7/28/2014

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KATU Investigators

Haunted houses: Who are the people working there?

Haunted houses: Who are the people working there?

PORTLAND, Ore. - Haunted houses can be fun but what if background checks aren't done on the people who are there to make you scream? You could end up with some bad folks that have no business being around children.

Our investigative team began digging into this matter last year around Halloween and we revealed that several haunted houses in our area didn't do background checks of any kind on employees and volunteers. On Your Side Investigator Anna Canzano circled back to see if anything changed. Here's what she found out:

Scream is aptly named - even the toughest guest can't help but get scared. But this year, as it's done the last four years, the haunted house takes an extra measure to ensure the monsters aren't actual predators.

"Everybody that comes through our door, that signs our volunteer waiver agreement, signs an agreement that they will submit to a background check - a full background check. Even kids that are under 18," said Keith Meyer.

Not all places bother, though. Haunted World in Boise didn't last year and they wound up hiring a convicted sex offender from Bend as a horror actor. Joshua Stueckle, who was nearly 30 years old at the time, had sex with two teenage girls, one of whom he met while working there. He is now serving 30 years in prison. Haunted World now does background checks for anyone over 18 as part of their hiring process.

The Haunted Ghost Town in Northeast Portland is one of several haunted houses we contacted last year that told us they didn't do background checks, but felt it was an important change they ought to make.

The problem is, the event is a fundraiser for Parkrose High School and doing background checks at $25 a head per volunteer would cut deeply into the money intended to help kids.

So we offered to help. We contacted the Oregon State Police Sex Offender Registry Unit in Salem. They're the folks who keep track of the 25,000 sex offenders who are required to register with the state. And they offered to run the names of The Haunted Ghost Town volunteers for free.

Another haunt we featured last year changed their ways too. The owner of Milburn's Haunted Manor in Hubbard says thanks to our inquiries, he has set up a system for screening his volunteers online. He wrote "Thank you for bringing this issue to the forefront. Our volunteers' safety is very important to us. Having this new screening process will add some additional peace of mind."

Other haunted houses have been less cooperative. Fright Town at the Memorial Coliseum told us last year they only do background checks on a case-by-case basis. They never even bothered to call or write us back.

And what about the 13th Door in Southwest Portland? Last year, an employee told us "they don't do background checks and pretty much everyone they work with is people they know, so they're like family."

This year, 13th Door is operating in Beaverton on Murray Boulevard. The operator claims we misquoted them in our first report, which is not true. He insists they did background checks last year and will do so again this year. The operator then hung up on us.

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