BOSTON (CBS) – If Phillip Brunelle looks familiar, it’s for good reason. The 33-year-old has a knack for getting himself on TV.
These days, he’s hunting ghosts. He says his current job title is “paranormal investigator.”
In late March of this year, WBZ followed Brunelle and his 3-person crew through an empty Middleboro town hall. They had their run of the place all night long, with the blessing of the Board of Selectmen. (Middleboro officials have gotten requests like this in the past. Allin Frawley, the co-chair of the town’s Board of Selectmen, says they routinely grant such requests, out of fairness. Frawley acted as a tour guide for some of this ghost-hunt, but later allowed the team to explore as they saw fit. Frawley stayed in the building, but was working in an office.)
Brunelle tells WBZ he now wants to look for ghosts in other public buildings, like the town halls in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts and Epping, New Hampshire. He also tried to get into the public library in Middleboro, but they rejected his request.
In the weeks since WBZ followed Brunelle in Middleboro, we’ve learned a lot about his unusual past.
Brunelle himself admits that local officials who learn about his back-story would be justified in being skeptical about him – especially when it comes to giving him overnight and near-unsupervised access to public buildings.
“They would be [justified], yeah, in my opinion,” he says.
It’s hard to know where to begin telling Brunelle’s public story. A good place could be in the late 1990s, when a teenaged Brunelle (whose last name was then “Daggett”) appears on episodes of The Jerry Springer Show. He presents himself as a man caught in the middle of a sometimes violent love triangle.
In the years since, Brunelle has been connected to some of the biggest stories in Massachusetts, if you believe him.
Perhaps the most notorious news event to which he is connected happened in February of 2006. That’s when Puzzles Lounge in New Bedford was attacked by a hatchet-and-gun-wielding mad-man. At the time, Brunelle was Puzzles’ bartender. He says he saved patrons’ lives by rushing them to safety. He spoke to the media often in the days and weeks that followed.
But Brunelle may be equally recognized as the Fall River man who publicly claimed to have won a thousand dollars – and then a million dollars — on two lottery scratch tickets in one day. That was in July, 2009.
In another tragic case in November of 2004, Brunelle was driving on Route 24 in Freetown when he came upon a terrible accident in which two little girls were killed. Brunelle was on the scene moments after the crash, and he later claimed to have pulled an infant out of that wreck.
“There have been a few instances when I have been in the media for things,” he says.
Often, the media finds out about Brunelle’s involvement in these stories because of e-mails he sends us in which he alerts us to the incident. WBZ found some of those e-mails in our archives from over the years.
There was one such e-mail, for example, from January, 2008 in which Brunelle says he saved a Brockton baby who was choking on a light bulb at an intersection in that city.
In another e-mail, Brunelle wanted to let us know about a Fall River Taco Bell restaurant that he thought might have put cocaine in his soft shell taco. At the end of that e-mail, he shares his contact information and offers to be interviewed.
The Taco Bell claim was similar to a 2004 incident in which Brunelle complained a Fall River McDonald’s restaurant made him sick by putting pickles on his burger, even though he’s allergic and had asked them not to include them.
Brunelle also went public in August, 2007 when he filed charges against Route 44 Toyota in Raynham. After working at the car dealership for a short time, Brunelle went to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and alleged that his co-workers had sexually harassed him.
Brunelle withdrew that case when he got a settlement from the dealership. State investigators tell WBZ they were never able to reach a conclusion.
With the McDonald’s problem, he says the restaurant only paid his medical bills.
Taco Bell, though, thought Brunelle’s story was sketchy and according to reports published at the time, the company threatened to sue him if it turned out his claims were unsubstantiated. Fall River police say Brunelle stopped cooperating with their investigation into the Taco Bell matter.
WBZ asked Brunelle how he would react to claims that he’s a fraud or a con-artist. His response: “I’ve never once been charged with any criminal offense that has to do with fraud.”
That’s true, unless you count his arrest for impersonating a police officer. In March of 2012, Brockton police say they arrested him for trying to pull people over in his personal vehicle – which happens to be a decommissioned State Police cruiser he bought at auction.
Brunelle’s name also shows up in the Brockton police logs in connection with a September, 2008 incident. Then, he was charged with making a false police report. At the time, someone pretending to be an off-duty police officer called 911 to report that a man had been shot dead near Reservoir Street. According to police records, the State Police traced that call to Brunelle’s cell phone. At the time, Brunelle lived on Reservoir Street.
In both of the above cases, Brockton District Court documents show that a mental health evaluation and treatment was suggested “as required.”
When WBZ asked Brunelle to shed some light on that 911 call, he would only say, “There’s a back-story behind that.” But he did not want to share those details because he is saving them for the autobiographical project on which he is working.
Brunelle also spent some time as a local wedding photographer, but that ended badly, too.
WBZ spoke to a woman who contracted with Brunelle to take her wedding pictures. She claims Brunelle cashed her check, but never delivered her photos.
Since she’s hoping not to have any more interactions with Brunelle, she asked us not to use her name.
In the months after her wedding, as she tried to get her photos, she says Brunelle was hard if not impossible to contact. Once she finally found a phone number she thought was good, the person on the other line was no help.
“Someone said, ‘Oh this isn’t Phillip, this is his friend, he’s going through a tough time right now,’” she explains. “So I said, ‘This isn’t good.’ And that was about nine months after my wedding.”
The former bride eventually gave up – until she got an incredible surprise. She saw her one-time wedding photographer in the news, claiming he had hit two scratch-ticket jackpots in one day. She was elated.
“I said, ‘Maybe I can get my money back for my photos!’”
Which takes us back to Brunelle’s public claims about hitting the lottery twice in one day.
Brunelle tells WBZ he did cash a winning $1,000 scratch ticket in the summer of 2009. But when asked about his subsequent $1,000,000 win, he grows silent.
In a confusing exchange with WBZ, he seemed to blame the media for reporting the story of his wins in the first place. He says journalists “should have done their homework” before reporting he had won the million dollar jackpot, even though he himself gave interviews talking about his win and detailing how he planned to spend the seven-figure windfall.
When asked if he had in fact won the jackpot he’d claimed, Brunelle would only respond: “I’ve never went [sic] into a lottery office and claimed a winning ticket of that amount of money on my own.”
Massachusetts state lottery officials tell WBZ all the winning tickets from the game Brunelle says he won have been claimed, none by Brunelle.
Throughout his lengthy interview, Brunelle remained indignant.
“If you can substantiate any of those things, then fine, so be it. Then I’m a con-man, I’m a fraud,” he said.
Perhaps the most troubling accusation against him involves that Freetown accident that killed two little sisters.
The girls’ aunt, who was driving that car at the time of the accident, confirms Brunelle was at the scene.
“I remember him clearly the day of the accident,” she says. She, too, asked us not to use her name. She’s hoping Brunelle forgot who she is.
She says that although Brunelle was there, he did not pull anyone out of her car.
But worse, months later, she says Brunelle sent the girls’ grieving mother a photo of the accident scene in which he alleged you could see the image of a ghost, suggesting it was the dead children. The family had the picture examined; they tell WBZ it was photo-shopped.
“It was actually fake!” the girls’ aunt explains. “He placed that ghost in the picture and tried tell us that maybe that was one of the girls when it wasn’t. It was just a white shadow with red shoes on.”
Brunelle did not respond to our requests to interview him about the family’s claims. But it is clear that he has a longstanding desire to capture ghosts on film continues. Only now, it’s in public buildings.
In our earlier conversation, we asked again if, given his personal history, people should be leery of giving him after-hours access to buildings that contain sensitive and personal documents.
“I mean, I can see where that can be called into question,” he answered.
Allin Frawley, the Middleboro selectman who let Brunelle and his team into Town Hall there, only learned about Brunelle’s past after the fact. But he says he is confident Brunelle didn’t see any sensitive documents.
“He was never privy to any confidential records at all,” Frawley says. “He never had access to any of the areas where our records are kept.”
Just the same, Frawley says he will be more careful with ghost-hunting requests from this point on, and he offers good advice for officials in other municipalities.
“I think in the future we’ll be a little more stringent in letting just anybody come into town hall,” Frawley says.