File this one under maybe. Big on the maybe.
In the winter of 1988-89, Jackie Hernandez was pregnant with her second child. But this happy event was overshadowed by a marriage as rocky as a Malibu landslide. Driven by the torments of unhappy wedlock, she left her husband and moved with her 2-year-old son, Jamie, to a drab, turn-of-the-century bungalow in San Pedro.
And that, according to Hernandez and her friends, is when trouble began, when a sad but commonplace domestic drama took a hair-raising turn down Weird Street.
During the next three years, Hernandez, now 30, allegedly became a flesh-and-blood magnet for at least two ghosts--one benign, the other vengeful. Both spirits seemed to thrive in her presence, plugging into her like viruses burrowing into a fresh and particularly vulnerable victim. The benign one, she says, led her to his grave, 13 blocks from the bungalow where he had lived before his death in 1913.
The other "took my fear and got energy from it," Hernandez says. "The more scared I got, the stronger it got."
Most unusual and disturbing, she says, was that the haunting continued after Hernandez had moved from her star-crossed San Pedro cottage. The ghosts, it seems, followed her, wreaking havoc wherever she went, including a remote trailer in northern Kern County.
The Hernandez case is nearly in a class by itself, says Barry Taff, 44, a Los Angeles parapsychologist who led a team to investigate her claims.
He says he knows of only one or two other cases in which ghosts supposedly have followed someone. And, "in the whole history of the paranormal . . . there have been a handful of cases, maybe five cases, where people have been harmed or injured. . . . This is the first case I've ever been on where the phenomenon went after the researchers."
The ordeal, Hernandez says, was a Grade A waking nightmare replete with strange lights, colored mists, apparitions, and stinking blood-like liquid oozing from the walls.
Even the most mundane household chores became forays into the unknown.
The ooze, for instance, began seeping from the kitchen walls while Jackie and her friend and baby-sitter, Kristina Zivkovic, washed dishes. A daybed inexplicably collapsed many times, often while someone was in it.
The haunting--if that's what it was--began slowly, Hernandez says. The cat chased eerie shadows around the house; voices muttered in the attic. Then one day she saw pencils fly out of a pencil holder. She thought she was hallucinating, perhaps because of her pregnancy.
But after her daughter, Samantha, was born in April, 1989, the events continued. A few weeks after the birth, Hernandez got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. On the way, she saw a gnarled old man glaring at her. Then he vanished.
In short order, the unexplained events took over Hernandez's life.
"In the beginning it's all we talked about," says Zivkovic. "Everyone thought we were crazy."
Real nightmares figure in the tale, too. Hernandez vividly recalls dreaming about a younger man being clubbed with a lead pipe and drowned by his assailant in San Pedro Harbor--as it looked in the 1930s. In this dream she became the dead man, experiencing his horror of being held under water, his consciousness ebbing as he fought for his life.
OK, so much of this may seem familiar enough, especially to late-night TV addicts.
Yet other aspects of the haunting transcend the bad teleplay genre, Hernandez and company insist. First, they say, the ghosts followed Hernandez around the state and attacked her friends and acquaintances, including an attempted hanging. Also, others claim to have witnessed parts of the haunting, including a team of investigatortrying to document the phenomena.
Moreover, Hernandez and friends say they established, via an Ouija board, a possible link with a 60-year-old suspicious death, perhaps the killing Jackie dreamed about.
Taff entered the case in 1989 after being contacted by a friend of Hernandez's, who had seen him on TV. During the last 25 years, Taff says, he has checked out 3,000 paranormal cases. Most, he concedes, are duds: "The majority of cases aren't worth pursuing. There's a lot of fabrication, a lot of invention, a lot of embellishment and a lot of outright fraud."
The Hernandez case intrigued him from the start.
On the night of Aug. 8, 1989, Taff and three investigators went to San Pedro to interview Hernandez. The investigators were loaded for ethereal bear, bringing sophisticated video cameras, image intensifiers, infrared detectors and other equipment that might capture images of the unknown.
During the interviews, "we kept hearing what sounded like a 200-pound rat running around the attic," Taff recalls. Everyone also experienced a sensation of "over-pressure," he says, a feeling similar to being under water and often found at the scenes of hauntings.
Later that evening, a team photographer went into the attic. He says his 35-millimeter camera was wrenched from his hands. The lens was later found lying several feet from the camera body.
On the investigators' second visit, the photographer, Jeff Wheatcraft, went into the attic again. There, he says he was attacked by an entity that wrapped a clothesline around his neck and attempted to hang him from a protruding nail.
As a sort of proof, the team has a videotape that shows a snapshot of Wheatcraft hanging from the ceiling. The promotional tape, which touts a documentary being assembled on the case, also contains scenes of objects moved by invisible forces and balls and streaks of light that Taff believes are evidence of--for lack of a better word--ghosts.
But he admits that proof is in the eye of the beholder. Although he is persuaded, he concedes that "the problem is that today, anything can be faked. It's not truth beyond a reasonable doubt."
Still, he thinks the Hernandez case fits a framework. "One of the theories is that the environment can somehow store information . . . and under the proper circumstances the information is reconstructed so that you can feel it, see it or hear it," he says. So Jackie Hernandez may have been "pushing the button on the VCR."
Whatever was happening to Hernandez ran parallel to her troubled marriage and the chores of raising an infant and a toddler.
In the fall of 1989 she and her husband attempted to patch things up. They moved to Weldon in Kern County and tried to start fresh.
There, Hernandez's fears began to fade: "Within a couple of weeks or so I felt really comfortable being there. I thought I had left the ghost back in the house. I thought everything was going to be OK."
But, she says, the marriage floundered within months. Her husband left, and she found herself living in a remote area with few neighbors--running up exorbitant phone bills talking to friends in Los Angeles.
Then, Hernandez claims, the phenomena returned.
When she and two neighbors moved a TV into a storage shed, the three saw an image of an old man on the screen, the same man that Hernandez had seen in the San Pedro house. That night, she says that she was kept awake by "someone pounding on the inside (of the shed) wanting to get out."
She called the ghost busters again, and they arrived late one night and entered what Hernandez describes as a maelstrom. For starters, the researchers could not get their video cameras to work--something kept switching off the equipment.
Partly in desperation, she suggested that the investigators try the Ouija board. As they began, she recalls, their table began to shake. And the session ended when photographer Wheatcraft was thrown against the trailer wall by an invisible force.
The board explained her haunting, Hernandez believes.
Those answers are contained in part of the scrawled transcript she says she made of the session:
Question: How long have you been trapped (in the spirit world)?
Answer: Sixty years.
Q: Did you die in the (San Pedro) house?
Q: Where did you die?
A: San Pedro Bay.
Q: Did you drown?
A: No, I was held under water.
Q: Did you live in the San Pedro house?
A: My murderer (lived there).
Hernandez says the ghost also revealed that he had been born in 1912 and died in 1930. With that information, she and friends later discovered old newspaper reports of the death of seaman Herman Hendrickson, whose body was found floating under a pier on March 25, 1930.
Hendrickson was 10 years older than the age indicated on Hernandez's transcript. He had a jagged wound on the top of his head, and the coroner ruled that he had drowned. Authorities determined that the seaman had not been murdered but had sustained the wound when he fell off a dock.
These discrepancies do not dissuade Hernandez that Hendrickson is the ghost that latched on to her.
The second ghost's identity is even more problematic. Largely from talking to old-time San Pedro residents, Hernandez and her friends say they learned that the bungalow was built by a man named John Damon. They assume he is the old man who appeared to Hernandez on her trip to the bathroom.
Hernandez stayed in the Weldon trailer until the summer of 1990, when she moved back to Los Angeles.
Naturally, the ghosts followed, creating havoc but beginning to taper off at the friend's home where Hernandez stayed.
Hernandez says "John Damon" made a graceful exit. While visiting in San Pedro in the spring of 1990, she saw a ball of light, bright enough to be visible in daylight, outside the house where she was staying. She followed the light to a nearby graveyard, where it hovered over a stone marking the grave as that of John Damon.
"This ball of light went around and around the grave and just disappeared," she says. She figures that was Damon's good-by.
The other ghost has gone, too. More or less. In the last year or so, Hernandez claims to have experienced only infrequent visitations.
Her children are fine, she says. Samantha, nearly 4, is too young to remember any of the disturbances that surrounded her mother. Son Jamie picked up some of the bad karma, and once was thrown against the wall, she says. He has some trouble sleeping alone but otherwise is all right.
Baby-sitter Zivkovic, 23, says she is still frightened by the haunting and dislikes talking about it.
She believes that the haunting has permanently changed both her and Hernandez. Zivkovic says she has become more religious while her friend "overreacts to everything" and seems sunk into "total neurosis." They have also drifted apart, she says, remarking that the haunting "is the only thing we have in common."
Hernandez, who now works as an office manager for an accounting firm, sees things differently.
"I'm more scared of dying than I was before" because she believes the ghosts who found here were "living in hell," she says. But, she adds, "In hindsight I think I was fortunate to see and experience first-hand something that most people never see."