Paranormal investigators not afraid to scare up some ghosts

10:49 PM CDT on Saturday, October 28, 2006
By ROY APPLETON / The Dallas Morning News


No telling who or what might show up this Halloween at the Old Alton Bridge.

No doubt people game for a fright will return to the historic crossing south of Denton, home to the headless Goat man of lore.

Perhaps the woods nearby will produce more of the lights, sounds and stories that keep the credulous coming back for more.

But don't expect Rick Moran and his team to be out there Tuesday. The Texas chapter of the Association for the Study of Unexplained Phenomenon will take the night off.

"Halloween to a real researcher," Mr. Moran said, "is kind of like New Year's Eve to a professional drinker."

Besides, he and his investigators have already been to the old iron truss bridge, and they'll return at 3 p.m. today for a little ghost-hunting show and tell. To learn more, contact the group visit www.asup-texas .com.

An orange mist seen floating in the woods warrants further study, they say, as do some cold spots detected along a path.

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"Given that we found some anomalies, as a group we're convinced something is going on," Mr. Moran said.

They aren't alone.

Across the nation, hundreds, if not thousands, of groups are looking, as the Society for Paranormal Investigation puts it, "beyond the veil."

Need help with a haunting or a probe of the puzzling? Just Google.

"It's really catching on," said Joel-Anthony Gray, director of the society's four-year-old Dallas unit, who credits the Internet, digital cameras, movies and television shows such as  Ghost Hunters for the rise in popularity.

Vicki Isaacks, who founded Metroplex Paranormal Investigations five years ago, figures at least 20 such groups are working North Texas.

And greater numbers have increased competition for those coveted investigations.

"It's a sore spot for those of us who have been around," she said.


Analytical approach

Some embrace the likes of channeling, séances or Ouija boards, but Mr. Gray, Ms. Isaacks and Mr. Moran are among those taking a more analytical approach.

You background a site and situation. Gather and document evidence. Try to determine what's going on – or not. What is or isn't.

"We try to eliminate the crap," said Mr. Moran, who for 35 years has been exploring, writing and trying to explain the seemingly inexplicable, from supposed hauntings and UFO sightings to your everyday paranormal activity.

"All things are possible," he said. "That's what we're in business for."

Retired after a heart attack and with some extra time on his hands, the former journalist and police officer this year began dusting off the Association for the Study of Unexplained Phenomenon, which he co-founded in New York in 1972.

"It's all part of rebuilding and handing off to the next generation," said Mr. Moran, 59.

His investigations include a 1977 public dispute of supposed demonic involvement in the "Amityville Horror" murders. He checked out stories of Mothman encounters in Pennsylvania.

These days, The Colony resident is the guiding light for a dozen or so aspiring sleuths.

There's lead investigator Sarah Blair of Denton, 31, a former police officer, now a clerk for a law firm.

Field investigator Brian Mollenkopf, a former archaeologist and now a stay-at-home dad, brings an interest in cryptozoology, particularly the Bigfoot question.

"I may be the most skeptical of the group," said the Keller resident, 38, who knows he saw a hairy, two-legged "object" bound across a rural Ohio road four years ago. "It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up."

As a teenager, lead researcher Joy Maner devoured stories about spirits, UFOs and the unexplained. And earlier this year, after her mother's death, the Wills Point resident, 48, began wondering about an afterlife.

Poking around online, she came across Mr. Moran's call for recruits. "I decided I'd reply," she said, "and see where it goes."

The destination could be ever evolving. Beyond their own curiosities, the group receives investigation requests via e-mail. After reviewing particulars, they pursue or punt.

"You've got to be real careful about who you take seriously," Mr. Moran said.


Projects by permission

His team works only where invited or permitted. Their service is free. And their tools include cameras (video and still), sound recorders, infrared thermometers, electromagnetic energy detectors, global positioning devices and, of course, flashlights.

"Sometimes I like to mix it up and put psychics with the hardware people," Mr. Moran said.

The Tarrant County College newspaper staff invited his group to campus last month to check out a theater supposedly haunted (odd movements, a curious flickering of lights) several years ago by a drama student killed in a car crash.

"We thought it would be a good Halloween story," said Susan Tallant, editor of The Collegian. "And we wanted to see if there was anything going on out there."

Photographs taken at a backstage catwalk and piano "seem to confirm 'energy' in these two areas" and "show 'orb' activity in obvious motion," Mr. Moran wrote in a preliminary report. But, he continued, "We cannot confirm, or deny the existence of a particular spirit or entity at this site."

The group has a half dozen or so other projects in sight. They await permission to investigate "eerie lights" at Zion Cemetery in Frisco and plan to help a group dealing with strangeness at a field near Tyler.

Ms. Maner has researched the "Lady" of White Rock Lake ghost story, anticipating fieldwork there, and she hopes the group can take on the Millermore Mansion, reputed hangout of a female spirit at Dallas' Old City Park.

Mr. Mollenkopf wants to look into a reported Bigfoot sighting recently in northeast Texas.

"All in good time," Mr. Moran said.

They have an invitation, expenses paid, to a house in Mexico, he says. And there's the "classified case," a missing person.

"I can't talk about it," Ms. Maner said. "It's a little sensitive."

An interest in the supernatural can raise the riddles of existence and reality – concerns long central to religion, science and imagination, as well as ghost hunting.

And as quantum physics – with its principles of uncertainty and its concept of parallel universes – has become more embedded in popular culture, said Mr. Gray, the pursuit of the paranormal has become more mainstream.

"Some people see things, experience things, and they want to know why," said Mr. Moran, whose journalism career in New York and Texas included reporting for a Belo-owned newspaper in Rockwall.

Some "want to believe the unbelievable," he added, or need answers and have faith in the unknowable.


Open to interpretation

And if others see ghost hunters as gullible nuts?

"I say, 'You're welcome to your opinion,' " Mr. Moran said. "It's all open to interpretation."

Besides, Ms. Maner said: "If we have a good time doing it and are as scientific as possible, so what? You're getting out with like-minded folks, doing something you enjoy."

In the months ahead, Mr. Moran said, the Association for the Study of Unexplained Phenomenon team plans to return to the Old Alton Bridge woods in varying weather conditions.

There along Hickory Creek, in the Sept. 23 darkness, their infrared thermometers measured unusually cool pockets of air with 30-degree temperature variations, Mr. Moran and the others report.

"If you want to use 1940s logic, if you walk through a cold spot you just walked through a ghost or over a ghost's grave or whatever," he said. "All I know is it's a physical effect."

And what was that orange misty-something the team claims to have seen moving among the trees about 8:30 p.m.?

"When I went into the woods walking towards it, it came down to about eye level," said Mr. Moran, pointing toward the encounter site during a recent afternoon visit. "But when I got closer to the bank of the creek, it got larger and dissipated.

"Our readings [temperature, humidity, barometric pressure] ruled out fog," he said, "and it wasn't headlights" from the road nearby. "I'm not telling you it's Casper the friendly ghost."

But otherworldly?

"I think it could be. I'm leaning toward that."



Rick Moran, co-founder of the Association for the Study of Unexplained Phenomenon, and organizer of the Texas chapter of the association, said an orange mist and cold spots near the Old Alton Bridge warrant further study.
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