From the files of a paranormal investigator: The Case of the Stuffed Ferret.
March 2005. Middle Village, Queens. Client keeps hearing the fast panting of a ferret. The complainant owns a ferret, but it is dead; stuffed, in fact. Is the animal trying to make contact from the other side of the taxidermic world?
Enter Dominick Villella, paranormal investigator. He sweeps the domicile with an electromagnetic-field detector. Standard procedure.
Mr. Villella discovers that the stuffed ferret is giving off extremely high E.M.F. readings. He theorizes that the ferret has absorbed electromagnetic waves from a nearby appliance, possibly a clock radio. He is certain, though, that the ferret has passed on. Is no more. Has ceased to be.
“I told him to cremate the ferret,” Mr. Villella recalls. “Just in case.”
Halloween is so yesterday. But the work of the paranormal investigator is never done in New York, where even the subways shriek. There is always another case to investigate. Strange voices coming from a city pool — in April! Odd smells emanating from a college dormitory. Strange voices and odd smells everywhere.
Mr. Villella, 38, does not look like a paranormal investigator; that is, if a paranormal investigator has a look. He is a slight, bespectacled man, with dark hair rising a bit from his scalp, as if to suggest a constant state of moderate surprise.
When not chasing the restless dead, he is a stay-at-home dad, tending to two toddling daughters in an attached home in Williamsburg that he and his wife, Allison, rent. He does the laundry, tidies the house, and tends to common domestic crises, like finding “Sesame Street” on television.
He used to work as a carpenter, then as a sound engineer. But all that changed four years ago when he breathed in some nitrous oxide while undergoing dental work.
“I could swear I left my body, traveled to where my wife was sitting in the waiting room, and overheard her conversation,” he recalls. He says his wife later confirmed what he had seen and heard while he was in another room, under sedation, having his wisdom teeth pull ——
In the midst of his life-transforming story, Mr. Villella is suddenly interrupted — by Mia, his 3-year-old. “Daddy,” she asks. “Can I play with my sock puppet?”
He fetches the puppet and returns to his narrative. “Did you ever have a moment in your life when that one moment changed your life?” he asks. “It made me contemplate that there’s more to life than what we see.”
Mr. Villella soon put together a team of the similarly curious and created Paranormal Investigation of NYC, which looks into reports of the seemingly unexplainable, free of charge.
“It’s very hard to charge for something you can’t prove,” he says.
Determined to apply academic rigor to his pursuit, Mr. Villella took several online courses from Flamel College, which keeps a post office box in Sacramento and offers classes in Alchemy, Wicca and Wizardry, among other disciplines. Now his basement wall displays Flamel certificates for paranormal investigation, parapsychology and technical proficiency in E.V.P.
“Electronic voice phenomena,” he explains. “Basically picking up spirit voices on audio.”
Mr. Villella is not particularly interested in unidentified flying objects; little chance of seeing them in New York City, he says. He also avoids the question of reincarnation, because he thinks it is in conflict with his Christian beliefs. But he is open for any other paranormal business as soon as his wife gets home from work.
When a call comes in, he packs three briefcases of equipment — E.M.F. detector, temperature gauges, infrared camera, various recording devices — and bravely ventures into the realm of the willies.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, we’ll find the reason it may appear to be paranormal, but isn’t,” he says. “But the 1 percent is why we do it.”
He says he has never seen a ghost, and isn’t sure whether a paranormal world exists.
“But I believe in the possibility,” he adds, a belief partly rooted in the strange, childlike cries he says he once recorded during an investigation of a music studio in Long Island City.
BUT for every possibility of a mischievous spirit, there are 100 stuffed ferrets.
The Case of the Odd Feelings. July 2006. The Bronx. Client complains of unexplained knocking and hissing, strange shadows and weird sensations in her apartment. Assumes it is “spiritual in nature.”
After hours of investigation, the team finds high E.M.F. readings around the alarm clocks and the dimmer switch, but no clear evidence of paranormal activity. In fact, the source for much of the terror appears to be a cranky air-conditioning unit.
The paranormal investigator’s conclusion: “Just a lonely woman.”