Call of the Darkness from Within Strange Places – An Interview wIth Paranormal Investigator Richard Estep

Richard Estep

Welcome Richard and thank you for agreeing to talk with us during your visit to your native land of the United Kingdom.

It is great to catch up with you during your busy schedule and to have the opportunity to hear a little more about your research into the paranormal.

From reading your excellent book ‘In Search of the Paranormal’ I understand that you have been living and active in the paranormal field within the United States for over twenty years.

Q. I am interested in the differences between paranormal phenomena in the two countries as well as any differences in researcher’s approach to the subject. Are different techniques or approaches used?

A.  Paranormal phenomena tends to be essentially the same on both sides of the Atlantic, broadly speaking. The differences tend to be primarily philosophical.

One difference is that phenomena of a more violent, potentially disturbing nature is more readily labeled demonic in the United States than it is in the United Kingdom, perhaps representing the more widespread belief in Christianity in the former country.

Faith and religion do seem to play a greater role on the American paranormal research scene, whereas the British tend to take a predominantly secular view. With that said, the actual nuts-and-bolts techniques of how to conduct an investigation are very similar indeed.

Q. How has the field of paranormal research changed over the two decades of being involved in it? 

A. Looking back on the last twenty years, I think that the biggest change occurred with the popularity of televised paranormal interest shows.

In the UK we had (and still have) Most Haunted, and in the USA it was Ghost Hunters, followed by Ghost Adventures and the plethora of similar shows that are out there today.

I must be careful not to come across as a hypocrite (having just filmed several episodes of such a show in Canada) but it’s fair to say that the enormous surge of public interest in all things ghostly has been something of a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, more people are thinking and talking about the paranormal today than at pretty much any point in time since the First World War, whose horrific carnage and almost incomprehensible death rate led to a massive resurgence in spiritualism, returning it to the public consciousness in a major way. More books are being written, more allegedly haunted locations are being investigated, and more evidence gathered than ever before.

On the other hand, it has to be said that the quality of research does vary.

One can hardly throw a rock without hitting a ‘ghost-hunting‘ group these days, and while some are excellent at what they do, others are little more than well-meaning thrill seekers and paranormal tourists.

The TV ghost hunters have inspired thousands of people to purchase a cheap EMF meter and flashlight, then tout themselves as paranormal professionals and experts.

Truly, there are no experts in this field; there are relatively few researchers with genuine doctorates in paranormal research from an accredited institution out there investigating cases (though there is no shortage of scams that will happily relieve you of your money in order to certify you as a paranormal investigator), and I certainly do not possess formal academic training in parapsychology myself…however, I do possess twenty years of experience in the field and a degree in paramedicine from an accredited academic institution, plus a long list of references.

When it comes to calling in paranormal investigators for help, always ask for references, and perhaps most importantly one must accept caveat emptor.

Q.  Do you have a favourite paranormal investigations case that you have been involved in?

A.  Rather too many to count! My current favorite has to be that of an old abandoned hospital just outside Salt Lake City, which has been repurposed into becoming a Halloween haunted house attraction named Asylum 49. It has a very rich history and is the home to a rich variety of paranormal activity, not to mention some truly fascinating stories that are attached to those who once worked there or were patients within its walls.

The owners allow local children to perform as actors in the haunted house, and it serves as a valuable community center and a place of refuge for those who might otherwise be out on the streets doing something significantly less healthy than scaring the life out of customers. The irony of them having a haunted, haunted house is not lost on me!

Q. What is the most paranormally active location you have either investigated or visited? 

A. Currently Asylum 49 holds that title too.

I came upon the place while researching my latest book, The World’s Most Haunted Hospitals, and was invited to spend a night there by the owners. I duly traveled there along with a couple of investigators, and was soon convinced of the need to spend more time there in order to investigate further.

I returned with a full research team and moved into the building over the Halloween week of 2015, working on the premise that it would be most paranormally active at the height of its popularity, when thousands of customers are coming through the old hospital and getting frightened halfway out of their wits.

That presumption was proven to be correct: my team and I had a very busy week, and one of my investigators suffered a series of long scratches running down the length of her shoulder blade.

A forthcoming book on the subject, The Haunting of Asylum 49, is scheduled for publication in August of this year.

Q. There are obvious dangers involved in the paranormal work that you do. Has a ghost or apparition ever followed you home from a haunted location, for example?

A. If you had asked me that question any time before 2014, I’d have said no. I’d heard plenty of anecdotal stories from fellow investigators about that happening to them, but had frankly always scoffed at the notion of it happening to me. After all, what did a hard-headed agnostic have to fear?

Such was my foolishness.

Bizarre activity began to occur at my home over the Christmas of 2014, beginning with the Christmas lights turning themselves off and on by themselves. This happened regularly over the space of ten days, until I consulted with a fellow investigator who claims to have sensitive capabilities; he also happens to be a Catholic priest, and my go to guy for matters of the Christian faith.

He instructed my wife and I to give whatever it was a stern talking-to, which we did, and the activity stopped; but following a year in which I visited some of the most allegedly haunted locations of my career, such as the Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Bobby Mackey’s Music World, the Cripple Creek Jail, and of course Asylum 49, they returned with a vengeance in December of 2015.

Glass pictures fell from above the fireplace, and my wife heard a woman’s voice call out the world “hello” – after which my dog Greta began to bark and howl at something that we could not see in the empty hallway.

The final straw was my wife awakening in the night to see a hooded, shadowy figure standing by the bedside – I was willing to write that off as being a hypnopompic hallucination, until one week later when I was sitting in my downstairs hallway taking a phone call. I clearly saw a shadowy human-shaped figure flit across the hallway from left to right, passing across the face of my white front door before disappearing into the wall.

Finally convinced, my friend the priest visited and blessed the house. All has been quiet since.

Q – What percentage of paranormal cases that you investigated turn out to be genuinely inexplicable and what are the usual reasons behind those that you feel are not genuinely supernatural in origin?

A. I would estimate that ninety to ninety-five percent of the cases which we are called upon to investigate have a perfectly natural, rationally explicable cause once we have had time to delve into the facts.

Some turn out to be structural defects in the building itself, or simply the way in which the building behaves; being a firefighter and a keen student of building construction has helped immeasurably, allowing me an understanding of the way that warm and cold air flow within a structure, for example.

Other members of the team specialize in the electrical trade, being expert at locating faulty wiring, and others specialize in the medical field.

The answers to some ‘hauntings’ can be found in the side effects of certain medications that the client may take, or certain specific combinations of medications interacting with one another. It is only when all of these bases, and quite a few others, have been covered that we can even begin to consider something as being potentially paranormal.

Q. In your book you refer to the sense of frustration you often experience in not being able to capture good photographic evidence of paranormal activity as a result of seemingly spontaneous equipment error. Why do you think it is that power and equipment failure, for example, is such a regular aspect to paranormal investigation?

A. Basic physics teaches us that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, to quote Heinlein.

In order for some of the physical phenomena that are reported in such cases to manifest, there has to be an energy source of some kind at work, something which fuels the activity.

One theory which has persisted in this field throughout my time in it has been that the battery drain which so many of us seem to encounter on a regular basis is an energy exchange of a type which we do not fully understand, but which somehow allows the activity to take place.

As far as photographic evidence goes, the problem now is that here in the West, we are all carrying cameras around in our pockets all the time, and the average European or American is photographed numerous times a day – so where is the increase in ghost photographic evidence that we might reasonably expect?

One confounding factor is the prevalence of Photoshop and similar software packages: such digital trickery, once the exclusive province of movie special effects houses, is now easily affordable and available to the man or woman in the street.

With just a small financial outlay and a little know-how, the most incredible ghost photographs can be produced.

The popularity of digital photography has led to a commensurate increase in digital manipulation, and there are no longer photographic negatives available for experts to examine.

When I began in this field in 1995, photographic source material could be examined by specialists at places such as the Kodak laboratories, who could give some insight into whether they had been tampered with. Now, although metadata can be examined and an educated guess made, it is much harder to determine the authenticity of an allegedly paranormal image.

Q Are there any specific areas of paranormal research that you would like to investigate in the coming years?

A. Although I’m primarily focused upon the subjects of ghosts and hauntings, which is a very broad umbrella in itself, I am also interested in the field of UFOlogy.

It does seem to overlap in some instances, so I’d like to venture there at some point in the future.

However, ghosts seem to be my bread and butter, and I hope to have many more years to spend happily traipsing around haunted houses and trying to get to the bottom of their mysteries.

Q.  I understand that you have a TV series coming out later this year. Could you tell us a little about it? 

A. Last year, I was asked if I would be interested in having some of my North American cases featured on a forthcoming TV series for the Destination: America network.

The show is titled Paranormal Investigator, and focuses on people who do what I do. After much discussion, the four cases chosen for the shoot were a haunted Italian restaurant named Wholly Stromboli in Fort Lupton, Colorado; the old jail in Cripple Creek; the historic Callahan House in Longmont; and lastly, Asylum 49 in Tooele, Utah. It is currently schedule to air in March, and I’m looking forward to seeing those wonderful locations and their colorful personalities reach a wider audience.

Q. What paranormal or supernatural cases are you currently working on? And finally. What are your forth-coming plans as an author. Do you have further books in mind?

A. I am flying to England at the end of January in order to spend a week living in The Cage, an old prison for witches that dates back to the 1500s. It is said to be haunted by a number of entities, including the spirit of a former jailer who is said to be very dark and aggressive indeed.

A great deal of malicious, malevolent paranormal activity has been reported in and around The Cage, and I am looking forward to spending a few days and nights there in order to find out for myself.

Along with Vanessa Mitchell, I am scheduled to write a book about the haunting and subsequent investigation, and I’m equally excited and nervous about the prospect of getting to spend some time in such a historic haunted location.

Later this summer, I’ll be back to good old Blighty to move into the house at 30 East Drive, Pontefract – home of the infamous ‘Black Monk of Pontefract‘ poltergeist case, which was portrayed in the movie When the Lights Went Out and documented factually in the book Poltergeist by Colin Wilson. More recently, it has come into the public eye again due to coverage on Most Haunted.

The house has been such a hotbed of paranormal activity for so many years, with such a wealth of eyewitness testimony attached to it, that I can’t wait to experience the place for myself.

I’m also interested in just why places like 30 East Drive see such extraordinary activity, what it is about their history, construction, and the personalities involved. It promises to be a fascinating study, and I am fortunate enough to have the full cooperation of its owner Bil, who wants to get to the bottom of the mystery every bit as much as I do.

A book project is also in the works surrounding that case, though it won’t be even close to finished this year.

Thank you for agreeing to talk with us Richard. We wish you the best with your important research into a genuinely fascinating topic and look forward to following your work in the future.