Ghost hunters

On the trail of Sacramento’s scary monsters and super creeps

SN&R Photo Illustration by David Jayne and David Robert

I want to believe. I really do. So I’m hurtling through the nighttime streets of Sacramento, blindfolded, in the speeding car of a strange woman I’ve only just met. Her name is Shannon “Ms. Macabre” McCabe, president of Haunted and Paranormal Investigations, a brassy blonde with a bubbly demeanor and a lead foot that keeps me pinned to the passenger seat of her Pontiac Solstice convertible like a corsage to a prom date’s dress.

I’m blindfolded because our destination is secret, a house somewhere in the suburbs that the owners claim is haunted. According to McCabe, there are at least five spirits inhabiting the dwelling, and the owners don’t want to attract any undue publicity. I attempt to keep track of where we’re going, but give up after the first few turns. McCabe’s driving has me more interested in self-preservation.

Haunted and Paranormal Investigations, otherwise known as HPI, is just one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of “ghost-hunting societies” worldwide. McCabe boasts a membership of more than 150 like-minded individuals who spend untold amounts of their own time poking through old buildings, combing over infamous crime scenes and responding to requests from nervous homeowners seeking explanations for those things that go bump in the night.

As I was to discover, there’s no shortage of work in Sacramento.

After a 15-minute drive, we arrive at our destination. McCabe removes my blindfold in the walkway between the garage and what appears to be a fairly nondescript house in a fairly nondescript neighborhood. We could be anywhere in Sacramento. The owner of the home, “Anne,” greets us at the front door. The most striking thing about her is her height, or lack thereof. She tops out at four-foot-eight and is a dead ringer for Tangina Barrons, the eccentric, pint-sized medium played by Zelda Rubinstein in the 1982 film Poltergeist.

“As soon as I moved in I knew there was something interesting about the house,” explains Anne, who has lived in the house for 12 years. “I experienced feelings of being watched, hearing footsteps, smelling strange perfume, seeing things out of the corner of my eyes. I’ve had people who’ve stayed over say they’ve felt a hand on their shoulder, or heard their name called.”

“So, that’s after you guys have been drinking all night?” I ask.

“No,” Anne giggles. “We don’t drink.”

“So you were on LSD?”

She scowls at me.

Ghost hunters Cherie Vincent and Shannon McCabe search for orbs and EVPs in an East Sacramento home.

SN&R Photo By Larry Dalton

Meanwhile, McCabe confers with HPI “ghost writer” Paul Dale Roberts, who has been awaiting our arrival. For months, Roberts has been e-mailing the reports he painstakingly files after each paranormal investigation to SN&R, which is how the group first came to my attention. Together, McCabe and Roberts set up what have become the tools of the modern ghost-hunting trade: digital-video cameras and audio recorders. These are used to detect “orbs” and electronic-voice phenomena, or EVPs.

Orbs, spherical balls of light that usually can’t be seen with the naked eye but do appear in photographs, are a subject of controversy, even among paranormal enthusiasts. Many, such as McCabe and Roberts, believe orbs may be ghosts or spirits attempting to manifest themselves in the material world. Others, such as Troy Taylor, author of Ghost Hunter’s Guidebook, point out that the proliferation of orbs in photographs during the past decade coincides with the advent of digital cameras, and can be attributed to the differences between film and digital photography.

“The most common ‘orb’ photos are merely refractions of light on the camera lens,” Taylor writes at the paranormal Web site Still, he’s not willing to throw all the evidence out. “So, should we discount all orb photos? No, I don’t think that we should. As stated earlier, I do believe that there are genuine, paranormal images that appear and which are sometimes captured on film.”

McCabe insists that the evidence gathered at Anne’s house since the investigation began is genuine.

“We’ve gotten so much evidence out of here it will boggle your mind,” she says. “I’ve actually seen with my own naked eye a white orb going down the hallway. Just last week Anne saw a hovering orb over a chair. It’s kind of a trip.”

EVPs are similar to orbs in that they are generally not detected in real time. Instead, they can be heard during the playback of recordings, often as garbled static that can be extremely hard to decipher. The film White Noise starred Michael Keaton as a man who becomes obsessed with EVPs he believes are communications from his recently deceased wife.

Anne began suspecting that her house might be haunted after her roommate was shoved against a wall one night by a mysterious, unseen force. Objects would fly off shelves for no reason—the literal definition of poltergeist activity. She saw pink and orange orbs floating through space, a disembodied hand, and a giant spider crawling up a wall. Before contacting HPI earlier this year, she started her own investigation, using her own digital-video camera and voice recorder. What she discovered startled her.

“I couldn’t believe what I picked up,” she said. “There were orbs circling, bright balls of light flashing across the floor. The very fist recording that I got sounded like a baby crying. We don’t have a baby. We don’t have a cat, nothing. I thought maybe a cat came in the house at night, so I set a trap for it. Nothing. Then I put the recorder in the bedroom, and I got a little girl singing the ‘Rock-a-bye Baby’ song.”

Anne plays back an excerpt from the recording for me and it does indeed sound like a little girl singing ‘Rock-a-bye Baby,’ only through a distortion box. On another tape, she asks if the spirits intend anyone in the house harm. “Hardly not, leprechaun,” a gravelly male voice responds.

“Just for the record, you’re not a leprechaun?” I ask.

“I’m not a leprechaun,” she says, scowling again.

Dead beat: From spirits to serial killers to flying saucers, HPI “ghost writer” Paul Dale Roberts has Northern California’s paranormal scene covered.

SN&R Photo By Larry Dalton

As HPI came on the scene and the investigation progressed, several distinct entities became manifest. One mischievous female voice refers to itself as “Itchy.” There’s straight-laced, French-speaking “Margarette,” whom the investigators suspect may have been a nun. Some of the entities don’t have names, like the little girl with the Irish accent, or the man who one night left 12-inch long footprints in a puddle of piss on the living room floor. One of the ghosts seems to enjoy messing with Roberts.

“One time I was sitting on the couch, and I asked, ‘Do you love me?’” he recalls. “We played the tape back, and a woman’s voice said, ‘Enough!’”

On another occasion, the same voice asked, “Do you want to hear me fart?”

McCabe leads me to the back of the house, where the bedroom is located. She’s holding a device that looks something like a stud finder that she says is an electromagnetic-frequency detector. She points it at various spots around the room, but there’s no reading tonight. It’s a bit perplexing, since the room is thought to contain a doorway that leads to the spirit world—a portal, in paranormal parlance.

“This room, according to the homeowners, has a portal in the top right-hand corner,” McCabe says. “The reason why they think that is a medium explained to them that entities travel through the house from this corner, down the hall and into the kitchen. We’re not really sure. We don’t have any proof that there’s a portal here, but the medium has been right-on about a lot of other stuff, so we tend to believe her. Plus, we’ve seen a lot of stuff come out of here and into the kitchen.”

McCabe leads me back into the kitchen, where a stool has been placed in the middle of the floor. A video camera and a spotlight in the corner are pointed at the stool. She instructs me to take a seat. I can see myself sitting on the stool on the TV monitor that’s set up next to the camera. I feel exceedingly goofy as McCabe begins calling out to the various entities.

“If anybody’s here, would you mind talking to R.V.?” she asks. “Margarette, are you here in the room? Itchy are you here? This is our way of communicating with you. We hope you don’t mind.”

On the TV monitor, I notice streaks and blobs of light that seem to be traveling along the route described by McCabe, from the portal in the bedroom, through the kitchen where I’m sitting on the stool and out the kitchen door. Some of the blobs appear to be nothing more than particles of dust, magnified by the camera’s lens. However, a few seem to move on their own volition.

“Margarette can you touch R.V. on the shoulder, so we know that you’re here?” McCabe asks. Sure enough, one of the blobs changes course and appears to pass through my shoulder, as if I was immaterial.

“There she goes!” Roberts exclaims.

For a second, they almost have me going. It really seems like I’m sitting in the middle of a spiritual maelstrom, in an eddy of unidentifiable entities. I want to believe. I really do. But I don’t. Not yet.

Werewolves, vampires and ghosts? Oh my! Shannon “Ms. Macabre” McCabe, president of Haunted and Paranormal Investigations.


“It seems like a lot of this is open to a wide degree of interpretation,” I suggest to McCabe.

“Absolutely, all of it,” she says. “We’re totally open to that. Not everyone is going to believe it.”

It’s not that I haven’t believed before. When I was seven, my family and I were driving down the turnpike in Norfolk, Virg., when I happened to glance out the rear window of our Dodge Dart station wagon. It was around sunset, and bright orange clouds hugged the horizon. One of them, I noticed, had an extremely angular shape, unlike any cloud I’d ever seen before.

“Mom, look at that funny cloud,” I said.

When she turned around, the cloud took off, disappearing into the distance, leaving an orange trail behind.

To this day, my mom and I argue about what we saw on that Virginia highway. I’m convinced it was a flying saucer. She says she doesn’t know what it was. I say that by definition that makes it an unidentified flying object, a UFO. She says I’m full of it.

I wrote about the incident at great length a dozen years ago in SN&R. For the article, I allowed Sacramento-based psychologist Dr. Richard Boylan, an internationally renowned expert on alien abduction, to hypnotically regress me. I thought perhaps I had been abducted, but the only thing I recalled were some extremely traumatic dental procedures I had as a child.

For months after the story ran, I received phone calls from an individual who claimed that he and his twin brother had been abducted as children. In a plot reminiscent of the 1980 science-fiction film The Final Countdown, he claimed they had been transported into the future, then brought back in time to the present, where they now earn livings as extremely adept stock pickers. He kept promising to meet me for lunch, but it never came to pass.

Dude, if you’re still out there, the lunch offer still stands. I’ll buy.

HPI by no means confines its probes to haunted houses. For months, I’ve been on the receiving end of the scintillating paranormal reports Roberts files after each investigation, which range from graveyard tours to visits to the many serial-killer crime scenes in the Sacramento area (see “Bloody Sac,” page 21) to a recent expedition on Mt. Shasta in search of the UFO base allegedly hidden inside the mountain’s base.

At crime scenes, the ghost hunters often encounter “residuals.” Some crimes are so heinous, they leave an imprint in time that Roberts likens to a “recording in the atmosphere.” Such was the case during a recent preliminary investigation of the Leonard Lake/Charles Ng crime scene in Wilseyville, a small town in Sierra foothills 60 miles from Sacramento.

Paul Dale Roberts outside the former boarding house run by infamous Sacramento serial killer Dorothea Puente. “We don’t like it here,” one victim’s ghost allegedly told the investigators.

Photo By Dave Datoz

For those unfamiliar with the 1985 case, Lake and Ng tortured, raped, murdered and mutilated at least 25 people in a concrete bunker they constructed specifically for that purpose. The precise body count and the identity of all the victims has never been determined because Lake and Ng hacked their bodies into pieces and then burned the remains, leaving nothing but bone fragments and ash. Lake committed suicide with a cyanide capsule after being arrested by the San Francisco police for shoplifting. Ng fled to Canada, where he was later apprehended and extradited back to California. He currently resides on death row in San Quentin.

Roberts and two carloads of HPI investigators, including a pair of “sensitives” or empaths, made the trip to Wilseyville, where they discovered the locals weren’t so keen on drudging up the crime. Unable to obtain the exact address of Lake’s property, but armed with its approximate location, the two cars separated. When they later met up, it turned out both sensitives had detected residual feelings of horror emanating from the same ranch house, presumed to be the location of the crime scene.

Other local serial killers HPI has investigated include Richard Trenton Chase, the so-called Vampire of Sacramento; sex-slave killers Gerald Gallego and Charlene Williams Gallego; and Dorothea Puente, who murdered nine residents of the boarding house she managed at 1426 F Street in Midtown. At the latter crime scene, the amateur sleuths recorded an EVP stating, understandably, “We don’t like it here.”

The reports of these and other paranormal investigations can be read on HPI’s Web site at The group meets once a month at the Sierra 2 Center to fellowship, compare notes and swap ghost stories. HPI has become one of the more popular ghost-hunting societies in Northern California, and it tends to draw the freaks out of the woodwork.

“I just did an interview with two girls who claim to be werewolves,” Roberts says. “Their story goes that they have Romanian blood. They were told by their grandmother that their heritage goes way back and they have werewolf disease. The reason they think it’s true is that during the full moon, they get a little bit more hair on their arms, a little more peach fuzz on their faces and they have dark thoughts. When they see an animal run across the road, like a cat, they have an urge to chase. They have a craving for raw meat. They’re very aggressive. Even though they were a couple of oddballs and I didn’t believe a word they were saying, it was fun interviewing them.”

The non plus ultra for paranormal researchers is the full-body apparition experience, which has become almost a rite of passage. Roberts experienced his first full-body apparition during the investigation of a mansion loft in Marysville, where a 45-year-old woman died of alcohol poisoning.

“I’d been on about 40 investigations, and I’d heard the EVPs. I’d seen the digital photos and digital videos, and I was thinking it would be really nice to see something with my own eyes, not on a video or a recording,” he recalls. He was talking to the loft manager, her daughter and the occupant of the loft when a shadowy figure appeared at the top of a staircase.

“I was just casually talking to them, and I see the shadow of a woman, her head, her torso, her arms,” he says. “It was very distinct and very clear. As I was watching this full-body apparition in the form of a shadow, my jaw was agape. I stood there petrified. I couldn’t talk. I had my camera in my hand, but I couldn’t lift it up. No one saw anything but me. It made me a believer in the afterlife.”

As Roberts notes in his writings, the fear of death and the need to believe in an afterlife are often what attract people to join groups such as HPI. As scary has the subject may seem, orbs, EVPs and especially full-body apparitions provide comforting confirmation that there may be at least some sort of immortality.

McCabe saw her first full body-apparition in the parking lot at the downtown mall.

“I was at the Capitol Mall, at the Wells Fargo Center where I work—I’m sure they’re going to love this!—and I was in the parking garage on the third floor, early in the morning,” she remembers. “I was walking toward the elevator and I see this guy standing there. He had on a Kelly green polo shirt, a pair of dark slacks and he had that kind of ‘I’m over 45 haircut,’ bald on top with hair around the sides, wearing glasses. He was standing there with his arms at his sides staring into the distance. I walked on by to the elevator and went, ‘Oh hi.’ He didn’t react. That’s kind of weird, I thought. So I walked back out, and said hello. There was no one there. There was no way a human could have vanished like that.”

An unusually bright and prominent orb moves from left to right across a room in the Brookdale Lodge, a haunted house in Santa Cruz that HPI has investigated.

Photo By Christen Sheley

McCabe believes the apparition is a residual ghost who hangs out in the parking garage. She has affectionately named him Stan. Hang around HPI long enough, Roberts claims, and you’re likely to see your own full-body apparition.

“It’s like Russian roulette,” he says. “You keep playing around with it, and playing around with it, and sooner or later, you’re gonna get shot.”

Several weeks after my first investigation, I attend HPI’s October meeting, a Halloween party at Sierra 2 Center. It’s a happening bash, with as many as 60 costumed revelers in attendance, refreshments and vendors selling everything from purses to psychic readings. I’m making the rounds, questioning people about their paranormal experiences, when I encounter Teresa Kresheck, a past member of the Dallas and Australian ghost-hunting societies, who is dressed as a witch.

Kresheck first realized she was psychic when she was six and saw the apparition of a legless man floating through her home. Later, she described the man to her mother. Her mother was floored. The man Kresheck described couldn’t be anyone else but her long deceased great grandfather. A series of similar experiences throughout her formative years eventually led Kresheck to immerse herself in the paranormal as an adult. She informs me that there are several entities in the room.

“You have two of them on your shoulder right now,” she states matter-of-factly. Her eyes are focused in the air above my shoulders, as if she really is seeing something. I do a double take, quickly looking over both shoulders. There’s nothing there I can see.

“Who does? Me?!” I ask incredulously. “Who are they?”

“There’s a woman on this side and a man on this side. The woman has short red hair and green, hazelish eyes. She’s a mother figure, but I don’t think it’s your mother. Your grandmother? They’re a couple.”

“Sounds more like a former girlfriend to me,” I reply.

“No, no, this is an older lady, someone who’s passed on from something in her chest. It wasn’t cancer. Maybe pneumonia, maybe old age, but she wasn’t that old. I’m getting that she was in her 70s, but she looked a lot younger. She dyed her hair till the day she died. Is this ringing a bell for you?”

Actually it is. Kresheck could be describing my maternal grandmother. I sense that she’s reading my facial expressions, altering the description of the entity on my left shoulder until I show some sort of acknowledgment. It’s an interrogation method employed by psychics to extract information from their subjects and then feed it back to them in the form of revelation. Still, she’s zeroed in on my grandmother’s description with incredible swiftness.

“I don’t think it could be either one of my grandmothers,” I lie. “Neither one of them had red hair.”

She continues to prod, but senses I’m no longer playing along. I want to believe, I really do. But not tonight. I stealthily make my exit and disappear into the darkness, like a ghost.