Hanging out with Sacramento’s very own Ghostbusters
Pervy spirits, nighttime seances and the search for Sacramento's undead
We sit in a circle in an attic and pose questions to the dark. In the center, a digital audio recorder awaits sounds from the dead.
It’s just another spooky night for the Sacramento-based outfit known as California Haunts, which says it “provides creative solutions to complicated questions.” In plain English, the 13-year-old club aims to prove the existence of ghosts and, by extension, the afterlife.
Founded by an ex-journalist (!), the group has investigated alleged hauntings as far south as Fresno County and east into Nevada. Tonight, the team descends on a tiny inn on the remote outskirts of southern Sacramento County, where employees report spectral sights and sounds they believe related to the establishment’s Gold Rush roots.
Tagging along for this private ghost hunt, I hope to unpack more earthly mysteries: Like, are these supernatural sleuths harmless? Or do they feed into the delusions of the mentally unwell?
California Haunts founder Charlotte Kosa acknowledges the tricky balancing act, but believes she’s got the footing to manage it.
She says her company averages two to three investigations a month, mostly in rural, residential settings, and determines supernatural activity in roughly half the cases. “The majority of the time, it’s a [dead] relative that’s checking out the family,” she says of the mostly benign haunts. “We do have a lot of debunking going on; don’t get me wrong.”
Before agreeing to investigate, Kosa has potential clients fill out a 100-item questionnaire that attempts to evaluate their mental state, among other things. Additionally, a team member will inspect clients’ premises for electrical or structural damage—anything that might provide a non-supernatural explanation for the weird occurrences. Kosa says she brings in a certified counselor for consultations whenever she suspects underlying psychological issues, as she did in Placer County earlier this year. In that case, investigators ultimately concluded that their client’s marriage troubles prompted night terrors in which the woman thought she was molested by dark spirits, and recommended counseling.
“Sometimes people can create poltergeist activity in their minds,” Kosa says.
But who’s to say when that happens—and when it doesn’t?
Take a recent case in Colusa County, where a woman claimed entities were sexually assaulting her. While investigating, the team became convinced of a malicious presence. “It was something to be reckoned with, let’s put it that way,” Kosa says.
She says three investigators puked on the premises, while another saw a notebook float through the bathroom.
She also says the team’s shaman glimpsed the apparition of a penguin-shaped man with glowing eyes, and ended up performing a cleansing of both the home and its sole occupant. The process involved incantations, oils, holy water, the whole nine. The team is still working with the woman, and Kosa says their initial supposition is that she invited the incubus into her home by mucking around with black magic.
If all this sounds super-irrational rather than supernatural, then this tale might not be for you.
A true believer who still resides in her haunted childhood home, Kosa founded her club after several years in the midsize newspaper business, mostly as a crime reporter and assistant editor at the Woodland Daily Democrat. She funds her enterprise through donations, yearly fundraisers, and by hosting pay-to-participate classes like Psychic Development and Ghost Hunting 101. A “self-taught psychic,” she calls the ghost-hunting business “an inexact science, like anything else.” There are some skeptics, she says, who will never see what’s beyond this mortal veil.
I might be one of them.
A full, red moon sags low over the south-county flatlands, blanketing the unlit country road that stretches from Rancho Cordova to Rio Linda. Like a pebble on a forgotten bridge lies the historic Sloughhouse Inn. A whistle-stop holdover from the Gold Rush, back when it lodged mud-caked fortune seekers, the restaurant reopened in February of last year under new ownership. Proprietor George Lee says his staffers see shadows on the mirrors, hear footsteps in the attic and even once seated a phantom patron.
“I don’t particularly believe in these types of stuff. The couple of times I’ve seen something, I try not to think about it,” he laughs.
California Haunts is the third paranormal group Lee’s hosted in his brief tenure, always during this time of year. Go figure.
Perched behind a bank of monitors in an outdoor nook, Kosa orders her mostly female crew to set up recording gear in and around the establishment. Field psychic Stefanie Paige-Belson leads me upstairs, where first contact will be attempted.
The medium is straight out of central casting: Dressed in a crimped, black gown and unlaced combat boots, she leans on a wooden cane and scans the attic through prismatic blue eyes. Near a small window that overlooks the restaurant’s parking lot, she registers the presence of a woman with a large man standing behind her. “I feel like there was a lot of abuse of women at this space, young women,” she says.
It’s large, the attic. The space along the walls is cluttered with white folding chairs, heating lamps, golf clubs, cookers and Halloween decorations. A toy clown comes alive when investigator Jeri Baser remarks how creepy it is. A nasty cackle and a battery-powered shimmy pries a scream out of her. It won’t be the last.
Tonight’s lead investigator, Valerie Delgadillo Lum, holds what looks like a purple baby monitor in her hand. A taped-on label reads “Ghost Meter.” Lum, a state employee, has been with this outfit for a year, but isn’t yet a believer. “I don’t think I have that gift,” she demurs. “As far as being on these investigations, I haven’t seen anything.”
So why is she here?
“It’s kind of fun,” she shrugs.
The order comes from downstairs to snuff the lights and get started. I ask whether ghosts are shy. “It’s just so you can feel things better,” says Lum, ignoring the sarcasm.
After introducing ourselves to the spirit(s), the seated investigators ask their questions:
“Is there anyone in here with us at the moment?”
“How old are you?”
“Do you not want us here?”
After 10 minutes of Q-and-no-A, we crowd into a dank storage room piled high with plates and do it again. Sometimes the motion sensor blinks, mostly it doesn’t. At one point, investigator Janet Delgadillo, Lum’s mother, freaks out. She pulls back a forearm patched over in thick goosebumps and says something grabbed her. Long cobwebs waft in the doorjamb.
Investigator Laura Montez turns her head to the storage room on the opposite side of the attic, where she thinks she heard one of the rusty filing cabinets lurch. Moments later, investigator Michael Spiker huffs into the room. “Why did you turn your head?” he demands.
Montez doesn’t answer at first. Spiker explains that, on the monitors, they all saw a large orb pass by Montez and into the room with the filing cabinets. They swear it didn’t move like the car headlights passing outside.
“I knew it!” Montez exclaims, vindicated.
Nobody else sees anything. The ladies agree the spirit has a thing for Montez.
As the next batch of investigators tries their luck with the stand-offish ghost, the last four diners trickle out, a little buzzed. “That’s definitely not a bug; it’s an ’orb,’” a bald guy cracks, pointing at the monitor.
“Any dead children?” another man asks.
If Kosa knows they’re teasing, she doesn’t let on. “You’re getting a good show tonight,” she tells me.
As the team resets the equipment inside the restaurant, owner Lee tries coaxing his employees to hang around another hour. “I want to go night-night,” mutters a kitchen worker.
Heeding the mood, Kosa calls it a wrap. But she’s convinced. “There is definitely something going on there, no doubt about it,” she says days later.
For Kosa, it’s proof that there’s a life beyond this one. “Somewhere along the line, we’re going to exist somewhere else,” she says. She then imagines her departed self roaming Disneyland. The happiest place on earth—and possibly beyond it.