Larry Lawson spent his career in law enforcement investigating crimes.
In retirement, using those same skills, he’s seeking out evidence of paranormal activity through Indian River Hauntings historical ghost tours.
“You’d be surprised by how many cops are paranormal investigators on the side,” Lawson told me. “This is truly an extension for a lot of us for what we do.”
In 1980, when he was starting his career as a 20-year-old at the Dade County Jail, he saw his first full-bodied apparition.
“I saw a figure walking down along the perimeter of one of the cell blocks,” Lawson said. “This particular event always stayed with me.”
Lawson, now 59, saw a lot of “crazy things at night” during the next three decades of his career.
He became a road patrol deputy for the Delray Beach and Port St. Lucie police departments and worked for the Martin County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the State Attorney’s Office in Fort Pierce as an investigator. He also was a longtime director of the police academy at Indian River State College, but most of his field work was as a detective.
Nothing too wild happened to him during that time, but it wasn’t a rare occurrence to respond to a burglary call with motion inside a home — only to find all the doors were locked and no one was there.
He retired in 2013 but went back to work as an officer for the Fellsmere Police Department.
“By this time, I had already been investigating the paranormal,” Lawson said. “People out there heard what I did, and they started telling me about things in Fellsmere.”
So, he brought his team from the Florida Bureau of Paranormal Investigation, which he created in 2011, to the western area to check it out.
“Fellsmere’s nuts (with) paranormal activity,” Lawson said.
He started doing public tours and events in Fellsmere, took over a Vero Beach historical ghost tour and then added a Sebastian tour.
“You have to love and embrace history for any of this to make sense,” Lawson said. “I love everything about Indian River County and its history, and I wanted to make sure folks learn about the history.”
To create a tour, he learns the history of an area through research. The paranormal side comes from talking to people and hearing their stories, as well as getting his own firsthand accounts.
“If I’m going to talk about a ghost in this building, I want to go in there and investigate it,” Lawson said. “The last thing I want to do is tell somebody something that’s not true. I want to give them actual stuff. I want to tell them what we got.”
The Vero Beach tour starts at the Driftwood Inn and travels along to Humiston Park and Sexton Plaza before it returns to the Driftwood. He’s currently working on re-tooling the Sebastian tour.
The Fellsmere tour, which he calls his “ghostiest” tour, starts at the Old Fellsmere School building on the City Hall complex and continues to Marsh Landing, the old Fellsmere Inn and the Marian Fell Library before it returns to the complex. The city has given him permission to investigate old buildings.
“They know that I love Fellsmere,” Lawson said, “and I will do anything to preserve history there and protect the city.”
One of the stories told at the Old Fellsmere School came from a member of the cleaning staff, who saw a boy sitting on the steps and wearing old-time clothing. She also reported pebbles being thrown at her, her broom being grabbed and her stuff being moved.
Lawson took his group to investigate. He was down in the basement with others when they heard someone coming down the stairs and rattle the doorknob. Everyone turned to look, but no one entered the room.
He walked upstairs and confirmed it wasn’t the team doing an investigation. In fact, the team told him to listen to the electronic voice phenomena (EVP) session just recorded in the auditorium on the third floor.
On the recording, the team asked the ghost Lawson believes is named “Billy” if this is his favorite room.
“Clear as a bell, you hear a young boy say, ‘yes, sir,’ ” Lawson said. “It’s just one of the many stories we’ve gotten in that place.”
I got a taste of Lawson’s tours at the third annual Treasure Coast History Festival in downtown Fort Pierce, which is ripe with haunted history. Not only does he want to add more tours throughout the year, he also wants to expand to the area he once worked.
“I’m dying to get into Fort Pierce,” Lawson said — no pun intended.
He’s doing more than the historical tours to get people interested in the paranormal. He’s added Paranormal 101 classes, as well as a dinner and a ghost hunt where he gives a presentation about the paranormal before participants investigate different buildings.
While TV shows and movies put paranormal activity on the map, he said, they also have given a false impression.
“I’ve wanted to teach and show people what it really was,” Lawson said.
The walking tours, which last about two hours, happen once or twice per month, but he’s been known to throw together a tour last minute if there’s a group of at least five people. Groups typically have six to eight people, which Lawson prefers so he can interact with a smaller crowd, but he’s had a group as big as 30 people.
Tickets are $15 for ages 12 and older and $7 for ages 6-11. The tours aren’t catered to children, but he welcomes families. Nothing will jump out and scare kids, but they need to have an interest in history or they could get bored. It’s up to parents to decide.
“I have no desire to scare the pants off people,” Lawson said, “but we do talk about ghosts.”
People often ask Lawson how he could believe in something like paranormal activity as a law enforcement officer.
He responds with this question: if your house was burglarized, would you rather have a detective say what probably happened or look at all the evidence and decide based upon that?
What he does isn’t spooky, silly or sensationalized; it’s skeptical and objective.
“Our group is evidence based,” Lawson said. “We’re going to where the evidence takes us.”
Indian River Hauntings
What: Fellsmere, Vero Beach and Sebastian ghost tours
Cost: $15 for ages 12 and older, $7 for ages 6-11
When: Check event calendar online
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