Rie Sadler and Jim Jones set out to look for ghosts. Instead, they found each other.
"Clearly, we were destined — or doomed — to be together," says Sadler, 37, a project analyst for an Annapolis-based defense contractor. Her fiancé, a 47-year-old Baltimore County law enforcement officer, nods approvingly and smiles. "We just kind of melded together," he explains.
Paranormal investigators by avocation — go ahead, call them ghostbusters; they don't mind — Sadler and Jones are two of dozens of people in the Baltimore area who spend their leisure hours collecting evidence of spirits. Normally, Halloween is their high-profile time of year, the one day when the rest of the world seems tuned in to their wavelength. But this year, the only thing otherworldly they'll be doing for Halloween is jetting off to Hawaii for their honeymoon.
The spirits will simply have to wait.
Ghost-hunting is, by its nature, a lonely way to spend one's free time. Most of the work is done at night, the things you're looking for probably don't want to be found — if they exist at all — and plenty of people think you're just a little bit off your rocker.
But none of that bothers these two, who smile at the skeptics and continue the search. Hey, they know all about finding the unexpected. That, after all, is how they found each other.
"I wasn't expecting anything, I wasn't looking for a relationship at the time," says Jones, who was only recently separated from his first wife when he agreed to meet Sadler at a Linthicum park-n-ride in June 2008 for an evening of ghost-hunting. Clearly, the two were kindred spirits; they had gotten to know each other through an Internet chat room devoted to paranormal research.
"He said to me, 'If you ever want to see the haunted places in Baltimore County, let me know and I'll take you around,'" Sadler recalls. "The first two years of our relationship, that's what our dates were, going to haunted houses or investigations, going to cemeteries or Gettysburg or something like that.
"So yeah," she adds with a smile, "we've had a very morbid relationship."
Skeptics, of course, regard ghost-hunting as a bunch of hooey, the byproduct of overactive imaginations overdosed on too many Hollywood horror films. But for paranormal investigators like Jones and Sadler, it's all very real. There are beings on the other side, they are convinced.
Jones, a Baltimore native and graduate of Catonsville High School and Catonsville Community College, traces his obsession with the other side to childhood days running through cemeteries at night and watching horror movies on Saturday morning TV. For Sadler, it was an outgrowth of her early years as a history buff.
"Growing up, you know, you go to a lot of these historical places and they tell you there are ghosts," says Sadler, who was raised in the Annapolis area, attending South River High School and Anne Arundel Community College. "But you know, I'm not going to believe it unless I see it…I was in my 20s before I saw something that made me question, 'Is that a ghost?'"
The two hunt together as part of a paranormal research team Jones started about four years ago, PRISMd (Paranormal Research and Investigation Society of Maryland). Often, they check out known paranormal hot spots — places where evidence of ghosts, they say, is pretty hard to avoid, like the Gettysburg battlefields, Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Point Lookout Lighthouse in Southern Maryland.
Armed with a wide array of equipment — cameras, audio recorders, motion detectors, heat sensors — they look for such signs of contact with the other side as unexplained sounds, phantom images and electromagnetic activity with no obvious source.
At other times, groups like PRISMd are contacted by people convinced their homes are haunted and desperate for proof. They don't charge for their investigations, Jones says; it's tough enough convincing people they're on the up-and-up without throwing money into the equation. But if, after extensive interviews, they're convinced the people aren't kidding around, they'll spend a night or two snooping around to see what they can find.
"In the majority of cases, people just want validation," Sadler says. "It doesn't bother them that there's a ghost in the house. They just want to stop thinking they're crazy."
They can't, the pair stress, necessarily get rid of ghosts. But they can at least help people understand what they're up against.
"For the most part, it's nothing to be afraid of,:" Sadler says. "The problem is, people love horror movies, and your imagination will get you before anything else will."
Sadler and Jones can both rattle off dozens of examples of close encounters of the paranormal kind. She's especially good at picking up sounds, Sadler says, everything from her name (spoken when no one was around) to gunshots on the Gettysburg battlefield. Jones says he's been pushed by sprits, and once barked a command on the battlefield at Antietam and had it answered, clear as day.
"Sure, you can be a skeptic," Jones says. "But when you've gone through all the explanations, and have something left over that you can't explain, what is it?"
For the next couple weeks, however, Jones and Sadler will stop worrying about the otherworldly and concentrate on more earthly matters. Saturday, they get married in Annapolis. Then, it's off to Hawaii for two weeks.
Of course, given how they met, maybe it's unrealistic to expect them to leave the ghosts behind entirely. And, in fact, they're not going to.
Tomorrow, after they've been pronounced husband and wife and they turn to walk down the aisle, the song that'll be playing?
The theme from "Ghostbusters," naturally.
"It's one of our favorite movies," Sadler assures.
If you suspect there might be a ghost in your house, or if you're interested in joining Jones, Sadler and the rest of PRISMd as they scope out paranormal activity throughout the region, call 410-718-4728 or 410-900-8534, or check out the group's website at freewebs.com/prismd.