Investigating Salt Lake City's 'haunted' Capitol Theatre
TV • Ghost-hunting show interviews police officers and staff about what they have seen.
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"Wicked" will be moving out of the Capitol Theatre after the Aug. 26 show. But something wicked will remain behind, according to some of the people who have worked in the building.

Ghosts. Spirits. A malevolent force, perhaps. Or maybe a long-dead teenager seeking attention.

Dave Murphy, a Salt Lake County sheriff's deputy who worked security in the building, said he thought stories of hauntings were, well, "a load of crap" until he "saw dark shadows moving through walls."

He recalled hearing doors slam with such force that windows vibrated when there was nobody in the building with him. "I saw a woman dressed in early 1900s clothes," Murphy said. "She walked right past me as I sat in the control room. My jaw dropped."

Murphy, other police officers and theater staff tell their stories in the Wednesday, Aug. 22 episode of "Paranormal Witness," which airs on Syfy at 8 and 10 p.m.

Unlike other ghost-hunting shows, Murphy was intrigued by this one because many of the witnesses are in law enforcement. "I like the way they don't make officers look like imbeciles or the hillbilly with the missing teeth kind of thing," he said.

That's based on the show's strategy, said producer Mark Lewis. "What we search for is the most credible interviewees we can possibly find."

The episode focusing on the Capitol Theatre was a stand-out story because three police officers were the main contributors. "They don't come more credible than that," Lewis said.

Among those interviewed is Blair Fuller, the administrative and fiscal manager of the Salt Lake County Center for the Arts, who first experienced something otherworldly in the building in 1997. While working late at night, he found the elevator operating on its own, and overhead file doors swinging open about two or three inches, and then slamming shut.

Still, he never felt menaced. "In my experience, it's almost like a teenager trying to get some attention," Fuller said. "And once you acknowledge that, it stops. But it took me an hour-and-a-half to get to that point."

As it turns out, a 17-year-old usher was killed in a fire at the theater back in 1947, and Fuller suspects it might be his ghost haunting the theater.

Murphy, on the other hand, had "menacing" encounters. "Toward the end, they wanted me out of that building for whatever reason," he said. At one point he was "attacked" by the black shadows. "It felt just like I got a punch in the chest. Literally, I could not talk," he said. "Whatever it was, it had the power to shut me up."

Both men say they've talked to dozens of others who have encountered something supernatural. "I'd heard stories, but until it happens to you there is that disbelief," Fuller said. "As soon as it happens to you, there's a complete shift of attitude."

Fuller still works down the hall from a men's room that's a center of paranormal encounters.

"Let me give you some tips," Lewis advises Capitol Theatre patrons. "Stay away from the men's room on the third floor. Don't go down to the basement. And whatever you do, don't get on an elevator."

Murphy said he might return to the theater for a performance, "but would I work there? No. My nerves were shot. Some nights I would be shaking so bad it would take me hours before I would unwind," he said. "A lot of people think I'm crazy, but I know what I saw."

spierce@sltrib.com Tribune file photo

Haunted venue?

The Capitol Theatre, at 50 W. 200 South in Salt Lake City, was constructed in 1912-13 as part of the Orpheum Theatre Chain. The building was remodeled in 1929 as a motion picture house. In 1976 it was purchased by Salt Lake County and restored as a performing arts center. It's on the National Register of Historic Places.