You’ve seen the TV shows. You’ve heard stories. Maybe you’ve even had experiences of your own.
But did you know that, when it comes to paranormal investigating and hunting down Bigfoot, there are two groups right in our backyard that dedicate their extra time to not only doing these things, but lending credibility to the realm as a whole?
Pennsylvania Bigfoot Investigations and NEPA Paranormal are these people, those who have typical day jobs but spend whatever time they can researching and investigating unexplained phenomena right in this area.
Though the members of PBI have been doing actual investigations with other groups for quite some time now, this organization is very new, having formed in November of 2013. Bob Bucko, Jason Talmadge, Randy Tinsley, and Teri Starr are the quartet that make up the group, and if there’s one thing they’ve all got in common – besides their love of Bigfoot – it’s that they’ve all been interested in the hulking figure of lore for as long as they can remember.
“It didn’t take a first-hand experience or something like that to get us hooked,” Bucko said. “We’ve all always been believers and were interested in learning more.”
“It’s just such a fascinating thing because here is this giant, ape-like creature still roaming our forests that is completely undiscovered,” Talmadge said of the Bigfoot appeal. “Regarding Bigfoot, Sasquatch, whatever you might call it, there’s a sense of Americana around it.”
It also helps that, according to Bucko and research he did on the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization website, Pennsylvania is 10th in the nation for Bigfoot sightings.
“When you have all these reports coming in, not just from here but from the West where there are thousands…how could it not be true? Are all these people in all these places making it up?”
The group has also had their share of experiences while on Bigfoot hunts, the one with the most solid evidence happening in Sullivan County with a group Bucko and Talmadge were formerly a part of, when they issued a vocal call for the Sasquatch – not only did it answer back, it was caught on film.
Unlike PBI, members of NEPA Paranormal, which was formed in 2007, weren’t all always hooked on the paranormal from the start.
Dave Conklin is one such guy, who called himself a skeptic until 2006.
“My first experience was when my grandmother passed away,” he said. “I was sleeping, woke up in the middle of the night, and heard, ‘Goodbye, David.’ I thought I was dreaming, so I went back to sleep, then got a call later that morning telling me my grandmother had passed away.
“What really got me was when I was talking to a cousin later at the funeral, and she expressed a similar experience she had. Then she told me the time of death and I couldn’t believe it – it was the exact time I had heard the voice.”
Bob Christopher and his daughter Katie, who co-founded the organization, have always been believers. Katie said her father grew up in a very active home: the sounds of chains could be heard dragging on the floor, a wheelchair in the attic always ended up sitting at the top of the stairs despite being moved, and there was an incident in which all the crosses in the house were found missing one night – only to reappear seven years later in a pile on the dining room table.
Kelly Hughes never doubted the paranormal, having seen the ghost of her father standing over her newborn son one night, but she found even more confidence in it during her second investigation, when a spirit passed through her.
“It drained all my energy,” she said of the experience. “It was intense and I don’t remember any of it, but they did catch a part of it on film. The next thing I knew, my equipment was on the floor; I was sweating like a pig even though it was only 30 degrees where we were. They said I looked like one of those balloons whose arms flap around when I was trying to move.”
Mark Hromisin, known as the group’s audio guy, had a great first investigation at a tavern in eastern Pennsylvania where a noted gangster was said to have been killed on a flight of stairs.
“We were using a device that has a dictionary programmed in it, and if something is trying to communicate, words will come out of the device,” he said. “Well, first of all, Bob was shocked by it during that investigation; it sounded like a bee buzzing and then all of a sudden he yelled, ‘Holy s—t!’ That same device started repeating the same words in succession: ‘whacked,’ which is a mob term, and ‘stairs,’ which is where the guy had died.”
All members of both groups (Kim Shriner, Steve Shoemaker, Mike Merritt, Andrew Humphreys, and Kathy Christopher, Bob’s wife and Katie’s mom round out the paranormal crowd) could tell so many stories it would make your head spin, but what good are they without solid evidence to back them up? Thankfully, both groups are more than well-equipped to deal with whatever is thrown their way in order to gather proof, further showing just how serious a task both of these exploits are.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
PBI and NEPA Paranormal are similar in that they employ the use of handheld camcorders and voice recorders. However, PBI relies mostly on its eyes and intuition to deduce whether or not evidence is pro-Squatch or not.
“It’s a lot of just using your eyes, looking for things out of place,” Talmadge said. “Look for tracks, structures that could be nesting areas. Just being outdoors so much, we’ve all gained a sense of what’s out there and what certain things should sound and look like, so we know when something is out of the ordinary.”
The group has a particularly well-trained eye in the form of Tinsley, who is the team biologist and natural resources specialist that works for the United States Department of Agriculture.
There’s also the fact that each member knows the hallmarks of a Sasquatch inside and out due to extensive research. They can all speak on size (“Track marks of 15 to 18 inches long,” Talmadge said, “though you have to be sure to not confuse overlapping bear prints as Bigfoot tracks.”), living habits (“There have been sightings in the middle of the day as well as at night, so there’s really no set time for them,” Bucko said), and the intellect that Bigfoots seem to exhibit (“They will walk parallel to you when they know you’re there and kind of force you out of the woods that way,” Bucko, who had personal experience with such a maneuver, said).
Though NEPA Paranormal investigators also rely on their own keen senses, they do employ sophisticated equipment, some of which Bob has invented himself.
“His big piece right now is the HTO, or Haunted Trigger Object detector,” Katie said. “99.9 percent of cases, there’s a human spirit that’s attached to a person, place, or an object. We’ll use trigger objects to get a reaction. If we think there’s a child spirit, we’ll bring toys. If we’re in a prison, we’ll bring cigarettes. Before the HTO, there was really no way to document evidence with these objects besides them physically moving.”
The HTO hooks up to anything metal or can be used by placing an object on a metal tray. If something touches that object, the device will make a sound and light up.
Many who are familiar with the paranormal have heard the term EVP, or electronic voice phenomena. These are recordings that catch otherworldly conversations, and NEPA Paranormal does its a little differently: they listen to the recordings in real-time, as they are investigating, as opposed to going through footage after they’re home and all is said and done.
And for all the equipment that these two groups do use, there is one thing they arm themselves with that has proven true time and again, and helps lend credibility to who they are and what they do: logic.
NEPA Paranormal and PBI know full well that there are skeptics and critics out there – but that’s just part of the job.
“We value everyone’s opinion, whether they’re skeptics or not,” Bucko said, “and if they are, well, there’s not a lot you can say to people who don’t believe.”
Both groups can, however, and have, applied a term to their methods that they hope will give skeptics some pause when they start to doubt: scientific.
“We’re not looking at every little thing as, ‘Bigfoot this,’ ‘Bigfoot that,’” Bucko said. “We will try to explain things logically, but if that fails, then we know we’ve got something.”
“There are some people who, when they hear what you do, laugh at you and say, ‘Oh, you’re a Ghostbuster, walking around with a pack on your back!’” Hromisin said. “They think you’re wasting your time. But we are very scientific; we debunk, get to the bottom of whatever we find. We don’t think every little noise, tap, or voice is something.”
“One thing I learned very quickly is that credibility is almost impossible to obtain, and once you have it, you could lose it in the blink of an eye,” Katie added. “If you’re not pouring over your own evidence, own experiences, making sure they are what they are, one person can go in and tear that apart and your credibility is shot.
“Honestly, we are our own worst critics, because we have to be.”