Los Angeles is crawling with ghosts and paranormal investigator Zak Bagans is on the hunt. The Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures host and his crew of ghost tracking dogs have scoured the city, capturing all sorts of inexplicable phenomena on camera. Haunted locations they’ve explored include the dreaded Cecil Hotel, the Black Dahlia House, Hollywood’s American Legion Post 43 Building, the Roxie Theater in downtown LA, Pasadena’s Ritual House, and the Los Angeles Police Museum.
“We’re focusing on Los Angeles because the locations here have so much haunted and mysterious history,” says Bagans. “It’s a hodgepodge of pure, haunted dreams.”
Today we’re at the Comedy Store, the Sunset Strip club known for two things: it launched the careers of comedians like Richard Pryor, Jay Leno and Roseanne Barr, and it terrified countless artists and patrons throughout its half-century. Demonic growls in the basement, flickering lights on the stage, and the manifestations of a man in a World War II-era military uniform are attributed to the building’s earlier life, when the cavernous building housed Ciro’s nightclub. celebrities and like mafia bigwigs Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen visited the venue in the 1940’s and 50’s. According to legend, the site was used to blackmail, torture and kill those who crossed the mob, and the spirits of these unfortunate victims still haunt the site today.
“Did you see that?” Bagans asks during our interview in the empty main room of the Comedy Store. “I just saw an amber bullet fly into your shoulder.”
Continue. Make fun of us. But I officially freaked out because I definitely felt like it some, whether it’s a puff of cold air from the air conditioning vents, an adrenaline rush from this morning’s coffee, or an otherworldly presence tugging at my sleeve. One thing’s for sure: I’m a lightweight at ghost hunting. Bagans and his team of Aaron Goodwin, Jay Wasley and Billy Tolley usually lock themselves in one place overnight, shooting in complete darkness. I requested that we do our walkthrough with the lights on during the day. It should also be noted that I stay away from Ouija boards and have never made it through all of The Exorcist’s two hours and 12 minutes.
Bagans and I check for spikes on the electromagnetic gauge he’s placed on the sticky cocktail table between us. Nothing. But that doesn’t stop us from talking about the bullet incident for the next two hours while we scour the rest of the club.
Faith is everything in the paranormal business, and these guys are true believers. You are not alone. From multi-part series to bite-sized social media posts, creepy investigations have proliferated on cable TV, YouTube, TikTok, and other platforms in recent years. If you’ve never seen any of these shows, imagine the “Scooby-Doo” crew poking around a haunted hotel, except they’re real people armed with high-tech gear and the culprit is never the host. Ghost Adventures, also available on the Discovery+ streaming service, leads the pack in the spooky realm of paranormal programming. Bagans has lost count of how many episodes the series has aired, between more than 20 seasons and a slew of specials, but he knows it’s well into the hundreds.
“People keep complaining about how weird I am, and I’m like, ‘Wouldn’t you do that every two weeks, in the darkest places you can find?'” says Bagans.
At 45, he doesn’t seem all that eccentric. In fact, he could be mistaken for any tattooed guy with spiky hair in his hometown of Las Vegas if it weren’t for his sixth sense and his taped possessive fits. He says he’s always felt “different” and had “experiences,” which is why he made the 2004 documentary Ghost Adventures, which details an eerie series of events he had as a film student in Detroit. The film paved the way for the Travel Channel series.
The tall, dark and bespectacled ghost detective now has millions of followers and fans drawn to his seriousness and intensity. At every investigation, he boomes at ghosts and persuades them to come forward, and half the thrill is watching his reactions. Bagans is a human gauge tuned to occult vibrations. He is often startled, scared, sad, or overwhelmed “by the energy” he is feeling. He has become physically ill as a result of the encounters or switches off completely. It’s real, he says, and accusations to the contrary sting.
“I’m sick of people calling me overly dramatic,” says Bagans, who is personally a gentle soul, if not awkward, and slightly nerdy. “It really upsets me. I’m a magnet for energies and I can’t turn it off. I am a hyper empathic person. … You start crying, I’ll probably start crying too. There is someone evil in the room, I can feel it and get a headache. I can’t turn it off.
“In the human brain and consciousness there is an electromagnetic energy field,” he continues. “When you die, this electromagnetic field does not dissipate. Ghosts have an electrical charge and I’m sensitive to that. I feel it, I get these goosebumps. I’ll feel this static charge.”
Our hunt through the Comedy Store isn’t a supercharged encounter as far as the annals of Ghost Adventures are concerned. I blame myself for insisting this be a matter of the day. The spirits are disgusted with my cowardice. Bagans and the crew tell me not to be so hard on myself. Ghosts can be shy, like humans, and just because there hasn’t been a quantifiable response to Bagans’ repeated requests that beings show themselves doesn’t mean they’re not there.
We walk up a narrow flight of stairs to the belly room, the crew is laden with more gear than an Area 51 surveillance team. Along with the aforementioned EMF detector, there is a high-sensitivity audio recorder that picks up Electronic Speech Phenomena (EVP), a camera with a special lens, a temperature-sensitive video recorder and Goodwin’s old-school Polaroid. “I shoot about a billion of these just to prove that whatever we see on the other cameras isn’t tampered with.” Goodwin is the comic relief. Fans of the show refer to him as “Zak’s bait of choice.” He’s put in the worst of situations alone, only to see how he reacts: “I want to market a Ghost Adventures diaper because I always get scared.”
Not much happens during our mini-investigation, but to be fair, it’s more of a walkthrough meant to show this Times journalist how the process works. My big discovery: lugging around all that gear is a chore. “We want to show that there is a whole other dimension to life that is imperceptible to the human eye,” explains Bagan’s infrared light, ultraviolet light, and digital recorder when I ask if all of these things are really necessary. When we reach the spooky green room, the tiny space is so hot and claustrophobic that I put my fear aside and hope for an evil presence to cool the air. The darker the better.
It’s rare for the team to film a fully materialized apparition. They say their best catch was a cowboy materialized on camera during their exploration of California’s ghost town of Cerro Gordo in 2019. They capture troubling EVPs with disembodied voices demanding them GET OUT, DIE, or HELP. The show’s current season contains such hair-raising “evidence” from the so-called Los Feliz murder house – two terrifying episodes – and the closed Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey.
Bagans, the crew and I end up back down in the main room trying once more to elicit an answer from dead gangsters or the poor bastards supposedly buried in the basement. “Usually for the few minutes that we capture on the show, we have to go through 30 hours of footage, recordings and other things,” says Bagans. We only have two and a half hours for our investigation, but the spirit adventurers have been here before and have documented many mysterious activities. I’m pretty sure I’ve put a damper on the hunt – until I check my own cell phone footage and spot a frenetic blast of light all around the boys. They watch excitedly, but my find is revealed to be a reflection. Disproving phenomena is also part of the process.
When I get home and go through the rest of my footage, I spot a floating orb of light around Bagan’s head. Finally something! I email the footage to a show representative who forwards it to him. The “dust particles wouldn’t pick up like this without your phone light,” he told his rep, “and the trajectory of it is also a little unique and jagged, while a dust particle would have a levitation effect more like a snowflake.” Bagans couldn’t say definitively that it was supernatural, but was “definitely intrigued” given the “other light anomalies he’d experienced before.”
I’m hooked and ready for Cecil Hotel. Bring it on, haunted LA