Toms River, NJ (by Erik Larsen/The Asbury Park (N.J.) Press) -- It was like a scene out of that classic horror movie filmed locally more than 30 years ago, or for that matter, any haunted house story where the unsuspecting residents are ultimately driven out into the night after being tormented by supernatural forces.
Except this isn't a Hollywood script for "Amityville Horror."
Just one week after Josue Chinchilla and Michele Callan moved into their new home, the couple and her two children plodded into the lobby of a local hotel just before midnight and asked for a room.
As soon as the family had settled into the three-bedroom ranch March 1, they began to suspect they were not its only tenants.
The family would come home and find their clothes and towels ejected from the closets and strewn over the floors. Doors would creak open and slam closed in unoccupied areas of the house.
Lights switched on and off without human intervention. At night, footsteps could be heard from the kitchen after everyone was tucked in and unintelligible whispering seemed to fade in and out of thin air, according to the couple.
Perhaps the most disturbing and consistent phenomenon was the sound that came through the vents to the basement -- the muffled din of something lumbering seven feet below their feet.
Last week, Chinchilla and Callan filed a lawsuit in state Superior Court against their landlord, Dr. Richard Lopez, a well-known orthodontist in Ocean County whose practice is adjacent to the house. Chinchilla and Callan want Lopez to return to them their $2,250 deposit the couple had put down on the rental house in February. A hearing before Judge Steven F. Nemeth is expected at the end of April.
In response, Lopez has filed a counter suit against the couple for breaking their one-year lease. He claims the couple are using the spectre of "paranormal activity" as a cover for their personal financial troubles, which he contends have forced them to back out of their $1,500 monthly rent.
Similiar accusations followed George and Kathy Lutz in 1976 after they claimed their family had been driven from their new home in Amityville, N.Y. after 28 days during which they claimed to be terrorized by the paranormal. A book about their experiences entitled, "The Amityville Horror," was later turned into 1979 movie filmed in Toms River starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder. In their case, the Lutzes were accused of inventing their frightening experiences because of an inability to pay the mortgage.
If that were true in this case, Callan said, why would her family have fled the house one week after moving in, when the rent was paid up to the end of the month?
Since March 11, the couple, a teenage daughter and a 6-year-old son, have all been living in a single motel room in Point Pleasant Beach. The family claims their lives would be in mortal danger if they attempted to move back into the house. The ordeal has also taken a toll on Chinchilla's health. He was briefly hospitalized for panic attacks associated with his experiences inside the home.
Lopez did not respond to a request for comment.
Logic, rationale failed
Chinchilla, 37, a district manager for a security company, said he and his fiancee first applied logic and common sense to what was happening. At first, they ignored the peculiar occurrences. All houses take time getting used to. Could be the boiler or maybe the central air, they assured each other.
However, such rationalism failed him after the events of March 8 -- the night the family fled the house. Chinchilla and Callan had settled into bed to watch television when he said his attention was drawn to a tapping noise against the set. The man of the house, who had spent the past week trying to be the voice of reason and defiance, explained that his instinct was to prove a point about letting imagination run wild; he ignored it.
A short time later, Chinchilla felt a tug on the sheets over him and watched in bewilderment as the bedclothes began to slide off him. He then felt an invisible hand land on his shoulder. Callan, who was next to him at the time, claims she saw what looked like a dark apparition in the bedroom.
"I don't believe in this stuff," Chinchilla said, who makes such statements even as he recounted his own experiences with phantom hands and unexplained noises.
"We're living in it," Callan interjected, who explained she is completely convinced that the house is not merely haunted, but is being subjected to the worst kind of haunting -- a demonic possession. She said she has reached that conclusion because a pastor who has counseled the family through the ordeal has himself made such a hypothesis after a visit to the house.
Paranormal activity detected
Nick Carlson, an investigator with the Shore Paranormal Research Society of Toms River, said the results of their investigation into the house on Terrace Avenue are inconclusive. While there is evidence of paranormal activity in the home, based on the data his team collected, the facts suggests a residual haunting from the past associated with a significant release of psychic energy, but not an intelligence.
Marianne Brigando, co-founder of NJ Paranormal Investigators of Old Bridge, said their data confirms that the house is the site of an active or intelligent haunting, one level above a residual haunting.
"We were shocked," Brigando said. "Out of all of the investigations we have done, this is where we came up with the most concrete evidence (of the paranormal) in close to 20 investigations."
Although equipped with five cameras, electronic voice phenomena recorders and electromagnetic field meters -- top of the line ghost-busting tools -- definitive proof of an afterlife came down to a standard-issue flashlight. Brigando said something, she is not sure what, used the on and off switch to communicate with her investigative team by flashing yes and no responses. One burst of light for no, two bursts of light for yes.
"Do you know Josue? ... No. Do you know Michele? ... No. ... Do you know that you are dead? ... No answer. That was the only question in which there was no response," Brigando said.
The house was built in 1959 and has had three different owners, according to municipal tax records, Lopez has owned the house since 1995 and the last tenant before Chinchilla and Callan lived in the house for about one year before moving out, the couple said.
Chinchilla said whatever may be in the home, whether there is a perfectly rational explanation or not, after his experiences in the house he is convinced: "They should just burn it down."