Ghost hunters and unexplained activities: Video, photos

Ghost hunters at the Criterion Hotel. Video by LEIGH SHARP

Caroline Veenstra saw an evil spirit that was trying to run cars off the road last week.

Mrs Veenstra was attending a cleansing at a dark and traumatic sight, with a family that had suffered a great deal of pain.

She says the spirit had been scratching, biting and appearing on their walls but when she visited the house it was trying to cause cars to crash.

We've had great success with helping families ... regain their lives and get peace back in their homes.

Caroline Veenstra

"This entity was just plain downright evil," she says.

"Once I did find this entity, we had to approach this one with a type of Catholic exorcism."

Mrs Veenstra is the head honcho at Carmar Paranormal Investigations - a not-for-profit organisation she runs with husband Marty.

While the couple lives in Bendigo, they lead a team of diverse mediums, clairvoyants and sensitives hailing from areas across Victoria, including Shepparton and Melbourne.

Mrs Veenstra says business is booming, with more and more people asking her for help with unwanted visitors. 

"The majority of the time we deal with hauntings, poltergeists and lower level demonic cases," she says, in a matter-of-fact manner.

"We've had great success with helping families ... regain their lives and get peace back in their homes."

She says the team relies on strands from several religions to usher spirits on; sometimes performing Catholic rituals, other times following Anglican traditions and further religious traditions, if needed.

The Bendigo Advertiser meets the team of eight at the Criterion Hotel in Rushworth, built in 1856, where they have gathered to perform a blessing. If a director were on the lookout for a location for their next horror film, they would be well advised to consider the Criterion.

Downstairs, it seems like a regular bistro.

A few poker machines are tucked in the corner, a worn pool table is at the back and a few stools adorn the front - filled with locals nursing beers, who seem to be regulars.

But upstairs tells a different story. 

A shadowy stairway leads to a set of small rooms that appear to be preserved with original architecture, replete with creaky floorboards.

A modest double bed and small chest of drawers are the only pieces of furniture in the rooms, which are opposite old-fashioned washrooms.

It is upstairs where most of the spirits reside.

Owner Cath Cornford, who manages and lives in the hotel with husband Phil, says her family first noticed strange noises in the building a few months ago, which couldn't be explained.

"There was one night my kids had some friends over and they were all upstairs and they heard noises in the kitchen that sounded like doors slamming and things being thrown around," she says.

"They were terrified and thought somebody was up there."

Much to Mrs Cornford's bewilderment, when she examined the kitchen there wasn't a hair out of place.

"There was no explanation for it so we put it down to ghosts," she says.

The Carmar team agrees that the hotel is haunted, but they say it's filled with positive spirits. 

On former visits they made contact with a ghost called Kevin, who resides in one of the hotel's rooms.

Mr Veenstra has also taken a photo at 2am which had a mysterious, white streak in it.

Mrs Veenstra and her colleagues set up several devices in various rooms, including equipment that monitors electromagnetic fields and high-tech laser beams that will detect even the slightest movement.

The air is filled with a tingle of excitement; it's action time, and the ghost hunters have the chance to work their talents.

The lights are turned off and two of the women invite Kevin to talk to us.

Sheri, a woman in her 20s, taps on the wall in a familiar pattern, inviting Kevin to finish the sequence.

Everybody holds their breath, wondering whether the spectre will play ball.

But unfortunately, it seems that on this occasion Kevin is feeling shy.

They try a few more times before concluding that Kevin probably isn't in, after all.

The ghost hunters give up on trying to contact and instead bless each room, making the sign of the cross on the doorways, as Mr Veenstra reads a prayer. 

While nothing happened on this occasion, it seems the whiff of paranormal possibilities is enough to keep the ghost hunters searching - at least one of them, anyway.

Simon, a group member and policeman who didn't want his surname published, says he he likes the idea that spirits may exist.

In a time when every minute sensation or occurrence can seemingly be explained by cold science, the pull of the mysterious continues to hold people in its grip.

"I've always been interested in the paranormal, since I was a child," Simon says. 

"I've seen some things I can't explain, I've heard some things I can't explain.

"I enjoy it because you never know what's going to happen."

"I wouldn't mind seeing a ghost."

He adds that his wife "thinks it's all bull" and isn't happy his paranormal activities have led him away from home.

David, another policeman on the team, cites similar reasons for getting involved.

“I got really interested and absolutely intrigued … it excited me, the unknown.

"I like the excitement of going into a place and not knowing what’s going to happen.”

While his day job involves investigating hard facts, he says sometimes the evidence just doesn't add up, and the rabbit hole to nowhere may be worth exploring.

"You might as well take a roll of the dice and go down there," he says.

He adds that his spiritual explorations are separate to his police work.

As for Mr and Mrs Veenstra, their belief in the afterlife is unshakable.

"Throughout my lifetime I've basically had an ability to be a medium," Mrs Veenstra says.

Mr Veenstra says he has always had a connection to the spirit world, which he and the Carmar team will continue to seek out.


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