It’s not like in the movies. There are no proton packs, carnivorous refrigerators or giant marshmallow men. There is, sadly, no Bill Murray.
Instead, there are video cameras, regular old cameras, audio recorders and notebooks. The folks at Las Vegas Paranormal Investigations are lucky: In their arsenal they’ve even got an EMF meter (measures the strength of electromagnetic fields; any readings over zero can indicate an unseen source of energy) and a thermo-gun (picks up cold spots using a skinny red laser beam; temperature drops indicate an entity sucking heat energy from the surroundings).
Instead, there are haunted restaurants, haunted hotels, haunted residences, haunted parks and haunted historic structures to scope out. There are plenty of haunted casino/resorts as well, but the powers that be tend to nix those potential investigations for fear of bad publicity.
Instead, there is the hypothetical Ghost of Liberace haunting Carluccio’s Tivoli Gardens. There’s the potential Ghost of Redd Foxx haunting his former mansion. There’s the possible Ghost of a Little Boy Who Turns Into a Demon When You Approach His Favorite Swing at Henderson’s Fox Ridge Park. And there are a multitude of random hookers, dealers, pimps, mafiosi, cheats, swindlers, overdosers, unhappies, unfaithfuls, unluckies and general nogoodniks who have met untimely and often violent ends throughout Las Vegas history, and sometimes they get their ghostly feet stuck in the doors of this world on their way out.
Listen to audio samples taken from Julie's experience:
And instead of Peter Venkman, Egon Spengler, Winston What’s-his-Name and whoever it was Dan Aykroyd played, there’s founder/lead investigator Mike C., co-founder/lead investigator/chief photographer Wallie L. and the dozen other members composing the 3-year-old LVPI. They’re a mostly low-key bunch, and they prefer not using their last names for reasons of privacy. They’re surprisingly professional. And they ain’t afraid of no ghosts.
“Red Rock Theater was on Charleston and Decatur. I was working there in ’90 or ’91. I was cleaning up one of the theaters one night, and they had one of those timers where the lights stay on for like 15 minutes. I went down, I started cleaning, and the light went off by itself. I went back up, turned the light on, went back down, started cleaning again, and the light went off again. I went back up again to turn the timer on, and as I did, I saw in the third row from the front one of the chairs rocking by itself. I left, and then I asked one of the managers, ‘What’s the story with the theater?’ He goes, ‘Well, years ago a manager was embezzling money from the theater and they found out, so he decided to hang himself in the lobby.’ I had always wondered about the whispering and the cold spots in the theater. I always thought it was lousy air-conditioning or lousy insulation, but I began to think they had some sort of meaning. That’s what got me started.” –Mike C.
They certainly ain’t afraid of no ghosts, but some people are. Years of Hollywood specterization puts some unpleasant thoughts about the possibility of a not-all-halos-and-harps after-death in their heads. Other folks suffer no foolhardy paranormal talk whatsoever. Then somewhere in the middle, there are those with moderately open minds who figure ghosts just may exist, and ghosts just may be hanging out in at least three rooms of the northern Strip’s Oasis Motel, and ghosts just may show some proof of their existence when LVPI comes a-calling. And if that’s the case, those with moderately open minds’ll tag along and see what happens.
The group meets at Wallie’s house near the arts district and carpools a mile and a half southwest to the Denny’s parking lot, then crosses Las Vegas Boulevard to the Oasis, two stretches of parallel rooms facing each other across a moderately vegetated courtyard. A brown-striped cat and a few unsavory types make laps from the shadowy recesses to the Boulevard entrance and back again. They’ve got management’s preapproval to be here, but unfortunately the person they spoke with forgot to tell tonight’s desk guy. He’s amiable enough, though, and hands over the three keys for the price of one.
LVPI has been here before. In Room 4—where poker player and known drug addict Stu “The Kid” Ungar was found in his bed shortly after 11 a.m. November 22, 1998, dead of unknown causes—investigators once captured an EMF reading of 4.0 and photographed a black hole anomaly (indicating something is leeching the energy around them). They’ve also been in the Cleopatra Suite (Room 9), where 87 people have prematurely checked out since the motel’s 1951 opening; and in Room 20, where bipolar and clinically depressed Suddenly Susan actor David Strickland hanged himself from a beam with a bedsheet in March 1999. The group divides into three as Tom and Randy run wires from the computer network setup in their van to mounted video cameras that will capture the entire evening uncut from a corner of each room. Each sub-unit will enter each room on a rotating basis, with each person handling one of four specific duties: hand-held video, audio recording, photographing every square inch and taking detailed notes of everything. Then everyone will regroup and compare experiences.
“The most important thing,” Wallie cautions as the contingents fan out, “is that if you do see something, don’t run away. Stay there, try to interact and take as many pictures as possible.”
Hopefully soiling one’s shorts counts as meaningful interaction.
First up is Strickland’s room, a tiny gray cinder-block bunker mostly filled with a bed, a chair (which he placed on the nightstand), a nightstand (which he placed under that ominous wooden beam up there) and a TV stand. Detailed notes begin from the moment the group enters the room:
8:56: Photog sez every 4 or 5 pic, fuzzy light pillar shining straight down from beam, floating orbs (small, circular manifestations of energy) in one;
9:08: Door chain hasn’t stopped swinging on own, 18 minutes now;
9:20: Temp’s dropped seven degrees since been here. Lights out for provocation;
And this (9:21) is when rookie ghost hunters can come a bit unglued.
“I had a client who told me that if anything ever happened—if I moved away or anything—he would follow me. He accidentally died, and once he died, some of the things he would do when he was alive, in terms of jokes, he would sneak up on me if I was waiting for him, and once he died, these things continued to happen. My purse would go flying off the seat of my car. I would feel like somebody goosed me. There were so many little things that would startle me and nobody would be there.” –Kim B.
The main difficulty facing LVPI concerns credibility. Budgetary concerns are up there (Mike and Wallie would kill for a heat-sensing camera; unfortunately those suckers run about eight grand, and both have spent around $5,000 of their own hard-earned dough over the years), but with five similar groups in the Las Vegas area, about 10 in the state and more than 400 (according to TheShadowlands.net) in the country, there are many investigators to choose from, and a fair number of them are simply out for glory and financial windfall. LVPI renders its services for free and participates throughout the year in community and charity events—yet somehow it only seems to get recognition when the media are searching for something wacky to run in the Halloween editions. Funny how that works out.
LVPI shuns Ouija Boards (too risky) and turns its nose up at séances (too phony). Its members exhaustively research the location, the area and the person seeking their services before firing a single skinny red laser. “We try to find scientific means of explanation. Our aim is to disprove,” says Wallie. “When we go into people’s houses, we go into people’s lives. We find that a lot of people have a lot of stress. Sometimes we tell them, ‘You need psychological help.’ Some people are really allergic to electromagnetic frequencies. We tell them their microwaves and computers are making them hallucinate. And sometimes people are just taking too many drugs.”
Each member must contribute with a particular area of expertise, whether it’s extensively interviewing clients (Lisa H.), photography (John M.), mythology (Tim P.), psychiatry/substance-abuse counseling (Kim B.), technology (Tom H., Randy M.) or zoology (Jeff J., who’s leaving his job at Mandalay Bay’s Shark Reef for a gig at the Detroit Zoo). LVPI disallows anyone to join simply for kicks, to hang out and get weird in cemeteries, or, as the case has been in the past, to learn how to conjure Satan.
There’s an introductory “newbie” period that potential members must wait out to prove their worth, and if anyone breaks any of the 41 regulations posted on the group’s website, they may be asked to take their industrial flashlights and go home. No-nos include smoking, drinking or drugging on investigations and investigating alone, and attendance at monthly meetings is mandatory. Additionally, group manager Kelly H. adds, “If you appear in photographic evidence, please be wearing all your clothing.”
The rules, regs and all-around self-governing vigilance help weed the crazies out, says Mike. It’s no accident LVPI was the first organized group allowed into Redd Foxx’s mansion (where they captured electronic voice phenomena and two photos of ecto-mists), and they’ve also tackled such sites as Carluccio’s Tivoli Garden (strange light anomalies, EVPs), the Boulder Dam Hotel (supercharged orb photographed, EVPs), Good Springs Cemetery (supercharged orb, odd EMF readings) and about two dozen other ominous locales. Not only because of their experience but because of their philosophies, they’re affiliated with the American Ghost Society, the American Association of Paranormal Investigators, and most prestigious, the Atlantic Paranormal Society. Says Mike, “TAPS believes in what we believe, in proving or disproving the haunt. It’s about helping people; if children are involved it’s definitely a priority. It gives you credibility. It shows that people can trust us.”
“I moved into a trailer, and I didn’t tell anyone about the murder that had happened there or the condition it was in. He had been involved in a robbery. The guys came in to get the rest of the money, and he wouldn’t give it up. They shot him and tore the house apart looking for the money. When I moved in there was blood all over the floor and holes in the walls and floor where they had torn them up, looking for the money.
“It was during the day. I was doing laundry in the hallway, my daughter is in my room, and she yells at me, ‘Hey mom! Who’s that guy that just walked into my room?’
“I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’
“‘Some orange guy just walked into my room!’ She didn’t know anything about the guy, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God.’
“Another time my friend came by, and she was looking down the hallway as I’m sitting with my back to it. She asks me, ‘Who was that orange guy?’
“‘What orange guy?’
“‘An orange guy was just standing there. He took a drag off his cigarette, put his arm down and turned around and walked into the wall.’
“When I was cleaning out the garage, I came across some pictures of the guy. It was the same person my daughter and my friend both saw. At night the cabinets in the kitchen would open and close by themselves until I would yell, ‘Stop it!’” –Staci H.
Skepticism and open-mindedness aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. It’s hard to believe any seriously freaky stuff is going to go down, but there’s still something about the atmosphere—it’s dark, heavy with foreboding, (almost) everyone’s crossing fingers that something supernatural shows up—that delivers wave after wave of chills.
When a group member sits on David Strickland’s bed, in total darkness, near that beam (which sports pressure marks radiating from a worn spot near the center when the lights are on) and asks, “David, are you in the room? Would you like to make yourself known? We don’t want to hurt you. We just want to talk to you; are you present? Could you show yourself in some way? Can you move something? Can you say something? Can you touch someone? Come speak to us. Show yourself to us. Is there any information you would like us to pass on to anyone? Speak to us, please,” well, some rookie ghost hunters’ brains are inclined to silently shriek, Dammit David, don’t you move a thing! If you touch me, I swear to God I will kick your ghostly ass!
9:29: Four group members experience a collective shiver and goosebumping of the arms and neck. One does not, and she’s quite all right with that, thank you very much.
On to Stu Ungar’s room, where a deck of playing cards has been artfully arranged beneath the stationed video camera. Two giant mirrors inspire jokes about the possibility of a hidden-camera porn ring; the color scheme features lots of orange and pink and palm trees. Note-takers already skittish from seeing orb photos taken in Strickland’s room tend to scribble with less comprehensibility with each this-might-be-meaningful detail:
9:32: EMF reader on bed at 4
9:35: Kelly’s laying down, thermal gun readings around her at 74 but 63 by her stomach, sez she’s starting to feel sick
9:42: Temp flux by bathroom, Kelly sez something holding feet, snuggling her arm, petting head
9:48: THERE’S A WET SPOT ON BED WHERE THE SHIT DID THAT COME FROM
9:50: Lights out, something white went from door to bath on handheld vid camera screen
9:53: Um, leaving now. Like it much better outside.
Finally the Cleopatra Suite, aka the best available in the place at $68 a night: cheap murals of flowers and a Roman bathhouse, completely open bathroom including shower and black-tiled hot tub, ironic cherubs, no closet or dresser. It smells like a nursing home and is just as stuffy.
10:10: Gross surroundings: black mold in corners, graffiti: “Candice loves her master,” “Crusty forever!”
10:20: Camera needs batteries switched AGAIN, fifth time tonight, ghosts drain as energy sources
10:24: Night-vision vid shows big bloody mess at foot of bed and in bathroom (not visible with the naked eye)
Not much happens in here, however. “With the open window, four humongous mirrors and four water sources—this room is a freaking vortex,” notes Kelly. “Mirrors and water sources are portals because they create and reflect energy. One at a time is okay, but when you have more, it makes it easier for a spirit to come through, and it has a tendency to pull in bad energy as opposed to good. The stronger the energy, the easier it is for something negative to come through ... and manifest itself.”
10:30: Leaving. Much better outside.
Hunting ghosts takes a lot out of a person, literally. Post-investigation, it’s supposedly not uncommon to feel extremely hungry, thirsty, tired and/or depressed. Once all the equipment’s packed up, LVPI reconvenes across the street at Denny’s to decompress, rehash the evening’s exploits and dismiss phenomena that can be explained. Mike got his arm grabbed in the darkness of David Strickland’s room. One group saw a shadowy figure cross in front of the Cleopatra Suite’s—the vortex’s—window. Deep, angry, otherworldly voices bubbled up from David Strickland’s toilet. Gray mists passed in front of a few different video cameras. Reassuringly, a spilled soda and a power source under the bed account for the goings-on in Ungar’s bed. Over the next few days they’ll review their data extensively, but for now they’re finishing up their onion rings, getting a good sage smudging—an herbal cleansing ritual—from Kim to drive away any negative energy that accrued during the investigation and heading home for a refreshing sleep.
The problem with being a novice ghost hunter, however, is that the mind doesn’t automatically stop playing tricks at Denny’s. Detailed reports of arm-snuggling specters and talking toilets lodge in the gray matter and don’t leave, especially at 2 in the morning. They’re still there at 3. Steven Tyler posters look sinister around 4. The lights still blaze and the music still blares at 5, and even once 6 rolls around, sweaty toes refuse to peep out from under the blanket for fear of being tickled by unknown forces.
The next day, sleeplessness doesn’t help the jumpiness factor when listening to the evening’s audio playback. Broad goddamn daylight, and chills still run when Kelly’s disembodied voice reminds about those portals. Most of the Oasis events can be explained away. In fact, was there really anything experienced, other than an hours-long state of extreme chicken-shitedness? Nothing 100 percent certainly felt, heard, saw, smelled or eaten (save Denny’s Ultimate Omelet, juice) on this end. And yet there are pictures, and videos, and LVPI even captured some EVPs in Strickland’s room ... and enough spookiness pervaded that it’s not a place in need of revisiting, say, ever. It was certainly scary; it’s just difficult to determine if anything actually happened.
LVPI’s conclusion: Out of five classifications, the Oasis manifests characteristics of an Intellectual Haunting: a person can communicate with the entity; it realizes its surroundings.
The quick-thinking answer when LVPI broaches the subject of joining the team is a lack of time. Sure, there’s bound to be endlessly intriguing investigations to go on, but in truth, saddling up could very well entail an entire nervous lifetime spent sleeping with the lights on. And that’s a more disturbing image than a pissed-off toilet could ever provide.
Julie Seabaugh is a Weekly staff writer.