise.
Shane: We have had a few people lie to us just to get us to come out to their home or business. That is always disappointing, but they are few and far between.
Q: Any funny/unexpected stories?
Sherrie: Well with Shaun around you can always expect the unexpected. Heís the clown of the group, whether he is trying on random hats to make us laugh or just being himself, heís always a riot!! I guess if you want to know about funny things during investigations, I have to say if one of us gets startled (Donna) she grabs all of her equipment and wonít leave my side. She doesnít run and she doesnít scream, she just calmly, in a hurried fashion, gathers her things and becomes glue. We kind of tease her about it.
Shane: The Beaumont Hotel. The first time we investigated I was on the second floor when an investigator that was watching the monitors called me on the radio saying that the screen door just slammed in the kitchen. He was new to the team so I just told him to calm down and listen for anything else unusual. A few minutes passed and he called again, ďThe door just slammed again!Ē.
Thinking it was the wind or a loose screen door I made my way downstairs to check things out. As the investigator was explaining what was going on, it happened again. This noise was defiantly inside and not an outdoor screen door, but obviously something slamming shut. So we looked around, and found a cooler in the back with a sliding door that stored drinks. The door had a spring on it, and if you opened it and let it go, the door would slam shut sounding very similar to what we had heard. By this time all the investigators where down in the kitchen standing around this cooler, and I was asking something to the effect of ďif you opened this door could you please do it again?Ē About that time we all heard the noise again, and everyone jumped about a foot out of their skin.
It was the hotels ice machine behind us dropping ice.
Q: What first interested you in paranormal investigation?
Sherrie: I have had several personal experiences that led me to this field. I wanted some answers. One day a friend brought a recording of a voice from her home to work and told me this fantastic story. This led me to WPRS in the first place.
Bob: The first time I saw Ghostbusters when I was a kid. I said back then, ďThis is what I want to do when I grow up.Ē
Shane: Before 2005 I really had no interest in the paranormal. Nothing had really happened to me, and I had not heard any stories to make me believe much was going on in the way of the paranormal, but in May of 2005 that all changed.
My son was two weeks old, and sleeping soundly in his crib. My wife and I were sound asleep in our room when suddenly my son awoke crying. This woke me up, and I laid there for a minute to see if he would go back to sleep, or if I needed to go check on him. Suddenly, I heard a humming come over the baby monitor, and I immediately thought, ďOkay, we are picking up a radio, or maybe a commercial truck.Ē But then it changed to a woman singing a lullaby. I immediately realized my wife was lying next to me, and someone must have broken into our house. I went to jump up and thatís when I felt a hand just below my right knee. It wasnít holding me down, but just patting my leg as if to say ďIt's okay.Ē I immediately felt calm, and my son fell back to sleep.
The next evening my wife was watching an episode of Ghost Hunters. Up until this point I had never watched this program, or any of the various paranormal shows for longer than a few minutes. It just wasnít something that interested me. But due to what had happened the night before I thought I would watch this show.
What impressed me was the fact that the TAPS team didnít come in and find a bunch of paranormal things going on. Instead they went into the families' home with a list of claims, and actually found normal reasons that could cause all the paranormal claims. I realized I wanted to start researching this myself, and began looking online for local teams. At the time there really wasnít anything here in Wichita, and from the people that I met over the months that I spent looking for a team. Those people finally suggested that I start a team here myself. So thatís how the Wichita Paranormal Research Society came to be.
Q: Do you investigate anything other than hauntings?
Shane: So far, no, but we would if given the chance.
Bob: I would love to do something with UFOs.
Q: Why do you think people are so interested in the paranormal and unexplained?
Sherrie: People are becoming more open to the idea and there are more and more TV shows about the paranormal which makes people believe more in the paranormalÖ or less because some shows are so hokey.
Shane: You could say because of the movies and television, and I believe that does add something to it, but if you go out and ask 100 people if they believe they have ever witnessed something paranormal. 99 of those people are going to say they have. Something is going on out there, and itís just human nature to be curious, and want to learn more about it.
Q: Who are your heroes in the field?
Bob: John Zaffis.
Shane: Jason Wilson, and Grant Hawes from TAPS of course. But someone that I have met and has been a true mentor to me over the years is Danny Carthy of Leinster Paranormal in Ireland. He has over 20 years experience and has always found the time to talk to me via the internet or phone. Just a really great guy and I really appreciate all his help and input.
Sherrie: This may say corny but it has to be the WPRS team. These are people you can count on for anything. You have to trust who you are walking around in the dark with and trust you wonít offend them with a joke and trust they will defend you and help you if something threatens you. They are my best friends and I love all of them. Each and every one of them is special. If you want to know outside of WRPS I have to say the TAPS Family. Itís great to have backup and to have someone to go to with questions and discuss things and ideas with.
Q: What philosophies do you adhere to while investigating? Do you approach the work as a skeptic or a believer?
Sherrie: Well, for me itís a little of both. I do believe however I approach each investigation as a skeptic. We are not there to prove a haunting. We are there to show people there are other explanations of why things could be happening. We help them with the explainable, and then if we find something we canít explain that is what we leave with the possibility of paranormal activity going on in their home or business.
Bob: Go in with an open mind. I try to debunk everything and when I canít come up with an answer, then maybe itís paranormal.
Shane: I'm more of a skeptic. We never walk into a location assuming it has paranormal activity. We go over all the claims and try to find normal causes to those claims. After an investigation when we have gone over all the video, audio, and photographs, if we do find anything we canít explain we go back, and try to recreate it. After that if we still canít explain it, then we might consider it as possible paranormal.
Q: Do you have any unbreakable rules when it comes to investigating?
Sherrie: No drugs or alcohol allowed and respect the deceased.
Shane: Safety comes first. All investigators work in a team of two. The idea is if something paranormal happens to someone there will be another person there to hopefully help document it. But the most important reason is for safety.
Bob: Never do a ďdude runĒ. Heck, I run after the ghosts.
Q: What equipment does your team use? What, in your experiences, picks up the best evidence?
Shane: We use infrared (IR) video cameras, full spectrum video cameras, hand held video cameras, digital cameras, digital voice recorders, and various electromagnetic field (EMF) metersÖ Digital voice recorders probably provide us with our most evidence, and that being EVPís.
Sherrie: My favorite is my digital recorder.
Q: There seems to be a lot of talk lately about why many ghost hunting shows investigate in the dark rather than the day. What is your opinion?
Bob: Itís easier to see the ghosts at night. That sounds strange but they are darker than the dark so itís easier to me to see them.
Sherrie:City is quiet at night. If you have lights on it can cause our EMF detectors to provide false readings. When the lights are off we donít have to worry as much about that. We have investigated during the day and had lots of activity at a known haunted location just to see if there was a difference. Well in that location there was no difference, we still had activity just more background noise from traffic.
Shane: Well obviously for television it adds an effect for the viewers. But since most of the claims are at night I believe thatís why most investigations take place then. The reason we investigate in the dark is because most of the claims happen when the lights were turned out, and people are sleeping, and the location is its quietest. However, if I ever get a claim that someone was making pancakes in the morning, and Elvis walks through a wall and through their kitchen. Iíll investigate that place during the day, and hopefully someone will be making pancakes.
Q: Do you feel there are things presented by evidence that is explainable in other ways?
Sherrie: 99% of orbs are a reflection of a flash from the camera on dust, bugs, humidity or items in the room.
Shane: Defiantly. We donít consider any orbs as possible evidence. They are just too easy to reproduce, even the slightest bit of dust, moisture, or tiniest bug can create them.
Q: What advice do you have for beginners?
Sherrie: Understand there are lots of theories out there and yours may not be the only one. Do not trespass. Donít investigate outside. There is too much distortion and contamination from background noise such as dogs, bugs, traffic, wind etc.
Shane: Practice safety. Your best tool is your brain. Use common since, not everything is paranormal. Matter a fact most of its not.
Q: How do you feel about the paranormal shows currently on TV? Any must-watch?
Sherrie: I only watch Ghost Hunters and Ghost Hunters International. They investigate the same way we do.
Shane: Ghost Hunters is the only one I watch. I'm not saying that because I'm biased and part of the TAPS family. I'm saying that because I've tried to watch all of them for a short period of time, and Iíll probably give any new ones coming out a chance. But most of them are going for that WOW factor now, and will stoop to any level to get it.
Q: You recently became TAPS family members, congrats! What does this mean for your group?
Shane: Thanks! Thatís a real honor for us. I'm sure there were groups before TAPS that took a real skeptical approach to paranormal research, but TAPS is the team that brought it to the main stream. I'm just honored to represent the TAPS name. And they are keeping us busy with our already busy case files. Ha Ha.
Sherrie: If some needs help in our around Kansas they can find us on the TAPS web site.
Q: Any dream locations youíd like to investigate?
Sherrie: SeveralÖI guess one would be a castle in Ireland, locally the Winfield State Prison, which is now owned by the VA.
Bob: The Stanly hotel.
Shane: Anything over the pond in Ireland, or Scotland. We are working on doing some of that in the next year or two.
Q: Any new projects in the works?
Sherrie: We have been on several radio shows. We have t-shirts for sale. You can go to the web site to order them, www.wichitaparanormal.com.
Shane: With the buzz about paranormal research right now I think every group out there probably has a book in the works or is thinking about one. We do have a book we are working on. We also are getting ready to film a few local shows. Local magazines, and News broadcasts have been really good to us, and we do those one a regular basis.
Q: Any future plans or projects for the group?
Sherrie: We are always investigating. Getting ready to head to Branson, Missouri to investigate the Titanic exhibit and film a show with a local show called Heavy Pork, a late Saturday night Fox program.
Thank you Sherrie, Shane, Bob and the member of WPRS!
The Orpheum Theater (www.wichitaorpheum.com) and Cowtown Museum (www.oldcowtown.org) are both located in Wichita, Ks. Information about the Brown Grand Theater of Concordia, Ks can be found at browngrand.org and The Stanly Hotel at www.stanleyhotel.com. You can learn more about WPRS or purchase exclusive WPRS merchandise by visiting their website, www.wichitaparanormal.com.
Interview by Michelle M. Pillow, www.michellepillow.com†