A little slice of life from my time living in Arizona.
Cult Watch: Casa Grande
Based on true events.
October 9th, 2009
I was happily editing on the computer when my flatmate Jeffrey walked into the room and asked if I had plans that night. Being a workaholic with very little time for personal relationships or nights on the town, I said that I was busy editing and would remain so for most of the weekend. Several hours later I unplugged for a much needed break, and took a quick walk around the apartment complex. When I got back Jeffrey was getting ready to head out, and I asked him what he was up to. He told me that he and my old boss from Brain Damage Films, Darrin Ramage, were going on a “ghost hunt” in CasaGrande. Beyond that he didn’t have many details, and neither did Darrin, who had apparently hooked up with one of the ghost hunters at a Phoenix Multiple Sclerosis meet & greet. I decided that the editing could wait for a few hours, and tagged along. On the hour long drive out into the desert we discussed what it might be like to go on a real ghost hunt, and decided that this was a fun, if random, way to spend an evening.
We arrived in Casa Grande, and were instructed down several side roads until we were well into the desert. We parked near the only house in the area, a run down 3 building farming compound surrounded by desert, canals, and a dried up cotton field. A man came out of the darkness and identified himself as Lamar, and led us into the house. As we reached the light I noticed that he was wearing a large hunting knife on his belt, and had several clip knives in his pockets. Then as I walked into the porch area we met the man that had invited us, a scrawny kid named John. On the bench inside the porch area was a large chopping sword and a bag of duct tape wrapped wooden clubs. It was at this point that I went into danger mode and began counting bodies and taking note of exits. John had a computer system set up on the porch, and on the display we could see that they had rigged several rooms in the house with infa-red cameras that could monitor and record the house once all the lights were turned out. Once we arrived and had been oriented on the cameras, we met Eddie, a skinny & tattooed shifty character, Carlos, a tubby looking innocent, and Deborah, the perpetually silent and sullen girlfriend of at least one or more of the boys.
The ghost hunt began with a quick tour of the compound, complete with stories about all the spirits that lived there, the murders that had happened there, and how Lamar had grown up in the trailer on the property. We were also told that Lamar was a “pusher” who could banish spirits and move energy. Eddie was a “mover” and could pull spirits into the bodies of other people, and pull those people out of their bodies. Carlos was their “open book” who could easily be possessed by spirits, and have spirits moved in and out of him very easily by Eddie or Lamar. We are being told this as Darrin, Jeff, and myself are being shown by flashlight the entire property, which is revealed to be a very run down farming complex made up of a large house, a double wide trailer, and a horse stock building. Lamar is regailing us with past tales of battles and experiences with the spirits, and how there’s a body buried in the cotton field. Because of the presence of blades and blunt weapons I am already heavily on edge, my tension compounded by the fact that I can smell the booze wafting from Lamar. I keep everything to myself, not wanting to embarass Darrin in front of his new friend John, and to be honest Darrin is really getting into it, though as the night progresses he gets more and more skeptical. Jeff and I share a few concerned looks, but once we both know that we are on guard I relax slightly at the thought of having an extra set of eyes and pair of hands on the situation.
After the tour the ghost hunt began in earnest. Myself, Jeff, Carlos, Eddie, and Deborah went in first, while Darrin, John, and Lamar stayed behind to monitor the cameras. We go in carrying video cameras, still cameras, and EPK monitors to pick up on sounds. We go to the back room first, and Andy starts doing automatic writing and asking very typical questions like “who is here”. I start ignoring him as my initial unease at the situation begins to shift into annoyance, then I feel a big opening of energy in the bathroom area. I stand in the threshold of the door, knowing that thresholds break up energy patterns, and I didn’t want to be in the room with the wannabe sorcerer Eddie, but also had no interest in being in the bathroom where some serious energy was starting to boil out into the area. When Eddie asks the spirit to make a noise so we know its there Jeff hears a crash in the bathroom, and we both start hearing the buzzing of flies in the bathroom area. Nobody else seems to notice or care. Eddie and Carlos start talking themselves through the room, as if giving each other cues and lines of dialogue, fully giving into the power of mutual suggestion. I’ve got these guys pegged as poseurs and wannabes when they fail to notice the bathroom and claim that there’s nothing in the room, so start going with the flow as we move from room to room, taking pictures, while Eddie and Carlos pretend to be sensing ghosts and spirits. I even sit in their “haunted” chair while they freak out about all the spirits that are roaming around the room. Being a practitioner of the craft, I silently reach out, and get a firm sense that I’m not the only being in the house that thinks this is kind of lame.
Eventually we move back to the computer monitor room, and Lamar, Carlos, and Darrin all take turns sitting in the chair while everyone else gathers around the monitors and freak out about all the dust specs and how they are “spirit orbs”. Darrin, Carlos, and Lamar follow a cold spot around as I take photos, then while Lamar is talking about how the spirit is in one part of the room, I back up into a truly cold spot, and nearly lose my cool. I keep it together, silently excuse myself to whatever it is, and keep taking snapshots. Everyone stops for a smoke break and Jeff and I decide to take the still camera and go back into the house alone. We discuss our thoughts so far of the hunt, and both decide that the back room is the place where the action of the evening is going down. Jeff and I walk down the dark hallway and get into the back room. Immediatley we are both buffeted with waves of energy. I’m getting all kinds of vibes from the bathroom, and we take some pictures in their as I search around for anything interesting, finding nothing, but still immersed in a near suffocating wash of energy. Jeff is getting the vibe from the closet, which we never opened the last time we were in the room. We approach the closet, and pull open one of the doors. The energy that bleeds out is full of rot, decay, and malice. We decide that this place is none of our business, and back out of the room nice and easy.
Then we move to the trailer. Everyone goes in, all subconsciously prepared with suggestions about the history of the place, and how the spirits in the trailer are quite violent, depsite the fact that earlier in the evening we had traipsed through the trailer without opposition. Now that I’m back in proximity to Lamar, still armed and stinking of alchohol, I back myself into a corner so nothing can come up behind me, and keep snapping pictures. Carlos gets possessed by a spirit, which annoyingly doesn’t say anything, and Lamar sends Jeff out of the room to take Carlos outside. Jeff later tells me that Carlos talks about how “things almost got bad in there” and if they had “told you about me”. Jeff is set further on edge by the comments, and becomes keenly aware that he has been separated from Darrin and myself, and his guard comes back up. Meanwhile, Lamar has Darrin standing next to him holding his hands out to “feel the cold” of the room. I am taking snaps of the scene, and honestly do capture some orbs in a few of the shots. Then Lamar has me put my hand in the cold spot, which of course isn’t cold at all. I didn’t like standing so close to him, and was all too aware of the fact that his hand was near his knife, so began mentally preparing myself. Thankfully the cold spot, apparently, moved away, and we left the trailer. I did get a snapshot of the window from the outside, and there was a strange facelike shape in the window, not sure what it was.
Once back in the monitor room everyone took a smoke break and we looked at the pictures. Lamar had been trying to provoke the spirit, and had in general, along with Eddie, been talking some major trash about the spirits (mostly Jake and Mark), and continued to congradulate themselves on how flippant they were in such a haunted place. Jeff and I share some more skeptical looks and keep to ourselves and the “ghost hunters” talk to us about a TV show they want to do, their skills in video editing, and congregate around Darrin, making it really obvious that they are enamored of our status as filmmakers and “movie guys”. Jeff and I share a few quick jokes about how the three horror movie guys are now in a position where we could quickly become the victims of a homegrown horror movie, and its right about then that Lamar announces that I am going to be possessed by a spirit so that everyone can talk to some of the entities that haunt the area.
Being a practitioner myself, I have a serious problem with the idea of being possessed, and know that I won’t let it happen voluntarily. However, I must admit that I was annoyed enough with these people that I didn’t want to rob them of the opprotunity to fail at pulling my spirit out of my body. I confided in Jeff that I was going to fake the possession, and he agreed, as by that time we’d decided that despite the fact that these people were on the lame side of the social spectrum that most of them were armed and at least a few of them had been drinking. So to avoid an outbreak of violence in the middle of nowhere, we decided to just go with the flow.
I walk into the room where the possession is to take place, and am instructed by Eddie to put my hands over a mason jar of water that rests on a small table in the center of the room. He begins stroking my shoulders and arms, claiming to “cleanse my energy”. Then he starts pouring energy into me. This is where it gets interesting. The kid does in fact have some power, and I do feel him pulling on my spirit, though as I’d made the decision not to be possessed, it was like pulling against a tree with deep roots. He starts asking me questions about my name, so I mutter something about how I can’t pronounce my name. Then he keeps pushing, so I say my name is “Seth”, which is the pen-name that I write my own occult books under. Darrin catches the reference but keeps it to himself, starting to pick up on my ruse. I continue to attempt to fake a possession, but I am losing my ability to keep from laughing and/or hitting the arrogant asshole standing behind me, so I eventually resign myself to some false embarassment just to get myself out of the situation. So I make up a story about how I can’t seem to let go and how I’m afraid, and I walk to the other side of the room. Folks seem disappointed, and I can see in their eyes that they are beginning to doubt their own beliefs and powers. However, like any good cult membership and cult leadership the group pulls itself together and decide that Carlos should be possessed, so that they can show us how its done by people unafraid to let go.
Carlos stands over the table, and very quickly Eddie begins his ritual. Carlos can’t raise his hands from the mason jar, and when Eddie asks Carlos his name the poor Carlos, who is overweight and effete and completely faking his possession, says “you know who it is”. Then like a badly rehearsed theatrical performance of an exorcism stage play the unfortunate Carlos starts growling and trying to attack a smirking Eddie, though cannot lift his hands from the mason jar. Eddie says something along the lines of “we have faced each other before, you know what I am” in his most badass sorcerer voice and I nearly lose my composure. Jeff later tells me that he had to work very hard to keep his laughter in at that point, and was completely taken aback by the fact that these people had chosen to cross the line from hapless poseurs to full blown deluded cultists. Lamar, who has been stoic and standing aside up to this point, saunters up to the now possessed Carlos, and they begin to speak about kicking each other’s asses and that they keep playing the same old game. Lamar, in his most arrogant tone of the evening, says “you know what happened last time” and turns to walk away, the entire exchange having the rhythm and blocking of a well rehearsed scene from a B-movie. Lamar picks up another jar of water and a plate, then puts it on Carlo’s head and start smacking it with the palm of his hand while Eddie recites the Lord’s Prayer, a sure-fire staple of B-movie exorcists the world over. Carlos fights it, each strike of the jar looking as if it hurts him badly, then finally collapses dramatically. Eddie steps back and Lamar help Carlos to a chair, the whole time Carlos is saying things like “its so cold”. When Carlos looks around dramatically and says “what happened?” Jeff nearly bursts out laughing, instead just buries his face in his hands.
Darrin and I are talking to Lamar about the possession and about how I have very weak energy because I can’t be possessed when Eddie screams from outside in the parking lot. Lamar, like a combat ninja, runs to the parking lot to save the day. Jeff, Darrin, and myself casually stroll out to the lot after John rushes inside and yells that Lamar is beating Carlos. When we get outside Lamar has reverse mounted Carlos in the dust of the parking lot, and trust me it looks really gay. Eddie is reciting the Lord’s Prayer again, and Carlos is struggling, though in time gives up. It is explained to us that Eddie wasn’t able to “close” Carlos soon enough, and something else got inside the guy and attacked them. Darrin goes back inside with the group as they attempt to put a spirit into John, while Jeff and I stand outside.
At this point Jeff and I are done with the evening. Nothing happens to John, and Lamar comes to get me. We stand with his hands over mine as he attempts to pull my spirit out again. I lie about seeing myself over his shoulder just to get it over with. Lamar’s eyes are like a shark, and I can tell that the man is completely insane and fully believes in all of this stuff. I suspected before that moment that he was a true believer, but in that moment I knew. This man was very dangerous. I could feel his power, though thankfully it was untrained, and yet combined with the hidden mental problems, the booze, the knives, and his charismatic power over the group of ghost hunters, I knew in that moment that this was an early stage charismatic cult. Charles Manson and Tom Jones level stuff. This guy was going to lead people into dark places.
Jeff and I kept to ourselves after that, and eventually were able to extricate ourselves from the situation. Eddie, Lamar, and John were talking to Darrin about how they were powerful and the “real deal” when Jeff and I came out of the house. We all shook hands and made to leave, and in the pause between the goodbye and the walk away Lamar’s last remark was “ha ha, one of these day’s we’ll have to kill Carlos”. At that moment, knife fight or not, I walked away. Thankfully Jeff and Darrin had the same idea, and we managed to escape into the night.
At the end of it all, it was clear that powerful beings and strange energy confluences riddle that little patch of desert. Our experiences in the house had shown Jeff and I that there was certainly something powerul in that place, and that it wasn’t good. These strange people had no clue about what they were doing, and believed so hard that they would make fools of themselves just to confirm their own beliefs. The two of them with actual powers, Lamar and Eddie, were unfocused and untrained and completely delusional about the potency of their abilities. My conclusion is that the property itself was a dark place, rife with energies, and this freshly minted cult of “ghost hunters” were just delusional and sensitive enough to be sucked into the vortex of this place. Bad things are going to happen there.
It was terrifying, it was entertaining, and a completely reckless & wonderful way to spend a Friday night out with good friends.