Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Another Look At Jackie's Tale

Third place would be awarded to a innocuous post on the capture of a world record fish. While interesting certainly (apparently!), I didn't think it would have you spitting out your morning joe in shock, so I'll skip down to number four for today's reposting. The Haunting of Jackie Hernandez. With more bad drama and fiction than a soap opera, this piece delves deep into the murky abyss surrounding one woman's claims of a phantom tormentor....

This is a story that I have wanted to write on this blog for quite some time, but as you can see it is a lengthy narrative with many convoluted twists and turns. So, it has taken me a while to get around to it. Hope it is interesting enough to be worth the wait.

In 1989, videographer Barry Conrad was asked to assist in the investigation of an alleged haunted house in San Pedro, CA. The project was spear-headed by Dr. Barry Taff, best known for his involvement in the famous "Entity" case of the late 1970's. This was an investigation that examined claims of violent poltergeist activity in Culver City, CA.

Conrad, who had worked for television before, was excited to dip his toes into some strange waters and work with someone of Taff's profile. He hoped he would be able to capture something really paranormal on camera. So, along with friend and photographer Jeff Wheatcraft, Conrad accepted the invitation and ventured to the San Pedro home of one Jackie Hernandez.

Once there, the assembled team heard impossible-to-believe stories about objects being tossed about by unseen forces, strange substances emanating and oozing from the walls (later said to be blood plasma), and the apparition of a ghastly and decrepit old man. In all, a classic Hollywood description of a terrifying haunting.

Before leaving that first day, Wheatcraft entered the attic--one of the home's many hotspots--through a panel in the ceiling to snap a few pictures. Suddenly, Wheatcraft cried out and leaped down from the attic. Once he was able to compose himself, he declared in terror that something had snatched the camera from his hands.

Still shaken, Wheatcraft accompanied Conrad back into the attic: the former to retrieve his camera, and the latter to find proof. Once inside, the two quickly saw that no one was hidden within its dark, dusty recesses, nor was there a way for someone to have slipped in or out unnoticed.

Strangely, the camera wasn't in sight. If there was the possibility that Wheatcraft's nerves conjured the fantasty that something had snatched his camera, it seemed to be fading fast. Only after several moments of looking was the camera spotted inside and old produce box. The lens had been detached and was found several moments later behind the door to the attic.

As the men prepared to leave, a malodorous scent filled the small attic. A sudden shout from Wheatcraft drew Conrad's eyes in time to see the photographer flee the attic promptly. Conrad quickly follow suit. Below, Wheatcraft recounted having felt a "bony" hand running along his lower back. Later, Wheatcraft would claim, visits to a chiropractor produced "evidence" of internal bruising of his back.

Conrad, who had until this point been unable to get his malfunctioning video camera to work, suddenly found himself able to shoot again as loud footsteps boomed through the attic above. When the sound stopped, Wheatcraft peered once more into the maw that so terrified him to confirm that nothing was up there.

He was about to close the attic back up when suddenly he shouted to the others that he could see three lights. Within moments, a large black mass manifested itself briefly before vanishing suddenly once more. Neither was anything caught on film nor video during the entire event.

Weeks later, Conrad received a call from a frightened Jackie Hernandez. As it happened, Conrad was in the company of Wheatcraft and another man, Gary Boehm, as the call came in. The men decided to record the conversation. Desperately, Hernandez pleaded for help. She and her family were in the midst of an exceptionally nasty bout of poltergeist activity: doors slamming, a soda can was flung at her, and an unseen force held her down as it tried to smother her.

It was around one in the morning when the men arrived at the seemingly calm little house. They were greeted by Hernandez from where she sat on the front porch with her two sleeping children, visibly shaken.

As the two other men checked out the house, Conrad stayed behind with Jackie and her neighbor, Susan Castaneda, who had joined them by that point. As the chatted, Conrad noticed an orange "comet of light" that suddenly luminesced before them. The strange phenomenon flew through a nearby door and disappeared outside. It happened so suddenly, Conrad didn't have time to capture it on video. However, he turned on the camera in hopes of its return.

As they waited, a series of sudden snaps were heard. Later these were described as the sound of a man snapping his fingers.

Barry began to roll the video just as a loud keening was heard from somewhere above. But it was not the mournful wailing of the disincarnate; it was the agonized voice of Jeff Wheatcraft emanating from the attic above.

Jackie screamed for him to come down.

As Conrad shot his video, trained on the attic opening, he could see several bursts from Wheatcraft's camera flash. Then darkness and silence for several long moments. Suddenly, Wheatcraft's baleful voice is heard calling out in confusion. "What's happened to me?"

Seconds later, Wheatcraft is crawling on the floor toward the attic opening. "I've got to get out of here," he says. "It's definitely raising hell... It put something around my neck".

Conrad and the women were shocked as Wheatcraft emerged from the hole. Around his bruised, red neck was a wire clothesline. Something had, he claimed, looped it around his neck and tried to hang him from one of the rafters. Conrad believed these events transpired too rapidly for his friend to have done this to himself in any attempt to hoax those below.

When Conrad examined the video at home, he noted that the same bright "comet of light" was seen in the video footage shortly after the hanging incident. Thinking these strange lights might be insects, Conrad had Dr. Keith Dobrey, an entomologist working in L.A., examine the tape. He determined that whatever these were, they were not insects.

Subsequent investigations at the home revealed more of these strange lights, which Conrad claims had been clocked at speeds over 200 mph. Conrad further states that Dr. Barry Taff's film team recorded similar phenomena during their "Entity" investigation.

By November that year, Jackie Hernandez had moved to a trailer home in Weldon, California. At first it seemed the nightmare of her poltergeist had been left behind in that dismal San Pedro home. However, by spring, strange things began once more.

Mysterious scratching noises, as if from some wild best, emanated from the walls of the shed behind the home. On April 2nd, while helping Jackie move a TV into the shed, Janice and Jim Silcott, Jackie's neighbors, saw the visage of an old man appear on the TV screen. Upon hearing their description, Hernandez was suddenly reminded of the ugly, angry looking spirit that haunted her in San Pedro. The Silcott's claimed he had "evil eyes".

Once again, Jackie Hernandez frantically phoned Barry Conrad and Jeff Wheatcraft who arrive at her home on April 13th, 1990. Conrad stated later that Wheatcraft reluctantly accompanied him, given his prior experiences in San Pedro, to Jackie's new home.

Arriving at night, beneath a full moon, the pair began their investigation, first spotting - amazingly - mysterious shadows inside her shed. Unfortunately, Conrad's oft-malfunctioning video camera was once more on the fritz and unable to record anything.

At the prompting of Hernandez, the trio was joined by a neighbor in an ouija board session. Conrad professed skepticism but went along with the experiment nonetheless. Jackie lit some candles (as surely one must) and the group began to ask their questions:

"Are you really a ghost?"


The table, according to Conrad, suddenly began to vibrate wildly. A shock passed through the group. Still, they pressed on.

"How many ghosts reside among the living?"

Phantoms fill the skies around you

Once more the table shook, joined shortly by their chairs as well.

Throughout the session, conducted in a room with all windows closed, the nearby candles slowly, inexplicably blew themselves out one-by-one.

Further revelations from the planchette: their tormentor had been murdered in San Pedro bay in 1930 when someone held him under the water. Conrad wanted to know why the anger toward them. Why, for instance, he asked, did the spirit attack Wheatcraft in the attic?

Because he has the likeness of my killer

The table shook once more. Conrad asked the spirit whom precisely in the room he hated. The planchette quickly spelled out the answer.


Suddenly, Jeff was tossed bodily through the air, smacking the wall of the trailer and slumping downward into unconsciousness. Conrad must have been cursing himself that none of this was caught on video. Oh, the irony! He raced to the floor where Jeff Wheatcraft lay. The man seemed to be coming around and Conrad helped him shakily to his feet.

Several days later, Conrad investigated what the spirit had said during the ouija board session, hoping to confirm the story. In reviewing the archives of San Pedro's paper at the time, Conrad discovered that a seaman named Heman Hendrickson had been murdered in 1930, drowned in the bay. This seemed important when, months later, they re-examined the cord that had snagged Wheatcraft that first visit. It seemed the knot was a type known almost exclusively to seafarers. Further still, Conrad says he learned that Hendrickson had lived in Jackie's San Pedro house.

But why leave the home he had haunted for so long to follow Jackie Hernandez? And why begin to follow Conrad and Wheatcraft suddenly? In July, the pair returned home to find things in disarray - subtle, but nonetheless noticed. A loud thump was heard, a coffee can overturned, two pairs of scissors placed under each pillow on the bed. It would seem the entity know Conrad wouldn't be alone that evening. Similar events when on for the next few months: footsteps were heard, mysterious apports with sinister overtones, a luminous apparition... Almost without exception, compelling evidence was never gathered nor was anything caught on film due to the inexplicable camera problems that plagued the men since day one.

In time, Hernandez moved back to San Pedro to live in a small apartment. But within days the entity had returned. Objects once more moved of their own accord, strange sounds were heard, and mysterious lights appeared.

In August, Hernandez had the opportunity to photograph one of these mysterious lights, which seemed impressive enough to confound the learned minds at the Eureka Photo Lab & Gifts in Studio City, a one-hour photo processing center. Another photo enterprise in Hollywood commented that "no spillage of light" fell "onto the background wall whatsoever".

Later, Dr. Barry Taff (a person seemingly absent from all but the initial Hernandez investigation) would comment that "in all my years of psychic research, never have I heard of a poltergeist invading the domain of those who came to investigate it." Why did Taff drop out of the investigation so early on? Did he suspect something? "Only a handful of cases have ever been reported in which ghosts have physically attacked human beings." Then it would seem like a great opportunity to examine such a rare instance, and yet he does not. He must have had good reason.

In time, Jackie Hernandez reported fewer and fewer incidents. She still lives in San Pedro.

My thoughts (for the most part) have been restrained in the preceding paragraphs. Here, I will pose questions and point out certain curiosities.

In regards to the oozing substance found in the San Pedro home that was determined to be a blood product of some type. I wonder who did the testing of this. Conrad in his account doesn't say. How do they know it was "blood"? It should be noted that substances oozing from walls has a lengthy history of appearing pop culture via films and novels, but not a great deal of real-life examples exist.

Conrad would have us believe there wasn't sufficient time for Jeff Wheatcraft to have inflicted the "strangulation" upon himself. But he had been outside the attic with Hernandez, unable to see what was happening above. I would say he had plenty of time.

Why did this entity follow these people outside the home?

What we never learn is more about Jackie Hernandez as a person. Who is she? What does she do? What is her home life like? What was going on in her world prior to these events? Does she have a history of mental illness? Is she a fantasy-prone personality? Does she struggle with drugs or alcohol? Is she religious? Has she had brushes with the law? Is the literate in the paranormal? The list goes on. Things that should have been asked and yet weren't, it seems.

It could be that the home was indeed haunted. Some prior and later tenants claimed such - even before the story broke. I may have been, too, if such phenomena are to be believed, that Jackie Hernandez was possessed of those subconscious psychokinetic abilities that seem to plague poltergeist conduits. This may have been what initially attracted Dr. Taff to the case, but once the three-ring circus of confabulation with aims to sell a story arose, he bowed out.

It would seem, if you have seen any of the footage of this case, that a great deal of manipulation and misidentification has taken place. The strange lights buzzing about Hernandez' head, for example, are clearly an artifact of video speed as it affects how insects are seen. There have been many documented experiments proving these so-called "rods" are merely insects that, because of their rapidity of movement, can appear in multiple places across a single frame of video. Conrad has the necessary skills to determine this, as he also possesses the ability to manipulate the footage to suit his needs. Conrad never reveals what frame rate his cameras were operating at.

I have qualms with the ouija board session, beyond my qualms for ouija board sessions. Simply because Wheatcraft resembled the man who murdered the spirit doesn't seem sufficient reason, when even the spirit says he only LOOKS like him, to torment him so. I'm not about to psychoanalyze the dead, but it lacks a certain logic. If I were to venture a guess, I would say that slowly (perhaps guided by Conrad), these men began to shift focus from Jackie Hernandez to place themselves in the "starring roles" of this melodrama. Also, I find what the ghost purportedly says to be belabored speech. It's as if someone in the 1990's was trying to affect a "voice from the past" by using the passive voice, thinking it would sound more formal and therefore "antiquated". "You have the likeness of my killer" and not "you look like the man that killed me." It smacks of someone trying too hard to convince us that this is a voice beyond the grave. Also, I'm not certain that the facts (if true) concerning the murdered seaman weren't known before hand.

I've looked around and can find no documentation to bolster such claims as the "massive internal bruising" Wheatcraft (who seems to take all the punches) received from his initial encounter.

I also wonder why Hernandez kept calling Conrad and Wheatcraft back. They aren't paranormal investigators. They were cameramen. Was it because they seemed eager marks and Taff was unimpressed? Or is it, as some have suggested, related to a romantic interest Hernandez showed in Conrad? In an early to mid-1990s interview, Hernandez exhibited thinly-veiled resentment and even outright hostility toward Conrad and his work in those years. The scorn of a would-be lover who had been rebuffed?

Take what you will from this tale. I, for one, see an emotionally liable woman with a fantasy-prone personality and a need for attention (who might genuinely have been encountering a haunting or self-manifested poltergeist phenomenon) that draws in the attention of a somewhat famous man and one or more less-than-scrupulous opportunists. A tacit - if even unspoken - agreement arises that, if played right, this can bring a lucrative degree of attention. Books can be written, interviews given, and videos sold (as they have been). As things fell apart between Jackie Hernandez and the other men (for what reasons we can only speculate), Conrad shifts the focus of the haunting from her to himself. After all, it doesn't matter who the leading lady is; the ghost is the star.

1 comment:

Autumnforest said...

Once again, my friend, I have nearly nothing to add to what you said. You always think pretty much along the same lines as I do, rather practical and skeptical. I try to take out of the equation all notions of religious doctrines and explanatory style. This is exactly why I'd rather enter a place having not spoken to the occupants or anyone else who has investigated the place. It's ideal for me because humans are pack animals. If one panics, is panic is contagious. We saw that on the Donohue show when a couple actors in the audience faked a faint and then others followed. We are highly suggestible. I have trained myself not to be, but sometimes there is a twinge in a person's voice that makes me feel empathy and I would rather not know what they are encountering so that what I find is pure and uncorrupt of stories and tears and anxiety. Very great post! Loved it!