Bagans, host of "Ghost Adventures," embodies the new ghost-hunter-with-an-attitude persona. He often taunts ghosts during his investigations ("You want us; you got us"), and one of his most memorable scenes came when he took off his shirt during an investigation, revealing his muscles and tattoos.
"There're definitely girls into that," says Wilkens, of paranormalsocieties.com. "It's a bad-boy thing."
Bagans has become a brand. On his website, he cradles a silver skull while advertising his Twitter handle. He has his own "Dungeon Wear" clothing line and a "NecroFusion" rock album for sale, and he has posted an interview with Muscle & Fitness magazine to share the secrets of his chest workout.
He says he's been criticized by investigators on another popular paranormal television show, but he won't say who.
"It's unfortunate that some shows feel like they own the paranormal," he says. "There's one show in particular, they talk a lot of crap."
Before paranormal investigators fought one another, though, they first fought for credibility.
Critics have long said ghosts don't exist and that paranormal shows are faked. Even "South Park" lampooned the overactive imaginations of ghost-hunting teams by depicting one duo as flinching at every stir of the wind before asking, "Did you hear that?"
One of the most formidable critics of the paranormal community is a former detective and magician who says he knows all the tricks.
Joe Nickell has been investigating hauntings since attending his first séance in 1969. He has been featured on many television shows debunking the supernatural, and has written a book aimed at disproving some of the most famous paranormal cases, "Entities: Angels, Spirits, Demons and other Alien Beings."
Nickell says he's never seen a ghost or any other supernatural entity in 44 years of investigations.
"I've never been able to find one," he says.
He has a theory, though, about why people are so fascinated with the paranormal.
"The paranormal, by and large, promises pretty wonderful things," he says. "If ghosts are real, then we don't really die. If I were voting, I would vote for that. There's a big market for this."
The show that started it all
The market for the contemporary fascination with ghost hunters can be traced primarily to one show: "Ghost Hunters" on the Syfy Channel. "Ghost Hunters" is to the paranormal field what Sugarhill's "Rapper's Delight" is to hip-hop -- it launched a subculture. The show was developed by Craig Piligian, founder of Pilgrim Studios, which created reality shows like "American Chopper" and "Dirty Jobs." The show was launched in 2004 and remains the Syfy Channel's top-rated paranormal reality show.
Piligian says he was inspired after reading a New York Times story about two Roto-Rooter plumbers who also offered house calls to fix paranormal disturbances.
"The same qualities they used to fix a leaky pipe they used in their work to debunk whether or not a place was haunted," Piligian says. "It was almost mechanical in nature, and not so much voodoo."
Jason Hawes is one of those plumbers and now the no-nonsense star of "Ghost Hunters." A gruff guy with a shaved head and goatee, he's also the co-founder of the Atlantic Paranormal Society. He's feted at paranormal conferences, speaks at corporate events and has written seven books on his ghost-hunting experiences.
"The fame is great, but the minute I'm done filming, it's all about my family," says Hawes. He and his wife met in junior high and have five children. "I'm still a little plumber from Rhode Island."
Hawes said the popularity of paranormal shows has added visibility to the field, but that some shows have damaged its credibility because they don't take a scientific approach to cases.
He won't name names, but he says some shows launch investigations assuming a place is haunted and allow cable production companies to handle evidence, which he says leaves room for fabrication.
"Ghost Hunters" won't allow the Syfy Channel to touch any evidence, and nothing on the show is fabricated, he says.
"A lot of our cases never air," Hawes says. "We go in believing that 80 percent of all claims can be disproved."
Hawes, Bagans and other paranormal stars may be famous, but there's one ghost-hunting duo that stands above all the rest: Lorraine and Ed Warren, the couple depicted in this year's Hollywood film, "The Conjuring."
The husband-and-wife team were investigating ghosts before it was hip. They founded The New England Society for Psychic Research in 1952 and investigated the notorious paranormal case that inspired the book and film "The Amityville Horror."