No, silly, not Jodie Foster. Not the brunette star of Silence of the Lambs, who, in the film, plays an FBI trainee investigating the case of the world’s creepiest psycho.
No, our tour guide tonight is Chico resident Jodi Foster (pronounced like “Jodie,” not like “Jedi”-with-an-“o,”). Jodi is the brunette star of her own episode of the SYFY Channel show Paranormal Witness, called “The Apartment,” and also star of three “nonfiction true crime paranormal sex slavery murder mystery” books that Jodi’s written. The show and the three books and the documentary she hopes to have made are all about Jodi Foster investigating—using standard investigative techniques along with psychic abilities and prophetic dreams—the North State’s creepiest psycho, Cameron Hooker, who, back in 1976, along with his wife, Janice, captured a woman and kept her as a sex slave in Red Bluff, forcing her to live in a box under their bed for seven years.
Our tour guide’s story is complicated (hence the trilogy), but essentially begins in the year 2000, when Jodi Foster and her three-year-old daughter, Hannah, move into #23 at an apartment complex at 125 Parmac Road. They’re immediately terrorized by a ghost or something. The ghost hides Jodi’s keys, messes with their mini-blinds, turns lights on and off in the middle of the night, moves the hands of their clock around, and possesses Hannah’s Sing and Snore Ernie doll, making it talk without batteries. Jodi Foster wonders if she’s crazy but decides that she isn’t.
Then, according to Jodi Foster, she eventually learns that the apartment is the last known residence of Marie Spannhake, a missing girl. Jodi has a series of vivid nightmares wherein she sees Cameron and Janice walking back behind her apartment and torturing and killing Marie Spannhake in a basement, in lurid, SYFY-Channel-reenactment-ready-detail. She becomes convinced that it’s a “restless spirit’s plea for justice” from beyond the grave. She contacts the police and has been trying to help them find Marie Spannhake’s body. This hasn’t happened yet, despite her dreams giving her specific driving directions.
Jodi Foster is now working on her fourth book, to be called Haunted Chico, about Chico’s most haunted places. I ask her if she’ll take me to a few. She agrees. This is the story of that night, including a trip to 125 Parmac. This is Jodi Foster’s tour of Haunted Chico.
Thursday, October 16th, 9:32pm
When I first pull up to 832 Flume, Jodi Foster and Hannah, now 16-years-old, are already there, chitchatting with the neighbor. Jodi Foster is sweet-natured and giggly—not at all spooky—with long dark hair and a round face; Hannah is a typical teenager, blond and perpetually on her phone. I’ve got out my recording equipment, with a corded mic—looking like the platonic ideal of the “disbelieving journalist” who, in the movie, would be right in the middle of delivering a soliloquy on the impossibility of ghosts right as one bites his head off.
We’re all bundled up in preparation for a night outdoors. It’s dark and cold and moonless, with dim, soft-focus stars and a little breeze that intermittently kicks up the fall leaves and swirls them around.
“So, this is the house,” Jodi Foster says, pointing up at a house that really does look straight out of creepy house central casting. The house is tall, narrow, and very old, with peeling white paint, a “no trespassing” sign and, curiously, all the upper-story windows are boarded up or blacked out.
“Did you know this house was haunted?” Jodi asks the neighbor, whose name is Anna. Anna shakes her head with an expression that seems to say “and I’d really rather not know.”
“Ok,” Jodi says, “So the story is: this house was built in 1897. It was a doctor who lived here. He built the house for himself, his wife and his daughter. He was really overprotective of his daughter. He didn’t let her go out of the house much. She died in the house. And that’s who we think the picture is of. Hannah! Show him the picture!”
Hannah busts out her cellphone and shows me a picture of one of the upstairs windows with an odd blurry brown facey-looking something in it.
“See the face!?!?!” Hannah shouts.
“Uhhh… ” I say.
“A neighbor sent it to me.” Jodi says. “Then she called me and she was like ‘Oh my God what does this look like to you?!?!’ And I was like ‘it looks like a girl peeking through the window!’”
“Hmmm… ” I say.
“Anyways,” Jodi continues, “in 1970 there was a big murder here. I know this because I talked to the guy who owns the Tamale business—it was one of his relatives. [Writer’s note: this would be a good time to mention that this will rank among the most un-fact-checked articles of all times. You know that song by Afroman “Because I got high?” Well, I was gunna call some people and check to see if any of this shit was true, but then… You get my point. So take all of this with mucho grains of salt. OK, back to the story.] Apparently, there was a family dispute and his cousin murdered his uncle in the kitchen.”
The neighbor, Anna, a young mom in sweats, is looking increasingly stricken; her brow evermore furrowed by the minute. At this point the fully charged lithium battery in my very new, schmancy recording thingy dies, inexplicably, and I race over to the liquor store to get a four-pack of AAs, which it can use, too. I rush back, pop two in, and we get back to business.
“Another thing that’s creepy about this house,” Jodi says, pointing the yellow beam of her flashlight up at the side of the top floor, “is that, after the whole murder shenanigans, they blocked the entire upstairs off—I don’t know why. You can’t get in there from the inside or the outside. It’s been sealed up for over 30 years. See that—that used to be the way in.”
Jodi Foster’s flashlight beam is illuminating what indeed seems to be a patched-up former doorway. But then the beam weakens and dies out. “Oh great, now my battery is dead. They’re big batteries! And we just bought these today!”
“What the hell!” Hannah says. “That was a brand new battery.” Hannah goes and gets another flashlight.
“Watch the ghost shows,” Jodi instructs. “This always happens. Lights turn on and off and batteries die.”
“An inspector came by about a month ago,” the neighbor, Anna, cuts in, from the shadows next to her porch. “When the house sold. He went up on a ladder; got in through a window. I asked ‘em what was up there, cuz I was curious. He said the whole top floor was totally closed off, but that—it was weird—there was no spider webs, no vermins, no mold… just clean, like it’d been taken care of. It’s like somebody’d been up there recently, that’s what he told me. And there was a mattress with pillows and blankets, and some canned food with silverware. Like someone was staying. But of course… there wasn’t no one.”
We all giggle and acknowledge that this is, indeed, creepy. Why would there be a mattress and food in a sealed-off area? Why was the area sealed-off in the first place? Then Anna excuses herself, saying goodnight.
“All the people I’ve ever know who’ve lived here have had weird things happen to them—jewelry moving around, stuff like that. But the only creepy thing that happened to us, personally, with this place,” Jodi Foster says, “is that, about six years ago, the place was vacant, just like it is now—it’s vacant a lot—and we asked the landlady if we could make a haunted house in there, for Halloween, but also for Hannah’s birthday, which is the day after Halloween. It had been abandoned for a long time, so the landlady said yes. So we made a haunted house, and then… tell him what happened Hannah!”
“We were in the house just playing around,” Hannah begins. “My friends and I. Just playing little games. And then all of a sudden the doors and the windows slammed shut and locked at the same time. And we were screaming!”
“I was screaming and they were screaming let us out mommy!” Jodi Foster says, growing excited. “And then all of a sudden the doors decided to unlock themselves. And this was before we even knew that the house was haunted!” It occurs to me that so many creepy things happen in the world of Jodi Foster that this is just an event of minor creepiness; a passing anecdote. I suggest to Jodi that we sneak around the house and look inside.
“I’m scared, I don’t want to,” Jodi says, even as she moves along with me. There’s a strong musty smell emanating from the house. Jodi shines her beam in through the windows, concentric circles of dim yellow light reveal bare wood floors with piles of torn up molding with nails sticking out from it.
“Ah! A body!” Jodi screams suddenly, jumping back from the window. She shines her light back in. It’s just a rolled up carpet pad. We laugh. “This house really couldn’t be much creepier,” I say. And then, after maybe ten minutes of recording, my new batteries go dead too.
I follow Jodi Foster and Hannah’s white Kia Rio around to two more haunted places. The first is a seedy-looking downtown motel. The legend she tells as we stand outside the room in question is about some meth deal gone bad, a murder, and some sort of tweaker-ghost. But, for some reason, the proprietors aren’t down to let us disturb the tenants to see if there are any tweaker-ghosts.
Next, we make our way down into the Lindo Channel, down under the graffiti covered bridge, and onto the riverbed, the smooth, rounded stones crunching under our feet. Jodi Foster tells me that she used to work at the “Warm Line,” a support line ran by Butte County Mental Health, and that she kept being told the same story by the homeless people who called in.
“When I was working at The Warm Line,” Jodi explains, as she shines her flashlight down the dark, dry riverbed, casting bizarre shadows off of the exposed root-balls of river-trees, “I’d hear this story from different people who had this experience and it was really scary. And it goes like this: The people who come down here—or live down here—usually they’re a little bit drunk… or distraught. Then they see a woman that usually sits under the bridge. She has a tan-colored hat and it covers her face. She waves like this (Jodi indicates a beckoning, siren-like gesture), and so they follow her up the creek, here, and she walks ahead, and she keeps gesturing, and she takes them waaay up to this tree and… basically she disappears. I’ve heard this story over and over again.”
And just then, the second flashlight dies, and we’re down in the Lindo Channel in the dark night.
“Oh shit!” Jodi says. “Did you hear that? I heard something! Why did my flashlight die? See you’re a witness!” she says to me. They get the flashlight back on. (To be fair, I should point out that Hannah’s phone never dies, even though she is almost constantly narrating our night to some dude who she calls her “friend.”)
“When I came forward with my own experience,” Jodi Foster says, “—thinking I was crazy or whatever—that’s when all kinds of people came out of the woodworks to contact me and say ‘oh my gosh I’ve had a haunted experience too! I’m not crazy!”
After a little bit, she says, “Or maybe we’re all crazy!” and then she does her giggle. “But if you experience something that’s abnormal or paranormal, it’s important to know you’re not alone. That’s what I want people to know.”
We scramble our way past abandoned homeless encampments, back up to our cars. Jodi Foster starts to brainstorm which haunted place we should go to next. There are quite a few on her list.
“Don’t you think it’s time we went to 125 Parmac?” I say.
Jodi gives me a look. “You wanna go to Parmac?” she asks. She looks genuinely hesitant and unhappy about this proposition. Then my last set of batteries inexplicable dies—again—and I mumble “fuck” to myself, though I’m getting used to this.
“OK,” she says, finally. She tells me that she’s only been back there once since she ran out of the place yelling, “In the name of Jesus, leave this place!”
“Are you sure?” I ask.
“I’ll grit my teeth and… let’s go,” she says. And we get into our cars.
4. 11:12 PM.
The night is so dark. I follow the Kia to the somewhat ghetto-looking apartment complex at 125 Parmac. It’s directly next door to a big building with a glowing sign that reads: “BloodSource.” BloodSource is a place that stores gallons and gallons of human blood. For transfusions.
Because my recorder is now dead, I look in my trunk for some paper and something to write on. Luckily, there’s some construction paper that my four-year-old son had been drawing monsters on (he’s all pumped up for Halloween, and is frequently fighting imaginary monsters, yelling at them, and shooting at them with “arrows”), and one library book I left in my trunk for some reason: A big purple hardcover edition of The Brother’s Grimm folktales, for children.
We head into the courtyard. “I don’t like coming back to this complex,” Jodi tells me. “It still gives me anxiety.”
A couple of blond, ponytailed, sorority-type girls are going up some stairs.
“Excuse me,” I say, and then I explain what we’re doing and ask if they’ve noticed anything creepy.
“Just this weird rattling in the walls,” Ponytail #1 says.
“Yeah, that rattling was really creeping me out the other night,” Ponytail #2 says.
“You live up there?” Jodi asks, pointing.
The Ponytails nod.
“Ahhh!” screams Ponytail #1.
“Oh my God… ” exhales Ponytail #2.
Ponytail #1 is wearing a shirt that has been hand-cut down the front, to better ventilate her upper-chest region, and it reads: “Ask me about Cutco” and has an American flag. Ponytail #1 says she’s been selling Cutco knives for five years.
“Oh, those are really sharp, I hear,” I say. “Hey Jodi, how was the person below them murdered?”
“Stabbed,” Jodi says. “Yeah, the body was supposedly in there for days.”
The Ponytails do not look pleased.
“The other thing,” Ponytail #1 says, “is my friend, like, had me go to this palm reader cuz, like, she was supposed to be amazing. And the palm reader was spot on about so many things, but the one thing she kept repeating was that there was some bad energy in my living situation. And because she was right about so many things, I kinda, like, thought maybe I should move, but then I was like ‘no.’ I’m not going to let this woman dictate where I live. She kept trying to sell me a candle to get rid of it—the bad energy. It was kinda creeping me out. And then a couple days later someone told me about how this place was like supposedly haunted and I was, like, ‘maybe that’s what she was talking about?’”
At this point, a young man with red laces in his skater shoes, who looks like he’d weigh 120 pounds, max, if we dipped him in the apartment pool we’re standing next to, has joined us. “You’re the one from the show?” he asks Jodi, all excited like Jodi was Kim Kardashian. “That’s so cool!”
The young man explains that before he moved in the landlord told him that the previous tenant had died—that’s why the place was available—and when he looked online to find out how, he quickly stumbled onto Jodi’s story.
“You actually told the police where the body was buried, right?”
“Yep,” Jodi Foster says, though the cops didn’t actually find the body.
“I thought it was pretty badass!” the young man says. “I told my boss ‘I’m moving into a haunted apt!’ But he said, ‘well, I’m going to haunt you even more.’” We all laugh.
The Ponytails excuse themselves, looking rather disturbed, and the slight young man joins us as we walk over to #23.
“I’m dizzy right now,” Jodi says. “I don’t wanna walk over there, but I’m going to do it anyways.”
“I have chills mommy,”
Out in front of #23, Jodi makes the young man feel her goose bumps.
“This is where it all began. This is where the Sing and Snore Ernie doll talked, this is where I saw Cameron and Janice Hooker out back in my dreams, this is where I ran out screaming “In the name of Jesus!”
Then, as we’re leaving, we meet a couple who live in the apartment above #23. They don’t know anything about the apartment being haunted.
the dude, who’s name is Blake, tells me. Blake has fading pink hair dye and is wearing nothing but short-shorts, though it’s nearly midnight. “The spirit that’s in our apartment isn’t like haunted shit, it’s a dark spirit that’s been following me for two years.”
“I’m sensing that… were you into the dark arts?” Jodi Foster asks.
“Pretty much,” Blake says. “But I wasn’t taught by people.”
“Right, you were taught by the entities?” Jodi asks?
“I’ve been seeing demons since I was five-years-old,” Autumn—Blake’s girlfriend—says. She has faded hair dye, too. Then she tells us that she’s lived in haunted places all her life, with levitating TVs and dishes flying around, etc.
Blake, Autumn and Jodi discuss how to cast out demons, and the legitimacy of Ouija boards, things like that. Blake is all up on this shit. When we tell him about the haunted house on Flume, Blake tells us that she’s a “Jester Spirit.” “Those feed off of fear,” he says, “it was showing itself to induce fear.”
I don’t ascribe to the supernatural. But, does it really matter? What I’m quickly realizing is that so many people do: people all over this city believe that ghosts and angels and demons are communicating with them; telling them what to do; possessing their stuffed animals. Voices tell people to shoot up clinics and blow up markets, too. And isn’t that scary enough?
For some reason, Autumn tells us that tomorrow is Blake’s birthday.
I check the time, and it’s just a few minutes to midnight. “You mean, like, in five minutes?” I ask.
“Happy birthday, bro.” I say.