Hunting ghosts is an activity usually reserved for reality-TV stars and Bill Murray with a proton pack, but Braden Lienemann and his family are joining in on the paranormal action by spending their vacation time visiting reportedly haunted locations together.
Braden, a junior actuarial science major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said his family investigations started after a trip to San Francisco in the summer of 2016. He said his mother, Nancy Lienemann, is a big believer in the paranormal and got the rest of the family interested in it by taking them on a ghost tour of Alcatraz on that trip.
“All of these places have a really disturbing backstory,” Braden said. “That’s what draws us to them. It’s fun to get to see what can happen and makes you feel really alive.”
Nancy said she and her siblings have believed in the paranormal since they were kids.
“It’s something that we always knew: There was more out there,” she said. “Between me and my sister and my kids, I’m probably the scaredy-cat of the bunch.”
Jean Hruby, Nancy’s sister, is more of a skeptic at heart; she said she is more scientifically and logically-driven as a registered nurse. But she said she still generally believes in ghosts and their presence around her.
“[Our family] experienced a lot of loss from an early age, as we have now lost both of our parents, a sister and a brother-in-law,” she said. “So, we’ve always felt the presence of spirits.”
After the Lienemann family took a ghost tour at the Crescent Hotel and Spa in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, Jean and her daughters, Erin and Amy Hruby, joined the Lienemanns for the family’s first time investigating a haunted location by themselves. The location they chose was the infamous Villisca Axe Murder House in Villisca, Iowa, where eight people were murdered in 1912 –– a case that is still unsolved.
The family members stayed at the house overnight by themselves in August 2018 in an attempt to interact with any spirits there. They used a Ouija board in one of the bedrooms and said they communicated with two of the little girls who were killed in the house.
The biggest spike in activity during their stay at the Villisca house was a toy that turned on by itself in another room while they were using the Ouija board. Nancy said one of their cameras recorded a ball of light moving into the room with the toy just before it went off. She and her niece said they also heard a child’s laughter during the night.
“That toy was honestly the craziest thing,” Jean said. “I tend to rationalize those things, and I just couldn’t explain it in my head.”
Over spring break this semester, the “Hruby Ghost Hunters,” as they call themselves, headed to Malvern, Iowa, to spend the night at Malvern Manor, which at separate times was a hotel and patient care facility. Braden said they brought a laser grid, cameras and other equipment to the location in hopes of capturing more evidence. During their investigation, Amy seemed to have a personal encounter with a spirit.
A few of the family members were congregating in “Suzie’s” room, which they were told used to be the room of a woman named Suzie, who had the mental capacity of a young child. She is known to be a pleasant spirit, as previous visitors have claimed to play and color with her, so the family tried to elicit a similar response.
Amy had said she was feeling uneasy and nauseous throughout the night, especially when she was around that room. While in Suzie’s room, Braden said Amy asked the spirit who was keeping her there, and she heard a voice respond, “Bad man.” Shortly after that, the family noticed that Amy had wandered off.
Jean and Nancy’s brother Jim Hruby, who came on this particular trip with his son Justin, eventually found Amy sitting by herself in a room down the hall. When the family went to check on her, she said she didn’t remember how she got there.
“She was sitting in there just totally zoned out,” Jean said. “When we got there, she seemed to wake up and had no recollection of leaving the room we were in, walking down the hallway and sitting in a different room. She later felt fine but still doesn’t remember those moments to this day.”
Although she couldn’t explain the toy going off at the Villisca House or her daughter’s experience at Malvern Manor, Jean said she still approaches these trips with a bit of skepticism. However, she said she does enjoy the time with her family and the educational components of the locations they investigate.
“The stories and the background of these locations are just as interesting as any spirits,” she said. “We’re able to pull in a little history while investigating. Sometimes, my coworkers look at me like I’m a little crazy when I talk about this, but others completely believe me.”
As for Nancy, she’s compiled a list of locations for the Hruby Ghost Hunters to investigate next, including the Beattie Mansion in St. Joseph, Missouri, and the Sallie House in Atchison, Kansas.
“Once you get into it, you want to do more,” she said. “I’m buying more equipment and learning more about investigating, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Braden said he enjoys going on these adventures with his family, as it’s a way for them to bond when he’s home from college.
“We started these trips up right when I got to college, and they are really cool experiences to have with my family,” he said. “My family doesn’t really have any experiences with ghosts at home, so it’s fun to just seek them out together.”