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October 27, 2021 News » Cover Story

Got Ghosts? 

Utah paranormal experts share the ins and outs of hauntings.

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At first, DeAnn Thomas thought the man was a living person. She watched him stroll out of a room and start to walk down a flight of stairs. "He wore a shirt and pants," she said. "He had hair and skin the right color."

But, after he turned toward her, he vanished into thin air when she tried to get a closer look. She instantly understood he was a ghost.

With over a decade as a paranormal investigator and founder of Advanced Paranormal Services, Thomas said she has seen, felt and heard ghosts. A person's best ghost-hunting tool is their own body and senses, she says, and the way it feels when a supernatural being might be hanging around

"Sometimes, they're just shadows," she said. "Other times, they look like they did when they were alive."

click to enlarge DeAnn Thomas, paranormal investigator and founder of Advanced Paranormal Services - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • DeAnn Thomas, paranormal investigator and founder of Advanced Paranormal Services

In 2010, Thomas and a group of paranormal enthusiasts transformed their shared interests into a business, creating Advanced Paranormal Services and WISPS, the Wasatch Investigative Society for Paranormal Studies. Their two-pronged enterprise has separate focuses. First, WISPS sells tickets to ghost-hunting expeditions, taking people to haunted sites in a safe introduction to paranormal research. Second, as Advanced Paranormal Services, the group conducts private investigations—free of charge—for people who feel they might have an in-house ghost.

"Half of our clientele is fearful of the idea of looking for a paranormal," Thomas said. "Others say, 'I think this is silly, but my friend thinks I need to call you.'"

Potential clients often describe possible signs of ghostly inhabitation, like a door in the house that swings independently or shadows that are visible in a particular room. Their clock might consistently stop at the same time, or they may feel the presence of a lost loved one. In those cases—or more troubling instances of malignant, negative energy—the haunted might seek answers from organizations like Advanced Paranormal Services, from psychics and mediums, or from their local clergy.

The ghost gurus in this story have crossed paths with everything from a gentle grandmother who longs to visit her family to diabolical entities determined to possess a living being and feed off their energy ... if not their soul.

click to enlarge Sarah Jamieson, paranormal tour guide with Grimm Ghost Tours in Salt Lake City - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Sarah Jamieson, paranormal tour guide with Grimm Ghost Tours in Salt Lake City

Reaching out
Sarah Jamieson is known as Number 19 when she works as a paranormal tour guide, conducting bus and walking tours for Grimm Ghost Tours in Salt Lake City. She said recent months have seen a spike in activity.

"Once businesses reopened during the pandemic, ghosts were extra active as if they were saying, 'we're glad you guys are back'," she says.

In four years as a guide, Jamieson has become familiar with certain ghosts. "When we do a walking tour of the Fear Factory, we walk through and tell people about the deaths that happened there when it was a cement factory," she says. For example, when she pulls out two copper dowsing rods used to find underground water in a past era, a little girl ghost likes to swing the dowsing rods in time to music when people sing to her. Other spirits will move the dowsing rods and point them in different directions, says Jamieson.

"The more you interact with a ghost, the more they will interact," she said, adding that tour participants often snap photos of ghosts in the form of shadows or orbs, "which makes the tour a lot of fun."

Thomas says that not every bump, shadow or wisp of wind is ghostly, and the first step Advanced Paranormal investigators take on a case is to try to debunk the supposedly paranormal event. She remembers one case, at the Grist Mill in Stansbury Park, when a woman saw a reflection walking across a mirror that looked like a round gray head and shoulders.

The woman said she hadn't moved. Her son claimed he walked in the opposite direction. Thomas waited to see if the "ghost" would walk by again. Then, she checked to see what happened when a car passed.

"If we can't recreate what we saw, smelled or heard, we would admit that we couldn't explain away that shadow figure," she said. "In this life, I don't know that we will ever know whether ghosts are real, but things have happened that you cannot explain. For me, it's just kind of a mystery."

Through a technique known as "tagging," investigators make a note of human-made noises—such as sneezes or shoes squeaking—that they know aren't supernatural. Thomas said it's believed ghosts mainly consist of electromagnetic energy, so one instrument used to detect their presence is an electromagnetic field tester (EMF) detector. When a spirit engages with such an instrument, Thomas said clients tend to have the same initial questions.

"They'll say, 'Are you Aunt so-and-so?' Thomas said. "Every time, it goes to the family."

In about 50% of hauntings, Thomas said, the ghosts are believed to be connected to the client in a familial way. She recalled a woman in the Millcreek area who alternated between being scared and happy at the idea of a ghost in her house. Her husband had recently passed away from cancer. Since then, Thomas said, the woman had felt an invisible being climb into bed with her every night.

"We got the impression from him that until he felt his wife could handle his death, he was letting her know that he was still here," Thomas said.

click to enlarge “They don’t want to frighten you.” Pepper Gregory, - psychic medium - for the dead - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • “They don’t want to frighten you.” Pepper Gregory, psychic medium for the dead

Be not afraid
During the first half of psychic medium Pepper Gregory's readings, she interprets what she can pick up about her client. The second half is "question time," when she becomes a medium for the dead.

"Sometimes ghosts will come and be present in the room without asking," she says. "They are concerned and want to see what's going on in people's lives. They will give me names or phrases that only the client in the reading would know."

Once the client identifies the ghostly family member's identity, Gregory says it's quite an honor for her to connect the two realms. "They don't want to frighten you," she said. "They don't want you to jump out of your chair and run away."

Gregory says that connecting with relatives who have crossed over is very comforting to clients, and sometimes a three-way conversation takes place between the ghost, the client and herself. If she is channeling spirits and several arrive, she has to tell them, "I can't do this for all of you." She adds that ghosts aren't always human. "Dogs have the most beautiful spirits."

A funeral director acquaintance once told Gregory about a time when he stood between two caskets that held the bodies of an older man and his wife in preparation for a funeral. The two had died at nearly the same time.

After he had turned his back, Gregory said, he saw two spirits standing and holding hands.

"The love you have for someone carries forth into the next reality," Gregory said. "Where else would they be except with you?"

Thomas says most of the ghosts she encounters are benign and want attention, or help. "They want to be noticed like regular people," she explains. "When people die, they maintain their same personality. Most are non-threatening, but some are just jerks."

Good and evil
Thomas relates how Advanced Paranormal came to classify ghosts into three different categories. At the time, the group had been working with a client who was "a little old Catholic grandma," she said, "whose health was fragile."

While investigating the woman's case, Advanced Paranormal determined that she had a demonic entity in her house. Thomas recalls that there was a heavy feeling and dark shadows in the home, and the dogs were agitated.

"It seemed to target her husband and also caused her some issues," Thomas said.

When investigators told the woman about the entity, the discussion didn't go well. "She panicked," Thomas said, "and we had to talk her down."

Leaving the client's house, Thomas suggested creating classifications to use among themselves and to educate clients about types of ghosts. Type 1 was assigned to "ordinary" ghosts, she said, like a family member who passes away and decides to hang out in the kitchen. A Type-3 ghost is a demonic entity.

Thomas said a Type-3 demon will often find a Type-1 ghost that will cave to its pressure and act as a puppet. These puppeted Type-1 beings, Thomas explained, are Type-2 ghosts.

"Almost every religion believes in a fallen angel," Thomas said. "These spirits never do their own dirty work."

While Jamieson agrees that most ghosts are benign, she acknowledged that some paranormal beings can be threatening. However, she said, a person is in control of what they want to experience.

"If you don't want interaction with a threatening one, you don't have to," Jamieson said. "Just say, 'Nope. I'm not having a conversation with you. Please go away.'"

As far as dark spirits go, Gregory similarly advises against inviting something in. "You'll get someone who wants to control you," she said.

Instead, Gregory requests that her clients who believe they've been exposed to evil spirits bless and cleanse their house before coming to her for a reading.

"No psychic wants that," she said. "I don't bring bad people into the light."

click to enlarge GHOULS demonologist Indigo Scorpio: Don’t invite spirits into your life. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • GHOULS demonologist Indigo Scorpio: Don’t invite spirits into your life.

steps to possession
Indigo Scorpio, a demonologist with a local paranormal team known as GHOULS (Ghost Hunters of Utah's Lost Souls), explains that a paranormal being can start to draw energy from the subject who invited its presence.

"I've seen people go into desperation or depression," Scorpio said. "Their energy is being used against them, and they don't know how to protect themselves."

Spirits like this are here for a reason, says Thomas. She estimates that about one-fourth of ghostly presences are concerning as far as being dark spirits. She and others interviewed for this article advocated against using things like Ouija boards and advised that people should not invite spirits into their personal lives.

The first step toward possession by a ghost is what's known as an infestation, Thomas explains, which happens when the entity makes itself known to its target. "A malignant spirit might appear as a child or a teenager," she said, "and after making contact with you, it will try to get you to be its friend."

Thomas said that what seems like a friendly little Casper could actually be Igor the Undying, trying to gain an invitation into a home. Likewise, a ghost who claims to be an old grandmother who died in a nursing home from neglect could be a horrible demonic entity.

"These types of spirits are very deceptive and will lie to you," Thomas said. "We've had people say, 'We were talking to a little ghost, his name's Billy. Now our kitchen stool is spinning.' Once you've invited it into your life and given it your trust, it can lead to an infestation."

The next step toward possession is called oppression. After the entity becomes your friend, and you invite it into your space, its goal becomes breaking you down to the point of despair, Thomas said. Such an entity might make someone think they are going crazy by knocking inside the walls or keeping them awake at night. Or it might try to scare its target by throwing things off of shelves.

"It can drag you down to the point where it can go in and possess you," Thomas said. "Once you get to the reality of possession, this isn't fun anymore."

Possession breaches a person's agency and autonomy, Thomas said. "You have reached the point where you have no free will left and will do whatever it takes to get this tormenting to stop." She adds that while movies make it look as if possession happens over a week or two, it can be a fast or slow process, depending on the fortitude of the victim.

Possessed individuals can lose time, not knowing what happened over significant gaps in their day. There could be a sudden aversion to religious objects or evidence of self-mutilation. The possessed individual may or may not levitate, or appear to speak with multiple voices.

"Sometimes they will think they have gone crazy," Thomas says. "There could be personality changes, where a typically active person becomes isolated or hostile. They could become abusive or threatening, or they might start swearing a lot."

Thomas adds that if such entities show themselves to others as a person, they cannot perfectly mimic a human. "A finger or a foot might be missing, or an ear is gone," she said. "There is always going to be a flaw." At this point, Advanced Paranormal refers the person to their clergy for help. "It is beyond what we can do."

facts and faith
At their first appointment with a client, Thomas said her team will ask what religion they practice. For example, in the case of a dark spirit, someone might ask if they can get a Latter-day Saint blessing for the home to clear whatever might be there.

click to enlarge Jean Hill, with the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City: Have your house blessed—or do your own blessing. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Jean Hill, with the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City: Have your house blessed—or do your own blessing.

"Some men in our group can do that," Thomas said. "The more faith you have in it, the more it is going to work as a remedy."

Thomas said those types of common religious blessings can help in the short term. Other non-denominational remedies might involve cleansing a space using salt and sage, she said.

"We explain that it's a band-aid to get you through today," she said. "Tomorrow, you'll need to call your clergy to help you until the root issues are resolved."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not respond to a media request regarding ghosts and dark spirits.

Jean Hill, director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City says of her faith's position on the paranormal, "You can have your house blessed for many different reasons, not necessarily just having a poltergeist. And you can do your own blessing as well."

click to enlarge First Unitarian Church Rev. Monica Dobbins: Unitarians value science and reason over the paranormal. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • First Unitarian Church Rev. Monica Dobbins: Unitarians value science and reason over the paranormal.

Reverend Monica Dobbins of First Unitarian Church said she has never been asked about a demon in her religious work. "We hold science and reason up as things that have religious value," she said. "We don't have a lot of scientific evidence for the existence of demons."

Speaking generally, Dobbins said she would try to help a congregant struggling with the paranormal by listening to their experience, taking them seriously and considering what might be going on. Perhaps the person is experiencing a mental-health crisis, Dobbins said, or experiencing hallucinations they don't understand. She added that grief can be incredibly powerful and the mind can compensate by interpreting different kinds of phenomena.

"If a person seems confused, the better thing to do is go along with it for a while and let them talk out what they are experiencing," she said. "Then they can calm down and get back to what is real. If you really listen and take them seriously, you can get to the bottom of what is going on."

click to enlarge Dan Ellis,  Utah state director for American Atheists: “I haven’t seen any good evidence to support the notion of an afterlife.” - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Dan Ellis, Utah state director for American Atheists: “I haven’t seen any good evidence to support the notion of an afterlife.”

As a skeptic, Dan Ellis—Utah state director for American Atheists—finds the concept of ghosts to be very strange. He recently posted 13 questions online (because 13 is "spooky," he said) regarding ghost-related issues, like why ghosts rarely seem to appear naked. Other questions on Ellis' mind include why ghost stories tend to resemble humans or other existing animal species, but never the "99.9 percent" of Earth life that no longer inhabit the planet—"Why are there no T-rex ghosts?"—and why ghosts are so picky about to whom they reveal themselves.

"If they need to deliver a message," Ellis asks, "why don't they walk right up to the camera?"

While he notes that individual atheist beliefs about the afterlife vary, he said he prefers to rely on evidence for the things he chooses to believe or not believe. "I haven't seen any good evidence to support the notion of an afterlife," he said.

Paranormal investigator DeAnn Thomas says she's seen a general increase in interest around the paranormal. And rather than noticing an upsurge in activity during the pandemic, she said she sees seasonal shifts. "In the summer, home investigations drop," she said, "but when it starts to get cold, people start to remember, 'There's a funny noise in my kitchen,' or 'We see shadows in the TV room.'"

Thomas says she's even helped a few ghosts cross over to the other side. She said her group shares the belief that when someone dies, their spirit goes to a form of heaven. However, she's also met up with spirits that prefer to stay here.

"'Either they're not ready, or they're afraid," she said. "Sometimes they are attached to the land, and we give them reasons to move past that."

Thomas tells of speaking with the spirit of a young man in his late teens or early 20s. The investigators asked why he hadn't yet moved on, and he responded that he and his father had a difficult relationship in life, and he didn't want to go and face his father in death. She relates that sometimes, the ghosts didn't believe in an afterlife while they were still living, which colors their acceptance of the beyond.

"They didn't live their lives the way they thought they should, and now they are afraid of punishment." she said.

In assisting a ghost in moving on, she said the goal is to help them see that they have the power to do it themselves. To such a ghost, Thomas might reassure them that the afterlife won't be as difficult as they fear and that they'll have a chance to state their case and defend their mortal actions. She expressed her belief that God exists and is a loving being.

"I tell the spirit that there is light, and they should go in that direction,"she said.

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About The Author

Carolyn Campbell

Carolyn Campbell

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Campbell has been writing for City Weekly since the 1980s. Her insightful pieces have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists chapters in Utah and Colorado.

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