Saturday, November 5, 2011

Forensic Interviews and Paranormal Investigations

By Martha Hazzard Decker

Do you have any medical issues? Do you have any mental problems? Do you drink or do drugs? Sounds like booking questions at the local jail or doctor’s office, right? No, these are some of the questions asked by some paranormal investigators while conducting interviews of potential clients. Some of those investigators were a part of law enforcement and detectives at one time or another. Some may still be in the law enforcement field. This is something that has been discussed within the paranormal community.

Some investigators without any law enforcement background may think these are rude questions to ask a client. While other researchers and investigators, including this author, also have a background in criminal investigations and believe these are normal and important questions to ask, along with a number of other questions such as, what was the weather like or what time does it happen. The eyes of the law enforcement paranormal investigator and the mind work differently than most and can be a handy asset to have on a team.

While some investigators may take the client at their word and go into the investigation to find the proof to support the client’s claims, former law enforcement paranormal investigators go into the investigation with a different view. They may not be complete skeptics, but they will take what the client claims and look for concrete causes for the claims. As former police officer TL Jones  has said, “Until I see it with my own eyes,” she is not gong to believe it really happened. It’s not that she is saying the client isn’t truthful; it’s that they may believe something to be other than what it really is in reality. Jones wants to be there when the EVP is captured to know without a doubt that the recorder wasn’t manipulated. Other researchers say the same thing. Jones now writes paranormal mystery novels and has been on several radio shows discussing not just her books but the police angle to investigations.

There are several books written that can be applied to paranormal investigations which were written for law enforcement. Author Katherine Ramsland Ph.D. has been to at least one paranormal conference to discuss paranormal investigations and how to conduct them much like you would at a crime scene. In fact, she took the same presentation used to train police and converted it to be applied in the paranormal realm. She is a forensic psychologist and author. One of her books is Ghost: Investigating the Other Side. She has the same philosophy about investigating a scene. Leave no stone unturned and check every where for information.

Ramsland mentions in an interview on another website that she has encountered frauds while they were trying to give her a paranormal experience. She is not the only one to encounter frauds and some of the frauds can be the clients. One researcher spoke to this author about an investigation where a client wanted the group to find activity at their location. They did something that would be good for all groups to do before an investigation. They researched the property to check on the history of the location. What was discovered was that the old looking house was a new house built to look old and the property never had a building on it prior to the current building. Nothing had been recorded that had ever happened on the property. Investigators went to the location to conduct their investigation with an open mind being aware that there was nothing associated with the building. What they found during the investigation was that the owners had rigged some special effects to make it seem as if the place was indeed full of paranormal activity. The owners wanted the place to be “declared” as haunted so they could market it as a haunted place, hoping to profit with all the notoriety of having a haunted venue. This then brings into question another thought voiced by other investigators, “What makes a place truly haunted?” Responses to this in the comment section may help others decide on what to pay for or not pay for when it comes to visiting haunted locations.

One group that incorporates common police investigative tactics with the paranormal is Missouri Ghost Hunters Society. Brian Lile has 20 years of law enforcement in his background. They use common forensic techniques such as evidence collection, investigative photography and interviewing, according to their webpage. All of this can be used by any paranormal investigator. You can even put together a forensic kit for the paranormal investigation. This helps in debunking and verifying claims.  This would include items such as measuring tape or rulers, temperature or thermometer, fingerprint dust, luminal for detecting blood or lack of, camera, recorder and so on. There are a number of online stores that sell forensic equipment. CrimeTech is such a site. They sell just about anything you can think of to obtain evidence.

Processes used by police detectives can help paranormal investigators to understand what is real, mistaken and subjective. An example could be the one of a social worker and a detective visiting the same house at the same time. During the visit numerous people come and go after a brief visit. The social worker may sit their and think this family seems to have quite the support group while the detective sits there and thinks, “dope house.”  There is an interesting article about Paranormal Activity and the FBI: how to avoid common investigative pitfalls recently published. Officers often operate on “gut” feelings during their career. This may even help keep them safe. Their senses are tuned into what’s happening around them more than the average person. This can be learned as can crime scene investigations. Many local colleges will have police academies or criminal justice classes. This means there will be basic crime scene textbooks that can be purchased. A lot can be learned from those. Then there are online sites such as Calibre Press or Police One where a lot of online investigative information can be gleaned without purchasing anything.

The main focus of this article is to be open minded when going into an investigation without a predisposition that it is or isn’t as the client claims. By keeping an open mind and unbiased opinion investigators will be more open to any evidence that does present instead of immediately dismissing something that may become important at a later date. Be sure to get a full interview from the family that includes medical history, interview neighbors without telling them what’s going on next door, obtain the names of collaterals who may be witnesses or have been told about incidents and interview them. Work toward cooborating the client’s statements. Ask about criminal history, research the history if the building and property. Check old newspaper articles. The library and local paper can be a great source of information. Check with the county to see who has owned the property if the current owner doesn’t have that information available. Try to contact former owners and interview them. The list can go on and on but the information obtained can lead to a really great investigation.