The dangers of Preliminary Investigation

This subject was brought to my attention on a Paranormal website’s forum. The question asked was regarding what to ask a client prior to going to a location to investigate. One response really caused me to think about what could create bias in a potential investigation, including selection, scientific, and cognitive bias on the part of the investigators, and what kind of things we really need to know before investigating any location.

The response stated that a preliminary phone interview was necessary to “weed out thrill seekers, and nutcases” that should encompass at least 100 questions over several conversations, followed by a preliminary visit to the location where the same questions are asked again but worded differently to look for discrepancies. The questions should include what they are experiencing, if any members of the home have ever been diagnosed with a neurological issue, if they are on prescription or street drugs, if they smoke, or drink, if they have pets, any history they know and on and on. The response also advised to acquire a sketch of the home’s layout, and said that investigators can often solve a claim before ever investigating…

How does this sort of preliminary interview help or hinder both the investigator(s) and the client?

Obviously, it is going to hinder the client greatly if the team that they have called for help never even bothers to come to the location and investigate, and yet claims to have an answer to what is causing what they are experiencing. If the client needs help, they need help. Whether it is validation that what they are experiencing is not just happening to them and is unexplainable, being reassured that it is a loose pipe that needs fixed, or being guided to seek the spiritual and/or psychological help that they are needing, the client needs help with something.

With that said, an investigator needs to be able to go into a location with the ability to investigate and record data of both the explainable and the unexplainable alike. I believe that this requires both open-mindedness and a good instinct on the investigator’s part. A client also has to be comfortable with the team that is handling their case and has to be able to trust them.

I don’t believe that playing good-cop/bad-cop and drilling the client with 100 questions before ever meeting them can establish that feeling of trust or provide the help that the client needs. Most of the clients I have talked to fear two things almost more than they fear what they are experiencing; people thinking that they are crazy, and people thinking that they are making things up. The client is the important party, and to be true to the field and ourselves, we have to put the client above us at all times.

Here are some examples as to why preliminary investigation rarely helps.

The paranormal field is literally a grab-bag when it comes to what could or won’t happen on any given investigation. Our team has experienced both unexplainable activity surrounding an admitted drug abuser with a schizophrenic and satanic history, and zero unexplainable activity on multiple visits to a home with a very old reputation for being active and an owner that sounded genuinely concerned over the phone. Let us assume that we used that preliminary interview on both of these clients. We would have assumed that there would be tons of activity in the second location and would have “solved” the first without even a visit. In both cases we would have been wrong.

The first case I refer to is quite interesting, and required a wealth of open-mindedness on our investigators’ parts. A man with a history of drug abuse and mental illness contacted us several times asking for help. When it came right down to scheduling an investigation, his girlfriend said she did not want anyone doing it, and did not believe that it was anything more than his own psychosis causing delusions. However, he told us that she had witnessed some of the activity herself and did not want anyone to know it, or they may think that she was crazy as well. Two of our investigators agreed to meet with the gentleman. His demeanor was expectedly odd.

He told of how in addition to the other things mentioned, he had also experimented with Satanism and the occult, and stated that he felt that he was suffering from demonic possession. He stated that he had undergone an exorcism once before, only to invite the entity back to him intentionally. Now, he said, he was scared for the well-being of both himself and his girlfriend. Skepticism was easy to fall into with this case. Our investigators thought, as I am sure that all you readers are thinking now, that this man was suffering from delusion due to his mental illness and was in desperate need of psychological help.
The investigators still remained open-minded enough to finish hearing the man out. As they sat down to discuss his experiences further, he stated that “it” was letting him know that it did not want him talking about this. It was at that point that both investigators witnessed his eyes turning solid black and the cap on his tea bottle spinning off and up into the air, only to hit him in the face. There was no way that the man could have done this intentionally. I say intentionally because again we do not want to assume that this was an outside source causing this, it could have been a form of poltergeist activity associated with his psychosis or some sort of psychic phenomena on his part. It could have been an inhuman entity for all we know. Assumption was not possible at all at this point.

We were unable to investigate further, he stopped the meeting at that time (he said “See, it doesn’t like it”) and we only heard from the man one time after. We can only hope that he was able to get the help that he needed, and know that the man had to be suffering greatly to have something like this on top of the mental illness itself. What we do know is that whatever caused this phenomena that our investigators witnessed was beyond delusions and flashbacks from drugs and was indeed paranormal, or “outside of the norm” of anything that schizophrenia and drug abuse is known to cause.

Instinct always comes in when the investigator meets the client in person. The other case I mentioned that we handled had many things come up that we were not expecting when going into the investigation, and a preliminary interview would not have clued us in to any of it. Speaking with the gentleman on the phone, we were convinced that this particular client was genuinely concerned about the activity in his home that he was attempting to sell. He had experienced things himself, and was wanting to be able to reassure potential buyers that whatever was in the house was harmless.

Once we arrived at the location and were greeted by the mob outside looking for Jay, Grant and the rest of the gang minus Scooby, we began to wonder what was really going on. We proceeded inside the residence anyway, because we were there to do what we were called for. At this point, the owner was obvious about wanting his home to be haunted so that it would sell easier, and was playing on the popularity of the tv shows we all know to help put the home on the market. The home had a reputation for being haunted in the area (most likely from being very old, very large, and abandoned for many years), and it was clear that we were expected to come up with all sorts of cool evidence pointing to this haunting being real.

We not only debunked all of the photos he had taken on his cell phone in the dark with no flash, but we also found absolutely zip for data. Was this a wasted trip? Absolutely not. We honed our instincts. We experimented with equipment and followed up on it with research that pointed to what does not work with that particular piece of equipment. We had hands-on practice with our debunking skills in the field. We learned crowd control, and how to deal with onlookers and noise outside of a location and how this affects an investigation. We learned how to deal with a client who wanted us to say one thing when fact was another, and still keep everyone happy. What we learned there could not have been learned anywhere else, and the experience gained was well worth going. On top of all of that, we got to see one of the most beautiful and well-known homes in the area. Twice.

Yes, we went back again. For one, we did not want to assume that just because we found nothing the first night, that we wouldn’t find something the second. It is rare that paranormal activity can be found raging in a location day after day, and just because the guy wanted to use the reputation of the home to sell it, that did not necessarily mean that there was nothing there. For another thing, the client asked us if we could come back. Again, the client is the important party, always. Even this one. No one can say that we did not do our job. Once again, we found nothing, and we managed to leave him happy with the fact that we were unable to find any data that pointed to his house being actively haunted. But it was a learning experience for all of us, and we had no regrets about having done the investigations, although we did hate to disappoint all that were hoping that Paranormal State was arriving the second time…

Director’s Log: What do we really need to know before going to a location? Maybe where most of the experiences tend to occur, and the basics of said experiences, but more importantly the following: Never assume that you know what is going to happen before it happens. Never think that you are ever wasting your time if it is time spent in the field. Never expect to get one thing or another at any given location at any time. And most importantly, never know when one of your team members might have to say “No, I am NOT Ryan Buell!”

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