All episodes out now!

Episode Nine: A Palpable Presence

Episode Nine: A Palpable Presence

Episode Nine: A Palpable Presence

EPISODE NINE: A Palpable Presence
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR My name is Charlie Moss and I’ve been a freelance journalist and writer for more than 10 years. I’ve written for The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, Vice, The Bitter Southerner, and other publications. I also used to work for an online camping magazine called The Dyrt. It was there that I wrote about a haunted campground just outside of Staunton, Virginia. The more I dug into the story, the more I realized that this wasn’t just a simple Halloween ghost tale. It was something much deeper, much more sinister and otherworldly than I ever imagined. And I’ve spent the last two years finding out as much as I can about What Happened at Braley Pond.
This is episode nine - A Palpable Presence

SETH TINSLEY Like I've been locked up so long, I've been away from everything so long. I don't know if I know how to be free anymore. Like this place, they call it a correctional facility, but there's no attempted corrections whatsoever. This is a place where they just put you in house. You like cattle so they can make money off of you. If anything, if you let this place take you over, you become a worse person than you did coming in. You know, you really have to strive to become better than you were when you first came to penitentiary by being in here because this is one of them environments where everything that can go wrong will go wrong and nobody really gives a fuck about whether it goes wrong or not.

CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Seth’s supposed to serve his time in prison until 2027 but he could get out as early as 2022 or 2023. As the prospect of his freedom gets closer, Seth becomes increasingly nervous about what he’ll do with his life once he’s released. He talks to me about his desire to change his life for the better.

SETH TINSLEY Like I've been locked up so long, I've been away from everything so long. I don't know if I know how to be free anymore. Like this place, they call it a correctional facility, but there's no attempted corrections whatsoever. This is a place where they just put you in house. You like cattle so they can make money off of you. If anything, if you let this place take you over, you become a worse person than you did coming in. You know, you really have to strive to become better than you were when you first came to penitentiary by being in here because this is one of them environments where everything that can go wrong will go wrong and nobody really gives a fuck about whether it goes wrong or not.
I’m no Perfect. Angel. I've, I've done drugs and stuff like that too. I don't know more. Uh, that's what ruined my life. It's the reason why I'm in prison, but I just, I, I've, I feel like I got a good lease on life. I honestly believe that prison saved my life and then it changed me for the better.
when I do finally I have to put in 20 years before every time they, I read the book, but once I get that 20 years, then I want them to be like, no questioning, let him come home, you know?

CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Seth told me over email he wants to do some correspondence courses, maybe computer literacy or business management. When he does get out, he thinks he’d like to own his own business, work for himself.
When we were at Chris’ grave back in episode two, I asked Kevin how he feels about Seth’s role in his best friend’s murder. Is he still angry at him after all this time?

KEVIN ROBERTSON I mean, I don't hold any grudges, you know, I blame tens Lee that goes up under tens, lead older brother. Oh, did you? Yeah. And I knew Tinsley just, you know, he was young, he was young young boy.
I'll ask him one day, you know, I'll ask him, I'll be like, you know, just…
I said, you know, Kinsley, you know, if you were scared of him, you could have called someone called me, called someone and said, Hey, this is location where we're going. I'm not going to say, Hey, Tinsley texted me or called me. No I'm coming here again. Yeah. Everything else like that.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR In one of my phone calls with Seth, I ask him how he’s feeling about what happened at Braley Pond almost 20 years later.

SETH TINSLEY I mean, I feel bad for the whole situation anyway. I'm not, I'm not in drug addict anymore, so now I'm at full control with my emotional facilities. So I definitely do regret the whole situation and stuff like that. I mean, I feel like that's just having no, like I'm not ever going to be allowed to forget him because I shouldn't have never did what I did, even though I didn't actually kill him. I might as well because they missed the opportunity. Do you swear I could've told him you need to go? They're planning on killing him.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR In my research for this podcast, I found every article I could about Christopher Kennedy’s murder. His death shook the town of Staunton into action against gang violence.
But there’s something I came across that I haven’t mentioned yet. It’s about a Brands Flat, Virginia woman named Bonnie Santiago, who went missing in July 2014. She was last seen on Carter Mountain in Charlottesville. Police said when the 56-year-old’s car was found, it looked like there was a violent struggle inside, with blood believed to be Santiago’s found at the scene. The rearview mirror inside her car had been torn off. Bonnie was never found, and in 2016, police declared that she was most likely dead. Bonnie had seven children and 14 grandchildren.
That name sounded very familiar to me. I couldn’t put my finger on why, though. I went back through all of my research until I found the headline from the local Staunton newspaper, “Single Mom Goes it Alone After Slaying.”
In my conversation with Christopher’s dad, Jeff Kennedy, who was featured in episode 4, he mentions something unusual that happened at his son’s funeral.

JEFF KENNEDY I had at the funeral, I had three girls that came up to me and said, I, uh, I'm carrying Chris Scott's baby. And, uh, I addressed all three girls. I told them, we'll go. I don't have a poor parental, you know, the test done DNA tests done to see if it's Chris, Gus, baby or not. And then that's a funeral I never heard from another one of the girls you never heard from. So I'm not sure true. No, no, no, because I mean, they, they, either one of them, if they were to come up, as Chris got to be in the father, that he was able to collect to the social security and everything. I mean, they were entitled to his benefits that he was getting and it was dying like that. You know, they would get some kind of, kind of benefit. The kids would get benefits from it, but nobody, nobody came back and re approached me about the parented parental test.

CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Kevin Robertson also mentioned something to me in one of our conversations about Christopher getting a girl pregnant.

KEVIN ROBERTSON Chris knocked up someone and his baby mom and Chris wanted out of the set. He wanted you, you just do him. He wanted him to take care of this kid and he was actually wanting to do something. Absolutely. And Chris was always that kind of guy, you know, crystal, just if something's there, you know Chris, Hey, it's going to take care of it either way

CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR So, if Chris did in fact have a baby, who is the mother? And whatever became of his baby? The News Leader article that I had collected in my research answers at least one of these questions. The piece features a woman named Traci Santiago, who was around Chris’ age at the time of his death. In it, she claims to have given birth to Christopher Kennedy’s baby after his murder.

According to the article, Traci didn’t know she was pregnant until after Christopher died, which conflicts with Kevin’s account of the situation. Regardless, Christopher died never getting the chance to meet his child. Eight months after his murder, Traci gave birth to a 5 pound, 8-ounce baby girl. She named the little girl Christina.

“If he had been here, he’d have been at the birth helping me,” Traci is quoted as saying. According to the article, Christopher showed Traci bruises he had on his back from a “beat in” during his gang initiation just days earlier. Before her daughter’s birth, Traci saved all of the newspaper articles she could about Christopher’s murder, along with a photo album filled with pictures of him, to one day show Christina.
I wanted to talk to Traci about her relationship with Chris, and possibly even talk to Christina, who would be around 18 now. I found a couple of social media accounts for Traci and reached out to her, but she’s no longer active online. I found her brother Andrew, who did respond to me regarding my request to talk to Traci. He told me it’s an incredibly sensitive topic for the family, but he would ask her and get back with me. After following up a couple of times, I never heard back from Andrew. Of course, I completely understand their desire of not wanting to rehash long-buried feelings of anger, sadness and resentment in an effort to move on. I also understand the need for Andrew and Traci to protect Christina’s feelings about the father she never got to meet. As a courtesy, I did let Andrew know I would be talking about them in this podcast. I hope that perhaps, this project can be something that will help bring the Santiago family some sort of peace regarding Chrisopher’s death, and that Christina might one day listen to it and learn more about the father she never knew.
It’s true that Christopher was trying to get out of the Gangster Disciples. Seth talks about it in episode 4. It’s part of the reason why they murdered him. But exactly why he wanted to get out isn’t known. Did he know about Traci Santiago being pregnant, like Kevin says he did? Or is this just a case of misinformation, something Kevin heard as hearsay? Whatever the case may be, Kevin’s convinced that Christopher would have survived if he was just given the chance to talk it out with Candace Knott and his cousin Kenny Jackson.

KEVIN ROBERTSON If there's a problem that Chris has got a problem currently, I'll tell you right now, Chris saying, he's scared to walk up to you and say, Hey man, this is the situation. The cursor is not a fight. Chris is actually a good cop Knight, had a good personality and then good, you know, a sense of, you know, intelligence about if, if something was bothering him, he wasn't scared to actually go up to somebody and say, Hey, you know, I got this problem, you know, with you or not you and saying, you know, I don't think we can resolve it without, you know, bickering or fighting about it. Cause I hate when people ignore me. That's how Chris was.

CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATION I keep thinking about my trip to Braley Pond with Shea and Kevin. I don’t know that I’m convinced that there’s some mysterious dark energy there that’s lying dormant due to some sort of non-terrestrial shield, protecting visitors from some sort of potential catastrophe, like Shea spoke about.
I’ve been thinking about an email I got from Dr. Leah Broussard, the physicist I talked with at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory back in episode 7.
A few weeks after my visit with her, I emailed Dr. Broussard with some follow-up questions regarding the ability to read energy, the way Shea and her mom believe they can. She explains to me that energy is a very precisely defined term in physics. You can read someone’s energy by calculating their velocity, or measuring their temperature, or determining the gravitational pull of the earth, she says. But the idea of energy in a supernatural sense is not accepted in physics.
The very important reason for this, she tells me, is that scientists want to understand the way the world works without biasing themselves with ideas of how it should work, which is very challenging. Physicists try to strictly avoid ideas that are vaguely identified or require belief, and incorporate only models based on quantifiable data which has survived many rounds of testing and skepticism.
“It is human nature to hold beliefs and very hard for us to let go of them once we have them,” Dr. Broussard writes in her email. She points out that she was contacted by hundreds of people who want to believe that portals are real, who are desperate to be put in touch with relatives who passed away, who are depressed and want to go to a better universe. She believes they will be taken advantage of as a result.
I’m quoting Dr. Brousard directly here: “Beliefs can be manipulated. If I can get you to believe you have an aura or energy or whatever, I can take advantage of you and sell you 'magic' potions to purify your aura, or convince you that my enemy's aura is bad and you should cause them harm. This is very clearly different from, for example, me telling you why taking your temperature is important and selling you a thermometer. We can perform repeatable experiments to demonstrate why that is so. It is essential that physicists NOT keep an open mind - we can only endorse what we can prove to be a fact. The essence of science is healthy skepticism. There is of course an important balance.
Dr. Brouassard, of course, makes a very good point here. And I’ve tried to keep this in mind during the making of this podcast. Because a lot of the stories we’ve heard from Shea, Logan, and folks like Robert Peralla and Christine Day are fantastical in nature. A lot of what they espoused requires you to take leaps of faith, to be open minded, and undoubtedly challenge you in your own belief system. As I’ve said before, however, the point of this podcast was to never try to disprove any of these stories. It’s meant to be exploratory in nature, to get different perspectives on what happens after you die. And here’s one more.
Remember when I tried to get an interview with someone from the University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies back in episode 5? It turns out, after emailing a third faculty member, Dr. Edward Kelly agreed to chat with me.
Dr. Kelly is a professor of research in the department and has a Ph.D in Cognitive Sciences, which is the scientific study of the mind and how it works. His research focuses on parapsychology and paranormal phenomena that challenge the current neuroscientific view of the mind.
DR. ED KELLY Hey, Dr. Kelly. It's Charlie Moss. How are you? All right.

How are you? By the way I use it thought we were, uh, you and I were just going to talk privately. Is this a live thing?
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR The Division of Perceptual Studies, or DOPS, for short, was founded in 1967 by Dr. Ian Stevenson and is devoted to, well basically, the aspects of our mind that other scientists prefer to distance themselves from...
DR. ED KELLY the general purpose of the division is to study various phenomena that conflict with mainstream views about, um, mind and brain. You know, the basic story is in academia that everything in mind and consciousness is manufactured by physiological processes going on in brains. Uh, clearly if reincarnation occurs, there's something wrong with that picture.
Um, other things that we study are things like near-death experiences and by the way, um, uh, one of our colleagues, Bruce Grayson is, has just published a book titled after a, which is going to be a huge thing… it describes is 40 something years of research on near-death experiences and what they tell us about what may happen after death.
we also study things like mediumship apparitions, spontaneous cases of various kinds. Uh, and what I have brought to Dobbs is a, an experimental side. We've created a neuroimaging lab where we mainly do EEG, although we're also, uh, getting interested in kind of a poor man's F MRI, this, uh, uh, F nears functional near infrared spectroscopy, which measures things like blood oxygenation, um, and is quite compatible with EEG. That's why we're interested in it anyway. So, uh, and we're trying to Mount an experimental program where we, uh, particularly focus on gifted subjects, able to either do, uh, experimental side tasks, like a clairvoyance telepathy type tasks, or have the ability to get into, uh, unusual States of consciousness that we believe to be psych conducive. These are things like a mediumistic trance, hypnotic trance out of body States, the meditative States, things like that.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR What I find really interesting about Dr. Kelly is that he, and others at DOPS, are working to bridge the gap between religion and spirituality, and the kind of scientific thinking Dr. Broussard referred to earlier… the reluctance to keep an open mind and endorsing what can be proven only as fact. Dr. Kelly and his peers at UVA are able to balance both of these mindsets, it seems. So, I ask him about Shea’s abilities and what his impression is.
DR. ED KELLY This was a big subject it's kind of at the margins of the scientific work. Uh, there's a huge literature about it. Most of it is of little or no scientific value. Um, I do take it somewhat seriously. We haven't figured out any way to, uh, get involved with it that were particularly comfortable with, uh, I have an engineering colleague who was studying something that seems to be related. It's the ability of certain people to produce anomalous, voltages outside their bodies. And nobody has any idea how they do that. Uh, but he's working on a, uh, sort of, uh, instrumental setup that can, uh, at least potentially demonstrate the reality of the phenomena. And once there's a phenomenon, of course, we can try to understand what's behind it. So we kind of keep this a arms length for now we're interested kind of tracking it from a distance, but, uh, not actively involved in that ourselves.

CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR While UVA might be tracking this from a distance, they are doing research on more subtle energy, like the kind I talked about previously that comes from martial arts like Tai Chi. This, Dr. Kelly says, falls under the study of psychokinesis.
DR. ED KELLY We do a research on psychokinesis, for example, I mean, you might think a lot of the things that come under the heading of subtle energies and, you know, martial arts and so on or PK, like in the sense that they seem to involve possibly anomalous effects on the physical environment, not, not, uh, carried out in the normal sort of, uh, ways by the brain and body.

CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR This, of course, leads into my next question. Which is about what happened to Shea at Braley Pond in 2003, and all of the things she told Kevin and me during our trip there, about the darker energy she felt there, and the more, for lack of a better term, positive energy helping to contain it.
DR. ED KELLY I'm not super familiar with it to be honest, but, uh, some of the cases are quite strong, I believe,
Some places are reputed to have positive energies. One that sticks out in my mind is the, uh, the room where Sri Aurobindo used to meditate.

CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Dr. Kelly is referring to Sri Aurobindo, an early 20th century philosopher and yogi, who, after a series of fundamental spiritual realisations, quit politics and moved to the city of Pondicherry in the Indian territory of Pudecherry. There, he devoted himself entirely to his spiritual work. He stayed there for 40 years, and developed the practice of Integral Yoga, which is meant to liberate consciousness and transform human nature. Along with his spiritual partner, Mirra Alfassa, or “The Mother,” as she was referred to, they founded the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, which is a spiritual community that still exists today.

DR. ED KELLY Uh, Mike Murphy, who's, the co-founder of Exelon, was a big Aurobindo fan and went to Poland, Sheree, you know, where he had his Ostrom. And, uh, he, Mike describes and apparently a lot of people get the same sense going into that room and just feeling the place being sort of alive somehow with Aurobindo his presence and this, uh, warm energy. Suffusing the place.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Esalen, by the way, is the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, a world-renowned spiritual retreat and educational center considered to be at the forefront of the human potential movement, which is exactly what it sounds like.

DR. ED KELLY Is it really there? I can't say for sure whether there something literally there, but, uh, uh, these, there are lots of reports of these things. We've, we've got to figure out some way to measure something and we don't have that at the moment, to my knowledge, there, there are a few, I mean, there are actually quite a few little companies that sell contraptions that they claim can detect and measure subtle energies, but I think it's mostly nonsense, so interesting. Not, not much solid there so far, but, uh, that doesn't mean it's not real. Um, but we don't yet really know how to pursue that.

CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Dr. Kelly and I then change topics to ESP, which is one of the Division of Perceptual Studies’ main fields of well, studies. ESP, if you don't know, stands for extrasensory perception.
DR. ED KELLY extrasensory perception or ESP, which means information coming into you, uh, cross some sort of a barrier, but, uh, you know, that term has kind of surplus theoretical connotations. That makes it sound as though it's something like ordinary perception, similarly, you know, telepathy, clairvoyance, clairaudience, things of that sort, the term side was introduced just to cover the whole lot, basically. Uh, and most of us who were in the field prefer to use that term, which avoids all that sort of surplus baggage, theoretically, but that's, that's all, it means, you know, there's, um, information either goes out into the environment or it comes in from it across some sort of a barrier, uh, would, if the mainstream picture of things were correct, would be sufficient to prevent those things from happening.
So for example, on the input side, uh, the targets might not even be generated until tomorrow. So there's a time gap, or there could be a spacial gap. They could be in another place or they could be inside a black envelope or what have you. So there's a barrier in place that should prevent that information from flowing. And yet people can, uh, guess the targets let's say at a rates measurably better than chance expectancy

CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Remember that scene in Ghostbusters when Dr. Peter Venkman is doing an experiment involving two participants trying to guess what card he’s showing? He tells them, “I’m studying the effect of negative reinforcement on ESP ability.” That’s kind of what Dr. Kelly is talking about. The ESP part, not the negative reinforcement part.
Though I’m hesitant to push the boundaries in my chat with Dr. Kelly as far as how outlandish I can get, I do anyway. I ask him, in a roundabout way, about Plieadians, since it sounds like this could fall into the same category. I mean, ESP is a form of extrasensory perception, the power to perceive things that can’t otherwise be perceived through our normal five senses. This could be in a vision, or some sort of sense, or dare I say communication, regarding things or events from distant locations. So could this mean that people like Shea, Robert Peralla and Christine Day have ESP? Could they really be talking to beings from another universe, become ambassadors to communicate these visions they’re receiving?

CHARLIE MOSS when you say like, you know, information from other places, what's the, what's the spectrum on that?
DR. ED KELLY Yeah, the basic story is that no one has discovered any real limits on the displacement in space and or time. Uh, there have even been ESP experiments from the moon, uh, certainly from the cross large parts of the planet, uh, targets generated in the future either minutes, seconds, minutes, hours, days later. And none of these things seems to impose any serious or reliable limitation on the ability of subjects to get the right answer.

Yeah, the basic story is that no one has discovered any real limits on the displacement in space and or time. Uh, there have even been ESP experiments from the moon, uh, certainly from the cross large parts of the planet, uh, targets generated in the future either minutes, seconds, minutes, hours, days later. And none of these things seems to impose any serious or reliable limitation on the ability of subjects to get the right answer.
CHARLIE MOSS So potentially that could be, you know, and I feel kind of crazy saying this, but it could, could that potentially be like other beings? Could it be the app coming from the afterlife or, you know, um, does that make sense? Is that yeah.
DR. ED KELLY Well, all of the above, I mean, we don't know, I don't think we know whether there are any, um, higher or alien built beings of any kind, but, uh, I'm inclined to think that, uh, survival is real and that, um, something is out there that can communicate to us, uh, that was previously alive. Um, this was again, a very big subject and the evidence is not compelling, although it's strongly suggestive. I mean, the, the rebirth cases, for example, we have over 2,500 of those from all parts of the planet, including the U S now there's some very good American cases, small children who just know all kinds of things. They have no way of having learned about in this way. And yet they're verifiably. Correct. Uh, similarly there are some really excellent mediumistic cases where, uh, something comes into a, um, mediumistic session that, uh,
And speaks like a known deceased person can provide information that, uh, no one present knows, but can be verified, stuff like that.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR The more I talk with Dr. Kelly, the more open I become in sharing my thoughts with him. That’s when I chose to bring up the vision of my dead father I had when I was 22. Even though I talked to Robert Peralla about it, like Dr. Broussard suggested I wanted to get some scientific perspective on it.

CHARLIE MOSS part of the, something that I've kind of struggled with over the years is, is in course you may not be able to give an opinion about it or anything, but I, when I was with my father died, when I was 22, um, I had this really, really vivid dream of him coming to me and, uh, tapping me on the soldier on the shoulder from behind. And I was in bed. I was asleep, but it felt, you know, it felt real.
And I felt the tap on my shoulder and I look, you know, I look turn around and he looks basically the way he looked at his coffin and he, we, we did not have, uh, he was absent for most of my life. And, and I got to know him the last few years of his life, but something has always kind of stuck with me because it was such a, you know, it felt so real. And it was something that was like, you know, was that a ghost? Or, I mean, I was asleep and I woke up screaming and sweating profusely, but it was, I, it was the tap that did it. And so it's just a very curious, but I mean, I've had, you know, I've never, can't say I've ever seen a ghost or anything like that. I've had my, my sitter claims have seen goes were, had weird feelings and an old apartment I lived in and I had a girlfriend who, uh, an ex-girlfriend who swore up and down, she saw goes to my, in this old apartment, but I'm just curious about, you know, I don't know, I've got, I've got, I've just got all these questions I've got, and I know that this is a huge subject.
And, and, but the, the thing with my dad has always stuck with me. Like, what is that a ghost? Was it just a dream? Am I going crazy? Uh, and I don't know if you can, at all comment on that since
DR. ED KELLY You're not going crazy, that's rule that one out right away. Um, lots of people have these kinds of experiences. Uh, there's quite a big literature on them now they're called after death. Uh, there ATCs or even books about, um, like there's a book, uh, hello from heaven by the Guggenheims that recounts a bunch of such experiences. And by the way, there they're generally quite benign. In fact, one of the early things was, uh, by a guy in, uh, uh, in Ireland somewhere. I forget. Uh, do you, Reese did a study in his County that he worked in, uh, of, uh, people whose DC spouses or who felt that they had received some kind of communication or contact from the sea spouses. And he undertook to sort of compare them with, uh, control persons who, you know, had deceased, uh, spouses, but did not receive such contacts and found that the ones who did were generally dealing much coping much better with grief and loss and that sort of thing.
So in that sense, at least they're psychologically helpful now whether they're real or not, that's of course a much more difficult question, but that can only really be assessed in the context of the much bigger literature related to survival. Um, let me, uh, just mentioned one, uh, particular kind of evidence that I think is going to emerge as the, the kind that really causes the tide to shift. Uh, and it goes back to that book that I mentioned by Bruce Greyson after, uh, he'll talk in there, I'm sure about one special category of near-death experiences. These are ones that occur under extreme physiological conditions, such as deep general anesthesia and or cardiac arrest. And the reason they're so important is that, uh, you know, consciousness used to be a dirty word in science until really the 1980s. This was part of the legacy of behaviorism.
Uh, but in recent decades, consciousness research has become a big and respectable subject. And a consensus has emerged a broad consensus as to the conditions that are necessary for conscious experience to occur. And those conditions are certainly at minimum severely degraded, probably abolished in the best cases, under general anesthesia and cardiac arrest. And yet some people are reporting experiences under those conditions, not only experiences, but the most important experiences of their entire lives. And this stuff is coming right out of the heart of biomedical science, as we get better and better at retrieving people from the borderlands of death, we're seeing more cases of this sort and better cases, and they cannot be ignored. It's a stark, uh, inescapable conflict with the mainstream picture of how consciousness works.

CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR My talk with Dr. Kelly confirmed a couple of things for me. That there are scientists and psychologists who take the world of the paranormal seriously. Or at least, entertain the idea that there might be life after death, that those who sincerely claim to have seen ghosts, or experienced hauntings aren’t going crazy, or just making it up. While the science behind these experiences, these phenomena, is still young, it’s exciting to think of the eventual possibilities that could be opened up. Maybe one day communicating with the dead won’t sound so absurd.
But the other thing that is I keep going back to is something Shea told me in one of our conversations.

SHEA WILLIS We are completely out of balance. And that balance can only be achieved when we stop looking outwardly and we start looking inwardly,
we have the capacity to evolve at a spiritual level.
when you evolve spiritually to a point where you have reached the level of pure consciousness, I mean that's essentially divinity

CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Keep in mind that Shea isn’t talking about spirituality in a religious sense, but rather the belief that there is something greater than ourselves, that we are part of in a divine or cosmic nature.
Remember when Dr. Kelly mentioned Mike Murphy and how he was able to feel the presence of Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry?
This whole podcast, I’ve been obsessed with whether the vision I had of my father in my 20s was a ghost, or just a dream, and what it was supposed to mean. I never really got a definitive answer. Just like Kevin never got a definitive answer about what happened to Christopher Kennedy after he died, whether the disturbances at Braley Pond that Shea experienced had anything to with his deceased best friend. But I think both of us have been missing the point.
Rabbi Sherwin, the rabbi at the synagogue I grew up attending, tells me a story about the death of his own father.
RABBI SHERWIN when I was 16, 17, um, I had just learned to drive and it was the late sixties and I listened to music almost as loud as I listened to it today. I always had the radio, which was an am radio at the time turned way up. Okay. Now I have my MP3s in the phone and I just blast it, but I would turn it way up. My father would yell at me. My father would, um, say, I can hear you all the way from rain street, land street was two blocks away. It was the main street I would turn in and then turn left, turn right? And then turn left to get to my house. So it was two blocks away. And my father would say, trimming radio down. I got to the point where I would hear him saying in my head, turn the radio down and I would do it fast forward. About 60, about 50 years.

I moved into Orlando night in 2000 to get to my house. I have to turn off the main street. I make left for a short block. And then I turn right and go up half a block, same distances from rain street. And I have always heard my voice in me saying, turn the radio down. Okay. He died a few years ago. I still hear that voice. Now I can say that voice haunts me or I laugh and say it is so ingrained into my soul. That a way of remembering my father with a smile is turn the radio down.

CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Then I ask Rabbi Sherwin about my friend Staphen, who died when I was 10. As I talked about in episode 2, Stephen was killed in a car wreck, and Rabbi Sherwin was the one who told Steven’s mother Ruth and his father LEster, that their little boy was gone. He also led the funeral service, the one my sister Meri and I weren’t allowed to attend.
His death shook me, and I can’t say that it’s something I’ve ever gotten over.
CHARLIE MOSS I wanted to talk about was I wanted to talk about, um, Steven, Seth, and, um, you know, I just kind of wanted to get your, I guess, your memories of it, like, because I don't think I've ever talked to you about kind of how you found out about it. Like what, you know, what w what it did to you as a rabbi being close, you know, with him and the, you know, as a teacher, um, in the community.

RABBI SHERWIN There are people who will say 30 years after a death, that they feel the presence, a palpable presence. Um, and I can see, let me tell you something. Do you know the date? Stephen died in the Jewish calendar? It's the fifth night of Hanukkah.

To say it was December something. Yeah, I noticed it, but again, I've only remembered it was the fifth night of Hanukkah. Okay. And I have to tell you, there is something for me, palpable, whether it's the presence or not, there is something I will describe as palpable.
CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR Rabbi Sherwin is very explicit when he uses this word,“palpable,” because though he doesn’t want to use the term “ghost,” he acknowledges that there is a very real presence that is left after someone dies.

RABBI SHERWIN When we like the five Canada, the candles for the Fest night, I've never forgotten his yard side. And they generally leave a message for Ruth and Leicester. And she's never forgotten it. I feel a palpable, palpable presence. I don't know exactly it can't define it. There's some thing that I feel not just in emotion.
I mean, seriously, it's been 35 years ago and 36 years now it's a long time, a long time
I remember Steven. Okay. I remember all you catch the memory that sticks out with me, and it is, and getting goosebumps is I was in the emergency room with Lester. If remember, Ruth was also injured. And they had, when Steven was brought in, he had his watch that he had gotten for Hanukkah. And some other things, Lester was holding it. I was the one who had to tell Lester that Steven died, why the doctors didn't do it? I don't know, but it just worked out as we're sitting there. And maybe the doctors didn't want Lester to know yet. I don't know. But Lester was saying, I want to bring him home. I want to bring them home and want to bring them home. I want them to be all right. I want them to be all right. And the doctor had already told me that to see if he was dead.

And I remember I was the one who told last year. I remember riding in the limousine with a family. I'd never written in a limousine before to be with a family. I remember the next day, a day after the funeral, um, the, where Steven went to school, they had everybody had gathered or an hour. They went to school where friends had gathered, um, at the day school. And they were all, everybody was obviously long, you know, really not more than upset, numb. And I attended that. And the Orthodox rabbi was there, um, probably along the cobblistic line and have the audacity. And I remember this to tell the kids who were there and this to school staff, that God puts us here on earth for a purpose. And when we finish our purpose, uh, God, uh, cause on us back to having a, wherever you want to call it. And I remember being horrified. How can I explain the death of a ten-year-old that he came back only for 10 years to be killed in a car accident.

And at that point I changed quite a bit. Number one, there is a line in this Jewish funeral service that a lot of Christians use as well. I don't nine times out on now my car shame. I remember God has given God has taken away. May God's Dalene be blessed forever. I refuse to recite that line from that day on that God has given, and God has taken away. How can a compassionate God willingly willfully take away the life of a 10 year old. It just didn't jive with any view of God. I wanted to have it be a manipulative guy. So I stopped using that line. And again, we're talking to it in 1985, and that was a change. Second change when my kids started driving and they were 16. So Josh was born in 81. So he was, was 1997. He gets his driver's license Dhabi two years later with all of my kids, anytime they got in the car to leave, I said to them, and I say to them to this day, drive carefully and watch out for crazies.
I say that all the time, the Steven in mind driving is, can be dangerous. And I don't know if I'll ever see the kids again. I have that little fear in me every time they got in the car and they never let them leave the house without me saying, I love you. That is Steven. It affected me profoundly.
I feel Steven's presence constantly.

CHARLIE MOSS - NARRATOR The thing is, I do, too. I still hear his laugh. It was sort of a cackle — a series of cartoonish, hearty yucks. And I remember his dark, brown hair cut straight across the middle of his forehead. And I remember the way he used to move his jaw up and down, his mouth opening and closing as he cut paper with scissors. Every time I get into the car with my boys, I think of Steven, if only for a second. And when my older son experienced a similar tragedy with a boy his age, I told him about Steven. I knew exactly how he was feeling.

But I also feel my father’s presence. With two sons of my own, the decisions I make as I raise them are directly affected by him, for better or for worse.
My boys ask me questions about him when they see his photo in my bedroom.
I’m a better father because of the mistakes my own dad made, the lack of interest he seemed to have in my sister and me, and the fact that he didn’t contact us until we were 18. But I also imagine what kind of grandfather he’d be if he was around. I think he would have been a good one.
For all of the people who’ve died in my life - my father, my childhood friend Steven, my grandfather who helped raise my sister and me until he died of lung cancer just before we turned 13, I still feel them in my life. I still feel their presence.
And maybe that’s the point. Do ghosts really exist? Are there portals to other dimensions? Can we manipulate the dark and light energy around us? It doesn’t matter. We want to still be able to feel the connections we had with the ones who’ve died in our lives. The thing is, we still can. Maybe those connections come in the form of hauntings. Or maybe, it’s as simple as remembering how those we’ve lost impacted us while they were alive, and how our memories of them serve as reminders for how to move forward.

Seth Tinsley reflects on his life in prison after the murder of Christopher Kennedy, while Kevin Robertson offers his thoughts on the choices Seth made the night of May 22, 2003. Charlie discovers new information about Christopher’s death and ponders the afterlife with his childhood mentor, Rabbi Richard Sherwin, and Dr. Edward Kelly from the University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies.

Image gallery