Panama City Spirit Hunters Seek Clues to the Paranormal
KnightEyes Paranormal Investigations is making a name for themselves across the Southeast.
When things are going especially well for Nate Collins and Michael Lyles, they find themselves dealing with the inexplicable.
That’s their avocational mission: to find evidence of activity that they cannot puzzle out.
To that end, they conduct paranormal investigations with tools including Electronic Voice Phenomena Recorders (EVPs) audio recorders, video cameras, K-2 electromagnetic field detectors and spirit boxes — they favor the SB11 model. Spirit boxes — let’s get this bit of explanation out of the way — simultaneously scan AM and FM radio stations, producing white noise from which spirit voices emerge.
Or something like that.
KnightEyes Paranormal Investigations, located in Panama City, charges no fee for its work and has been known to pay its way onto properties of interest.
It finds itself spirit hunting in a widening territory from Bay County, Apalachicola and Sumatra to Georgia and South Carolina.
Collins and Lyles like to say that they are “coming to a creepy place near you.”
The two men are correctional officers who sometimes find themselves working together on the same confinement units. That was the case in December 2016 when Collins, after dispensing with his paperwork on a midnight shift, unaccountably spied arms protruding from Shower Cell #17.
Collins looked away momentarily from the cell and, when he returned his gaze to it, the figure was gone and he attributed what he had seen to his imagination.
That is, until another officer stationed at an observation post phoned Collins to ask, “What time did you gain the inmate in confinement?” Collins, joined by Lyles, informed the caller that no inmate had been admitted on their shift.
“But I saw him leaning on the bars in a shower cell,” the caller insisted.
Other mysterious incidents followed.
▪ Lyles and Collins saw a figure leave Cell #113, cross the hall and enter Cell #112. The doors to the cells, both three inches thick and made of solid steel, were locked at the time.
▪ The two men were conducting rounds with trainees when Lyles and three newbies saw a man on the upper bunk of a cell to which no one had been assigned. The “inmate” vanished and two of the trainees refused to spend any more time on that unit.
And, wait, there’s more.
Collins was working in food service, making preparations, when he looked up and saw an inmate in the baking area. He approached the inmate, hailing him with a raised voice.
The inmate disappeared before Collins reached him, but not before the officer noted the Department of Corrections number on the back of his shirt.
(Collins noted that unlike today’s solid-color prison wear, the inmate’s uniform was striped.)
He researched the number and found that it had once been assigned to an inmate who worked in food service, but who had died after suffering a heart attack years before Collins encountered him.
The mugshot of the man on file matched the visage that Collins had seen.
In combination, the various incidents led Collins and Lyles to launch their investigations enterprise. In doing so, they agreed that it would not be their mission to make believers of anyone; they would simply surface the mysterious for the world to consider.
Collins explained the transparent nature of KnightEyes investigations. None is cloaked in secrecy.
“Our investigations are conducted via live broadcast on our Facebook page. My partner and I are at the forefront of every session, but our team is made up of more than a thousand followers who tune into these investigations periodically and join the team live.”
Indeed, Collins noted, viewers often comment during investigations and may direct investigators to “suspect areas” that were caught by cameras but overlooked by the principals.
“KnightEyes viewers essentially are investigators,” Collins stressed. “All broadcasts are completely free, and KnightEyes Paranormal invites anyone who’s interested to join us.”
The Ghost of a Girl Named Pearl
The Orman House was built in 1838 by a businessman credited with making Apalachicola one of the most important Gulf Coast ports for cotton shipping in the mid-19th century.
Today, the house, with its wooden mantelpieces, molded plaster cornices and wide heart-pine flooring, is a state-managed historical site.
It adjoins the Chapman Botanical Gardens and overlooks the Apalachicola River. Annually, it is included in the Apalachicola Historic Homes and Garden Tour in May and the Historic Christmas tour in November.
Some say the place is haunted by the ghost of a child who drowned in the well at the property. In March 2017, KnightEyes went to find out.
“We approached the well with a K-2 meter and began to ask questions,” Lyles recounted.
A K-2 meter detects and measures electromagnetic fields, including from appliances, cell phones, power lines and wiring, and they help users decide whether they want to limit exposure. Many ghost hunters believe that K-2 meters also help reveal paranormal activity.
“If the meter registers no response to a question,” Lyles said, “that’s an indication that the answer is ‘no.’ When lights come on, that indicates ‘yes.’
“We asked, ‘Did you fall in the well?’ Got no response. We asked, ‘Were you pushed into the well?’ Then, the meter lit up all the way to red, the strongest response there is.”
Lyles and Collins attempted to drill down a little further. They were curious to know who did the shoving and asked if a family member was responsible.
“When we mentioned family, things got real quiet inside and outside the Orman House,” Lyles said. “We had to coax the spirit back into communicating with us. Then, when we asked the spirit how old she was, we got a slight whisper: ‘Seven.’ ”
Satisfied that they had experienced a “hit,” the partners headed back to Panama City on a Sunday night. Exhausted, Collins headed to bed as soon as Lyles dropped him off, but his wife stayed up for a while longer.
When she walked into her kitchen, she saw a girl of about 6 or 7 in a white dress. She had long, dark, wet hair, was crying and saying that she wanted to go home. Collins was awakened and alerted to what his wife had witnessed.
“An hour and a half after I got home, Collins called me,” Lyles said.
“He told me that we were going to have to return to Apalachicola, that we had brought something back with us. “I was thinking that someone had stashed an antique from the Orman House in one of our gear bags, and then Collins told me what his wife had seen. We drove back to Apalach on Monday, and we haven’t seen the spirit since.”
In October, Lyles and Collins conducted small-group tours of the Orman House at the invitation of personnel there and allowed participants to use their K-2 meters and video recorders and such.
The exercise was a little bit like attractions out West where tourists try their hand at panning for gold.
The tours were scheduled to coincide with Apalachicola’s Ghost Walk, but the walk was cancelled due to a forecast of heavy rain.
Still, KnightEyes went ahead with its tours and, before the night was out, had entertained 300 people. They plan to repeat the activity this year while ramping up the creepy factor by dimming the lights in the house and adding spider webs.
“A band called Skid Row was playing in Apalach on Ghost Walk night, and I was told that they drew only about a hundred people, so I felt like we really jammed it,” Lyles said.
In October, Lyles and Collins shared their experience from March with the Orman House staff. Their “hit” seemed to confirm a story long told.
“They assumed that we had read a book about the Orman House written by the ranger there,” Lyles said.
“According to the book, the little girl was named Pearl and she was killed by her father, who was supposedly an alcoholic. The truth is, I had never heard any of those details. I had never seen the ranger’s book. We try not to bone up on stories and rumors too much before we go to a site, because we want to be neutral.”
Ethical Spirit Hunters
KnightEyes solicits from the public opinions about what may be evidence of paranormal activity while offering no clues as to what exactly they have detected.
“We post still shots and video clips (the video is slowed way down to reveal evidence not detectable at normal speed), and ask people whether they see anything,” Lyles said. “And many times, they will point out something that we viewed as significant.”
On one occasion, KnightEyes posted a photo from an investigation at a private residence. The homeowner, seeing the photo, contacted Lyles and pointed out what appeared to be a face around the investigator’s shoulders.
“I really appreciated the customer bringing that to my attention, so I bought him some sage with money from my own pocket and sent it to him so he could cleanse his house,” Lyles said. “I advised him to get into the corners real good and to go to Google and find a cleansing prayer that was significant to him.”
A prayer, you know, like …
The interaction with the public goes both ways. People often send photos, video and even EVP recordings to Lyles and Collins seeking their opinion.
“We’re honest with people, and that means that we disappoint them sometimes,” Lyles said.
“If what we see is light reflecting off metal, we will tell people that. A friend from Kissimmee sent me some evidence, but I concluded it was just sunlight streaming through a window.
“Once, during an investigation, the property owner was seated right next to me and he was convinced that he saw an orb move across the video screen we were monitoring,” Lyles said.
“But it was just a bug.”
Lyles, generally, is dubious about “orbs.” There are too many possible explanations for them, he says.
Still, he works to keep an open mind. After all, Lyles’s experiences with spirits started when he was but a boy.
“I shared a bedroom with my brother, and one night something woke me up,” Lyles recalled.
“I looked over at my brother, but he was asleep; I could hear him snoring. And then, I looked toward the foot of my bed and there was my grandfather with a big smile on his face. He had been dead for three months.”
Lyles finds that he is a ghost magnet — some people are like that, he said.
“There is a bunch of paranormal activity at my house,” he said.
“There is a doppelganger of me that hangs around the place, but we’re not freaked out to the point of leaving.”
There are a lot of things, he said, “we cannot explain.”
Unusual Restaurant Fare
KnightEyes has made two investigative trips to the Family Coastal Restaurant in Sumatra.
Both produced inexplicable phenomena.
“On the first trip, one of our cameras literally moved, and there was nobody near it,” Lyles said.
“During the second trip, a camera became unplugged. I was in the command center, and I told our volunteers that they needed to check Camera 6 because I wasn’t receiving a feed from it. They radioed back and said it was unplugged. I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’”
Engaging the spirit at the restaurant wasn’t easy, however, and Lyles said he had to become threatening.
“We started a countdown and I told the spirit that if it didn’t respond, I would have to deem it a harmful presence and take the steps necessary to have it removed from the premises,” Lyles explained.
“At that point, we got a response on our meter and that was good. I mean, blenders were falling onto people’s feet at the restaurant. We don’t need that going on.”
What would Lyles have done had the spirit not responded?
“I guess we would start looking for a priest or someone with high standing in the religion area to cleanse the space,” he said.
“Fortunately, we have never had to take that step. We try to stay away from demonology. For me to learn all that would take up all of my time. Just can’t do it. Work and family, real life gets in the way.”