The House of 200 Demons: What the Exorcist Said
(Above, the "House of 200 Demons" on Carolina Street in Gary, Indiana, before it was demolished by its then owner, Zak Bagans. Photo by John b. Stephens)
I have longed loved the Indiana Duneland--the National Lakeshore just south of the Chicago southern city limits. "The Dunes" is a big summer destination for Chicagoans like me who enjoy the larger and more beautiful beaches with their towering sandhills, great for climbing.
But Duneland is also an extremely haunted place. The area known as The Dunes begins in Gary, Indiana, and the ghosts of Gary are intensely plentiful. Among them is the famed female phantom, "Diana of the Dunes." Diana was, in life, a woman named Alice, who left a life of academia in Chicago to become a hermit. Living on berries, plants and the kindness of strangers, she became a romantic folk figure for decades, before her mysterious death. Since then, she has been seen, in ghostly form, swimming nude at dawn in the waters of Lake Michigan.
Many of Gary's ghost stories are less romantic. As one of the most economically devastated cities in America, the former "Steel City" is, today, a ghost town in a very literal sense. From the ghosts of the steel mills to the vanishing hitchhiker called "La Llorona," the tragic tales of Gary have been truly immortalized in the local ghostlore.
In 1949, a young boy named Ronald Hunkeler from Cottage City, Maryland underwent a series of exorcisms at the Alexian Brothers Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. His story, immortalized in the 1971 book and (and, later, film) The Exorcist, has remained one of the most chilling and fascinating appearances of the paranormal in American life. By all accounts, the possession of “Robbie Doe,” as he was known for generations, began with sessions on a Ouija board with the boy’s aunt, a practicing Spiritualist.
The sensationalism surrounding the release of the book and film based on the story was largely fine by by the American public, who generally viewed the tale as a gripping horror story rather than as a traumatic ordeal of a very real child. Still, bits of folklore developed around The Exorcist, including whisperings about a “curse” on the set of filming, strange events that occurred to the actors and crew members, and other rumors. These snatches of legends served as harrowing reminders that the story was, in fact, not just a story.
The 2011 film, The Rite, starring Anthony Hopkins, introduced a whole new generation to the reality of possession and exorcism, as seen through the eyes of a young seminarian who regains his wavering faith by studying under a Vatican exorcist. The Rite, also based on a true story, loosely followed the story of Fr. Gary Thomas, a Saratoga, California priest who is one of about two dozen “official”exorcists in the United States: that is, they have been sanctioned by their bishop to perform exorcisms.
In his seminal work on possession and exorcism, Hostage to the Devil, the late Malachi Martin, himself a former Jesuit priest who sat in on numerous exorcisms in contemporary North America, based his entire book on the thesis that an exorcism is the final rendezvous among the demon, the victim and the exorcist—all of whom have been inextricably linked from before birth. Sometimes that exorcist is not a sanctioned one. Sometimes the exorcist is called to his ministry when it is the last thing expected.
In the Fall of 2011, Ammons, her mother, Rose Campbell, and Latoya’s three children moved into a small rental house on Carolina Street. The street is a sleepy street (at least for Gary), and the family was close-knit and seemingly well adjusted, despite Latoya’s status as a single mother trying, like so many, to make ends meet. By May, however, Latoya would have her children taken from her by Indiana’s Department of Children's Services, citing “severe spiritual stress” resulting from what Latoya—and numerous others--believed was demonic possession.
In the Fall of 2011, a Gary, Indiana woman named Latoya Ammons, her mother, Rose Campbell, and Latoya’s three children moved into a small rental house on Carolina Street in Gary, Indiana. The street is a sleepy street (at least for Gary), and the family was close-knit and seemingly well adjusted, despite Latoya’s status as a single mother trying, like so many, to make ends meet. By the following spring, however, Latoya would have her children taken from her by Indiana’s Department of Children’s Services, citing “severe spiritual stress” resulting from what Latoya—and numerous others--believed was demonic possession.
Latoya would go on to give her story to the Indy Star, specifically to a reporter named Marisa Kwiatkowski.. The resulting article would become the most-read in the Star’s history, and the family’s story one of the most notable appearances of the paranormal in the American media, even leading the nation’s most popular “ghost hunter” to purchase the family’s former home-- what became known as the “Demon House,” or the “House of 200 Demons.”
Latoya and her family had been in the house scarcely a month before strange events began in the house, starting with the appearance of swarms of flies. Evocative of a horror movie, huge black horseflies suddenly infested their screened-in porch before Christmas, seemingly oblivious to the freezing temperatures. Latoya and her mother put down fly paper, swatted and swept up the insects day after day, but the infestation persisted.
Soon, one by one, other events ensued. On one occasion, a few minutes after midnight, Rosa and Latoya both said, they heard the steady clump of footsteps climbing the basement stairs and the creak of the door opening between the basement and kitchen. Fearing an intruder, the two waited with bated breath at their bedroom doors for many, many minutes, fearing even a move to call the police. After much time had passed, Latoya flicked on the lights and went to inspect the kitchen and basement. No one was there. Even after a thorough inspection and putting a lock on the door, the noise continued night after night, worsening with the sound of pounding on the door and, sometimes, the growling of what sounded like an animal.
Rosa said she then awoke one night and saw a shadowy figure of a man pacing back and forth in her living room. Fearing an intruder, she lay paralyzed in bed until morning, and then went to investigate. Though the doors and windows were still locked from the inside and nothing seemed to be missing, the family found large, wet footprints on the living room floor.
On March 10, 2012, the family was awake late. There had been a death in the family and friends were over, chatting and reminiscing into the evening hours. During the evening, Latoya’s daughter complained of being pulled off the couch by an unseen force. Shortly after, one of the boys was thrown into a freezer adjacent to the living room. Later, sometime after the children had gone to bed, suddenly, there conversation was interrupted by a piercing cry from the girl’s room, where she was sleeping with a cousin. When Rosa got to the room and switched on the light, she saw the body of her daughter drop to the bed. According to the cousin, the girl had been levitating, still asleep, several feet off the bed.
The visitors never came back to the house on Carolina Street. And there were others who refused to enter the house, but for a different reason. The local churches, who Latoya and Rosa begged for help, turned a deaf ear to their pleas, believing the women were imagining—or fabricating—their tales.
Eventually, after an especially tearful visit to one small community church, a minister visited the house and declared that it was troubled by spirits. The recommended remedy was a thorough cleaning with bleach and ammonia, followed by the inscribing of crosses on all of the doors and windows. Also prescribed was the anointing of the family members with oil.
The first mention of “demons” in connection with the house seems to have been when Latoya and her mother contacted two clairvoyants, who sat the women down with the news that the house was infested with more than 200 demonic spirits, that the forces were emanating from the basement, and that they must remove the children from the house at once. But with nowhere else to go, Latoya was forced to resort to plan B. At the advice of one of the clairvoyants, she built a makeshift altar in the basement, covering at table with a sheet and placing on it a pure white candle and a statue of the Holy Family. Latoya dressed in white and, using a stick of sage from a local occult shop, went through the house with the burning stick, reading from Psalm 91, invoking God’s protection. After blessing and “smudging” every room of the house with the aromatic herb, she returned to the basement and placed the Bible on the rude altar, open to the psalm.
What followed was three days of peace. And then the real trouble began.
Latoya went on record with the Indy Star, claiming that demons then possessed not only her but her three children, 12, 9 and 7 years old. The “possession” would come and go without warning, but there was no mistaking when it was happening: their eyes bulged and flared accompanied by loveless smiling and gruff intonations of cryptic words and phrases. They felt lightheaded and besieged by an almost crippling fatigue. Headaches were a daily problem for nearly everyone in the house.
Latoya described seeing her children first engaged with, then tormented by, whatever was in the house. Each child was targeted differently. The youngest began speaking of an imaginary friend, who would coax him into the closet to “play” for hours on end, and who talked about knowing what it was like to be killed. Her nine year old once began speaking about what it feels like to be murdered. Her daughter, 12, heard a disembodied voice tell her she would not live another twenty minutes, and that her family was going to be taken away.
Latoya claimed her family also continued to be physically attacked in the house, her daughter assaulted by a heavy headboard, battered so hard that she needed stitches, and her younger boy flying out of the bathroom as if by some tremendous force. The attacks became so bad that some nights, for relief, the family stayed in a hotel.
With their spiritual remedies seemingly exhausted, Latoya and Rosa appealed to their family physician for help. The doctor told a reporter later that even he was “scared” when he first heard of the events in the Latoya home. But from the notes he wrote in the family’s file—“delusional,” “hallucinations”—he apparently was more afraid for their mental health than of any supernatural manifestations in their lives.
That would change abruptly however, with the physical visit to the doctor’s office. According to the testimony of medical staff that appear in the DCS files, the two young boys began cursing the doctor in low, growling voices, the younger boy then being lifted and thrown against the office wall. Both boys then fainted. Someone called 911. A flurry of police officers arrived, no one quite sure what was going on. The boys were taken to a local hospital, where staff literally laughed off Latoya’s accounts of their troubles. When the boys woke up, the 9 year old seemed himself, but the younger child had to be held down by five men. Someone—whether from the hospital or the doctor’s office—called the Department of Children’s Services to report the situation.
Soon after, a case worker arrived at the hospital to interview the family. An exam had found the children healthy and free of bruises or other marks. Latoya had been examined by a hospital psychiatrist and found to be stable. But while case worker interviewed the children, the 7 year old began growling and baring his teeth. His eyes bulged and rolled back in his head. He then attempted to strangle his older brother and had to have his hands pried off his throat by the adults in the room.
Suspecting that the children were for some reason performing at their mother’s urging, the case worker later brought them into an isolated exam room, joined by a nurse and his grandmother. According to the case worker’s report—which was backed up by the nurse--the younger boy immediately began to growl again, before telling his brother, “It’s time to die.” At the same time, the older boy began thrusting his head into his grandmother’s stomach, at which point Rosa grabbed his hand and began to pray. Then, with a weird grin, the older boy walked backwards several steps and up the wall to the ceiling, glided across the ceiling over his grandmother, and landed on his feet, never letting go of his grandmother’s hand.
No, Washington told them. She said the boy "glided backward on the floor, wall and ceiling," according to a police report. The caseworker later told a reporter that both she and the nurse ran out of the room in fear. She also told police that she thought an “evil influence” might be affecting the family.
Though the youngest boy spent the night in the hospital with Latoya, the next day was his eighth birthday, and the family returned with cake and small gifts. After the makeshift party, DCS informed Latoya that her children were being taken away from her, without a court order. The caseworker had written in the report that all of Latoya children were under “spiritual and emotional distress.”
Latoya was devastated. After all the family had fought through, the idea of her being suspected of abuse or neglect was too much to bear. The children, too, were hysterical over the idea of being separated. But nothing could be done.
Incredibly, however, the family had been at the hospital long enough to catch the attention of the hospital chaplain, and on the morning of April 20, 2012, he put in a call to Fr. Michael Maginot at St. Stephen, Martyr parish in nearby Merrillville, requesting something extraordinary: an exorcism for a young Gary boy. Though skeptical of the claims, Maginot agreed to visit the family after Mass that weekend. And on April 22, he arrived as promised at the house.
Maginot was a believer in demons, but also sensible and forthright. He told Latoya and Rosa that the first thing they needed to do was rule out any natural causes for what was happening. For the next two hours, he listened as the two women laid out the history of the case in grim detail. During the interview, the bathroom light took to flickering on occasion, stopping each time the priest walked over to investigate. Blinds on the kitchen window, too, swung back and forth as they talked, and wet footprints appeared in the living room. At one point, Latoya complained of a headache, prompting Fr. Maginot to place a crucifix against her forehead. Her body began to convulse uncontrollable.
After a meticulous four-hour interview, Maginot said he was convinced the family was being tormented by demons, but also that he believed there were ghosts—human, deceased entities-- in the house. He went from room to room, blessing each with holy water and reading passages from the Bible as he walked. As he stood to leave, he strongly encouraged Latoya and Rosa to leave the home.
But less than a week later, the two women were back at the house to let the case manager check the condition of the home. The case worker arrived with a police officer she’d asked to accompany her and two other officers, who’d asked to come out of curiosity.
The group went from room to room, inspecting first the main floor and its three bedrooms, living room, and bath. The kitchen door, where the first sounds had started, led to the unfinished basement with concrete floors. Directly under the stairs, however, was a dirt floor. The concrete around it was jagged, as though it had been broken. Latoya told police that the demons seemed to originate from that patch of dirt.
One of the officers present was a Gary police captain, who went on record saying that he came to believe in demons after visiting the “Demon House.” During the visit, an officer’s audio recorder malfunctioned. The power light flashed to indicate the batteries were dying, even though the officer had placed fresh batteries in the recorder earlier that day. Another officer recorded audio and, when he played it back later, heard an unknown voice whisper "hey."
The officers also took photos of the house. In one photo of the basement stairs, there was a cloudy white image in the upper right-hand corner. When an officer enlarged the photo, that cloud appeared to resemble a face. The enlargement also revealed a second, green image that police say looked like a female.
The Gary police captain said photos he snapped with his cell phone also seemed to have strange silhouettes in them. The radio in his police-issued Ford malfunctioned on the way home. Later that night, the garage at his Gary home refused to open, even though the power was on everywhere else. On the way home, the driver's seat in his car also started moving backward and forward on its own. When he took it into the dealership, the mechanic told him the motor on the driver's seat was broken, which could have caused an accident.
In April 2012, DCS petitioned Lake Juvenile Court for temporary wardship of the three children. The request was granted. An investigation had found that Latoya had neglected her children's education by not having them in school regularly. The finding was not just a symptom of the events on Carolina Street. Records showed that the same situation had been recorded in 2009, two years before the family had moved into the “Demon House.” The older children were sent to St. Joseph’s Carmelite Home in neighboring East Chicago, while the younger child was sent to another live-in facility for psychiatric evaluation. There, a clinical psychologist found him stable and coherent, except when he talked about demons. It was only then that his talk became “illogical.” He tended to change the subject, and his stories varied each time he was asked about the events in the house.
Wright believed the 8-year-old did not suffer from a true psychotic disorder. She wrote in her report that the case was one of “delusion” instilled in the boy by his mother. The psychologist at St. Joseph’s had the same diagnosis: Latoya had presumably influenced the older children into believing the family was possessed.
Latoya' daughter told Schwartz that she saw shadowy figures in the Carolina Street home. She also said she twice went into trances. Latoya' older son told Schwartz that "doors would slam and stuff started moving around."
The recommendations set by the Department of Children’s Services included a stipulation that discussion of demons and being possessed not be part of their conversations. They were also instructed to see therapists on a regular basis. Interestingly, Latoya was also instructed to find work and other housing, “due to the paranormal activity” at the current house, where police and DCS officials continued to investigate.
Rosa, Latoya, and the three officers from the initial visit returned to the “Demon House” on May 10, 2012. They were joined by Fr. Maginot, two Lake County officers with a police dog (to help determine whether a body might buried in the house) and a different DCS case worker, who had volunteered to take the original worker’s place because she didn’t want to go back to the house.
The group went down into the basement, where the case worker saw a peculiar substance dripping from the wall. Touching it, the group found it slippery and tacky. Fr. Maginot told police he wanted to investigate the dirt floor under the stairs for either a human body or a pentagram or personal objects buried there, which could indicate a curse and, consequently, a demonic presence in the house. Part of this search was based on a recent series of strange visits from Latoya’s boyfriend, which had led father Maginot to believe that he had possibly placed a curse on the family. The Catholic Church does believe in actual curses—not just the power of suggestion—and a crucial part of placing a curse is the so-called “cursed object”—a piece of clothing, hair, eyeglasses, jewelry or some other item—which acts as a conduit for the intention.
In an interview with the National Catholic Register, Fr. Maginot had been asked whether he believed Latoya’s boyfriend had anything to do with the incidents at the house. He responded:
Maybe he put a curse on the mother. He had once asked her for an article of underwear as a souvenir. Around that time, Latoya also had a family picture disappear from her album, and a pair of her shoes disappeared. Personal items are often used in curses against a person. Latoya received an angry phone call from a woman who said she was the boyfriend’s wife. Latoya said she never knew he was married and was going to break up with him anyway. The lady warned her that she was going to be very sorry that she ever had anything to do with him.
This day at the house, police said the dirt area looked like the concrete might have been removed specifically to bury something, and with this added information, they began to dig. Removing a 4-foot portion of earth, the group found a press-on fingernail, a sock, political button, and a pair of boys’ socks with the feet cut out, a lid for a pan and a pair of underpants.
Also among the items was a heavy weight of unknown origin or use, which the group wondered might be connected to foul play or accidental death that may have occurred in the house, especially since the youngest boy was experiencing an “imaginary friend” who claimed to have been killed. At Maginot’s instruction, the officer shoveled the dirt back in, and the priest sprinkled the area with blessed salt.
Back upstairs, the case worker and Latoya began to complain of maladies. Latoya felt an intense pain in her head, and the case worker soon complained of pain in her finger. The skin on her digit had turned pale and felt tingly, as if constricted. She then said she was having a panic attack and needed to go outside.
The police captain left soon after while the others stayed to continue their investigation of the home. It was at this time that they noticed the same slippery substance dripping from the blinds in a bedroom. More than a month earlier, Latoya and her mother had blessed the doors and windows with olive oil, at the suggestion of a church worker, but the oil never dried, and almost seemed to increase in substance and quantity. Unable to determine the source of it, they wiped it off and closed the door to the room to see if it would reappear on its own, suspecting Rosa or Latoya of placing it there. When they returned about a half hour later, the substance had reappeared. Fr. Maginot told the officers that such unknown substances were often found as a physical manifestation of demonic possession. It was this manifestation—on the heels of all he’d seen and heard—that led Fr. Maginot to write to Bishop Dale Meltzer and request permission to perform an exorcism.
Maginot attests that the bishop of Gary had never sanctioned an exorcism in the diocese during his more than two decades of service in his position. True to form, the bishop denied Maginot’s plea as well, directing him to seek the guidance of other priests who had performed exorcisms. Doing so, Maginot said his advisors told him to do a minor exorcism on Latoya.
He arranged to perform a series of powerful blessings on the house, and then to perform a minor exorcism on Latoya. The case manager, and two police officers, attended the exorcism rite, during which the case worker claimed to feel something unseen in the room. That same case worker told a reporter that problems attended her constantly everywhere she went. In a few weeks, she was burned in a motorcycle accident, broke her ribs jet skiing and broke her hand and an ankle in separate incidents.
Cryptically, Maginot gave Latoya an important directive: to identify the names of the demons who had been attacking her family. In an exorcism, it is very important for the identity of the demon or demons to be revealed. Maginot told Latoya to think about the things that the demon or demons had done, and to find their names based on the harm they had caused. Latoya claimed that while she searched on the internet for the names, the computer kept freezing and turning itself off, and that she felt nauseous and dizzy. But she persevered, eventually finding names which felt right to her, including the names of demons assigned to harm children.
After hearing the names, Fr. Maginot revealed to Latoya that he had received the bishop’s permission to exorcise her with the authority of the Catholic Church.
Three major exorcisms were required to complete what Fr. Maginot set out to do. The first two were done in English; the third in Latin. In attendance were two of the police officers who had been involved in the case since the first home visit, to offer both emotional and physical strength, in case the superhuman strength common in exorcisms became an issue. During the first two exorcisms Latoya convulsed and thrashed, falling asleep at times, which Fr. Maginot believed was a way for the demons to lessen the power of the ritual. But the hold seemed to lesson by the end of the second attempt, after which Fr. Maginot went on retreat to refresh himself for the final confrontation.
By the time of the final exorcism, in June of 2012, the police no longer came. Fr. Maginot asked his brother to assist. After some minor convulsions during the event, Latoya fell asleep. It would be—at least for now-- the end of her possession. She regained custody of her children in the fall of 2012, taking them to their new home in Indianapolis, where she’d moved with her mother during the DCS investigations.
I talked with Fr. Maginot in the spring of 2015, three years after the events in the Ammons house.
Fr. Maginot was not the appointed exorcist of the Diocese of Gary when he found himself ministering to the troubled family of Latoya Ammons. But like most priests, he was no stranger to the paranormal. Many priests perform a surprising number of routine house blessings to quell “activity,” especially that encountered after deaths in a home or after a move or remodel. Fr. Maginot doesn’t typically see spirits when he finds himself ministering to those with disturbances in their homes, but this time, he says, was different:
I did witness things, and in fact it was things Latoya and her mother were telling me would happen in the house, and then—when I was there—they happened. I would witness them.
I knew these things had something to do with Latoya’s ex-boyfriend. Something struck me strange about him. Whenever I would talk about him, things would happen. And I thought, what is the involvement here, who is involved here? The children? But then when I pressed a crucifix to Latoya’s forehead and she began to convulse, I knew it was about her.
Fr. Maginot nods to the popular cultural perceptions about possession, as seen in “The Exorcist,” but says this, too, was different:
You normally think it's something you brought on yourself—a Ouija board, some occult thing--but when it was shown that this was something that happened to them, we were baffled. (Latoya) was never involved in the occult, never dabbled in anything, but I did think something was brought in with the boyfriend. The last time he was there, things had gone up to a level where it almost drove them out of the house.
Latoya had been seeing the man for some time when she discovered he was married. She broke it off but he continued to pursue her, even finding out the location of her new home on Carolina Street and showing up at the door, sometimes trying to see her children while she was at work. Latyoa had found out about the man’s wife from his wife, who called her one afternoon to confront her. Latoya was dumbfounded but assured the woman she wanted nothing to do with an adulterer. But before she could hang up, Latoya heard the woman’s last words: You will regret ever messing with my husband.
Few people—even Catholics themselves—are aware that the Church believes in the reality of curses. Not the mere power of suggestion, but that people and families can be actually and deeply affected by powerful forces deliberately affixed or sent to them to wreak havoc on their lives. According to the Church, human souls don’t do the bidding of mortals. Only of God. It is demons alone who are on call for the whims of the living. And if a person or family is run down, without a firm foothold in faith and prayer life, distracted by the business of living or struggling to live—or even merely physically debilitated--the results can be devastating.
Crucial to a curse is the “cursed object:” a piece of hair, a photograph of the person, clothing, a ring, eyeglasses or any other important and intimate item inextricably connected to the target of the curse. It is this object over which the curse is made, and in the case of the Ammons family, there were many possibilities. Fr. Maginot remembers:
We felt there must be some sort of curse, because there were many things that were strange. The first time (the boyfriend) moved in with her he asked for her underwear. She asked what for? He told her it was to ‘remember this wonderful moment’ or some such thing. But also at that time … and she never thought about it until much later … she was missing a pair of Air Jordans … expensive shoes she had bought and it was a big deal. And she thought one of the kids took them or was wearing them or had messed them up... but they never could find them. Also around the same time, (Latoya) wanted to have a family picutre in the living room, and she was looking through the stack of picutres she had and saw that this photo and photos of the kids and such were missing. She never found where those pictures were......
I asked Fr. Maginot what he and the police and the social worker found under the stairs, when they dug under the dirt floor, and what he thought it all meant. He said that he believed some may have been a part of necromancy --the attempt to conjure up the dead--, and that he felt they were not related to the Ammons case but likely the reason for the “ghosts in the house.”
I wondered if Fr. Maginot had experienced any residue from the exorcisms—what paranormal investigators often call “attachments”—perhaps some energy or entity that was making itself known to him at home or in his church.
After the exorcism and also toward the end of it...at our parish we had several storms come through at that time when the last exorcism had been done. One was after Mass on Saturday. and it knocked out all the lights in the church, but they were able to get the lights back on before our nine oclock Mass.
The second time was the longest-- around the Fourth of July. This was right around the time of the final exorcism. We were doing the exorcism in the church, and Latoya’s mouth was moving but nothing was coming out. And the lights went out. Later, she told me that she was trying to tell me that something was trying to lift her up. The demon may have tried to gather the energy to do that. They weren’t able to do it because we were in the church. After the Fourth of July we had another storm come in, and it knocked out our power for more than a day. It was about ninety degrees at the church and my rectory was horrible … trying to sleep at about 85 degrees at night. But then they got the power back on thirty hours later.
Then another storm came and knocked out the power in the Church again. We had Mass by candlelight, and we brought out these candleabras and lit all the candles.
That was beneficial because the week after that, right in the middle of Mass, the power went out again, and so we brought in the candelabras and lit the candles again, without missing a beat.
We never had a loss of power like that. Never.
The national fervor which followed the release of Jay Anson’s novel, “The Amityville Horror” in 1977 remains matchless in American History. The closest thing to it, before it, were the very regional frenzies which broke out in Adams, Tennessee on the Bell family farm during the reign of terror of the so-called “Bell Witch,” and, to a much more important extent, in Salem, Massachusetts in 1620. These two other events paled in widespread renown, of course, in comparison to the former. For by the time the Amityville troubles became national news, the nation of Goody ------ and of John Bell had become a celebrity-studded media paradise. There have, however, been only minor appearances of the paranormal in American history since Amityville. There was Ted Series, the Chicago bellman who in the early 1960s, appeared on numerous television programs, attempting to demonstrate his claimed ability to imprint Polaroid film with images from his mind. There was the true story which became the book, The Exorcist, which we’ve already addressed, and which was never about the true story. In fact, the fact that it was based on a real case did not become known to most for at least a generation after the release of the film of the same name. In the 1980s, a fourteen-year old Columbus, Ohio girl named Tina Resch became briefly famous as a poltergeist agent—and went on to go to prison for the alleged murder of her toddler many years later.
By the year 2000, the internet—and the advent of web forums and social media--had allowed those interested in and the paranormal to create and populate their own worlds both locally, through web forums and on social media, on levels usually quite below the notice of the mainstream local media, let alone national news agencies. With one exception: The case of Gary Indiana’s “Demon House.”
Not long after Marisa Kwiatkowski’s story broke, the house was purchased by Zak Bagans, the star of the immsensely popular Travel Channel series, Ghost Adventures. Bagans, a tight-shirted, muscular, spike-haired -year old who now lives in Las Vegas, began as a film student and ended up a celebrity when his 2000? Documentary about a team of three “ghost hunters” became an overnight sensation. Together with Nick Groff and Aaron Bagans has filmed seasons of Ghost Adventures and counting, now serving as executive producer and enjoying the adoration of millions of fans around the world who—despite criticisms of the show’s alleged fakery and sensationalism—continue to tune in.
In 2014, Bagans announced that he had been living in the house and filming a documentary about the house and the case, scheduled for release in October of 2015. Though this author has worked with Bagans on several occasions, and is close friends with his show’s writer and historian, Bagans gave no response to requests for an interview, a tour of the house or even a comment. Only time will tell what has gone on since the Demon House became Bagans’ most sensationalized ‘ghost adventure.’
Len Miller and J.C. Rositas, one a Gary policer officer and both esteemed paranormal investigators, were the first to offer investigative services to the family, during the time before the events had escalated to their most dramatic. Their offers were declined.
Next came Bob Jensen, founder of GhostLand Society, located in Wisconsin. Jensen and his team traveled to the house on three separate occasions, finding no evidence whatsoever of paranormal activity. When asked why they kept going back, he explained that it is the team’s standard practice when children are involved to make absolutely certain there is no danger to the family.
David Scott and John B. Stephens, of the paranormal research group IPRA (Illinois Paranormal Research Association) Strong, are videographers who film an award-winning internet show called Believe: An Online Paranormal Experience. A few days after the appearance of Latoya’s story in the Indy Star, the pair traveled to Gary to attempt to speak to the current owners. Though no one seemed to be at home, they took some film footage and recorded for Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP), using a “ghost box.” A ghost box, ghost radio or spirit radio is an AM or FM radio which has been built or “hacked” to constantly scan through the band, at a speed which renders the actual sound bytes unintelligible. Many investigators believe that disembodied energies use these sound bytes to form words, essentially allowing invetigators to communicate with spirits in real time. When John was recording, a voice on the box called out, “John!” and later several different voices cried out, ‘David!” When asked whether one of the voices speaking had possessed Latoya Ammons in the house, a male response claimed flatly, “I did.”
Voices also claimed that there was a “human” buried in the house, and another voice said it did “not… know…. Christ.”
I asked Fr. Maginot with a laugh if he is now the “goto” exorcist for the Diocese of Gary, and whether the Church has been slammed with requests for exorcisms since the Ammons story broke. Fr. Maginot is so good natured and he laughs readily, but he doesn’t respond that way to this question. Rather, he says,
There is one, in Gary, right now, and it is a very sensitive situation. But I think the bishop wants someone experienced. The Indianapolis Diocese has an exorcist and the bishop talked to him, and I think also is maybe shopping it around for the right person. Someone with experience.
It has to be the right person.
Though I have worked with Bagans on several occasions, and am a longtime friend of his show’s writer and historian, Bagans gave no response to my requests for an interview, a tour of the house or even a comment.
As you may know, Bagans had the house bulldozed after completing the filming of his documentary, "The Demon House," which was released a few years ago to mixed reviews. In the last scene of the film, Bagans' experiences some harrowing event, which allegedly leads to permanent damage to his eyes.
Experts on such things say that destroying the house was a bad decision, and that whatever evil spirits were attached to the property almost certainly followed Bagans and will continue to do so. Only time will tell the full fallout of Bagans’ most sensationalized ‘ghost adventure.’
You can read more about the ghosts of Gary, Indiana, in my book, "Haunted Gary," published by History Press and available from Amazon and other booksellers.
(Above, myself with a ghost tour group at the "Demon House" before its demolition.)