Ghost hunters seek out the unknown

Justin Miller
Dustin Otey, left, and Jim Gentry, right, set up an HD video camera in the Pekin Daily Times building Aug. 28. (Justin Miller/TimesNewspapers)

Being in the basement of the Bartonville State Hospital’s infirmary in total blackness would be unsettling enough, even if I was not looking for ghosts.

The night of Aug. 3 started at the home of Linda Hambrick, the co-founder of Central Illinois Ghost Hunters, and her husband Jerry, the group’s driver and one of the field investigators.

The team is a not-for-profit group that was founded in 2009 with the goal of investigating and researching evidence of paranormal phenomenon.

“Most of us have actually done something like this all our lives, we just hadn’t done it in a group,” Hambrick said. “We base our investigations solely on the evidence we get. We base our investigations on video, pictures that we take and EVPs (electronic voice phenomenons).

After being introduced to the group, I was shown the equipment used by the team on their investigations.

The group uses EMF meters to measure temperature changes as well as changes in the electromagnetic field, audio recorders and a handycam to pick up sights and sounds not visible to the human senses.

The group normally does private investigations but is planning on providing tours of the supposedly haunted Culver House in Decatur to the public, Hambrick told me.

Following introductions, I rode to the Bartonville Infirmary in the group’s RV.

After arriving, we were given a short talk on the history of the building and the Bartonville State Hospital by one of the workers who was preparing the site for a Halloween haunted house.

We were then turned loose in the building and I made my way to the basement with the first team.

In the basement, the team put extremely sensitive flashlights on objects and would ask questions of the dark.

Sometimes, the lights would flicker and the group interpreted it as responses to their questions, regardless of how close to the actual question the response came.

Throughout our tour of the basement, in the pitch dark, the closest thing I came to experiencing something I would classify as paranormal was when we heard what sounded like a whistle coming from another room.

After the basement, we walked through the top floor and repeated the flashlight technique.

The top of the building provided nothing that I found other worldly, just a creepy old hot and humid building.

Before leaving, we went to the old graveyard behind the infirmary where patients from the State Hospital were enjoying their final rest.

Although the evening was a memorable event, I cannot say I had any encounters that would fit into a “Paranormal Activity” movie.

On Aug. 28, I went out with the Illinois Ghost Seekers Society as they investigated the Pekin Daily Times Building, which currently sits waiting for demolition this month.

When I met them at the building as the sun began going down over the historic downtown section of Pekin, I could tell right away the differences between the two groups.

In a room of the entrance, Rob Depew was setting up a bank of camera monitors that were hooked up to high-definition cameras placed throughout the building. While both groups were comprised of genial natured friends, this group was the big leagues in terms of equipment.

DePew told me the group had spent $10,000 or more on equipment.

Not only did the group have HD cameras and a monitoring system, they had REM-PODs that measured emitted energy through static energy, EVP meters, high tech audio recording devices, a Pod to measure if something physically touched it, devices which measured electricity and a homemade helmet camera.

While both crews were proficient in their own ways, I wanted to ask the second group about the flashlight technique that the Central Illinois Ghost Hunters used.

I had read a few articles online between the two events that said the flashlight trick will only work with flashlights that have to be turned on or off using a trigger mechanism where you can slide the on/off switch in between the two settings. The articles claimed that any vibration in the environment could set it off and, furthermore, that the flashlight would flicker anyway due to being caught between the two settings. I suspected this was the case since the flashlight they gave me to use, which had an actual button to push rather than the adjustable switch, never went off when placed with the other ones.

As far as the light going off in response to a question, it was never directly at a question or, when it was, I figured that if you played the odds this was bound to happen a few times. Yes, despite being a bigger fan of the constant believer Fox Mulder on The X-Files, I had way more of the skeptical Dana Scully in me when it comes to ghosts.     

“The problem with the flashlight technique is that it is not scientific,” Jim Gentry of the Illinois Ghost Seekers Society said. “The problem is that you can put it down and a train a mile away can go by and the vibrations can set it off.”

The group, which usually goes out two times a month and has been around for three years, were all very friendly and surprised me at how skeptical some of them seemed of the paranormal.

“I’m very analytical,” Gentry said. “When I see something, I want to analyze it. I’ll be honest, I used to never believe in this crap. Then I had some personal experiences and since then I’ve seen some stunning evidence.

“We always try to debunk first though.”

What appealed to me from the get-go was the way the group tried to explain away any phenomena encountered before calling it paranormal.

While the group was finishing setting up the cameras, Rob’s wife Krystal explained to me what she felt the paranormal events are.

“What is trapped is the emotional energy, rather than someone’s spirit,” Krystal Depew said. “It could be that someone had an emotional connection to the place or to a person or object there. Or it could be that it is someone reliving a traumatic event like a death or an argument that keeps playing out.”

After the equipment was set up, I headed to the top level of the building, which was an old Mason’s Lodge, with Gentry and Dustin Otey.

Once up there, we set up the PODs and sat waiting for something to go off.

After a few minutes, Dustin and Jim began to ask  questions.

“Do you live here?” Gentry asked. “Are you watching us?”

“Did you work here?” Otey asked. “Do you want to talk? Are we bothering you?”

We heard what sounded like a tapping coming from the back corner of the room after about 20 minutes.

None of us could be sure if it was inside or outside the building, but Gentry and Otey recorded it as a possible occurrence to look over later.

Around 40 minutes after making our way to the musky attic, Gentry and I heard what sounded like footsteps coming from the other room of the floor. We circled around the floor with Otey but could not find anything or anyone. Whether or not it was something spooky was never determined because we only heard it the once.

Next, I went to the newsroom and did the same procedure with Krystal and Amanda Johnston but there were no sights or sounds out of the ordinary there.

While I do not think I encountered anything paranormal on either trip, both were interesting. The groups were filled with nothing but the nicest people and both locations felt like something out of a Rob Zombie movie.

Creepy or not, I still do not particularly believe in ghosts but I suppose there is always the possibility that something in that realm exists, there are certainly enough people who believe they have had contact with something unreal. The truth, as Mulder would say, is out there, somewhere at least.

For more information on the Central Illinois Ghost Hunters, visit

For more information on the Illinois Ghost Seekers Society, visit