Published On: Mon, Oct 12th, 2015

A Paranormal Investigation Yields Bizarre Experiences at the David Oman House

Having witnessed phony paranormal activity contrived by means of practical effects at various Halloween haunt events over the past few weeks, I was thrilled to be invited to a real paranormal investigation at an actual haunted house. Ghost hunters are often dismissed as kooky crackpots or total frauds; and it seemed like an interesting opportunity to learn about their techniques. However, I was also skeptical. The event was to celebrate the release of Poltergeist on Blu-ray and DVD. Would it be a mere sales presentation, perhaps involving interactive performances culminating in some sort of staged spectral encounter?

Curiosity outweighed my skepticism. In any event, Twentieth Century Fox would undoubtedly put on a good show.

Researching the Beverly Hills location, I once again felt dubious. There is some question–as there is of any haunted place–as to whether or not the house is truly inhabited by spirits. David Oman, a film producer, lives there. No one has actually died on site, though Sharon Tate and four others were infamously murdered at the house that once existed 150 feet from the premises.

On the evening of the investigation, we were shuttled up to the Oman house towards the end of shadowy Cielo Drive, which is so narrow that it’s essentially an alley traversable only one car at a time. Upon arriving, it became clear that Oman is no mere dabbler in the paranormal, and that his co-host investigators were serious about imparting their techniques. At the center of the garage back wall, a huge projection screen showed surveillance videos from inside of the house.

Tangled masses of white cords were strewn about the living room. While investigators set up their equipment, guests were encouraged to pose for photos with masks and clown dolls from Poltergeist in front of a lit partition advertising the movie.


The entryway to David Oman’s house. Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

During the reception, a reporter photographing the doll was surprised by a strange result: about half the photo was normal, and the other half was inexplicably overlaid with a curtain of vertical blue and magenta lines. He said that nothing like that had ever happened before.

Libations and hors d’oeuvres were served as Oman regaled us with anecdotes and passed around a heavy board that he declared had recently flown across the room. Atop a tall fish tank, three members of a motley assortment of figurines are frequently toppled by inexplicable forces. Oman showed us recorded videos of one of the figurines lurching over and a necklace spontaneously moving nearby. Then, as proof that a shaking ground had not jostled the items, he jumped on the floor to display its stability. The fish tank did not so much as tremble.


Atop a fish tank, three Beetlejuice figurines with spiked torsos are frequently toppled by mysterious forces. Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

Inside the garage, Phillip Pearse, founder of a Riverside-based ghost hunting group called SRC Paranormal, and Lilia Willis, a clairvoyant, both of whom work with Oman regularly, described unusual experiences they had had over a course of many visits to his home. Over time, they said, they have tracked a paranormal vortex from a hill near the front of the house to an area by stairs in the back. According to Willis, people often trip on the stairs and claim that they have been pushed, though no one has ever been injured. It seemed surreal to hear Willis and Pearse describe bizarre incidents, like a bucket of water tipping uphill near the vortex, as if they were everyday occurrences.

Pearse demonstrated the surveillance equipment and showed us real time scenes from various chambers of the house. In addition to being a paranormal investigator, Pearse is a self-described empath, meaning that he possesses the psychic ability to sense spirit activity. He screened a camera view of a bedroom that he said is inhabited by a real poltergeist known for moving toys and pulling people’s hair.

“There’s a little girl in there, her name’s Gwendolyn, so if you want to see about communicating with her, I’m pretty sure she’ll be open to it,” he said.

Pearse talked of ghosts as nonchalantly as if they were any other people, ones that just happened to be dead. His constant preoccupation with the surveillance screens evinced his enthrallment with the supernatural. (Hours later, after the event had concluded, he was still checking screens in the garage, hoping to find evidence of new incidents.) Aside from anything paranormal, the monochromatic videos themselves seemed rather creepy, as did the idea that the entire house was under surveillance.


In Oman’s garage, Phillip Pearse (holding light, standing close to screen), founder of SRC Paranormal, readies a screen for surveillance. Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

Back inside, Oman related his home’s background. In the 1990’s, his father, a real estate developer, discovered the Benedict Canyon lot on sale for $ 40,000–severely undervalued because building there was thought to be forbidden due to a clerical street-naming error that he was able to overturn. They built the house in 1999. According to Oman, even as it was under construction, workmen reported strange experiences like hearing phantom footsteps.

Oman showed us more recent video clips of orbs and an apparition of a twirling baton. In trying to record paranormal phenomena, he prefers to use film cameras rather than digital, because “film will take the image that is there. It can’t think. When you’re dealing with digital, there’s a CMOS chip in there that has to understand what it’s capturing.”


David Oman narrates recorded video clips implying paranormal activity. Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

Radiating enthusiasm, Oman avowed that his house is a hotbed of paranormal activity because for some unknown reason, the site has an electromagnetic field range ideal for spirit manifestations. “Even if that didn’t take place down there,” he said, referring to the notorious slayings, “this would still be a nightmare of spirit activity. That’s what’s so unique about the house, is that the spirits that come in aren’t necessarily resident spirits.”

He feels that his “open door policy” entices some to stay in what he jokingly refers to as his “flophouse” for ghosts. “I’ve had the dubious distinction of seeing the pictures of Sharon and Jay at LAPD after they were killed, and I say, ‘Far be it from me to tell someone who’s died like that to get the hell out of my house,'” he said. “I feel too compassionate for what they went through, and if they want to stay here, ‘Thumbs up, man, you’ve got the lay of the house.'”

Yet, he continued, sometimes they cross boundaries of what he deems acceptable, like turning on faucets and leaving them running. When this happens, he asks them to stop, and it usually works.

“I treat them like friends, like house guests that I respect, and they have to respect me, and it’s mutual,” he effused. “And that’s why I say to people: You have a ghost? Don’t you dare buy into fear, because like a dog, they smell fear and they’re going to keep pushing your buttons. If you say, ‘I know you’re here–what do you want?’ and you level with them, you come from a position of strength and self-respect. And they’re going to know, ‘He’s no pushover.'”

Oman seemed to speak with sincere conviction, yet his stories sounded utterly fantastic. As he talked, I considered the idea that if his accounts were true, supernatural experiences must be bizarre. Yet if they were indeed fictional, it would be equally strange to think that a person would actually believe them, which many obviously do. From which perspective would things seem more improbable: the skeptic’s or the believer’s? Thinking along these lines, everything seemed eerie.


High electromagnetic levels are often recorded on this vertiginous spiral staircase.

Soon, it was time for a hands-on demonstration. We descended an vertiginous spiral staircase onto the second floor. In a dim room abounding with antique boxing memorabilia, investigator Sommer Carter greeted us with several devices. One of them immediately began emitting weird noises.

“If you are open-minded and are not disrespectful, things will happen,” she stated quietly. “What we’ve noticed is that the better the attitude is, the more that the spirits that are here feel comfortable talking to us.” Still, Carter, who described herself as a scientist and engineer, was careful to not to speak too definitively. It is commonly believed, she informed us, that ghosts are composed of electromagnetic energy. Gesturing towards the devices, she enumerated their functions. One detected static electricity; another measured electromagnetic fields. If a living person touches them, they sound. Carter said they had been going off periodically all evening, even when people were not around.

Another device recorded electronic voice phenomena (EVP). “People think that spirits talk and move and live in a different sort of frequency, and the voice recorder can sometimes pick that up,” she explained. Everyone in the room took turns asking questions and waiting ten seconds to allow time for spirits to respond. When she played the recording back, the only extra noises were unintelligible squeaks after my question. According to Carter, initial unintelligibility is common in EVP, but with the aid of special software, investigators can clarify the recordings so that anything meaningful can be understood.

Our next destination was a hallway near the supposed vortex. Carter said that immediately upon entering a corner there earlier, she had experienced a terrible headache. As soon as she vacated the vicinity, the pain mysteriously went away.

“For you guys that aren’t familiar with ghost hunting gadgets, your body’s a really good tool for this,” she declared. “If you feel weird or sick, or get goose bumps or the hair’s standing up on your arms, all these things that are different than you normally feel on an everyday basis, those are all indicators that something weird is happening, so they say.”

She entreated us to stand at the end of the hallway, one by one, and see if we felt any “creepy vibes.” No one did.

Next, we entered “Gwendolyn’s” room. For the purpose of this event, it had recently been redecorated to look similar to a little girl’s room in Poltergeist. There, investigator Steve Hembree told us about unusual characteristics of the local terrain, which USGS classifies as an electromagnetic anomaly.

“They can’t explain why there’s huge peaks of electromagnetic energy that come out of this hillside,” he concluded.

We didn’t have much luck in interacting with Gwendolyn. K2 meters are designed to pick up household currents in order to measure harmful electromagnetic energy, but they are also frequently used by ghost hunters to detect spirit-induced fluctuations. Hembree tried in vain to cajole the poltergeist to touch a K2 meter. Then, he suggested that someone play with a plastic tea set at a tiny table in the center of the room. “She sometimes responds to that,” he urged. A couple in their twenties gladly obliged. As soon as they sat down and began pouring imaginary tea for a teddy bear, the K2 meter lights flashed and flickered. Seconds later, to everyone’s surprise, a toy keyboard spontaneously began playing. Hembree acknowledged that it might have been programmed to play on its own periodically; but that seemed unlikely, for it sounded at irregular intervals.

That was the extent of our interaction with the poltergeist. However, watching adults have a pretend tea party while trying to conjure a real spirit in a room that had been decorated after a fictional ghost movie seemed almost as incongruous as would a more palpable paranormal encounter.

Supposedly inhabited by dark spirits, the Earth Room was our final stop in the investigation. The lead paranormal investigator, Alejandro Dominguez, who had flown in from Texas, stood before a raw section of hillside for which the room was named. He handed me a Mel Meter, another device for measuring electromagnetic energy and temperature.

Dominguez told us that the electromagnetic energy often spiked to unusually high levels in this room. High electromagnetic levels can sicken sensitive individuals. Dominguez said that he usually feels ill when other investigators use a device called an EMF pump to artificially spike electromagnetic levels in effort to induce spirit manifestations.

He demonstrated a device called a “spirit box,” which emitted a static sound as it scanned radio frequencies. Some believe that spirit boxes can pick up paranormal noises, but Dominguez explained that they’re of dubious use to serious investigators, since it’s difficult to tell whether sounds are from radio stations or ghosts.

“So you can see, I try to really debunk everything. I don’t go in and think everything is paranormal,” Dominguez said as he turned off the device.

Even seasoned ghost hunters often have trouble distinguishing between paranormal activity and occurrences with logical explanations that just aren’t apparent. Ghost encounters have a long history of being faked via illusions. Since hard proof of ghost activity is essentially unattainable, some believers will dispute what others agree upon as reasonable evidence. After all, the definition of “paranormal” is “not scientifically explainable.” As a ghost hunter, Dominguez said, it’s important to maintain a credible reputation for not misrepresenting evidence. Ultimately, deciding whether or not something is specter-related is very subjective. “I really just try to share things that, in my opinion, I think is something,” he concluded.


Alejandro Dominguez stands outside the Earth Room. Abutting raw hillside, it is said to harbor dark spirits. Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

I felt a stomachache in the Earth Room. None of the devices picked up anything abnormal. However, my photographer experienced a weird internal sensation which he described as feeling like being on a boat. Dominguez dismissed it as a probable result of unsteady flooring.

The event concluded with an anticlimactic séance. Willis only contacted a few spirits, and her communications with them were vague.

Afterwards, a woman who had toured the house with another group reported feeling a pressure in her arm, like it was tired from overuse when she hadn’t even been moving it. Others described similar sensations. One of Oman’s figurines tipped over during the event.

To my photographer’s amazement, when he mentioned his Earth Room experience to Oman, who had not been present, the homeowner summarized the swaying feeling in exact detail before it was even described to him. Oman affirmed that the phenomenon was commonly reported in the Earth Room.

The squeaky EVP and my stomachache were my only experiences that could have been interpreted as paranormal–and since they were readily explainable, considering them to be paranormal would strain rationality. Still, the total experience of listening to the hosts and trying out their equipment turned out to be informative and bizarre in a different, more nuanced way than I had anticipated.

Because he offers tours of his house and has produced a movie based on it, Oman has been accused of mercenarily taking advantage of his home’s location for personal gain. However, touring his house, it seems unlikely that he needs extra income. In fact, expenses for his surveillance equipment and parties probably outweigh any revenues.

Videos, photos, and voice recordings can be faked; and movements of objects can be orchestrated via illusions. Yet at the event, many guests reported unusual physical sensations that were unseen and subjective, and therefore couldn’t be recorded nor reproduced. These experiences were numerous but subtle. If Oman is wont to falsify paranormal activity in his house, he certainly missed an opportunity to mount a more spectacular show for us. Though nothing outstanding happened, several people departed his house with conviction that strange things happen there.

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