For Tim Heckman, life is all about finding answers. Not just any answers. The big answers.
Heckman, 40, has been devoting himself to researching all things unusual.
His avocation has taken him to 25 states, including thousands of miles of travel this year alone.
"First off I drove 500 miles to investigate the Mothman Incident in Point Pleasant, West Virginia," says Heckman. "Also, the Flatwoods Monster in West Virginia ... then to investigate the truth of the Jersey Devil. We also drove to Salt Fork State Park in Ohio to investigate The Grass Man, a Bigfoot-type creature."
In the past, he's looked into strange happenings at places such as Gettysburg's Farnsworth House and the supposed hauntings of the legendary French Azilum. Located between Wyalusing and Towanda in Bradford County, the French Azilum was a planned settlement for refugees fleeing the French Revolution. Its 40 or more houses were erected so that Queen Marie Antoinette and members of the Royal Family might find refuge.
"It's the only place I couldn't debunk a voice," says Heckman, explaining that the team repeatedly heard a voice ask: "Somebody there?"
For Heckman, it's just part of his pursuits as one of the area's most ardent paranormal investigators. For his, it's been a journey.
Years ago, Heckman was associated with Coal Region Ghostbusters, later Pennsylvania Paranormal Truth.
But today, he's part of a high-energy team called the UFO Research Center of Pennsylvania (UFORCOP).
The group is comprised of 20 seasoned investigators based in central Pennsylvania who search for the truth. They're serious about the job. Two of the researchers are retired state troopers.
Their mission statement is: "to conduct responsible investigations using factual and unbiased evidence gathering techniques to evaluate and investigate the UFO, paranormal, cryptozoology and abduction phenomenon in the state of Pennsylvania."
In other words, they pursue the unknown, and just about anything else that happens to have a high degree of strangeness.
The group is relatively new and Heckman is a perfect fit as he always has tried to take the high road when investigating the unexplained.
"I approach crime scenes and let the evidence tell the story," says Heckman, an imposing figure at 6'2". Out of respect for the deceased, Heckman avoids doing research in cemeteries. But virtually all other sites are fair game.
Heckman uses a variety of audio and video equipment including multiple screen TVs and cables, Orbital listening devices and night-vision headgear. He's often joined by fellow investigator Ed Miller, Tamaqua, or Troy Noll, Reading. The results they come up with are often surprising.
"A lot of it is easy to prove. We want to get at the truth. But a lot of people don't want to know the truth. For instance, the Jersey Devil, that was a myth," says Heckman, employed in the public safety profession.
In his hometown, Heckman has investigated reported hauntings at several locations. He keeps journals of the results.
He doesn't believe the 1874 Tamaqua train station is actually haunted despite reports. But he's not so sure about the Elks Lodge on West Broad Street. He says banging noises at that site are still unexplained, and there still might be some additional research needed at the Italian Club building, too.
But Heckman's headline gig – and lifetime goal – happened earlier this year when he and Miller flew to Nevada to check out mysterious Area 51. It turned out to be a hair-raising experience.
"This was the best of the best of all 25 states I investigated in," he says.
Area 51 is a name used in official CIA documents since 1967 or earlier for a hidden military base 83 miles northwest of downtown Las Vegas. The location reportedly includes a secret military airfield. The base's primary purpose is to support development and testing of experimental aircraft and weapons systems. The base lies within the United States Air Force's expansive Nevada Test and Training Range.
The site is so hush-hush that officials will deny knowledge of it. Souvenir T-shirts sold at a Nevada casino read: "Area 51 – it doesn't exist and I wasn't there."
"The government, to this day, will tell that it does not exist," says Heckman. "We arrived in Vegas airport and from there it's about a three-hour drive North. Talk about in the middle of no where. We had reservations to stay at the famous Little A'Le'Inn, located in Rachel, NV. On our way to Rachel you need to stop at Alamo. This is the last stop to fuel up your car and to get any food you will need for the last 50 miles. When we left Alamo we had go about five miles and then we made a left turn. At that point we were on a highway they call the Extraterrestrial Highway. About an hour later we arrived in Rachel, at about 3 a.m., a place of only about 60 people and the only thing there that I could see is The Little A'Le'Inn, and about 6 trailers. We stayed in one of the trailers.
"The next morning we awoke and headed to the Inn to check it out. The Little A'Le'Inn is a restaurant /bar. It is only a little place. I was standing in the bar talking to the owner and the next I knew the building and the ground, for that matter, started to shake and then one sonic boom and then another. I jumped. I thought the building was going to come down. This was the loudest thing I have ever heard. The owner there said they were just doing some testing. I asked how often does that occur. She told me some times all day, and then sometimes 'we don't hear it for over a few weeks or even months.'
"Later that day we drove down to a black mailbox that sits right on the highway. When you turn on that dirty, sandy road you are on Groom Lake Road. This is one of the entrances into Area 51. We drove that road for about 45 minutes and then you could see, in the distance, a white pickup truck on top of the hill. This is Area 51's security. Who they are, no one seems to know, meaning are they government or are they some type of private security. No one knows.
"As we went farther down the dirt road we could see a sign. It read No Trespassing. This is one of about 13 entrances into Area 51. If you go beyond this point you will be arrested, fined or possibly shot. I really wouldn't want to find out. We turned around at this point and headed back to the main road."
Heckman said sonic booms and shaking continued, even at a local restaurant.
"Some of the patrons were having a fit due to the fact that whatever they are flying from Area 51, they are not to fly close to towns or villages."
Heckman waited until dark and then brought out his night-vision gear.
"When I looked into the view finder, it was like looking into another world. You could see planes in formation. Some planes were doing maneuvers. Also, there was no sound with these planes and strange lights were appearing in the sky. At that point this guy told us he could hear communication down in the desert near the entrance to Area 51. I told him can he go with us and show me. I drove toward the black mailbox and turned onto Groom Lake Road. We saw a fast-moving light that seemed to be jumping from right to left. This was like watching fireworks on Fourth of July, the only difference – these lights were of unknown origin. We headed down toward the entrance and this time we could see two white trucks waiting on top of the hill. I stopped right before the No Trespassing sign ... we could see trucks slowly coming toward us."
At that point, Heckman retreated, but was followed.
''I drove to the entrance back near the black mail box. I got out and all I saw was black. I thought the white trucks had left us alone. I could not see anything with the naked eye. I got my night vision goggles and put them on. About a quarter mile up the road I could see a bright light as it was sitting on the road or maybe hovering above the road. The funny thing is I didn't hear a sound. We were being watched. We did not go back there anymore."
Heckman isn't sure what is taking place at Area 51, a site that continues to baffle.
He also checkered out Death Valley, Ca., in a preliminary visit, as that state has the most UFO sightings in the U. S.
In the meantime, his schedule just keep getting busier, he says.
"We have a lot of things being investigated in Pennsylvania along with NY, Ohio, Maryland, and in September we'll be in St Louis, Mo." Plus, things always get hectic at Halloween, which is just around the corner."
But that's how it is when a man has a passion for the unresolved.
If there's a mystery, Tamaqua's Sherlock Holmes will try to find an answer. Not just any answer. But the big answer. The real one. And that makes all the difference, he says.
"I investigate the unusual and mysterious to seek out the truth."