Interview: Ghost hunters search for ghouls in the Midwest

Video still from ‘Soul Seekers’ on PATV
Video still from ‘Soul Seekers’ on PATV

Ghostbusters and Ghost Hunters, seances and exorcisms, hard science — wherever you land on the spectrum between skepticism and belief, it is hard to deny the allure of those acts which attempt to make contact with that which lies beyond the veil. Little Village convened with Brian Tanner, a member of our local Johnson County Paranormal Team, to talk orbs, mists, malevolent forces and how it may help to call a paranormal investigator.

I’m as curious as anybody, how does one become a paranormal investigator?

To tell the truth, I’d been increasingly interested in this sort of thing from watching shows like Ghost Hunters [laughs]. Then three years ago I heard from a friend that Greg Reisner, who heads up the Johnson County Paranormal Team, was looking to rebuild his team, so that’s when I joined. The team has participated in over 90 investigations over the past eight years; I personally have [participated in] several dozen. Johnson County is in our name, but we are not limited to investigations here only; we have investigations in Dubuque and down in Missouri as well.

What is your specific role on the paranormal team?

There aren’t any assigned roles on the team; we’re all investigators. Greg is the organizer, but beyond that we all do our part. Everyone on the team has the opportunity to use the equipment. It wasn’t too terribly complicated to learn.

The equipment?

Electromagnetic readers and thermo cameras. Digital video and sound recorders, stuff like that.

Would you mind taking me through your first investigation?

My first investigation was actually at the house my girlfriend and I were living in together [laughs]. Even before I’d decided that I was interested in joining the paranormal team, we were experiencing a lot of activity. It started ramping up and then I woke up one night and saw this shadow in the bedroom and that’s when I let the group know.

So your first paranormal investigation was in your own home?

Yeah, it was our place, so it was comfortable for us; it wasn’t like we were going into some strange, dark or unfamiliar place we didn’t know anything about. Sometimes we do investigations not just in homes but in cemeteries and businesses and abandoned buildings, but this one being at our house made it kind of personal for us.

I guess one aspect of ghost hunting is curiosity, but on the other hand there is a desire to help those who are making contact with the paranormal, is there not?


Subscribe for daily news updates from Little Village


One level is the curiosity, but also you want to help people, right. After the investigations we always provide them with whatever images we’d captured or any audio documentation we may have gotten. We never go into a place and say, ‘Definitely, yeah this place is haunted.’ We don’t want to tell people anything like that, but when you have a video of mist or a moving object, well then, yeah, once you get on that level, the documentation sort of speaks for itself.

Provide documentation, and allow them to make conclusions.

We want to help, but help them find their own answers. Say for instance there is the presence of a malevolent force, though, we have resources to help them deal with that. It’s not a likely thing to happen, but we do have contacts they can reach out to to get rid of a force like that. But again, that is rare.

What sort of things have been documented during these investigations?

Pictures and videos of orbs, which are little balls of light that move around in different directions. Some people say, “Oh that’s just dust caught in the light,” or whatever, but it’s a little suspicious when you see the way something like an orb appears and how they move. It’s pretty clear if you ever see one that they’re a little bit more than floating dust. We’ve recorded quite a bit of EVP [electronic voice phenomena]. On the audio you might hear a voice, sometimes you’ll hear something like a voice on the video too. You don’t necessarily hear them at the time, but you usually notice them after the fact on the recordings. Sometimes you’re not able to really make it out, but sometimes you can definitely tell it’s a voice.

You mentioned mists before.

Yes, we’ve seen mist shapes on videos, and shadows. There have been a couple times where we’ve actually seen stuff move. It’s rare, but our team has documented it in the past. During an early investigation a door opened, and it wasn’t an easy thing to happen all on it’s own. It was this old-style latch thing that doesn’t exactly pop open that easily — so yeah, there’s that. There was one time when this curtain kind of pulled open over this clock radio on a window sill, and you know the window is shut and the curtain really had to be pulled out over the clock to cover it up. We caught that on video, but like I said before with the EVP, we didn’t notice this until later when we saw it on the video.

You must have quite a few investigations coming up.

October is obviously a busy month for us. Our team is returning to this Civil War site in Missouri and then we’ll be at a cemetery in Washington, Iowa coming up soon. Then we have a couple more presentations at the end of the month.

Have these three years as a paranormal investigator changed you in any noticeable ways?

It has definitely made me think differently about life in general and what is beyond that. I definitely keep more of an open mind now in spite of my skeptical approach. But after going through so many of these investigations, you are more open. If you hear something or feel something, you might not be so quick to dismiss it, you may want to search into it a little more, open your mind up a little more.

Tim Taranto is a writer and artist from New York, but now lives on the prairie. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 208.

Thoughts? Tips? A cute picture of a dog? Share them with LV »


Iowa City Book Festival

Oct. 18-24

A celebration of books, writing and ideas

Find Out More


Summer Programs 2020

Get 150+ local restaurants delivered to your door in the Iowa City & Cedar Rapids areas!

The Future is Unwritten

You look to Little Village for today’s stories. Your sustaining support will help us write tomorrow’s.


$10/mo or $120/year
The cost of doing this work really adds up! Your contribution at this level will cover telephone and internet expenses for one month at the LV editorial offices.


$20/mo or $240/year
$240 is enough to cover one month’s costs for sending out our weekly entertainment newsletter, The Weekender. Make a contribution at this level to put a little more oomph on your support and your weekend.


$30/mo or $360/year
(AUTO-RENEW) connects eastern Iowa culture with the world. Your contribution at this level will cover the site’s hosting costs for three months. A bold move for our boldest supporters!

All monthly and annual contributors receive:

  • Recognition on our Supporters page (aliases welcome)
  • Exclusive early access when we release new half-price gift cards
  • Access to a secret Facebook group where you can connect with other supporters and discuss the latest news and upcoming events (and maybe swap pet pics?) with the LV staff
  • Invitations to periodic publisher chats (held virtually for now) to meet with Matt and give him a piece of your mind, ask your burning questions and hear more about the future plans for Little Village, Bread & Butter Magazine, Witching Hour Festival and our other endeavors.