Jonesborough, TN

Ghost Hunting is Alive

John M. Dabbs
Photo by Martin Widenka on Unsplash

Tennessee's oldest town, Jonesborough, known as the 10th most haunted town in the United States - the Travel Channel. It's no surprise that you find spirits on one end of Fox Street (Tennessee Hills Distillery) and Paranormal Technology Investigations (PTI) on the other. Comparing them to Ghostbusters (1984) would be a stretch. The group of curious investigators is more akin to Scooby Doo's Mysteries Inc.


In search of the truth, they often debunk theories and beliefs about strange events. The PTI team includes a mental health professional, to evaluate clients before going in for a closer look. It's only prudent to see if someone could be off their medications or suffer from schizophrenia or other ailments that could cause hallucinations. Simple causes, such as a settling building, rodent infestations, a lack of preventive maintenance can all cause unsettling noises and movement.

PTI was founded by Robb Phillips and Kathy Shephard of the Johnson City area. They both had experiences in their youth that couldn't be explained by what would be called "rational" means. This led them to search for answers to their own situations. Finding little help, what they did find by way of historical records and stories, only fueled their curiosity. A chance meeting in an outing with their cousins led them to discover a mutual passion. They formed PTI soon afterward and have been investigating paranormal events for nearly two decades.


I was disappointed, yet relieved to find they didn't have their own proton beam weapons or ghost traps. Robb and Kathy take a more serious approach. Their advanced technology begins the use of a digital voice recorder, and cameras. It only begins there. You can find them wielding an assortment of gear on a detailed investigation.

  • Digital Video Recorders
  • Digital Camcorder with "Night Shot" (night vision)
  • Digital Static shot / DLSR Cameras
  • Electromagnetic Field Detectors
  • Electronic Sound Amplifiers
  • Digital Area Thermometers
  • Infra-red thermometers
  • Two-Way radios
  • Motion Detectors
  • Infra-Red flashlights
  • X-Box Kinect Camera (yes, this is a new use for the technology that is legit)
  • multiple tri-pods

Searching for clues

As any detective or police officer will tell you, there is a lot of quiet activity involved in a stake-out. A key ingredient to any good team is patience and an open mind. One never knows what they will find. Robb explained it to me as "sitting around in the dark, just waiting for something to happen, most of the time." While there is a bit more to it than this, they invited me to return to a site they had investigated once before. My experience, after all of the preliminary introductions and setting up equipment, was similar to caving. It was as if we were exploring in the dark with only minimal lighting and there was a large vacuum of silence without the outside world interacting with us.


A local television studio owner, Rick Bunn, allowed us into his Shinto Shrine. The PTI crew set up camp while the rest of us were given a brief tour by our host. The set was partially established with Halloween decorations as the owner had received multiple donations from fans. The effect was an ambiance combining a Chinese restaurant and a scene from one of the Indiana Jones/Raiders of the Lost Ark films.

All of us at the location remained laid back and relaxed throughout the investigation. There wasn't a series of blood-curdling screams or anything to suggest we were in any immediate danger. It was a pleasant outing with an opportunity to get to know our host and interact with other curious onlookers and the PTI Team.

Extended outlook

Both Robb and Kathy have told me they've received an abundance of people calling them for help. Their schedule is full with several investigations each week on the books. It isn't uncommon for them to have people just show up at their office in Jonesborough just wanting to relate their story to them. Many people have experienced weird things that made them uncomfortable. They want to feel safe in being able to tell it to someone who may actually believe they experienced really happened. It doesn't matter that it could be explained by several other things besides a paranormal event.

Robb says he sees the "veil" as beginning to thin. He isn't sure what's going on but does seem to hear about more activity and people seek them out more often. There are more unexplainable things happening than people can easily dismiss.

Kathy runs the Escape Room in Jonesborough at the location of their office, and Robb also hosts walking history/ghost tours of Jonesborough from the space. They are well known locally through their businesses and the PTI. They speak at paranormal conferences and lectures at ETSU on the subject, in addition to holding their own classes on demand.

Is this for real

The Paranormal Technology Investigations team is an actual team of paranormal investigators. They use the equipment and their own experiences to lead them as they investigate claims of activity that can't be readily explained in another manner. They aren't certified - as there is no certification for this type of work. Most people in the business are there because of their curiosity unless they are trying to make money and get some publicity.

I found that PTI doesn't charge for their services, they do ask for a donation of something to help them out though. They've received composition books and pencils, a home-cooked meal, and even cash. Though the amount is usually nothing major. Anything people can provide helps offset the cost of their gas and batteries.

With Ghostbusters: Afterlife on the horizon in the U.S. this summer, we may see more people wondering... Who are you going to call? If you are in the Tri-Cities area, you may want to call on PTI or check out their website for more information.

As for me, if I am asked if I'd like to attend another investigation of a known residence or Inn with a history of haunting- I'd be willing to tag along and watch them work again. I was a bit uneasy going in, not knowing what to expect. I am ordained as a deacon of the Presbyterian Church, and very comfortable in my beliefs. I was also comfortably reciting the apostle's creed to myself many times during my time with the investigators.

I hope you've enjoyed this brief insight into their operation.

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An outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and adventure. John is a professional consultant and photojournalist.

Johnson City, TN

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