Middletown's ghost-hunting team will debunk or confirm paranormal activity
By Kaitlyn Schroyer, the Middletown Press.
While serving in the military police for the Marines in Okinawa, Japan, Knapp heard many a ghost story about Japanese soldiers from World War II running out of the jungle. That piqued his interest further.
"There's fear sometimes, but we want to know why or how," Knapp said. "I was interested in if you can communicate after death or visit after death."
That was when Knapp really jumped into the paranormal world, eventually forming the Ghosts of New England Research Society.
"I read as much as I could about everything strange and unusual," Knapp said. "I retired four years ago and devoted my time to putting the team together. New England has layers of history."
Knapp's team, known as G.O.N.E.R.S., has 10 local members and two in Bermuda and they investigate throughout the area.
"People buy a home and find someone else is there beside them," said Knapp, which is when GONERS is called in.
When people call GONERS, Knapp works with them to further understand the circumstances. With an electrical engineer and someone knowledgeable in heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and home construction, the team rules out normal occurrences before delving into the paranormal. Knapp's daughter, Melanie Knapp, also begins research on the location to find out anything about its historical significance including family history, murders, suicides or anything that may be useful to the team.
"The internet is an amazing thing," Melanie Knapp said. "I look up local historical societies, newspapers, and what happened in the town. There's things available that weren't 10 years ago. We don't always expect tragic stories, though."
However in some circumstances, a full investigation is necessary, says Knapp, who recalls one at a building in Cromwell that stood out.
"My daughter, Melanie, had a light bulb fly at her," Knapp said. "The original house was from the 1870s and had been a retirement home for Civil War veterans. The third floor had been a psych ward. I was touched three times by something as well."
Karen Hollis with Site Administrator, Jackie McKinney during a pre-investigation tour of the Butler McCook House
Even with having several objects thrown at them and a male voice telling them to get out, the team said they aren't afraid and they certainly don't leave.
"Most people want to flee," investigator Mike Ahern said. "We want to run toward it."
"It was a very interactive, intelligent haunt," Knapp said. "It's rare you get something talking back."
The team calls the audio evidence electronic voice phenomenons or EVPs.
"A lot of our evidence is audio," Knapp said. "We don't know how they can do that though. They have no vocal cords and can't breathe."
The team includes Karen Hollis, a clairaudient Medium, who hears things in advance of the team's analysis of the recordings.
"I always wondered what's on the other side," Hollis said.
After the investigation, Knapp said most of the time, people learn to live with it.
"The spirit may have been there 50 to 100 years," Knapp said. "No one is about to chase them out. Sometimes Karen can broker a deal. Most people just want to know what it is and make sure it's not something that will hurt their children."
The team typically goes on five to 12 investigations a year, however they receive many more calls than that.
"Any calls that involve children go on the top of the list," Knapp said. "We talk to them and get a feel for the situation. Maybe two out of 10 are normal occurrences."
Most of the group's examinations of potentially haunted places is done in the evening.
Mark Hollis, the group's website designer and Karen Hollis' husband, says that's for good reason.
"Any paranormal research organization that has done investigation knows that things that happen happen at night. Things that go bump in the night don't happen in the daytime," Hollis said.
If a customer reports he or she is seeing weird shadows moving across a table or wall, those phenomena aren't fully visible in the daytime. "You'll see shadows but it'll be a shadow cast by the sun," he explained.
Plus there's the overwhelming fact that any 5-year-old will tell you. "Spirits tend to be more active at night when it's quiet," said Hollis, who worked for 10 years at NBC News. He says that helps him tell real paranormal videos from those that are fake.
When a homeowner calls to say they hear footsteps on their stairway, the team tests for the obvious first in an attempt to debunk the report through a process of elimination.
"With heating and cooling, things expand and contract, especially wood joints on stairs, so we test for that," Hollis said. "We look for empirical evidence that explains away these kinds of phenomenon as well as evidence that something's going on here."
One of the biggest problems Knapp said is that with the prevalence of paranormal cable shows, people want to be on television.
"They develop stories about a picture," Knapp said. "Once they believe a ghost is doing something, everything that happens is because of the ghost."
The group was featured in two episodes of Destination America's channel show, "A Haunting."
Knapp said each investigation has its special moments though and some are particularly memorable. When the team was investigating the cafe Ryders on Main in Meriden, they were walking down a hallway in the basement when they picked up a consistent male voice asking for help.,/
"We do it to help people who are troubled by paranormal activity," Knapp said.
Knapp and his team encourage people who think they may have paranormal activity to contact them.
"The other side is when people don't want to say anything," Ahern said. "People are afraid to be viewed as having something wrong with them."
Still the team faces its share of skeptics.
"People either say they don't believe in that or they tell me what happened to them," Knapp said.
G.O.N.E.R.S. recently signed a deal with Connecticut Landmarks, a statewide network of 12 significant historic properties that span three centuries of New England history, to investigate a number of their properties.
"At least four houses have significant activity," Knapp said. "We take a two-prong approach which is electronic and impression."