David Rodriguez, founder and lead investigator of PRISM, Paranormal Research and Investigative Studies Midwest, spent about five hours at the Squirrel Cage Jail Museum seeking to find evidence of things that go bump in the night.
Infrared cameras, monitors, especially-sensitive microphones and other gadgets were set up in one room, a team of investigators monitoring them for paranormal signs - beams of light, moving figures or whispers from invisible lips.
Some say the old jail is haunted by the ghost of one of its former jailers who worked and lived there. While employed at the Squirrel Cage Jail, the jailers and their families lived in a fourth-floor apartment.
Rodriguez said a woman who works at the Squirrel Cage, now a museum, once heard someone whistling at her - no one was there. And he wonders about the jail's sealed room, located in what was the jailer's living quarters. "Why would they seal up a space when they were so limited on space," he wondered, shades of Rod Serling in his tone.
Ryan Roenfeld, jail museum manager and an admitted skeptic, said he's only been spooked once. "I was up on the fourth floor and I heard someone walking down on the second floor. I went down and no one was there."
Four deaths are known to have occurred at the jail.
One prisoner died of a heart attack, jailers found one prisoner hanged in his cell, another tried to climb up the jail cage to write his name on the ceiling. He fell from the third level and died.
During the Farmer's Holiday Association strike of 1932, 84 protesters were arrested and taken to the jail. Out of fear the angry farmers would storm the jail and set the prisoners free, the police department used machine guns to turn the grounds of the jail and courthouse into a "no-man's land." One officer died during the confusion after he shot himself inside the jail.
"If it is haunted, I hope it is one of the old jailers," said Ralph Wright, Historical Society of Council Bluffs president. "It would be nice if he had such a great life there that he wanted to stay," he laughed.
A skeptic, Wright said he does not discount the possibility of paranormal activity. But, so far anyway, it is not the jail's main claim to fame. He said he doesn't think most people who tour the jail have heard stories of it being haunted.
Rodriguez said PRISM does research and it's not in the business of removing "spirits." He said his investigators are trying to find video and audio anomalies by using sensitive equipment and especially sensitive people's perceptive abilities.
He's investigated the Villisca ax murder house. He can show you a video of a Tinkerbell-looking light quickly moving into one of the closets as an investigator approaches the room.
Rodriguez's wife, Josie, also a self-proclaimed skeptic, said she was sitting on the bed in Paul's (one of the boys who was killed in the 1912 murder) room and told him to open and shut the door. Check the videotape - it opens and closes with no hands in sight. But ever the cynic, Josie wonders if the house/now museum's caretaker isn't sitting in another room like the Wizard of Oz, pushing buttons to make strange things happen.
Josie said the more she accompanies David on the paranormal investigations the less skeptical she becomes. And she is surprised by the number of people wanting to use PRISM's services. "We were getting 30 to 40 calls a month," she said. "We had to take our number off our Web site (www.DoYouSeeDeadPeople.org).
"Some called in the middle of the night. A ghost emergency," said the still-skeptical Rodriguez family member.
And the results of PRISM's look into possible Squirrel Cage's ghosts?
Rodriguez reports investigators saw a fourth-floor cabinet door open and close twice during the night.
"After both instances, PRISM investigators searched for an explanation such as a draft or a floor board that could have triggered the door, but the investigators came up with no explanations as to how the door swung open on its own. On the second occasion, the door actually swung open and hit one PRISM investigator on the arm," Rodriguez said.
He said infrared video surveillance and digital cameras captured approximately 25 to 30 orbs during the night.
"Orbs are balls of light that show up on film and video and are commonly associated with paranormal activity," Rodriguez said. He said most of the orbs were on the third and fourth floors.
Additionally, Rodriguez said several electromagnetic field (EMF) spikes and temperature fluctuations were recorded on EMF meters and infrared non-contact thermometers throughout the investigation. He said the fluctuations are also typically associated with paranormal events. "PRISM was able to correlate the EMF fluctuations with the orbs captured on film on several occasions."
Rodriguez said the team's "sensitives" - investigators with acute sensitivity to paranormal events - felt a presence of some sort in the jail. "The feeling described was of a great sadness in the some of the cells," he said. Two of the investigators actually felt their clothes being tugged on during the investigation, Rodriguez said.
And an audiotape conversation between him and Roenfeld inside the jail contains a Slavic-sounding voice - a voice neither heard during their conversation.
"The initial findings of the PRISM team indicate there is a good possibility that the Squirrel Cage Jail is haunted. Future follow-up investigations would be needed to see if any of the activity noted on July 1 repeats itself or can be duplicated by physical means."
Skeptics may continue to doubt, but Rodriguez reminds readers that the Squirrel Cage is built on the former site of the Congregational Church morgue.