Dec 14, 2014

A Paranormal Investigator Walks into a Bar…

Charles Erlandson shines a flashlight into a crawl space during a paranormal investigation at a downtown nightclub in Austin, Texas, on December 1, 2014. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas

Charles Erlandson, a paranormal investigator, shines a flashlight into a crawl space during a night-time visit to an Austin music club. One of the owners thinks the club is haunted, and Erlandson said he detected spirits, including in the attic. Lukas Keapproth/Reporting Texas

Elizabeth Williams
For Reporting Texas

Standing in the center of  a dimly lit dance floor, Chuck Erlandson feels like he’s trapped.

“I literally feel like I cannot move,” Erlandson said. “There’s something keeping me in this spot.”

Erlandson, a  paranormal investigator, is looking for activity in a nightclub housed in a decades-old Austin building. Accompanied by two other psychics and one of the club’s owners, he described how he felt as he moved through the club, relaying emotions, names and comments from the spirits he claimed to detect. The owners had asked Erlander to investigate because they think the club is haunted, but did not want the club to be identified because they fear it would hurt business.

Erlandson and his team detected their first spirit, that of a young boy. “He wants to know where his sister is,” said Erlandson. 

Popular shows such as “Ghost Hunters” on the SyFy network depict only a small corner of the mostly underground community of paranormal investigators., an online directory of investigation teams and paranormal-related groups, lists 143 paranormal societies in Texas alone, including eight in Austin.

Interviews with members of two Austin groups suggest that the lure of kindred spirits and the abundance of phenomena to explore is what keeps them going.

While many people dismiss what they do as wacky, paranormal practitioners insist that they can detect the spirits of long-dead people.

“It’s very unusual to go to an old building here in Texas and not get something,” said Jeff Krueger, founder of Round Rock-based Austin Paranormal Investigations. “Texas is just haunted. There’s a lot of trauma and bad things that happened, and I think a lot of that energy is still here.”

Krueger, a ghost hunter for almost 20 years, founded the group in 2013 after conducting public ghost-hunting tours. He said some people fear what the investigators might scare up.

“They’re afraid we’re going to stir things up or that somehow ghost-hunting is going to make this portal from hell open up, and that’s completely not the case,” Krueger said. “All it is is a hobby. It’s nothing serious. We just like to get together and talk about ghosts.”

The Vanguard, an Austin-based investigative group, has been active since 1991, when the members were teenagers. Erlandson, a co-founder and current leader, said members believe they have psychic abilities and that the Vanguard provides an environment where they can understand and control those abilities. The group does investigations for free. Erlander does freelance work on his own, but did not charge the club owners for his work that night.

“Psychic” is an umbrella term in the paranormal community. It includes people who say they are empaths, who  are affected by others’ energy and intuitively feel others’ emotions; mediums, who mediate communication between spirits and living people; and clairvoyants, who perceive events in the future.

“I decided that maybe if we could all be together and have a place where other people that were having these issues could at least just be believed and talk about them and compare notes, then maybe it would become easier,” Erlandson said.

On a recent weeknight, Vanguard members agreed to take a reporter along as they investigated the club, which once housed a saloon and brothel. The club owner said numerous people had died in the building.

Armed with nothing more than flashlights and a burning candle, we moved to the attic. The club owner , who asked not to be identified, said she’s dealt with the spirit of a man who murdered prostitutes back when the building was a brothel. She said that his spirit possessed her for about six months, and that he has kept his victims’ spirits hostage.

As we walked about the attic, the investigators said the man was hiding the victims’ spirits. From room to room, through a maze of rotting floorboards, exposed wires and storage boxes, we searched for those spirits.

When we came to a ruined bathroom, the psychics agreed that it was the spot. Our last space on the attic tour was what the club owner said she thought was the man’s “kill room.” We turned off our flashlights. The psychics said the man we were searching for was in the room with us, slickly dressed and sporting a mustache.

The tour ended, with little resolution other than agreement that the psychics had felt something bad in that room. The club owner was happy that the psychics had backed up her suspicions.

Jennifer Flinton, case manager for Austin Paranormal Investigations, is among the skeptics about paranormal activity. She began ghost-hunting as a hobby in 2011 and said she has yet to be convinced.

“So far, nothing’s happened, but that’s because I’m so skeptical,” Flinton, a teacher and Round Rock resident, said. “I explain away what other people would probably say is proof. One day, if I see a chair move or a full-body apparition with no question that it’s something else, then I will believe.”

Shows such as “Ghost Hunters” and “Paranormal Home Inspectors” have brought such investigations and stories about haunting closer to the mainstream.

“When you see those ghost-hunting shows, they make it seem like a big, dramatic thing,” Flinton said. “I think that’s what the average person expects from us. Ninety-nine percent of the time, nothing happens. We come back and say ‘[the investigation] was great, thank you for having us,’ but they’re disappointed.”

Erlandson said he’s aware of the skepticism but welcomes the scrutiny.

“We’re really down-to-earth, normal people, but we have these extraordinary experiences.”