A Sammamish based group travels to study reports of a haunting
October 27, 2010
By Caleb Heeringa
New: Oct. 27, 12:16 p.m.
In 1950, 52-year-old Anna Corbin was head housekeeper in the regal confines of Preston Castle, a 46,000-square foot former boys’ prison in Ione, Calif., when she was found murdered and stuffed in a storage room in the basement.
Part of her is still there, say Sammamish residents and paranormal investigators Darren and Jill Thompson, disturbing the psychic energy and occasionally casting a ghostly glow.
“The first time I knew something was there,” Jill Thompson said. “It was an ecto cloud – a little white misty thing in the little room that lit up the whole area.”
While the paranormal is an early fall indulgence for most, it’s a life-long passion for the Thompsons, who co-founded Washington State Paranormal Investigations and Research, which specializes in documenting and investigating instances when the spirit world manifests itself in the living world.
The group, with dozens of members that come from as far away as Portland and Prosser, has invested in thousands of dollars of high-tech cameras, ultra-sensitive microphones, thermometers and electro-magnetic readers they use in their quest to find proof that spirits are among us.
In September, 14 of them hauled their gear south and spent a week making repairs to the monolithic 116-year-old, four-story building, replacing broken windows and a portion of roof that had been worn down by weather and neglect. In exchange, the volunteer organization that runs the building gave the group free reign over the castle.
“They handed us the keys so that we could come and go as we pleased,” Darren Thompson said. “We were by ourselves in there a lot of the time, free to wander around.”
Like most haunted buildings, the Preston Castle is rich with history. It was opened in 1894 as the Preston School of Industry – a military-style boarding school for juvenile delinquents not fit for the hard time in San Quentin State Prison. Until a new facility was built in 1960, it housed up to 650 children at a time and counted many famous and infamous among its ranks – including Western movie star Rory Calhoun, outlaw country music legend Merle Haggard and Joseph Paul Cretzer, who would later go on to lead a bloody attempt to escape Alcatraz Island, killing three guards in the process.
The grounds also hold the graves of as many as 23 students who died there, whether from diseases like yellow fever and tuberculosis or through more violent means. In July 1918, 20-year-old Samuel Goins attempted to escape and was shot in the back by a guard.
Darren Thompson said the group was unsuccessful in their bid to document the ghosts that roam the halls of Preston Castle, but the trip was not without its brushes with the supernatural.
Some members in upstairs dorm rooms reported seeing translucent figures walk past doorways and down the hall. And as the group was locking up the castle at around midnight one night, they say they saw an apparition standing in front of their vehicles that were parked across the road from the school. Thompson said it looked like a “reverse negative” of a photograph.
The Thompsons say they’ve learned to ignore the skeptics who say they and their group are seeing what they want to see by spending their evenings in creepy old buildings. All it takes is one brush with the unexplainable to make someone a believer, they say.
“Anyone who has had an experience like that doesn’t need confirmation from anyone to know what they experienced,” Darren Thompson said.
During one of the group’s several trips to the building, several group members reported feeling negative psychic energy near the room where Anna Corbin’s body was discovered, though Darren Thompson said that none of them came to the building with prior knowledge about the murder or the location of the body.
“When several people experience the same thing without knowing what the other people are experiencing, how do you account for that?” Jill Thompson asked.
The Thompsons offer their services to families concerned that their homes are haunted. Sometimes they’re able to find a rational explanation for phenomena – a circuit breaker sending out too much electromagnetic energy, for example. They’ve recently done several investigations of a home in Walla Walla that has experienced repeated odd occurrences. The family has been unable to deal with the phenomena and has now put the home up for sale.
“Whether or not what’s going on is normal or paranormal, that person’s fear is real,” Jill Thompson said.
The group has done investigations locally, including at the Issaquah Train Depot and Ankasha’s, a recently-closed consignment store near the Issaquah Police station, where the owner reported being stopped by an invisible hand while walking backwards with boxes in her arms. When she looked back she realized she would have tripped over another box if she hadn’t been stopped, Jill Thompson said.
The Thompsons said the infamous room where Anna Corbin met her untimely end felt a little different this time. Organizers had placed a beautiful picture of her in the room as a memorial to her life. Jill Thompson said the room had a completely different psychic energy this time around and ghostly apparitions were nowhere to be found.
“It was this great, peaceful feeling,” she said. “The spirits there approve of what we were doing.”
Reporter Caleb Heeringa can be reached at 392-6434. ext. 247, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Stories of Interest: Anna Corbin, Preston Castle, Washington State Paranormal Investigations and Research