The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

October 30, 2010

Ottumwa Paranormal Society investigates ghost stories

OTTUMWA — You can, if you wish, see ghost hunting shows virtually every night on cable television.

The specifics vary, but they always involve a small handful of people wandering around an empty site with digital voice recorders, camcorders and machines that are supposed to measure electromagnetic fields. All of this is, in theory, supposed to provide evidence that the dead are still hanging around and have something to say.

Members of the Ottumwa Paranormal Society have mixed feelings about the shows. On one hand, they’re doing some of the same things, using some of the same tools. The idea of investigating ghost stories is a lot more familiar to people, so the question,  “You’re nuts, aren’t you?” comes up a lot less often.

But then there are the shows where every random speck of dust is proof — PROOF! — of ghosts. The overacting doesn’t help when you’re trying to be taken seriously.

The organization started last year, almost by accident. It wasn’t really intended to be the start of an investigative society, but rather a trip with friends to one of the most notorious locations in the state.

Like most Iowans, Sarah Stipp has heard of Villisca. It’s a small southwest Iowa town best known for the unsolved 1912 murders of eight people in a farmhouse. The house is now owned by Darwin and Martha Linn, who have returned it to something close to the way it looked in 1912 and welcome tourists and overnight guests.

“In about the end of December last year, I learned you could go to Villisca and stay in the ax murder house all night,” Stipp said. “We thought that was going to be just a creepy house because of what happened. No. There’s something there.”

Stipp’s stay in Villisca included Mary Clark and Brenda Beckford, who also joined the Ottumwa Paranormal Society. The society has started going to locations people say might be haunted and use cameras and recorders to see if anything happens. Reactions to the group run from skepticism to invitations.

“Some people think it’s neat,” Clark said.

“You get everything,” Beckford agreed. “People say, ‘Do you really believe in that stuff?’ Others say, ‘You need to come to my house.”’

None of the members are hardened skeptics. But neither do they say they’ll take stories at face value. They want evidence. And it’s not always fun. Reviewing the recordings, both video and audio, takes a lot of time after the fact.

So far, the society has conducted five investigations. They have more locations they would like to go to, and they welcome suggestions through either their website at or on their Facebook page. While they’ve found odd things at each site thus far, they know that won’t always be the case.

“Yes, we want to find something,” Stipp said. “But not every place is haunted.”

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