Famous Paranormal Investigation Team Shut Down by Lawsuits
Story by Fritz Baugh
June 16, 1986
Three years ago, the flamboyant team of "Professional Paranormal Investigators and Eliminators" made their first big splash by allegedly catching a ghost at the Hotel Sedgewick.
They went on to several spectacular cases that lit up the skies of New York City, from the appearance of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man at the Shandor Building; the destruction of a creature described as "a giant toy cymbal monkey" at the Brooklyn Bridge; the appearance of a very live Murray the Mantis at the 1984 Thanksgiving Day Parade; and even the city itself being sucked into another dimension only a month ago.
Their cases even took them to other nations. They purportedly battled warring clansghosts in Scotland and an invasion of France's Eiffel Tower.
Today, only a little over three years to the day Ghostbusters Incorporated officially formed on June 8, 1983, the decision of a judge of the New York Supreme Court ended their careers once and for all.
This morning, Supreme Court Judge D. W. Malachi issued a Restraint of Trade against the company as part of a plea bargain agreement to have a variety of lawsuits against the company dismissed. Reaction to the ruling was swift, and most of the parties to the complaints were content, if not completely satisfied.
New York Mayor Leonard Clotch declined an opportunity to comment on the matter directly, but both Attourney General Edwin MacShayne and mayoral advisor Jack Hardemeyer expressed pleasure that the Ghostbusters would no longer be in business. "They're nothing but a bunch of frauds and two-bit publicity hounds." Hardemeyer told reporters. "I'm glad these charlatans aren't going to be conning anyone for a long time."
MacShayne agreed. "I can't believe they got away with what they did for three years before somebody had the sense to shut them down."
Also pleased was one prosecution witness, former EPA Third District representative Walter Peck. "I lost my job because Venkman and his toadies dropped a bomb of psychadelic gasses on the city!!! Made everyone think they saw a giant marshmallow man and that those bozos 'saved' everyone from it. I bet everything else everyone 'thinks' they saw since then can be explained similarly."
The EPA was one of the claimants on the original suit, along with the City of New York, the Farbsilver Corporation (titleholders to the heavily damaged Shandor Building at Central Park West), the Stay Puft Marshmallow company, and Filmation Enterprises. The latter two charged copyright infringement: Stay Puft at the "use" of their marketing mascot, Filmation because of a 1970's contract with purported paranormal investigators Jacob Kong and Edward Spencer, who called themselves "the Ghost Busters". The last two claims were settled out of court.
Of the five employees of Ghostbusters Inc. itself, only founding member and the official chairman of the company, Dr. Peter C. Venkman, 31, would comment to reporters. "We saved this city and this world's sorry asses more times that we could count...okay, Egon could probably give you an exact number, but that's not the point. It could've been worse--but this bites."
Venkman founded the company shortly after he and two colleagues--Dr. Raymond F. Stantz, 26, and Dr. Egon Spengler, 28, were fired from Columbia University. Venkman has doctorates in parapsychology and psychology; Stantz has doctorates in occult sciences and electrical engineering; Spengler is a child prodigy who got his first physics degree at age twelve, going on to master such diverse and arcane fields as parapsychology, ancient languages, and mycology. All three were active as Ghostbusters along with Vietnam veteran and former contruction worker Winston Zeddemore, 33. Janine Melnitz, 27, of Brooklyn, had served as the company's secretary since its founding.
Despite their controversial status, the Ghostbusters had their defenders. Several former clients appeared as defense witnesses, including Chief Clarence O'Malley, who testified that the Ghostbusters had saved him from being murdered by a creature he referred to as a "bog hound". His subordinate Inspector Harvey Frump also testified, albeit considered a hostile witness, that "Those guys were weirdos...and I don't trust Venkman further than I could throw Lady Liberty...but I ain't gonna say the stuff ain't real"
On the other hand, the testimony of accountant Louis B. Tully, a former resident of the Shandor Building, didn't help their case. He made a short, nervous, rambling statement about how "once I turned into a dog and they helped me" before being demolished by assistant DA Ben Stone on cross-examination.
Also looking uncomfortable with the whole scenario was defense witness Dana Wallance, the Ghostbusters' first paying client. A celloist for the New York Symphony Orchestra, she told how she contacted the Ghostbusters after a "monster" appeared in her refrigerator. "I first saw that cheesy commercial they did and thought 'Who let these guys out of the asylum?' like everyone else did. But then it started to happen to me..." Wallance was linked romantically to Venkman in some of the tabloids prior to her 1985 marriage to violinist and fellow New York Symphony member Andre Wallance.
Key to the prosecution's case was allegations of the Ghostbusters breaching their 1983 contract to "stop whatever was going on at Central Park West" (in MacShayne's words), which culminated in the appearance of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. According to testimony by Spengler, "The Marshmallow Man was the form of Gozer the Gozarian, an ancient Sumerian demigod." When asked by Stone why an ancient Sumerian demigod would assume the form of a cartoon character, Spengler responded. "Gozer must assume a form chosen by the first beings it encounters when entering our dimension. Presumably, this would normally be it's worshippers, but in this case it was us."
Spengler and Stantz would both testify that it was the latter's choice. "I...I couldn't help it..." Stantz testified. "It's like, I tried to think of something harmless, maybe that if I gave Gozer some puny little form it couldn't hurt anybody. I thought about roasting Stay Puft Marshmallows and summer camp and..." and his voice trailed off. Stone did not continue the questioning.
Stone and the prosecution maintained that four subsequent appearances by the Marshmallow Man, including one arranged as a charity promotional stunt at the behest of Stay Puft Marshmallows (a condition of Stay Puft dropping its own suit against Ghostbusters Inc.), were material breaches of the 1983 Shandor Building contract. In the end, Malachi had to agree, and approved the plea agreement reached between Stone and the Ghostbusters.
As terms of the agreement, Ghostbusters Incorporated could no longer act as "professional paranormal investigators and eliminators". However, they were allowed to keep rights to their logos, name, and equipment patents, and could continue to maintain the property at Ghostbusters Central, the former Hook and Ladder #8, as long as they did not violate the terms of the restraining order. This was an important point to the Ghostbusters, apparently to keep the entities they have already captured over the last three years safely contained.
The closing of Ghostbusters Inc. also puts some severe doubt on the survival of their subsidiary company, the franchising operation knows as Ghostbusters International. It was first incorporated in 1984 when the hit Columbia Pictures retelling of the Ghostbusters formation (starring Bill Murray as Venkman) was in the theatres and the Ghostbusters were flush with cash. While GBI is technically not bound by the terms of the injunction, without the "home office" the individual franchises would appear to be left to their own devices, somewhat literally--as Spengler and Stantz hold the patents on the Ghostbuster equipment, and are bound by the order from advising, creating, or repairing those items, things look grim. A statement from the Northern Virginia franchise (one of the very first) was defiant. "We'll tough it out. Us Virginia boys are hard to put down"
"Unlike some of my colleages, I cannot completely deny the possibility that the Ghostbusters have indeed rendered great service to this city or the world." Stone would say after the decision was handed down. "I do not believe that putting them in jail or driving them to bankruptcy would be warrented. But they did break the laws of this city and country, and should face the consequences of that. They are. I find this a fair decision by Judge Malachi."
If the five Ghostbusters believed that, it didn't show in their somber expressions as they left the courthouse. This reporter personally saw Venkman comforting Stantz, who looked at the edge of tears. Melnitz was on Spengler's arm. Zeddemore looked more philosophical than angry. They declined to be interviewed, Venkman saying "I said my peace on the courthouse steps."
And whence the Ghostbusters from here? According to Venkman, Spengler had been recieving steady academic offers even before the cases reached court. "He's always welcome at his Uncle's outfit, Spengler Labs in Ohio, but I think he wants to stay in New York. He likes the Brooklyn chicks, y'know--he's even got an offer from Columbia, believe that?" Stantz, he said, recently inherited a joke shop in Queens. "He's talked a time or two about turning it into an occult book store." He had no comments about Zeddemore; all he would say about Melnitz is "hey, like I said, Egon likes the Brooklyn chicks".
"Something will turn up...maybe I'll move to Hollywood or something." Venkman said, flashing a grin that could only be described as Cheshire. "Pete Venkman is El Gato. He always lands on his feet."
Supplemental reporting by B. King, M/ Ryedale, CJ Tramontana