The best haunted houses are supposed to be scary, but as a parent you shouldn’t have to worry about your child’s safety.
These seasonal businesses pop up everywhere this time of year, drawing thousands of families for Halloween fun and frights.
But have you ever given much thought to the people behind the make-up and the masks at a haunted house?
Consider the case of Joshua Stueckle.
Stueckle, a convicted sex offender from Bend, Ore., was arrested a year ago while on the job at a Haunted World in Boise, where he’d been hired to work as a horror actor.
“I met him in the beginning and I thought he might be a little odd but a lot of people that are really into Halloween sometimes are odd," said Scott Ethington, the owner of Haunted World.
Police say Stueckle, 29, had sex with two teenage girls, one of whom he met while working at Haunted World. He's now serving 30 years in prison.
Stueckle’s arrest while still in makeup from the haunted house also led to one of the more memorable and shared mug shots in recent memory.
As a result of this case, Haunted World now requires background checks when hiring anyone over 18.
Critics say if the haunted house had simply done a background check before hiring Stueckle, the incident could have possibly been avoided.
That led KATU’s investigative team to wonder which haunted houses in Oregon and Southwest Washington take that simple step, and more importantly: which don't?
Here are the results of our investigation looking at several prominent haunted houses:
8805 SW Canyon Ln., Portland, OR 97225
- Don’t do background checks
- Employee told Anna Canzano “pretty much everyone they work with is people they know so they’re like family.”
Underneath the Memorial Coliseum
- Operator David Edward Helfrey told Canzano he’s done only a handful of background checks going back 12 years and only on a case by case basis. He said he knows some of his actors have done time in prison, but not for crimes he says are violent, sexual in nature, or endangering children.
Haunted Ghost Town
3839 NE 122nd Avenue, Portland Oregon
- Adults and students volunteer with adult supervision. They have a policy that children are never unsupervised and parents who do the supervising have to be in pairs. Proceeds go toward school programs.
- After being contacted by KATU, operators are considering a more detailed volunteer sign-up process.
Milburn's Haunted Manor
11503 Broadacres Rd. NE, Hubbard, OR 97032
- Doesn't run background checks.
- Owner told Canzano he’s worked the last 8 to 9 years with drama clubs from local high schools and he does sit-down interviews with each student.
1940 North Victory Blvd., Portland OR 97217
7701 NE Vancouver Plaza Drive, Vancouver, WA 98662
- Just began doing background checks three years ago, after Portland police officer Bridget Sickon with the Sex Offender Registry Detail began sniffing around. Sickon said she was investigating community complaints about a sex offender, and his trail led right to Scream.
“In the course of that investigation, we determined he was volunteering out there. It isn't illegal, but we wanted to make sure the company knew this and were taking appropriate safety precautions, and they didn't know it at the time,” explained Sickon.
She said SCREAM did the right things by taking corrective action and vetting its volunteers more carefully. Still, the event producer Henry Miller was clearly uncomfortable when we started asking questions about this subject, referring us to someone else within the organization.
Some things to inquire about if you're headed to a Haunted House:
- Call ahead and ask about its hiring policy for employees and volunteers
- Ask if the haunted house do background checks on employees and volunteers?
- Ask about the rules for actors and guests while on site (Many haunted houses like SCREAM Portland don’t allow characters to touch the guests besides accidentally brushing again them)