In Serial Killer's Former Home, A Search For Ghosts Musician Chris Butler was looking for a house where he could make loud music without disturbing his neighbors. He found the perfect house and for a deal, but it came with certain "conditions." The house was the childhood home of Jeffrey Dahmer and the scene of Dahmer's first killing.
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In Serial Killer's Former Home, A Search For Ghosts

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In Serial Killer's Former Home, A Search For Ghosts

In Serial Killer's Former Home, A Search For Ghosts

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Halloween is tomorrow, so we're ending this hour with a ghost story. It comes from musician and commentator Chris Butler.

Mr. CHRIS BUTLER (Musician, Commentator): I bought Jeffrey Dahmer's childhood home in Bath, Ohio. Let that sink in for a second. If your first reaction is eww, that's perfectly understandable.

Jeffrey Dahmer was one of America's most notorious serial killers and his rampage lasted from 1978 to 1991. He confessed to killing at least 17 young men - many of these murders involving torture and cannibalism.

I bought the house, though, not for some kind of perverse, Goth thrill, but because I needed a place in woodsy-suburby Northeastern Ohio where I could make a loud musical racket and not bug my neighbors. And this midcentury modern house on two acres of forested hillside was ideal.

I was instantly charmed the first time I pulled in the driveway and really puzzled why such a fantastic pad had gone unsold for six months, even though it was priced way below anything comparable in the area. Charmed turned to creeped-out when 24 hours after I first saw the place with my real estate agent, Greg Greco, he told me of the house's grisly provenance.

Mr. GREG GRECO (Real Estate Agent): I remember we came to look at it the first time. That evening, the listing agent called and said we have a disclosure issue. I knew Jeffrey Dahmer had been in this area, but they have a water leak somewhere they're going to get fixed. That's usually what we talk about. And then she said there was a murder in the home, that it was of significant notoriety and we needed to disclose it. And my first thought was, how am I going to tell Chris this?

Mr. GRECO: Because Jeffrey Dahmer did commit his first murder here a hitchhiker named Steven Hicks who he lured back to the house with promises of drugs and alcohol and then clubbed with a barbell after Hicks said he wanted to leave. Dahmer later dismembered Hicks' corpse in the house's crawlspace.

BUTLER: Now, I won't lie, there is a twisted kind of cachet attached to living in a house where a famous homicidal maniac kicked off his career. I didn't broadcast this, but it could be useful.

If the party chatter stalled on dull topics, I had a surefire conversation stopper and subject changer. And then someone would inevitably ask correction, someone educated and worldly and who you'd think would know better, would inevitably ask: Have you seen any, you know, ghosts?

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GRECO: The truth is: the vibe here is fantastic. The house didn't kill anybody, and I haven't seen any ghosts. I'm not superstitious or a believer in the paranormal, but after months of people freaking out about where I was living, I did begin to wonder if there might be some leftover bad business in the place.

As it turns out, in northeastern Ohio, there is lots of interest in the paranormal. Ghost hunts are offered at creepy sites all around the region, and I'd been approached by several psychics and paranormal clubs who wanted to bring audio recorders and video cameras over to see what they could scare up.

Ms. ROE YORK: Well, we're really not hunting ghosts, no. I really don't know how to label myself. I mean, we do some investigating.

Ms. CHERYL KNERAM: We document.

Ms. YORK: We document.

Ms. KNERAM: Get out some cameras and tape recorders and

Ms. YORK: We're documenters.

Ms. KNERAM: video cameras and

Ms. YORK: How about a sleuth?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BUTLER: Meet Roe York and Cheryl Kneram, who wanted to organize just such a paranormal investigation at my house. Their specialty is gathering electronic voice phenomena, or EVPs ethereal voices or sounds that recording devices pick up when you thought you were just taping little Johnny's sixth birthday party.

Now, please note that these women are not flakes or fools, either. In fact, they come across as skeptics most of the time, yet both have had many experiences that they can't explain. So, let's have a ghost hunt.

(Soundbite of music)

BUTLER: According to Roe and Cheryl, the key to a successful hunt is picking a significant date. May 21st, Jeffrey Dahmer's birthday, was perfect.

The house and its infamous crawlspace where Dahmer had dismembered Hicks's corpse was wired up with night vision video camcorders, digital audio recorders, still cameras on timers, plus I'd hung microphones in key spots and plugged them into my computer's hard disk recording system.

In short, if a ghost so much as passed gas, we'd document it.

(Soundbite of music)

BUTLER: There were three possible outcomes of this evening's experiment: one, they'd get nothing; two, they'd get something vague, something that might be-could be, but inconclusive or at least explainable by natural or mechanical causes; or three, they'd get a recording that irrefutably proved the existence of the afterlife, and the house would be overrun with the curious and kooky, and my quiet, semi-hermit life here would be ruined.

With all the electronics in good working order repeat, with all the electronics in good working order we left the house empty for the evening, and, for the most part, this is what we recorded

(Soundbite of white noise)

BUTLER: Hours and hours of the house's ambient noise, which, admittedly, doesn't make for a riveting radio. When I came back to the house in the early morning, Roe and Cheryl were having technical problems.

BUTLER: May I have a progress report, please?

Ms. YORK: I came up to my camera, which was sitting in your living area by front of your fireplace, and it was off, which I expected it to be. I expected the film to have run out or the battery to die, one of the two or both. And I looked at the battery and I saw there were quite a few minutes left, so I got a little suspicious. I'm thinking the tape didn't run out. In fact, I pulled the tape out and I showed it to you. There was only 40 minutes of tape used. I dont know why it went off. The battery still had over 300 minutes and only 40 minutes of tape had taped.

(Soundbite of music)

BUTLER: In fact, all the gear that was in the vicinity of the crawlspace had malfunctioned. It was working when we left, but machines stopped, batteries went dead and my computer system showed a 2 gigabyte sound file, a huge file, which refused to open.

(Soundbite of music)

BUTLER: Did cranky spirits not want us to find them? Was it our technical ineptitude, or was our sophisticated equipment just too embarrassed to be part of something as silly as a ghost hunt?

Roe and Cheryl didn't find anything conclusive on the few machines that had functioned properly, but it really didn't matter, because I know the house is haunted - maybe not by ghosts, but by something much, much scarier. It's haunted by reality by the unbelievable horror that humans are capable of.

Jeffrey Dahmer's ghost does exist. He haunts my neighbors who can't overcome their fears and come inside for a friendly cup of coffee. And he haunts his victims' families every minute of every day.

One more thing and Roe and Cheryl didn't know this - but I had hidden a secret recorder in the house to see if I could catch someone sneaking back in to fiddle with the equipment. And in the middle of the hours of house ambience and the refrigerator cycling on and off and maybe a mouse or two, there was something: a funny noise. Probably nothing easily and rationally explained.

I mean, you don't believe in ghosts, do you?

(Soundbite of song, "The Haunted House")

SAM THE SHAM AND THE PHARAOHS: (Singing) I just moved in my new house today, moving was hard but I got squared away, bells started ringing and chains rang loud, knew I'd moved in a haunted house.

SIEGEL: That's commentator and musician Chris Butler.

(Soundbite of song, The Haunted House)

SAM THE SHAM AND THE PHARAOHS: (Singing) Nothing was a-gonna drive me away, wanted to see something that gives me the creeps, had one big and two big feet. Stood right still and I did the

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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