During Halloween, people exchange ghost stories, dress as ghouls and watch shows of houses haunted by lost souls. However, Founder and Lead Investigator of Paranormal Researchers of Iowa Denise Mendenhall looks at ghosts with a scientific angle.
Founded in 2009, Paranormal Researchers of Iowa is one of many paranormal groups based in Iowa. Mendenhall said she spends most of her time, about 30 hours a week, educating people about the group and its procedures. About twice a month, Mendenhall said the group receives an inquiry to investigate a location.
Most of the time PRI spends investigating is not spent at the location. Mendenhall said research prior to investigation and evidence review takes up the majority of a claim. The group also has to select the proper equipment for the claim, which includes recorders, devices to measure electrical output, cameras and much more. Mendenhall said the group first tries to debunk claims by finding logical explanations for supposed paranormal happenings.
Allen and Denise Henderson listen to recorded sound during an investigation at Wilson Brewer Historic Park last year.
"Say a cabinet door is opening on its own. If we get a call in, the first question we ask is, 'Is it level?' You can't assume everything is paranormal. You look for natural causes, and if you rule those out, then you look for unnatural causes," Mendenhall said.
PRI is so careful with its evidence, Mendenhall said often a homeowner won't have anything to go off of after an investigation because the evidence isn't hard enough for the group to consider. But, there are instances where the group thinks there is paranormal activity.
Prior to an investigation, Mendenhall meditates and makes sure she is well grounded. She said she probably the least fearful and most respectful of the group.
"Faith and fear cannot be together, because if you have a strong enough faith, you don't have fear. I have a very strong faith, and I think that when you go into these investigations, you have to have a strong respect and the malevolent preys on fear," Mendenhall said.
In one investigation, Mendenhall said they received a call after a homeowner's dog was attacked. The dog was blind and deaf, and the homeowner said it came scrambling down the stairs one day with tufts of hair missing from its neck. When PRI was called in, they found an unmarked cemetery behind the home, which was later confirmed by the homeowner.
PRI also uses psychic tools in some of its cases. Mendenall said she is skilled in Psychometry, or the psychic reading of the energy of objects. During one investigation, she said she felt sick to her stomach as she grasped a pen. She said she thought the owner of the pen died of a stomach related illness. The homeowner said it was possible, but Mendenhall said a recorder picked up a response of, "She's right."
Mendenhall has several people with her in the group. Her husband, Allen Mendenhall, is the co-founder of PRI. Mike Magruder, of Fort Dodge, and Adrian Hilts, of Webster City, also assist her in investigations. Denise Mendenhall said Hilts is her right hand, going with her to most of the investigations.
Mendenhall first became interested in the paranormal at a young age when she encountered activity in her childhood home. Unbeknownst to her at the time, a man hung himself in the home some time prior to her family moving in. She said she was playing with a friend in the attic and saw the man and described him to her grandmother.
After some research, her grandmother found out why she bought the house so cheaply and confirmed the man's death and found a photo of him in the paper. Mendenhall said her description was very accurate. This caused somewhat of a rift in her family. Mendenhall said half of her family, including her grandmother, believed her. The other half was skeptical.
"I'm not out to convince anybody that's a skeptic," Mendenhall said. "My philosophy is that you've got to believe yourself. I present what I know and you've got to draw your own conclusions. I can't teach you to believe."
What Mendenhall can teach are the different facets of paranormal investigations and she will be doing that at a class at Iowa Central Community College. The class is an introduction to paranormal investigating, and will discuss the history of investigating, team building, interviewing clients, researching locations, types of equipment used in investigations and how to properly use that equipment.
She said teaching a class was the best idea to reconcile the interest she has received from people to join her on investigations and the desire to prevent unsafe investigation practices. The class will go on an investigation of their choosing, based on funding from the number of students that sign up for the class. It is scheduled to begin on Nov. 19 and go through Jan. 14, 2013. More information on the class can be found on the Iowa Central Community College website, and more information on Paranormal Investigators of Iowa can be found on their Facebook page.