Dave Smutzler was working overnights as a police officer when he first considered the possibility of the paranormal. Fifteen years ago, Smutzler and another night officer began getting calls out of the norm. Smutzler recalled questioning the possibility of something more, but he said, “You didn’t dare walk up to someone and say, ‘I think you’re having a paranormal experience.’”
Ghost hunting was just starting in the United States, and people were not open to talking about the paranormal. But Smutzler and his partner were determined to find answers. The same traits that led them to become police officers also led them to the paranormal: curiosity, skepticism, and a desire to help. Smutzler said, “As officers we’re skeptical. We want to investigate things.”
Fifteen years later, what has come to be known as Police Investigating Ghosts (PIGs) is made up of Dave Smutzler, Jennifer Folstad, Jacki Wright, Brent Parker, Isaac Phillips and Joshua Shimak. They have investigated schools, theaters, businesses, hospitals and poor-houses. Throughout the years the PIGS developed a scientific method for paranormal investigation.
Every investigation starts with a baseline reading. This includes taking photos, as well as utilizing an EMF detector. An EMF detector (also called a K-2 meter), senses the electromagnetic field. Smutzler said the EMF detector is a go-to item because “it’s tough to dispute if it goes off.”
During an investigation, four separate cameras are recording and streamed on a monitor. Investigators stay in groups of two so everyone has a witness. They take voice recorders and handheld cameras with infrared lights. Each group will be on a different floor, so they do not contaminate the data. They also take trigger items like a baseball, flashlight or period piece. Why? Smutzler said, “Trigger items are easy to manipulate.” For example, he might ask a spirit to turn on a flashlight.
They also use spirit boxes. Wright said, “Spirits can use energy to communicate in real time with you.” To that point, she shared an experience she had with a spirit box in Cresco. Wright said, “We started getting intelligent responses.” A name was given through the spirit box, which they later learned was the name of the person who the house was built for. She added, “That really affirmed for me this is really happening.”
However, 80% of the time nothing happens: no experiences, no audio and no EMF.
Most of the PIGs have full-time jobs, and they do not receive any reimbursement for their time. But paranormal investigation takes a lot of time. After the investigation, each group member is assigned a camera. Their task is to watch around six hours of video, and the scene does not change. Smutzler and Wright agreed that hallway scenes are the worst. They take notes while they watch and document paranormal activity. After everyone has completed their task, the PIGs review evidence together.
When something paranormal is detected by the PIGs team, it usually falls into one of two categories: intelligent or residual. Intelligent responses are interactive and occur in real time, like Wright’s experience with the spirit box. Residual responses are repetitive and are considered to be an event captured in time. Examples include footsteps, or a ghost repeatedly seen in a window. These encounters usually leave group members feeling excited. But on rare occasions they have felt what can only be described as terror.
On one occasion, the PIGs agreed to investigate a house located in Minnesota. At the beginning of the day, five members were scheduled to attend. Throughout the course of the day each member had to exit, one by one. An hour before they were scheduled to leave, Smutzler was the only one remaining. The owners of the house were planning to move out after a series of paranormal encounters. This was the only opportunity to investigate. Smutzler decided to go…alone.
As soon as he entered the house, he heard a crackling noise. He asked the owner what it was, and she said, “That’s it. It’s going off because you’re here.”
As soon as the owner left and Smutzler was alone, the EMF detector started going off. He held it out to his right, and it stopped. He placed it in front of him and it started going off again. He held it above his head, and it stopped. Smutzler said, “Something was standing right in front of me at four feet tall… I got that feeling. This is going to be something.”
Later, in the same house, Smutzler was standing in the center of the split foyer. Smutzler said he heard a sound “like the sound of a human body falling down the steps. I turned on my flashlight and nothing was there.”
Then, Smutzler heard footsteps in the hall. He said, “I wonder if I can re-create that. I am 200 pounds. I walked up and down that hallway and I couldn’t make the floor creak.”
Another instance, Smutzler found himself alone. This time, it was an intentional solo trip to a cabin in the woods that was allegedly haunted by the spirit of a little girl. He was without power, electricity or cell phone service. Smutzler said, “I wanted to go by myself, just to get that feel.”
Smutzler said that night, “As soon as my head hit the pillow, I closed my eyes and heard a sentence. I couldn’t tell you what was being said but it had inflection.” He got up and tried to find answers, “You question yourself. I ran a bunch of tests. Nothing.”
But then he said, “The exact thing happened again when I laid down.” A sentence spoken to him in the dark.
On a separate occasion, several of the PIGs were called to a house in Waterloo. The owner reportedly saw faces reflected in the television. On one occurrence, she pulled a string light on and saw a man’s face staring back at her.
With the help of the spirit box, the PIGs team uncovered information about the spirit. They learned that there was a death in the kitchen, and that it was medical. The PIGs team later found reports that a man died due to a heart attack in that kitchen.
However, every paranormal encounter is different. Wright described an encounter she had in her home. She was reading late at night and heard a knock. The dogs were barking, but no one was there. Then, she went back to her chair and had an encounter she will never forget, “It was like a cold went through me. The hair on my arms went up… and it felt comforting.” She paused and added, “In my head it was my mom. That didn’t scare me. It startled me but it was like an affirmation, or a confirmation, because I had never felt like that before.”
Regardless of the encounter, the PIGs treat each spirit with respect. They end every investigation with a closing prayer. This is for the protection of group members, the protection of the people whose homes or businesses they are investigating, and also out of respect for the spirit. Wright said, “We never antagonize to get a response. I think that is really important.”
When Smutzler first began paranormal investigation 15 years ago, he said, “People were really quiet about talking to us. There was a stigma attached to it.” Now, he said it’s the opposite. The general attitude towards the paranormal has changed. Still, almost every call begins with, “I don’t know if I’m crazy or not…”
That is what PIGs offer: Confirmation that there is something there or a logical explanation about what is happening. Each caller is granted privacy and “a healthy outlet you can confide in,” said Smutzler. People can contact PIGs through their Facebook page. Any evidence that is found is burned to a thumb drive or CD and shared, free of charge.
In closing, Smutzler said, “There are things we don’t know about that are right around us.”