Mr. and Mrs. Ghostbuster

If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, call Canonsburg duo TJ and Katie Porfeli, who have investigated haunts up and down the East Coast.

Most married couples spend their weekends trolling the Pottery Barn for napkin rings or roaming around pumpkin patches pretending to have a good time. But TJ and Katie Porfeli are not like most couples. The pair spends their free time hunting ghosts or, as TJ puts it, “investigating the paranormal.” In January 2008, the Porfelis helped start the nonprofit known as Western Pennsylvania Paranormal Hunters, a team of 12 that explores “unexplained happenings” in homes, hotels and historical buildings from Tombstone, Ariz., to right here in Fox Chapel, Pa.

By day, the paranormal hunters are school teachers, IT professionals, speech pathologists and auto mechanics. And by night, they are real-life Ghostbusters. But as we found out, real life is more complicated than what’s depicted in the movies:

So, how do you investigate the paranormal?

Katie: Basically, people contact us seeking explanations for strange things that they’ve experienced in their residences, like shadows, voices or just the feeling of being watched. We make it a point to go into every investigation as skeptics because most of the time, “bumps” in the night can be explained.

TJ: A high amount of electro-magnetic energy in a room, just from a lot of electronics or wiring, can give you the feeling of being watched. Heck, just about any dark basement will give you that feeling. We try to gather hard evidence.

So you don’t carry proton packs and Ecto-goggles like Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray?

TJ: No, but we do have a bunch of high-tech equipment to help us capture evidence. We had a $3,500 thermal-imaging camera that let us see temperature differences in a room; I’m in the process of upgrading to a better model. The theory is that the presence of the paranormal can cause abnormal changes in temperature. We also have an infrared video camera that lets us film in complete darkness and a device called a KII meter.

Katie: It sort of looks like something out of Ghostbusters. It flashes different levels of red lights whenever there is a spike in electro-magnetic activity. Unusually high levels of activity can be a sign of a paranormal presence.
What’s the most paranormal place you’ve visited?

TJ: Definitely the old Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum [in Weston, W.Va.] The sounds we captured were unbelievable—laughter, screams. We were sitting in a room setting up our equipment, and at the end of the hallway in the nurse’s station, I saw two shadows looking like they were doing work—standing up, going to the file cabinets, sitting back down; it just kept going on repeat. We walked right up to the shadows, and it was like they didn’t even know you were there. You can’t explain that. There is nothing that could ever recreate that right there in front of me.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever heard on a recording?

TJ: At Hillview Manor [a former nursing home in New Castle], I had a recorder sitting in the basement by itself with the door locked. The tape is silent for 20 minutes, then all of a sudden, you hear someone come up to the microphone, and a male voice says (clear as day), “I still get pudding in here.”There’s not another sound on the recorder.

Katie: By the way, all of the recordings are on our website, We don’t enhance or edit any of the audio. There are thermal images, too, like the figure we captured at Hillview.

That’s creepy. Aren’t you always scared?

Katie: No, not at all. I was actually more of a scaredy cat before we started doing this. Most of what we experience seems to be peaceful spirits going about their daily business like they still think they are alive. We’ve never run into cases of hostile presences.

TJ: Whenever I start to feel scared, I just think, Hey, this is what I’m here for. Just let it ride.

What’s the best part of your gig?

TJ: The real thrill is when we do a private investigation, sit down with the homeowners at the end and show them the evidence we found. Their reaction—it’s just priceless.

Katie: They’re always floored by the validation. They’re like, “See! I knew in my heart that what I was feeling was real!”

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