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An undead art walk

Paranormal activity group believes spirits may roam Laguna museum — if blinking flashlights and a recorded voice can be trusted.

March 12, 2014|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • From left, Christopher Turner, Chad Weber and Julie Muramoto, members of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) West Coast, pose for a portrait at the Laguna Art Museum on Saturday.
From left, Christopher Turner, Chad Weber and Julie Muramoto,… (Rhea Mahbubani,…)

Nighttime fell quietly in Laguna Beach on Saturday.

The lilt of conversations at Las Brisas and Heisler Park mingled with the hum of crashing waves, gently piercing the dark. A salty breeze wound its way down Cliff Drive, while inside the Laguna Art Museum, Christopher Turner urged Anna Hills to communicate with him.

A plein air painter, Hills played a key role in the establishment of the Laguna Beach Art Assn. in 1918 and served as its president for six years. She was 48 at the time of her death in 1930.

Turner, a leader of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) West Coast, was accompanied by fellow members Julie Muramoto and Chad Weber. Accoutered with high-definition Sony infrared cameras, audio recorders, motion sensors and flashlights, the trio tried to ascertain if the building, which became home to the museum in 1972, bespoke the presence of spirits or energies.

Unlike his counterparts, Turner, is a self-proclaimed skeptic. He discovered TAPS on "Ghost Hunters," a reality TV series that premiered on Syfy in 2004 and is now in its ninth season. With more than 15 years of engineering experience, he was taken by the group's use of scientific research, equipment and techniques.

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"I think the thing that really interested me in the paranormal is that it's a new frontier," said the Huntington Beach resident. "Nobody can say, 'I'm an expert.' Nobody can say, 'I'm better than you.' Nobody can say, 'My methods are better than yours.'"

According to Turner, TAPS, which was founded by Jason Hawes in 1990, seeks to explain "abnormal activity within a normal environment." It's surprising, he said, to learn just how many people have witnessed doors close by themselves, seen a disembodied shadow or heard footsteps where there shouldn't be any.

Sometimes, investigators determine that a creepy, late-night creak is only an old house settling. Otherwise, environmental factors don't add up, leading them on a search for the energy of a human being who is no longer alive but might have once been associated with the property.

The organization's website states that it receives thousands of requests daily, with residential cases forming the bulk, but it was Turner who approached the Laguna Art Museum. In Turner's experience, people who work in places that boast lengthy histories often have paranormal experiences.

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