Mark Infantado is out of explanations for the troubling stretch of bad luck on which he’s been for the past half-decade.
Infantado is neither religious nor superstitious. But since 2005, he has lost both his brother and his best friend to the 103-year-old Haddon Avenue home in which he operates his Cuban restaurant, Casona.
He’s got pins in his ankles from where he shattered them slipping down the back steps. He’s lost the multi-million-dollar construction business he owned for years before renovating the place.
And two weeks ago, his servers heard things moving around on the second floor of the building when nobody else was in the restaurant.
A silhouette in the mirror
Dennyse James is a native of Venezuela who lives in Mantua with Casona manager Denise Pomarici.
One Wednesday evening in June, James was locking up the restaurant. It was about 9 p.m. Everyone else had gone home except for server Diana Castillo of Collingswood.
“I was here sweeping and I saw the shape of a man walk into the bathroom,” James said. The door had been propped open after cleaning.
“As I turned my head, I saw a silhouette in the mirror, and I looked and there was nobody there,” she said.
James says she saw someone “definitely male and very tall, with short hair, [and] dressed in black.”
Earlier in the evening, Castillo thought she’d seen somebody standing by the soda machine who wasn’t there when she looked up.
“I was hoping it was my mind playing tricks on me,” Castillo said.
The two were comparing notes on their encounters, Castillo mopping up the floor at the coffee bar while James played with her phone.
That’s when they heard the chairs start moving around in the upstairs dining room.
“One thing happened after another, and it felt like the minute we noticed things happening was when we heard chairs rustling upstairs,” Castillo said.
James called Pomarici, who told her to get the heck out of there. The two drove straight to Mantua to try to digest what had just happened.
“She came home freaked out,” Pomarici said of James. “She’s not a freaked-out type of person.
“I try to be oblivious to all that stuff,” Castillo said. “I don’t like to believe that it exists [but] whenever I’m cleaning up there I feel like someone’s watching me.”
'We gutted this place on its 100th anniversary'
When asked whether he might have done anything unusual to invoke the alleged spirits, Infantado thought for a minute and said, “We gutted this place on its 100th anniversary.
“Four floors from the basement to the attic,” he said. “I didn’t notice anything weird.”
His partner and best friend, Lawrence Grillo, had a different perspective, however.
Grillo was Casona’s first managing partner. He resided on the third floor of the Colonial Revival home throughout its renovation and after.
“He was a clean-cut guy who came in here, had money, was driving a Mercedes,” said Infantado. “[This was] his third restaurant. If you would have seen before and after pictures, [now] he looks like the walking dead.”
Although the restaurant opened with a bang, Grillo seemed to worsen in the weeks and months that followed, Infantado said. He was always scared; he heard noises, and wouldn’t sleep alone in the building. If nobody would stay with him, Grillo would sleep elsewhere.
The business started to decline as a result, Infantado said, and in 2009, he replaced Grillo with his own brother, John Infantado. He described John, who came up from Florida for the job, as being a “clean-cut kid riding 20 miles on his bike every day.”
A year later, John Infantado committed suicide.
“I’d seen him declining,” Mark Infantado said. “I was getting worried about him, asking what was going on.”
John was replaced by Pomarici. But Mark Infantado had problems of his own. After John died, he lost his multi-million-dollar construction company in 2010, and then shattered his ankle falling down the back steps.
The experiences that James and Castillo had were just icing on the cake.
“It’s been too many years of things going bad,” Mark Infantado said. “I lost my two best friends. Let’s get rid of this. Let’s make it right.”
'We’re here to help'
Absent of any logical explanation for these events, Infantado began to consider the illogical. He eventually connected with the From Dusk Till Dawn Paranormal Investigators.
The group, which operates strictly pro bono, is led by Eric Pensyl of Maple Shade. Its motto, “We’re here to help,” reflects a perspective that, for supernaturalists, is remarkably down-to-earth.
“There’s no experts in this,” Pensyl said. “This is all 100 percent unproven; that’s why we don’t charge.
“You’re taking advantage of somebody’s fear and that’s something you don’t do.”
Nevertheless, Pensyl says he’s had plenty of paranormal encounters, including being pushed, bitten and scratched by things that weren’t fully there.
Which makes him the perfect guy to set up digital recording equipment in Casona and conduct a full investigation, which he did—on Friday the 13th, no less...
Next week: What Pensyl's group discovered.