He has battled malevolent spirits in clashes which would not look out of place in the most disturbing of horror movies.
Hull exorcist Ralph Keeton has watched a woman burst into flames in front of him and has been thrown down the stairs by an evil spirit.
His attempts to clear spirits from homes have even inspired a documentary by none other than Steven Spielberg.
Now 60, Ralph has embarked on a 40-plus year career which really took off when he helped solve a murder case in Holland.
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Ralph now runs his own museum at the Annison funeral parlour building in Witham called the Extraordinarium and also has organised local ghost walks
Sceptics will certainly laugh in derision about the stories he can tell and he doesn’t blame them.
“I got involved in this when I was a really young boy,” he said. I had this group of friends I could see, hear and talk to but they weren’t simply imaginary.
“That continued and I went to university in Blackpool and I would tell people and have a laugh about it.”
Spirits help solve murder
But Ralph realised his gift could be a lot more than a party trick when he took a trip abroad.
“It all became serious when I went to Holland in 1990 and helped solve a murder,” he said.
“I was chatting to a group of people about something I experienced in relation to a murder and I was overheard by a policeman.
“He started quizzing me and I was then taken to a police station. Luckily an English officer understood what was happening.
“I described to them what the voice of the energy form had told me about a blossoming tree by a lake. It led them to the spot where they found a knife which turned out to be the murder weapon.
“I don’t have long conversations with these spirits or forms. It is really just snippets of five or six words which I have to piece together.
“When I returned to the UK I got involved with ghost hunting teams and it went from there.
“I have been a teacher and a designer in the past and never thought this would become a career. This vocation has taken me to places all over the world.
Negotiate rather than banish
But Ralph, who runs his own exorcism and medium business, is not a ghost hunter. He tends to turn up once the presence is very much established.
“I veered more towards carrying out clearances or what other people term exorcisms,” he explained
“Most people’s perceptions of exorcisms of the religious kinds where prayers are said, holy water splashed around and the spirit banished.
Watch: Do ghosts exist?
“But what I do is a little different. I go into the room and ask them what they want, it is a negotiation.
“Nine out of ten times the people in the property have upset the energies there, perhaps by ignoring them.
“If you call in a priest you might not get to the bottom of what has been happening.”
Unlike some other paranormal teams and ghost hunters, Ralph does not use lots of tech, such as voice boxes and electric magnetic field detectors, but just uses his talents for connecting with spirits.
“Some equipment can be useful to indicate if something is there but I can usually detect it anyway,” he said. “But you are always learning on the job and we all make mistakes.
“I do get scared I admit and if I feel a presence is stronger than me then I will walk out and collect my thoughts before trying again. You need to build up confidence.”
The majority of exorcisms or connections with ghosts or the spirit world are usually fairly gentle but, every now and again, it can be dramatic and even dangerous.
“Most energies or spirits are relatively benevolent but one in around 2,000 are pure evil and that is when you enter the realms of what sounds like science fiction,” Ralph said.
“There was a house in Scarborough with a mum who had two young children. They started hearing banging and rattling.
“The mum thought it was the wind so closed the doors and windows even though it was a calm night.
“Then doors started opening and slamming shut on their own and all hell kicked off.
“Furniture began to move, there were gas smells and the noise of running water. The roof began to cave in, like it was going to collapse.
“I got a call from one of her friends and I jumped in the car and went over.”
Even Ralph was shocked by what greeted him.
“When I arrived fire crews were already there and the house was a wreck,” he recalled. “The firefighters had to smash the door to the living room as it simply wouldn’t open despite being quite flimsy.
“I looked around and there were gouges in the wall which was brick. I just knew there was evil inside.
“I noticed this form. It was like a demon. I get a sense like static electricity which tingles and shocks.
“I asked for other spirits to come forward and take the demon away. It is difficult to describe how this happens but it is like a conference call.
“Some people call these spirits ghosts but they are more like a form of energy.”
Thrown down the stairs
Ralph has even been physically harmed during some exorcisms.
“There have been one or two cases where I have even been physically manhandled,” he said.
“I went to a property in Hull a few months ago after being called by a paranormal team.
“The family spoke to me of hearing scratching and growling while objects were being gently but deliberately moved.
“Then knives in the kitchen stood on their points and began spinning. Something this disturbing is usually a test by the presence to see how scared you get.
“I then began to see the spirit and it was a grotesque-looking black shape, almost ghoulish in appearance.
“I knew it could do harm. I tried talking to it but it lifted objects and began tossing them in my direction.
“It then ran up the stairs and I followed it but it threw me down them.
“I was injured but I didn’t feel it at the time. I knew I had to deal with it. I actually managed to get my hands on it and I could feel it. I then called on other energies to come and take it away.
“I came away with teeth marks, scratches and bruises.
“The key is having big belief in what you do. If you have that then you will win.”
‘She burst into flames in front of me’
But that is not the most shocking case Ralph has dealt with in Hull.
“The worst case was when I witnessed a woman go up in flames,” he said. “Again, this was in Hull a couple of years ago.
“A young family had moved into a new-build property. Initially, they heard the usual bumps and bangs which they put down to the new house settling.
“Then, at night, they began hearing what seemed like people walking around.
“It began to escalate and they eventually got the local priest to come round. He had stones thrown at him but they didn’t even know where these stones had come from.
“I was then called and I quickly realised the presence was evil. The house next door almost imploded. The walls and ceiling had buckled in.
“It was a devilish energy and it even pulled the radiators off the wall. There was also witchcraft signs. Not typical pentagons but ancient signs so I knew we were dealing with something very old.
“I asked the family back in to help deal with it. I was with the mum in the kitchen when she burst into flames.
“I quickly smothered her and put them out. She suffered burn injuries but recovered.
“It took me a week on and off to clear out the presence. Sometimes it can be a game of cat and mouse and they are very intelligent.
“A genuinely evil presence is very rare but, every now and again, they are simply malevolent. They are almost like the psychopaths of the spirit world.
“But there has not been a recorded case of a spirit or poltergeist directly killing anyone. Those that are evil are more interested in torture.”
One of the most famous and disturbing cases Ralph was involved in was at a house in Hartlepool in the early 2000s which inspired a documentary by Steven Spielberg called Monster House and then later the animation movie of the same name.
“The family were actually very sceptical and poo-pooed the idea a spirit was responsible at first,” he recalled.
“But they suffered 25 years of terror and witnessed ghostly figures of adults and kids walking through the walls.
“There were a number of energies at the house. They were too strong and I had to abandon my attempts to clear them.
“Normally, it is just one spirit and I can call on others to outnumber it and take it away. But there were too many.
“Eventually, the property was sealed off. That is the only time I have admitted defeat.”
Ralph says spirits are not limited to stalking dark and dingy ancient places.
“People always think of spirits and ghosts haunting very old houses, castles and cemeteries but they can be anywhere and move around,” he explained
“I get 30 emails every day from people asking me to perform an exorcism. The vast majority can be explained away quickly.
“It is usually a case of people reading into something which isn’t there. Sometimes your circumstances, such as suffering a recent bereavement, leads you to interpret something in this way.
“In my line of work you deal with people from all religious backgrounds and belief systems.
“I had to expand my knowledge as it is important to understand these beliefs.
“I sometimes work with a team of people and this includes a priest and a scientist.”
While Ralph has certainly been in the spotlight at times and has appeared on television, the majority of his work is out of the limelight.
“We all know of people like Derek Acorah,” he said, “but I’m not driven by the publicity. Some of my work clearly attracts media attention but much of what I do is out of the public eye.
“I have been involved in thousands of cases over my 40-odd year career but I have only been involved with about 12 at the top end of evil. I don’t want to scare monger, truly malevolent spirits are very rare.
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“It is very easy to dismiss these spirits, energies, ghosts or whatever you want to call them, until it happens to you.
“I welcome sceptics and it is healthy to question things. I certainly don’t expect everyone to believe what has happened and what I have witnessed.
“But it can happen to the poorest or the richest, a medium or a scientist.
“A lot of what I describe is difficult to believe and very bizarre. Most people believe it is all fictitious.
“But if something like this starts happening to you, you will know about it and it can be terrifying.”
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