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Posts Tagged ‘murder’

My mother didn’t believe in ghosts until she stayed at the Bella Maggiore Inn. Now, she doesn’t even want to talk about what happened to her in the upstairs sitting room. I’ve never seen my mother so shaken, so upset, and so pale. This was not a pleasant encounter with a benign spirit–this was something terrifying and unforgettable.

The Bella Maggiore Inn in Ventura, CA was once a “flop house” and a brothel. This, of course, was during the 1930s and 1940s. Now, it’s a charming Italianate-style inn with the best breakfast I’ve had in a long, long time. I decided to spend one night of my Spring Break here in the hope I could convince someone to join me and perhaps find some evidence of a haunting. A woman named Sylvia, who had worked here as a prostitute decades ago, hung herself in room 17 (some say room 15, where my parents stayed) over a romantic entanglement. Elsewhere I have read that she was murdered and her killer was never brought to justice. After so long, with the distortions of a story passed down in the great oral tradition of ghost tales, it’s very difficult to know what actually happened. I invited investigators to join me, as well as my parents. To my surprise and delight, not only did my parents join me but so did the two founders of the Southern California Society for Paranormal Research and one additional investigator.

The sitting room on the second floor has what can only be described as a creepy ambiance; you feel as if you are surrounded by something or watched by someone as soon as you walk in. My mother sat in one chair, my father on the love seat next to her, and I on the chair next to him. It was quiet and deserted; we had come back from dinner and were looking for a place to chat. My mother called my sister on her cell phone. They were talking about my nephew and all the new things he has learned how to do, when I noticed my mother’s face change. She seemed both surprised and upset. “Is that you? Do you hear that? Is Connor OK?” she asked, appearing more and more shaken as she spoke. My sister was clearly asking her what she was talking about, my mother was trying to explain, but there was a communication gap. She held the phone away from her, frowned, tried to continue the conversation, but finally couldn’t. She hung up, and I saw that she was shaking. “Someone was screaming on the phone, a woman . . .  it was horrible. She screamed over and over again. It wasn’t interference from the cell phone. I’ve never heard anything like this. It was like someone was murdering her. It was horrible.” She repeated those lines again and again, unable to understand what she had heard, and what it might mean. During her phone call, before I knew what was happening, I felt a chill run up my left side, as if someone were standing there and congealing the atmosphere. The lights flickered and everything felt darker. Even my father was glancing around as if someone had entered the room.

Later, after my mother had calmed down, she crawled into bed early and didn’t want to talk about it anymore. My father looked up a few stories about Sylvia, but she didn’t want to hear them, and I decided that it was time to head to my own room. If someone had hanged herself in the place I supposed to sleep, I wanted to at least run some audio. I found that the EMF meter was behaving strangely in the hallway, but I didn’t feel much in the room itself. I was getting

lonely when Frank and Louis showed up and rescued me from the rather gloomy hotel and took me to dessert at the Busy Bee. Before that, they set up their equipment in my room hoping to catch something. I hoped that they would, and I hoped that they wouldn’t. I was tired, and it was going to be a long night. Kimberly from SCSPR joined us later, and the discussion was lively. I had shaken off the strangeness of the Bella Maggiore, but it was not to last.

We returned to my room and listened to the audio. There was a constant, low-level conversation in the background. It was silent in the hallway, and there was no one in the rooms on either side of me. The male voices were obviously engaged in a significant discussion, yet there was no way to decipher the words. It sounded so far away, decades away, from another place and time. Every now and then one of the male voices would say something I could almost understand, but after straining to hear them for so long, we finally gave up.

We gathered our equipment and headed towards the sitting room where my mother had experienced such horror over the cell phone. We walked in and said hello, as is polite when there are spirits waiting for you. We all heard a response; when we played back the audio, the “Hello” was as clear as day. Our second greeting was also returned, and we captured that as well. A few minutes into the EVP session, Louis asks if anyone has anything to say. We heard no response at the time, but when he played back the audio a male voice said:  “He still loves you.” Three EVPs within minutes of each other is quite rare. Although we investigated the rest of the hotel that night, nothing was as active as that room. We are still reviewing evidence from that night, so it’s possible that we captured more fragments of those lost lives.

“He still loves you.” I don’t know what that means. I don’t think I am going to ever know, since that is the nature of paranormal investigations. You can’t figure out the specifics of the story, only experience the vague and tantalizing after-effects of the lingering spirits. Of course, I ask myself what it is that we found. It occurs to me that sometimes, as “ghost hunters,” we find ourselves at intersections of the tragic and the lost. I suppose that most of the voices are all “residual,” meaning that the imprints of those lives and deaths are embedded like a recording in the very walls of the hotel. The responses we received upon entering the sitting room, however, point to an intelligent entity who could and did respond to visitors.

I don’t like what this implies about life after death. But then again, I know nothing more about the specifics of the afterlife than I did before I started this journey, with the huge exception that SOMETHING survives of us. I have more questions than answers, and some better theories, but I want to know who screamed in terror over my mother’s cell phone, who greeted us as we walked in, and who was carrying on the distant conversations in Room 17. I want to know all this, yet I will never know.

And not knowing will compel me back, to the place, to the time, to the desire to learn more. Someone might decide to tell me something substantive, because they want their story told . . . I can do that, but only if–for the dead–communication with the living  weren’t so much like “standing behind a sheet of frosted glass which blurs sight and deadens sound, [attempting to dictate] feebly to a reluctant and somewhat obtuse secretary” (Wilson 1987: 176). That was the message of the late Frederic Myers, one of the pioneers of the Society for Psychical Research in the late 1800s. In this case, us ghost hunters are the reluctant and somewhat obtuse secretaries, trying desperately to interpret the messages.

But we will never quit trying. The mystery is too great, and the need to know too imperious; and of course, we are happy to cast our lot with the world’s greatest enigma. This is why I close with Louis smiling. At the end of the night, the truth is–we are alive. We can eat apple pie and hot fudge sundaes and review our evidence and write our blog posts. I hope the afterlife permits such pleasures . . . but for some, I know it does not.

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The head of a serial killer . . .

The Museum of Death in Hollywood seems fairly innocuous on the outside. It isn’t until you walk in the front door and are confronted with the “test picture” that you have some idea what’s in store for you. The test picture reveals a hideous accident scene where a motorcyclist and a semi-truck collided, scattering the remains of the biker over the pavement. He was in seven “chunks”, entrails artfully arranged, various body parts decorating the road. I found myself trying to figure out which chunks of his body belonged where, analyzing the bits and pieces as if I could somehow reconstruct him in my mind. My stomach turned over and I felt dizzy; yet I couldn’t tear myself away from that picture. This man had been reduced to meat. I don’t know how else to put it. This was dead beyond the mere ending of life; this was butchery and desecration. It felt as if something perpetuated an unholy act. But what? It was an accident, that’s all, something that could happen to any of us at any time.

I moved through the various rooms. Ironically, the one thing I couldn’t watch was the embalming video. The man was dead, but watching the technician struggle to insert embalming fluid into his femoral artery was just too much for me. Again, meat:  pale, cold, rubbery meat. The Victorian pictures of dead children didn’t pose a problem for me until I saw the baby with her eyes wide open. She seemed shocked, surprised by her demise, somehow frozen in the loss of her entire life. The head of the serial killer didn’t move me–it seemed as if it had been pickled and dried for all eternity. I didn’t spend much time in the Manson rooms; too familiar, too sad. The Heaven’s Gate presentation left me cold–stupid people making even stupider decisions. I felt no connection to those tragedies. Later, I walked down the hallway and was confronted by a series of pictures taken by the psycho boyfriend of a woman who decided to 1) convince her boyfriend to murder her husband, 2) dismember the corpse with a saw, starting with his genitalia, and 3) take pictures of the whole process, since it was so much fun to document how she stuck the severed foot into the mouth of his bloody, decapitated head, placed the middle finger of his severed hand up his nose, and various other delightful fancies. She, of course, was naked during this whole process, enjoying herself tremendously. The joy would have never ended if the moronic couple hadn’t decided to send the roll of film to Thrifty’s for developing (this was the 80’s–no digital photos). The shocked clerk notified the authorities, they were duly arrested, and the wife–well, she’s out of jail now. Boys, be careful who you date on the Internet or your pictures will end up in the Museum of Death.

There were some realities I could not face. The pictures of torture and the mangled corpses from the war in Iraq, the death camp photos from Hitler’s reign of terror, victims of the Salvadoran death squads . . . the brute facts of the pain we inflict upon each other was more than I could stand. The grand scale of that horror is numbing, beyond emotion. It was, instead, the smaller and more intimate portraits of death that remained burned into my psyche: the autopsy photos of JFK, the last picture of Marilyn Monroe, dead and livid, her eyes open. She looked like a confused child, overcome with the reality of her last moments. I cried looking at her; the most powerful man and the most beautiful woman, humiliated and defeated. The serial killer rooms, with Gacy’s artwork on display, reflected a total loss of humanity or any of the qualities that identify us as human. This was a study in pathology and psychosis, a portrait of minds so altered by trauma or genetic deficit–or perhaps head injuries to just the wrong area–that there was no way to understand them as fully sentient beings. They were creatures from the underworld, or perhaps fragments of nightmares come to life. Their lack of empathy or compassion–or even identification with other human beings–placed them into a different category of existence. They would kill me and eat me like a wild animal would–it’s just their nature.

The continuous loop of “Traces of Death” played in the “lounge” for our amusement. By that time, I was unable to feel much of anything but nausea. I watched it, and felt a slight revulsion, but I had reached the point of saturation. Amazing how one can become resistant to these images, how they lose their meaning after a while–is that what happens to people after years of violence? I suppose so; but to feel it in myself was horrifying. The end of my journey brought some insights: first, I was thrilled to be alive. I felt as if I had escaped something, even if briefly. Second, corpses have lost what makes them human–a soul, an animating spirit. They may contain traces of a last emotion, or perhaps the soul lingers awhile after their bodily death, attempting to make sense of the incomprehensible. Essentially, however, dead bodies are meat. They are only shells or remains, something left behind. We are supposed to feel some veneration for the dead body, but I felt none. Ironically, all those bloody, dismembered and destroyed corpses only reinforced my belief in the soul. The road kill in the “test picture” has nothing to do with who he was, or is now. None of those bodies, however gruesomely displayed, tell us anything about the spirit that moves on. When I’m a dead body, I am not me; I’m  just a chunk of organic material.

That’s OK. It sucks to die, especially if you’re the husband of an insane and morbidly creative woman. But once your death is over, your life starts again. Death is just a brief, unpleasant moment that will pass into history. Trust me, you won’t care what they do to your poor mortal coil. Unless, of course, your better half is busy stuffing your privates into your ears.

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