Episode Five: Haunted Staunton
Episode Five: Haunted Staunton
This is episode five - Haunted Staunton
KIMBERLY TINSLEY It actually took me about two years after Chris was killed for me too. We've turned to Bailey's hon at which I mean it, it took me two years to deal with the grief of this whole event and everything that our family had had to go through. And when I finally went back out there, um, I’ve only been the one time,because it was, I really don’t know how to put it into words…
And I went and, and I just had this overwhelming feeling of negativity and I went to the actual shore of the pond where was killed. And this felt this violent sense of nausea come on me and sense of danger. I felt like I was in danger, that there was something there that was very harmful to me. And I felt a force push me, like, which really it was, it was palpable. Like as if someone actually had their hands on me and pushed me out of that whole area back to my vehicle and all I could do was just slide away as fast.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR That was Kimberly Tinsley, describing the first time she went to Braley Pond after her son Seth, took part in the gang-related murder of Christopher Kennedy back in 2003.
While Braley Pond is considered a hotbed of paranormal activity, the whole Shenandoah Valley area is filled with UFO reports, mysterious lights in the forest called “Fox Fire” by local elders, and other unexplained occurrences.
According to a 2015 Augusta Chronicle newspaper article, there had been 71 UFOs reported in Richmond, Columbia, Washington, and Aiken counties since 2006.
And then there are the alleged bigfoot prints collected by Chris Pugh near Braley Pond I mentioned back at the beginning of episode one.
The city of Staunton itself is considered a pretty active place when it comes to hauntings. A lot of that is due to its complicated past, local paranormal investigator Curtis Lee Wimer tells me.
CURTIS LEE WIMER Yeah. Um, yeah, I would say Stanton pound for pound is probably the one. My, one of the most, the whole city is probably fairly haunted.
this is the oldest settlement West of the blue Ridge mountains in the entire country. We've been here since 1738.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR When Curtis says “we,” he means his white ancestors, the Beverleys, the family that founded what was originally called Beverley’s Mill Place.
William Beverly, a wealthy British immigrant, moved to the area with his family in 1747 with a land grant from the English crown. The town was later renamed after Rebecca Staunton, the wife of Colonel Lieutenant Governor Sir William Gooch, and served as the regional capital for what was then the Northwest Territory until 1771, and then briefly, as the capital of Virginia.
But according to Curtis, and counter to what other local historians say, there were Native American tribes in the Shenandoah Valley that date back thousands of years. Some Wimer claims to be a descendant of, like the Monocan Nation and the Buffalo Ridge Cherokee tribes. But like too many instances in American history, they were wiped out by the white settlers. Then swept under the rug.
CURTIS LEE WIMER The town's got kind of a short history anyway. Cause when Lord Beverly came here, he claimed that there weren't any Indians here, which was a lie. So the whole town was, was founded in predicated on a lie. So that's pro that's part of a history.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Curtis has been investigating paranormal activity in and around the Shenandoah Valley for about 11 years. He was a member of Black Raven Paranormal Society, which you might remember hearing about back in episode one. Shea Willis was once a member, though not at the same time as Curtis. And Marty Seibel, who introduced me to Shea, currently runs the group under the name Black Raven Paranormal. e’s now a member of the Werewoofs, thats W-O-O-F-S, WereWOOFS, a group of self-described urban explorers that use a dog sled team of four huskies to investigate the haunted places few other paranormal teams have gone.
CURTIS LEE WIMER . We don't hunt these commercial places, um, that most of the teams do, you know, all the teams that you see on TV, the places that are going to are commercial, you know, you walk up to the door, you buy a ticket and you go in and hot, regardless of how they're displaying it on television. We go out to places that nobody's been to. And that's probably the biggest difference between us, you know, we're hunting places that we've found out in the middle of the woods.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Curtis will be the first to tell you he’s not very popular with the rest of the ghost hunting community around Staunton. And this.
CURTIS LEE WIMER Most ghost hunters are being deceived. You're talking to demons. They're not going to admit that, but that's what they're doing and that's a game. And I'm not real popular in the paranormal community because of my views.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR I, of course, ask Curtis to elaborate on this.
CURTIS LEE WIMER This is probably where I get into disagreement with a lot of, um, paranormal investigators, a lot of, a lot of my, a lot of experiences, a lot of activity I've found. Um, and even, even things where people think it's the ghost. Um, a lot of things I have boiled down to being, um, demonic activity. Um, but everybody likes that or not. There's nothing I can do about it. It is what it is. Um, I've got this belief that good people go to heaven. And the only people that I can talk to that are here are people that are in hell.
Hell's on earth, right? I mean, even the bible tells us that. And I'm not a religious person. I've never been baptized. I'm actually part native american. I was not a religious person before I started investigating. But it's forced me to believe in the devil and I've got to hope if there's a devil, then there's a god, too.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Now, I know this is a podcast about ghosts and large, weird, energy-worms that attach themselves to people’s backs, but even this perspective threw me for a loop. Ghosts are actually demons trapped in hell, which happens to be right here on planet earth? That just sounds so depressing. So, even those who believe in ghosts, and swear they’ve talked to loved ones after they’ve passed, actually communicated with hellish demons instead? I don’t know if I can allow myself to buy into that. I mean, if I believed in ghosts, that is.
Marty Seibel is probably one of the most well known paranormal experts in the Staunton area. Not only does he investigate possible hauntings, but he and other members of Black Raven Paranormal lead the popular Ghosts of Staunton walking tour, chronicling the city’s haunted history. He also has his own ghost hunting show called The Black Raven Chronicles on Amazon Prime.
MARTY SEIBEL The group has been together since 2005, and we started at the shadow palette, excuse me, Shenandoah Valley, paranormal society. That's what Shea was a part of. Uh, and then later on it converted over to black Raven paranormal. I think we'd been under that now for about seven years. We, uh, we've done a combination. We've done a combination of investigation where we've traveled to a lot of the big thing locations. That's kind of a staple of what we do.
We do a lot of historic locations here locally, uh, where they're available. Uh, and we do take on some residential look, business locations.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Marty credits old episodes of The Twilight Zone he used to watch as a kid as his gateway into the paranormal. And he’s been at it for a long time.
MARTY SEIBEL Yeah. Uh, well, you know, I've been doing this for 20 years now and it just started as a hobby, stayed at haunted B and BS of the average or whatnot, still do that to this day. Um, but I remember a big one, the history of research, and, you know, I like to really tie the two together, pretty grounded as a pair of Romel investigator, which a lot of people off the field because the field has changed so much since when I started first paired oval groups, just about everywhere, anybody that's got a Facebook page, it's pretty much got a paranormal group. It's a lot of them have jumped to conclusions about evidence and data. And I prefer not to do that.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Though Marty and Curtis don’t agree on much when it comes to the paranormal, they do agree that Staunton is a pretty active place when it comes to hauntings and mysterious occurrences.
MARTY SEIBEL In all honesty, Stanton's very active. Uh, and I'm basing that on some of the experiences with data that we've been able to record at different places. And I'm basing that on people's personal eyewitness, very credible, uh, um, experiences that have been relayed to us through the tours or whether or not we've done investigations, very credible people. And I believe them genuinely believe in what they're telling me, at least the people I've been associated with. And, um, I tell you a few of the most active places that we get a lot of reports on are that we've had things happen. Number one is the depot station.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR The Staunton Train Depot has a long and tragic history. Part of the Virginia Central Railroad, the depot opened in 1854 and, along with the Wharf Commercial District surrounding it, brought an economic boom to the city. During the Civil War, Union troops set the Staunton Train Depot on fire, killing several Confederate soldiers and completely destroying it.
A new train depot was built after the Civil War but in 1890, it was destroyed again, this time by a runaway train. Just west of the depot, there’s about four miles of track that twist, turn and drop about 80 feet before reaching the station. The conductor lost control of the Cincinnati Express train and it crashed into the depot, killing 19-year-old opera singer Myrtle Ruth Knox.
The ghost of Knox has been spotted wandering around in her nightgown around the depot, which was rebuilt once again. And an apparition of a Confederate soldier who was supposedly struck and killed by an oncoming train has been seen stumbling along the tracks.
MARTY SEIBEL Um, we've had numerous reports. There are people seeing apparitions, whether it be a soldier or a young female in a light blue or somewhat semi white dress, we've had, uh, people that have gotten the audio clips down there.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR The train depot was rebuilt yet again, and used until the 1960s, then fell into disrepair, only to be rebuilt due to another fire in 1987. While the former passenger and freight buildings of the depot have been turned into restaurants, the loading platform is still used by the adjacent Amtrak station to this day.
While Marty’s assertion that the Staunton Train Depot is the most haunted area in the city, Curtis believes there’s another that takes the top spot.
CURTIS LEE WIMER yeah, the clock tower I'd say downtown is probably the most haunted building in the most name that I know of as far as activity.
it's in the middle of town directly up the Hill from the train Depot.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Built in 1890, the Clock Tower Building on Beverley St. is the centerpiece of downtown Staunton, its looming presence and Queen Anne architectural style both draws your eye and compliments its neighboring structures. It was originally built to house a YMCA, complete with a gym, running track, a lending library and meeting rooms on the upper floors and at street level, retail space. Over the years, a Woolworth’s, apartments, and restaurants have occupied the space.
CURTIS LEE WIMER There was a woman jumped out a window here a couple of years ago because she was hearing apparently it was being haunted and hearing spirits. Um, I've had, I know several people who lived there who had experiences.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR THe Clocktower Building was featured in an episode of the Black Raven Chronicles show I mentioned earlier in this episode. Before it became the Clocktower Eats & Sweets a couple of years back, the historic building housed the Clocktower Restaurant & Bar. In the episode, Marty interviewed the former owners, John and Kim DiGaurdo, about some of the mysterious happenings there.
Dawn Biery is another Staunton-based paranormal investigator. She knows both Curtis and Marty from her work with Black Raven Paranormal. Like Shea, when it comes to hauntings, she considers herself an energy worker. Rather than try to explain it myself, I’ll let Dawn tell you what that entails.
DAWN BIERY My name is Dawn Berry and I'm a spiritual counselor and hypnotherapist. And, um, since I was 15, I've also been, um, researching paranormal phenomenon.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Dawn has a Master’s certification in Reiki, a Japanese method of alternative medicine that uses something called “universal energy” to heal patients’ physical or emotional wounds.
DAWN BEIRY I do a lot of mind, body connection work, so energy of the person, but when we're talking about energy of a location, um, or building or something of that nature, as far as the paranormal work, what, what I consistently have done, um, with Marty's team. And, and now my own is that when I go to a location that it has some kind of paranormal phenomenon expressing itself, I try to look at the energy that's present there.
And, um, that will in essence, give me an idea of what type of, um, residual things are happening.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Here’s another clip from the same Clocktower investigation with Marty that will help illustrate how Dawn uses her abilities. Here, she’s using the energy of the building to locate some of the spirits that hang out there.
Dawn mentions other places she’s investigated around Staunton and the region. Though she says the town, at least in her experience, isn’t as active when it comes to paranormal activity as other cities she’s visited.
DAWN BIERY m, um, I have investigated a number of different places in the city. Um, the American hotel, the clock tower, the train Depot, the Kaufman House, um, the new beginnings grocery store up the street, but there is a lot, a lot of activity, um, happening across the city and in comparison to play other places that I have lived, I would say that there is a lot of phenomenon going, going on here.
I think it that when you start to look at, um, types of locations and why they're having the activity that they're having, I think Stanton has a little bit of, a lot of different things going on. For instance, the, um, the limestone content in the ground in Stanton is extremely high and, you know, course, and that type of stone have the tendency to, um, enhance energy, especially of that nature. Um, then there's flowing water almost around the entire city underneath it, um, that tends to enhance the energy as well. Um, but then there's a lot of trauma here in Stanton because you know, that the civil war, both sides kind of met each other here too, for, for a small amount of time and things like that, trauma, um, of that nature. Doesn't just dissipate for some strange reason,
And so I would, I would say that, um, there's a lot of reasons why I think that Stanton is definitely more active and, and it does seem to be,
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR I ask Dawn about Braley Pond and if she’s encountered anything strange occurrences there.
DAWN BIERY Yeah, um, I'm extremely familiar with that area. Um, I kind of try to disappear to the woods, um, periodically to kind of wind down. And that is essentially out in that direction where we're going, but yes, Braylee pond. Um, I am familiar with the experiences there. Um, more along the lines of battery drains, um, equipment failure and, um, lights, unexplained, um, light orbs, if you would. Um, there's a lot of other claims, but I think that those are the ones that are still, um, lacking, um, some kind of an explanation, which kind of pushes it more into the realm of paranormal than normal.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Note she mentions battery drains and equipment failure, which is what Kevin Robertson was talking about in the last episode when he visited Braley Pond. I ask Dawn why she thinks this happens.
DAWN BIERY How do I explain this? It's like a draw of energy so that it can be manipulated into a form that kind of helps it pre sorry, I'm stumbling on the words here to make it make sense. It preempts the activity. So what we see is that you'll notice the drain, the battery drain, and then you will notice a spike in some type of phenomenon, whether that be disembodied voices or the light orbs or, um, cold drafts or movement, things like that, the battery drains tend to happen prior to right prior to those those experiences. And so the theory is, is that they're pulling, I guess, on those power sources to be able to, to even produce the phenomenon, if that makes sense.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR I also ask Dawn what she knows about Chris Kennedy’s murder.
DAWN BIERY I don't know how you can, I don't know very much about it. I know that he was stabbed a number of times 13. I believe I know that he was left, um, half in the pond. Um, I know that the people that did it, it was gang related and that they, um, were convicted. Um, he was 19. Um, and I know that that particular incident, um, seems to be the go-to as far as explanation as to what's going on in the area, but I'm not so sure. Um, there's other, there's been other deaths in that area. Um, none as, as horrific as his,
a lot of the times with the stories that you hear about Braley Pond. And there's a lot of similarities. Um, as far as, you know, no one sits in the water and, and the lights and then the, um, the sound hearing, hearing, voices, hearing voices that aren't there.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR So, The Clocktower, the Train Depot, and of course, Braley Pond are universally known among the ghost hunting community as the most haunted areas in Staunton, there’s one other place Curtis mentions called Western State Hospital. It’s absolutely infamous among the paranormal community, and though it’s hauntings are some of the creepiest in the region, it’s history is even more so.
CURTIS LEE WIMER Western state hospital, um, which is now a hotel. Um, very active, always very haunted, um, was inside of a lot of eugenics work. Um, during the 1920s, a lot of my family was exterminated then or sterilized.
guy that wrote a book about there's a guy that works, worked with black Raven that wrote a book about Western state hospital.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR That guy is David Sims, a local therapist, teacher and author of several novels including Fear the Reaper, which is loosely based on Western State Hospital's dark past. After living in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, he moved to Staunton with his wife, son, and three pets for the area’s rich history. He’s also been working for Marty Seibel for the past eight years as a tour guide for Black Raven. Western State is one of David’s go-to stops on the tour.
DAVID SIMS So the quick synopsis is it was built in 1824 as, as your general hospital for, um, more for the wealthy people. If you think about the original Betty Ford blank, just for anybody who had the money to, we wanted to go dry out or trying to recover the pregnancy or whatever, um, was what was going on, you can do so. And that, that was the, you know, the impetus behind the whole hospital up until, um, and it stayed that way up until 1906 when Joseph DeJarnette came in, uh, it was a popular place. I mean, all the way through the state. Um, anybody with money would come and say, listen, I want to spend a couple of bucks in the Shenandoah Valley. I can do this. And people basically, um, uh, around town thought it was the most beautiful, beautiful place in town. So the fence that they erected around the Western state was actually to keep people out instead of keeping people in, because everybody wanted to go in and picnic and hang out and do things in there. And the patients originally got, got upset because everybody wanted to come in and trued on their, their mental health and wellbeing.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR That guy David mentions...Dr. Joseph DeJarnette, founded the DeJarnette State Sanitorium in 1932, which was later renamed Dejarnette Center for Human Development. Dr. Dejarnette was a prominent Virginia psychiatrist and a strong supporter of the Eugenics movement, which gained traction across America from the late 19th century up until the U.S. involvement in World War II. If you’re not familiar with it, Eugenics was a set of beliefs and practices by certain doctors and scientists to improve human genetic quality. It was—not surprisingly— highly controversial, especially since some saw it as a way to preserve the position of specific dominant groups of the American population. You can probably guess who I’m talking about. Typically, people with disabilities, or who were mentally ill, or poor, or African American, Hispanic or Native American were experimented on since they were considered by those who practiced Eugenics, unfit for society.
DAVID SIMS es. Um, Joseph DeJarnette, uh, he was one of the, uh, main, uh, physicians in the eugenics movement. They brought him out from the West coast to head up Western state. Um, and he was the first physician in the United States to popularize the lobotomy, which is basically taking the metal, a hammer and going through the whole socket or up through the nasal cavity to sever, uh, um, uh, uh, frontal cortex, uh, you know, you know, from your brain, which would in theory make you more docile and it less violent everything else, but in practice, it, it killed a whole lot of people, um, or church turned them into zombies. So that was one, uh, they used a lot of, uh, electroshock therapy, which, uh, back then, uh, it was not well received. Um, and it would be basically fried people's brains and, uh, exposed a lot of chaos as well.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Dr. Dejarnette did plenty of other experiments as well, as David points out.
DAVID SIMS They had, um, hot and cold treatments where they would say, uh, for example, um, a woman, uh, who was considered a hysterical, which is, uh, you know, in one of the old sexist stuff, things they're saying, okay, we want to control this woman, put her in a bath of cold water of ice and move her to hot water back and forth again. And with the thought that it would eventually even around which it did cause it, it killed, it killed more patients getting healed and then transfusions between say if you were hyper and I was calm, they would produce a nice little blood transfusion between the two with the thing of equaling out people out. And obviously most people would die from that as well. Um, so basically, um, very akin to what happened overseas. Uh, they had free rein to do whatever they wanted to because once you were admitted to Western state, uh, your name was stripped and they pretty much just gave you a number. So, you know, that sounds familiar. It is.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Eugenics, of course, died down after World War II and the Dejarnette Sanitorium was taken over by the state and was converted into a children’s hospital called the Dejarnette Center for Human Development. The center was then relocated to a new facility in 1996, and eventually renamed the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents because of, ya know, Dejarlette’s association with eugenics and all. The original building has fallen into ruin since then. While Western State Hospital is still in operation, it has relocated. But the campus where it stood now houses a condo community called The Villages at Staunton, as well as a boutique hotel called The Blackburn Inn.
DAVID SIMS Uh, on the campus of Western state right now, there is, um, the Blackburn and which is a nice little, uh, kind of hotel slash bed and breakfast. Um, you know, and it's right in the administrative building where Joseph Deidre and that, uh, actually conducted most of his business, not the experiments, but just the business. Um, I mean I've had lots of people come on my tour and talk about things they've experienced there, uh, where the patients used to say is now, um, uh, law department's area.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR I ask David about some of the hauntings he’s heard about at the former DeJarnette State Sanitorium.
DAVID SIMS I do run the, it goes to span, um, uh, tour that, that, that starts at Western state. Um, and when I was researching the book, I talked to a construction crew that, um, that was involved in the refurbishing of that place. And I, uh, talked to several residents who are in departments, a few things happened, uh, one the most famous one, uh, that we've heard about from a, at least a few hundred people there. Um, several times they hear, uh, what sounds like a kid's voice over and over again. Uh, and I've heard this from the old restaurant state, which is all the 81 to two, the original one where you, you hear the constant, uh, vocalization of the word home. Um, and it's always, for some reason, it's always in a kid's voice.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Some people David has talked to hear other things, like someone walking across the floor, or even smelled the heavy scent of cigar, possibly from the ghost of Dr. DeJarnette himself.
DAVID SIMS people who stay in the Blackburn and in which the main building, uh, we've heard at least two to two dozen times, they wake up in the middle of the night and they hear the sound of Hartsell shoes against the, uh, the floor. And as they do, so they smell like a heavy set of cigars.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Another common haunting story involves doors mysteriously opening on their own.
DAVID SIMS Um, the last, the last major story about that is people who live in, um, the loss where it shows where the patients were, were saying a lot of times, um, the doors that are facing outwards will wind up, um, facing, uh, they'll wake up in the middle night and the doors will be wide open. So we have no idea why that happens. Uh, but nothing's stolen, nothing moved, but it'll freak people out by happening in the middle of night.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR David also mentions this interesting tidbit about Western State…
DAVID SIMS there are at least 10,000 bodies buried on site. Um, but typically the graveyard is overwhelming. And, um, and then we also had the gas chamber there and the crematorium. So you think of how many people died there is, um, like it's unpalatable. You just don't know.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR If you’re like me, the hairs on my arms stood up just thinking about all of that cruelty and death in that one area. It reminds me of a concentration camp from the Holocaust. And to think there’s a hotel and a bunch of condos there is more than a little disturbing to me.
DAVID SIMS I have a few degrees in psychology, which I love to delve into some of the, uh, the crossover into the paranormal there with my training.
And we figured out for a couple of things. One is that, uh, um, through studies at UVA, they've uncovered basically that they think they know what hauntings are.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR So wait...the University of Virginia, UVA, has a department just for paranormal research? It turns out it does. Within its School of Medicine is the Division of Perceptual Studies, or DOPS, for short. According to its website, and I quote, “Current mainstream science and philosophy portray mind, personality and consciousness as nothing more than byproducts of brain activity encased within our skulls and vanishing at death. Through its research, DOPS strives to challenge this entrenched mainstream view by rigorously evaluating empirical evidence suggesting that consciousness survives death and that mind and brain are distinct and separable.” I mean, that’s just a fancy way of saying, “We’re trying to prove ghosts exist,” right? Here’s what David says DOPS discovered about hauntings.
DAVID SIMS It's, uh, the magnetism in your body and electrodes in your body deck continues on after you, you stop, uh, breathing. Um, and so what's the greatest one, a greatest conductors of electricity is water. Uh, so we found that underneath Stanton is a huge series of limestone caverns. And when they had a cave in, um, 110 years ago, uh, it's a little, a little, a little mini grand cavern, uh, that opened up on the stand. They found out that basic underneath Santa was, um, a raging river. It was a massive river that went through the whole town. So which only comes out once or twice in town. And so you, you put that together with the limestone caverns.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR There’s that limestone again, just like Dawn Biery mentioned earlier.
DAVID SIMS So cause again, the whole Valley is filled with caverns and most, most towns are smart enough to actually build around them Stanton built on top of them. So if you follow the science about it, uh, you have the river rages underneath it with the limestone. And if you, do you believe in the current studies about, um, from several major colleges, that paranormal activity is tied to their electricity, that portion for your body that does exist after you die, you tie, um, the amount of about negative and positive energy comes in, you know, afterwards is, is, is phenomenal. It's, um, it's a huge amount more, almost more so than you would find in a place like Gettysburg or somewhere else. So that's, that's the scientific reason behind, uh, the haunting that a lot of people that believe in, and I know that we've had people from UVA come out and they check that out as well.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR I reached out to UVA to try to speak with someone from the department. So far, I’ve been rejected by two different faculty members because the nature of this podcast is, well, a bit out there. And as we continue, I assure you, it’ll only get weirder. But, I’ll keep trying
I get it. All of this does sound crazy. Shea’s experience at Braley Pond, and the months after could easily be dismissed as fiction. And you might be thinking the reported hauntings the Staunton ghost hunting community mentioned in this episode could all just be a ploy to drum up business. If you are, then you’re not alone.
KENNY BIDDLE So basically back in the 90s I started out as a ghost hunter always had an interest. I mean it's the classic story of pretty much anyone involved in the paranormal. I was interested in all that stuff growing up I grew up with shows like in search of an unsolved mysteries. So I've been really into it got into a ghost hunting team and went around doing the whole basically what you see on TV for a while until I realized you know something's something's not right.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR That’s Kenny Biddle. He explores claims of paranormal experiences using science, critical thinking, and a healthy dose of well...skepticism. He hosts the Skeptical Help Bar podcast, a Q&A show where listeners call in and ask him to analyze their paranormal experiences. He’s also the author of the blog I Am Kenny Biddle, where he investigates claims of paranormal experiences, photos and video. He also has his own column on the website Skeptical Inquirer.
KENNY BIDDLE I enjoy investigating from a science point of view rather than a pseudoscience point of view which is basically what most of the ghost hunting is. I like to deal with facts. I like to deal with what's tangible what we can actually test as opposed to giving into belief.
So my skepticism grew and not I want to say skepticism and separated from cynicism because I don't just dismiss things. I do take the time to look into claims. I listen to the people that have claims that have experiences and try to figure out what really went on as opposed to just just applying a belief and concluding that you know it must be a ghost based on belief.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Kenny doesn’t just investigate ghosts and hauntings. He does it all - UFOs... Bigfoot sightings...if it’s supernatural in nature, he’ll investigate it.
KENNY BIDDLE I mean from my perspective I I it's not there. I don't believe in ghosts or these monsters itself because because there's a lack of evidence there's a lack of sufficient data and hard evidence on them. That's why I hate beliefs. I really do hate beliefs. I'd rather have ideas because they're much easier to change. But the idea that ghost exists just isn't plausible because there isn't enough evidence. And when it comes to the ghost hunters that that we see on TV or just in the community they are amateur hobbyists. In order to prove something you really have to use the scientific method. You really do.
KENNY BIDDLE There's a whole boatload of things that you have to follow but the fault with the ghost hunting community is that the hobbyists look at TV they see what is done on TV and they think as long as you have a gadget you're being scientific.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR As I mentioned in the first episode of this podcast, I’m not necessarily a skeptic, per say, in the paranormal. When I first started writing my magazine article about Braley Pond, it was never my intent to disprove Shea’s experiences there. I just like a good ghost story. But the more I dig into all of this - Chris Kennedy’s murder, the paranotmal occurances that have happened in and around Stuanton, and even my own experience with the vision of my dead father, I begin to relate it to a sort of religion. I share this thought with Kenny.
KENNY BIDDLE But yes it's definitely a belief system where where it parallels a religion because you have this belief in it. And unfortunately I think many of ghost hunters just say they give in to that belief and they will make sure it's pretty much confirmation bias because they want it to be true and then they will literally look for anything that supports their belief and then they ignore anything that counters their belief.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR As I talk with Kenny, I keep going back to this theme I have in my head, this theme of connections. Whether it’s Shea and Dawn and the energy work they do, or Kevin Robertson and the hole he has in his life because his best friend Christopher was murdered. Or Seth Tinsley, who sits in jail and agreed to talk to me because maybe he feels like he needs to atone for his part in Christopher’s murder. Or even Christopher Kennedy himself, who joined a gang because he felt alone and scared. And now, Curtis Lee Wimer and Marty Siebel, and their desire to investigate the afterlife. To me, it all seems to fuel some sort of desire to connect with something larger than themselves, a leap of faith, if you will. I mean, isn’t that what religion is all about?
Brandon Massullo has a different perspective on the paranormal. He’s a clinical therapist and parapsychologist in Toledo, Ohio. Ever heard of a parapschologicalist? Yeah, I hadn’t either, until I met Brandon.
BRANDON MASULLO Paris psychology is, it's a branch of psychology. So like there's social psychology, um, clinical psychology, neuropsychology. It was also Paris psychology. And basically what Parapsychology is, is it's a study of, um, uh, Sy phenomenon and PSI phenomenon. P S I is basically, uh, ESP, um, psychokinesis which is moving things with your mind. Uh, it has a lot to do with telepathy. Uh, it has a lot to do with consciousness. Um, it has, uh, all kinds of things to do. It's sort of these sort of things that are considered paranormal. And one of the things that it does cover is ghosts or the, the idea of survival after death.
And this, this idea that, um, you know, like typical neuropsychology, we'll say that we are pretty much just a collection of, um, cells, uh, nerves, memories, uh, and we're like a computer. And once the computer breaks, all that stuff goes away. So our memories, our personality, our soul, that all disappears. So sort of the survival hypothesis basically says, is there something after that? Do our, does our personality, does our memory, is our spirit or soul or whatever you want to say, continue to go on after we live.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Brandon has a book called The Ghost Studies: New Perspectives on the Origins of Paranormal Experiences. It’s a fairly dense book but one I found fascinating, because it’s basically an explanation of what ghosts are and why people experience hauntings from a scientific perspective. So, it delves into the role energy and electricity, emotions, biogenetics and the environment play in the supernatural. But a lot of this was a bit beyond my grasp. So, I asked Brandon if he could clarify some of his theories in relation to this podcast.
BRANDON MASULLO So, in the book I have a couple of hypotheses or theories about kind of what happens or what can cause it ghostly experience to happen or a haunting to occur. And one of the things I do is I, I sort of have this, um, you mentioned it's sort of like an equation, um, where it's, um, psychological factors plus, um, internal energy or bioenergetics, uh, plus external information equals Ghostley, um, experience. And what that really means is, um, if we look at in, in Paris, psychology, in the general world, when we think of ghosts, we think of haunted houses. We think of people going into haunted houses. Uh, and then there's the ghost of someone from the 18 hundreds that kind of hangs around the house. And whoever comes in, it'll will haunt them or scare them or tell them to get out.
And we kind of think that this is sort of what everyone experiences out there. But actually the, the, the thing that's probably more prominent that than these haunted house stories is what's called a crisis. Apparitions or spontaneous cases.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Crisis Apparitions, Brandon explains, happen out of the blue when people aren’t expecting them. Usually, those who do experience them have never had a paranormal experience before. So, this wouldn’t apply to paranormal investigators who actively seek out ghosts or spirits. These types of hauntings happen once, and usually when the, we’ll just say ghost here, has just faced death.
Here’s an example of what Brandon is talking about.
BRANDON MASULLO But an example of this is I'm sleeping on some random Tuesday night, uh, and at 1:00 AM a bright apparition of my aunt shows up in front of me and she says, ah, I love you. Goodbye. And then that's the end of it. And then I find out the next day that my aunt had passed away at 1:00 AM right. At the same time that I had that experience or phenomenon happened to me. That's a crisis apparition. It happened once. It wasn't reoccurrent I wasn't expecting it to happen. Um, and I never had another experience again. And then this is just an example, but, um, what, what we find is that usually there's some sort of connection. There's some sort of psychological phenomenon that's happening. So obviously if my aunt is dying, um, she's probably going to have a lot of intense emotions. Um, she's going to have a life threatening experience, whether it's a heart attack or an accident or her emotions are going to be on pretty high alert.
Uh, she's going to be, uh, pretty much I'm terrified. And when we have these emotions, what we don't know is that it actually impacts our whole body. Uh, and our whole body is sort of made up of energy, electricity. Our heart EGS EKG is, this is all electricity nerve cells. This we're humans are a bundle of electricity. So what happens is you have this life threatening, uh, psychological crisis, emotional turmoil. This impacts our internal energy and our internal energy, um, sort of leaks out into, um, the external world. And then somehow this is some, uh, sort of entangled into the world around us. And then, um, uh, at some point it, it reaches the, the person across the way.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR I ask Brandon if he can explain Shea Willis’s experience at Braley Pond. Keep in mind, Brad based his theory solely on the original article I wrote and a recorded phone conversation with Shea that I shared with him. I, of course, asked Shea for her permission to do this, and she was fine with it.
BRANDON MASULLO paranormal experiences are pretty complex. So there's not really one hypothesis or theory that answers everything. So you, you could have, um, you know, th th this idea where, you know, spirits are actually in the world communicating with us. That's a thought. They could have my thought, which is more like there's some sort of telepathic interaction that's happening at intense psychological moments. Um, there could be misinterpretation, there could be fraud. So as we go through looking at a paranormal experience, we have to take an account that there's a lot of things that could be going on. Coming to a definite answer is a very challenging thing to do. Um, in the case that you're talking about at Braylee pond with Shea, um, you know, I, I don't necessarily know if it fits neatly into any of these categories. It seems to go across a lot of them. Um, but what you have is if, if, if want to take a look at it strictly from, from my point of view or my hypothesis, um,
Um, but what it could be is just sort of, um, they're picking up on something in the environment. Uh, and that's, that goes back a long time. That's sort of this, um, stone tape theory or place theory, which says if a tragedy happens, somehow it's burned into the environment. Um, Oh, electromagnetically and the stones, whatever the theory really comes to. So they're saying that, that the place, there's such a tragedy that happens there, that somehow this is burned into the environment and certain people who are sensitive are able to pick up on it. So Shay could be walking through there and pick up on the events that happened and they might present themselves as psychosomatic things like, uh, itching, birding, overwhelming emotions, a feeling like a sense of a presence, uh, these types of things.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR So far, this seems to line up, at least in part, with what Shea has described to me. But then there’s a theory called Extraordinary Architectural Experiences.
BRANDON MASULLO Um, there's psychological things that could be happening. Uh, a lot of times we don't really think about how sort of places and spaces and, and the environment really impact our emotions and feelings. So people could walk into a certain location, a building, and sort of just become overwhelmed, start crying. Have weakness, nauseated, overwhelming, um, fearful tears. You know, we think of these pilgrimages when people get to these highly religious places that are very special to them. And when they get in there, they get overwhelmed because of all the history and the stories about it.
Um, and they fall to their knees. These are called extraordinary architectural experiences and they're pretty common to some degree. You know, we think about it in terms of religion, but it doesn't, it happens outside of a religion too. Um, you know, there are guys who follow a certain sports team their whole life and when they walk into the actual stadium, they become overwhelmed and start crying and have things like that because of the history and the story that goes on with that. So you could have a person walk into a place and just be sort of overwhelmed with all the stories and the intensities and you know, other people sort of saying, Oh, this is going on here too. Um, and we have this desire to step out of the mundane. We have a desire to just [inaudible] experience something that's not of this world. Uh, and you mix all these things together and it does impact us psychologically.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Throughout our conversation, Brandon offers other theories as well. But he never once directly dismisses Shea’s experiences as something she’s completely fabricated. For Shea and other members of the Stuanton paranormal community, one thing is true: It’s a passion. And everyone seems to have fun doing it, which makes for a tight-knit community, at least for the most part, according to David Simms.
DAVID SIMS everybody for the most part gets along and everybody supports each other pretty well. Um, so it's, it's, it's nice because I had people coming from Richmond, from Williamsburg, from Gettysburg, from North Carolina, um, DC, uh, and they, they would always love to, um, uh, how it, and kind of advertise and kind of, you know, give us some publicity all over the place. They're just, it's a, it's a really nice community. It's kinda like the writing community, wherever writers, writers, and build each other up and support each other. That's what I'm seeing with the paranormal community as well. It's kind of a nice sort of brotherhood there.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR But that doesn’t mean there isn’t competition among other paranormal groups in the region. Here’s Marty Seibel again.
MARTY SEIBEL I've had people that have, uh, literally stole stuff, all more page, grass, copyrights stuff, people that have done things with our website. I've had my website hacked, uh, in the past it's competitive people guy.
There's nothing more aggravated and people to just put stuff out for a stair or for the thrill. Um, and it's really bullshit.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR But, occasionally, just like any other community, there are members who are a little more controversial than others.
MARTY SEIBEL if you have any integrity about your reputation and you know, what you stand for, anybody that comes into your group can get hurt that. Um, and we've had, I think, and I've dealt with a lot of different people. I tell people too. And I really mean this through my personal experience at through 20 years. People think, you know, and I think a lot, I blame a lot on television because of the ideology they put out there and, you know, the scare factor and things with demonic. I really feel you have more to fear from the living than the dead.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR One of the more controversial paranormal investigators in the community is a man named Logan Guinn. He moved to Staunton a few years ago, and as of the broadcast of this podcast, has moved back to his native state of Florida. When my article about Shea’s experience at Braley Pond was originally published, Logan found me on Facebook and sent me a private message. Here’s just some of what it said:
LOGAN GUINN My Wife and I are heading back to Braley Park once again after our first account of taking out one of the known "CREEPER" entities back in November...My Wife and I will be returning to hunt down two more of these dangerous entities that are still out there. We have some first hand witness accounts of that first hunt, images and videos that we will share with you to follow up on your October report. The "CREEPER" that attacked Shea Willis is now gone, but two more are out there.
So, we shot video, captured a lot of odd footsteps and even came face to face with one of the shadow people there.
We did a youtube video set as well as filming our findings and will be returning to Braley Pond to close the shadow gate these things keep coming through.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Okay Logan, you have my attention. This is a long message, but please bear with me. It’s worth it. By the way, this isn’t even close to all of it. Logan goes on to write:
LOGAN GUINN I am sure you may have heard the term used, Shadow People or CREEPERS. These are (As best to our knowledge's so far) Beings that use Dark Matter to travel...at first we suspected inter-dimensional beings, but as of recent education...they are Inter-Galaxy travelers that use proported GATES to connect points through space time...it is really a tad complex for my understanding and it sounds straight out of Science Fiction, but I dare to tell you honestly, these bastards are VERY REAL!
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Hear that gravitas? This guy is going for dramatic affect...and it’s working. He continues…
LOGAN GUINN Sometimes these "Souls" become lost...ergo you get Apparitions (Ghosts) Because the Soul does not have a Brain to store information, they are devoid of real thoughts or speech. The become emotional beings and are more or less FELT and not really heard or Seen.
There are trigger objects that identify with a Spirit, such as like Muscle Memory, the Soul has "Trigger" memory. More in the way something emotionally identify s with that spirit.
This "Trigger" is sometimes even traumatic, triggering anger or deepened sadness as a murder victim would react to a weapon and even the very person who took their life or a spirit that killed them self would react to a hangman's noose…
So these SHADOW BEINGS come here to Earth and hunt for these lost souls....like food. They eat souls, and this means that SOUL will never return…
LOGAN’S PODCAST AUDIO As I read Logan’s message, I kept thinking, as you might be, ‘This guy is nuts.” But also, I can’t help but be intrigued. Don’t worry, there’s more.
LOGAN’S PODCAST AUDIO A Shadow Gate connects a point on Earth to a point in the Shadow Peoples World which we believe to be from a solar system in the Pleiades Star system.
Ever see a dark shadow, suddenly become darker and then just .... GONE?
Ever heard of the Nineteen-Seventies "Boogeyman"? The SHADOW? Shadow People...Even the Tall man and Old Crone were well known in the Eighties as NIGHT Terrors....Of course these Entities are now long gone because they were hunted and destroyed.
But new ones do resurface and we have finally learned of these portals.
Once our research is complete at Braley Pond we will be able to show proof of our findings and how to locate, identify and destroy the port of entry for these Beings.
LOGAN’S PODCAST AUDIO So, that puts a spin on Shea’s experiences at Braley Pond, huh? Is he saying that Christopher Kennedy’s soul was eaten by one of these Shadow People he mentioned, and that Shea was attacked by this very same entity? It’s all very confusing and kind of insane. But I’ll be honest, I’m intrigued by this Logan guy and I can’t wait to meet him.
Staunton, Virginia has a rich history that goes back to 1738. But it’s the paranormal aspect of the city’s history that fascinates local ghost hunters like Marty Siebel, Curtis Lee Wimer, Dawn Biery, and others. The paranormal community in Staunton is tight, where everyone knows each other. Of course, this community is not without its controversies, some of which are explored in this episode, along with Staunton’s most haunted places. Another kind of paranormal investigator, a science enthusiast named Kenny Biddle, voices his opinion on the legitimacy of what Shea experienced at Braley Pond, along with parapsychologist Brandon Massullo, author of The Ghost Studies, a book that answers the questions, “What are ghosts and what causes them?