Mitch Flores had his first paranormal experience when he was just 11 years old.
"I had a paper route on the same path my mom and her friends would walk on a daily basis," Flores said. "I went by this house and there was an old man standing in an upstairs window of the house, staring down at the street towards me. He just looked not normal, he looked creepy."
When he came home, he asked his mother if she knew who the old man was. His mother was taken aback by the question and told her young son that no one lived in that house. The last man who lived there died by hanging himself in a tree in the backyard.
Filled with intrigue, he snuck out late at night to return to the house where he had seen the strange man. He climbed through an open window, determined to find the old man he had seen. It sounds like a terrifying experience, but to Flores it was the beginning of a curiosity into the unexplained that would blossom into something bigger.
"At that time, I didn't relate 'ghost hunting,' to that," he said. "I was just a kid doing something interesting. Now I look back and think that was the first sign this is what I should be doing."
Flores now runs a business called Central Coast Paranormal Investigators (CCPI), a service that looks into strange phenomena and investigates possible possessions and hauntings. Since 2007, he and his team have explored reports of hauntings throughout the Central Coast and beyond, including the La Purisima Mission in Lompoc, the Adelaida Cemetery in Paso Robles, the Santa Maria Inn, and the site of the former Far Western Tavern in Guadalupe.
His team of specialists includes investigators Rob Burr and Helena Leathers, photographer Sandra Cortez, and occult specialist Tom Burbank. Clients of CCPI range from businesses looking to confirm or debunk rumors of hauntings to individuals who report unexplained phenomena in their homes or daily lives. Flores said they initially approach hauntings with a strong degree of skepticism, working at first to debunk the notion of something paranormal at work.
"We come in on a scientific level," he said. "We try to disprove their claims in a rational way. Then if we can't, then we turn to investigating it as a paranormal incident."
The team uses tools such as electromagnetic field meters (EMFs) and electronic voice phenomenon recorders (EVPs) to help detect and record signs of spirit activity. They also use night vision cameras and glasses but also rely heavily on their own instincts and physical sensations.
"When you get the random goosebumps," he said. "When the hair stands up on your body, something is causing that. Our biggest tool is our body, and we use the other equipment as a confirmation of what we sense."
One of the team's first investigations was also one of their most haunted. In 2008, Flores got the Far Western Tavern in Guadalupe to allow them into their business overnight. (The restaurant has since moved its location to Orcutt.) Over the course of their research, CCPI recorded dozens of EVPs of possible apparitions.
The team got the recordings by asking basic questions, such as the names of the spirits they encountered. One presence told them she was a little girl named Melissa. Another EVP recording captured a little boy and little girl who were trying to play hide and seek with Flores. Then they stumbled upon something more sinister.
"We captured a very angry cowboy in one of the bathrooms," Flores said. "We had a ball we were rolling, thinking it was for the children we detected. And then a very evil voice called out that it didn't like the ball."
While the ghost stories are chilling, in actuality, most of CCPI's cases do not produce evidence of paranormal activity. Flores said, oftentimes, reports of hauntings or spiritual phenomena can turn out to be manifestations of personal anxiety or stress, causing people to read into things they may see or hear.
"The holidays are especially tough," Flores said. "For some people, it's the most depressing time of the year. People are going through financial or emotional issues. So you tend to see things that can be more rationally explained than not."
Flores, who still finds himself amazed by but not scared of the entities he investigates, said that part of the reason he does his work is to help clients find closure.
"Most people just want to know if they're crazy or not," he said. "They just want validation."
Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose will haunt you all. Contact her at [email protected].