Peeking into the Paranormal
Local ghost hunters seek out SJ spirits
By Kelly Roncace

Doug Hogate Jr. turns off the lights in the 100-year-old house, places something called a K2 meter on the edge of a coffee table and begins talking out loud to, what appears to be, no one.

“Hi, my name’s Doug. I’m here with Melissa and Catrena,” says 28-year-old Hogate, referencing his two companions. “We’re not here to hurt you or run you off. We’re just here to talk to you and find out why you’re still here.”

The scenario may sound strange, but Hogate and his two teammates are paranormal investigators for Jersey Unique Minds Paranormal Society (JUMPS), based in Salem County. They, along with other groups in SJ, are real live ghost hunters.

Hogate can remember being interested in ghost stories from a very early age. When he turned 4, he celebrated with a “Ghostbusters” birthday cake that read “Happy Birthday to a Real Ghost Buster.” Little did his family know that, one day, he indeed would become a kind of ghost buster.

“Whenever we went on vacation, I always bought a book of ghost stories from the area,” he says, still reminiscing about his childhood. His interest grew as he did and soon, he was ready to join a paranormal team.

“I was working at DuPont at the time, and during my downtime I would read books about the paranormal and look up stuff online, and of course I watched ‘Ghost Hunters’ and thought it was cool,” Hogate says. “I filled out an application for a South Jersey team. They got back to me and invited me to a meeting at a library.”

After attending the meeting, he changed his mind. “I was 21. I was a young, cocky guy,” he laughs. “So I thought, ‘Why couldn’t I do something like this on my own?’”

GhostHunter_1414So Hogate began researching and started purchasing wireless cameras, digital audio recorders, electromagnetic field meters and a digital camera. “A co-worker heard what I was doing and said her husband was into paranormal investigation and would love to get involved,” he says.

Hogate took his co-worker’s husband to a cemetery in Bridgeton to “test” his new equipment. “We walked around for about an hour,” he says. “Then I listened to the recorders, and we actually got a couple voices. One says, ‘el tonto,’ which is apparently Spanish and translates to them calling us dummies.”

After capturing that first electronic voice phenomenon (EVP), Hogate began to share his excitement for this new adventure. But not everyone was as enthusiastic as he was.

“I was a Salem City volunteer firefighter at the time,” Hogate says. “I was at the firehouse one night, and those guys were getting on me so bad I got mad and left.” The criticism nearly put an end to JUMPS before it really even got started.

“I almost quit back then. I was called every name in the book – scam artist, devil worshiper, crazy. I didn’t want to run into anyone who said they didn’t believe in ghosts. Now I just tell them I have more evidence compiled that proves there are ghosts, than they do that proves there’s not.”

But amid all the negativity, one person came through who believed in what Hogate was doing and renewed his faith in his dream. “The battalion chief said, ‘I don’t care what those guys say, we have stuff happening here,’” Hogate recalls.

And so Hogate set out on his first, real investigation at the historic North Bend Firehouse in Salem.

“We set up a couple wireless cameras that didn’t work very good and spent a few hours there,” he says. “We actually got some audio, too.”

Later at the firehouse, a photographer from the local paper overheard Hogate talking about his JUMPS team. “She told her editor, and one of the reporters wanted to do a story about us,” he says. The article made the front page and the rest, as they say, is history.

“Either the same day or the very next day the article ran, I got a phone call from the manager of an apartment complex up in North Jersey,” Hogate says. “There was a family who was experiencing some paranormal activity, and their young daughter was petrified. They needed us to come help them as soon as possible.” Hogate and two others traveled to the apartment complex and investigated the property.

The parents told Hogate their toddler was scared of her room, saying a shadow or “scary man” was climbing up her walls and on her ceiling. Immediately believing evil had invaded their daughter’s room, her parents stripped her space of everything but crucifixes and religious objects.

“They were on the second or third floor,” Hogate explains. “We noticed there was a tree outside, and when it was dark with the light coming in from outside, it would cast shadows all over her room.” Hogate didn’t find evidence of paranormal activity, so he suggested they bring some light back into her bedroom with “posters, a pretty lamp shade and princess things” that she could focus on instead of the shadows.

“I called about two weeks later to see how they were doing, and they said the activity had stopped.”

That was the experience that sealed the deal for Hogate. “At that point, I realized I had helped someone,” Hogate recalls. “That’s when I said, ‘I don’t even care what people say, I’m doing this.’”

Since that day in 2008, Hogate has been working to make JUMPS one of the most well-known paranormal teams in the area. As word spread, requests started pouring in from people who were interested in being a part of the team.

“It was one of those deals where I thought it would be a phase, and after a while I would grow tired of it,” Hogate says. “But I look at all the opportunities we’ve gotten and all the people we’ve helped, and now it’s a part of my life. I don’t know what I would do without this team.”

JUMPS has investigated historic locations and homes throughout SJ, but has also traveled to locations such as Gettysburg and Connecticut, where three members filmed a segment for the WB’s “The Trisha Goddard Show,” which airs locally on The CW Philly 57.

While JUMPS has been building its reputation for more than five years, a group of students at Rowan College at Gloucester County (formerly Gloucester County College) only recently entered the paranormal world, creating an on-campus club called Ghost Chasers. Its founder, Justin Leach, 19, became interested in the paranormal after watching a marathon of “Ghost Hunters” on the Syfy channel. “To be honest, there weren’t really any experiences I had as a kid that made me interested in the paranormal,” he says. “But once I was interested, most of my experiences as a kid made sense.”

The incident he remembers most occurred when he was just 5 years old.

“I woke up in the middle of the night, and as soon as I opened my eyes, I heard an evil laugh right beside my ear,” Leach recalls. “I jumped up but was frozen. To this day, I can’t explain the experience.”

When Leach formed the on-campus club, he “had about 13 students send me emails telling me they were interested in the club,” he says. But when it came time for the first meeting, only one of those emailers showed up. It took a little time, but eventually more students joined.

“I was afraid of ridicule when I started the club, but mostly everyone was good with it,” Leach says. “I do belong to a Christian club on campus and we did have different ideas, but we’ve moved past it.”

Leach, who is now in his last semester of community college, plans to transfer to Rowan University as a radio/TV/film major and is thinking about continuing his work in the paranormal field at the four-year school. Once he graduates, he hopes to combine his two passions into one.

“I plan, at first, to maybe do some little ghost hunting shows and put them on YouTube, but do it professionally,” Leach says. “As in, not freak out at every little noise or sight – sort of like a ‘Ghost Hunters’ type of show. My hope is that it gets popular and helps me get access to investigate bigger locations around here. But who knows.” To produce such a show, Leach will need some advanced equipment.

No one knows the benefit of sophisticated equipment more than Doug Hogate. He’s been building JUMPS’ arsenal of investigative tools since he started this work. Today, the team has several K2 and Mel-Meters, as well as an REM-pod, all of which are used to detect fluctuations in the electromagnetic field. The K2 Meter is normally used by electricians to find “leaks” in wiring or electrical boxes.

“They can be used as a way to communicate, but it’s also a way for us to see what’s going on in the atmosphere,” Hogate says. He adds that spirits can also communicate verbally through digital voice recorders, which pick up frequencies that cannot be heard with the naked human ear.

And during every job, JUMPS investigators “bug” the location using 12 night vision, infrared cameras and one night-vision, full-spectrum camera. All recorded footage is watched live on a 37-inch, flat-screen monitor.

In the early days of JUMPS, Hogate captured his first paranormal experience on one of his video cameras.

“We were in a house in Pedricktown,” Hogate says. “It was our fourth or fifth investigation. We had captured audio evidence, but I’d never had anything really happen to me.”

Hogate and a teammate were on the first floor and heard something “unimpressive” in one corner. They asked if Sam – the name the homeowners had given their resident spirit – had made the sound.

“We were concentrating on the corner when all of a sudden something hit the wall behind us,” Hogate says. “On the video, you can hear it hit the wall, then there’s like a two-second pause and you hear me say, ‘What was that?’”

Upon investigating the noise, they found an old gasket on the floor in the same area where the bang had come from. Since then, Hogate, along with many JUMPS investigators, have had unexplained experiences.

“Whether we believe it or not, this is something that exists,” Hogate says. “People experience things that can’t be explained all the time, whether it’s a ghost or a dream that comes true a few days later.

“If someone wakes up in the middle of the night, sees the figure of a person at the foot of their bed, wipes their eyes and that figure is gone, they can’t call the police for that. They want to talk to someone who won’t think they’re crazy. So they call us.”

September 2014
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