COVER STORY: Real-life Ghostbusters share their haunting tales of the North Shore
“You’re going to think I’m crazy but...” is how people typically introduce themselves to Darryl Pearson and Nikki Peterson, co-founders of the Vancouver-based ghost-hunting firm Northern Paranormal Investigations.
With two years and dozens of investigations under their belts, the pair have by now heard it all, from complaints of bumps-in-the-night to all out physical and psychic attacks.
So after that first client call, rather than run the other way, the seven-member NPI team packs up and moves in, often overnight.
And when they do, they do not travel light.
Speaking with The Outlook recently at a reportedly haunted North Shore restaurant — which cannot be named for confidentiality reasons — Pearson and Peterson were joined by Steve Davie, a British expat and relative newcomer to the group, eager to show off some of the tools and techniques of the ghostbusting trade.
“Really our main goal at any investigation is debunk, debunk, debunk,” Pearson says, trying to allay popular suspicions that those in the ghost-hunting game are self-invested fear mongers or snake-oil salesmen. “If we can give people other reasons as to what is happening, other ways of looking at it, and make them feel more comfortable about what’s going on in their home and make them realize that it’s not paranormal, then that’s fantastic.”
For that task, the team lugs out several thousand dollars’ worth of audio and video recording gear, electromagnetic field (EMF) meters, motion-activated and thermal imaging cameras, infrared thermometers, vibration and static-electricity sensors and carbon dioxide meters. But the most important tools they bring to any investigation are research, patience and the technical know-how to make all their gadgetry work in concert and hopefully detect a physical source behind every “haunting.”
“If the air is bad and you’ve got too much carbon dioxide in your breathing space, it can give you hallucinations. And it’s the same you hear people talk about EMF fields,” Davie says, explaining how people with heightened sensitivity to electronic fields from things like transformers, wireless internet routers and cellphones often complain about feelings of unease and ‘being watched,’ all the way up to phantom pains, hallucinations and paranoia.
“We’re giving them peace of mind,” Davie adds. “Because in some cases it drives them out of their residence. And we don’t want that.”
But sometimes that least desired outcome is unavoidable, as in one of a pair of recent hauntings NPI investigated on the North Shore.
“That was one of the few investigations where I’d seen certain members of the group affected in a way I’d never seen,” Pearson says, shaking his head, “including myself.”
Prior to it, the scope of NPI’s North Shore experience was limited to a single investigation, not on a haunted house but rather an historic government building. “They had everything from sounds of footsteps on their main floor to what sounded like a party going on,” Pearson recalls. “Security guards would hear laughter, hear people’s voices and then go up and check — nobody there. They’d hear doors open and close. While we were there during the investigation, we actually heard all that.”
Pearson says he even heard a voice call out to him personally “as clear as day” from down the stairs during the investigation. But when he went to see who or what it was, nothing.
“We try not to ever send anybody alone anywhere,” the Coquitlam resident and lifelong ghost enthusiast says. “You need more than one person to vouch for an experience, otherwise it’s just a personal experience.” Despite the lack of corroboration in that instance, the team was able to capture much of what they saw and heard that night on audio and video recordings, raising more questions than answers upon playback.
“There’s usually between 80 to 150 hours of evidence to review afterwards,” Peterson says. “For example, we had a photograph one time and I spent close to 50 hours just trying to debunk that one photograph.” If the average investigation is eight hours long, and the team has a minimum of three recorders rolling, usually more, Davie says, the hours spent poring over raw materials can quickly stack up. “And you can’t really just listen to them once,” he says.
When an investigation is finally concluded, often about two to three weeks after the actual visit, NPI compile their audio and video findings onto a DVD. Then they give that disc to the property owners and relay any personal experiences they may have had while on-site, although this anecdotal information doesn’t make the official evidence file. For this particular North Shore investigation, Pearson says their findings came as no surprise to those who called the team in. “They already knew the events took place and already had lots of proof from different people with personal experiences and otherwise,” he says. “They were just really pleased to get a bit of confirmation as to what it is.”
Pressed further, he says he’s bound by contract not to reveal any further details of the haunting. However, he says, “I can say, yes, it is linked to some historic event. But I can’t say what it was.”
To those versed in the spooky science, most hauntings fit into three categories of severity. A residual haunting is the least menacing, and it’s what Pearson likens to a movie or song playing over and again, regardless of whether there’s anyone in the room to see or hear it. “It happens whether you’re there or whether you’re not. The only thing that’s creepy about it is when people see it,” he says, offering the example of an apparition passing by a window. “It doesn’t interact. It’s not there to scare you. It’s just there all the time and maybe at the same time each day. You just happen to be in the right place at the right time to see it.”
The second degree is concerned with intelligent hauntings, known as such because the entities appear to knowingly engage with humans. “That’s something that will interact,” Pearson says. “It can answer questions for you, it might actually move an object if asked; touch you if asked.”
“Or knock on demand,” Peterson adds. It’s one of the more common hauntings NPI comes across and it’s the category investigators have documented more than any others. But those interactions are not always friendly, Davie adds, citing one case where a rock was hurled at investigators, seemingly from nowhere, and another time when they heard a voice telling them to leave a basement immediately.
The consensus among the team is that these first two categories of haunting are what people most commonly think of when they think of ghosts — namely, dead people. But the third category is a contentious one among enthusiasts of ethereal beings. In one camp, they’re called demonic hauntings, in another, simply non-human hauntings. These are the “most extreme” cases, Peterson says, and are marked by the presence’s determination to antagonize and even harm those dwelling in its haunt. “Most people are only ever going to run into a residual haunting, or maybe something intelligent,” Pearson says. “But this is something different.”
And something different is certainly what NPI found on its second North Shore investigation. “That was the most bizarre case,” Davie recalls. “It affected us all mentally.”
It was in a residence this time, a North Vancouver apartment unit. And though the then-occupants have long since been driven out by the disturbance, the location can’t be revealed as the apartment is privately owned. “When we did the investigation, they were packed up already,” Davie says. “They had made their decision, they just wanted to find out if it was anything that was going to follow them.”
It wasn’t. Whatever the menacing energy was, it was particular to that unit, the group agrees. And it’s possible whoever lives there now isn’t susceptible, or at least as susceptible, to it. “Still, I feel sorry for whoever has to live there,” Peterson adds. “I definitely wouldn’t be able to stay there and I’m used to this stuff by now.”
In fact, Peterson says she suffered nightmares in the days following NPI’s preliminary investigation. The nightmares centred around one curious wall of the unit, a wall which she says felt “out of place,” as if it was built to conceal a dark energy. “And they had even seen apparitions; a man standing by a window, a little boy,” Peterson continues. “And the bathroom door would lock on them.”
“The bathroom was something that just creeped them out,” Davie adds. “But the focal point of the whole investigation was what creeped everyone out.
“A bad, bad, bad, bad vibe,” he continues. “It was almost like it was trying to reverse your personality.”
“Like it was using us for emotional puppets,” Peterson concludes.
So what was it? “Some people say it’s people who have passed; some say it’s energies left by people who have passed,” Pearson philosophizes. “But really, as I’ve told a lot of people, You know what? I’ll know when I die.”