Editor’s Note: This interview first appeared in Path Finders, an email newsletter from the Daily Yonder. Each week, Path Finders features a Q&A with a rural thinker, creator, or doer. Like what you see here? You can join the mailing list at the bottom of this article and receive more conversations like this in your inbox each week.
Steve and Judy Skinner are the owners of the Haunted Castle House, located in Brumley, Missouri, a rural town of 72 people. The house is predicted to have been built between 1890 and 1910 — the Haunted Castle House’s website lists four potential builders of the house. Since then, the house has seen the death of five of its owners. It has served as a private residence and a doctor’s office, and also features a mass grave and pioneer grave located in the backyard.
The Skinners took ownership of the house in 2018, and since then, they have been hosting tours, piecing together the house’s history and … exploring the paranormal. They have been working with the county’s historical society and descendants/relatives of past owners to collect photos, artifacts and stories. Through their own experiences and technology, the Skinners have also collected evidence of the mysterious things they’ve observed since owning the house.
As someone who has always been a little doubtful of “paranormal activity,” I entered the Haunted Castle House with a fair amount of skepticism. But with each story, the Skinners opened my mind more and more to the possibility of ghosts and the things that exist far beyond what we know in the scientific world. Enjoy our conversation featuring ghost stories, spirits and learning to believe the unbelievable.
Yasmeen Saadi, The Daily Yonder: First, I just wanted to learn more about both of you. I know you guys took ownership of this house in 2018, so what drew you to the house and what made you want to buy it?
Steve Skinner: Judy and I both come from very non-paranormal backgrounds. We both grew up conservative Christian, we’re still conservative Christian. Never had anything paranormal happen in our lives that we’re aware of. My father was former military, a farmer, pharmacist, pretty no nonsense. I’m a physician, and [the paranormal] didn’t come up in that area either. But in 2012, our oldest daughter was convinced our house was haunted. It was built really cheaply, so it makes all kinds of noises. After a while, I’m like “If you still believe in ghosts, you’re simple-minded. I mean this isn’t real.” So we got online and looked up the most haunted place in America, and in most things, listed one or two was the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. We went there to shut her up about ghosts and got a huge dose of humble pie.
We had a recorder running that night. I got woken up three times. Twice it sounded like change jingling, once perfume got squirted on my right nostril. When I woke up in the morning, I thought, “I’m as simple-minded as everybody else.” So I get the camera and watch it, and sure enough you hear jangling, see me sit up and look around when that perfume comes up my nose. I sit up looking around to see if Brooke’s pranking me or anything; she’s over in her bed and sound asleep. Then the oddest thing was I was on my side, my feet are out from under the cover and one foot moves just a little bit. It’s not really kicking or flailing or twitching. Just forward and back and up and down just a little, and after about 30 minutes you see what I can only describe as a little black finger that touches my foot and pulls back. I can’t get a sentence out. My mind’s just blown, my whole world paradigm is now like, “I know nothing.”
Judy, she and her friend ran the recorder the second night. They have the best footage I’ve ever seen anywhere. I mean, this is one of those things you say you either faked this or a ghost got in bed with you. There’s no pixelation, I mean, this is really, really clear. So the video’s going, Judy’s asleep on the edge of the bed, her friend’s right next to her. This other half of the bed, there’s nothing going on. [On camera], it looks like the sheet starts to rise like a wave. It looks like somebody pretended to be a ghost with a sheet in it; it is undulating and going higher. But through that, you can see the real sheets aren’t moving. And it goes on for seven or eight seconds, then there’s a tug. Then a head does this (pops out). So now there’s a third person in the bed. They had no clue.
Judy Skinner: When we woke up, we just packed everything up and drove back home. It was the next weekend when we finally got a chance to see what happened. And then when we saw that, I slept with the lights on for like a month.
Steve Skinner: I spent all my life knowing this world doesn’t exist. And I’m wrong, there’s clearly something going on and whether it’s spiritual or supernatural or whether it’s something purely natural that we just haven’t identified yet — maybe this is the eighth dimension that’s bleeding through that’s been there all the time. I’ve read a ton of things. I’ve tried to find books from the 16th, 17th century, see their thoughts. I’ve tried to read people who had a Christian background, a Buddhist background, Hindu background, Muslim background — different religions, how do they approach these types of things? People who are non-religious, that are more new-age or agnostic or deist — just what do people think?
I thought if we could ever find a place, I’d like that to be my lab, I’d like to buy a place and, I’ll know nobody’s contaminating anything. In 2018, we saw this place in Brumley for sale and we live in Alabama, this is a nine hour drive for us. We’d never heard of Brumley, we’d never heard of the Haunted Castle House. But it looked interesting. The story with it was interesting and it was under six figures. So I thought, let’s drive up there and see. We thought the house was beautiful. So we got the place in December of 2018, and we started researching the history. The Miller County Historical Society has been fantastic to help us, so we have a timeline now of when the land was purchased and we have copies of deeds all the way to the current owners.
DY: Since you’ve gained ownership, what paranormal activity have you noticed here?
Steve: This place has 100% sealed my conviction that ghosts are real. For eight years, we had gone to all the most haunted places in America and had the places to ourselves so we could get better information. We’ve had neat stuff happen, but I’ve never been scared anywhere. The first night that we’re here, it was the end of December 2018. We go upstairs to the Red Bedroom, we call it that because the walls are painted red. All the original house is like 14 to 16 inch concrete walls. So we get upstairs, get in bed and fall asleep right away. Judy’s a little bit anxious about sleeping in a new house. Right in front of the bed is a closet door that has a chunk of it busted out from back when squatters were here, and it’s looking at her and she’s looking at it, so she’s a little anxious.
Judy: I left the light on next to my bed and I was just reading on my phone until I just got exhausted.
Steve: So I’m asleep, she’s awake and I hear five bangs. Five really loud bangs that are coming from that closet door. I sit straight up, I grab my 357, because that’s not a ghost that’s a meth addict that’s in our house. We’d already heard they had broken in many times in the past. I look in that closet, there’s nobody. There’s one other closet door in there, and I look, there’s nobody. If you bang on anything else, it’s going to be dull because it’s concrete. But this is really loud. So look out the hall, there’s nobody there. Check everything upstairs. It’s fine. Get downstairs, realize the door’s still locked. And so now I’m shaking for another reason.
Another time, I was sitting at the table in the middle of the day doing my dermatology work. I was doing my notes. And on the back porch, it sounds like Judy’s wailing. I mean just crying like she got bad news from home. So I run back there to see what’s going on, there’s nobody there. Judy’s in the apartment.
Judy: Sometimes it sounds like something big is upstairs or it’s fallen or there’s a loud noise, and we go up there and nothing has moved out of place. Or conversations — a man and a woman’s voice, I mean it’s muffled, but it sounds like two people talking and we go up there and there’s nothing.
Steve: A couple nights ago, I saw what was the side of a black figure go across from around this area and just through the wall. Upstairs, I saw a lady all in black, gray hair, kind of an older looking lady. I saw a lady at the top of the stairs, very heavy-set looking very disapprovingly. A little blond-haired boy I’ve seen twice, and two different guests have seen him. No idea who the spirits are, don’t know if they’re ones who lived here, if they’re figments of our imagination …
DY: So do you know what the ghosts are capable of?
Steve: This is fascinating too. We’ve not had anybody hurt here. We’ve not had anything done other than a can possibly being pushed off on Judy and we physically felt touches. And with touches, is there a manifestation that’s actually a tiny bit physical that does that, or is it just a transfer of energy so you’re perceiving it? Traditionally, in this area, people think there’s the Stone Tape Theory: where there is limestone, something really emotional happens, that energy gets impregnated in there. And then if the atmospheric conditions are just right, there’s water flowing underneath, the energy periodically gets released. And so it’s like an old VHS tape is showing you an image, but it’s not cognizant, it doesn’t know you’re here.
But most of what we have here seems to interact a little bit. So we have a spirit box — I hated them for the longest time because they play static. And the person on the paranormal show says, “Oh, he said, I’m a demon and I’ll kill you,” and all that was playing was just static. But we got one, and we have this thing called a portal you can plug it into that takes some of the static out. So it cleans up just a little bit and amplifies it. Occasionally you get some clear messages through that. And I’m forever trying to get it to say my name. I’ll say, “I’m Steve Skinners. My wife, Judy, we’re the new owners. Could you please say my name?” And I just get static. One night, I get it saying, “Steve.” The way the Spirit Box works, it scans all the radio frequencies very quickly. So like a syllable, maybe two syllables will come out from the broadcast. But when something carries over, that’s really hard to explain.
I think they can speak to us, I think they can touch us, I think they can move things. I’m not convinced they can hurt us, other than to scare us. And I think there’s some ghosts that are probably just trapped energy that don’t have any kind of cognizance about it at all. But I think there’s others that are intelligent, and whether they’re former people or whether there’s something else? I don’t know.
DY: Looking at the history of the house, I know you guys have done a lot of work in putting it back together. What has that experience been like and has there been a certain story from the past that has stuck with you?
Judy: It has been very interesting. Greg Huddleston from the Miller County Historical Society gives us a lot of stuff. We’ve gotten on ancestry.com and newspapers.com to get actual copies of deeds and birth certificates and death certificates and things. So I like doing that kind of stuff. I like doing research, so that’s been kind of fun.
Steve: There’s been a couple stories for me that have stood out. The ones that fascinate me the most: Dr. Dixon, just the medical association, that he physically was in this house and he died in this house, treated people in this house, that he was also the coroner. We have found a stethoscope cap. It used to be when the stethoscopes came in, they had a metal cap on that was crimped over, you would pull that off and throw it away. But it was stamped with the company that made it and the patent. So we found that in the backyard, so I think that was his new stethoscope that he took off and discarded. We found some vials that we’ve dated to 1929 when he was here that he would have gotten his injectables out of, so I think those things are kind of cool.
And the Sullivans fascinate me: Burt and Cecil Sullivan. Burt was the town barber and I don’t know if you’re familiar with The Andy Griffith Show. There was a character on there named Floyd, and people say this Burt was kind of like that. All the men would hang out in Burt’s barbershop and tell tales so just have a fun time. And then they did a lot of entertaining here. Cecil was very good at sewing and making hats and doing social things, and so they entertained a lot here. Burt had really bad rheumatoid arthritis. So as he got older, they moved his bedroom downstairs and that’s where he passed away. We’ve actually been in touch with one of his descendants, so we’ve got a little history of that and he said his grandfather always used to smell like rose talcum powder. We smelled some really odd perfumes here, but none of them were rose talcum powder. After Burt passed, his wife lived here another 21 years and she died from dementia.
And it’s interesting too, we’ve had a lot of scientists that have come through who have said that this is built on dolomite and that’s a form of limestone and limestone is supposed to be one of the things that helps the energy and increase paranormal things. There’s wet water springs running underneath here. They’re supposed to do with the Osage Indians who lived here up to about the mid 1800s. I think there could be a whole lot of different energies here: patients that were treated here, patients that have passed here. But a lot of psychics have said that this is like a pass through or a crossing, where spirits that aren’t tied in with the land or the house originally are drawn or attracted here.
DY: Thinking of the world as something that’s expanding in your minds, what are you both open to right now?
Steve: The first thing I realize is nothing’s off the table now. A lot of things still make no sense to me. And I’m not ever going to just accept something because somebody says it. But I’m never gonna say something’s impossible just because I don’t understand it or I’ve never been exposed to it. So I think my worldview is more tolerant or flexible.
We’ve recently got interested in controlled remote viewing. There’s military people that teach that and we took a class on it. We also went to a class at the Arthur Findlay school that’s for psychics and mediums and they do kind of the same stuff, just using different terminology. It was fascinating to see the similarities. This one will say “steeped in science,” this one says “mysticism,” but they’re doing the exact same thing and getting the same information. And crystals are something for Judy.
Judy: Yeah, when I was a kid, I had like a rock collection — I thought stones were just pretty, different colors and stuff. And so I guess once we started getting into this, because I was nervous, someone mentioned, “You should get a selenite and hold it and that’ll calm you down.” And I was like, “I don’t know about that.” Then we ended up going into a crystal shop and each of them had a little card that said what their property is and what they were supposed to be able to do. So that just intrigued me and I feel like I’m drawn to the crystals more so than the ghost things, so that’s opened up a new area for me.
DY: Another part of owning the house is also hosting tours, what has been your favorite part of that experience?
Steve: Just meeting people. There’s so many different personalities that come in. Some of them are paranormal people here for the ghosts, and then there’s others that grew up in this area and they know a little bit about the place. There’s others that are just kind of interested. So I get to meet a variety of people we never would have crossed paths with before and pick people’s brains.
This interview first appeared in Path Finders, a weekly email newsletter from the Daily Yonder. Each Monday, Path Finders features a Q&A with a rural thinker, creator, or doer. Join the mailing list today, to have these illuminating conversations delivered straight to your inbox.