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Meet the Realtor Who Specializes in Haunted Houses

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Cindi Hagley looked at the spot where the woman had been bludgeoned to death and paused. It had happened on the front lawn of an expansive property in the Midwest, with distinctive landscaping work acting as a backdrop for the media that had descended on the scene. The arrangement of flowers and other foliage would be familiar to anyone in the area who had looked at a local newspaper.

“What you need to do,” she told the seller’s agent, “is change the lawn. Rip it up. Plant something else. Make it look softer.”

Like an FBI profiler called in to consult with local authorities on a murder, Hagley had been summoned by the property’s representatives for advice on how best to market what’s known in the business as a “stigmatized home”—a slice of real estate that’s been the site of a violent crime or one purported to harbor spirits. As one of just a few realtors who specializes in houses with tumultuous histories, Hagley knows how to rid a listing of negative connotations.

It’s a skill that goes beyond simple remodeling. In many cases, Hagley is approached to market houses that owners are convinced are a hub of disturbing paranormal activity. That might require psychic consultations, signed disclosure forms, or the presence of a rabbi.

In 12 years, she has never failed to close on a haunted property. “Marketed properly,” she tells mental_floss,” I don’t believe a stigmatized home should sell for a penny less than market value.”

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Hagley grew up in Southern Ohio experiencing what she calls a “sensitive” awareness to peculiar activity. When she was in high school, her family unknowingly moved into a home that was once a funeral parlor. “Faucets would turn on by themselves,” she says. “There were apparitions, noises in the basement. I believe it was haunted.”

After a stint in network television ad sales, Hagley made a move into real estate. While preparing for her first open house, she sensed movement out of the corner of her eye. When she asked the seller if she had ever noticed anything unusual, the seller said that her boyfriend had seen some sort of apparition.

Hagley believed her. She also wondered how a ghost could potentially affect the value of a home. “I asked my broker if I had to disclose that,” she says. “And I did. It can affect the material value of a home.”

California requires sellers to be forthcoming if a property is “stigmatized”—that is, if it has been the site of a death within the past three years, if it was home to drug manufacturing, or even if a spirit is believed to inhabit the premises, which are all considered psychological impactions that can affect a buyer’s perception of the home. It’s one of roughly 25 states that have such a mandate on the books, urged by a desire for real estate sales to be transparent (and made more relevant by the fact that one in five Americans have seen a ghost). A California appellate court once ruled in 1983 that such a belief can lawfully have a material effect on price. (A woman bought a house and was not informed five people were murdered in it. She was unhappy, sued, and won.)

Hagley studied the requirements carefully and became intrigued by the potential for a sub-specialty in her business. “Not long after that house, I had two homes where people had died a natural death,” she says. “No one else was an expert in this, so I just decided to run with it.”

Word of Hagley’s willingness to tackle properties with lurid histories spread: Sellers started reaching out and requesting her services. If they claim their house is haunted, Hagley will arrange for a walk-through to see if she can observe any unusual activity herself. She’ll also interview the homeowner to get details of what he or she may have experienced. Historical research on the address might lead to a possible cause of the disturbance—if someone was murdered there, or if previous owners had expressed concern over ectoplasmic squatters.

What Hagley does next depends on whether she considers the spirits to be generally benevolent or not. “Some buyers will be okay if the spirits are believed to be gentle,” she says. “Sometimes they need to be removed.”

If it’s the latter, Hagley has a psychic she works with regularly. Other times, prospective buyers will request that a representative of their church perform a kind of spiritual audit on the home—a “bless and assess.”

“I’ve had priests and rabbis walk through,” she says. “I’ve held séances. I’ll do whatever the prospective buyer feels they need to do.”

If someone is still unsure, Hagley offers to call a caterer and let them stay in the house over two or three nights. Safe in the knowledge that the dark doesn’t lead to any kind of real disturbance, they’re more likely to stand behind their offer.

The Hagley Group

Hagley doesn’t openly advertise homes as haunted or stigmatized. That kind of publicity just results in crime scene tourists or would-be ghost hunters wasting her time, she says. Instead, buyers interested in a home are told about its colorful history in person, with written disclosure forms sent as a follow-up.

Hagley is not required by law to get into details. “I might say, ‘There was a death on the premises in 2014,’ or ‘The seller believes there is paranormal activity here,’” she says. “I’m not going to say, ‘Someone was swinging from the chandelier with a gunshot wound to the heart.’”

If an interested party presses for details, Hagley will explain further: “At least 75 percent of people just don’t care. If they do care, I have three or four final offers in already. Someone is going to buy it if they don’t.”

Although Hagley hangs a shingle, Past Life Homes, to remind people of her unique skill set, she says less than 3 percent of her business comes from stigmatized deals; most of her homes are high-end luxury properties. Past Life is simply a way to satisfy both her curiosity about spectral entities and to assist sellers who may feel their home is unmarketable.

Despite her spotless record, she won’t take on everything that crosses her desk. “Recently, I got a call to consult on a haunted house in West Virginia,” she says. “I found out the owners had been offering Halloween tours, opening it as a haunted attraction. To me, that’s taking advantage of spirits. And while I don’t like to say I’m superstitious, I don’t want to piss them off.”

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6 Historical Methods for Contacting the Dead (and Their Drawbacks)
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'Tis the season for getting in touch with the spirit realm. (This applies no matter what month we're in right now; 'tis always high time to get your séance on.) But there are several different ways you can go about it. Do you Ouija? Should you go wandering around a haunted house? No, you should probably pick up the psychic telephone.

Lapham's Quarterly helpfully charted out some of historical ways you could (supposedly) go about contacting the dead, from Chinese Fuji writing—a method that's kind of like a Ouija board, but using a stylus to make letters in sand instead of a board—to past-life regression via hypnosis. The chart lays out how each ghost-whispering concept works, and its theoretical drawbacks. Because there are always drawbacks.

Transfiguration, for instance, lets you see a spirit's face through the body of a medium, but that's a whole lot of hard work for your medium. You can listen for electronic voice phenomena via a recorder, but you have to buy the recorder first. F. R. Melton's 1921 invention, the balloon-powered psychic telephone, was a great option—except when his son George wasn't around to work it. And past-life regression, as you might imagine, holds “potential for new levels of self-hatred." No one wants to find out that their past self was a total jerk.

There are plenty of scientific and cultural explanations for seeing ghosts that don't involve the actual spirits of the dead returning to the Earthly plane, but if you're into the history of the occult, this is a great primer on spirit-conjuring traditions.

[h/t Lapham's Quarterly]

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Michael Tackett - © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.
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9 Horror Movies Inspired by Real-Life Events
Michael Tackett - © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.
Michael Tackett - © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.

While most horror movies are complete works of fiction, the genre occasionally offers up stories that are based on terrifying and jaw-dropping real-life events, like the nine collected here.

1. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)

Premise: A supernatural killer stalks his prey while they dream during deep sleep. 

Real-Life Inspiration: Wes Craven based A Nightmare on Elm Street on a series of newspaper articles from the Los Angeles Times about a strange phenomenon where young Asian refugees would mysteriously die in their sleep. It was reported that many would refuse to sleep, citing terrifying nightmares that they feared would lead to death.

According to Craven, the paper "never correlated [the three articles], never said, ‘Hey, we’ve had another story like this'":

The third one was the son of a physician. He was about twenty-one; I’ve subsequently found out this is a phenomenon in Laos, Cambodia. Everybody in his family said almost exactly these lines: "You must sleep." He said, "No, you don’t understand; I’ve had nightmares before—this is different." He was given sleeping pills and told to take them and supposedly did, but he stayed up. I forget what the total days he stayed up was, but it was a phenomenal amount—something like six, seven days. Finally, he was watching television with the family, fell asleep on the couch, and everybody said, "Thank god." They literally carried him upstairs to bed; he was completely exhausted. Everybody went to bed, thinking it was all over. In the middle of the night, they heard screams and crashing. They ran into the room, and by the time they got to him he was dead. They had an autopsy performed, and there was no heart attack; he just had died for unexplained reasons. They found in his closet a Mr. Coffee maker, full of hot coffee that he had used to keep awake, and they also found all his sleeping pills that they thought he had taken; he had spit them back out and hidden them. It struck me as such an incredibly dramatic story that I was intrigued by it for a year, at least, before I finally thought I should write something about this kind of situation.

2. CHILD'S PLAY (1988)

Premise: A serial killer's soul possesses a toy doll and wreaks havoc.

Real-Life Inspiration: In 1909, Key West painter and author Robert Eugene Otto claimed that one of his family's servants placed a voodoo curse on his childhood toy, Robert the Doll. Supposedly, the doll would mysteriously move from room to room, knock furniture over, and conduct conversations with Otto. Robert the Doll was left in the attic until Otto's death in 1974, when new owners moved into his Florida home. The new family also claimed mysterious activities would happen in the house connected to the doll. Today, Robert the Doll is on display at the Custom House and Old Post Office in Key West, Florida.

3. THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979)

Premise: A young family moves into a house where a murder was committed, and experiences strange and terrifying occurrences.

Real-Life Inspiration: Based on the book of the same name, The Amityville Horror follows the paranormal events that terrorized the Lutz family. In 1975, the family moved into 112 Ocean Avenue where, unbeknownst to them, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. had brutally murdered his family 13 months before they arrived. While in their new home, the family claimed that they saw green slime on the walls and red-eyed pigs staring into their kitchen and living room. After less than a month, the Lutz family moved out of the small town of Amityville, New York.

4. PSYCHO (1960)

Premise: A secretary goes on the run after she steals $40,000, only to wind up in a motel where the innkeeper and his mother are more than they appear to be.

Real-Life Inspiration: Psycho's Norman Bates is loosely based on convicted murderer and grave robber Ed Gein, who, during the late 1950s, killed women and unearthed corpses in Wisconsin. He also fashioned human skin into tiny keepsakes and knickknacks, such as face masks, belts, and chair coverings. Psycho's novelist Robert Bloch based Bates on Gein, but changed the character from a grave robber and murderer into a serial killer who dressed like his mother. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs also based their serial killers—Leatherface and Buffalo Bill, respectively—on Gein.

5. THE EXORCIST (1973)

Premise: Two Catholic priests perform an exorcism on a young girl who is possessed by the devil.

Real-Life Inspiration: The Exorcist's author and screenwriter William Peter Blatty based the novel and film on a Washington Post article from 1949 headlined, "Priest Frees Mt. Rainier Boy Reported Held in Devil's Grip." The article followed Jesuit priests William S. Bowdern, Edward Hughes, Raymond J. Bishop, and Walter H. Halloran participating in the rite of exorcism on a boy with the pseudonym "Roland Doe" in Maryland. According to the priests, they allegedly experienced the boy speaking in tongues, the bed shaking and hovering, and objects flying around during the ordeal. The exorcism was one of three official Catholic Church-sanctioned exorcisms in the United States at the time.

"Maybe one day they’ll discover the cause of what happened to that young man, but back then, it was only curable by an exorcism," William Friedkin, the director of The Exorcist, told Time Out. "His family weren’t even Catholics, they were Lutheran. They started with doctors and then psychiatrists and then psychologists and then they went to their minister who couldn’t help them. And they wound up with the Catholic church. The Washington Post article says that the boy was possessed and exorcised. That’s pretty out on a limb for a national newspaper to put on its front page ... But you’re not going to see that on the front page of an intelligent newspaper unless there’s something there."

6. THE GIRL NEXT DOOR (2007)

Premise: An aunt tortures and abuses her niece, and a neighborhood boy fails to alert the authorities.

Real-Life Inspiration: Based on Jack Ketchum's novel of the same name, The Girl Next Door is based on the murder of Sylvia Likens, a 16-year-old girl from Indiana in 1965. Sylvia and her sister Jenny were left in the care of Gertrude Baniszewski, a family friend, when their parents left town as traveling carnival workers. Baniszewski, along with her children and a few neighborhood kids, locked Sylvia in the basement, where they tortured and abused her until she died of a brain hemorrhage and malnutrition.

7. THE CONJURING (2013)

Premise: Two paranormal investigators help a family who move into a secluded home plagued by weird events.

Real-Life Inspiration: The Conjuring is based on real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren and their experience with the Perrons, a family who moved into a Rhode Island farmhouse and experienced ghostly and terrifying occurrences in 1971.

"When Insidious came out and was successful the story about the Warrens came to me and I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, this is really cool,'” director James Wan told Entertainment Weekly in 2013. "But I didn’t just want to make another ghost story or another supernatural film. One thing I had never explored was the chance to tell a story that’s based on real-life characters, real-life people. So those were the things that led me to The Conjuring."

The Warrens also had a possessed Raggedy Ann doll that was the inspiration for the spin-off film Annabelle. Allegedly, a demon spirit possessed the Raggedy Ann doll, which is currently on display and under lock and key at the Warrens' Occult Museum in Monroe, Connecticut.

8. OPEN WATER (2003)

Premise: Two scuba divers become stranded in shark-infested waters after their tour group accidentally leaves them behind.

Real-Life Inspiration: Open Water is based on American tourists Tom and Eileen Lonergan, a couple who were lost at sea when their tour group left them behind while scuba diving near the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in 1998. When the diving company realized the mistake two days later, they organized a search party, but the Lonergans were never found. The only thing that was found was a diver's slate (an underwater communication device) with a S.O.S. message on it that read, "[Mo]nday Jan 26; 1998 08am. To anyone [who] can help us: We have been abandoned on A[gin]court Reef by MV Outer Edge 25 Jan 98 3pm. Please help us [come] to rescue us before we die. Help!!!"

9. THE BLOB (1958)

Premise: A mysterious alien life-form terrorizes a small town and consumes everything in its path as it grows bigger and bigger.

Real-Life Inspiration: Believe it or not, The Blob is based on a New York Times article from 1950 titled, "A ‘Saucer’ Floats to Earth And a Theory Is Dished Up." The story followed four Philadelphia police officers who came into contact with a strange gooey material, which is now believed to be "Star Jelly," a transparent gelatinous substance. When one of the officers tried to move the goo, it started to dissolve and evaporate, so there was nothing to show the FBI when they arrived on the scene except a spot on the ground.

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