October 24, 2009 8:21:00 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Unexplained voices, shadowy figures, doors that open and close by themselves ... it''s the stuff of sleepless nights. And especially as Halloween nears, a surprising number everyday folks feel plagued by just such bumps in the night. When their rattled nerves send them searching for answers online, many discover the Mississippi Paranormal Research team.
"Most of the people who contact us are at the end of their rope, and the knot is fraying," said Danny Holland of Starkville.
For him, as for all the MPR team members, sitting silently for hours in a pitch-black attic or crawling under houses in the dark is all part of a the job -- part of trying to explain the inexplicable for their often-desperate clients.
But don''t look for gaudy gimmicks or ghost-busting proton packs with these investigators. They travel throughout the state and beyond discreetly, taking what they do seriously and priding themselves on stringent operating procedures. And they do it at their own expense.
"We don''t use Ouiji boards, divining rods, seances, mediums or any of that," stressed Holland. "All those methods are surrounded in mystery themselves and don''t have a place in our research."
MPR is led by no-nonsense founder Robbie Wade, a Rankin County police officer and veteran of a National Guard tour in Iraq. Other members include his wife and fellow police officer Andrea; Holland, a condo association manager and writer; Mississippi State University instructor Cassondra Sumrall of Starkville; computer engineer Matt Canfield and Kirschen Canfield of Pearl; and two additional police investigators from the Brandon area -- Dempsey Wade and Jim King, both currently serving in Iraq.
On Monday, five team members gathered in Starkville to talk about what they do.
The MPR approach
"We''re a group of individuals with professional backgrounds who share a common interest in researching and documenting suspected paranormal events," said Wade. "Our team uses logic, skill and experience during investigations based on a scientific mindset and tools."
"We are genuinely out there to help people who believe they have a problem," Holland stressed.
After two years on the mission, the team consensus is that most cases can be debunked.
Wade said, "I get more joy out of explaining something; I like to debunk logically, I like to find answers. That''s what people really want -- they want to know they''re not going out of their minds."
Many mysteries can be solved with feasible answers. The sounds of a crying baby, for instance, may be nearby fox cubs. Hair standing on end, nausea and headaches may be the result of a high EMF (electromagnetic field) present in some poorly-insulated older homes. Doors opening by themselves are often found to be the result of faulty latches.
One case involved a client convinced there was a presence in her bedroom closet interacting with her at night when she tried to sleep. A thorough investigation determined the woman was most likely very sensitive to high EMF readings being produced by a humidifier located near the head of her bed. (Digital alarm clocks can also produce elevated readings, Wade noted.)
Opening a case
"The first order of business when preparing to organize an investigation is to conduct an interview with the potential client," Wade explained. "This also helps me determine how many investigators I need. If a client tells me he or she is hearing voices, seeing shadows and hearing or seeing doors open and close, I''ll center the investigation around these claims of activity and try and find a plausible explanation -- such as noisy neighbors, animals, unlevel construction, exterior lighting from things like passing vehicles."
While the team makes use of digital and audio recording equipment, infrared cameras and instruments to measure thermal and electromagnetic fields, their best tools, they agree, are investigative skills and common sense. They also thoroughly research the history of the property.
When prioritizing requests, cases affecting children go to the top of the list. And the emotional state of the parties involved is also a consideration.
"We try to help quietly," said Sumrall, who teaches English as a second language. "Many people don''t want to tell their neighbors about what they think they''re experiencing."
"And we''re not exorcists," Wade stated. "We just document what we find."
While quick-fix TV shows like CSI solve their mysteries within a 40-minute hour, reality is rarely so cut and dried or glamorous.
Canfield said, "You might go out on 100 investigations and not see anything," said Canfield. "It''s a lot of crawling around under houses."
There are, of course, cases which leave everyone sratching their heads.
Wade himself has never forgotten phenomena in a old house he once lived in -- sounds of children laughing, running footsteps, faucets that seemed to turn themselves on. It''s what sparked his initial interest in research.
He talked of one MPR investigation in northwest Mississippi.
"While conducting a baseline EMF sweep of the downstairs of a two-story house, my hand-held radio, clipped on my right front pocket, started beeping while, at the same time, some unknown force pushed or brushed against my right arm. It caught me by total surprise, so I just froze in place in hopes it would happen again, but it didn''t. This phenomena has been reported by the family, too. Another interesting thing was that the family dog wouldn''t go upstairs; it would sit at the bottom and bark at the upper level."
Investigators'' personal experiences alone don''t carry much weight in team results. MPR requires at least two more corroborative pieces of evidence before giving credence to actual paranormal activity. In fact, if a team member does get spooked -- the brush on the arm, the shadow with no cause -- he or she can only tell Wade.
"If someone has a personal experience, we take it only to Robbie," said Holland. "Then, if two or three of us have the same experience, we know there really might be something there."
The core group is open to additional members with specific expertise, especially in fields such as psychology, parapsychology, electronics and audio and video.
Canfield noted, "We use a collective approach to attacking problems. If you''ve got the right people, there''s not a lot you can''t accomplish.
"With Mississippi Paranormal Research, when things go bump in the night ... we bump back!"
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.