By Benjamin

Do you tell stories in the light most favorable to yourself? There’s a good chance you do if there is any room for interpretation, and there is nothing that is unusual about that. Or if you are like me you do it not so much because it gives a different interpretation, but you do it because of the way you remember the story which may differ from another person’s recollection. Throughout most of my adult life, I have had jobs that required me to listen to the story of the subject. Two jobs that immediately come to mind include working in a state Office of the Public Defender as an investigator and researcher and working in a state Disability Determinations office. In the former, my primary source for truth was the criminal defendant, in the latter my source was a person applying for disability benefits.  One common statement I heard from people when I told them where I worked was, “I bet you get lied to all the time.” Surprisingly, I did not. I can safely say that I was seldom outright lied to by criminal defendants or by persons trying to obtain disability benefits. (Of course I was lied to on occasion.)

Criminal defendants were generally not dishonest with persons representing their interests because they knew that at the end of the day their attorney, and anyone else involved with their defense, had to know the actual truth. This is not the reason that every defendant avoids taking the witness stand. Although it certainly accounts for many, because they are not taking the stand on the advice of counsel, who often knows the truth. (Unfortunately many do not take the stand because they have been informed by counsel that certain prior convictions may come out on cross-examination and they feel will cause the jury to lean towards the prosecutor’s theory of the case.) Not dissimilarly, persons applying for disability generally do not lie about their conditions.  Often such persons believe that they are disabled when, in fact, they are not.

One thing both groups of people have in common is the same thing that officers taking the stand have, and that psychologists or doctors trying to prevent a person from obtaining disability benefits have–they tell stories in the light that most closely reflects their interests. Likewise, I have found that when people tell stories about paranormal activity they are experiencing, they usually believe what they are saying. Importantly, I will even state that many are even more honest because their motivation is to know the truth, and there is little they stand to gain by spinning a story even slightly.

One phrase often heard when people are talking about those with competing interests, who have conflicting stories, is that “there is his side, there is her side and there is the truth.” I have always felt ambivalent about that expression because, regardless of who says and believes that Planet Earth is flat, it is not. With that said, I do understand the sentiment behind it. While the goal of any investigation is to obtain objective truth, pure objectivity does not exist in the hard sciences (for all people have certain biases), much less in anything that involves one’s perspective or eyewitness. However, any paranormal investigator will occasionally encounter people who outright lie.

I am not referring to people who believe their own bogus stories for lack of a better term, because people who are not purposely lying often do that. I am referring strictly to people who knowingly and willingly tell lies. I am going to note various things to look for when this happens. I hope that no one who reads this will start looking for these signs, because people who are telling the truth often do many of these things. Just consider all of the circumstances when your bogus detector goes off.

Occasionally, when people are outright lying, regardless of their motivation, about paranormal events, entities, or experiences, they will give textbook responses that are often over-the-top. Their story never changes, and at some level, it makes logical sense. The old expression that the “truth is stranger than fiction” is very apt when it comes to when a person is lying. Often the truth does not necessarily make sense, but lies do. How many times have you heard a story that is so absurd that you told yourself that it could not be made up? Often when a person is lying, they have a story that has airtight “facts” that cannot be disproven, and there is nothing truly unique in the story. Health-care professionals are well aware that when someone is faking an illness, to obtain narcotic pain medications, disability benefits or whatever the motivation, they will report textbook symptoms that are often over-the-top.

In reality, every set of circumstances are different, and people will report unique symptoms to a health-care professional, and unique experiences regardless of their underlying diagnosis. For instance, I have hardware in my neck, and two of my vertebrae are fused. People who have had a similar surgery report various symptoms. I have some, but not all. I have never felt that my pain intensified when there is a cold front. However, many people who have this procedure do report more pain when it is cold. Often I have migraines, and I never had them before my neck surgery. I have heard few people report this side effect. Rest assured though, that if a person was seeking narcotic pain medication, they would report literally every symptom they have read on the internet.

I am writing this mainly because it reminds me of a call requesting a home investigation I got recently.

I received a call from a woman reporting multiple instances of paranormal activity. At first, given what she was describing, I did not dismiss her claims outright. Everything she reported was something that I had either heard of, read, or had seen (albeit not as dramatically as she described). While I took notes, she described Orbs, Shadow People, Night Hags, Imps, Residual Energy, bruises and scratches that came in sets of three (commonly called the trinity), knocks and described herself as a Sensitive. Interestingly, she was very careful not to use any buzzwords or terms commonly used in the paranormal community. She never used words like Shadow Person or trinity, but described each in almost textbook terms, as she did Imps, Night Hags, and herself as a Sensitive. The only term she used that was a slip up was when she said the word Orb.

As I typically do, I suspended my disbelief while speaking with her. She seemed educated and intelligent, and at face value, nothing indicated that she was outright lying. She mentioned that she was given the name of a priest who could assist her with the problem. While I did not think anything about it at the time, she mentioned that her house was for sale, and that she had lived in it for four years. More importantly, she stated that the paranormal activity had occurred since she had purchased the home. She also stated that more than one fire had occurred in the house.

I mentioned it to my fiancée, our team historian, and she found the story extremely odd. While discussing it with her, along with the rest of our team, several things occurred to us. The first question we all asked when I was relating the story to our team was “what isn’t happening?” The woman sounded as if she had watched every episode of every show shown on Destination America, which mainly features shows about the paranormal. The second was “why had she not contacted the priest, and why was she waiting until now?”

Being familiar with the town she lives in, at first I thought that she might be embarrassed to disclose the activity she was reporting. That was until I remembered that she said the house was for sale. My fiancée uses an app on her phone that gives the history of a house that a person might be concerned about if they believe that was haunted. She looked up the property and found nothing about fires.

We wondered what could possibly be the person’s motivation for making the story up, given the small town she lives in, and the fact that otherwise, she did not seem like an attention-seeker and seemed intelligent.

While we were brainstorming, I remembered a rather bizarre real estate case I read about in New York State: Stambovsky v. Ackley. In it, a house was purchased for $650,000 with a $32,500 down payment. The house had a reputation for haunted activity, and the buyer was unaware. As anyone who has ever sold a house knows that a seller is required to disclose anything that might make the house unmarketable. The buyer, Stambovsky, sued to obtain his down payment and have the contract voided, arguing that the seller should have disclosed the haunted activity. In a case that shocked many people, but nevertheless makes sense, the judgment was for the buyer under the reasoning that the house’s reputation as haunted might could easily make it unmarketable.

Our team realized that it was far-fetched, but that something related to real estate might be prompting the woman to want to have the house inspected by paranormal investigators, and as small as the town she lives in, is might give it the reputation as haunted. She contacted the woman for “clarification” purposes and asked several questions regarding the property, how long the woman had lived there, and whether the priest had been contacted. She turned the phone on speaker, and we quickly noticed that the woman’s answers were guarded. She was not guarded in terms of thinking about what she was saying because she wanted to give an accurate answer, or find her words which even honest people do. Importantly, it was in terms of doing everything she could to avoid using terms commonly used in the paranormal community and seemed to be trying to dumb herself down.

My fiancée accidentally laughed once, mildly skeptically, when she asked when she planned to contact the priest just after she asked why she wanted the house investigated now if she was moving out, given how long the activity had occurred.

I had an admittedly bizarre theory, that amazingly had some factual support: that the woman was trying to keep the house from being sold, as we doubted that the bank in the small town had included the reported paranormal activity. Next, my fianceé, who is great at researching anything, looked on a state database for houses that are in foreclosure. It was no surprise that it was. We then googled paranormal activity, real estate and disclosure. To our amusement, we found that a lot was written, not by paranormal writers, but by many lawyers that paranormal activity should be reported. It is our belief that the woman was creating tales about the house to stall her house from being sold, and subsequently avoiding eviction. We soon learned after doing just a few web searches, that this stunt is a “thing”, so to speak, to avoid foreclosure.

Not surprisingly the woman never called us back after sending multiple texts to me over several days about the house’s paranormal activity, that were not surprisingly increasingly dramatic, as she may have thought she had gained my trust, when in reality I had listened to her without judgment as I would anyone else, and could report activity that was even more concerning. Admittedly, this is not something people will encounter very often, but they may. In one of the few instances we have encountered, it was not unlikely outright fraud to avoid foreclosure. We wanted to be angry, but the story was so outlandish that we found her level of dedication to be humorous in a very dark way.