By Steven Ward
CLINTON — Brent Soileau and seven other investigators of paranormal happenings are preparing to go dark.
Soileau and his team are setting up infrared lighting, cameras, electronic speech devices, tape recorders, a huge television monitor and other technological equipment in an attempt to capture the sights and sounds of the dead.
The eight members of the Ghosts of Louisiana Paranormal Society are inside the Civil War-era Marston House in downtown Clinton on a cool and windy Saturday night in February.
The house, empty for years, smells of dampness.
Soileau, the group’s 44-year-old founder, looks like he is prepared for anything.
Standing in front of a broad, black suitcase opened on a dusty table, Soileau starts to set up one of his cameras.
Just to the side of the case is a blue, plastic Walmart bag.
The bag contains an unopened pack of batteries, a set of rosary beads and a small container of holy water.
Soileau also brought along a crucifix.
“Go around the house, inside and out, and get a feel for what’s going on or what might be going on,” Soileau tells the team members before the few lights in the old mansion are turned off.
Darkness is required to record spirits and apparitions or their vapor trails.
Everyone on the team has a role.
Scott Thomas, 49, and Liz Lynch, 42, have day jobs as special-effects experts in the film business.
In the Marston House, Thomas and Lynch sit close to the front of the television monitor screen and watch what the video cameras catch in each room.
Heather Lea, a 38-year-old Zachary police officer, heads straight for the ancient bank vault in the main room of the house and sorts through old pictures of the Marston family. The vault is pitch black. Everyone in the house has to use flashlights.
Brandy Hutton, a 29-year-old debt counselor, and 30-year-old Chad Waguespack, the group’s newest member, walk around the old house holding electromagnetic field monitors that give off audio signals when they detect energy fluctuations.
It’s Hutton’s birthday.
Linda Pigrenet is a Slaughter police officer. She sets up a camera in one of the first-floor rooms and closes the doors when the lights go out.
Once the lights are out, she addresses questions to thin air.
Pigrenet asks if any children have died in the house. She said a male voice uttered the word yes in response to her question.
Soileau, a city planner, walks around different parts of the house and spends a good chuck of the investigation in a room on the second floor filled with old furniture.
Thomas and Lynch say there is a lot of paranormal activity in that second-floor room, according to what they see on the monitor.
Occasional white circles or dots dash across the screen.
Soileau calls the circles orbs. He said orbs are similar to spirits.
“People can believe what they want, and people often cling to beliefs despite evidence to the contrary,” Soileau said after the investigation at the Marston House, when asked days later to respond to people who think there is no such thing as ghosts.
“None of us are crazy and we’re gathering evidence of our experiences,” Soileau said. “Any living person would be arrogant to say they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they know exactly what happens to human consciousness after death. We simply don’t know. We have to approach investigations with a large degree of skepticism.”
The Ghosts of Louisiana Paranormal Society has been around only since December.
But Soileau’s ghostbusting group is not alone in the Greater Baton Rouge area.
Louisiana Spirit Paranormal Investigations, a local branch of The Atlantic Paranormal Society which is featured on the SyFy Network reality show, “Ghost Hunters,” is based in the area.
Longtime East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Eddie Fagot has been a member of the southeastern chapter of Louisiana Spirit for three years.
“I started out a skeptic, but I’ve seen things too. With my children, as a dad, I wanted to protect them. And I can’t protect them against what I can’t see,” Fagot said while explaining how he first got involved.
“For me, it’s more than a hobby. It’s another chance to help people. I really enjoy it,” Fagot said.
Fagot recalled a Louisiana Spirit visit a year ago to the Old State Capitol in downtown Baton Rouge.
The building was empty and the lights were off.
Fagot heard a male voice sing, “You Are My Sunshine.”
Another time, in an old theater in St. John the Baptist Parish, Fagot heard a child giggle. It was 11 p.m. and no one was in the closed theater except a few adult investigators.
Married couple and former police officers Ken and Maria Allaire own a carpet cleaning business.
But on nights and weekends, the couple go out on investigations of the unknown as members of Everyday Paranormal of Louisiana, a local affiliate of the San Antonio-based Everyday Paranormal.
When Ken Allaire worked as a police detective in Odessa, Texas, he often was forwarded calls about “weird cases.”
“They used to be called X Files before there the TV show,” Allaire, 58, said.
Allaire said he will never forget when he was called to a family’s home in Texas to investigate a report of blood dripping from the ceiling of the house.
“We couldn’t figure it out. Nobody in the family was bleeding and there was nothing dead in the attic. The blood just fell on the couch. We didn’t see it drip but we saw the blood spots,” Allaire said.
While investigating an old part of the Jackson State Hospital in East Feliciana Parish, one of the investigators with the Allaires was scratched on the neck. Nobody could figure out who or what scratched him. A little later that night, the investigator got sick to his stomach and they had to stop filming.
Investigators such as Soileau, the Allaires and Fagot keep going out at night because they believe in things they can’t necessarily explain.
“Supernatural phenomena are simply things that science hasn’t found a way to finitely prove or disprove,” Soileau said.
“Until then, we will be out there collecting evidence and helping people.”