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OKLAHOMA MYSTERIES: Spectral sleuths seek spirits

Steve Browne / Red Dirt Report
S.P.O.O.K. founder and chief researcher, Jim Pace.
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From ghoulies and ghosties
And lang-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

-Traditional Scottish Prayer

MIDWEST CITY, Okla. – Some don’t believe in ghosts. Some believe and want to be rid of them. The staff of Sooner Paranormal of Oklahoma (S.P.O.O.K.) believes and wants to study them.

“We don’t bust them, we just mediate between the client and the spirit world,” said S.P.O.O.K. founder and chief researcher, Jim Pace.

The equipment and methodology Pace and his crew use is hardly traditional: DVR equipment that records in infra-red light, full spectrum cameras, electromagnetic meters, motion-activated wildlife cams, sensitive audio recorders and sophisticated computer programs to analyze audiovisual recordings.

“No séances, ouiji boards, dowsing rods,” Pace said. “Everything we use has to be objective so we can show people.”

What Pace has to show is thousands of hours of video and audio recording.

Perhaps the most common is what he calls an “orb,” a round spot on the video that moves around, sometimes pulsing.

“Some have told us it’s dust, but this is purposeful movement,” Pace said. “And you can’t tell dust what to touch, change direction or pulse.”

Other phenomena include objects that move by themselves, audio recordings that sound like voices or singing, moving shadows on infra-red video, doors that open and close by themselves, and lamps that light themselves.

“We had a client who had lost her husband and her son a year apart, both on Mother’s Day,” Pace said. “There was an electric candle in her bathroom that kept blinking, so we turned it off and it kept blinking. So we took the batteries out and asked, ‘Can you blink one more time?’ It did.”

The client’s husband and son were both electricians, Pace added.

Sometimes smoke or mists form and swirl around in still air.

“That’s why we don’t allow smoking on an investigation,” Pace said. “So we can be sure the smoke didn’t come from anybody on the team.”

Pace said he got into paranormal research after his wife urged him to go to a ghost meeting at a local bookstore in the Tulsa area.

“They talked about their aches and pains and their favorite soap operas,” Pace said. “There were no experts in research there. So my wife said why don’t you start it yourself?”

Pace started designing forms and permission slips, and getting trained and accredited. He has a wall full of certificates he cheerfully admits are from diploma mills. And he started recruiting a crew. There are at any given time seven to 10 members on the team.

Christine Hartsell of Bristow is Pace’s chief assistant.

“I was actually a client before I became a member,” Hartsell said. “At the time we were living in Oklahoma City and we started to experience bad activity. My son was being scratched and was rushed by a shadow. Once he was pushed so forcefully he was sent flying from the kitchen to the living room. Finally my daughter said we had to do something about it.”

They found S.P.O.O.K. on an Internet search, but Pace was too busy at the time. Hartsell and her family started collecting evidence and sending it to Pace.

“Finally I just filled out an application and sent it,” Harsell said. “I got an email from Jim, ‘Welcome to the team.’”

Pace and Hartsell claim that though most ghosts are just there and may not be aware they’re dead, there are exceptions and they can hurt you. Many members of the team have reported and photographed scratches on their skin, usually three parallel lines. Pace reports almost being shoved off a balcony once.

“I was at a private residence in Tulsa and it was like something out of a horror movie,” Hartsell said. “Something grabbed my leg from under a bed. There was a door the client said couldn’t stay closed. So I pushed it closed firmly and turned around. Then I heard a click and a groan. It was one of those moments you’re just not sure you want to turn around. But I did, the door was open and there was nothing there.”

One client, Rick Tyler of Sapulpa said he has lived in a haunted building for 24 years.

A brick building dating to the late 1800s lines a block of Hobson St. downtown. In its time it has been a bordello that featured bare knuckle boxing, a speakeasy, a grocery store, and a soup kitchen in the Depression.

“Before the building was built there was a spring the Indians used,” Tyler said. “From what I’ve read spirits follow water and power sources.”

According to Tyler since he moved in 24 years ago, he’s felt something sit on his bed about two or three times a week. He often hears voices that seem to mix with the noise of the electric fan.

Tyler used to run a Karate School on the first floor and claims he could never get good photos in the school because of the orbs that would show up in the pictures.

Tyler said there was nothing really scary about the phenomena. 

“Just poltergeist stuff,” Tyler said. “Once when my wife and I were watching TV a candlestick flew off the shelf across the room and onto the floor. Another time we had this clock in the office downstairs that had never run until a psychic stroked the side of it. Next day I came down and it was running, and set to the right time. I let it run down and never touched it again.”

Then one day he saw a woman down an upstairs hallway.

“It freaked me out, made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end,” Tyler said.

When the S.P.O.O.K. crew came to investigate they found a translucent figure on the the video and a voice on audio that identified itself as “Cowboy.”

Historical research revealed one Abner Claude Gwinne, born 1887, nicknamed “Cowboy” for the battered cowboy hat he wore, worked in the building procuring liquor during prohibition. He married Minnie, the Madam of the establishment and they had several children.

“They’re still here,” Pace said. “He wears that hat and a pipe.”

According to Pace, none of the spirits in the building are evil.

“Some are pretty grumpy though,” he said.

S.P.O.O.K. maintains a Facebook page where anybody can view or listen to many of the recordings. The team is self-funded by the members and a very few donations according to Pace.

Pace said his goal is to do 200 investigations and turn the team over to Hartsell.

“I’ve had two strokes and a heart attack,” Pace said. “Loading up all this gear and traveling is wearing me out.”

So far they’ve done 196 investigations since they started in 2008.

“Once it’s mine I want to keep it true to it’s roots,” Hartsell said. “We’ve already got a great team. A small team works well together and we’re really happy with it.”

Sooner Paranormal of Oklahoma maintains a website and Facebook page.

Photos from Sooner Paranormal of Oklahoma Facebook page.

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Steve Browne

Steve Browne is an award-winning reporter and columnist who entered journalism by accident while...

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