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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page authors. The contents of this page have been reviewed or approved by the Southwest Ghost Hunter's Association. All effort has been taken to maintain correct information at the time it was written. Some material may be dated and is archived within this section of our website. This article is copyright, 2004, 2005, by Cody Polston, Bob Carter and SGHA. All rights reserved.

 Articles ~ Ghost hunting and beyond ~ Interviewing Witnesses

Interviewing Witnesses
The most important aspects of a ghost investigation are the witness interview. In most haunting cases, the testimony of the eyewitness will be the decision-maker in choosing what direction to go with the ghost hunt. If the interview is handled correctly, the information gathered can be very helpful in the rest of the investigation. You must prepare for each interview before conducting it. Whether your interviewing a total stranger or a member of your own family the same rules apply.
Before the interview begins there are some initial rules of ethics that must be followed:

1. Never allow yourself to make a value judgment of the eyewitness based solely on race, education, economic standing, age, sex or any other external appearance.
2. Go into every interview believing that the witness is telling the truth.
3. Be open-minded and considerate of the witness's feelings.
4. Only make conclusions on the validity of the story after evaluating the evidence gathered from the completed investigation.
5. Be prepared to keep the interview on track and explore every possibility, natural and supernatural.
6. Always conduct yourself in a professional manner.
7. Your first key role in the interview is to making the witness feel comfortable.
8. The better the witness feels about the interview the more likely they will be to cooperate without story exaggeration.
9. Don't do late-evening interviews with a tired witness. Wait until there is a better time and the witness is fully rested or the information you receive may be incomplete.

Preparing for the Interview:
First, get the number of witnesses. If there is more than one witness always do separate interviews. Each person sees things from their own perspective and that's exactly what you want, each witnesses own uncontaminated observations. If you do a group interview there's always the chance that one person's testimony will influence the next. Witnesses may feel pressured into saying that they experienced something that they didn't, simply because the person before them said they did.
The only time that you should have the group of witnesses together is when you return to the scene. Returning to the scene is not always a possibility.
Sometimes the witness will refuse or other circumstances just won't permit it. If you are able to return to the scene this usually helps the witnesses relive their experience more vividly and it will provide you with a better visual picture of the details and events that occurred.

Don't pressure the witness to do the interview or to return to the scene. You will run into individuals that seem willing to cooperate, then disappear or back out at the last second. Some may even change their minds in the middle of the interview.
That's one big reason to make the witness feel comfortable. If they feel comfortable they'll be more likely to finish the full interview. However, if they want to stop the interview and discontinue their arrangement with you for any reason, then that's the end, the interview is over.
Always tell the witness that their names, addresses and other personal information will remain private. Then stick to that statement. Never give out a witness's personal information to anyone, for any reason, without full permission. Interviewing a witness may be the hardest thing to do during an investigation. As any law enforcement officer will tell you, two witnesses rarely see the same incident in the exact
same way. Paranormal investigators run into the same situation but in a different manner. In
our case, a witness will see and hear something frightening and something they don't understand.
A witness should be handled in a careful and deliberate manner. They have to be made to feel
comfortable with the investigation and the entire situation. The paranormal is something completely bizarre to the ordinary person.

All interviews should be tape recorded unless the witness objects. The recording allows you analyze the interview rather than trying to write everything down. Let the witness know that the recordings are only to ensure that the case file is accurate and that only other investigators directly involved will have access to it.
Even if you tape the interview, take notes. Use them as points of discussion to follow up on. The idea of the interview is to get as much useful information as possible.
Some witnesses will let you videotape the interview. This is even better than audio recordings because it allows you to examine facial expressions and body language, which can be very telling.
Conduct the interview in a relaxed, confusion free, atmosphere. Sit comfortably in a well-lighted room at a table with only your video camera, tape recorder, pen and a notepad. Make sure that any televisions or stereo systems are turned off. Remove any other distractions and try to avoid interruptions. Have the witness sit across from you. When the time feels right begin the interview.

The following are the procedures for a proper interview with a witness.

1. Check all of the details of the account with the witness and make sure that all of the outside facts are in order and not just their immediate encounter. If they recall that it was raining that night, check the weather conditions because if it wasn't, that might not be the only problem with their memory.

2. Attempt to recreate the events if possible. Place each witness in the same position they were in when the encounter occurred. If they reported a strange noise, try to recreate that noise by natural means and make sure the normal possibilities are ruled out.

3. Try to get a full and complete report of everything that happened.

4. Be careful when assessing this testimony. Being careful is the best way to discover what really happened. You have to make sure that you are objective when writing up your report.
Don't let yourself be influenced by information that you may have run across in reading or research. Your assessment of the witness testimony is imperative to the case. Is the witness believable? If you have any doubts about what may have happened, you need to rule those out.

The following is a list of testimonial problems that can occur with the witness

1. A witness may be totally unaware of how some phenomena may occur. Check into the details... there may be something natural about the house that is caused the lights to go on and off , ect..

2. Eyewitness testimony is not always what actually happened... but what the witness believes to have happened. It is good to find out ahead of time if the witness is already "sure" the house is "haunted" or not. This kind of thinking can easily sway their testimony.

3. A witness can be influenced by information you give them. Be careful about what you say before the interview. Even joking about paranormal events can be bad. You could laugh and say "that sounds like a horror movie and the next thing you know, the witness is reporting blood coming from the walls.

4. The witness may be mentally unstable. If this is the case extricate the team from the predicament as politely as possible.

5. The witness may deliberately fabricate events. This is a two-fold problem.... on one hand you have a person who has may the whole thing up and on the other, a person who actually had a real experience but can't recall all of the details, so they have "filled in the blanks" with less honest information.

The Interview:
The interview must begin with the witness telling their story from beginning to end without interruption. All questions should be held off until the witness has finished recounting their full story. During this initial retelling it's the interviewers job to be a listener. Take notes. Write down any questions that you want to ask after the witnesses retelling is over.

After the witness has finished telling their story you may ask questions. The way you word the questions is extremely important. Do not lead the witness! Most interviewers will do this without even knowing it, and that's the real problem.
Questions in multiple-choice form or questions asking the witness to speculate are incorrect and useless.
Here are some examples of questions that could occur in a typical interview. Each question has two forms, a leading question and an open-end question.

Leading: Did you see an apparition, full body ghost or a gray mist?
Open: What did you see?
Leading: Were you frightened?
Open: How did you feel?
Leading: Was the sound a banging or scratching?
Open: What kind of ordinary sound did it remind you of?

You can see the difference in the questions. The leading questions make the witness feel that the only correct answers are the ones offered in the question itself.
The open questions leave the witness free to give their exact observations without the pressure that they may give some kind of incorrect answer. Write out twenty or more typical questions and review them. Change them so that they are open-ended questions. Make sure to practice! Like anything else, good interviewing takes practice. Try your best not to ask a leading question. This could corrupt the entire interview.

Some questions that you want to ask after the witnesses retelling are:
· Where were you and what were you doing at the time?
· What first caught you attention?
· What did you think it was at first?
· Describe the figure and/or any sounds, odors?
· During the account what were your actions or reactions?
· How did you feel?
· How did the account end?
· What were your reactions directly after this account?

Questions Involving Witness Sensory Perceptions:
A huge part of information from a witness will be based on what they SAW, HEARD, FELT and SMELLED. You have the duty as the interviewer to reasonably question the witness on the working ability of any of their senses of perceptions.

Sense of Sight:
· Does the witness need eye glasses or contact lenses?
· If Yes: Were they worn at the time of the observation?
· What type of prescription? (Nearsighted/Farsighted)
· Is the witness colorblind?
· Are there any other physical eye problems?

Sense of Hearing:
Witnesses reporting hearing strange sounds must be questioned about any hearing impairment or aids.

· Did the witness have any known hearing impairments?
· Does the witness use a hearing aid?
· If Yes: What kind of hearing aid? Was it worn at the time?
· Were they "actively" listening at the time?

It's also important to keep in mind that there are numerous natural sources that create sound and strange noises. Wind speed and direction can cause sound vibrations. Rusting trees, banging shutters, broken pipes, animals scurrying, buzzing electric lines and mechanical devices are all possible sources for sound misinterpretations.

Sense of Smell:
Strange odors are common in supernatural cases. Every odor needs to be identified and cataloged along with the exact time and area.
Does the witness have a good sense of smell?
During the account what were your actions or reactions?
Was there a smell involved with the phenomena? If so, how would you describe it? Strong or faint? Did you recognize the smell?
How did you feel?
What were your reactions directly after this experience?

Sense of Touch:
Falling into this category are sensations of tingling, numbness, levitation, paralysis, confronting unseen barriers, as well as physical attacks.

Did the apparition make any physical contact with any witness? If Yes: What kind of contact?
Could the feeling felt been natural? (Hair standing up, Goosebumps, etc.)

FINAL NOTES ON INTERVIEWING
After the interviews are complete find out if any witness has photos or video evidence of the account. If they do, ask to get copies. If they don't have visual proof, give them a piece of drawing paper and ask them to draw and label exactly what they saw. They don't have to be artists. Attach all the information gathered to the final report.

Don't confuse the witness with a bunch of "jargon" that they would not understand. If you intimidate the witness you will not get the best account. The witness may feel that they need to exaggerate.
Don't try to answer witness questions that you have no way of knowing, regardless of your conclusions. These types of questions might be:

· Will this happen again?
· Will it come back?
· Am I safe?
· Why did this happen to me?
· What does this mean?
· Why is this happening?

No matter how confidant you feel the right thing to do is politely decline to answer and explain to the witness that your answers would only be speculation.
If you're able, try to interview the witnesses two or three different times. Conduct an interview at least once at the beginning and once again at the end of the investigation. The reason is to look for any inconsistencies that may pop up in the story. If there are inconsistencies that doesn't mean that the witness is lying, but they are important to note. Plus, you should take note if anything else has happened to them during the course of your ghost hunt.

In the ghost-hunting field you will run into people who lie, want attention, publicity, or have some other ulterior motive for coming forward with supernatural stories. Some people may even be emotionally troubled to the point of mental illness. On the other hand, you will meet people with genuine, real life supernatural experiences. It will be up to you to determine which stories are credible and worthy of a ghost hunt.

Questions For the Witness
Let the Witness know ahead of time that they do not have to answer any question that they feel uncomfortable with or questions that they feel are too personal. Let them know that the more information they give you the better your chances will be of finding out what happened. Never try to force a witness to answer these or any other questions.

Initial Questions
· How many witnesses were present? List their full names.
· Where did the sighting occur?
· What was the exact date?
· What was the exact time?

Condition Questions
· What were the weather conditions like that day?
· What were the weather conditions like during the time of the sighting?
· Was there any visible lightning or did you hear thunder?
· Was there any form of precipitation? (Rain, snow, hail, fog, mist)
· Was there any kind of electrical problems before, during or after the sighting?
· Was there any kind of temperature variation before, during or after the sighting?

Apparition Questions
· Can you describe the apparition?
· How far away from the apparition were you?
· Did the apparition cast a shadow?
· Did the apparition manipulate or move any objects?
· Did the apparition make eye contact with you?
· Did the apparition acknowledge your presence in anyway? If yes, explain.
· Did the apparition speak to you?
· If yes, what exactly did it say?
· Did the apparition move? If yes, explain.
· Could you see through the apparition?
· Was the apparition wearing clothes? If yes, explain, describe.
· How long was the apparition visible?

Witness Questions
· Where you sleeping before the sighting?
· Where you tired before the sighting?
· Did you call out for help or scream during the sighting?
· Did you recognize the apparition?
· Did you attempt to speak or communicate with the apparition?
· Where you able to shot a picture or video of the apparition?
· Did you attempt to move closer to the apparition?
· What do you believed happened?
· Have you ever experienced anything similar before?
· Do you know of anyone that has experienced anything similar?

General Questions
· Where there any animals present at the time of the sighting? If yes, list them.
· What were the animal's reactions?
· How did the animals act during the course of that day?
· How did the animals act after the sighting?
· Did any objects break before, during or after the sighting? If yes, explain, describe.
· Was there a psychical or sexual attack by the apparition? If yes, explain.
· Did you hear any abnormal sounds? If yes, what did they sound like?
· Did you hear any abnormal voices? If yes, what did they sound like and say?
· Did anything else usual happen?

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