words: Marla Cantrell
images: courtesy Adrian and Tina Scalf
River Valley Paranormal Research & Investigation is a group of paranormal investigators in Fort Smith, Arkansas dedicated to the research and documentation of unexplained phenomenon. Involved within our membership are professional people who feel there is far more to the world around us than what meets the eye.
In 1999, Adrian and Tina Scalf were living with their children in an old Victorian house in McAlester, Oklahoma. The house was lovely, but from time to time, strange things happened that Tina couldn’t explain. She’d hear unfamiliar voices. She’d feel something touch her when she was alone.
For as long as she could remember, Tina had understood the thin divide between this world and the next. Spirits showed up on doorsteps. Shadows rose from nothingness. As for Adrian, he’d never seen anything that couldn’t be explained away. At least not until Tina sat him down and said, “Honey, this house is haunted.”
“I laughed at first. ‘How can you believe such silliness?’ I asked her. But I was not home as much as she was. I’d go to work, come home and eat, watch a little TV. Go to bed.”
Little by little, he started to entertain the idea that Tina might be right. Some months later, returning from the movies, something crossed the road in front of their car, the likes of which they’d never seen. What was that creature? And where did it come from?
“Up until that night, when Tina said she’d heard voices in the house, I’d written it off as noise coming from the neighbors. But after seeing what we did, I went home and listened, and I could hear voices of a man and woman. It sounded like two people sitting at a table discussing something.”
These events—the haunting and Adrian’s acceptance of it—changed the course of the couple’s life. They moved eventually, buying a house in Fort Smith in 2005. It didn’t take them long to discover this house came with its own ghost, an easy-going spirit they affectionately named James.
In August 2006, Adrian and Tina formed the River Valley Paranormal Research and Investigation (RVPRI), a group that has become sought after for their expertise.
They face each investigation with a plan in place, with procedures that allow them to (mostly) unemotionally document what is taking place. But there was one investigation in 2007 that shook their resolve.
They’d taken a call from a family in Summerfield, Oklahoma, a small community in LeFlore County. The hamlet had a gas station, one grocery store, a few churches, and one very haunted house.
The family living there said they heard the voices of two spirits, a woman and a young girl. The woman liked to bake, the family believed, since they could often smell freshly baked cookies. Also, items turned up missing. For instance, one of them would lay down a screwdriver, and it would disappear before they had the chance to pick it up again.
Pretty tame stuff, but then the woman of the house told them about the night something haunted came at her from the attic in the hallway, flew into her bedroom and pushed her down on her bed. She felt this entity try to get inside her skin, and when it did, she reacted violently, so sick she threw up, her body seeming to know what it needed to do to stop whatever this was from possessing her.
After listening to the stories, Adrian and Tina assembled their RVPRI team. The group of five drove to the house. From the moment they arrived, they knew something ominous lay ahead. “Walking through the door was like moving through Jell-O. You could feel the weight to the air pressing against you,” Tina said. “The whole house was heavy.”
The lady of the house stayed during the first night of the investigation. The reason was simple. It could have been that she was the one being haunted and not the house itself. It turns out she wasn’t.
“That first night, we set up in the living room, set up all our equipment,” Adrian said. “Our team was spread out. And then I turned off the lights, and it was go-time. The air was full of shadows swirling around, like oil on water. The floor looked like it was covered with bugs and they were moving, moving. We turned on the lights to see if they were real. They weren’t.
“A larger shadow was on the ceiling, coming from the area of the back bedroom, and it was rushing toward the living room where we were. It looked like it was trying to intimidate us.”
The team continued their work, and Adrian said that as they were packing up, the back door that was locked tight creaked open. Visible from where he and Tina were standing were a man’s disembodied, trousered legs. The door slammed shut seconds after they saw this, and when they checked, they saw that the lock had been broken.
The following night they returned, and this time, Tina went to the bedroom where the attack had happened. She sat on the foot of the bed. In front of her was a dresser with a big mirror, and in it, Tina could see what was happening behind her. Nearby were Adrian and team members.
Minutes passed, and then she said she saw a shadow of a man bolt upright from the spot near the headboard. It scooted its way toward her. When it was right behind her, she could feel the hairs on her neck stand up, she could feel the coldness on her back. It seemed to want to infiltrate her, to seep into her body.
Almost anyone else would run at that point, but Tina willed herself to stay still. She watched the mirror as the entity disappeared, and then reappeared, going through the same motions again, getting so close to Tina that she could feel its iciness and all its evil power.
The entity did not make a third attempt.
Tina believes what she encountered was a demon. Her theory is that it was unable to possess her or the woman of the house because they both have a strong faith in God that protected them.
When their investigation at the Summerfield house ended, Adrian advised the family to hold prayer services in each room. “When they did this, they said they could hear moaning and crying and screaming and wailing, and then yelling. By the time they finished though, it was peaceful, and the house was so light. They realized they’d never been able to hear the clock ticking before,” Tina said. “And it no longer felt like you were walking through Jell-O when you opened the door.”
Since investigating the Summerfield house, they gauge every other haunting by what they experienced those two frightful nights. They’re quick to say that the only demon they ever came across was there.
As for why the dead get stuck on Earth, they’re not quite sure. But Adrian and Tina do believe there are clues as to how a ghost might get attached to someone. They might be struggling to find connection, and you look like someone they knew while they were alive. Or you might buy something of theirs that they loved, maybe at an estate sale, and they will follow that object to your home.
Your experience after that is a crapshoot. Ghosts, Tina said, are a lot like the people they were. If they were jerks in life, they are in death. If they were sweethearts while drawing breath, they stay that way.
The two shared a look as they said this. They’ve run across more ghosts than they can count in the eleven years they’ve been in charge of RVPRI. Their work has taken them to 200 hauntings in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Ohio. And they’ve been featured on Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, SyFy’s movie Soul Catcher, and in two other films, Unseen and Seekers.
They couldn’t have predicted any of this when ghosts appeared at their McAlester house. Back then, Tina wondered if Adrian would ever believe in the thin divide between this world and the next. But now he does. He most certainly does.
Adrian will speak about the Summerfield case at the Old Fort
Paranormal Convention October 13-15, at the Fort Smith City Center. Other well-known names in the field, including filmmaker Chis Booth, will be speaking, and there will be a costume contest and dance.
Visit rvpri.com for details.