Meet John and Cheri Francis of Alaska Ghost Hunters
Cheri was lying in bed when she heard the whisper, “Did you hear that?” She awoke thinking it was her husband John, but he was fast asleep. She heard footsteps walk across the ceiling and concluded it was guests on the floor above her.
The next day, she realized they were on the top floor.
That same day she was taking a nap, when John heard a voice next to her bed saying, “Wake up! Wake up!” He was recording at the time and caught the sound. When he played it for Cheri, she already knew the voice—the same one from the night before.
Gathered together on a couch, I listened to their ghost stories by the light of the fire, thankful for its warmth with chills from running down my spine. But they weren’t just out to scare me; John and Cheri Francis are ghost hunters.
Founders of Alaska Ghost Hunters based in Wasilla, John and Cheri have been intrigued by the existence of spirits for decades. As a young man in the Coast Guard in 1983, a man he was trying to save died in John’s arms.
“I felt his soul go through my body, and it took me a while to know what had happened, but I knew it was his soul,” he said.
Yet, it wasn’t until later in life, after getting married to his high-school sweetheart Cheri, that John began actively studying and hunting ghosts.
Cheri always liked the mystery of scary movies. Growing up a minister’s daughter, there was the ever-present question of whether or not there is life after death. Part of her fascination is answering the question of what happens when we die.
The Francises tried to join a different ghost hunting team in Anchorage years ago, but ended up starting their own. Their kids got involved. John created their website. Then people started asking them to come investigate their homes, which they did—for free.
When the media began to seek them out, they were afraid clients would shy away from their businesses. Instead, they received messages in support of what they do.
“People out there, they believe all this. I mean, they really feel like it’s really going on and a lot of them have stories about places they’ve lived or people they know or things they’re experiencing right now. So it touches them,” Cheri said.
In 2005, a Gallup poll found that more people believe in haunted houses than any other paranormal beliefs. A Pew Research Center survey from 2009 states that 29 percent of people believed they had been in contact with the dead and 18 percent said they have seen or been in contact with a ghost.
In a Harris poll from 2013 on the belief in the paranormal, the majority of respondents (64 percent) said they believed in life after death. While 61 percent of Americans said they believed someone they know had experiences with ghosts, only 42 percent said they believed in ghosts themselves.
Statistics released last week from Chapman University in a survey regarding American fears showed nearly 42 percent of people strongly believe places can be haunted by spirits and 26 percent believe the living and the dead can communicate with one another.
John and Cheri recognize the stigma about acknowledging belief in spirits. People who share their experiences with the Francises often end their stories with, ‘I’ve never told anyone that before.’ John said it’s because people worry that others will think they’re crazy.
Cheri thinks part of it is religion, but said if there is an afterlife there must be an in-between. The Francises are both practicing Christians. Cheri is an elder in the Presbyterian church they attend weekly. Some religions don’t talk about ghosts or spirits, and to even speak about it is evil, Cheri said. However, both John and Cheri say their conviction plays a part in their belief in ghosts.
“Certainly having a faith and believing in something after this life helps in this kind of endeavor that we do, because you’re open-minded and you’re willing to accept things that you can’t see. Because, faith, that’s what it is,” Cheri explained.
As to why spirits might lurk around in our world, there is no definite answer.
“There’s different reasons why someone might stick around after they pass away,” John said. “One is after a tragic event; maybe they don’t know that they are dead. Could be that they have unfinished business, they are staying to protect a family member. That family member has moved on or passed away, away from the premises and that spirit is still waiting for someone to come home. Maybe they don’t have a real sense of time. Another reason could be that they are afraid of being judged, that they did something horrible in their life and they just don’t want to go to the light. Maybe it’s a little kid and they just don’t know.”
Most of what the group does is review audio and video evidence gathered during investigations. Everyone starts as an evidence reviewer and some never make it past that point because it’s tedious work. But both John and Cheri say that’s where you find the voices or shadows.
“You’ll go through three hours of audio and all of a sudden you’ll hear a voice,” John said. “And you’re the first person to ever hear that voice.”
On the way to an investigation two years ago, they stayed at the Gakona Lodge. John got up to use the bathroom during the night; Cheri woke up, but rolled back over. A few seconds later, the door knob turned and the door opened, but no one was there. When John came back minutes later he asked Cheri why the door was open. Her only answer was, ‘I don’t know.’ John heard the door knob jiggling throughout the night. The video they recorded that night shows the door opening and the sound of footsteps, but no one enters the room.
On that same trip, they stayed in a hotel with high Electro Magnetic Field (EMF) readings, a term given to the invisible waves of energy produced by both living and non-living things. In the morning John took a shower while Cheri was on the phone. Afterward he asked if she had come in while he was showering, but she was still on the phone. He told her to look in the bathroom.
“So I go in there, and on the toilet, next to the shower, is two neatly folded towels and in the middle of it is the key card to our room, which we have on video me leaving on the dresser when we came in from dinner the night before,” Cheri said. “Somehow it got in there. And even if the towels had fallen down, they wouldn’t have been perfectly folded.”
That night they caught video of the sheet being pulled off one of their investigators while she slept.
“There’s times when you feel scared, but when you flick the lights on, it goes away,” Cheri said. “You know that in your head. All I have to do is flip the lights on and it’s gone. It’s scary because it’s dark.”
No one on the Alaska Ghost Hunting team has ever gotten hurt during an investigation. Some have felt like they were touched, but nothing more.
“If I saw someone get picked up by an unseen being and physically lifted and slammed against a wall like we see in the movies, that would be enough to send me running,” Cheri said. “But the things that we have encountered are just voices, and shadows, and kids.”
Most people who contact Alaska Ghost Hunters don’t want the spirits gone—they just want to know what it is. For those who do want the ghosts gone, the Francises have a member on their team who can cleanse the home.
The Francises are both very skeptical, but after experiencing it themselves they say they have to believe. Their critics say it’s random noise and the human brain interprets it as a voice, but John asks how they can hear the same voice in the same place, in multiple visits.
For the past five years, they have been approached by various television shows. They are currently featured on Alaska Haunting on Discovery America. One thing they are strict about is that the show must tell the story exactly as it occurred.
“People have called and said, ‘did that really happen?’ It did! It happened,” she said.
Alaska Ghost Hunters is part of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) family, created by the founders of the hit show Ghost Hunters. The nationwide network has less than 100 teams and the Francises’ team is the only one affiliated in the state. When people in Alaska contact the Ghost Hunters show, TAPS forwards it to John and Cheri.
The couple use many static cameras and recorders, at least one of each per room. They cross reference sounds from each recorder, time stamped for each instance that might be evidence of a spirit.
“We would rather come back and say no there’s nothing here than give them the fear,” Cheri said. “It’s so rewarding to help people, even if you’re not doing anything else except validating that they’re not crazy and they have something going on in their house. The sense of relief on their face is just a thank you.”
Published in the Anchorage Press on October 29, 2015.
Read all of Jessica's writing on Muck Rack