Grave Witching
The Daily Journal, St. Francois County, Missouri
2 May 1995

Stanbery, Mo. (AP) – Bent metal tools in hand, the Rev. Ben Rainey and funeral director Karl Ross walk through High Ridge Cemetery in this northwest Missouri town, locating unmarked graves by the mysterious process of grave witching.

Carrying the clipped hangers and legs from a flower stand as diving roda used for water witching, they chuckle like schoolchildren each time the instruments move together and cross. That means they’re standing on a grave. Coming to an area with no headstone, Rainey’s rods cross anyway.

"Someone’s buried here," Rainey sid as emphatically as if the corpse had stood up and said hello.

"It’s strange, you better believe it’s strange," marveled Rainey, 60, himself a funeral director at the Johnston Funeral Home in Albany. Ross, 34, runs the Johnson facility in Stanberry.

"I have no explanation for it," Ross said, offering one just the same.

"Maybe it’s some sort of energy field put off by the body," he surmised. "I don’t know. I might be off in left field."

A Baptist minister, Rainey looks to the Bible for a possible answer.

Perhaps the breath of life discussed in the Bible is what moves these unconventional tools, he says.

Other than astonishing non-believers, these magic wands can have a practical use, which could be good news for the St. Joseph State Hospital.

Ross has volunteered his services to help the hospital with its cemetery reclamation project. He says he can help staff find graves.

Hospital workers have been clearing away brush and trees, which for decades obscured about 200 of the old cemetery’s roughly 1,350 plots. Some of the numbered grave stones in the cleared area still around but lots are nowhere to be found.

For instance, stone No. 1 hasn’t been found, and George Glore, the hospital’s spkesman, says Ross could be helpful in finding it.

"It’s a little like looking for a needle in a haystack." Ross confessed.

Before giving Ross the go-ahead, Glore wants to discuss the matter with hospital superintendent Don Dittemore, who he’s fairly certain will approve.

After all, Glore said, "Even if it didn’t work, it would be interesting to watch."

As a member of the hospital’s advisory board, Rainey may be able to give the idea a push.

To Ross and Rainey, the witching sticks are much better instruments than the more conventional tool – a 5 to 6 foot-long probe that’s stuck into the ground.

For one, Ross says, the probe can be disrespectful to the dead, tearing up a deceased’s final resting place.

Witching also allows he surveyor to determine the measurements of the grave, he says. That way the searcher can determine if the deceased is an adult or child.

Furthermore, determining the dimensions of the grave is important when preparing to dig another one in the vicinity, Ross says.

Ross admits he was skeptical when his boss, Ross E. Johnson Sr., taught him grave witching about a year ago.