Thursday, June 29, 2006

FEATURE: DIEPART

If you've got a house with termites, you call the exterminator. If your house develops a leak, you call a plumber. But what happens if your house comes down with something slightly more mysterious, spooky, or altogether ooky?

Stan and Dee Dee Gaunt are your typical young married couple. Having set up home in Wilton, IA three years ago with their young daughter, the three were like any other family -- until this January, when they say an uninvited houseguest moved in.

"I was at home by myself," explains Stan. "I was in the shower, when out of nowhere a female voice asked, 'Are you about done?'" Stan leapt out of the shower -- to find that he was still alone in the house. Not long afterwards, Stan was headed into the bathroom when both he and Dee Dee clearly heard the same voice asking, "Where are you going?"

It was shortly after that when the Gaunt's daughter began telling her mother about a "lady" and an "angel" who were appearing to her. "The lady doesn't say anything," Dee Dee explains, "but my daughter talks to her. And the 'angel,' who she says is a little girl, appeared in her room and asked her, 'Are you afraid of ghosts?'"

While Dee Dee Gaunt says that's she's always been a believer and "sensitive" to the paranormal, her husband isn't.

"I've never believed in ghosts," says Stan, "until I started hearing the voices." That was enough for the couple to try and use a ouija board to contact their new ghostly friends.

"We contacted a woman who says she's 30 years old. And she said there were 'others,'" explains Dee Dee.

Now convinced that they were sharing their home with the dearly departed, yet not wanting to tell anyone for fear of their reaction, the Gaunts instead turned to the internet to research their phenomena -- and that's when they found DIEPART.

DIEPART -- The Des Moines Iowa Extreme Paranormal Advanced Research Team -- has spent the past few years helping folks like the Gaunts. Their mission -- and it's one they do completely for free and out of their own pocket -- is to document ghost sightings and investigate purported hauntings throughout Iowa.

"We pride ourselves on our availability and our 24-hour helpline," says DIEPART founder Joe Leto. "People can and do call us when they experience activity that's so out of control they're literally unable to cope alone. We're someone to talk to who really cares, won't judge them, and will try to figure out with them the ghost psychology of a haunting. Most people just want to verify that they're not crazy."

Leto himself was a skeptic of the paranormal until an event happened to him that changed his life.

"I was home from work on lunch," he explains. "I had just gotten back to my truck when I decided to run back into the house and grab something to drink. When I walked into my kitchen, every cabinet and drawer was standing wide open. I had only been outside for a matter of seconds."

After Leto's own unexplained event, he founded DIEPART in an effort to capture scientific proof of things that go bump in the night. And now, on most weekends, you can find Leto and his team of volunteers trekking all across Iowa in vans and trucks loaded with investigative equipment of all sorts.

When DIEPART takes a case, a team of investigators shows up for a paranormal slumber party. The team sets up camp, spends the entire night collecting and recording every last detail, then spends weeks afterwards analyzing the data in hopes of proving or answering any unexplained phenomena. Very much like the acclaimed television show on the Sci-Fi Channel, Leto and DIEPART are modern-day Ghost Hunters.

DIEPART's investigations utilize tools that range from the scientific to the simple. When the team arrives at a location, the first step is setting up infrared cameras throughout the house. Weighted mylar strips are hung from the ceilings like futuristic flypaper to capture any unexplained movement or breezes on infrared. Parabolic microphones, so sensitive that they might actually hear a pin drop, record the entire evening's audio straight to a laptop computer in hopes of picking up EVP's (Electronic Voice Phenomena).

Then smaller controlled experiments are set up throughout the house. "One of the simplest controlled experiments we do uses just a golf ball and a rubber band," explains DIEPART investigator Terri Smith. "We place a rubber band on a flat surface, then set a plastic golf ball inside. At the end of the night, we'll look to see if a force of some kind has moved the ball outside of the rubber band."

After the experiments are set up, each member of the investigative team is given a thermometer, a camera, and is sent to a different room to observe. One member of the team roams the house to chronicle the progress, and another films the whole night for DIEPART's Des Moines-area cable access television show.

"I think the reason that we even discuss the paranormal is because it's so hard to prove," says Leto. "However, DIEPART is constantly pushing the extreme to find better mousetraps to catch these phenomenas that people cannot explain. It's our goal to keep trying new ways of proving or disproving that the supernatural exists."

DIEPART is not a group comprised exclusively of ghost-lovers. "We've got a pretty even mix of skeptics and believers on our team," says DIEPART volunteer Shannon Kingrey. "It keeps things even."

Kingrey says that she wasn't even sure of the paranormal until her first DIEPART trip. "I had just joined the group," she explains, "and we investigated a home in Fairbury, Nebraska. We experienced everything that night from a shaking bed to a glowing orb of light floating just feet away from me. I've been hooked ever since."

Pop culture often associates ghost hunts with images of mediums and psychics who attempt to contact the supposed spirits, but DIEPART laughs the notion off. "We call it 'conjuring,'" says Leto. "We need scientific proof of the paranormal, and speaking to dead air, no pun intended, is not science. We're here to find evidence, not practice witchcraft."

Leto also stresses that DIEPART are ghost hunters and NOT ghostbusters. If the team DOES find evidence of a haunting, they can only chronicle and report it. And that's fine by the Gaunt's.

"I don't want our spirits to leave," says Dee Dee Gaunt with a smile. "They're not doing anyone any harm. I just wanted someone else to experience what we have, so that we know we're not crazy."

The results of all of DIEPART's investigations, including strange EVP's captured at the Gaunt's home in Wilton, are available to the public via the group's website, www.diepart.com. The team is also seeking new investigations in the Quad Cities area, so if you think you've got a boogeyman in your basement or a poltergeist in your pantry, they encourage you to e-mail help@diepart.com or call their 24-hour hotline, 515-250-2108.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

A column and a feature - how cool! Congrats!