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Growing up in the Appalachian town of West Liberty, Kentucky, Nickell was a curious child whose parents indulged his obsessions.
When Nickell became interested in magic, his father, a postmaster and amateur magician, taught him some of the tricks that he knew.
He called himself Jim Collins and limped with a cane around the Indiana site for a few days, telling anyone who would listen about his ‘mother’s death’.
Nickell has used disguises several times in his work as a paranormal investigator appearing undercover, for example, as a séance attendee (left) at the spiritualist village, Camp Chesterfield, in Indiana He participated in a psychic reading at a church on the grounds where he was instructed to write down the names of loved ones who had died and a question.
He's held his own séance since 1996Nickell points toward scientifically explainable reasons for why people may think they’ve seen the supernatural.
A ghost could be the result of sleep paralysis, the traumatic grief of losing a loved one and the power of suggestion.
He did his last shows as a professional stage magician in 1973 because he began work as a private investigator Nickell’s first séance was in 1969 in Toronto for a CBC documentary called Houdini in Canada.
‘I was nearly on the verge of tears until I remembered that at that time my mother was still alive and wasn’t named Mrs Collins.
People call him a debunker but Nickell is unapologetic about trying to find the truth. He's pictured here at a 'Martian' bar in New York City for a 1999 BBC-produced series Nickell (pictured) is perhaps the world's only full-time paranormal investigator.
He’s been investigating hauntings since attending his first séance in 1969 and says he has never come across any evidence that would prove the existence of ghosts. He began to consider himself a skeptic of paranormal claims in 1969 when he attended his first séance as part of a CBC radio special, Houdini in Canada.
He dreamed of becoming a lot of things and, at 72, has become most of them.
He still counts his heroes as Harry Houdini and other magicians who used their magic talents to expose trickery.
And I felt so much better because I’d just caught another trickster.’In a field that’s commonly divided into ‘believers’ and ‘debunkers’ – people whose minds have been made up prior to inquiry – Nickell has gained international attention for being a ‘fair-minded investigator’.