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TV show probes strange events at northeast Indiana home

Monday, November 5, 2012 - 12:14 pm

GARRETT — Rudy and Leah Combs moved in to what they believed to be their dream home on Garrett's north side nearly two years ago.

But rattling cabinet doors, voices emanating from heating vents when no one else was home, watching the couple's American pit bull Nitro growl at bare walls with his fur standing up in his back, sightings of a woman wearing 19th century clothing wandering around the home and invisible touches ranging from a slight brush to a push all proved to be unsettling occurrences to the newlyweds.

When things became intolerable late last year, Leah went online to ask for help on the website of "The Dead Files," a cable network show that investigates the paranormal — but she heard nothing back from them for months.

"They get thousands of requests," Leah told The Star in Auburn. "They probably never heard of Garrett, Indiana."

Then came the call from Hollywood in early spring, asking if she still needed help. The answer was yes.

Their claims were investigated in Friday's episode, "Blood on the Tracks — Garrett, Indiana," aired on The Travel Channel.

The series pairs retired New York homicide detective Steve DiSchiavi and physical medium Amy Allan, who travel all over the country investigating reports of the paranormal.

They separately investigate unexplained phenomena in haunted locations, each using his or her own method and keeping their conclusions hidden from the other team member to preserve the integrity of their findings. During the course of the program, viewers follow DiSchiavi's investigation, while Allan visits the home using her abilities to communicate with the dead, often assuming their roles and reliving their deaths.

At the conclusion of the episode, they meet with the homeowners for a "reveal," where they compare their findings.

Producers and a film crew were in Garrett last summer researching newspaper and genealogy accounts, searching for local experts who could offer knowledge about various aspects of the story and scouting locations for filming. They investigated several angles to be sure each area was well researched, because they would not know in what direction the findings would take them.

Leah Combs said the spirits became more active once the research was under way.

DiSchiavi and Allan were in Garrett in early August to film the show. The Combses were put up in a local motel while Allan toured the home from basement to the second floor, followed by a film crew.

"There's a lot of dead people in the basement," Allan said during the filming at the home.

Leah Combs' sister, Keri Tarlton, and father, Steve Tarlton, were also sensitive to the unknown presence in the Combs home — so much so, Steve Tarlton eventually refused to enter it. The reveal took place in the garage behind the home.

Keri and Steve both were interviewed in Friday's episode — Steve at a local restaurant, Keri in the backyard of the Combs home.

Rudy Combs was not convinced of the existence of spirits in the house. Whenever a sight or sound startled Leah, he was quick to check out its origin to protect his wife — but he found nothing.

"I really don't believe in all this stuff," he told DiSchiavi. Rudy Combs agreed he wants to keep his dream home a safe place to start a family.

Rudy Combs did reveal during the episode he has been plagued with nightmares with the repeating theme of "falling or getting ready to die."

Even to the unbeliever, the findings during the reveal portion of the show were uncanny.

Allan said she sensed an older man outside with health issues such as a heart attack or stroke. Former home owner Ralph Shumway died in spring 2011 after suffering a stroke in the upstairs of the home. He suffered a heart attack a few years earlier.

She also sensed a burly working man who was very angry.

Newspaper accounts reported Edward Hammers, a man who lived in the home in the early 1900s, died while on the job for the railroad in Deshler, Ohio. His body was returned to the home for the funeral. Through research on the home's abstract, Leah Combs learned as many as three funerals were held in the home — not an uncommon practice for the times.

Allan also sensed a woman from the late 1800s. She described her findings to a sketch artist who produced a likeness of Hammers' wife, Susan, whom he reportedly abused and left behind in Pennsylvania to run off with his second wife, Carrie. That sketch closely resembled a photo of Susan, contributed by her family back in Pennsylvania.

Allan also revealed several spirits were in the basement and the presence of a dog-type spirit that was trying to take over Rudy Combs' life.

Both Leah Combs and her father broke down in tears during the reveal — it was too overwhelming, and the filming had to be stopped until they could regain their composure.

"It's going to take some convincing," Rudy Combs said after the reveal portion of the show. "It's kind of convincing, though."

In order to keep the family safe, Allan offered a step-by-step process to "release the dead who think they are trapped" in the home.

The remedy included special candles, holy water, herbs and tar water from New Orleans used in voodoo practices. here is both good and bad voodoo, Steve Tarlton said Friday.

"If it helps her relax, let's do it," Rudy Combs said of the process.

The home was cleansed a few hours after the reveal portion of the filming — and the home has been in peace ever since, Leah Combs said. The producers plan to return to Garrett in April to do a follow-up for the program.

Word of the "haunted house" has been rumored around Garrett since mid-summer. Some people expressed excitement, others disapproval.

"That's just blasphemous," some would say to Leah.

An hour before airtime Friday, Leah Combs' phone was buzzing with messages from friends. She was with family and friends waiting to watch show in her father's family room.

DiSchiavi interviewed several people for the story, including John Mohre as the expert historian for the railroad at the Garrett Historical Museum.

Rosalyn Wells from the DeKalb County Genealogy Society spent hours researching the Hammers' family, both in Indiana and Pennsylvania, and supplied many documents to the show's producers. She was filmed at the Eckhart Public Library in Auburn. Her segment can be viewed on The Travel Channel's website.

Local attorney Darrick Brinkerhoff met with DiSchiavi in the DeKalb County courtroom, where his great-grandfather argued the case for Hammers' estate in the early 1900s.

Jason Bolinger was interviewed at the Garrett Hardware store where Ralph Shumway worked for several years.

Steve Tarlton shared his experiences in his daughter's home with DiSchiavi at Shorty's Steakhouse on a Sunday when the business was closed.

Keri Tarlton was filmed in her sister's backyard, where she described unexplained sounds and movements in the home.

Those interviewed for the show were not told the conclusion and also had to wait to learn the team's findings at the end of the episode Friday night.