Investigating Britain’s Sexiest Ghost

torquay selfie (1 of 1)

The day I arrived in Torquay was the sunniest we’d had yet in 2016. People lined the sea front in their holiday clothes and ate chips and ice-cream. The breeze from the sea ruffled through, providing an occasional release from the unrelenting heat, spinning rainbow pinwheels and tumbling seagulls around the sky as it went.

A man with a sweeping brush drew complex patterns into the sand, moving in a way that suggested this was a form of meditation for him. Elsewhere children ran around just because they could, sticks at the ready to poke in the sand. Boys with kayaks fought the waves, a photographer carefully stalked a group of sandpipers up and down the shore. It was charming just as the British seaside always is but I didn’t have time to stop and enjoy it. I was on a mission to investigate Britain’s sexiest ghost, and ghosts wait for no man.

sexiest ghost Torquay
The ghost

That ghosts are even real is a subject of much debate but Torquay museum insist they’ve got one, and not just any old ghost at that. Theirs is the sexiest one. Part of me is alarmed that you can still be objectified once you’re dead but that’s a different conversation for another day.

Last October their ghost made the headlines when it left fingerprints inside a glass case which houses a mummy. It hasn’t been established just how a ghost could leave fingerprints on glass without having physical hands but let’s humour this idea for a moment.

Just prior to the fingerprints being discovered it is claimed ‘the female ghost was seen creeping between the artefacts. She was wearing old clothing showing off all her assets as she emerged from the floor and cast her eyes down towards a light.’

In July 2015 the ghost was photographed in the Old Devon Farmhouse exhibition, leaning forwards slightly and showing off her cleavage. There has been speculation online about the cause of what is seen in the photo. Some people believe it to be staged, others suggest it is the reflection of someone in a window pane among other theories.

I was contacted by US paranormal researcher Benjamin Radford who wanted to know if I (as a British paranormal investigator) had heard anything through the grapevine about this particular case. The grapevine is a valued asset to paranormal researchers and it’s usually through word of mouth that tip offs come that help solve cases. After a long discussion I agreed to visit Torquay to have a look at the room and to take detailed photographs so that a cause might be established once and for all.

Ghost photos that are genuinely interesting are rare; they generally tend to be bad hoaxes, random blurs mistaken for something, photographic errors, or nothing at all. There was certainly something in this photo which made it stand out in my mind. There are times when an investigator can work out what is happening without an on-site visit, but more often than not actually being on location is beneficial and eye-opening. The answer can slap you right in the face when you thought you’d need hours of sleuthing. You might meet the “ghost” in person and be able to kill your afternoon in the pub instead (this has happened.)

Upon arriving at the museum and venturing onto the top floor where The Old Devon Farmhouse exhibit lives one thing became apparent straight away. The ghost was not caused by a reflection as many had suggested. I found all of the reflective surfaces in the room and took photos of the fireplaces through them from different angles to try and replicate what is seen in the original photo but it wasn’t possible.

Photo 21
The things I do…

As I inspected the area I saw that there were small benches next to one of the fireplaces that were in the right position for the ghost to have been seated on at the time. Therefore it is my conclusion that Britain’s sexiest ghost  was actually a living person sitting in the dark next to one of the fireplaces. It almost looks as though her face is lit by the screen of an electronic item such as a camera or phone.

The small benches in question
The small benches in question

After my inspection of the exhibit I found staff members and volunteers on the ground floor and inquired with them about the ghost. They explained that many people took part in ghost hunt events in the museum and had strange experiences. One of the women I spoke to explained that a whole shelf of books had flown off of the shelf in the gift shop one afternoon as she spoke with customers. That was the one original activity that any of them could recall – everything else was related to these ghost hunting events.

This is problematic because people taking part in a ghost hunting event have primed themselves to interpret things that they experience as most likely to be paranormal. When a haunting is largely based on the experiences of people who have paid to have a paranormal experience it isn’t a very reliable or interesting case and eye-witness testimony is not useful evidence or data.

I inspected the mummy case while at the museum. Remember, this mummy made headlines in October 2015 when ghostly fingerprints appeared on it during a ghost event.

Photo 98
Can you see the fingerprints?

The only problem is that there were fingerprints and greasy hand marks all over the case when I visited. The case is quite low down so that children can see the mummy properly so there’s absolutely nothing to suggest, to me, that fingerprints appearing on this display are out of the ordinary.

Photo 101

To establish that the fingerprints were not inside the case originally, or that they had simply not been noticed before would be an incredible feat. But even if we know for sure that this was true there is nothing to suggest that fingerprints appearing inside a case were caused by a ghost. There are a number of perfectly ordinary scenarios that could result in prints appearing inside the case when they weren’t there before.

I believe that these ghost-related headlines and events are all inspired by falling visitor numbers and are an attempt to to get people through the door and to drive revenue. It’s a shame because this sort of ghost tourism is quite uninspired when there are such interesting exhibits one could use to engage the public with but I think we shouldn’t be too quick to judge. 

It has been reported that ‘council figures show the [visitor] numbers dropped in 2013/14 from 25,957 to 18,743′ and the same report detailed how in 2015/16 the museum faced a 42% budget cut from the local authority. The Austerity that the Conservative government have imposed upon the United Kingdom is slowly strangling art and cultural organisations throughout the country. Museum manager, Phillip Collins said the funding cuts could ‘kill Torquay Museum before we are able to put ourselves on a secure financial footing for the future.’ 

That museums face this challenge is heartbreaking. Please visit your local museum, and not just because Britain’s Sexiest Ghost might be lurking in the shadows. Pervert.


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Glasgow Shopping Centre Calls In… Paranormal Experts?

silverburn

What happens when you ask a group of ghost hunters to visit a location at which people have reported seeing ghostly apparitions? Well, long-time visitors to this blog will know that the answer is that they usually find ghosts. Does that mean you’re haunted? No…

In the last few days a variety of news channels have reported that Glasgow Paranormal Investigators (GPI) have been called in by the managers of the Silverburn shopping centre after at least four sightings of a woman in black have been reported.

On social media the group have told their followers that they ‘can’t really comment on what’s going on just now’ but have told the media that “the most important thing is to ensure whoever it is finds a peaceful resting place.”

Wait… what? No. The most important thing is work out what’s causing the sightings, not to just assume it’s the spirit of a deceased person. Oh dear…

A quick look at the eye-witness reports (which I believe are all we have to go on at this point, but I’m happy to be corrected) indicates that the sightings of the “woman in black” have taken place when the shopping centre is open to the public.

Really doesn’t make a compelling case when you start to factor in the possibility that it could just be shoppers that are being seen and mistaken as ghosts. Or perhaps pranksters. How does one rule this out?

A quick look at the GPI website and you’re met with the claim ‘GPI are committed to obtaining as much evidence as we can of possible paranormal activity’ which doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence that an investigation is going to be rational and balanced in its approach.

‘It is not uncommon for a spirit to be attached to a site before the present building was constructed’ they told the press, ‘Possibly Silverburn or the construction of the new cinema disturbed it. This can be common in hauntings.’

Oh dear, Glasgow. It seems that you’re about to inherit a new haunted cinema that is probably anything but haunted.

A spokesperson from Silverburn told the press “we are aware that a shadowy woman has been spotted around the centre. We have reached out to local experts in the field of paranormal activity, who will hopefully be able to shed some light on the matter.”

No, no I don’t think you have…

Thoughts on Most Haunted Live Halloween 2015

yvette

During the Most Haunted Live broadcast on Halloween night 2015 Karl Beattie was allegedly dragged up some stairs by an unseen entity which strangled him. This was caught on camera and some people have noticed that there seems to be a rope around his waist. In response to the accusations of trickery that this rope indicates both Karl Beattie and his wife Yvette Fielding say that the rope is actually just a camera cable.

Skeptics doubt it, fans and believers think it’s true…

…but who actually gives a shit?

Seriously. Who gives a flying fuck? Running around declaring Most Haunted to be fake… well done, clever clogs! Of course it’s not to be trusted… it’s television!

I watched the entire show last night while trying to play along with a drinking game and it was shoddy, over-dramatic, hilarious, entertaining… but it was nowhere near as entertaining as watching people react to the show on Facebook and Twitter. Some people were annoyed that “true ghost hunters” were being shown in a bad light. Other people were annoyed that such nonsense should be allowed to be broadcast…

…and yes, the Satanic chants were a bit over the fucking top and ethically questionable – but just as questionable as the ethics of any of your bog standard ghost hunting groups across the country. Sure, there was no scientific credibility to any of the claims being made on the show but, again, the same can be said of 99% of the people who call themselves paranormal researchers. Yet the mistake people are making when they moan about Most Haunted is to treat the show as comparable with real-life paranormal research.

Most Haunted is a television show that courts controversy – it wants to be loved and hated in equal parts and it succeeds – it always has. It plays up to expectations, it ticks boxes, it gets the viewing figures. It does its job.

Amateur paranormal researchers on the other hand want to be respected as researchers when they’re not deserving of respect, and what they do on their ghost hunts is hugely unethical, completely unscientific… and they don’t even have the excuse of being producers of an entertainment TV show to hide behind! If you’re a ghost hunter who feels that Most Haunted is to blame for making paranormal researchers look back I suggest you have a hard look in the mirror because you’re doing a good enough job of that yourselves. Get a fucking grip.

I’ll be talking about this and more on the first ever episode of The Spooktator vodcast/podcast coming to you live from Youtube on Wednesday. I’ll be joined by Paul Gannon, Alistair Coleman and Mike Gage – details can be found here.

That San Antonio Railway Tracks Video…

san antonio ghost tracks

Quite often old ghost-related photos, testimonies or videos do the rounds on social media sites, gaining attention and traction despite being long debunked and explained away. Oddly the rational explanations don’t follow around so quickly or at all. For all the good the internet does one of the downsides is the way in which it allows myth to persist (much like other forms of exchanging information that pre-date it.)

A video I’ve seen being shared around a lot in the last week or so is the video from about three years ago of a group of people in two cars driving onto the “haunted” railway tracks in San Antonio, Texas which I’ve shared above. This is just one of hundreds of videos of people doing this but this one is proving popular on Facebook right now. In this particular one two groups of people cover their cars with white powder and drive onto the tracks. The legend is that in the 1930s or 1940s a school bus was driving its way down the road and toward the intersection when it stalled on the tracks. A train smashed into the bus, killing twenty six children and the bus driver. However, the accident never actually happened in San Antonio but in Salt Lake City in Utah instead, but that doesn’t stop people from parking on the tracks and turning their engine off to see if the car will be pushed off of the tracks by the spirits of the people from the bus. The legend says that you won’t see them but you will see their hand prints on the car.

In the video they do find hand prints on their cards upon inspection… but they were likely to have been there before. When the powder was applied it probably just formed on top of the grease and dirt from hands previously placed on the car. Forensic investigators use similar tactics to find finger and hand prints in crime scenes but that doesn’t seem to occur to these folk. In fact, there’s even a child with the group and if you watch as they apply the powder to the second car that crosses the tracks you can see one of the men in the group patting their hand across the top of the car. He’s doing this to spread the powder, but I bet it left prints even if he didn’t think it did. Here’s a tip: If you’re putting powder on something to detect hand prints, don’t put your hand in the powder.

pat the car

As you can imagine people routinely drive onto the tracks and turn their engines off to see if the legend will come true for them which it sometimes does… but there’s a reason for that and we know what it is thanks to rational inquiry. The show Is It Real? found that there’s actually a two-foot incline in the road leading up to the tracks, you can see it being investigated in the video below along with the other elements of the legend:

Despite this people still drive onto the tracks, turn their engines off and wait, convincing themselves it is forces other than those of nature responsible for their cars moving. Kinda stupid really. If your default reaction to these sorts of legends isn’t skepticism then this is surely proof that you’re opening yourself up to all sorts of misinformation.

I Spoke To The Woman Who Filmed A Haunted Puppet Moving In Her Basement

jayne harris puppet

Jayne Harris believes that she has caught on camera the moment an allegedly haunted puppet moves on its own. The previous owner of the puppet claimed the spirit attached to it tried to harm him which is why Harris has been observing the puppet for the last three months in her usually-disused basement with a camcorder. After observing the footage in the news reports I read about this there were several questions that came to my mind. Could it be fraud via the use of wires or magnets? Could it just be falling over as things often do? Why was it only making headlines now, months after being filmed?

Rather than speculate about the motives of those involved I decided to try and contact Harris directly with my questions. Harris kindly agreed to me sharing our conversation here.

Me: As you probably know most people think that has been staged and I wondered if you might answer a few questions about it?

Jayne: Of course. I’m aware that no evidence will ever be enough to convince some people, however in sharing my footage I’m not trying to convince anyone. Believers believe, skeptics don’t. I know how long I had the goosebumps on the morning on 13th July when I reviewed the footage! Of course I’d be happy to talk about it.

Me: I am a paranormal researcher but don’t believe in the paranormal. I consider myself to have an open mind but always try to rule out possible causes for things like this. I think the most obvious cause here is fraud which I know you’ve denied. Was there anybody else that had access to the puppet? Oh gosh, that sounded wrong. What I meant was how certain can you be that nobody else tampered with it?

Jayne: I’ll explain something. I have been studying the field of Spirit Attachment for 17 years. In that time I’ve captured orbs (which I discount as I personally do not believe them to be connected to anything paranormal), shadows… the usual. However, at no point have I found anything (other than the 2 occasions in 2004 when I witnessed an apparition) to completely wipe doubt from my mind. Although not for want of trying. This footage was taken using a standard (pretty old!) Sony camcorder set to night vision. We leave the camera running as part of our investigations for up to 3 hours each night while we have a specific object under study. We use controlled conditions as suggested by ASSAP of which I’m a member. Our study area is on the basement as that is the only place in our home where we can keep conditions controlled.

I frequently set up trigger object experiments too with the use of motion detection. Even I wasn’t present at the time of the recording. We set up at 11.30pm and the tape runs using long play until roughly 3am. The Daily Mail unfortunately cropped the footage to exclude the time long and date. It was taken at 2.05am. As you can imagine reviewing up to 3 hours of night vision footage is quite a task. Usually I’m listening out for sounds, or watching for shadows/something around the object. What I did not expect was to see the object itself moving. Although I have always believed in some way that spirits not only exist but can manipulate physical objects.

Me: So do you believe this is a ghost moving the puppet?

Jayne: I believe in both residual and intelligent hauntings. I believe energy can be absorbed by objects as it can by buildings. The case of the puppet I believe is not residual. After seeing the footage and speaking at length with its previous owner I believe there is a spirit around it/associated to it/haunting it (choice of words varies from person to person!) I believe ghosts are residual energy being replayed. Unaware of the living. I believe spirits are something different and in this case unless someone can prove to me categorically that I’m wrong, I believe we have a spirit making themselves known.

Me: What do you think about the suggestion that perhaps it just moved due to gravity – like, it wasn’t quite balanced right and just toppled over on itself? I just wonder how much context plays a part here. If you see what I mean.

Jayne: As for gravity, personally I discount it. Gravity could make something fall but it couldn’t lift, pause and then slowly lower before dropping. I watched that footage over 30 times on the day I first saw it and tried every possible explanation. I even examined the cabinet incase a mouse had got in! I have tried to recreate it since bit can’t. We’ve created vibrations in the rooms above by walking heavily, moving furniture etc. Believe me I don’t share my evidence lightly. I have to be sure. I know I leave myself open to criticism but who doesn’t. My view is that those with an interest in and some knowledge of the paranormal will feel it worth seeing.

Me: I’m just watching it now, was the cross originally on the puppet?

Jayne: Yes its the wooden operating cross that controls the puppet. It connects the strings to the puppet via metal loops

Me: is there a copy of the video that hasn’t been edited by the press?

Jayne: I originally uploaded it to youtube (which is how the journalist found it) that shows the footage. As part of our research we have various psychic mediums study any objects we investigate (although of course the opinion of psychics can be open to interpretation). It all helps us build a picture. In this line of work a good 90% of objects we study are found to have no notable activity or signs of anything paranormal.

A/N: Here is the original video

Me: I’ve just watched the video again and I notice that just before the cross falls there’s a “tink” noise, do you recognise that noise? Like. literally before the cross falls into the glass?

Jayne: There is yes. We think it may be the other side of the operating cross touching the back of the cabinet before the fall. Or possibly one of the puppets porcelain feet/hands.

Me: have you been able to recreate the noise?

Jayne: We got a similar sound on a couple of occasions more so when the back of the cross caught the back of the cabinet

Me: Do you have that on tape? The recreations?

Jayne: We don’t film our attempts to recreate activity or replicate environments no. It’s part of what we do day to day.

Me: what the control conditions are that you use?

Jayne: by controlled, I mean that we look to minimise external interference when conducting experiments, and if we gather any data i.e. the video footage, we try to recreate the exact same environment for future experiments to see if we get the same responses or results. In all in the name of accurate data collection (notoriously difficult in the paranormal field!) We use the basement as it in unused for any other purpose, so no one goes there unless they are checking for results. We measure the temperature of the area at the beginning of each session, set up camera in the exact same position (using makers on the floor, shelves etc) and do as much as we can to ensure everything remains untouched.

Me: Oh, you said it was controls suggested by ASSAP?

Jayne: Controlled conditions also means not relying on witness testimonies too heavily as these are obviously open to interpretation and not measurable.

Me: do you not think the videos are open to interpretation too?

Jayne: Oh of course, as is anything, but it’s far closer to evidence than me simply telling you I saw the puppet move don’t you think.

Me: Sure, but I think it still requires a reliance on your word that this is what we’re seeing in the video. I think a lot of people will wonder why the lights weren’t on, why you didn’t also film from other angles, or why you didn’t film the replications.

Jayne: yes of course, as do most things. Unless someone experiences something for themselves, they will never believe

Me: Even experiencing things for yourself is open to interpretation and biases though? And you didn’t experience this for yourself…?

Jayne: Exactly, no one will ever have cast iron guaranteed proof of the afterlife, thats a fact. At the end of the day I’m not looking to convince anyone, I know what I captured and in sharing it with others I am sharing what I consider to be my best capture to date. People can take it however they see fit. I respect and appreciate the thoughts and opinions of any who approaches it in a mature way.

Jayne: I think when you are approached by the media, you have to accept that there will be those out there who think you’ve agree to an article because you have an ulterior motive. I suppose that happens a lot. [A/N: yes, it does]. I’m not looking convince anyone as I say, but I know there are genuine paranormal enthusiasts out there who will be as excited as I am by this.

Edit (14.08.2015): I have summarised my thoughts on this in a reply to a comment left below. Click here to go directly to my response.