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Sniffing Out Clues to Bodie’s Lost Graves

by Adela Morris & Lynne Engelbert (article from Bodie Times, Spring 2012)

Rhea, part of the canine forensics team that surveyed Bodie’s cem¬eteries in 2011 alerts at a grave site. The two colored flags mark the specific alert locations.

Little did anyone know when John Grebenkemper and his dog Tali visited Bodie in September 2007 that the seed of a strange partnership was about to be planted. John introduced himself to Terri Geissinger and explained to her that Tali was being trained to detect historical human remains with the Institute for Canine Forensics (ICF).

He asked for permission to work Tali in some of the cemeteries at Bodie. Terri’s interest was piqued. Together they searched several of the main cemeteries. Terri was quite impressed when Tali identified burials located under the current paths that pass through the cemeteries. Terri introduced John to Brad Sturdivant (then Park Superintendant) and they started thinking of the possible uses for our dogs. The seeds to the partnership between ICF and the Bodie Foundation had just been sowed. In October 2008, John and Adela Morris (ICF Director) were invited to attend a Cemetery Preservation Workshop at Bodie, sponsored by California State Parks and the University of Oregon. They gave a presentation and demonstrated what the ICF dogs are trained to do. During the four-day workshop, Adela and her dog Rhea worked many of the same sites that John and Tali had worked. Rhea confirmed many of Tali’s alerts and added other

Two areas in particular were the focus of these searches. Old records indicated that the first burials in Bodie were behind the hospital (in Bodie Bowl). It is believed that some of those burials were later moved to the main cemetery (above town). While the exact location of the hospital is unknown, Brad Sturdivant took the team to the presumed location where Rhea identified five possible burials. Eros, another ICF dog, confirmed those locations and added two more. The burials appeared to be in rows.

They moved on to the possible location of the Chinese cemetery. Chinese tradition had it that the spirits of the deceased could only be at rest if laid in their native soil. This meant that the remains of Chinese citizens needed to be returned to China. Usually only those of the wealthier males made that final journey, normally some time after their burial in Bodie. The initial burials were considered temporary, so it is suspected that only wooden markers were used. Once the families were no longer there to care for the burials, the cemetery fell into disrepair and the markers eventually disintegrated. Documentation was almost non-existent and the location of the cemetery was lost. Tali had begun the process of identifying the location of this cemetery. Rhea and Eros were able to confirm the probable location.

In June 2011, ICF brought in several of their teams to start working the three main cemeteries (Ward’s, Masonic and Miner’s Union), looking for unmarked burials. They were also checking grave markers that might have been moved to ensure they were on burial sites. It took three days to complete the work in all areas. The locations of the burials were documented using a GPS.

In the fall of 2011, a production company approached ICF looking to do a short segment for “Dog. Friend. Hero.”, an Animal Planet documentary on working dogs that make a difference in people’s lives. The ICF Board of Directors decided that Bodie would be the ideal location for this segment. Arrangements were made and three teams began the long day of filming a very successful segment that can be viewed at:

Plans for continuing searches at Bodie are ongoing, with more work in the Chinese cemetery and other sites scheduled for June, 2012.

For more information you can access the Institute for Canine Forensics website at:

ICF teams surveyed several of Bodie’s cemeteries in June, 2011. From left: Adela Morris, Terri Geissinger (Bodie Foundation), John Grebenkemper, Kris Black, Benjamin Peek and Chris Dillier. Canine team members (l-r): Rhea, Osara, Kayle and Jess.