Jason Snider employs all this state-of-the-art spirit-sensing technology as the leader of a team of 60 afterlife aficionados in Illinois called the Crawford County Ghost Hunters. A veteran of 3,000 paranormal investigations, Snider, at 24, is one of the most successful ghost hunters in the country. Just this week he has recorded an angry spirit in an opera house ordering him to "get out" and a long-dead Indian at a burial mound asking for directions to "the light." He posted the tapes of both conversations on his Web site. "I used to have to sleep with the lights on, but after a while you get used to it," Snider says. "Now, if a full-body apparition floated by me"—which, he says, has happened before—"I wouldn't run away. I'd take a picture of it." These days it's only the freshly dead that truly creep him out. A member of a first-response EMT team, he's often there to pick up the pieces when the worst happens. After bagging the bodies and riding away in his ambulance, he sometimes feels a cattle prod of cold fear: the distinct sense he's not alone.
"It gets weird," he says, with an uneasy laugh. "You can feel the dead. It's like they're still there, watching you."
The hunt for Liberace begins with interviews of Carluccio's employees. Oscar Ortiz has worked in the restaurant for 13 years and is the only one who's seen the ghost face to face. Nine years ago, while polishing an eight-foot mirror, Ortiz glimpsed the reflection of what he describes as "a giant sparkling cape" floating up behind him. When he turned around, it was gone. Ortiz figures Liberace is just "a good ghost who's watching to make sure his place is clean."
Kelly Stanley, on the other hand, thinks Lee's got a chip on his rhinestone-clad shoulder. "Getting AIDS is not the way he wanted to die," she says through the smoke of her Capri cigarette. "And I think he's a little upset we came in." Stanley has been on Liberace's shit list for most of her 17 years tending bar here. She sometimes repeats jokes about the former owner—like the one that goes, "Why did they bury Liberace face down? So his friends could come by for a cold one"—and one night while she was dispensing some of this humor, a wine bottle flew off its rack and smashed to the ground inches from her feet. She's also heard voices, walked through cold spots, and watched toilets flush for no apparent reason. "I've seen a lot of weird things," she tells the ghost hunters. "Well, you guys wouldn't think it's weird." Stanley may also have been visited by aliens as a teen, but that's another story.
Properly geeked out, Carrico and Luna begin creeping through the restaurant, electromagnetic meters and thermal scanners cocked like pistols. The bar, shaped like a giant grand piano, comes up cold on Luna's thermal readout, meaning there may be spooks about. Near the door to Liberace's room, Carrico's electromagnetic meter is reading positive. "We may have something," he says. The two ghostbusters begin taking pictures with digital, film, and Polaroid cameras.