TV team uses technology to root out spirits at Ashmore Estates
ASHMORE — There are few occupations in which thunderstorms complete the ideal job site. Tornado chasers and Weather Channel field reporters come to mind.

So do ghost hunters.

And as the cloud-to-cloud lightning transforms the early morning sky over rural Coles County from a bottomless flat black to retina-searing strobes of white, while thunder emanates like bass from some cosmic subwoofer, the paranormal investigators and film crew that have invaded the area’s spookiest asylum smile excitedly, savoring the comfort of the familiar.

“We always seem to have” thunderstorms, said Philip Adrian Booth, who, with his twin brother, Christopher Saint Booth, makes documentaries about supposedly haunted places.

“It’s a rockin’ place to shoot a film.”

In fact, the only member of this ensemble not thrilled with the inclement weather is their soft-spoken gadget guy, a retired electrical engineer who scurries to put plastic tarps over cables leading to homemade high-powered lasers as rain begins to leak through the crumbling plaster on the ceiling.

It’s July 3 — barely — at Ashmore Estates east of Charleston, and the production crew from California-based Spooked Television Releasing has just wrapped up shooting of promotional footage for the Sci Fi Channel documentary, “Children of the Grave II.” Set for release next year, the film follows “Rock-n-roll Ghost Hunter” Keith Age and his fellow sleuths as they probe eerie confines like old boarding houses and deserted schools.

They’re at Ashmore Estates for an overnight shoot because of the one-time mental institution’s reputation for paranormal activity. Reportedly built near the site of a fatal schoolhouse fire, Ashmore Estates is now a tourist destination — especially in the fall, when owners Scott and Tanya Kelley and about 65 actors stage their annual “haunted house.”

But it’s also a draw for people looking for real ghosts — people like Juli Velazquez, president of the Illinois Chapter of the International Society of Paranormal Investigators. Based out of Chicago, she has already convened half-a-dozen classes at Ashmore Estates since the beginning of this year.

Of the six locales she visits, Velazquez said Ashmore Estates “is probably my favorite because of all the (paranormal) activity.”

On this night, she is part of Age’s roster of ghost hunters.

President of the Louisville (Ky.) Ghost Hunters Society and host of “Children of the Grave II,” Age said Ashmore Estates “is pretty interesting. We’ve had a few things happen.”

The production crew also enlisted the help of Rick Hays, who claims abilities as a psychic medium. “When I walked in I felt that this is my last home,” he said after arriving at Ashmore Estates. “The words ‘last home’ — this was a home for many … this was their last place before they moved on to a different place of their lives.”

According to Ashmore Estate’s Web site, more than 100 people died at the mansion when it served as the Coles County Poor Farm during the first half of the 20th century.

Rounding out the team’s key players is Bill Chapel, owner of the small company Digital Dowsing in Loveland, Colo. Now semi-retired, the former electrical engineer devotes much of his time to building equipment specifically designed for measuring and recording the paranormal.

On this hunt, Chapel has brought along several lasers that he’s arranged in a “convergence” pattern to detect entities in the upstairs hallway of Ashmore Estates. The green laser’s beam, in fact, emits at such a low frequency that prolonged exposure holds the potential for tissue damage, Chapel cautions.

“We’re trying to set up a grid so if something walks through it, you will be able to determine its shape (or) its shadow,” he said.

He also fabricated several devices that react to anomalies in the environment’s electromagnetic field. This equipment is connected to a computerized 2,000-word dictionary, and generates two-word responses to questions. If these answers are “contextual” — if they make sense under the circumstances — then the ghost hunters are led to believe that something other than their presence is affecting the EM field.

For example, Philip Booth said he asked the device a question and it replied, “Lady burn,” which he interpreted as a reference to the schoolhouse fire fatality that supposedly occurred near the location of Ashmore Estates in the late 19th century.

Surprisingly, Chapel appears to be the most skeptical member of this ghost-chasing cadre. “I don’t make a lot of claims about these devices,” he said. “I think people jump to conclusions too quickly.”

But this doesn’t mean he is close-minded on the subject of the supernatural. An avid poker player, he said the contextual responses to his EM tools alone defy the odds.

“I’ve seen enough to realize something really is going on but I’m not quick to jump out and say it’s a departed spirit,” Chapel said.

He also acknowledges that many of the two-word replies are nonsensical. For example, when asked, “Are you here?” the machine answers, “Slowly frigid.” “Descend Betty” is the response to “Is this real?”

“It would be a hard stretch to make that (contextual), but you will get people here who will do whatever it takes in their head to make it contextually correct,” Chapel said.

After setting up their equipment on the night of July 2, the crew records promotional and dramatic reenactment footage: Think fog machines, flashlights and spooky music.

Then they make their way upstairs to the laser grid, where they let the video cameras roll freely. And something happens, they say, although they’re not sure what. The Booth brothers and Age will evaluate the video and the data collected by Chapel later.

Age is also armed with a thermal camera, and he and Kelley venture into one of the more notorious rooms of Ashmore Estates. Kelley reports seeing shapes that resemble human heads and torsos — which show up on the thermal imager as colder, darker blues than the cold, dark blue of the room’s wall — appearing, moving around and then dissipating.

However, Kelley said the ghost hunters are holding off on certifying Ashmore Estates as truly haunted. “I can appreciate that,” he said.

The first “Children of the Grave” documentary still airs occasionally on the Sci Fi Channel, said Philip Booth. The sequel is slated to run sometime in the summer of 2009.

In addition to Ashmore Estates, “Children of the Grave II” also looks at “Death Alley” in Chicago, where in 1903 more than 600 people, including at least 200 children, perished after the famed Iroquois Theatre caught fire.

“We won’t come unless it’s got some serious credibility,” said Christopher Booth.

Kelley said the Spooked Television crew is the 15th investigative team to tackle Ashmore Estates during his 2 ½ years as co-owner. “Every group that has been here has said this place is active, definitely,” he said.

For more information, visit www.spookedtv.com



Ghost hunters gather for The Possessed

Ghost hunters gather 07/01/2008, 
By John Stewart jstewart@daily-journal.com 
Psychic Rick Hayes uses a laser grid system in an attempt to contact the ghost of Mary Roff at the historic Roff House in Watseka Monday night. The system allows paranormal entities, in 3-D form, to appear on camera by utilizing the full spectrum of ultraviolet light.

When Christopher Saint Booth, a Los Angeles-based television ghost hunter, arrived at Watseka's Roff house, he had an aura about him. He wore lots of big silver or chrome bracelets, a straw cowboy hat with a feather on its brim, a bandana, a khaki shirt opened to the waist, fashionable jeans and heavy black boots.
He smelled of sweet cologne, and it mixed with showmanship and a will to believe.
It was a heady mixture that attracted other ghost hunters from three states, including six members of the Momence-based International Society of Paranormal Investigators. They weren't there to see if the Roff house, the scene of an alleged well-known case of possession, was a bonafide ghost house. Several said it was. The reason they came there was that Booth and his brother, Philip, were filming an in-depth investigation of the house, complete with a Hoosier spirit communicator and lots of laptops, lasers and gizmos that squeaked and even talked. Booth's advanced publicity had promised a séance, but what his team produced was an electronic version of the old scenario. Instead of a group of family members holding hands with a medium or psychic, Rick Hayes, of Jasper, Indiana's LifeGift Inc., interceded with a field of lasers and lights to summon a spectral image in the Roff house that was otherwise deep in night shadow. John Whitman, owner of the historic brick, two-story mansion house at 300 E. Sheridan St., had invited the filmmakers to his home for the second time in two years to complete "The Possessed," a straight-to-DVD docudrama about the "Watseka Wonder." That was the title of an 1879 pamphlet about the case that is still reprinted by the Iroquois County Historical Society. According to the account, Mary Roff had a mania for bleeding herself and died after one of her many fits. Later, another young woman named Lurancy Vennum became ill in a similar way. Due to the intervention of Roff's father and another spiritualist, Vennum was convinced to allow the spirit of Roff's daughter to possess her body for some months, leading to Vennum's healing. Ghost siting?

When the modern-day spiritualist, Hayes, arrived at the front of the Roff house, he announced that a 17-year-old girl, that no one else could see or hear, had called to him from the top of the stairway, just inside the front doors.
Hayes looks and sounds like a cross between Dr. Phil and a southern preacher. Broad shouldered, with tall, light-colored hair, he speaks in a southern drawl about living here, today, as well as in the hereafter. In fact, he said he splits his time between motivational speaking and counseling individuals about their dear departed.
Christopher Booth, wielding a small video camera, immediately started taping Hayes' reactions, while Philip Booth donned a much larger video camera.
Speaking with the silent and invisible "ghost," Hayes got emotional and said that "it's not proper for me to talk about that." Later, Christopher Booth recounted how Hayes perceived that the Roff girl had been sexually abused by two men in an upstairs room of the house, an allegation not found in the 1879 account.
In fact, Whitman said that he believes "The Watseka Wonder" case, as documented in the pamphlet, is a story of healing. However, the séances that were held at the Roff house and subsequent investigations by ghost hunters have tainted the story.
For instance, a book published in the 1970s called "Watseka," sensationalized the story, he said.
Tours available
Another book was published last fall called, "The Possessed." But Whitman mentions both books on a flyer he distributes for regular self-guided tours of his house. The next one will be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, the anniversary of Mary Roff's death. Call (917) 304-7015 for more information.
Asked when the séances started at the Roff home, Whitman guessed they began even before the possession because Roff's parents were spiritualists who tried to reach the other side, much like Momence investigator Sandy Wulf. She said she and her partners used radios to detect voices at the Roff house. Wearing a black t-shirt with a big crucifix on the back, she said that while the psychic community may not accept these radio voice recordings, she said this evidence was "phenomenal" and matches the history of the house. Christopher Booth said his film will eventually appear on the Sci-Fi Channel, although he couldn't say when. Tonight, he plans to hold another electronic séance, in part of the former Manteno Mental Health Center, the site of a massive typhoid outbreak in the 1930s. And tonight at the Roff house, just around dusk, a squadron of small bats will pop out of the black hole at the white peak at the front of the house, just like they do every night each summer.


The Possessed continues in Watseka

Filming continues for Watseka Wonder story

By CARLA WATERS\Managing Editor

Film crews were back in Watseka yesterday and last night filming more for the project "The Possessed".

That production will be about the Watseka Wonder story.

Christopher Saint Booth and brother Philip Booth have been researching and filming the story, called "The Watseka Wonder".

The story of Lurancy Vennum and Mary Roff is still talked about today, some 100 years later.

In July of 1877 that Lurancy Vennum began to experience periods during which she claimed to speak to spirits. One of those was Mary Roff, who had lived a few years before her.

Mary, too, had had those same kinds of episodes where she claimed to have spoken to those from beyond. She was committed to an asylum in Peoria, where she died in 1865.

There are people who believe the home is still haunted by both Mary Roff and Lurancy Vennum today.

Christopher Saint Booth said in October, the DVD of their project, "The Possessed" will be available online at www.spookedtv.com

He said they have a commitment from the Sci Fi Channel to broadcast the production. The air date has yet to be finalized, he said.

Yesterday, the crew was at the home on Sheridan Avenue owned by John Whitman. This house is one of two homes in Watseka connected to the story.

Not only was the crew on hand yesterday, but also present was Rick Hayes, a paranormal and life consultant from Jasper, Ind. Hayes was filmed as he walked around the home and said he was feeling a story of a person who lived in the home at one time.

Hayes said he had worked with ghosthunter Keith Age, but they could not get their schedules together. Hayes said he was told the group was working on this site, but that he was told nothing about the story itself.

"I said any time I can help, let me know," he said.

Booth said he and his brother had not told Hayes anything about the Watseka Wonder story beforehand. Hayes agreed. "I don't like to be told about it before," he said.

The group was using new equipment recently produced by Bill Chappelle. He has invented two pieces of equipment, the paranormal puck and the ovilus 1, both of which he said are to aid in paranormal research.

Both, he said, pick up energy in the environment and use it to make words. Sometimes the words are gibberish, he said, while other times it uses words that are in direct correlation to the environment.

The filming was going to continue today, Booth said, noting that he and the crew are "very pleased with the production."

They were able to meet with Joyce Westbrook, the last living relative of Lurancy Vennum who actually met her. "We wouldn't have been able to get that interview if we had done this last year," he said.

Booth said the production company will release the air date for the Sci Fi Channel once it is known. The DVD will be available at places like Target and also online in October, he said.



Glore Museum Goes Sci-Fi in The Possessed.

Glore Museum Goes Sci-Fi Story

The Glore Psychiatric Museum will find its way on the sci-fi channel.The producer and film crew visited the St. ... Joseph museum getting shots for their upcoming project, "The Possessed. ...

Glore Museum Goes Sci-Fi Story Link

Ashmore Sci Fi Channel Children Of The Grave 2

Ashmore Haunted House Gets National Attention Story • Jul 3, 2008

ASHMORE - Spooky tales from an old Coles County mental hospital are getting a special sci-fi series. ... Ashmore Estates has been rumored to be haunted for years Now some ghost hunters are making a documentary to see if the tales are true. Featured in the sequel, Children Of The Grave 2 by the Booth Brothers.


Ashmore Estates Sci Fi Channel Spooked TV Children Of The Grave 2

Ashmore estates, located in Coles County, has been closed since 1987 when the state government decided not to fund the establishment any further. Ever since, stories have spread across the county about the building and the ghosts that may haunt it. (Robbie Wroblewski/The Daily Eastern News)

Ashmore on Sci-Fi channel by Ashlei Maltman/City Reporter

Full body apparitions, black mists, and a death-filled history. There couldn't be a more perfect place for a paranormal investigation than Ashmore Estates.

On July 2 and 3, Paranormal filmmakers, Christopher Saint Booth and Philip Adrian Booth, visited the Ashmore Estates. The brothers are compiling information for a sequel to their Sci-Fi channel documentary, Children of the Grave.

Their new documentary, Children of the Grave 2, will air on the Sci-Fi channel in May 2009.

The brothers are touring the country from Los Angeles, visiting different hot spots for paranormal activity, which included the Ashmore Estates.

They were given a lead by a paranormal investigator, who said the building seemed quite active. Hearing this, the Booth's were quite interested.

"We caught a lot of interesting stuff," Christopher said. "It was possibly the most active place on the whole tour."

They caught black masses, shadows crossing in front of the cameras, things breaking the laser beams, and they heard screaming and crying.

While in the estate, they used high definition cameras, devices to read electromagnetic fields, audio recorders, and laser grids to monitor when something walks through a certain area.

The Booth brothers had their cameras running from 3 p.m. to 5 a.m. and felt those hours would be more conducive to paranormal activity.

According to ashmoreestates.net, Ashmore Estates was built in 1916 and was the Coles County Almshouse until 1956. The site said during that period, approximately 100 people died in the building.

From 1956 to 1976 it housed the "mentally impaired," until Paul Swinford purchased the property, the site said. The building was then used as an intermediate care facility for the developmentally disabled.

According to the website, the building was closed in 1987 due to a lack of government funding.

The Booth brothers have been in the film industry for five years and have made documentaries and movies such as Spooked, Children of the Grave and they are currently working on Children of the Grave 2 and The Possessed. You can order hem online at www.spookedtv.com

New ownership

Scott Kelley, and his wife Tanya, became owners of the property two years ago.

"It was a care facility for those with developmental disabilities, which in old lingo would be called a mental institution," Scott said. "It was not an insane asylum."

"Everybody wants it to be an insane asylum, but it was a nursing home for people with developmental disabilities," Scott continued.

Since becoming owners of the property, Scott and Tanya have started flashlight tours of the estate, have had 15 paranormal investigations, do hauntings on Halloween, and host classes.

There will be a class at the estate for paranormal investigators from 4 to 8 p.m. on Saturday for $20, and from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. is the Night of Insanity, where people can spend the night in the building.

Tours can be scheduled any day at anytime, except on Sundays. The minimum for a group is five people, the cost is $12 per person and the tour lasts approximately two hours.

This documentary filming at the estates has increased business for the couple.

"When a place has been through a movie, people want to come see the setting of what they saw on television," Scott said.

Trespassing has been an issue in the past, but the Kelley's are fully prepared to arrest trespassers.

"When the facility was closed, they left 47 beds, 47 dressers, bedside tables, etc, because they wanted to reopen it as another facility," Tanya said.

There is only one bed left because the rest was stolen out of the building.

Paranormal occupancy

Kentucky Joe is the only full body apparition that has been seen on site. Scott saw Joe for the first time Monday night.

At around 7 p.m., Scott was walking past the building entrance toward the lawnmower and he saw something in the hallway.

"Looking down the hallway, I saw a man in a top hat just peek out and go back in," Scott said. "I saw it for about a second."

Scott is the twelfth person to have reportedly seen Joe.

During the morning, before the Booth brothers left, another occurrence happened.

"Keith Age, host of Children of the Grave, was carrying a thermal imaging device, around 4:30 to 5 a.m." Scott said. "Bill, (an engineer who builds devices for the paranormal community), caught a black mist on his camera right in front of the nurses station watching them doing what they were doing. When the reporter came, it went down the hall and it disappeared."

While the early mornings are popular times to watch for action, Tanya said the building is mostly active around four in the afternoon.

"I would not even want to spend the night there alone," Christopher said.

Ashlei Maltman can be anmaltman@eiu.edu.