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, more than 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.
Read the rest of this story at Narratively.