Friday, June 14, 2024

Meet the psychologist who became Mexico’s top ghost hunter

Antonio Zamudio, a paranormal investigator for over 25 years in Mexico, says the country is rich in ghost stories in part because its history “has been written in blood in all of its decades.”

Hernán Cortés’ translator, La Malinche, is said to haunt a phantom temple in Quechula; a headless version of Pancho Villa is said to haunt a hotel in Douglas, Arizona, smack up on the Mexican border. More recent ghost stories involve students killed at the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre and the 43 from Ayotzinapa who likely died in 2014.

It should be no surprise that ghost stories concentrate in the country’s oldest and largest cities. They especially abound in  Mexico City, where paranormal activity has been mentioned here since the early colonial period, including the first Spanish-language mention of La Llorona.

But attempts to scientifically prove or disprove such phenomena has a far spottier history. The last major researcher and believer was none other than the man who launched the Mexican Revolution, president Francisco I. Madero — a tragic figure in his own right.

Madero founded a society specifically related to the paranormal, but it dissipated after his death. For decades, the only organization like this was the still-in-existence Mexican Society for Skeptical Investigation, which does not focus only on the paranormal and leans heavily toward the debunking of stories.

Antonio Zamudio
Antonio Zamudio.

That is until psychologist Antonio Zamudio of Mexico City came upon the scene.

As you might expect, Zamudio’s relationship with the paranormal began with a personal experience, starting from when he was only four years old. His family had rented a house in the capital for a time.

Being the youngest, Zamudio slept with his parents. But that did not stop him from waking up in the early morning hours with the idea that someone was watching him. The sensation came from a window facing a tragaluz, an enclosed niche in the back of many Mexico City residences to allow for the entrance of light and air but with no access to the street.

Of course, his parents thought it was bad dreams until the other family members began seeing strange things. The main trauma that Zamudio experienced came one early morning while getting ready for school.

Drinking a warm beverage, he looked into the mirror to find the ghost of a woman with burned and peeling skin sitting next to him. The memory terrified him until he was about 10, when he started reading books about paranormal research.

That particular house has had a strong reputation for being haunted for many years, and even to this day, Zamudio has not yet done an investigation there.

Tour Insolito
Using a ouija board on the Mexico City Tour Insólito in Mexico City.

He continued his interest in psychology and parapsychology into his college years, enrolling at the National Autonomous University. However, there was friction between him and the psychology department over whether to take parapsychology seriously.

But he did meet a number of like-minded people and decided to go to Barcelona to study parapsychology and the occult.

Europe is relatively open-minded about such things and has organizations dedicated to scientifically examining claims. Zamudio asked himself, “Why not in Mexico?’”

So, when he returned, he first founded the Mexican Agency for Paranormal Investigation in 1994, followed by the National Center for Parascience in 1996.

The first group is dedicated to fieldwork, interviewing witnesses and trying to record evidence with various kinds of modern devices. They do not go in with the assumption that a story is true.

Some members specialize in software specifically designed to detect frauds. They have video blogged a number of their cases at a Spanish language site.

Haunted Latin America TV show poster
Advertisement for the Netflix series Zamudio co-hosted.

Zamudio and his organizations over the years have investigated and documented over 300 cases. He does not believe that such experiences are limited to those with some kind of gift but rather something that can happen to anyone.

Although Mexico City provides the potential for more than one lifetime of work, Zamudio does not limit his attention to the capital. There are associates with one or both organizations in just about all of Mexico’s states, as well as collaborations with people in Europe and Latin America and fieldwork in Colombia and other South American countries.

Another aspect is community engagement: this began with the Tour Insólito (Unusual or Strange Tour), whose main function is to take a group of people and enter a place noted for being haunted, going through with the visitors the same steps that their researchers do. This includes high-tech devices but also some classic tools such as Ouija boards and pendulums.

Before the pandemic, their tours were regularly scheduled in the Roma-Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City, but they had done others sporadically in Guadalajara and other cities. Zamudio hopes to return to the tours in March, including those in English.

His other outreach work is collaborating with Netflix. In 2021, he co-hosted a series called Haunted: Latin America, which focuses on cases in Mexico and Colombia. The first Mexican episode featured “The Evil House” of Apodaca, Nuevo León, basically the Amityville Horror of Mexico.

Zamudio emphasizes that while there is an element of drama to the episodes, all cases presented follow his organization’s standards for investigation. He currently is negotiating with Netflix on a new project but declined to reveal any of the details.

Mexican Agency for Paranormal Investigation logo
The logo of Zamudio’s Mexican Agency for Paranormal Investigation.

The purpose of these outreach efforts is not to convince people to believe in ghosts — and certainly not in any particular case — but rather to encourage people to be more open-minded about both the existence of the paranormal and the ability to research it scientifically.

• Have you ever seen or experienced something like Antonio Zamudio investigates? Share your story with us in the comments.

Leigh Thelmadatter arrived in Mexico 18 years ago and fell in love with the land and the culture in particular its handcrafts and art. She is the author of Mexican Cartonería: Paper, Paste and Fiesta (Schiffer 2019). Her culture column appears regularly on Mexico News Daily.

Have something to say? Paid Subscribers get all access to make & read comments.
Mexican pesos

Let’s talk about money: How to ‘pichar un baro’ in Mexico

Language expert Paulina Gerez is back to teach you all about how to talk about money (and spend it) in Mexico.
A smiling girl with clean water

How one nonprofit is cleaning up Mexico’s drinking water

Caminos de Agua is bringing safe, drinkable water back to vulnerable communities in Guanajuato.
Obnoxious man in a sombrero smoking a cigar

The American Know-It-All

We all know him, we all (barely) tolerate him, we should absolutely all ignore his advice.