Credit: Stephanie Rudig

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If you invite someone over to your home to help you get rid of a bad spirit, you’d likely call them a ghostbuster. Tammy Hopler prefers to be called a spiritual warrior and a helping hand for both the living and the dead. 

Hopler is the founder and main investigator of Spirit Chasers, a Northern Virginia-based paranormal team. Unlike most supernatural detectives, however, the Spirit Chasers don’t just bust the ghosts—they exorcise them. 

“I didn’t just want to be a ghost hunter,” Hopler says. “I wanted to deal with the dark stuff that most investigators weren’t going to deal with and resolve the issues for good.”

Five years ago, Hopler was a determined skeptic of the paranormal. It was largely by mistake that she stumbled upon spirit chasing. One day, her friend invited her to a party in a supposedly haunted house, and she seized the chance to prove that there was a logical explanation for the spooks. 

That night, a K2 electromagnetic fields meter was thrown at her head and she recorded voices cursing at her. Then the entity followed her home. 

“At that point, I had no idea what to do myself,” Hopler says. “I had someone recommended to me.” 

Having grown up religious, she turned to the best in the Christian paranormal field to help her become a better investigator.

Keith Johnson, a demonologist who trained under Ed and Lorraine Warren, supernatural experts whose work inspired horror films like The Amityville Horror, The Conjuring, and Annabelle, answered the call. He taught Hopler how to properly cross over a spirit and differentiate between human and demon hauntings. 

Hopler aims to provide assistance to those wondering whether their spectral houseguest is a dead human or a demon from the nether regions of hell. It’s a dangerous line of work—Hopler has been scratched, found snakes in her basement, seen figures out of the corner of her eye, and dodged multiple flying objects while trying to help uneasy residents.

One of Hopler’s most complicated cases involved a demon who had harassed a West Virginia woman for 40 years. The entity grew bolder as it encountered each new paranormal investigator, eventually dislocating two of the homeowner’s fingers, throttling her with her own mesh bed canopy, and locking her out of the house. 

“I’ve got 30 pages of notes I’ve taken from her on things that have happened since they’ve moved in, and I don’t think anybody who’s not as strong-minded as her would have lasted this long,” says Hopler.

Hopler further differs from more traditional ghost hunters when it comes to the tools she uses. Though she always travels with traditional items like electromagnetic field meters and infrared cameras, her most important tool is as invisible as the culprits she’s trying to catch: her faith. 

“I’m very particular on who I investigate with,” says Hopler. “If they don’t have a true faith in God, aren’t God-fearing people, then I don’t really want to because if we go in and start doing prayers at the end of the night and you’ve got someone there who isn’t a true believer, it’s going to make you less effective.” 

After selecting a small, devout team and screening potential clients over email for signs of a real haunting (they don’t, however, have to share her faith), the next step for Tammy and the Spirit Chasers is to physically investigate the site. They specialize in private residence calls, and Hopler occasionally travels to historic sites around the region for fun or as a trial run when training new recruits.

Upon arrival at an exorcism, the team establishes a baseline reading on the house with their equipment so they can compare spikes in activity throughout the investigation. The investigators then try to make contact with the spirit and determine what type of entity they’re dealing with, gathering evidence along the way. 

Hopler then makes sure to spiritually fumigate the house before leaving.

“My concern is when you’re using the equipment you could open up something, and I don’t want to leave somebody’s house with something possibly open to make it worse,” says Hopler. “Even if we go to a house and there is nothing there, we will still do a fumigation with a minimum of a house blessing or holy water.”

For a proper fumigation, the team starts by reciting prayers at the front door—the type of prayer depends on the situation, but the Lord’s Prayer will often suffice—and burns incense blessed by a Catholic priest throughout the entire house.

“We fumigate everything—windows, doors, attics, crawl spaces. If you’re in a bedroom with dresser drawers, you open up the drawers,” she says.

To close the session, the team says a final prayer at the front door and then performs a land blessing by scattering salt also blessed by a priest around the home. This mash-up of paranormal investigation and exorcism is certainly successful in quashing unruly spirits—Hopler says her team enjoys an 80% success rate.

Working as a part-time ghost buster comes with a whole slew of time commitments that differ with each job, but typically Hopler tries to wrap up each case in one night so she doesn’t leave any openings for the spirit to return to the house. 

As October comes to a close, Hopler is gearing up for her busy season. Most other paranormal investigators see a dive in cases around the winter, but Hopler says that, strangely, she receives more requests around this time. She never accepts payment for her work, insisting that guiding those beyond the veil to a better place is payment enough, despite the time commitment and personal financial cost. 

“Once, when we were doing some crossing over prayers all of the sudden in my ear I heard ‘goodbye.’ A lady, as clear as day,” Hopler says. “And that, to me, that means more than all the other stuff combined because this lady possibly found peace.”