Investigating the Paranormal
Austin Weinstock & Rob Fabian
Austin Weinstock may be a police officer in the Chicago area, but he’s investigating more than just crimes and corruption.
The Effingham native is part of a six-person team who, free of charge, investigates the paranormal and has begun its own television show on A&E.
He is the son of Steve Weinstock, a private investigator in the Effingham area. Austin’s brother, Adam, is Mattoon’s Deputy Police Chief.
Austin Weinstock followed in the footsteps of his crime-fighting family and became a police officer in the Chicago area in 2005, after serving in the Air Force as a military police officer.
“From a young age, my father was instilling in me how to be a cop,” Weinstock said.
During his free time, Weinstock decided to take on a different angle in police work, and in 2006, he joined a group called Chicago Paranormal Detectives. The group consists of three other police officers and two civilian personnel.
The members look into strange happenings upon the request of others. The team doesn’t solicit work; instead, the group is asked to investigate claims of paranormal activity, Weinstock said.
Sometimes the group will work on two claims a week and other times it’s only two claims a month.
But the team does all its work free of charge, and although group members take an investigative approach to the claims, they do all of the work off-duty.
Weinstock said he investigates claims of paranormal activity just like he would a homicide investigation or other police investigations. The group tries to close in on every angle, follows up on leads and does research.
“We’re police,” Weinstock said. “We help people on the street and off the street, and we do it without charge.”
The group approaches every claim as if it’s a crime scene and seals off the area to make sure nothing interferes with the evidence. The group prefers to do investigations inside a building or a house, since it’s harder to keep elements away from an outdoor scene.
The two civilian team members set up a command van outside of the building under investigation. The camera crew also sets up stationary cameras to capture anything that happens inside or outside the building, along with cameras at each corner of the building and every entrance and exit.
Weinstock says the team does all of its work based off evidence, using sources such an electromagnetic field detector (EMF), electronic voice phenomenon (EVP), thermal imaging devices and digital thermometers.
An EMF detector is believed to sense when a spirit moves. The movement changes the electromagnetic field, and the machine will show spikes or a constant rhythm of change.
Weinstock said it’s hard to depend on the machine because water or electricity can interfere with it.
When the EMF detector does sense some sort of movement, one of the group members will ask the “spirit” yes or no questions, and the group hopes for a response that can be heard on the EVP, which is similar to a digital voice recorder.
The EVP helps the group find information that wasn’t present during the initial investigation, Weinstock said.
It can be difficult for the group to clarify each sound on the EVP because a group member or members of the camera crew can accidentally shuffle their feet or bump into something in the dark. Weinstock said members will clarify any noise they make during the recording, so later on the group will be able to identify the noise.
Each noise or spike in an electromagnetic field may seem like it’s important, but with his police background, Weinstock feels the need to take the logical approach to each case.
The group also utilizes a medium, Mariah, who has a sensitivity that can supposedly connect to the other side. The team uses Mariah’s skills to help tap into spirits or beings the members can’t access themselves.
For example, if Mariah says she feels something paranormal happening, the group will use detectors and recorders to try and find out what she is sensing.
However, her findings are not used as actual evidence; instead, her skills are used as a collaborative tool, Weinstock said.
“We can’t use someone else’s opinion as evidence,” he said.
Weinstock understands people’s skepticism, which can be put into classifications. One type is a nonbeliever, which is someone who doesn’t believe in the paranormal or the other side at all. A second type includes open believers. This group believes paranormal experiences happen and take place on a daily basis. The third type includes in-private believers. They think things can happen, but they may not admit to it.
Before he joined the group to investigate the paranormal, Weinstock said he would make fun of the people and didn’t believe what they were doing was logical or real.
This changed in October 2000, when Weinstock met his girlfriend’s family. During a family get together, Weinstock went down to the basement to get something. When he got the bottom of the basement steps, he saw a woman.
“She was like a real person. No holistic hologram, just a person,” he said.
When he introduced himself to her, she turned around and walked away. Perplexed, Weinstock went back upstairs, and asked family members about the woman downstairs whom he thought had ignored him. The family nonchalantly told him he had met Grandma, who was dead, as if having a ghost in the basement was normal.
Weinstock thought it was a joke and searched the house for the woman. His girlfriend finally showed him the proof he wanted. Her family was Italian, and at most Italian funerals, the family will take pictures during the wake. The album had a picture of the woman in a casket. The woman in the basement was wearing the same dress as the woman in the casket.
The experience bothered Weinstock or a long time, especially since it was something he couldn’t explain.
“You think you’re going crazy,” he said.
To the girlfriend’s family, the spirit ‘s presence was a normal happening, and the family members thought it was funny how Weinstock agonized over the incident. He tried to deny the incident occurred and began to think his girlfriend’s family was talking him into something he didn’t believe.
But later, he finally told the investigators — the ones he had made fun of — about his experience. Their response was to invite Weinstock to join the paranormal team by grabbing a camera and documenting what he might see in the future.
The experience defined Weinstock, who later married the woman he thought was putting ideas in his head.
“It was the only time in my life, before joining the detectives, where I felt something was paranormal,” Weinstock said.
But his initial experience still bothers him, because he doesn’t know why the spirit decided to show herself to him that day. He says he still can’t explain why it happened, and he hasn’t seen her since.
“It was a one-time thing, and I think that’s why it bothers me even more,” Weinstock said.
Most people who do have paranormal experiences don’t talk about it openly, but he became interested after his own personal experience, Weinstock said.
When Weinstock became involved with the paranormal detectives, other police officers gave them a hard time. But since the group documents and gathers hard evidence with each experience, the officers began to understand.
“Now they know we’re for real,” Weinstock said.
After joining the group, team members began looking at putting a show together to air on a public access channel. They wanted others to see the phenomenon is real and they were hoping the exposure would lead to more credibility.
So they put a trailer together for the show for a public access channel that aired shows for community news and local entertainment. One thing led to another, and before they knew it, A&E wanted to air the show.
“It was a very short process, and we were all surprised,” Weinstock said. “We had no intent on getting a show like this. We just wanted to do what we do.”
The group had to take a step back and ask themselves if they really wanted to do a show because team members had no intention of being in the public eye.
Even though he’s on cable television in front of millions of people, Weinstock said he’s doing what he wants to do, which is research people’s claims of paranormal activity and answer some questions of his own.
“We leave earth when we’re dead, but not everyone leaves,” Weinstock said. “Who gets to stay?”