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Flashlight beams revealed the interior walls of the Old Gilchrist County Jail in Trenton to be alive with decay. Layers of lead paint flaked from their surface, giving them the appearance of matted fur, occasionally punctuated by the bodies and spindly legs of spiders. If the walls could have spoken, they would have whispered the words: Get out.
In one of the dark cells on the second floor of the building, three women gathered on the floor around small electronic devices, hoping to see them light up in response to questions they were asking.
The three traveled from cell to cell, squeezing past rusty iron doors, asking, “Were you an inmate here? Can you tell us your name? Do you need help passing to the other side? Can you make a noise for us? Slam a door? Do you wish to harm us? Do you want us to leave? Did you know 'Evil Nancy'?”
The women’s meters and gadgets, designed to measure fluctuations in electro magnetic frequencies from the presence of ghosts, lit up in response to most of the questions, encouraging them to probe further into the matter.
“Will you tell me the story of the person who was in this room?” asked ghost hunter Renee Duddy. The lights on the meters became inactive, and conversations soon shifted to the topic of husbands and significant others. The three laughed and joked with each other in the dark until a loud, mockingly ghoulish laugh floated up past the broken glass and rusty bars of the cell’s window.
One of the women, Tammie Fyfe, replied with her own version of the laugh in response to what turned out to be a man standing outside. At first, the group seemed a bit put off at the thought that someone would come up to the house at night with the intentions of making fun of them
But they soon decided the taunts were coming from someone they wished to question—a man who had grown up in the area.
When they made their way outside, a man, who identified himself as David, greeted them from the other side of the jail’s tall chain link fence.
David told the group his wife’s parents once lived in the small house added on to the back of the jail—a house with a pink door with the words “Home Sweet Home” painted in delicate script.
David told the investigators his brother, nicknamed “Black”, was murdered a couple of years ago and temporarily dumped in the house until his killers could figure out what to do with the body.
David said he believes there are definitely ghosts in the house.
“I know they’re in there,” he said. “I mean just look at it.”
When David was done talking, the group headed back in to the crumbling shell that once imprisoned 20 prisoners at a time, determined to invoke the spirit of the man’s brother.
The group, members of Northeast Florida Paranormal Investigations, has been working together for about two years, according to founder John Duddy.
Duddy, who mostly set up and monitored equipment from the first-floor house of the jail during the investigation, said the group does the service for free and has investigated claims of hauntings in Gainesville, Ocala, St. Augustine, Lake City and as far north as Savannah, Ga.
“It’s a hobby for all of us,” he said.
One of their more exciting ghost hunts, according to Duddy, happened at a home in Archer.
“A lot of the activity was focused around a young girl.”
Duddy said the parents of the girl became concerned. So, the ghost-hunting group paid the family a visit, recording scratching sounds on the girls bedroom walls and filming lights floating in and out of her closet.
“It seems like the majority have to do with the kids. When the kids start getting scared, that’s when parents call.”
Sandy Reed, of Trenton, said she got involved with the group when she saw them on Facebook. Reed, was one of the women participating in the ghost hunt at the jail.
She said, she’s been interested in the paranormal since childhood. She said she was about five years old when she woke up from her sleep one night and saw a life-sized angel standing at the foot of her brother’s bed.
“I remember putting my hand through it,” she said. “It was paying no attention to me. My brother also saw it. Of course, he’s not as ready to admit it as me.”
And while both Reed and Duddy admit that ghost hunting is fun, they also said they feel like they are able to help people with the work the group does. Most of their clients are happy with the results, Duddy said.
“Especially the homeowners. We give them peace of mind. A lot of times homeowners feel they are going crazy.”
Duddy said if ghosts are found, through examination of evidence from various measuring devices, audio and video recordings, steps can be taken to remedy the situation.
If the ghosts are not harmful, he said, not much needs to be done. But if evidence hints at malevolent forces, the clergy may have to be brought in to help. It all depends on the client’s beliefs, he said.
As for ghosts in the jail, evidence at the end of the investigation proved inconclusive. The group, at first excited about the readings on their devices, became more skeptical when they discovered the iPhones they cerried had an effect on the readings.
But Duddy said the group would still have to sift through hours of recordings before they would feel confident in making a decision about paranormal activity at the Old Gilchrist County Jail.
For more information about Northeast Florida Paranormal Investigations, go to www.neflpi.com.