This article is the fourth part of a five-part series, “Ghost Stories,” published every Friday in October.
For Shelley Conroy, exploring the paranormal is part of a goal to discover the truth for herself.
“I'm just drawn to it,” she said. “I really want to find the proof.”
She said her curiosity was piqued when she was a young child. She said she had “some strange things happen” that she could not explain.
As an adult, she wrote a novel, “Triple Moon,” about a woman who has paranormal experiences and supernatural abilities. After the book was published, she met several paranormal investigators at a book signing.
Conroy said she is not a psychic. But she works to explain the unexplainable for others through her investigation group, Aura Paranormal of Pittsburgh.
She said most of her requests come from people living in houses that they believe might be haunted. When they contact Conroy, they are usually very scared.
“A lot of times, when we leave there, the homeowners are more at ease,” she said.
She said 90 percent of the time, what a homeowner is experiencing is not paranormal. Of the times that she believes are, she thinks the activity is caused by something trying to make contact, not harm someone.
Team member Rhonda Jaquay said when an unwanted spirit is in a house, the homeowners can just tell it to leave or stop doing things that bother them.
“I've seen people with scratches on them,” Conroy said.
She said what she enjoys most is getting “evidence” from investigations through equipment.
“I'm a visual person. I want to see proof,” she said.
Conroy said one way she can see this is through infrared cameras set up during investigations. Another is through a laser grid. The grids are like dozens of laser pointers forming a square and pointed at a flat surface, like a wall. She said if a spirit passes through the grid, a shape appears, like a shadow.
But one piece of evidence alone is not enough to prove anything. Jaquay said pairing evidence together comes closer to proof. For example, if an infrared camera caught a shape moving in the same place as a laser grid, and a voice recorder caught an unexplained noise all at the same time, it may be presented as proof.
Another tool in the ghost hunting arsenal is a “ghost box” or “Frank's box” used to “communicate” with spirits. The box is a modified radio that scans through radio stations at a rate of three per second. The investigators ask questions, such as if someone is there, who they are and what their purpose is.
Conroy said sometimes they capture recordings, or electronic voice phenomena, of voices talking for several seconds. This is many times the length of time the radio plays a single station.
If someone else speaks, or they hear a noise in their environment, they mark it down so they do not later mistake it for communication.
Through this process, Conroy said the investigators often learn the purpose of a spirit that they believe may be there.
“On any investigation, we try to debunk it first,” she said.
She said when her team goes into an investigation, she does not tell them details of what the resident is experiencing so that it does not unintentionally sway their beliefs. A member will also investigate the history of a building.
She said they do investigations discreetly, and do not advertise, because they do not want too much exposure or to stigmatize people who believe their houses may be haunted.
But for herself, the goal is to answer a question that's been in her mind since childhood.
“Who am I to say that it's not real?” she said. “I honestly don't know. But I'd like to.”