By Janel Sheehan
Historic legends like those of the Black Dahlia, Lizzie Borden,
Bugsy Siegel, and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre have provoked
human intrigue on the subject of the unknown for decades.
Tales like these, surrounded by stories of supernatural activity
and ghostly folklore, have long been the focus of extensive
examinations by those in pursuit of mystical evidence.
With the increasing popularity of TV shows like the Sci-Fi
Channel’s “Ghost Hunters” and the Travel Channel’s “America’s Most
Haunted,” investigation of the paranormal is increasingly drawing
public interest and prompting the establishment of many related
groups and organizations.
Despite data deficiencies in this subject the field of anomalous
phenomena has made great advancements in its techniques and
methods, and is demonstrating growing recognition on television and
In February of 2006, Willy Adkins founded the Illinois Ghost
Hunters out of DeKalb, a group that has seen much growth since its
The IGH is associated with the nationwide organization - the
American Ghost Society - comprising of a more than 600 members.
Troy Taylor, founder of the AGS and author of many works on the
subject of paranormal investigation, works closely with the IGH and
will be leading several future expeditions.
“The American Ghost Society has kind of taken us under their
wing,” said Shoobie Woolbright, a field investigator for the IGH.
“We’re going to Tennessee to investigate the Bell Witch case.
Basically, it was this family who started experiencing phenomena …
they were being hurt by this entity, which is extremely rare … to the
point that we’re still talking about it – and this happened in the
1700s. It got to the point to where the entire town was experiencing
phenomena as well,” said Woolbright.
The case of the Bell Witch is one of the most infamous and well-
documented occurrences in paranormal history. The events are said
to have been witnessed by hundreds of individuals - among them
future president General Andrew Jackson – who townspeople allege
also experienced paranormal activity.
Also on the itinerary for the IGH is a trip to Philadelphia’s Eastern
State Penitentiary, one of the most expensive and well-known high-
security prisons ever constructed. Eastern State became the
standard for modern prisons in its architecture and methods of
solitary confinement during the Progressive era.
Some of America’s most famous prisoners were held in the
penitentiary, including the notorious Al Capone. According to the
legends, Capone was convinced he was haunted by James Clark -
one of the victims of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre - and was
frequently heard by other prisoners screaming to the spirit to leave
The penitentiary has been the subject of numerous
investigations on the “Ghost Hunters” TV show, and has long been
regarded as one the most haunted places in America. IGH intends to
investigate the 177 year old prison on an all-night ghost hunt in
The group conducts its hunts using a variety of high-tech
equipment to monitor physical changes in the environment. Each
investigator is outfitted with a camera, infrared thermometer,
flashlight, EMF detector and an EVP recorder. The electromagnetic
field detector (EMF) is used to measure electric or magnetic fields,
while the electronic voice phenomenon (EVP) recorder picks up on
audio sounds undetected by the human ear.
IGH has also inducted a variety of specialists into the group -
each of whom has expertise or experience in different areas useful to
investigations. The group is composed of two lead investigators, a
spiritual specialist (or sensitive), a technical manager, a
photographer, and a field investigator/interviewer. The group also
employs an auxiliary team to supplement the core group in the case
of an emergency.
“We’re starting our own affiliate program because we’re growing
very fast,” said Adkins.
Each member is responsible for the purchase of their own
equipment, as the group is funded out-of-pocket, and does not get
financial compensation for their research.
“We don’t accept donations,” Adkins says.
Along with being the founder of IGH, Adkins is the self-
proclaimed cynic of the group: “I’m the major skeptic … I’m a non-
believer. I debunk most every situation.”
Adkins’ experience as an electrical engineer often lends itself to
technical aspects of the hunts. He recounted an unusual
investigation in which he debunked supernatural activity in an
apartment building in DeKalb, where objects were moving on their
own. After thorough inspection, Adkins found that, “The amperage
for the gauge wire was way too high,” which was causing an arc
circuit, and in turn creating a magnetic field strong enough to put
inert objects into motion.
So far, the group has found no evidence proving paranormal
activity at any sites under examination, “Everything we have come
across we have debunked,” said Lead Investigator George
Hawrylenko became interested in the paranormal at 17, after
witnessing an apparition that he believed to be one of his deceased
“I’m a believer,” Hawrylenko asserted.
Woolbright acknowledges the group’s enthusiasm toward their
work – but stresses their data-driven approach: “I think we would all
like to encounter real phenomena … but we go in there to disprove
all of the evidence. Then whatever is left behind must be truth,” says
IGH has been offered the opportunity to have their investigations
broadcast by a public access channel in Fox Valley.
“They’re going to give us as many episodes as we have material
for,” said Woolbright.
The group also hopes to receive a national grant that will fund
an in-depth, ongoing investigation of Ouija boards, a popular
commercialized product used to seek spiritual communication via
“Whether the grant comes through or not, it’s probably
something that we are going to do … but it would be kinda nice to
have someone else picking up the tab,” said Hawrylenko.
IGH is interested in the subject of Ouija boards because as
Hawrylenko puts it, “Everybody does have a story, but as far as the
scientific aspect of it, [with regards to] documentation … there doesn’
t appear to be much out there.”
As well as using the standard equipment to monitor
environmental changes, the group hopes to observe the biological
responses of the individuals using the Ouija boards during the
Many scientists view such research on the supernatural as
unsubstantiated or invalid - as by definition - paranormal activity
exists only outside of scientific norms. Skeptics criticize these types
of investigations deeming it a pseudoscience, and pointing out that
not enough evidence of paranormal activity exists to form legitimate
However, many proponents argue that even though it is difficult
to ascertain conclusive data - because of lack of pre-existing theories
in the field - does not mean that supernatural occurrences are
Organizations like IGH hope to expand upon existing data
through their own research, and network with other paranormal
investigative groups to tap into the mysterious realm of the
~ Janel Sheehan (email)
Mr Willy Adkins