A trio of military veterans have discovered a passion for researching and investigating unexplained and unusual phenomena reportedly occurring in historic properties across South Australia.
Max, Steve and Desmon – each with around twenty years of military service – discovered that they all shared a quiet interest in things that could not readily be explained.
The men are very careful not to describe themselves as ‘ghost hunters’ or indeed anything resembling the stereotypical thrill-seekers flooding television and YouTube every day. “That is definitely not us.” Steve, a former military aviation officer and now social services worker says. “We approach every case like a military operation and not a sideshow. We use all of our combined skills and experience to plan, conduct, analyse, document and report each investigation in a discreet, methodical and professional manner.” Steve’s description is delivered in a typical military briefing style.
“A lot of people would probably categorize us as ‘ghost hunters’ or paranormal investigators, but those definitions don’t fit us…” Steve hands me the teams very understated business card, which on the back reads:
We are a small team of current and former serving military personnel with a special interest in conducting confidential research, investigation and analysis of unusual events and phenomena reported at locations of historical significance in South Australia.
He continues, “We are a combination of historical enthusiasts, researchers, investigators, technicians, analysts, intelligence officers, photographers, acousticians, experimenters, report writers and scientists. We don’t hunt ‘ghosts’, we don’t know that ‘ghosts’ exist. We just know that there are things that happen that cannot be readily explained. Each of us has personal experiences of things that we cannot explain and that is what ultimately brought us here. We just happen to have a very niche set of skills that allow us to investigate that further.”
Along with numerous other impressive qualifications, the team has three undergraduate university degrees, one post-graduate university degree and two formal trade qualifications between its’ members, covering various disciplines.
“We don’t blindly accept things. We have solid technical, psychological, research and scientific backgrounds. We take things seriously; we all have national police clearances and the team holds a comprehensive insurance policy for our investigative activities. We don’t get paid for our investigations. In fact, it costs us time and money. This is a genuine interest that grows with every case.”
Max, a security intelligence veteran of 26 years and numerous deployments to Iraq, East Timor and Afghanistan says that the group has given him a new lease on life. “When I discharged from the military I went from applying years of technical and operational knowledge, skills and experience in combat operations to living a relatively sedentary life in the Northern Suburbs pretty much overnight.”
A diagnosis of PTSD and a discharge on medical grounds essentially meant that Max would not be able to use any of the skillsets he had honed as a highly trained ‘operator’ ever again.
“This has changed that for me and it gives me a sense of purpose and a way to keep my mind active. I am also learning a lot about South Australian history and getting out and about to places I would never normally visit, and meet people I would never normally have met.”
When asked what this meant for him, Desmon, a current serving senior military officer of 19 years, said “It’s not the battle for this team, it is the strategy of searching for something your mind is not ready to accept. Through the combined experiences of planning and executing technically complex and dangerous missions and the persistent nature and need for tactical hyper vigilance where you have to rely on your sense to make decisions and trust in the guys around you. That’s what makes this team unique. Shared lives, shared experiences, shared emotions builds the foundation of a team that is driven to success and willing to take a risk, and completely devoted to each other.” It is clear that this mission for Desmon is important and very personal.
“I trust these guys 100% and that is something that is very rare in any civilian team.” Steve adds.
The men explain that the process of investigating a case can be very complex and time consuming.
Steve explains that a case typically starts with a lead. “A lead might come from a news article, a verbal report or maybe some rumour or hearsay. Occasionally a property owner or custodian may simply approach us directly or through our network. They might be experiencing strange and unusual things at their properties but may not know what to do about it. They might not want to talk to anyone about it because it could be potentially embarrassing. We understand and respect that.”
Steve continues, “But more often than not the lead will just be somebody hearing about a building being ‘haunted’ or relaying claims of unusual activity. We will conduct an initial assessment of the claim and decide if we should progress with an investigation of the property. If so, we will submit a formal Expression of Interest to the property owner.”
In the case of actively seeking access to properties there are no shortages of hurdles.
Desmon describes the apprehension that the team are met with. “As you might imagine, in the case of where we identify a potential property to investigate, getting access can be problematic. Some people might immediately assume we are ‘nuts’, some may be concerned about liability in the case of an accident, some may be concerned about security of the premises and some may purely not be interested. There may be religious or cultural beliefs or concerns and of course we respect that. When we are offering our services or people approach us we want them to know that they can trust us. Apart from our clearances and insurance, the Australian Government has entrusted us with carrying out sensitive military operations across the globe for 60 years, so hopefully that helps to put our clients’ minds at rest in terms of credibility and trustworthiness.”
Max says that the group is particularly interested in properties of historical significance.
“Properties that are of historical significance can offer a plethora of open-source information that can be used to assist with an investigation. We have access to so many resources which can help us with our approach to the investigation. We of course use the internet for research, but a lot of the information that we use is sourced by actually going to places like the State archives, libraries, research centres and historical societies. Some information we may need to purchase, for example, Land Title information or for access to specific genealogical information. Each case is different and offers its own challenges, that is part of the appeal. There is something very rewarding about going to the State Archives and thumbing through a 100 year-old document and finding a key piece of information that could be important to an investigation. Our clients are often amazed by what we have discovered before we have even started the physical investigation of the property.”
Investigations are not a cheap venture either. Max shows me the impressive array of equipment that the team have at their disposal. Cameras, video recorders, motion sensors, radio equipment, security cameras, projectors, speakers, microphones and many more electronic devices. In addition to these he has a range of older analogue devices as well. Max explains, “The equipment might look impressive but it is only a part of the overall investigation effort. At the end of the day, we could do an investigation with a fraction of it if we needed to, but we like multiple sensor coverage whilst we are investigating. For example, if we are doing a targeted audio recording session in a particular building or room we would normally have at least three audio recorders running, instead of just one. This not only provides redundancy but also allows us to independently compare the tracks afterwards.”
“The other important aspect of the investigation is the physical sensory aspect. This is where people can get very uncomfortable discussing things. The feelings of being watched, touched, hearing things, seeing things and so on. Walking into a room and getting odd feelings or places just having a vibe.” The three veterans stop short of saying they believe in ghosts. Steve offers his view, “The Law of Conservation of Energy states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transferred or changed from one form to another. I start with that in mind and go from there. As for if and how that energy might manifest or present itself or whatever, well that is the question.”
Desmon explains that investigations are normally carried out at night, but not always, and an investigation may take multiple nights to do properly.
“Contrary to popular belief a night time investigation is not about a ‘spooky-factor’. We investigate at night for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is because the buildings are not normally used at night. Secondly, the ambient noise and light is lower at night and thirdly, we have jobs and families so it is easier to do it at night than get time off work.”
In true military fashion the team also do one or two reconnaissance missions to the area as part of the research phase as well.
“It is very important to see that property during the day for a number of reasons. We need to do a risk assessment from a WH&S point of view and identify any hazards and come up with mitigation strategies. A visit also allows us to take measurements for our equipment, look at acoustic properties and ambient noise, power sources, where we might have to apply blackout curtains, identify where we will set up our operations centre and so on. The visit also allows us to talk to people involved with the property and what other experiences they may have had. Neighbours are also a good source of information and may be able to offer insights that others directly involved in the property may not be aware of.”
The details of the conduct of an investigation are kept close-hold. “Our techniques and procedures are kept between us and our clients. They vary for each case and involve a number of different experiments based on the research we have done leading up to the investigation. The clients are welcome to join us for the investigations if they like, but not all do. They are happy just to get the report at the end.”
Steve says that clients can call off the investigation at any time. “If for whatever reason the client does not want the investigation to continue we will cease all activities and hand over all video, audio and notes, no questions asked.”
After the investigation a long and onerous process of reviewing the sensor data ensues which can take weeks. Steve explains, “If you can imagine a four-hour investigation just with four video cameras and four audio recorders, that is 32 hours of data to painstakingly review in our own time. It takes time and commitment, but that’s what we do. When we find something of interest it is carefully analysed utilizing the skills of the team combined with specialized analysis software. The phenomena is then analysed and documented. If it warrants further investigation or analysis we will discuss that with the client and seek permission to share the particular file or files (without client or location identifying data) to one of our consultants overseas who is also a part of a investigation team of former military personnel like us.”
When asked what the groups friends and family think about what they do the responses are common. “Most of the time it is curiosity. Some think we are completely nuts and others just shake their heads. There are however, no shortages of people who want to come along with us though.”
But don’t get your hopes up, the team are strictly business with Desmon saying, “We don’t want to turn this into an entertainment venture, there are plenty of those around.”
Before I leave, Max pulls out his laptop computer and opens a folder labelled ‘2019 Audio Files’. He gives me his headphones to put on and presses play. What I hear is a short ten second audio clip recorded during a recent investigation. It is nothing like I have ever heard. The voice is clear and disturbing. I lean forward and hold the headphones tight “Play it again.” I say. The Class ‘A’ Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) contains a chilling message for one of the team members; I hastily give the headphones back to Max, still trying to process what I just heard.
“How do you explain that?” I ask. The three men nod in quiet agreement and Steve says “That is the mission.”
Next Time: Stevie joins the veterans on an investigation of an old mental asylum.