Bigfoot, UFOs and ghosts are us
It may not sound like a logical progression, but Chris Banks Jr.'s work at an automotive shop sparked his interest in ghosts.
"I got interested when I began hearing weird noises at work," he said. "Stuff would get moved around, and tools would be misplaced."
Brian Hamlet had a more personal connection with spirits.
"My friend's girlfriend had died in the house," he said. "One night we were sitting around and it just felt like someone was in the room with you. I got goosebumps all over my arms. It felt like she was there."
Both now are part of The Unexplained Investigators. Founded in 1997 by former Marion police officer Jeffrey Porter Sr., the Unexplained Investigators team delves into the paranormal, unexplained phenomena, Bigfoot research and UFOs. Except for Porter, the team members are Caldwell County natives living in Granite Falls. They try to help answer what they call "the five Ws" of investigations -- who, what, where, when and why -- and also the how. If, after an investigation, those can't be answered, it is deemed unexplainable, or unsolved.
Porter said the team's findings are a culmination of instrument readings, process of elimination and good old detective work.
"We're not scientific. But try and scientifically disprove our findings," Porter said from the team's Hickory headquarters.
Banks is the team's technical manager. The investigators are Banks' wife, Megan Banks, and Brian and Miranda Hamlet, and Kevin and Melissa Propst. Banks' sister, Regina Banks, is an investigator in training.
The team gets about 60 calls a year. On each investigation, the team takes a digital tape recorder, thermal imager, video cameras, a compass and digital thermometer. Other, more sophisticated instruments may be used, such as shadow sensors, an electromagnetic field pump, and a meter that detects fluctuations in electromagnetic fields. Sometime a spirit box, used to communicate with paranormal entities, is brought along.
Following the investigation, the team sits down and analyzes its data before consulting with the client.
"We try our best to rule everything out and present factual information," Porter said.
Most investigations are of reported paranormal happenings, but the team gets the occasional call to investigate a Bigfoot sighting, most recently Dec. 16, at a site called Wiseman's View off N.C. 105 in Burke County. The team sat down on Saturday to analyze video footage they collected. They observed what appeared to be two eyes off in the distance among the trees. Team members also reported hearing what sounded like a large bird taking flight, but did not see anything. It wasn't enough to draw any conclusions.
The team has also investigated claims at the Chapel of Rest, off N.C. 268 in the Patterson community. Footsteps, doors creaking, odd smells and bloodstains on the floor have been reported over the years. According to Porter, the claims were just that -- claims.
"We were able to debunk all of the claims," Porter said.
However, Porter said, Western North Carolina is a hotbed of paranormal activity, and the team's focus is local. The calls have increased over the years with the popularity of reality TV shows about ghost hunting.
"This year was heavier than in years past. We've had a larger number of requests than normal," Porter said. "With the TV shows, people are more willing to open up and say something."