Paranormal investigator LeeAnna Jonas on her first apparition and evil spirits at the Gilpin County Jail
Tawni Herren, Allyson McNiel and LeeAnna Jonas are the Spirit Realm Investigative Project.
When LeeAnna Jonas saw her first apparition during a fifth-grade basement seance, she was immediately hooked on the paranormal. Jonas has come a long way since then: She founded her own all-female ghost-hunting team, the Spirit Realm Investigative Project, which has been featured on the Travel Channel's Paranormal Challenge and will be on an upcoming episode of the Bio Channel's My Ghost Story.
We caught up with Jonas to talk about Colorado's haunted mining towns, hunting for ghosts, and the evil spirit she encountered at the Gilpin County Jail.
Westword: What is the Spirit Realm Investigative Project?
LeeAnna Jonas: Well, we're a three-girl team, we're local, and we are paranormal investigators. We try to communicate with spirits. We try to help clients if they have haunts and they don't quite understand what's going on; we try to get answers for them to see if the place is actually haunted. We do background on the history of the location. And we specialize in the mining towns of Colorado. We've done, like, seventeen locations in Central City and Blackhawk alone.
Those two towns are so haunted, there's so much history, and there was so much death back in the mining days. There are a lot of spirits that are still there. A lot of disease, so a lot of children died very young. Mining accidents, prostitution, murder -- it was a very greedy town because it was known as the richest square mile on earth at one point because of the gold. So you know what that brings. That's almost a Vegas, where it brings people who want to make it rich and there's a lot of crime. It seems that we run into the same spirits at different locations, like they rotate in the towns.
We use scientific equipment as well as our bodies and our minds, because all of us are sensitive. And what I mean by "sensitive" is you can feel the energy, you can sense things. I've always been that way, but the more you do it, the more open you are to it and the more you can feel them around you. We use scientific equipment to prove that it's out there. We put evidence on our YouTube page; we don't put out anything we don't stand by. We try to debunk. We don't just say, "Oh, yeah, it's paranormal." We try to figure it out first to see if there's any other explanation. We don't put anything out that we don't believe in. We're there to explain to other people, also we're there to talk to the spirits and we do do crossovers if needed.
The first one we did was at Doc Holiday's casino. There was a little boy spirit who had been there for years and years and we came in contact with him and actually got his voice on a recorder and we told him that we would help him. And he did, he crossed over.
So if we do have a spirit that comes out and says "Help," I give them that option. If you want me to try to find someone to help you, you gotta tell me. We don't try to push any spirits into anything they don't wanna do. So we're there to help them, too, to tell their story. We're not into provoking, we're not into disrespect of the spirits. That's partially why I think they like us. You get teams in there who say nasty things to try to get them to do things, and we don't work that way.
Can you talk about a specific spirit that you've encountered?
Yeah, there's one that follows us to every single location, and his name is Jim Murphy. We haven't been able to find him buried in any of the cemeteries yet. We picked him up at the Gilpin County Museum in the area where there was a poker table. Wherever we go, we have an instrument that's called an ovilus -- and this is made by an engineer that's here in Denver, his name is Bill Chappell -- and what it does, is it picks up the energy from the spirits. Because, basically, just like us when we're alive, when you're dead that energy doesn't leave. It doesn't mean that you stay here with your soul, but the people who do stay here or are trapped or whatever happened to them tragically are still energy. That's why they drain our batteries and such. So this instrument actually picks up what they're trying to say and converts it into words. And wherever we go, the name Murphy comes up, Jim Murphy, and then afterwards he usually says "Central," which means he's from Central City. We did Buffalo Bill's grave and he showed up and he said "Murphy" and he said "Central," and I said, "Hey, Murphy! How's it going?" [Laughs]. So it seems like he always comes around us. No matter where we're at in town, he shows up.
We now have another one called Harriet Pierce who's following us, too. Her name keeps coming up. It's really interesting and it just makes you want to figure out the puzzle and the story. And that's basically what we are: We're storytellers. We're trying to communicate with the dead and find out what their story is. We've got a great situation to where the town likes us, the spirit likes us, and we keep going back to different locations and finding more about these people and we're trying to piece it together. It's kind of unique in a way, because a lot of teams just float around and hit different locations. They never make a connection, but we've actually made connections with these spirits, because they were people just like us. If you make a relationship with these spirits, they start to trust you. You still have to keep your guard up because you can't trust them totally, because there are evil, negative spirits out there that will take advantage of you and will attach to you and come home with you. We've already had that happen. That's just part of the hazard of the job.
The Gilpin County Courthouse & Jail, home of murderous spirits.
What kind of evil spirits?
We did have one that will be on My Ghost Story, which is gonna feature the Gilpin County Jail in Central City. So the dark entity that we ran into was actually the one who is in the jail. He's a murderer. I have an angel reader, a lady who is like a medium/psychic. She was the one that warned us not to go in there. She said that she saw what he looked like: He was a handsome man but he was very evil, and he didn't like her because she has protection and angels and all that. What we've heard is that there was a father and a grandfather who killed two girls in Nederland back in the day, raped them and killed them, and set their grandson up for the murder because they didn't want to go to jail. The father set his own son up. So they said the father used to come to the jail and see his son and pace behind the jail back and forth and back and forth. And, of course, he had guilt. And when we first got into the building, my team member actually saw the shadow of a man behind where this guy used to pace. Later on that night, the same spirit we believe jumped out at her. We've got it on tape.
I think he's punished because of what he did, I think karma got him and he's stuck because of his guilt and what he did to his son. That's one thought; we're not sure. But whatever evil is in the jail is attached to a gentleman who works there and he already knows that he's kind of half-possessed by this guy. It's really weird. He freely talks about it. He has a relationship with this guy in the jail, he talks to him. He'll sit there and talk to the spirits and he has no qualms about it. After seventeen years you just kind of get to know them and they get to know you. And he's kind of possessed by this guy, so he blacks out sometimes and his family says he's a different person, his eyes change. So that's what My Ghost Story is gonna be about, that particular story.
How did you get involved with ghost-hunting?
When I was in fifth grade I saw my first apparition. Myself and two of my friends were doing seances, as kids do, in her basement. And there was a story of a girl who was a babysitter and killed a baby that she was babysitting and then killed herself. So we started doing a seance, telling her that we wanted to communicate, and all three of us looked up and saw a vision of a woman in a rocking chair with a baby in her arms with a knife. We all saw it at the same time and we were crying and we couldn't talk, and finally after thirty years I got a hold of one of the girls, because I'm like, we need to talk. And she goes, "It's so crazy that you're into this, because I remember something happened, I remember us crying and running up the steps in fear, but I can't remember what happened." I think maybe some people just block things out that bother them. Not me, I've been into it ever since. I knew then there was something more than just us.
So I've just always been sensitive and I've always been into it and now the shows are out and everything I've studied is in the shows, I've studied the techniques. I tried to join a couple groups and they had no openings, so I just said, the heck with it, I'm gonna do it myself. We started in October 2010 officially, the team, and we were on TV within six months. So that's how hard I've worked and what passion I have for this. Nobody knew about ghost-hunting back then and now it's so popular. That's basically our passion. We're trying to get our own show at some point, but unfortunately nobody wants to take women seriously, which sucks. But I'm not changing the equation. It works good for us. We all feel comfortable together and I think with women, a lot of spirits feel more at ease, they don't feel threatened, especially children.
We just have a kinder approach than some of the men. I heard about a team in Idaho Springs that's just nasty, nasty, nasty. They scream at the spirits, they cuss at them, and I've heard this from clients who have had these teams in their place. Two of them in fact, already. They were so disrespectful and the clients didn't even realize what was going on, they thought this is the way you do it, and then their spirits acted up afterwards, which is another problem. You go into a place and you conjure up all sorts of terrible things, you piss them off, and then guess who has to pay the price? The people who live there, work there, what have you, which we don't believe in doing.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about what you do?
The biggest misconception is that people think we're into the occult or Satan. They think that we're trying to drum up spirits to either exploit them or to drum up negativity or hauntings. It's the people who don't understand that they are there. There's a lot of people in the Christian religion, and I'm Christian, who believe that you're not supposed to talk to the dead. They think it's a bad thing. They don't realize that these were people, just like us. They just didn't cross. So why would you think that everybody's evil?
There's some religions that believe that spirits are demonic. It doesn't matter who they are, they're all demons. So they're afraid of it. And what people don't understand, they're afraid of. It's just like anything. It's like people who are afraid of gay people: "Oh, I don't understand them, because they're gay." Well, you know what? They're people. Deal with it. I don't have a high tolerance for stuff like that. And then they don't understand that we're trying to prove it to them. A lot of people think that it's all fake. As somebody who actually does it, I can tell when something's been faked or not. But yeah, a lot of people don't understand that we're trying to communicate, we're trying to help these spirits. If they need help, we're gonna help them.
Is there anything else you want people to know about SRIP?
Just that we are seekers who want to help. Our motivation is not only to prove but to actually try to piece the stories together. Because if we can help these spirits, a lot of them are trying to tell their stories and once they can, they can move on. That's like somebody who got murdered and they don't want to leave because they want people to know who murdered them. There's a man who's encased up in Central City, his buddy killed him and put him in the wall half alive with gold bars, and he talked to us about it. We're like, do you wanna move on? And he didn't say yes or no, but he just kept on talking.
So maybe because they finally got a hold of somebody and someone would listen, they're in peace now and they can go. So our main thing is respect for the spirits, and it's not all about us, it's about them, too. It's their story. And if we can communicate with them, why not help them if we can?
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