Not long ago, I saw a preview for yet another new ghost hunting show set to air on Travel Channel. The newest addition, called Ghost Loop, is produced by Essential Media & Entertainment and follows a group of five ghost hunters who collectively call themselves “The Spirit Hunters.” Travel Channel’s website claims the team members are “specialized paranormal experts who rescue the living from an endless and repetitive type of haunting known as a ‘ghost loop.’ At each haunted location, they build an emotionally charged trigger environment to lure the entity and break the terrifying cycle.”
“Ghost loop” is not what a repetitive type of haunting has historically been called; that is classically referred to as a “residual haunting” by ghost hunters, and a “place memory” in parapsychology literature. I’ve been involved with the paranormal community for over twenty years, and this is the first time I’ve heard the term ghost loop being used. There’s a good reason for that; it seems the term ghost loop was created just for the show, whose cast is now trying to “make it a thing” in society, repeating it ad nauseum throughout the episode.
In the first episode, the team arrives at a small house in Houston, Texas. The homeowner, Becky, tells the ghost hunters, “Every morning between two and four, I’ll hear a ‘bang,’ I’ll run into the living room thinking someone is trying to break in. There’s a black smoke, and then it charges at me. This is the same thing that happens every time. I really feel like it’s an angry, abusive man.” There is a CGI re-creation of the event, showing black smoke forming into the figure of a man (which isn’t part of Becky’s description) that then rushes dramatically at the camera.
Our ghost hunters are promoted as “specialized paranormal experts,” yet the first episode doesn’t give us any indication of any type of expertise. Based on the homeowner’s eyewitness claims, the team is presented a clear, testable claim: between two and four in the morning, a bang comes from the front room, then black smoke forms and charges at her. She claims this happens every morning. The ghost hunters simply need to be in the front room during the specified time frame, along with some cameras, to confirm and document the event. Oddly enough, they do not do this. Instead, they follow the standard routine of roaming around the house and property, performing the same anomaly hunting (looking for anything strange to pass off as paranormal) we see in other ghost hunting television programs.
Another example demonstrating the team’s lack of expertise is their use of EMF meters. They use a version called a Mel-Meter, which they move along a bedroom doorframe to collect a “standard read,” their lingo for a baseline reading. What they don’t convey to the audience is that the meter is a single-axis meter, meaning it reads the strength of an electromagnetic field on only one axis at a time, and therefore must be rotated on all three axes to obtain an average measurement. Because they move the meter around the door on only one axis, they are not getting an accurate measurement. In addition, they fail to search for common causes such as electrical wiring within the wall. In the example of the bedroom door, the ghost hunters fail to point out two light switches on the wall directly behind the door, indicating there was wiring in the walls—which could easily produce the readings they triumphantly announce.
As the episode progresses, the cast goes through the common cookie-cutter routine found repeated in the ghost hunting shows that came before it. From misusing discredited ghost gadgets like EMF meters and the Xbox Kinect to associating with the “paranormal event” any and all tragic events that took place within a few miles with their “investigation,” they cover all the bases. They even go as far as appropriating a story for use in their show (as we’ll see below), much like how The Conjuring House history stole tragic events from other families in town to boost their own paranormal lore.
Many of the scenes featuring the ghost hunters interacting with each other feel staged, like they’re forcing their scenes to be more dramatic than they need to be. However, by the end of the show, I was convinced that over-the-top drama was what they were going for. At least four of the five cast members make it obvious they’re vying for the most time on camera rather than trying to figure out the cause of the homeowner’s experiences. It’s clear these individuals haven’t worked together as a coherent team before.
Within the first five minutes, the show breaks one of the few rules that most ghost hunters abide by and I agree with: never publicly reveal the address of the homeowner. This is usually a common courtesy; you just don’t reveal a person’s home address on TV (which is seen worldwide). There are many cases in which homeowners have had to deal with uninvited thrill seekers constantly visiting and sometimes trespassing onto their property. Norma Sutcliff, former owner of the Conjuring House, dealt with constant trespassers for years after the Conjuring film was released. The owners of the Amityville house remodeled the outside of the house and went as far as legally changing the address to throw off thrill seekers, though neither tactic was successful.
Just after the two of the ghost hunters interview the homeowner, a map is displayed on screen that not only reveals the street name and house number but clearly states “Becky’s House” with a line drawn directly to it. Within a few seconds (literally), I was able to find the house on Google maps. I found this to be grossly unethical on the part of the production company and network. I truly hope it doesn’t force the homeowner to deal with random thrill seekers and ghost hunters showing up at all hours of the day and night, hoping to catch a glimpse of ghosties that the show has breathlessly hyped.
In their research, two of the ghost hunters touch on the Houston Riots of 1917, also known as the Camp Logan incident. When the U.S. entered World War I, tensions were high between black soldiers stationed at Camp Logan and white Texas civilians. According to BlackPast.org:
At Camp Logan, men with the Third Battalion of the Twenty-fourth U.S. Infantry Regiment faced increasing harassment from Houston authorities. On August 23, 1917, On August 23, 1917, a rumor reached the camp that Corporal Charles Baltimore had been killed for interfering with the detention and interrogation of a black woman by Houston police; in fact, Baltimore had been beaten but survived and was later released. Reacting to the rumor and to racial discrimination, about 150 black troops marched for two hours through Houston. As local whites armed themselves, a violent confrontation ensued that claimed the lives of four black soldiers and fifteen local residents and wounded a dozen others.
In November of the same year, sixty-three soldiers from the Third Battalion were court martialed, with thirteen being sentenced to hanging. Two more court martials were held in the next year, sentencing another six men to hanging (nineteen in total), and sentencing almost sixty soldiers to prison for life.
After learning of the riots from Capt. Paul J. Matthews, curator of the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, ghost hunter Chris Califf remarks, “With the deaths of civilians, police, and soldiers occurring so close to Becky’s house, I’m really starting to think that the aftershocks of the riots are influencing the activity in our investigation.” I found using this tragic historical event to heighten and embellish their narrative to be in poor taste. After some digging, I found that the route in which soldiers took during the riot didn’t really come near the house featured in the show. At its closest point, the soldier’s route would have been almost a mile from the house—0.8 of a mile to be exact. There’s no known link between the riot and that house, besides obviously being in the same city. I see no reason why this was included in the show and certainly no evidence that the riot would have any influence on the house today.
The crew then meet with Detective Darrell Defee, a former sergeant with the Robbery Division of the Houston Police Department from 1976–2013 who has moved on to real estate/insurance work. Defee relates information concerning two stories that our ghost hunters eagerly and immediately associate with the house and its alleged ghosts: a bar that used to be on the corner (the bar and building no longer exist) and a murder that occurred inside Becky’s house.
The first story of the bar, which apparently takes place in the 1920s (mentioned by one of the ghost hunters), included “arguments, disputes, knifings, shootings” and bodies left inside the building or outside in the drainage ditch along the street. There isn’t any documentation provided, nor is there any indication the events at the bar had anything to do with the house featured on the show (which is down the street). Of course, with the bar being on the same block, I can certainly see a few people stumbling into the drainage ditches along Becky’s street. However, like the riot of 1917, the ghost hunters seem to be grasping at anything tragic that can, however tangentially or loosely, be associated with their investigation.
By this time, I was thoroughly annoyed with this show. However, to do a full honest review, I knew I had to finish the episode. Little did I suspect that this would be where the episode takes its final nosedive and crashes into the ground, destroying any remaining shreds of the show’s credibility.
In December 1921, Wylie Thomas arrived at 2012 Lamar Ave, the home of Emma Mea; they were apparently in an abusive “on-and-off-again” relationship. According to The Houston Post, on December 23, 1921, Thomas arrived at Mea’s home around 8 p.m., insisting that he was going to stay the night. Mea refused him, and Thomas became angered and left. Thomas later returned, laying down on her bed and placing a gun next to him. A scuffle took place, and as Mea gained possession of the gun, she shot Thomas once in the back of his head. Police were called the next morning and arrived at 2012 Lamar Ave (the scene of the crime) and charged Mea with murder. A few days later, after examination of several witnesses and reviewing a signed statement from Emma Mea herself, the judge granted bail at one thousand dollars (Houston Post 1921a).
At the end of the episode segment where the ghost hunters are speaking with Defee about the murder, a voiceover declares “Matt and Califf have just found out from Detective Darrell Defee that a murder took place in Becky’s home in 1921.” We’re further told, “The team has identified a man named Wylie Thomas as the source of the ghost loop.” The ghost hunters are now thoroughly convinced Wylie Thomas is the black-smoke entity within the house harassing homeowner Becky.
After a team meeting, ghost hunter Eric explains to the camera that they will now set up the living room as a “trigger room,” redecorating it to “make it look exactly the way the murder scene looked in the 1920s.” They bring in old furniture (it’s not clear that it’s accurate for the period), a phonograph, old photographs to place around the room, and even a prop gun—yes, they use a gun to recreate the murder scene. I’m not sure if this was a real gun or a nonfunctioning prop.
There are several issues with this entire murder/scene re-creation. First, according to the newspaper accounts, the event took place in the bedroom. All reports clearly state the body was lying across a bed, not in the living room. The ghost hunters were reenacting a shooting scene—complete with one of them saying “Bang!” several times as if providing sound effects for some school play—and even going as far as having the female ghost hunter hold the gun to the back of the head of one of the male ghost hunters, which I found disturbing.
More problematic for this crack team of investigators re-creating the killing, however, is the fact that the murder did not occur in that house. According the both the Houston Post newspaper articles and the death record for Wylie Thomas, the event took place at 2012 Lamar Ave., which is not Becky’s address. I searched through street maps of Houston as far back as 1913 to verify any name changes over the decades. Although there was one name change, it was not “Lamar.” In fact, I did find Lamar Ave., which is now Lamar Street, located just over four miles southeast of Becky’s home. I also found resident directories from 1918 and 1919, confirming Emma Mea’s residence at 2012 Lamar Ave. I also looked up the residence of Wylie Thomas, which is listed in the 1919 (and 1918) directories as 2305 Preston Ave., which is his sister Pearl’s residence seven blocks north of Emma Mea’s residence.
Once I confirmed that the murder had nothing to do with the house featured in the episode, I went back and reviewed the segment featuring Darrell Defee. It is interesting to note that Defee is not shown stating that the murder occurred inside Becky’s house. It is instead the ghost hunters who later attribute that claim to him. Leaning on my own experiences and those of colleagues who have been on various television shows, I couldn’t help but think there may have been some creative editing or misrepresentation going on. I made several attempts to contact Defee for clarification. Although he didn’t return my calls himself, his wife did call me back once. She indicated that Defee did the show as a favor for a “friend of a friend” and didn’t have access to any of the actual police records for the Thomas murder or any of the alleged incidents from the former corner bar. Instead, I was told he relied on records from Ancestry.com, much as I had. This made me even more curious about how the Thomas murder was mistakenly linked to the house featured in this episode, because the addresses of all people involved are clearly documented. As of the submission of this article, I had still not heard back from Defee.
This episode is a prime example of why paranormal “reality” programming can only be taken as entertainment—and even that’s a stretch—rather than demonstrating good research skills. The initial claims of banging and black smoke were never investigated, much less verified or resolved. Although the team acknowledges ongoing construction in the area, including on the street where Becky’s house is located, they fail to consider this as a potential cause for the banging the homeowner hears. The ghost hunters demonstrate a lack of familiarity with the devices they’re using, the science behind those gadgets, and how to investigate the very simple, testable claims that brought them to the house in the first place. They failed to establish (much less “break”) any ghost “loop,” as the name and promotional materials suggest. And lastly, they took a murder case that had nothing to do with the house they were investigating and misrepresented it to their audience as if it did. In fact, the address of the crime scene was clearly displayed on the screen when they presented the newspaper clippings of the murder—it was right there in front of them. It didn’t take much effort for me to locate the historical documents and verify the facts of the case, so I’m left wondering why the Ghost Loop “experts” didn’t.