I am sitting in Jillian and Scott Hamilton’s kitchen. It is small and crowded with the essentials of home life—a blender on the countertop, papers pinned to the fridge, plates on a rack. Scott Hamilton lets out a theatrical groan and gives me a weary look.
“So. You like the paranormal, huh?”
Scott works in a Macy’s warehouse and Jillian is a seamstress, but their preferred vocation is Family Haunts, a paranormal research group.
Jillian and Scott certainly do, though they did not get much choice in the matter: the supernatural has been present throughout their lives. When Scott was 8 years old, a ball he was holding rolled out of his hand and into the basement of his parents’ home. As he retrieved it, he saw a recently deceased neighbor hanging from the rafters. It was a vision, but it looked as real as anything he had ever seen. Jillian has twice seen ghosts replay their murders for her. Once, when she was touring a house, she saw a young woman who had been killed in the master bedroom. They do not regard these visions as hallucinations: for Jillian and Scott, these occurrences are the intersection of the spiritual realm and ours.
Scott works in a Macy’s warehouse and Jillian is a seamstress, but their preferred vocation is Family Haunts, a paranormal research group dedicated to studying these intersections. Connecticut, Scott tells me, is “the most haunted state in the country” and, as a result, is crowded with paranormal research groups. Like many of these groups, Family Haunts investigates hauntings, from demons to poltergeists; they also have a stake in the smaller field of demonic possessions. But that is not enough to stand out in a paranormal research scene that Scott calls “cutthroat,” and where the only currency is exposure. As a rule, paranormal research groups do not charge for their services. Two years ago, to raise their profile, Family Haunts started investigating cold cases. They have worked on three to date; one was independently resolved, and the other two are ongoing. Since March of this year, they have been focusing on the murder of 39-year-old Dawn DelVecchio.
On July 23, 2005, DelVecchio was housesitting for a friend in East Haddam, Connecticut. After she stopped responding to calls, her mother reported her missing on July 24. Two days later, police found DelVecchio’s asphyxiated body in an upstairs closet of her friend’s house. The police investigated, but no arrest was ever made. No suspects were officially named, and little information about the murder is publicly available. The detective in charge, Jeff Payette, would only tell me it was an “active investigation.”
The family was devastated; her mother had a nervous breakdown and fell into depression. Lenny Paquette, DelVecchio’s uncle, felt he was the only one who could seek closure for DelVecchio and her family. He has been doing so for ten years, talking to the media as the family’s spokesman, asking online for information about the murder, and meeting with police.
“I love Dawn,” Paquette said. “I would pull out all the stops until I leave here to find out who did it.”
Paquette has always believed in the supernatural—he consulted with a sensitive (a psychic, in layman’s terms) during the period when DelVecchio was reported missing, and he describes paranormal experiences as one of his “journeys in life.” But Paquette also believes there are many supernatural charlatans, so when he saw Scott posting online about his paranormal cold-case task force, he was interested but skeptical. They met for the first time in March. When Paquette meets a sensitive for the first time, he divulges nothing, making the sensitive prove his or her skills. He did so with Jillian, who is an empathic sensitive, one highly attuned to other people’s thoughts. She started describing DelVecchio and the murder with startling accuracy, saying, for example, that she felt DelVecchio was “imprisoned” by her home life.
Paquette and Scott think there is a voice—maybe DelVecchio’s—responding, saying “generator room.”
“I was like ‘yes, yes, yes,’” Paquette recalls, snapping his fingers with each yes. “No one would know that.”
Paquette was convinced Family Haunts was the real deal; Scott and Jillian felt there was enough material for an investigation. They have been working together since.
On a night in May of this year, they carried out a paranormal investigation at DelVecchio’s gravesite. Scott took pictures and recorded video. Jillian, with a tape recorder running, asked DelVecchio’s spirit questions. Afterwards, Scott pored over these, looking for any trace of the supernatural.
“Can you give us a sign you’re here? What happened? Is there anything you want to communicate with your family?”
They were hoping to get responses, which in the business are called Electronic Voice Phenomena, or EVP. An audio professional processed the recordings from the cemetery, and Paquette and Scott think there is a voice—maybe DelVecchio’s—responding, saying “generator room.” There was a generator room in the home of one of the people Scott and Paquette suspect of committing the murder.
It would be easy to be cynical about all this, to dismiss digital artifacts and distorted audio and confirmation bias.
Of the pictures they took, they say one stands out: it is like any photo of a cemetery at night, with shadowy trees and headstones, but superimposed over two of the trees, Paquette and Scott see the faces of DelVecchio and one of her children.
I never got to see the picture or hear the recordings. It would be easy to be cynical about all this, to dismiss digital artifacts and distorted audio and confirmation bias. I could roll my eyes and say that ghosts don’t exist and talk about the reality TV show to which every paranormal researcher aspires. But when I look at Paquette, who carries on the investigation out of his love for DelVecchio, or when I think of Scott going to cemeteries in the night and poring over the tapes afterwards, I set aside any cynicism. I think about the death of a loved one, about a universe that is just atoms bumping together in the void, and I wish I could see the visions, discern the faces among the trees, hear the voices rising out of the grey noise.