Out of this world

After a childhood experience piqued his curiosity for the unknown, Lee Steele ’78 has spent countless hours investigating reports of paranormal activity across North Carolina.

Lee Steele ’78 has conducted independent investigations into paranormal activity for more than 20 years.
By Natalie Brubaker ’15

Lee Steele ’78 remembers well his first encounter with the paranormal.

He was about 10 years old and visiting his grandmother’s house. Walking upstairs, he heard a voice call out his name. “Lee” echoed through the empty hallways of the second floor. He ignored it.

“Lee.” The voice sounded again. Frantically searching for one of his family members who might be calling him, he found his cousins in one of the bedrooms. Once he explained the noise and saw their faces flood with panic and confusion, he knew the noise wasn’t coming from them.

He turned to go downstairs. “Lee.” The voice spoke a third time. Convinced the voice was caused by paranormal activity, Steele vowed to learn more about the spirit world and later began building his own tools to measure spirit activity.

For more than 20 years, Steele has conducted independent investigations and is now co-case manager, research specialist and co-lead investigator for the investigation team at Positively Paranormal, a nonprofit Christian paranormal team based in Liberty, N.C. Operating under the motto, “With the Lord’s protection, we shine a light into the darkness,” the team has investigated properties across the state, including the USS North Carolina battleship in Wilmington, and some locations in South Carolina, such as the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier in Mount Pleasant.

The part-time Walmart cashier, part-time ghost hunter says he never envisioned working for a paranormal investigation company. As an Elon student, he spent his time managing the football team and studying physical education to eventually become a high school football coach. Now, rather than helping high school students play football, he’s helping residents across North Carolina rid their houses of unwanted guests. And he’s glad it turned out that way. “I get satisfaction from helping others find peace and comfort with my team’s help,” he says. “The power of Jesus Christ motivates me to continue on, even though I put myself in harms way and am shunned by skeptics.”

When Steele first started, he didn’t mind conducting investigations alone. That all changed after he visited Devil’s Tramping Ground, a barren ground circle in the middle of a dense forest in Bennett, N.C., local legends claimed was haunted. Perhaps it was Steele’s inherent curiosity for the spirit world or a need to legitimize the legends; either way, he found himself alone in a dark forest circling around the supposedly haunted grounds. “I didn’t notice anything unusual,” he says. “But I also didn’t notice it getting dark, and I barely found my way out of there.”

Knowing he would be safer working alongside others, in 2008 he joined S.P.I.R.I.T., the Southern Paranormal Identification Research and Investigation Team. After investigating with them for a few years, he transitioned to Positively Paranormal in 2013 and now spends most of his time in front of a computer. Whether the team responds to a residential request or visits a public building or abandoned property, Steele researches before they investigate to provide context for any spirit activity they discover. “I spend more time researching now than when I was at Elon,” he says with a chuckle. “I look at the history of the place, if there was a war there or any type of death or tragedy. That helps us determine if there might be any real paranormal activity at the site that would be related to those past events.”

Lee Steele, center, conducting a paranormal investigation.
Steele says there are a variety of warning signs that may indicate paranormal activity in a house. Residents often report strange noises, dark shadows and strong feelings of being followed. Those reports alert Positively Paranormal to prepare for an investigation. A typical investigation requires 3 to 7 team members, up to four hours of work, a myriad of equipment and a great deal of patience. “Most of our time is spent watching cameras and waiting for our equipment to sense some type of spirit activity,” Steele says. “We also have to play back all of our audio recordings because they might reveal something we didn’t hear right away.”

Just as investigators from popular TV shows such as the Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures” or Sci-Fi’s “Ghost Hunters,” Steele and his team take their jobs very seriously. Providing accurate information is a priority; investigations demand precision with equipment and thorough fact checking. The team often divides into two groups, one starting inside the house while the other waits outside. After an hour or two they switch and later come together to compare results. “We don’t want to scare anybody so we always see if our results can be debunked by a natural source before we report them,” he says.

While Steele is naturally curious, his interest in the paranormal world stems from a passion for helping others. Earlier this year, Positively Paranormal received a request to investigate an apartment complex in High Point, N.C., where a woman and her young son had been complaining about strange noises. After the team performed a blessing on the apartment, the residents reported sleeping peacefully through the night for the first time in seven months. “That’s why we do what we do,” he says. “Our concern for a situation jumps when there is a child involved.”

Steele’s personal agenda reflects the larger mission of the company. While Positively Paranormal does accept donations for fuel and equipment, the team is a nonprofit for a reason. “We’re in it to help people, not to make money,” Steele says. The hours he spends researching and the energy he invests in performing investigations are completely free of charge. Although there is rarely a cause for concern, Steele says all team members help to protect each other during investigations; a few of them have been physically marred by angry spirits.

It’s not uncommon for him to meet skeptics, though he doesn’t dwell on that. If anything he welcomes any skeptics willing to accompany him on an investigation. “By the end of it, then we’ll see if you’re a believer or not,” he says.

Whether the spirits he encounters are good or evil, he isn’t sure. “I’m still questioning and trying to get answers,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons I’m in the business.” As an organization, Positively Paranormal believes spirits can be both. When they believe they have encountered spirits who haven’t crossed over to evil yet, they tell the spirit, “go to the light.” The team believes in God, the devil and spiritual warfare between the two. And while he may not be certain about everything in the paranormal world, Steele is clear about his future. “Absolutely I plan to continue doing this,” he says. “I’ll continue with this until I’m not able to do it anymore.”