City Pulse hits the road with paranormal investigators

Group searches for answers in ‘paranormal’ situations

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There are things that go bump in the night. And most of them can be explained with simple realities: a settling house, a pet in search of a late-night snack, tree branches bristling against vinyl siding, perhaps a misaligned electrical system or furnace. The list is nearly inexhaustible.

Yet, there are still those things that can’t be explained — the sense of someone being with you in a room, items turning on without a human present, furniture moving, muffled conversations.

Rusty Jones, 50, of Jackson, leads an unlikely collective of seven core members who set out to explain what is going bump in the night. And if they can’t debunk those middle-of-the-night disturbances, they try using an arsenal of electronics to find a paranormal explanation. 

They are Central Paranormal Investigations — CMPI, for short.

Jones spends his weekdays working in technology. He’s stout, with a graying, scraggly beard and long, grayish-brown hair. His arms are adorned with tattoos that honor his parents. He looks more motorcycle gang member than a leader of paranormal investigators.

The Central Michigan Paranormal Investigations mobile unit.
The Central Michigan Paranormal Investigations mobile unit.
By night, he wears a Detroit Tigers baseball cap and drives the organization’s mobile command center — a 2006 ambulance that has been painted black and emblazoned with the yellow lettering of the CMPI logo. Jones also facilitates the group’s investigations, working to determine when, where and how the group deploys its equipment for its probes into the unexplained.

CMPI doesn’t charge for its services. It’s an underlying thirst for the unexplained that drives the team. And it’s Jones’ phone that rings when someone is seeking answers to the things bumping about in the night. He sifts through calls, weighing claims and the urgency of reported concerns.

Not all pass the test. One regular caller claimed he had been given a dollar bill by a man with a tail and cloven feet. Jones blocked his number after the man started talking about “his meds.”

“At that point, it was pretty clear what was going on,” Jones said.

Akin and Jones discuss the installation of wireless night vision video cameras to installed for an investigation in rural Jackson county.
Akin and Jones discuss the installation of wireless night vision video cameras to installed for an investigation in rural Jackson county.
As a kid, Jones exhausted his local library of its collections on Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. Wanting more books about unexplained and paranormal mysteries, the librarian suggested that he pick up some books on ghosts — something that he shrugged off at the time.

Ironically, Jones said that he didn’t believe in ghosts. But curiosity got the better of him. One of the books he picked up mentioned hauntings — including a few locations in Jackson.

“I could go there,” he said. “I could feel what others felt. It was just there.”

And by 1988, Jones was hooked.

This month, I joined Jones and his team for an investigation at a rural home in southern Jackson County. The homeowners didn’t want to be identified for this story.

Along for this investigation were Tori Commet, a 21-year-old nursing student at Jackson College, the youngest on the CMPI team; Holly Iuni, 42, and Dianne Akin, 63. Iuni said she works in business investigations. Akin is retired. Commet and Akin said their interest in the paranormal (particularly hauntings and ghosts) revolves around having both grown up in haunted homes.

The wireless night vision video camera installed inside the home to monitor the living room where residents say they heard voices and movement.
The wireless night vision video camera installed inside the home to monitor the living room where residents say they heard voices and movement.
Akin said her first experience was hearing something walking across the entire length of the upstairs portion of her home. She was home alone at the time, sick and in the fourth grade.

“It scared me to death,” Akin said, laughing at her younger self during an interview in front of a shuttered bar and bowling alley this month. Akin is a quick wit, with a gravelly smoker’s voice.

In addition to that fear-inspiring experience, Akin said that her family has “gifts” related to the paranormal. She describes herself as a “sensitive” — meaning that she can sense otherworldly apparitions that the group is seeking out during its investigations. She said she gets quick images, glances and names that pop into her mind’s eye while she focuses on an investigation.

Her sister, Barb, also often joins the team on investigations. The two live together in their childhood home in Jackson, which they inherited in 2011 after their father’s death. 

“But I hate the winter,” she said. “Give me the sun and warmth and I am happy.”

Commet’s childhood experiences in a haunted home led her to a “lifelong” interest in the paranormal, she said. She found CMPI online and connected with Jones. Akin’s experiences with the paranormal have also made her a believer, but she has no ill will toward skeptics.

“I say, ‘OK you believe what you believe, I know what I’ve seen,’” she said.

Iuni said she has been involved in the group and investigations for the last five or six years.

“That was my dream,” she said. “I have always wanted to do this. I just didn’t know it was a thing until I met Rusty.”

Iuni’s interest started with watching the original Dark Shadows. And now it’s a family affair; Her teenage son has also joined the group on its paranormal investigations.

“They all think it’s cool,” she said of the rest of her family.

They all agreed that the group is more than a gathering of folks who wander around buildings in the middle of the night asking questions into the darkness. Jones describes them as “family.”

The homeowner had expressed concern that two nights before the investigation a kitchen stool had been moved in the middle of the night. It was loud enough to wake her. At the early stage of the investigation, this cushion was found in the middle of the kitchen floor, having started on the stool. Because there was no video on the stool, it is unknown how the cushion ended up in the middle of the room.
The homeowner had expressed concern that two nights before the investigation a kitchen stool had been moved in the middle of the night. It was loud …
The home at the center of this month’s paranormal investigation was only 4 years old, though it was completely rebuilt on the foundation of a home that was over 80 years old. That structure had fallen into such disrepair, it was condemned and foreclosed on. The only original parts of the house remaining were a set of walls and a basement that required two more layers of cinder block to make it tall enough for someone to walk in without bending over.

This was not the type of home one imagines when heading off to investigate the paranormal, or as most would refer to it, a haunting. It was an upper middle class home with that new carpet smell, a modern kitchen, with comfortable furniture. A Roomba was parked in the laundry room.

But for years, one of the homeowners sensed someone watching them — a constant presence in the home, particularly in the kitchen. Friends have heard muffled conversations. An XBox turned on by itself. And the touch faucet regularly turns itself on, even with brand new batteries in place. One of the homeowners met Jones through her service job in Jackson. He tried for years to gain permission to investigate the home, but the owner demurred — until last month.

The woman’s decision was reinforced two days before the CMPI team arrived. Early that morning, she awoke to a loud crash coming from the kitchen. She said she found a stool with a seat cushion on it had moved from under the island bar. The stool was about a foot out of place, and the cushion that had been on top was flung several feet away in the middle of the floor.

The couple’s poodle was upstairs with them at the time. Their toddler was asleep in her room.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” she said while she showed the team through her house and explained what had been happening. “I just need to know if I am crazy or not.”

Jones and his team assured her that her sanity was not in question. Then it was time for action.

Jones and Akin discuss the next steps in the investigation from inside the Central Michigan Paranormal Investigations command center, a retro-fitted 2006 ambulance.
Jones and Akin discuss the next steps in the investigation from inside the Central Michigan Paranormal Investigations command center, a retro-fitted …
The team began by discussing the best ways to approach their investigation and what equipment was necessary. Meanwhile, the mobile command unit idled in the driveway while the group gathered in the kitchen to plot out their strategy for the rest of the night.

They have a host of equipment to choose from: hardwired and wireless infrared surveillance cameras to record everything in the home — hoping to capture movement; digital audio recorders to capture what investigators call EVPs, or electronic voice phenomenon.

The Central Michigan Paranormal Investigations mobile command center. It’s a retrofitted 2006 ambulance.
The Central Michigan Paranormal Investigations mobile command center. It’s a retrofitted 2006 ambulance.
Investigators ask questions into the dark. Sometimes, when the audio is replayed, there are new voices, not those belonging to investigators or heard during the recording process itself. There is also a “spirit box,” which cycles through 100 radio signals per second, creating a blur of white noise. It is believed that spirits can communicate by selecting words within this cacophony of white noise, helping to send messages from another realm.

Investigators believe spirits require electromagnetic energy in order to manifest — either with voices or physically. To measure this, they use equipment called a REM pod, which triggers a light and noise when an electromagnetic wave comes near an antennae. There are also handheld units called K-2s, which can detect variations in electromagnetic fields in a home. These fields are natural in homes, spiking around appliances and other electrical devices.

And, of course, there are handheld video cameras with attached infrared lighting units to boost the handheld’s night vision setting.

Jones watches as Tori Commet serves as a conduit during a “spirit box” session earlier this month.
Jones watches as Tori Commet serves as a conduit during a “spirit box” session earlier this month.
It was decided that digital recorders should be placed in the basement and upstairs,  where no activity has been reported ,as well as in the kitchen and living room where activity has been reported. Video cameras were set up to record to a DVR system covering the entire kitchen and living room.

While the investigation began with just two cameras, a third was also added when investigators found the stool at the kitchen island had moved. The round cushion that was atop it was instead on the floor. 

The homeowners spent time flipping the pillow off the stool in an attempt to recreate the fallen cushion. Investigators assisted. This is called “debunking” — a key part of the CMPI philosophy.

“We set out to explain what is happening,” Jones said on the drive to the location. “If you can explain it with traditional stuff, then it’s not paranormal.”

The cushion’s flight path couldn’t be re-created by the homeowner or the investigators. The corners were taped to mark the stool’s original location in case it moves again. It doesn’t.

During the investigation, which lasted from about 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., not much happened.

The stool and cushion incident was early on in the investigation. The kitchen faucet that allegedly turned on by itself had only turned on once. Jones can also be seen reacting on video as if something touched him while he was in the kitchen of the home.

“It was like somebody was behind me,” he said. “You know the feeling when there is a tight space and someone is pushing past you? That’s what it was.”

Jones listens intently for communications through the “spirit box” during an investigation in Jackson. Others in the room ask questions, and whoever is in the blindfold and noise canceling headphones — which also are connected to a device that flips through hundreds of radio channels a second — speaks whatever words or phrases come through.
Jones listens intently for communications through the “spirit box” during an investigation in Jackson. Others in the room ask questions, and …
To close out the evening, the group brought in the homeowners and set up a spirit box session. Jones was blindfolded with noise canceling headphones over ear pieces that feed the fast scanning radio signals into his ear.

In experiments like this, people ask questions and the person who is blindfolded speaks out whatever words or phrases the spirit box provides. The peppering of questions elicited not specific words or answers — just a few words associated with pregnacy and unfaithfulness.

When Commet put the headset on, she also provided no direct answers to the questions asked.

The investigation over, the team packed up the hundreds of feet of video lines, the cameras and the pods. Akin spoke quietly in the kitchen with one of the homeowners, assuring her that nothing malicious was in the house, but rather she sensed that someone was trying to get her attention and look out for her. Akin assured the couple: “You have nothing to worry about.”

As a self-described “sensitive,” Akin said that her spiritual focus is on the energies of the world — the balance and the imbalance, the energy around each of us. It’s a mixture of new age sensibilities and a deep rooted belief that there is a life after death.

Commet she that she is a lapsed Catholic who has found comfort and guidance in Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. Iuni said that she too was a lapsed Catholic who shared the combined spiritual beliefs of Commet and Akin. 

Jones is a self described Christian. He said the Bible itself refers to spirits.

“Who’s to say that angels aren’t the people who love you who have already passed?” he asked. “Watching over you, protecting you? Maybe they are your guardian angels, you know?”

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