(Editor’s note: This story is written as a first-person narrative by the reporter.)
I arrived at the Marshall house a little after 7 p.m. on Friday the 13th. It’s a plantation-era home in Hamlet just before the countryside really opens up. At this point, all I know is that some strange things have been happening to this family which has their children scared, and they’ve called the Pee Dee Region Paranormal Group to see if they can provide some answers.
The house is shrouded by trees that obscure just how big it is, so, with the sun nearly out of sight, it might as well be a mansion. As I pull up, Steve Marshall, a thin, energetic man of average height wearing a hat and shirt bearing two different logos, walks up to shake my hand, advising me to pull into the driveway to avoid getting clipped by unaware drivers on this country road.
Steve and his wife, Jenny, are unloading their car when I pull into driveway. Steve and I sit down on a low dividing wall and he begins to tell me what’s been happening to their family since they moved into this house in December of 2014.
“We’ve had a lot a lot of weird stuff happen here,” Steve said in between drags from his vape pen.
A childish giggle right behind him while their three kids are sound asleep. A huge ceramic coffee mug, which Steve said probably weighed four pounds with coffee in it, somehow ended up on the floor upside down — without breaking — and with the coffee still sealed inside and none having spilled on the way down. There was a growl from the fireplace. Things move in the house without any apparent mover. Jenny gets scratch marks on her back that she can’t explain.
These events all apparently become more frequent around full moons, and the eclipse especially.
Before they ever had any suspicions about the house, they tell me, a drunk old man rode up to their house on a moped at 6 a.m. ranting and raving about the man who used to live there being a devil worshipper. He began to go to each of the columns on the front of the house, saying a prayer at each one: “God protect these people. Ye be gone spirits, ye be gone!”
The man they believe he was talking about is “Barlow” who Jenny has since become well acquainted with.
“Barlow’s still here, he peers over my shoulders and he stays there,” Jenny said. “He hovers over me.”
She talks about him casually with friends, having gotten used to his presence as if he’s just a pet that came with the house. “It’s not like I’m scared of him anymore,” she says. She describes him as “grumpy.”
Jenny considers herself a “sensitive,” meaning someone who can sense, and derive meaning from, forces outside of what would be considered “normal.” She first showed this ability when she was young. Her family was on vacation in Florida when suddenly she started demanding that her family call her grandmother, warning that she’s going to die. Her family dismisses her and goes on with their festivities, only to return home to find a note on their grandmother’s door that she had passed.
Just two weeks before I made the drive to their house, their 3-year-old daughter, Belle, began to scream out of nowhere at something that was standing in the hallway as the family was sitting at their breakfast table. They refer to this incident as “Belle’s look of terror.”
That’s when they knew they had to call in the professionals.
The Marshalls originally called in a team from Aberdeen who performed a Celtic ritual on the house to rid it of evil spirits. This team set up cameras in their son, Jet’s, room because he was having trouble sleeping. The cameras captured him sit up in his bed every hour before laying back down until one time a silhouette mimicked the same motion while Jet slept, and he sits up again shortly after. The cameras also supposedly caught a voice say, “This is Jet,” as if someone were introducing him to someone else.
Inside, the house has the feeling of a playground in a cemetery. If it weren’t for all the colorful toys populating every room and other evidence of people generally having fun, it would look like the house from the movie “The Conjuring” mixed with a few rooms that could have been taken from the house in “The Babadook” (in case you haven’t seen these movies, the house looks the part). It’s got the original cabinets from the early 1900s, with high ceilings on the first floor and low ceilings on the second. The weight of the air, or what some might refer to as the “energy,” is different in every room. The floors seem to slope downward no matter where you stand. They have six cats — one is black, keeping with the theme — who patrol the house at irregular intervals.
While the Marshalls aren’t what you would typically consider religious, they have recently started to put up crosses all around the house. They leaned a Bible up against a door that mysteriously opened.
As a skeptic, these details, if not outright evidence that spirits are interacting with the Marshall family, are enough to make me jump at the sound of their guinea pig rustling in its cage.
But what I first thought was a fun trek into the paranormal quickly turned tragic. While the Pee Dee Paranormal Group investigation team was setting up, Jenny revealed more about her experiences as a sensitive.
“My last daughter that I had, I knew she was a girl and I knew she was coming back to us,” she said. “She’s not here right now so it’s hard for me to talk about.”
Her daughter was stillborn, her second stillborn. She tells us about a dream of a girl that was the same age their first child would have been. In the dream, she knew that this girl was hers and they decided they were going to try to bring her back. They conceived, but, as Jenny put it, “she decided to leave again.”
Suddenly the night is about more than ghost stories. It’s about viscous grief, open wounds of unimaginable magnitude and a desperate search for answers.
The investigators set up four cameras connected to a live feed, plus one thermal and one hand-held. They have seven recording devices that they use to record short clips of them doing rapid-fire call-and-response with the spirits. The have modern-day “spirit boxes” which are now just an app that plays several radio stations at once, the hope being that if a spirit wants to communicate, it will make sense of the noise. They have electromagnetic field sensors, plus one lightening lamp. They also came ready with little medallions depicting St. Benedict which they place strategically throughout the house to ward off evil spirits.
They turn off all the lights and put everyone’s cell phones on airplane mode — no excess noise or electromagnetic fields.
The only sound is the spirit boxes echoing a backwards conversation floating through the air on radio waves, and Robert Humphries, co-founder of the group, asks, “Barlow, are you here with us?”
There is now a group of us sitting in Jenny’s office where she says she most often senses Barlow. I’m sitting in a chair by the closet door they had leaned the Bible up against, and I feel the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. For the next couple of hours, Jenny and the investigators pose questions to Barlow hoping that the various sensors will pick up some kind of response.
A few times, the spirits seem to answer in voice that sounds like a male Siri.
“How many spirits are here?”
“How many are in the house?”
Other times the words seemed to string coherent thoughts together. “Warrior… to get… Satan…fire.” One after the other. “Itself…sacrifice.”
But mostly the words are random, having nothing to do with the questions asked. “Exit…increment…England…difficult…Debra…bro…each…Daniel…Kelly…early…at night…thigh….map…eight…Kelsey…here….erase…witch….paranormal….lady….scientists…Jesus…decided….paragraph…yet…child….received….maze….pennies…dreadful.”
There’s no sign that all the names it says are names of spirits in the house, no reason to think the word “bro” is anything more than digital gibberish. It says the word “Yankee” and for a brief moment someone considers whether it’s calling out Steve, who is from Indiana. It says “pay” and the other co-founder of the group, Brian Horton, takes it as a threat asking, “Am I going to pay for what I’m doing right now?”
Jenny, apparently getting bored, in response to the spirit box saying the word “air” says, “That’s probably good ghost food.”
They try different combinations of people being in the room at one time: all females, just Jenny, all males. After about an hour and a half of trying to converse with the randomly generated words that the spirit box was spitting out, Jenny said what we were all thinking: “It doesn’t correlate with anything we’re asking.”
“I just want it to tell me its story,” Jenny said of what she’s trying to learn about the spirit. “Why are you here?”
Humphries and Horton decide to bless every room in the house except for the office in order to try to funnel all the spirits into one spot.
They light up sticks of holy wood, which they got directly from Israel, and go to each room in the house, including the attic, methodically saying a prayer for each room as they go. We all leave the office except for Humphries and Horton, watching on the live feed. They describe an energy change once the blessings are done.
Afterwards, all that’s left to do is review the video — all 32 hours of it, between the six cameras and seven recorders.
Humphries said that there were three clear answers to questions they asked. They heard a child’s voice say “mommy” in response to Jenny asking, “Why are you here?” A deep, raspy voice said, “I ain’t scared of you fool,” in response to a question from Jenny. And another time they heard a distinct “yes” in response to a question. Nothing was caught on video.
Humphries concluded that there is a “residual haunting” by spirits and energies that have been “imprinted in time” and are recursive. This as opposed to an active haunting where a spirit is moving and interacting with the living world in real time.
“I’m not going say it’s intelligent because it didn’t respond enough to be able to say (the house) is haunted,” Humphries said. “You got to have evidence to back the claims.”
He said that after sharing the results with Jenny, she thinks the spirit that said “mommy” is that of her daughter “letting her know that it’s there, that it’s ok.”
Since the blessing of the house, the Marshalls haven’t had any more issues.
“My baby girls are with me,” Jenny said in a Facebook post on Friday. “I feel relief knowing there (are) not any negative energies here and happy that my loved ones are close to me!”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674.