Interview with Debra Pickman of the Sallie House Haunting, as Featured in Ghost Adventures
After reading the true life account of the haunting now famously known as the Sallie House Haunting, I felt compelled to get in contact with Debra Pickman, the young mother and wife who suffered the horrific encounter. Open, friendly and approachable, Debra was more than willing to discuss her perspective of the haunting and was able to take part in a question and answer session. I am pleased to be able to share the results of our discussion below, and look forward to hearing what you all think of Debra, and the haunting itself.
In your novel, The Sallie House Haunting, you describe a set of unusual and unnerving events, such as items going missing or hearing random noises. In the beginning, you and your husband seemed to approach those moments in a logical and level-headed way, even dismissing or ignoring what you experienced. Can I ask, at what point did you feel that the things happening in your home were actually paranormal in nature? Was there a specific incident or turning point where you felt your home was haunted?
Its difficult to say for sure, as my mind is always so logical and prefers to err on the side of sensibility, logic and a tangible explanation for things. I guess I would have to say the night that all the stuffed animals in the nursery were moved into a circle in the middle of the room was the shocking night of in your face realization for the three of us. It was hard to deny that something was happening, and some unseen force or energy was responsible for what we were repeatedly experiencing. Logically ruling out other possibilities had been exhausted.
Once you and your husband Tony came to accept that your home was haunted, how did this effect your day-to-day life in the home? Was it hard to relax? Did you feel uncomfortable?
Tony and I actually dealt with our situation in two very different ways. I had been interested in the paranormal as a teenager and was ecstatic that I was in a situation to experience it for myself. I just knew that if given the right situation and approach, there could be real communication between the spirit and the human world and I was excited for the opportunity to give it a try.
Tony on the other hand was rather cemented in the religious teachings and beliefs that he was brought up with; that spirits were an unnatural occurrence, a bad thing and something to ignore or leave alone. The fact that Tony was affected differently, because he was having distinctly different and worrisome experiences than I, also set us apart on how we dealt with being haunted. Tony almost always felt uncomfortable; not knowing what he was going to hear or see next.
I’m not sure I could say that I was relaxed or comfortable either though. As experiences gained momentum, I worried about how our infant might be affected by the unseen forces that were obviously in our home. The fires and such created worry and stress as well; unsure of the possibility that something would get out of hand and put our lives in danger was always in the back of my mind. Even more so, because of having different experiences and viewpoints, Tony and I argued on almost every aspect of dealing with the haunting. This put a tremendous amount of stress on our relationship or friendship and trust in each other.
Zak Bagans of Ghost Adventures, Sallie House Haunting Episode
In your account, we learn that the haunting involves the spirit of a 7 year old girl, called Sallie, and that you felt quite drawn to taking care of this lost and innocent soul. How did your husband cope with your desire to not only communicate with Sallie, but to also take care of and invite her into your daily lives?
Tony basically thought I was playing with fire, was a nut for talking to the air (Sallie) and expecting compliance and had a difficult time with my desire to get answers through various types of interaction. Knowing of my interest in the paranormal, he appeased me and went with the flow as much as he could; even putting aside his growing fear created by the intensified experiences he was having unbeknownst to me.
How did family and close friends react to you and your husband once you told them about the paranormal occurrences in your home? At one point in your book, you describe feeling “judged and scrutinized” by people. How did these experiences of feeling judged or not-believed affect you?
My side of the family was a bit more open to the possibility of what we were experiencing; and several members of my family had an experience while visiting which reinforced their need to be more open-minded. Although a few of Tony’s family members seemed supportive in the beginning, we soon lost that support when they felt judged by outsiders. For a while it was very difficult being so scrutinized by people who did not believe us. There were sarcastic and condescending comments, being pointed at while at the local stores and people who no longer wanted anything to do with us for fear of being associated with our farfetched claims – keeping in mind we live in the Bible belt.
As time went on and our story became more widely known, people saw raw footage of our experiences on reputable shows and I think they were better able to entertain the possibility that our claims were real because they were being authenticated by experts and scientists.
What followed were people who asked serious questions, told us about their own experiences and showed a real interest in ours. It was surely hard to deal with sceptical people and for the longest time we felt the need to defend ourselves. Eventually we grew comfortable with the knowledge that we alone knew what we had experienced and although we put it out to the public we could not control how they perceived it. After all, we ourselves had been tough sceptics on the claims of others over the years until we had our own experience, so how could we judge others for drawing their own ?
Some of the phenomena in your home involved items being thrown, fires starting of their own accord, and loud noises. Did you ever worry about the safety or lives of your child, your husband, or yourself?
Although, the concern for our safety was often in our thoughts, we were told, by a psychic involved in our haunting, that “Sallie” would not do anything to harm the family; she loved the family and would actually protect the family. This seemed to be the case defined by several events, so we tried not to worry. I say “we” but I mean me. I know Tony worried a lot; he’s a worry wart about everything and I seriously don’t know how he kept it together back then.
Early stages of the haunting you wrote about, indicate your belief that the things happening in your home was the result of child-spirit activity. However, over time, we learn that more viscous and darker things started to take place – especially to your husband. Tony recalls feel attacked, being scratched and burned. At this point, did you wonder if there was more in the house than just Sallie? Or did you feel Sallie wasn’t the innocent child you thought she was?
I remained sure that there was a young and innocent child spirit in the house who needed protection and cared for. Tony had experienced seeing an older female on several occasions, but I thought his experiences could be explained by fatigue, stress and lack of sleep.
The realization that there was more than one spirit in the house became clear at Christmas when we had photos developed in which there were two very distinctly different anomalies in the photo. This seemed to support Tony’s claim and we began looking at things a little differently.
At any one time, did you suspect Tony, friends, family or neighbours of trying to fool you by creating effects in the home? Did Tony suspect anybody?
The night the stuffed animals were positioned in a circle on the floor of the nursery was the only night we thought there might be pranks being played on us by friends or family members. It was not only the ability to logically eliminate the viable and reasonable explanations during each subsequent event that night, but the thoughts of a prank were debunked by the very events themselves which took place while Tony, my sister and myself were all in the same room (leaving no room for blaming each other).
It becomes more apparent as your case of the haunting progresses, that things took a very dark turn for the worse, and both you and Tony felt scared, unsafe and at times under attack. You started to believe there may be evil or demonic activity involved. Looking back now, do you feel that Sallie ever existed at all, or do you believe an evil entity or demon used Sallie as a “mask” to cover darker intentions?
Tony and I whole heartedly believe that although there may have been human spirit there at times, the bulk of activity and “show” was used as a facade to hide behind. We believe that the house had/has at least one very strong and powerful dark entity capable of altering thoughts, perception, emotions and actions of those it wishes to inflict these elements upon. We believe that the intention of this dark presence was to cause chaos and bring down everything good within a god fearing family. That presenting as an innocent young female would be more acceptable and less threatening and it would be easily accepted by us and then be able to do its damage. This attempt worked with me and I not only accepted it, I unwittingly enticed it with continued acceptance and interaction.
Tony on the other hand had never accepted what he saw or heard as an innocent projection of human spirit. This dark force seemed to understand his attitude and took it as a challenge to defeat his inner strength against. It presented differently several times and when it still couldn’t entice him into acceptance, it proceeded to work on his emotions, thoughts patterns and mental state of mind, which severely jeopardized the family’s safety, namely the safety of me. Although, evidence from investigations since we lived in the house, show that there seems to be active human spirit (both residual and interactive) at this location, we also have EVP depicting that they are scared, manipulated and ultimately captive by a much more powerful force that tends to be an overseer of sorts.
Tony suffered a great deal during the haunting, as is evidenced by the photos of his body after attacks. Do you look back and regret not listening to his wishes to move house, or are you glad you were able to live-through the momentous haunting you encountered because of what you have learned and experienced?
I’m not sure at what point we could have left the house and been free of the ties that continue to bind us to the energy and spirits there. I honestly don’t think that we will ever be free, because as soon as we let our guard down or get comfortable, it seems we are under attack again. Of course nothing like it was while we lived in that house, but none-the-less it affects us in a significantly negative way.
Having gone through the experiences we have, has certainly opened our eyes to these dark and unseen forces that we all face but don’t recognize. Difference is that we can distinguish when something negative is at work around us or between us and can take actions or react appropriately so that harm, whether it be mental, emotional or physical, is minimal. The whole experience has strengthened our faith, brought us much closer to God and given us the ability to help others in similar situations.
With that said though, I sincerely regret that Tony went through so much in his own experiences within this house and felt so alone and forsaken through it all. Experiences that were so odd and farfetched they actually alienated him from me and others who might understand and help. Some feel it was a cognisant choice on my part to ignore his experiences, his distress and the signs of trouble, others feel that I was just as manipulated not to see it or to help him. Whichever it is, I will regret, for the rest of my life, not being there for him in some better way.
Would you consider that the entity in your house perhaps manipulated your thoughts and feelings into wanting to stay in the house and interact with the beings there?
As much as Tony was manipulated by jealousy, anger, insecurities and fear while in the house, I do believe I was manipulated by my mothering instinct (having just given birth to a baby) and by my interest and longing for a paranormal experience. Tony recognized my interest early on and placated my efforts to interact and experience the paranormal events in our home. Allowing this secured a further interest and desire to find answers and before we knew it we were each being affected differently by the energy within the house. I wanted to stay because I felt no real threat; the operative word being, “I”. Fact is it wasn’t me that was feeling eminent danger, it was Tony.
As I look back I cannot understand how I ignored so many signs, so many experiences, and so many words that pleaded. I am a logical, fact seeking person who assesses everything around me or taht affects me or my family. My natural instinct should have been to ask Tony more questions, get more details of the experiences he was having, do more research and fully explore the possibilities not simply shrug them off repeatedly leaving him rejected and alone. It is for this reason that I feel I was manipulated to work against my own husband, to work against my own nature just like he was.
How and why did you and your husband come to the decision to go public with a story/claim that would certainly be scrutinized?
The decision to do go public was not an easy decision and again another topic that Tony and I battled fiercely over from opposite sides of the fence.
He is a very private and quiet person by nature and comes from a very large and respected family in a small town (his father was 1 of 13 children, his mom 1 of 12, and they had 8 children together. One can only imagine how the family had grown over the years and permeated the town). Tony was extremely worried about how going public might affect his family’s place in the community. Additionally, he didn’t want people to assume we were attention seekers or worse yet, being paid to portray a wild claim.
When we several television shows showed interest in our story, I advocated allowing their involvement because we were promised that they would bring in people who would give us help in dealing with the paranormal events we were experiencing. We were so out of our element and didn’t know where else to turn. Additionally, I felt our case was very different from others that I had read about and was certain that those in the field might be interested in knowing the particulars of our experiences.
Money was never a factor or offered in exchange for going public with our story. In the end it was the hope of getting a level of help and understanding for our own experiences and to perhaps let others who might be going through paranormal events of their own, know that they were not alone.
Thank you Fiona, not only for great questions but also for the opportunity to share my story.