At midnight in a Connecticut cemetery, the dead walk among the ruins. Tribal drums beat in the distance as paranormal investigator and rap provocateur Ryan Bond, better known in New Haven under the moniker Madecipha, strolls between graves, fingering an electromagnetic field detector, searching for the ghost of a bank robber murdered in 1899. Legend has it that one of the crook’s robberies went sideways after a bank was tipped off in advance. The robber was shot by a trigger-happy vigilante and buried in a grave marked only by XYZ on request of an anonymous woman who was reportedly spotted visiting the cemetery in all black for forty years afterwards.
Like the ghosts he hunts, Madecipha is a staple of New Haven folklore. He hunts ghosts, raps, and works out of an underground recording studio rumored to have exotic reptiles, eerily wandering the streets like a Rastafarian Peter Steele (if the Rastafarian aspect had been culturally appropriated by a white dude with an olive complexion). Faded tattoos of the occult cover his body and thick dreadlocks dangle below his waist.
During the investigation, our conversation range from the attractiveness of Marilyn Monroe’s ghost to Freudian musings about how even in death men play dick-measuring contests through tombstone height. Though we don’t find the XYZ gravesite, I do have my first nightmare in months that eerily parallels one my guide also had (what exactly it was I won’t divulge).
Bond became obsessed with the paranormal after reading about haunted folklore in Connecticut. The state has long been a magnet for the occult; the first New England witch hanging occurred in Hartford in 1647. Before the advent of antipsychotic drugs, Connecticut regularly absorbed an overflow of mentally ill patients in state-funded sanitariums. These abandoned insane asylums with histories of abusive practice are scattered throughout the countryside, along with ex-manufacturing plants (such as the former Remington Arms ammunition factory in Bridgeport), village ruins (Cornwall’s Dudleytown) and Native American burial grounds that resurface during construction projects.
Even the Green, New Haven’s historic downtown center, is situated on what used to be a graveyard, with an estimated 5,000 town residents buried there (including Benedict Arnold’s first wife and Yale’s founder Reverend James Pierpont). During Hurricane Sandy, a tree was uprooted with a skeleton intertwined in its roots from colonial times.
In 2001, Bond popped his ghost hunting cherry at Bara-Hack, an abandoned village in northeastern Connecticut. Like a crossover between The Blair Witch Project and A Nightmare on Elm Street, the first-time investigator (allegedly) came into contact with a demon.
“I flipped out and chilled at the Church, all day, every day, raking leaves, studying religion,” reflects Bond. “I had a dream it came to get me. It was like this monster with Freddy Krueger claws. I was sharpening a sword and we did battle. At the end, it went up and I ducked underneath and cut its head off. From that moment on, it left me alone.”
Since then, Bond has been more cautious with his trips. Though he’s hunted ghosts in every Connecticut castle, cemetery, and sanitarium rumored to have them, he abides by certain principles: “Never taunt demons.” “Be respectful.” And, “Have confidence.” He took classes from investigators and recorded his progress in a journal while approaching paranormal investigations as a science. “You can’t be an expert in the unknown,” he tells me. “There’s always going to be something you can’t answer.”