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Transcript for
Historical Ghost Investigations Part I: Kimo / Therapy

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If you listen to MonsterTalk, chances are you enjoy a good fright. But is that all there is to monster legends and ghost stories? On MonsterTalk, we like to look at what science has to say about such things, and tonight, we begin a two-part look at the scientific investigation of the paranormal. In this, Part One, we’ll discuss two ghostly legends and some of the best practices of historical ghost investigations.


Blake: Welcome to another episode of MonsterTalk: the podcast equivalent of turning the light on in the closet. I’m Blake Smith and together with Ben Radford and Dr. Karen Stollznow we talk about monsters. Tonight we begin a two-part discussion of how to do a historical paranormal investigation. We’ll be using ghost cases and this episode gives two different ghost stories with different conclusions but you’ll note there are many similarities as well.

Pay attention to Karen and Ben’s stories and you’ll hear these common elements: How to pick a case to investigate, identify what phenomena is being reported, finding witnesses or written testimony, checking to see if stories match the facts, finding corroborating evidence and finding falsifying evidence. In part two, we’ll go into even more detail and we’ll discuss my investigation of the ghost of the SS Watertown, and we’ll discuss Ben Radford’s new book on scientific paranormal investigations. Stay tuned.

[Voiceover: MonsterTalk!]

Blake: Okay, so this is actually—it should be our best audio quality ever, until two weeks from now when I get my new mic.

Karen Stollznow: And our least interesting show. [laughs]

Ben Radford: Yeah, I was going to say.

Blake: And our least interesting show!

Karen: [laughs]

Ben: Sadly enough, the content won’t match the quality, but that’s ok.

Blake: Well, we’ll make it short then. [laughs]

Karen: I was only joking. Come on, we’re all ghost hunters now aren’t we?

Blake: Yes. Of course.

Karen: This is our thing.

Blake: Yeah. Um, so tonight we’re going to talk about- I always say tonight, like everyone sits down for a nice evening by the fire to listen to MonsterTalk. I don’t know what they’re doing.

Karen: That sounds nice though.

Blake: It does!

Karen: That’s the way it should be listened to I think.

Ben: Sip some whiskey and listen to us.

Blake: On an old radio machine, which is how our audio quality is usually set up. [laughs]

Karen: Through our Frank’s Box.

Blake: Through our Frank’s Box.

Ben: It will get curled [?] up at the corner.

Blake: That’s the fill to our theme music.

Karen: With a dunce cap.

Ben: Tinfoil dunce cap.

Blake: That’s quite a picture.

Ben: That should be our new logo. We can have Daniel draw us that. It would be great.

Karen: Crazy!

Blake: Yeah, um, anyway, where were we. Uh, so I wanted to talk about ghost investigations. But also, specifically—I mean, I think we’re going to have a few shows on ghost investigations. Our monster investigations. And I wanted to talk about, start out with historical investigations because it’s the kind I’m most able to do.

Karen: Me too.

Blake: It’s because, you know, doing active investigations with a lot of field work is time consuming and you have to have the free time and ability to coordinate with the witnesses and the people who are having the experiences, um, but a lot of skeptics who might be able to do some of these historical investigations may not realize that this whole opportunity is out there for them to find the case that they’re interested in and look into it. So I thought maybe if we talked a bit about some of the ones we’ve worked on, we can talk about how to do such an investigation, and some of the cases we’ve done.

Karen: I think their good ones for armchair skeptics, aren’t they?

Blake: They are because, you know, I mean, you don’t have to be in an armchair, you can be in a library chair!

[everyone chuckles]

Blake: That’s true!

Karen: Yeah.

Blake: I think we lost Ben.

Ben: No no. I’m, I’m, I’m, I’m listening. I’m waiting for something intelligible to respond to.

Karen: Oh!

Blake: He’s crafting a foil dunce cap.

Karen: See ya, Ben!

[Blake and Karen laugh]

Karen: But I think all investigations to some extent have to involve historical research. I think that’s sort of a fundamental prior step.

Blake: Yeah. I think that’s probably true to some extent for both the skeptical investigators and the um non-skeptical investigators. I get the impression sometimes that um, what people, well I shouldn’t make allegations, but it seems like some of the so-called psychics may have been doing some very rudimentary investigations from a historical perspective before they walk on scene.

Karen: That’s a hot reading.

Blake: It sure is.

Ben: Yeah, I, come across that a lot where there will, you know, be an investigation by some uh, so called ghost hunter group or a paranormal investigator and they’ll trot in some friend of their who had claims that they communicate with ghosts and as you said, sometimes they’ve already done previous research on it or other times they’re, they may live locally. Uh, they don’t necessarily bring in psychic mediums from across the country. It may be someone who’s regional. And in that case, it’s very likely that they may have grown up, you know, hearing stories about who was supposed to live there, some of the phenomena there.

Karen: It reminds me of that Bridey Murphy case. Despite picking up these things by osmosis. Living somewhere and hearing these stories from people in the town.

Ben: Exactly. The reincarnation case.

Blake: I was going to say… For those who don’t know the Bridey Murphy case, that’s probably one of the most famous, uh, previous lives case, right?

Ben: Mm-hmm.

Blake: Excellent.

Karen: I think so.

Blake: Yeah. Yeah. Not to be confused with, who is it? Audie Murphy?

Ben: Yeah, that was the gay cowboy from the thirties.

Blake: Noooo! The most decorated war hero from world war two.

Ben: Ohhh! My bad.

Karen: Easily confused.

Blake: You’re thinking of Audrey Hepburn.

Ben: Ohhhkay.

Blake: Wow. Um.

Ben: Why don’t we start out by each of us, I mean, each of us has some good investigations under our belt. Why don’t each of us pick one of our historical ghost investigations and give us a little intro on that.

Blake: Yeah, actually, Karen, I was just looking at yours on the Waverly Asylum.

Karen: Sanatorium.

Blake: Sanatorium. Ah, right. Exactly. In real life, right? [laughs]

Karen: But that’s interesting that you should say asylum. I mean, it’s a bit of an asylum of ghost hunters nowadays. But uh, for a period it was a home for the elderly. Some called it a geriatrics hospital. Um, I think it was called Woodhaven. And that was a period of maybe about I think 10 years or, ah, 20 years. But before that it was a sanatorium for people suffering tuberculosis.

Ben: And where was that?

Karen: It’s in Louisville [spoken with a humorous drawl] Kentucky. I’ve been criticized. The article that I wrote is on Bad Language at the moment, just on the homepage. I’ve left it up there because I did an interview recently and had to speak about this, so I wanted people to be able to go back and, uh, look at what I’ve written. And, ah, I had a number of believers who sort of set upon me and criticized me because, not for the article itself, but just for the introduction where I talk about how difficult it is to find the premises themselves. So this is going back some years ago. Maybe about five years ago that I did this investigation and, ah, it was at a time where it wasn’t—The directions were not advertised online so it was hard to find where this place was. It was more word of mouth and that it had been on shows like TAPS. So really the owners were trying to keep it under wraps because they had so many incidents of people who were trespassing and breaking into the premises. So um, it’s just off the Dixie Highway near a place called Bobby Nichols golf course. And, uh, anyway, it was a sanatorium for people with tuberculosis. And the biggest claim is that there were sixty three thousand deaths that took place there. So there were almost fifty years of operation, but as I said, for part of that time, uh, it was a hospital for elderly people. The rest of the time it was a sanatorium. So that’s quite a claim, sixty three thousand deaths. I went there. I did one of their tours. They’ve got overnight ghost tours. They’ve got history tours. So I did one of the history slash ghost tours and they’ve got a so-called historian. And he was repeating that claim as fact and he also stated that between one to three people died every hour. So they were having a minimum of about twenty four deaths per day.

Ben: So the black plague or something.

Karen: It is sounding like that and I mean…

Ben: World war two.

Karen: There are a number of movies and books about this particular place and uh, if you really follow what they say, uh, then the place is just a building of horrors. And that there’s a place that an area that they used, they call it the body chute, but it was actually used for laundry and just for carrying things on the premises in general, but people claim that so many people died there that they were moving them through this chute and it was a full time job in and of itself in there. Just moving these corpses down this shaft. So, um, I was in contact with the historian and his name escapes me. A true historian who had a relative who died there so he’s wanting to put together some facts about Waverly Hills. And ah, so he really takes umbrage at the claim that there were sixty three thousand deaths. And, see, there’s another factor involved. There was a fire, of course, in which a lot of the records of the hospital were destroyed, so it is difficult to calculate how many deaths took place. But this fellow ah, read an autobiography by one of the doctors who had been on site there and the figure that he arrived at was a great deal lower. It’s about seven and a half thousand people who apparently died there during the fifty years of operation. So that’s a great deal smaller than sixty three thousand. Dr. Frank Stewart, in his autobiography, states instead that I think there were a maximum of about a hundred and fifty deaths per annum. That was the highest figure anyway and that was with the return of World War Two victims. So you can see that the figure seven and a half thousand and it could potentially be a little bit higher or a little bit lower, that is just an estimate, but based on the autobiography of this doctor who worked for, I think about a decade, ah, and claims that the highest figure was a hundred and fifty two people who died in one year and that was really taking into consideration people coming back from world war two where you can imagine, under their circumstances they would have been picking up all sorts of illnesses and bringing them back into the country so that would have been a worst case scenario…

Ben: It would be surprising if there weren’t more during that time. It would be surprising if there weren’t more, um, if you didn’t see a higher per annum during that time anyway.

Karen: Exactly so potentially we could be looking at a lot fewer deaths than that if that’s the highest figure. But there are many other claims, ah, of the place as well that there were lots of cruel and brutal treatments that took place and some of those, ah, were supposedly administered to people when it was an elderly, a hospital for the elderly. People claim that electric convulsive therapy was very common there, but I don’t see that that would necessarily have been the case if it was a hospital for elderly people. Then having ECT is not really, it’s not like it was a hospital, a psychiatric hospital of any kind.

Ben: Right.

Karen: And certainly in those days too, uh, they for a number of years up until the forties they didn’t have antibiotics which we use for tuberculosis and so they had a number of treatments which by today’s standards would be considered to be very painful and just very basic. And so they weren’t of much use. I think they use to—and I’ve mentioned some of them in the article—but I think they used to try and inflate the lungs or to also pump to the lungs and deflate them so they could take out lesions so some of these treatments were pretty rough going and didn’t work so people were in continued pain and most conditions were, when they would get into that extent would be terminal so I guess they were really scraping the bottom of the barrel for their treatments and doing whatever it was they could as a last ditch attempt for some people who were clearly dying of tuberculosis. So there were also claims that one of the rooms was a slaughterhouse. Um.

Ben: Because don’t all hospitals have a slaughterhouse on the premises?

Karen: [Laughs] Exactly! Yeah, yeah, so you can just butcher animals for the kitchen there.

Ben: There you go.

Karen: And, but this room was, uh, alternatively use as an autopsy room, so not only, I guess they—talk about multitasking—not only would they perform autopsies on patients who died but then they would bring in a sheep and kill it for dinner.

Blake: But what about ghosts? So, when do ghost stories start?

Karen: The ghost stories. Ah, there were plenty of ghosts. There are shadow people, and there’s the ghost of little Timmy who moves balls, so… [laughs]

Ben: Little Timmy’s balls. Tell us about little Timmy’s balls.

Karen: He has red balls, big red balls, and… Basically…

Ben: Did you see these, or you just took this on someone’s word?

Karen: I saw the balls. [laughs]

Blake: You saw [unclear speech]

Ben: You saw little Timmy’s balls. Are you getting this, Blake?

Blake: This is being recorded.

[Everyone chuckles]

Karen: So people bring along their own balls for Timmy. [laughs]

Blake: So people bring their balls, so Timmy, like, when you go visit, Timmy will play with your balls?

Ben: Did you bring your balls, Karen?

Karen: I didn’t have any but there were balls there so I availed myself of those.

Ben: So you played with someone else’s balls.

Karen: That’s right [laughing]

Blake: Okay, great.

Ben: Awesome.

Blake: Yeah.

Karen: So, yeah. There were red balls everywhere and people bring them in because Timmy apparently moves them, so it’s not a breeze, it’s not the wind or anything like that. It’s Timmy’s ghost.

Blake: Now, when you say ball…

Ben: [interrupting] Diameter…

Karen: Inflatable… Inflatable balls.

Blake: Inflatable balls, right.

Ben: Not, like, marbles.

Karen: Um, Medicine balls, whatever balls you’ve got hanging around. Usually the kind I guess you’d get in, uh, Target or something like that, so just bouncy balls.

Blake: Yeah.

Ben: Would there…

Karen: The kind a little kid could play with.

Ben: Were there, like, videotaped images of this where you could actually see the balls moving independently on their own or what was the quality of evidence for these?

Karen: Well, I think TAPS had some footage, but that doesn’t mean anything at all. Other than that, it’s all anecdotal so it’s what people claim that they see, and just about everyone who goes there is a believer. I mean, they’re wanting to turn the place into a haunted hotel. So it’s another one of these ‘most haunted’ places in America, like everywhere else. And so they’re really wanting to find the capital so they can turn this place into a hotel and they’re leveraging the stories there. So there’s also an apparition of a female who’s shackled and covered in incisions and screams “Help me”. Um, so I think that stems from the whole idea of there being an abattoir or a slaughterhouse there as well. And probably the most famous story would be that of the, uh, the nurse of room 502. Here’s a bit of intrigue, so I’ll read this from the article. I’ve got it in front of me. The most common version of this stories tells of an unmarried nurse who had an affair with a married doctor. In 1935 or 1925 or 1930. So “she became pregnant and her grisly solution was to abort herself and flush the fetus down the commode.” That’s a quote. “In her shame she hanged herself from the rafters of 502 wearing a long white nurses gown. Covered in blood, she now haunts this room along with a ghostly companion.”

Blake: You know, just if she was going to kill herself anyway, why bother with the abortion.

Karen: That’s a really good point!

Blake: I just thought it seemed… [laughing]

Ben: Blake, if you’re going to inject logic into this, this is going to be a very short conversation.

Blake: Alright. Sorry.

Karen: Ah, so other than that, there’s another nurse who contracted tuberculosis. She jumped to her death from this fifth floor room. And there’s a fellow called Ralph who haunts the halls of the third floor. However, there aren’t any records that I know of. Just said that a lot of these records were damaged. But there’s, there are no historical records that claim that these people exist at all. Ah, so they just seem to be anecdotes.

Blake: They sound like urban legends.

Karen: Yeah. I think when it comes to stories of hospitals and sanatoriums you’ve always got haunted… ah, they’re always haunted by nurses and doctors, aren’t they?

Blake: Yeah, well just to clarify that. It’s the lack of specificity, um, that—I’m just saying why I think it sounds like urban legend. It’s not just because it’s a ghost story but because it’s kind of vague, the dates move around, people don’t agree on the general details, those are kind of like the hallmarks of a, uh…

Karen: Oh indeed. They’re very non-specific or if they are specific they’re conflicting.

Ben: What struck me when Karen was talking about the story was, she was describing the doctor in the white and it reminded me of Lady Macbeth and the whole gothic idea of a willing woman dressed in white covered in blood, or the story of La Herena here in New Mexico of a woman who drowned her children and was lamenting and wailing and whatnot, so that…

Blake: That’s the River Woman, right?

Ben: Yeah. Yeah. It fits in perfectly with the urban legend motifs.

Karen: Yeah, it does sound like a traditional story.

Ben: So, so, what was the reaction? You said that you’d gotten some flack or some static or whatever you call it in Australia. Uh, from some of the believers, but did they, did the people contact you, did they dispute your analysis or did they just sort of nitpick at a couple things and bitch like that.

Karen: Oh, look. I don’t think that they read beyond the first paragraph. They were really, I guess, trying to chip away at my research by, um, treating just the first few lines where I say it was a difficult place to find, but as I said, this was written five years ago so the information was just very Spartan then. Nowadays it’s really turned into a big tourist industry for this particular place. And so there, really, it’s just a non-issue for them to treat.

Ben: Well, really, Karen. You should, no, seriously, I mean, I don’t mean to, you know, criticize a fellow investigator, but you should have known that five years later it was going to be easy to find, I mean. Come on. You know.

Karen: Well, I guess I… I have…

Ben: Obviously it invalidates your entire investigation.

Karen: That’s the way that they perceive it yeah, so I guess I need to just go in there and edit that section out because…

Blake: [laughs heartily]

Ben: Clearly they’ll settle on that.

Karen: Then the rest of it is factual.

Blake: Well, so how did you pick this case to investigate.

Karen: Well, huh. I happened to be in St. Louis, Missouri for a conference and it was only 200 miles away. This was a real flavor of the month with TAPS and, um, all of the various ghost hunting TV shows at the time. And it was just too close, I mean, I’m living in California and it’s a great distance from there. Being in St. Louis it was close enough and I just had to make the trip for the weekend, uh, to go and check it out. A lot of interesting doings at the place. Before it was sold to the current couple, uh, Tina and Charles Mattingly it was going to be turned into a big, oh, they were going to place a large Jesus Christ statue on the building. I think Christ the Redeemer Foundation was interested and they purchased the estate and wanted to build a statue like the one in Rio de Janeiro. Which was a strange thing and I think they didn’t get the funding for that and they didn’t get the support from the local counsel. So they lost out money and the place just really fell prey to trespassers and vandals. And I think it’s from that that the haunted reputation arose.

Ben: For Waverley, were you one of the first… It’s my understanding that you were one of the first, if not the first real skeptical investigator to do anything there. Had there been other before that had done stuff before you, or were you the first in?

Karen: This fellow’s got a an excellent website where he’s really trying to compile historical research about Waverley Hills, so he’s, as I said for personal reasons he has a personal investment in that so I would say, I would call him the first skeptic even though he may not call himself a skeptic. The first person to undertake critical thinking when it comes to a lot of the claims.

Blake: So looking back at the methodologies that you used for investigating historical cases, I wanted to talk about some of those. We talked about how you picked this case. You picked this case because it was already prominent at the time and…

Karen: Yes.

Blake: You had the opportunity to be in that area, which is, you know, that’s opportunity attack, right, so… Um, sometimes you know, and I think you need to have some sort of interest in the case in order to really do a good investigation because these are not easy. It’s a lot of work.

Karen: I guess I’m interested in alternative medicine and just medicine in general so this appealed to me. As a case for a lot of the treatments that people did undergo there, I was interested in that too.

Blake: So, I think one of the things we have to do as investigators is write down what phenomena are being report and then who are the witness or were there any witnesses, and kind of figure out what evidence there is to support the claims. And so this particular case you heard lots of stories, but aside from some TAPS video did you see any evidence that anything was really going on?

Karen: Uh, I think the evidence basically involves EVP. So the collection of electronic voice phenomena and this would by and large be collected from people who have attended the ghost tours, so they go in there specifically looking for evidence. Uh, and other than that it’s primarily anecdotal. Uh, I spoke with staff there, I spoke with their historian. I did a lot of research online. I checked out books as well and statistics in general that I could find. And that was the best evidence that I could come up with. I mean we’re talking EVPs and just a couple of photographs of the ball having moved. That’s about it. So nothing captured red-handed. And the Quality of the EVPs are, I’ve got some of them on here, in my article. And they’re messages like, one of them is, “Oh my lord”. And another one is “gotta get outta here, Bo”. So they’re quite meaningless. Other than that also some blurry images of orbs. And just anecdotal evidence.

Ben: Nothing like Timmy saying “Quit playing with my balls”, or?

Blake: [laughs]

Ben: That’s what I would expect.

Karen: No, nothing that’s that good. They’ve also had some, with that 6 hour Halloween haunting episode that was shown on television, they had viewers who would phone in and also claim that they’d seen things so, you’d have people just calling in and saying “Oh I saw a floating face in the background” so that was all counted as evidence.

Blake: So the EVPs, did they sound like they were noise, or did they sound like maybe it was picking up other people talking, or…?

Karen: You have so many people that are going through there and I think they would account for a lot of these shadow people too; that we’re just dealing with other groups of people being given the tour. You’ve got concurrent tours, so I think from the EVPs that I’ve heard they seem to be background noise, humans—Really we’re not talking cross modulations or anything that complex. Just people being in the background and you’ve got people running around screaming. You’re bound to pick up background noise.

Blake: [laughs]

Karen: Gary Busey.

Blake: There you go. Did you happen to notice how many rooms were there? Like, how many beds they would have been able to house at one time?

Karen: Ah, I do have some more statistics online. I think they could hold up to about 400 people. Initially when it opened they had about 50, they could hold up to 50 patients.

Blake: Oh, I see right here, the city built it to treat up to 400 patients.

Karen: Yes. And it’s…

Blake: So…

Karen: There’s a photograph underneath too. The premises are absolutely enormous. It looks like an old expensive public school.

Blake: Yeah it does. It looks very gothic. So that would have effectively caused the entire population of the hospital to be wiped out 167 times to get the 63 thousand people.

Karen: And it just sounds very unrealistic.

Blake: Yeah, it really does. I don’t think I’d want to go to that hospital if that was the death rate. [laughs]

Karen: Exactly! [laughs]

Blake: Holy crap! Just leave me out in the street! [laughs]

Karen: [laughs] So it’s a very impressive figure but I was immediately skeptical when I heard about that.

Ben: Did you challenge anybody there it did you just sort of let it be?

Karen: I did challenge the historian a number of times. Uh, but he was woeful and couldn’t really talk beyond what, beyond a couple of stock phrases and things he was parroting so I don’t think he was a historian so much as a tour guide.

[Voiceover: MonsterTalk!]

Blake: Ben, what, tell me about the Kimo ghost case that you did.

Ben: The Kimo ghost. Well, that was a case that I did actually, it was published in the May/June issue, May/June 2009 issue of Skeptical Inquirer and it was a local case. When I grew up here in Albuquerque, New Mexico I had always heard of the Kimo Theatre and its supposed ghost as I was growing up. The Kimo Theatre, it’s an art deco style old time theatre. It was built in 1926 and it’s in downtown Albuquerque. It’s still used today for everything from burlesque shows to movies to plays and whatnot. But it’s always been, it’s a very distinctive looking theatre, again, partly because it’s sort of- basically the story always went that there was a young boy haunting the theatre. And a guy, I’ve never given it much thought one way or the other, and I lived in Buffalo working for Skeptical Inquirer. And when I moved back three years ago, I decided it was high time to do some ghost investigating in my backyard. And so I went and started looking into the haunted Kimo Theatre, which is one of the most, supposedly one of the most haunted theatres in the American southwest. You know, it’s just sort of, I guess if you look at other reputedly haunted places, you know certainly Texas, Arizona, Colorado. It’s one of the top ones, particularly if you’re talking about theatres. The story goes that even today when people put on plays and do performances at the Kimo, they will leave donuts for a ghost. This seems a little odd to me, I mean, bakery goods for ghosts was a little odd, but it turned out that, um, the story goes that if you didn’t give this sort of sacrifice for this little ghost, Little Bobby, the boy who’s supposed to haunt the theatre would ruin the play. He’s go out of his way to make sure everything went wrong. Allegedly to this very day, anytime anybody in the cast and crew goes in there, they actually have a shrine in the back of the theatre. There’s a small little place about half the size of a closet with all sorts of trinkets that there’s no donuts there now. They’ve removed them for health reasons. But there’s all sorts of things, ranging from, um, just, you know, theatre slippers, and photographs and trinkets, little toys and red balls, far as I know.

Blake: Wait a minute. Like, they were, like, they were concerned the ghost was going to get high cholesterol?

Ben: Well, I think it was more a matter of the health inspector didn’t want the ants, roaches and other [unclear word] nasties coming to…

Blake: [laughs] Gotcha.

Ben: I think the idea was that if the ghost isn’t going to eat these things, and apparently he wasn’t, that more mundane creatures would.

Blake: Makes sense.

Ben: Yeah.

Karen: I was going to ask you about that. Did he actually eat them, like Santa Claus or something?

Ben: Well, apparently not. The story, depending on which story you look at, apparently there are reports, and by reports I mean, a guy wrote something on a blog one time, that at one point when donuts were left out for Bobby, there would be small child-sized bite marks on the donut. Now, what does a child-sized bite mark look like? Couldn’t an adult’s nibble look exactly like a child-sized bite mark? I mean, come on. Um, but that was the story…

Karen: I’m sure a dentist could check some dental records or something.

Ben: Yeah! Do some forensic odontology, absolutely. But what was going on was, every Halloween the local media would trot out this ghost story. Invariably, one of the local TV stations and/or one of the Albuquerque or one of the alternative newspapers, every single year would have, “And as we all know, The Kimo is haunted by Little Bobby, blah blah blah.” And so this recurring thing, and yet, other than a couple of local ghost hunting groups, and I’ll talk more about them later, nobody had really done any investigation into it. So the story goes that, and this is where the story got interesting, was that there actually was a, as with many cases, there actually was a death there. And what had happened was that there was a young boy named Bobby Darnell and he was killed in an explosion on August 2, 1951. There was a boiler explosion in the lobby of the theatre and Bobby and a couple of his friends and a couple of theatre goers were there to see a Abbott and Costello film. A siren in one of the films scared little Bobby and he ran into the lobby at just the wrong time and that was when a water boiler exploded into the lobby killing little Bobby Darnell and injuring several other people. You know, this is, this certainly really happened. You can find it in the August 1952 Albuquerque Journal. And so there’s pictures of Darnell and all that. But the story goes that years later, the story goes that years later there was a supernaturally ruined performance at the Kimo that was attributed to little Bobby and that’s sort of where the story behind the leaving the donuts came from. Um, it, what happened was that there was a performance of A Christmas Carol. What happened was that the uh, and this story is repeated by Dennis Potter, the current technical director who was there at the time tells this story again in multiple iterations on TV and in newspapers and on websites. He talks about how this group came there and they were doing a performance of A Christmas Carol. The director of the play saw these donuts that had been left out for Bobby and he said “what are these donuts doing here? This is ridiculous. We’re doing a play set in, heh, set in a depression, you’ve got donuts in the back of my set. Take ‘em down.” And of course everyone said, [in a scared voice] “Noooo! Don’t take the donuts doooown!” Right, so this big production is, you know, that the typical, you know “No you’ll scare the ghost.” And the guy was like “I don’t believe in ghosts. Just take the damn donuts down.” So sure enough they took the donuts down, very reluctantly, and that led, allegedly, to what certainly was claimed to be one of the highest profile poltergeist cases in history. Um, allegedly, um, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. There were actors who forgot their lines. Actors tripped over each other. Parts of the scenery flew up in the air unbidden. Um, the lights exploded, just basically, anything that could go wrong did go wrong in front of hundreds of people in the audience and certainly the entire cast and crew. So this…

Karen: Were all of these actors, sorry to interrupt, but were all of these actors aware that these donuts had been taken away?

Ben: Well see, there’s there’s the interesting question. Yes, apparently so. Again, you have to remember that everyone was making a big deal about how the director, a guy named Andrew Shea, was not supposed to take the donuts down. The cast and crew were apparently nervous about invoking little Bobby’s wrath. A little 6 year old boy. Um, for that. And so, and so this of course intrigued me, because if true, and let me emphasize ‘if true’, then, uh, again this would be one of the highest profile documented poltergeist cases in history. Hundreds of people seeing presumably paranormal activity. You know, I was of course skeptical about it, but I wanted to look into it. And at first I thought it was just an urban legend. I kind of, my first inclination was that somebody had just, you know, made up something or whatever else and that there was really no truth behind it, but in fact, I found out that there in fact was a performance of A Christmas Carol. And there’s some question about when it occurred. Some people said it was in the seventies. Other people said it was in the fifties. And some people thought it was in the eighties. And so, that’s sort of where I came into the case after doing some historical research on it, I realized that the version that appeared in both the accounts could not be true. Because that was set in 1974 and the reason that couldn’t be true was because in 1974 the Kimo Theatre did not have, on Christmas Day in 1974, the Kimo Theatre did not have a production of A Christmas Carol. In fact it was a porn theatre. And they were actually a showing a film called ‘Teenage Fantasies’. Uh, the subtitle was ‘If throat made you tingle, this will make you twitch.”

Blake: But the donut ghost people glazed over that.

Karen: [laughs]

Ben: They DID glaze over that, yes. Like a glazed donut. It was curious, so…

Karen: So it was a very traumatic experience for Little Bobby.

Ben: Well, uh, yeah…

Blake: [imitating Bobby] “This is the worst Christmas Carol ever!”

Ben: [imitating Bobby] “This sucks, man! What are those people doing?!” So that was, my concern was that I figured that if Little Bobby was in fact disturbed by something it was probably the bad seventies porn instead of the lack of donuts.

Karen: [laughs] They’re always little, aren’t they? Little Timmy, and Little Bobby.

Ben: Yes! Yes! Poor little Timmy, little Jimmy, Little Bobby. So essentially that was the first step, establishing, uh, establishing the particulars. When did this happen? This, this massive ruined, supernaturally ruined play. And establishing the day was of course the first step. I quickly realized that the most common version of the story could not be true because, again, it was a porn theatre in ‘74. When I contacted Dennis Potter who, again, was the technical director at the Kimo Theatre and is still there to this day and was there that night. And he said, “no no no, it wasn’t in ‘74. It happened much later in the eighties.” Though he oddly enough didn’t remember the date, or even the year. I found that kind of odd. I think that if I had witnessed a supernaturally ruined performance I might remember roughly what year it was. But in any event, his memory was a bit fuzzy. But again, he was one of the main sources of the story, so I, as I dug more and more into it, I kept looking for, um, for, you know, other eye witnesses. I mean if this happened, and then again, you have to understand. This ruined performance of The Christmas Carol is the crux of the case. Um, that is the Case Zero essentially. That’s where all this stems from. The night that the donuts down and Bobby had his revenge. Everything really hinges on this, and so presumably there would be dozens or hundreds of witnesses to this and I was eager to talk to them. And I began, of course, with Dennis Potter, who again, was there that night. Uh, I expected him to sort of say, ‘no we all made it up.’ And he said, “No, I was there that night and that’s what happened.” So that sort of put an interesting turn on it because I had a first person eye witness account of poltergeist activity who would, you know, he was there that night and that’s where he works. That’s what he does. And he swore up and down. He said, “I know for a fact this happened. I saw it.” He said, “I saw the actors tripping on things. I saw pieces of scenery flying across the stage. I saw the lights exploding. I saw these things.”

Karen: So it wasn’t recorded at all?

Ben: No, it wasn’t recorded, um, which in and of itself isn’t necessarily a given [bad edit cut] Christmas play in a theatre. Right, I mean of course that would have been excellent, but of course it wasn’t so I interviewed Mr. Potter at length. Got all his information. I said, ok, let me talk to other people. So I tracked down several other people who were involved in the play. I tracked down the director of the play, Andrew Shea, who’s now in Texas. I also talked to, among other people, the man who played Bob Cratchet in the play. A guy named, uh, Schwartz, Steve Schwartz. I tracked him down and I said, “What can you tell me about this night that Bobby ruined your play?” And he said, uh, “Well it went great. It was a wonderful performance.” That’s a direct quote. I said, “Ok, I may be misinformed here, but I understand that everything went wrong.” He says, “No. I don’t know what Dennis is talking about. I was there that night, I was in the play. Nothing bad happened. It went fine.”

Blake: Yet, all the people in the audience reported having seen three ghosts!

Ben: Spookily enough. So, Okay. I recorded the conversation, I took notes and everything. I tracked down Andrew Shea who directed the play and I… It’s possible that two different people remember things differently. It’s entirely possible that, in fact, the play, you know, weird things happened, and you know, the actor in the play just didn’t remember. So I needed to have at least a third source if not more. So for a third opinion of what happened that night, I contacted the director, Andrew Shea. Uh, and he said the same thing. He said, quote, “There were no events during my eight years there that didn’t have mundane explanations. I don’t remember anything supernatural or out of the ordinary happening.” He says, “I don’t remember it being a disaster in any way.”

Karen: So things might have happened over the course of time that everything had a natural explanation.

Ben: Yeah. Well, I mean, he said that over eight years, he said nothing, he said, yeah, I mean people would lose their keys or… Yeah, and of course you have to under—you have to remember, um, as both of you do, but our listeners might not. Theatre folks are very superstitious, um, you know.

Karen: Oh yeah.

Ben: One of the first places that you’re going to find ghosts is in theatres. They, everything from not saying the names of certain Shakespeare plays to, you know, knocking on wood.

Karen: Breaking legs…

Ben: Exactly, breaking legs. This and that, so… Theatres are inherently prone to superstition anyway and when you layer on top of that the actual historical fact of, you know, there was a six year old boy named Bobby who did die in an explosion at that theatre. That’s certainly true. And so you sort of, you sort of see how this came about and what was fascinating to me was that in many ways, um, I tracked the story down to Dennis Potter. To one man. There are many places on the web and in magazine and books where you’ll see references to the Kimo Ghost and there are one or two people who say they saw something here or there. But the vast, vast majority of the story all comes down to Dennis Potter. They, it’s, just that everything comes from something he said, or quoted him, or whatever else. What was interesting was he, in my doing all these investigations it’s very rare for me to be able to track down, “where did this come from?” This came from Dennis Potter. That’s where this story came from. To be able to nail it down so specifically. And in addition to Andrew Shea and Mr. Schwartz, I talked to a couple of other people who were involved in it, and again, nobody else remembered that and I also went back and did archive research in the Albuquerque Journal and I looked up the reviews, in the journal and the Albuquerque Tribune. And the reviews said it was a great show! You would think that if, you know, a performance was so bizarrely and supernaturally ruined by a ghost or anything else, somebody might have mentioned it in the reviews the following day, but that wasn’t the case.

Blake: That’s a good example of looking at a parallel sources to find pieces of evidence to kind of answer the question. The idea of looking at the reviews, that’s not necessarily an obvious thing to go check, so good job.

Ben: Yeah, again, well thanks. It was one of those things where I wanted to insulate myself from the accusation that I’d only, “well you only talked to one or two of the other people.” Well, first of all, this play actually happened, I think we narrowed it down to ninety- I forget just off the top of my head. It’s like, actually, no it was actually like eight-six or eighty seven. It was fairly recently. I wanted to sort of have an objective third person, you know, account of this who was there that night. And in a way, I was kind of, I was happy that I had sort of gotten that far with it. I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to talk to dozens of people who could provide me with eyewitness accounts of paranormal activity. I was kind of looking forward to that, but uh, that didn’t seem to be the case with the Kimo Ghost.

Karen: So I guess the big question was why? What were his motives for starting this story or spreading these stories?

Ben: Well, that’s, you know, that’s of course, you know, the crux of it. I, you know, after talking to the director and the guy who played Bob Cratchet and the other people I, you know, I went back to Dennis Potter and I said [chuckles] “Mr. Potter, I don’t mean to cast aspersions on your recollections here, but apparently, you’re the only person that remembers this.” And he kind of looked at me and said, “You know, I know what I saw.” And which is of course a common refrain that we all hear, “Well, I know what I saw.”

Karen: Yes.

Ben: And I said, “Well, I, you know, what do I do with that?” And so you know there are a couple ways you can look at it. As an investigator my preference is to not cast aspersions on people’s motives. You know, there are plenty of liars and hoaxers out there, but there are many more who simply misunderstood or misremember something. And unless I have hard evidence that somebody is flat out hoaxing, um, I tend to attribute it to, you know, ordinary misremember and things like that. So, in the case of Dennis Potter, who again, remember… Every Halloween he’s on TV. [chuckles] Every Halloween he’s being quoted in the paper because he’s the guy that’s telling the story of the Kimo Ghost. I think there’s a couple things to it. The first one is that the Kimo Theater was getting some publicity from their resident ghost. I mean, I don’t want to, I don’t think that was the main thing. I think in many ways a lot of the people there were finding it really kind of a nuisance than anything else. But it’s certainly true that there was some incentive for Dennis to continue the story. But the other thing that was interesting to me was talking to him. And again, when I confronted him with the contradictory reports, he just sort of shrugged and said, “Well, you know, I don’t know why they’re saying that.” He was really interesting to me, coming from a background of psychology to see just how convinced he was that his recollection- I mean, he looked me in the eye, he swore to me. He said, “I saw this happen.” And my answer is, “I believe you, but it didn’t happen. The overwhelming evidence is that what you’re telling me simply did not happen.” And again, I don’t like to call anyone a liar or hoaxer. But it’s so, I really think that he simply misremembered what happened. I don’t know exactly where he got it. He did say something along the lines of, If these different things had happened over the course of a long time he wouldn’t have thought it was, you know, unusual. But because in his memory all these things happened in the same evening, to him that was, that was, you know conclusive evidence that there was something unusual going on. And so, I think what happens, I think he just compressed different unusual things. And maybe a light burst at a weird time. I mean, you know, take your pick. Any number of things that a person might attribute to an unusual presence, again, in the context of a theatre. So I think that’s where it came from. Um, and of course there were some local ghost hunters.

Karen: Perpetuating the ghost stories.

Blake: Yeah…

Ben: Yeah…

Karen: And getting some mileage out of them.

Ben: Yeah, well it was…

Blake: [unclear speech]

Ben: Right, well in fact it was, uh, [chuckles] it was bizarre. I, uh, I went and did… there was a group called New Mexico Paranormal Investigations. And they are a group of very typical, well meaning, somewhat less than skeptical and scientific investigators who had done investigations I’m sure we’re all familiar with and were probably virtually identical to what Karen saw at Waverley. Lots of orbs. Lots of EVPs. You know, lots of this and that. Um, and in their investigations, uh, and I’m using the scare quotes, because you can’t see them on the microphone, but I’m using the square quotes on ‘investigations’. They had taken pictures of orbs, they had just this and that and the other. And one of the things that they had, I think it’s been taken down, thankfully, but they had a photograph of an orb at the top of the stairs and it said, “Note the” in this photograph on the website, “The orb at the top of the stairs where Bobby died.” And of course the implication is that the orb is Bobby’s spirit because it’s being seen and photographed in the place where Bobby died. Well, no. Actually, if the ghost investigators had done a little more research they would have discovered that in the Albuquerque Journal in the coverage on August 2nd, 1951, they would see that in fact it states that Bobby did not even die at the theatre. Uh, when Bobby, Bobby actually died on his way to the hospital. And he was alive, he had a pulse when he left the theatre. So, not only did Bobby not die on the stairs where the ghost hunters found his alleged orb ghost, he didn’t even die at the theatre. It’s certainly true that he was fatally injured at the theatre. That’s true. But the Idea that, you know, “Bobby died here and we can still sense the spirit” simply isn’t true. If that’s true then Bobby’s haunting an ambulance somewhere, somewhere in a parking lot.

Karen: Exactly. Made up after the fact.

Ben: Yeah, and I see that, and another quick element to this was, yeah, and again this was something that we all encounter routinely, was that the vast majority of the stories about the Kimo Ghost were simply copies from one place to another. There was virtually no real investigation. Virtually nobody making any effort to determine if any of this is true. As far as I could tell, I was the first person to actually contact one of the crew of the Christmas Carol and ask them! I mean, this isn’t rocket science! It’s like, alright, this, everyone’s saying this happened. You say this happened. Let me talk to the director. The director this didn’t happen. Alright, well we have a problem here. But unfortunately all the ghost hunters, um, didn’t, they were so busy copying from each other, making stuff up, adding stuff to their websites, in fact, in the process of this, I actually, the head of the most prominent local ghost hunting groups plagiarizing vast amounts of the chapter on the Kimo Ghost from an earlier book. Which is, which is just word for word.

Blake: It’s not plagiarism. It’s ghost writing.

[Ben and Karen laugh]

Karen: Boo!

Ben: We need to put rim shots in this. Um, but it was just it was amazing to me and again, it just reinforced what I found over and over again, which is that you know, a lot of the people who claim to be ghost hunters and claim to be investigators, they do nothing of the sort. They, they just, they just read something on it, they cut and paste it and they call that their investigation. That’s, that was sort of interesting. Anyway, so just to wrap up. So basically that all came about, the guy that I caught plagiarizing this stuff on his website, and at the time I was doing the Kimo Ghost investigation, uh, they had said that, “Well you know, we’ve a done an investigation here and we think there may be evidence of ghosts.” Oddly enough, after I published my work in Skeptical Inquirer, I happened to visit their website and suddenly there’s a little note saying, “We’ve now decided the Kimo Theatre is not haunted.” No one-

Karen: That was their assessment.

Ben: By the way, right? No reference to my work. No reference to, you know, who showed that. It’s like, “Yeah, we, like, yeah, we’re not sure but we’re thinking it’s not haunted. We’ll move on to the next case.”

Karen: Very Impressive.

Ben: Yeah, actually it was funny because when I was doing the, interviewing the folks from New Mexico Paranormal Investigations group, I met with two of them actually, a brother and sister I believe. And I met with them in the early stages of the Kimo Ghost story. We set down in a cafe in Albuquerque. And we started out talking about the, talking rather disparagingly about some asshole skeptic who had researched that Santa Fe Courthouse ghost several years earlier. And about, “yeah well, I normally, yeah, we’ve done all these investigations and then, there’s some guy around here. He thinks he’s a, I dunno, he did something on some video in the Santa Fe Court—he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” And I gradually realized they were talking about me.

[everyone laughs]

Blake: Did it bug you?

Ben: No!

Blake: Ahhhh!

Ben: [laughs]

Karen: Ahh…

Ben: And so you know, it was just, I was like, “Interesting, tell me more.” “Oh yeah, he just doesn’t know what he’s doing. He calls himself a scientist, blah blah blah.” They’re just… It’s been remarkable and it was great and I’m like, “Um, ok, it’s interesting. Everybody makes mistakes. I’m just curious. What exactly did you find so wrong with his work? Did you? Was he wrong about something?” “Well, no he was basically right, but we just don’t like how he approached it.” Like, ok, my bad. Whatever.

Karen: Did you reveal your real identity?

Ben: Ah, I did, I didn’t at the time. I think they later on figured it out.

Blake: Nice!

Ben: That was [unclear]

Blake: Yeah, yeah, um…

Ben: In a nutshell, that’s the uh…

Blake: No no, you covered a lot of stuff like uh. And we talked about talking to witnesses and see if their stories match up, which in this case they don’t. And corroborative evidence and finding primary sources. The thing, the main thing that you talked about that I thought was really interesting for listeners: People who go do ghost investigations and break out the EMF equipment and don’t bother to do the historical side really are missing the point of, you know, trying to find out whether anything is going on at all.

Karen: Exactly.

Blake: What is it you talked about? Here at the Hyman’s Categorical Imperative? Ben, you want to talk about that?

Ben: Yeah, basically I mean that’s a dictum created by a CSI fellow Ray Hyman, which is a psychologist at the University of Oregon. He’s an amazing guy. And he’s done, all sort, he’s a psychologist and statistician and he does a lot of stuff, but, he came up with what’s called ‘Hyman’s Categorical Imperative’ which is sort of a fancy way of basically saying that before you try to explain something you should make sure there is something to explain. Before you start chasing your tail and trying to figure out, you know, how did this come about, the first question should be, did it come about? So invoking that, I didn’t, I could have begun my investigation in, of the Kimo Case, in many different ways. I could have asked to do an overnight vigil for whatever reason. I could have, you know, tried to, I could have hired some actors to recreate A Christmas Carol and try to figure out how parts of the scenery could have flown—you know, I could have, you know. You could do that, but, instead of going to all that, uh, first, you know, find out, did this really happen. And in this case, as you point out, it is a very good example of no. It didn’t happen. There’s really nothing to explain.

Blake: And also, you know, if, one of things you can look at is whether or not any piece of evidence would falsify the whole claim. Um, you know, for example in your Rose Hall case, to use the nutshell version, ultimately, that ghost is not even based on a real person.

Ben: Yeah, uh, I’ll give a quick rundown on the White Witch of Rose Hall. It’s a case in Montego Bay, Jamaica I investigated a couple years back. Basically, it’s a, this giant mansion. What’s called a great house that was used 150, 200 years ago. And it’s allegedly haunted by a woman named Annie Palmer. The White Witch of Rose Hall supposedly. And, um, and again, going back to Waverly, supposedly a place of horror and death and unspeakable cruelty.

Karen: It always is.

Ben: It always is! Right. It never happens when I’m there. Apparently there are all sorts of stories about, uh, Annie Palmer and this and that. And in fact, there was a book by H.G. Delisser, Herbert Delisser titled, “The White Witch of Rose Hall” upon which is a sort of bodice ripping novel that is set in the 1880’s or something, or a little later that was, that sort of told the fictional story of Annie Palmer, and her haunting Rose Hall but it was allegedly based on a real woman named Annie Palmer. All that is really exciting and interesting until you actually do some research, uh, and you realize that there was no Annie Palmer. So the people who go to Rose Hall and say that they’re communicating with Annie Palmer’s ghost and they’re photographing her spirit, they’re photographing a fictional character’s ghost. I mean, there’s nothing there. And I should add that the White Witch of Rose Hall is Chapter 13 in my upcoming book, Scientific Paranormal Investigations: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries due out later this year.

Blake: Cool.

Ben: And I understand there are a couple other people who contributed to that.

Blake: Excellent. I look forward to reading it.

Karen: They’re really cool.

Blake: [laughs]

Ben: Didn’t you guys, like, contribute something?

Blake: I believe…

Karen: Why yes!

Blake: I believe I did.

Ben: That is awesome! Why don’t you just take a second to say what you contributed?

Karen: Don’t do that to us! I can’t remember.

[everyone laughs]

Ben: I’ll give you a hint. Yours is on Waverly.

Karen: Oh! [laughs]

Ben: This is a great tie-in, Karen!

Blake: I think I contributed on, didn’t I do something on the basics of ghost photography?

Ben: Yes.

Blake: I believe I did. And that’s, you know, um. In fact a lot of my ghost photography information comes from my investigation of the Ghost of the Watertown Ship.

Ben: Yes! Tell us about that.

Blake: Well, I would like to tell you about that, but we’re running really short on time.

[Voiceover: MonsterTalk!]

Blake: Thanks for listening to MonsterTalk. That ends part one of our two part discussion of historical paranormal investigations. We’ll be back in a couple weeks to talk about my investigation of the SS Watertown ghosts. The write-up of which is currently in the UK April edition of Fortean Times magazines and which will be in the US May edition. We’ll also get much deeper into how to do your own scientific paranormal investigation and talk about Ben’s new book on the topic which will be out soon. As a reminder, MonsterTalk is produced with the wonderful help of Skeptic Magazine. Do you want to look smart but don’t have the money for an iPad? Get Skeptic Magazine! It’s cheaper, it’s bendy, and you can use it during landing and take-off. Want to read more from myself, Ben or Karen? Go to and you’ll find links to all the places we post. Thanks again for listening. MonsterTalk them music by Peach Stealing Monkeys. Intro music was Vampire Organ by Jeff Rosiana. Both used by permission.


Ben: So, does this, uh, microphone make me sound, uhhh, like uhhh, Barry White?

Blake: It makes you sound white.

Ben: Ohhhh! Zing!

Blake: Yes!

The views expressed on this program are not necessarily the views of the Skeptics Society or Skeptic magazine.

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