New York Daily News


COPYRIGHT 2006 Daily News

By: Clem Richardson


The neon bulbs are cutting through the dark of the W. 29th St. ceramics factory.

The owners think the place is haunted.

The Paranormal Investigation of NYC team is there to check it out.

The nine squad members, volunteers from varied backgrounds, spend their time away from their day jobs investigating reports of paranormal incidents across the metro area.

Even with thousands of hours -- not to mention thousands of dollars of their own money -- tied up in the operation, not all of them are convinced there's something out there.

"I'm still a big skeptic," said Dan Sturgis, an actor and a voice-over performer by day. "I'm just looking for proof."

"I believe in an afterlife, and I think some people have difficulty making the transition," said Anthony Steele, an Irishman, yoga devotee and former "Riverdance" performer. "There is more to it than can be explained rationally."

The team has been together a little more than two years. Squad members have been on the "Late Show with David Letterman" and did an investigation at the Ed Sullivan Theater, where the program is filmed. The group has film of a suspicious red light that bounced across an upper balcony.

Tonight, the squad is at the factory, which churns out specialty plates, platters, bowls and cups, including a ceramic version of that ubiquitous blue paper coffee cup with the Greek columns.

The shop owners complain of hearing noises and feeling they are being watched when they're working alone at night.

"Lots of people have had some kind of paranormal experience," said Sturges. "Lots of people believe spirits exist. We're just trying to prove it."

The team has had some interesting adventures, from hearing voices to finding coins on a floor where none had been a minute before.

In addition many in the group are convinced a funeral-home-turned-private-residence they investigated upstate is haunted because rooms suddenly become cold and fog seems to spring from nowhere.

"When we enter a place for the first time, we ask the residents not to tell us where they saw or heard something," Sturgis said. "We usually can find it ourselves."

It's the second time Sturges, 40; Steele, 37; Dominick Villella, 38; Gilberto Maurtua, 40, and Dee Colon, the only woman in the group that night, have visited the building.

This time they're packing heavy equipment -- both modern and ancient.

Colon, who works for a social service agency, traces the entire factory floor with a crystal suspended on a chain, while Maurtua, a schoolteacher, follows her with a pair of metal divining rods more commonly used to find water.

The rest of the team has set up four motion-sensitive infrared video cameras throughout the shop. Each is attached to a single DVD recorder, which in turn is wired directly into a laptop computer hard drive.

"We used to use videotape [recorders], but sometimes they give false images," Villella said.

They have recording thermometers and meters to monitor changes in the magnetic field and locate any hidden electrical wiring that might affect readings.

"At one house, we picked up some microphones someone had planted there," Sturgis said. "We're not sure if they were trying to trip us up or if they even knew they were there."

There are hand-held voice recorders, a digital camera and a 35-mm. camera -- pixels can be manipulated, Villella said, but film is permanent.

After setting up the cameras, the team turns off the lights and hits the exit.

They'll spend the next four hours hanging out nearby, then return and check the recorders to see whether they caught anything. This time, there were no ghosts.

The team's services are free, which makes it the recipient of more than the occasional crank call.

"We have people who call and say they're werewolves or vampires," Sturges said.

"We tell them to seek medical attention."

Clem Richardson writes the City Beat and Great People columns. Prior to joining the Daily News in 1993, he worked for New York Newsday, the Miami Herald, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Atlanta Journal-Consitution and the Anderson Independent newspapers. The Duke University graduate is married and the father of two.