As soon as the family had settled into the three-bedroom ranch at the corner of Terrace and Lowell avenues on March 1, they began to suspect they were not its only tenants.
The family would come home and find their clothes and towels ejected from the closets and strewn over the floors. Doors would creak open and slam closed in unoccupied areas of the house. Lights switched on and off without human intervention. At night, footsteps could be heard from the kitchen after everyone was tucked in and unintelligible whispering seemed to fade in and out of thin air, according to the couple.
The most disturbing and consistent phenomenon, they claim, is the sound that comes through the vents to the basement — the muffled din of something lumbering seven feet below their feet.
Last week, Chinchilla, 37, and Callan, 36, filed a lawsuit in state Superior Court against their landlord, Dr. Richard Lopez, a well-known orthodontist in Ocean County whose practice is adjacent to the house. Chinchilla and Callan want Lopez to return to them a $2,250 security deposit that the couple had put down on the rental house in February. A hearing before Judge Steven F. Nemeth is expected at the end of April.
In response, Lopez filed a counter suit against the couple for breaking their one-year lease. He claims the couple is using the spectre of “paranormal activity” as a cover for personal financial troubles, which he contends have forced Chinchilla and Callan to conclude, after the fact, they cannot afford the $1,500 monthly rent.
Lopez’s attorney, David A. Semanchik, said his client has been renting the house at 100 Terrace Ave. to tenants for more than 10 years and this is the first time anyone has claimed the house is haunted.
“Frankly, there is something else going on,” Semanchik said Tuesday. “She is a single mom, she has this fiancé living with her. I think she is in over her head and she can’t afford the rent. She needed to show her ex, the father of her kids, that she has a good place for them to live.”
If that were true, Callan said, why would her family have fled the house one week after moving in, when the rent was paid up to the end of the month?
Since March 13, the couple, her teenage daughter and 6-year-old son, have all been living in a single motel room in Point Pleasant Beach.
“I would not have given anyone $4,000 (deposit and rent) to stay somewhere, just to pick up and leave seven days later,” Callan said. “I would not have hired a moving truck, packed and unpacked, had my mother take off time from work to watch the kids. The whole idea was to get a nice, big home for the kids.
“But there’s no way I’m going back there,” she said.
The family claims their lives would be in mortal danger if they attempted to move back into the house. The ordeal also has taken a toll on Chinchilla’s health. He was briefly hospitalized for panic attacks associated with his experiences inside the home.
In 1976, similar accusations followed George and Kathy Lutz when they claimed their family had been driven by supernatural forces from their new home in Amityville, N.Y. after 28 days. A book about their experiences entitled, “The Amityville Horror,” was later turned into a 1979 movie filmed in Toms River, starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder. In that case, the Lutzes were accused of inventing their frightening experiences because of an inability to pay the mortgage.
Chinchilla said he and his fiancée initially applied logic and common sense to what was happening. At first, they ignored the peculiar occurrences. It takes time getting used to all houses. Could be the boiler or maybe the central air conditioning, they assured each other.
However, such rationalism failed them after the events of March 10 — the night the family fled the house. Chinchilla and Callan had settled into bed to watch television when he said his attention was drawn to a tapping noise against the set. After having spent the past week trying to be a voice of reason, he said he just ignored it. There had to be a rational explanation.
A short time later, Chinchilla felt a tug on the sheets over him and watched in bewilderment as the bedclothes began to slide off him. He then felt an invisible hand land on his arm. Callan, who was next to him at the time, claims she saw what looked like a shapeless dark apparition in the bedroom.
“I don't believe in this stuff,” said Chinchilla, who makes such statements even as he recounted his own experiences with phantom hands and unexplained noises.
“We're living in it,” Callan interjected, who explained she is completely convinced the house is not merely haunted, but is being subjected to the worst kind of haunting — a demonic possession.
A pastor, Terence Sullivan of the Element Church in North Brunswick, who has counseled the family through the ordeal and even blessed the house, came to such a conclusion.
The family has gone back to the house. Callan even showed off welts and sores on her person that she contends she suffered as a result of return visits to the house to collect some of their belongings. She also has been back to accompany two separate paranormal investigative teams she contacted for help and has provided a tour to a reporter and photographer from the Asbury Park Press.
Nick Carlson, an investigator with the Shore Paranormal Research Society of Toms River, said the results of their investigation into the house on Terrace Avenue are inconclusive. While there is evidence of paranormal activity in the home, based on the data his team collected, the facts suggest a residual haunting from the past associated with a significant release of psychic energy, but not an intelligence.
Marianne Brigando, co-founder of NJ Paranormal Investigators of Old Bridge, said that group’s findings confirms the house is the site of an active or intelligent haunting, one level above a residual haunting.
“We were shocked,” Brigando said. “Out of all of the investigations we have done, this is where we came up with the most concrete evidence (of the paranormal) in close to 20 investigations.”
Though equipped with five cameras, electronic voice phenomena recorders and electromagnetic field meters — top of the line ghost-busting tools — definitive proof of an afterlife came down to a standard-issue flashlight. Brigando said something, she is not certain what, used the on and off switch to communicate with her investigative team by flashing “yes” and “no” responses. One burst of light for “no,” two bursts of light for “yes.”
“Do you know Josue? ... No. Do you know Michele? ... No. ... Do you know that you are dead? ... No answer. That was the only question in which there was no response,” Brigando said.
All of this has been captured on video but there are still several hours of audio recordings to be listened to before her team makes the data public, she said.
“We believe it is somebody that has passed away and not passed on yet,” Brigando said. “Given that there is no history at the house, we would have to say it’s connected to Michele. The flashlight answered specifically to Michele. ... That we cannot explain.”
A personal haunting could suggest the work of a demon, the worst kind of haunting, Brigando said. However, there is no other indication that a demon is present, and the family is adamant that nothing has followed them to the motel. However, Callan said she is convinced there is a demon in the Terrace Avenue house.
Carlson said his team, which visited the house first, recorded female laughter and a matching voice that seemed to quip, “I hate you,” in a secured bedroom. Video evidence shows bowling pins in a recreation room falling over while the infrared cameras were recording.
“This we can't figure out, the (audio) recordings show it is residual,” said Carlson, who explained more work needed to be done in the house.
The 1,524-square-foot ranch was built in 1959 and has had three different owners, according to municipal tax records. Lopez has owned the house since 1995 and the last tenant, before Chinchilla and Callan, lived in the house for about one year before moving out, the couple said.
The house sits across the street from Monsignor Donovan High School and St. Joseph’s Grade School in Toms River, which is part of the parish grounds of St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church. The property is on one of the busiest jughandles in Toms River, merging eastbound traffic on Route 37 with northbound traffic on Hooper Avenue.
“This has been a horrific nightmare for us,” Callan said.