Christie Carpenter-Chaidez and her neighbor stepped through the gates of Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, equipped with a tiny electronic voice phenomenon (EVP) recorder that they’d bought on eBay. The long-abandoned 82-plot cemetery, set on the edge of a forest in Midlothian, Illinois, is known for its paranormal happenings. Legend has it the mob used the cemetery as a dumping ground for dead bodies back in the 1920s, and spooky sightings have included pale ghostly figures sitting atop graves, phantom cars whipping down the street, and orbs of light floating through the overgrown grounds at night.
The air was heavy as the women ambled up the path into the grounds after nightfall, and Carpenter-Chaidez tried singing to lighten the mood. The sound reverberated in every direction. Then suddenly, she felt something scratch her on the leg. “I still have pictures of [the scratch] somewhere,” Carpenter-Chaidez says, over 15 years later. That small scare did not deter her from investigating what is considered to be one of the most haunted cemeteries in America. After years of curiosity about the paranormal, Bachelor’s Grove was her first deliberate ghost-hunting expedition, laying the groundwork for what would become the Paranormal Moms Society.
Carpenter-Chaidez is one of eight women who make up the Paranormal Moms Society, or PMS, of Northlake, Illinois. Founded in 2007, the members all have full-time jobs and families that they balance with their investigations, which are often an all-night ordeal, followed by weeks spent analyzing the hundreds of hours of footage, audio files and EVP recordings. This off-kilter work has led to lifelong friendships — and a sense of purpose. Any case that deals with kids or animals gets pushed to the front of the pile. “It’s the mom in us,” says Carpenter-Chaidez.
When Carpenter-Chaidez first moved to Northlake, a 12,000-person city half an hour outside of Chicago, she didn’t know many people. “I became a stay-at-home mom when my son was born, so then I was really isolated,” she says. It was on a regular walk to school that she struck up a conversation with one of the neighborhood moms and found a shared interest: paranormal investigations. Both avid fans of Ghost Hunters, the two women purchased some basic tools and started their own paranormal searches in cemeteries like the famed Bachelor’s Grove.
Their humble beginnings, without fancy equipment or really any clear idea of how one actually becomes a ghost hunter, sparked something in Carpenter-Chaidez. While her co-founder would end her affiliation with the group not long after it started, Carpenter-Chaidez wanted more. She soon began searching for other like-minded moms.
“I wondered how many other moms who are like us are out there,” says Carpenter-Chaidez. “[Moms] looking for something they could do to get away from the kids on a weekend and looking for something that they are really into.”
Each woman has a different story about how they got interested in the paranormal. Growing up in River Lake, Illinois, Carpenter-Chaidez knew at a young age that her house was haunted. Every night, after her mother tucked her in, Carpenter-Chaidez would grip her covers and wait. First, the sliding closet door would slowly creep open, inch by inch. She lay paralyzed in her bed with her blankets as her only protection. Then the lamp would begin its nightly dance. It was an old-school design: Cranked once, the bottom light would turn on; cranked twice, the top light came on; a third crank turned everything off.
She would hear the clicks of the lamp as the middle bulb flicked on, then both bulbs turned on, then both turned off, leaving her in darkness, staring directly into the shadow that appeared behind her closet door night after night. “I even remember my blankets being tugged off the bottom of the bed,” she says. If she called for her mother, she was always met with a scolding for getting out of bed or throwing off her blankets.
Eventually, she grew up and left that house, but the feeling of powerlessness and fear she experienced there stayed with her. Now, she wants to make sure that no one else ever has to feel that way.
Unlike Carpenter-Chaidez, Theresa Ban did not have any paranormal experiences until well into her adult life.
“It was after the passing of my mom, I started watching all the ghost shows,” says Ban, whose dry sense of humor shines during difficult investigations. Ban became the director of operations for PMS in 2011. “It was curiosity, ya know, wondering about life after death — what happens?”
“After my mom passed, every time my grandson would come over I would videotape [him]. I would always catch an orb in the video. I thought that’s great-grandma right there because she never got to meet her great-grandson.”
Unemployed and still reeling from the loss of her mother, she stumbled across a post by the Paranormal Moms Society. They were looking for investigators, and Ban responded immediately. When she met up with Carpenter-Chaidez for coffee, the two hit it off instantly. “It’s been seven years, and we’ve become really good friends — best friends,” says Ban who brought a background in investigations from her work as a fugitive recovery agent.
Together, they developed forms for their clients, got T-shirts made, and started investing in equipment — funding the whole operation themselves. Despite the costs of running things like a nonprofit, the group still performs all of its investigations for free. “A lot of people don’t have the money. They don’t know where to go. Things can get expensive, so we are just here to help,” Ban says.
As the group looked to expand, Ban enlisted the historical research expertise of her childhood friend Liz Mason, who was working as a secretary for a local historical preservation site. After growing up across the street from each other, then growing apart, Mason and Ban were brought closer again by the group. “As you get older, you grow a family, you lose your friends,” says Ban. “And then [PMS] brought us back together again.”
Mason, whose family immigrated from Mexico, was raised in a culture that didn’t shy away from spirits. “If you see them, you pretend you don’t, and you just keep moving on with your life,” she says. She hadn’t seen one herself until her mother sent her down to their basement to find the tamale pot one Christmas season. When she opened the door, she saw a shadow that wasn’t hers. “The only thing I can describe is that it looked like an outline of Dick Tracy,” says Mason, whose thick Midwestern accent spills into every sentence.
Carpenter-Chaidez’s son Luke (who has been observing paranormal investigations since he was 6 years old) joined the group as a tech manager, and the team now boasts a case manager, an investigator, a tech assistant and a client services specialist. With Mason’s command of historical research, Ban’s past experience analyzing evidence, and Carpenter-Chaidez’s rousing leadership, PMS investigations are now a professional production.
Since a segment spotlighting PMS on local news station WGN, the group has received an influx of client requests and applications for new investigators. “Not all of them are real,” says Carpenter-Chaidez. After parsing through the joke inquiries, they can figure out who is for real. They take their hiring process seriously. The job includes traveling, night shifts and time away from young children, and they make sure applicants know that this is no easy gig.
When they get a new case, PMS’s process is methodical. First, Mason does a historical deep dive on the home and surrounding area. “It takes a lot of digging. I mean, I can go through 500 pieces of paper at the library and not find anything,” she says. She looks for anything that could explain the paranormal happenings, deaths in the house, accidents nearby, or unusual historical occurrences in the town. She has uncovered mining accidents in Cherry Grove, Illinois, and stories about the Confederacy at the Maywood Home for Soldiers’ Widows and Orphans, incidents she says paint a more vivid picture of what the women will be walking in on when the time comes. “She’ll go way back to the beginning of Earth if she has to,” says Ban.
Then, equipment fully charged, release forms signed, and all pets and people off the property, the women gather around nightfall to kick off the investigation. They often don’t leave until sunrise the next morning.
For past clients Trina and Neil Wagner, PMS came into their lives at a critical time. Throughout the 12 years Trina lived in her current house, she has experienced paranormal attacks. She says she has been punched, scratched, and had her hair pulled. The ghosts she saw in the house all had different temperaments and dispositions, but the most prominent one was a little girl, her hair in blonde pigtails, who loved to play with Trina’s dog’s toys. The other prominent ghost was a tall skinny man in work boots whom Trina and Neil called Barney. He was not so playful. The aggression spiked after the Wagners’ crawl space flooded and they were forced to do some work on the house.
Cases that include aggressive ghosts are fairly rare in PMS’s experiences. Most often, they say, the spirits are nonviolent and mostly just startled by human presence, but in this particular case there was reason to believe that the spirit did not wish the inhabitants of the house well. All of the members of the PMS group carried an unexplainable hostility with them throughout the night. Tensions ran high; fights broke out. “People seemed off, not themselves,” says Carpenter-Chaidez.
The members of PMS do not get scared easily — they walk into pitch-black attics and haunted orphanages without blinking an eye — but this particular investigation was intense. Even Ban, who is normally unshakable, had to sit down and take a deep breath because of the presence she felt in the house. Carpenter-Chaidez watched as Ban paced back and forth. Ban was dazed and almost totally unresponsive until something hit the back of the couch with force.
“It was so hard that the footrest part came flying out and propelled me backward,” says Carpenter-Chaidez. “We all got up to check and there was nothing there, but the force of the hit was heard by the rest in the room.” The EVPs picked up the little girl’s voice in one of the hallways, but the most ominous sound was that of a man’s voice in the crawlspace saying, “I never did anything.”
Their work includes recording EVPs, using tools that essentially pick up voices and responses that can only be found on playback. They also measure fluctuations in the electromagnetic field, (theoretically if it gets higher, a spirit is close by). And they record responses from the dowsing rods, two L-shaped metal sticks that one of them carries around, which cross and uncross depending on how the spirit is responding to questions.
For investigations that deal with the ghosts and spirits of children, the team employs Boo-Bear, a stuffed teddy bear with a glowing green tummy and a prerecorded voice that asks questions to the spirit children. Boo-Bear will ask spirit children to say their ABCs, or count with them in an attempt to coax out an answer that a team member may not be able to get. Boo-Bear is programmed with responses to temperature shifts (she will say things like, “Brr, it’s cold in here”), and she has an EVP monitor inside of her, so all the team members have to do is set up a recording device near her and listen to how the spirits respond on playback.
While PMS makes no claims of performing exorcisms or other such spirit removals, they will always connect clients to the resources they need, whether religious or spiritual.
Some of the women’s family members do not support or understand their paranormal hobbies. Mason’s mother was against it for religious reasons, but over the years she has become more accepting, and now she even watches the live feeds of their investigations. Ban’s sons were skeptical too, but after Ban went through evidence and showed them what the work entails, she says they understood. “Both of my boys are supportive; they don’t make fun of it or anything,” says Ban. “They know this is Mom’s hobby and I like to do this.”
But this is more than just a pastime for these women; it’s a responsibility. If there is anything their own paranormal experiences have taught them, it is that no one should ever feel scared, alone or hopeless. And they are committed to doing this work no matter what.
“I have shown up to cases with a cane, I have a team member that has arthritis and even when she can barely move, she will still come on a case,” says Carpenter-Chaidez. “My case manager Crissy showed up at this site and she didn’t look great to me … well, it turns out she had been having a heart attack and stayed, so that is who is on my team.”
The women of PMS are not in ghost-hunting for fame or recognition. They all genuinely believe in what they are doing, and they see this as an opportunity to help others.“It is all worth it to me,” says Mason. “Especially when we help people, when we validate [their] claims, and they go, ‘See I wasn’t crazy!’”
“In the beginning, I was trying to find answers for myself,” says Carpenter-Chaidez. “I wanted to know what was after me when I was a child. But over the years it has become about finding these answers for other people, so they don’t have to have that fear that I did.”