Karie Buss has five children in her house, but only three are alive.
Two spectral little boys run through the hallway of her O'Fallon home, which she shares with her husband and three children.
"I used to feel uneasy about it, but not anymore. I guess I'm just used to it," said Buss, 28.
The boys first appeared three years ago, running from one bedroom to another. They return about twice a month, always around 6 p.m., visible for only a few seconds.
"They always move the same way. It never changes," Buss said. "It's just a side view. We never see their faces. They never look at us. They look solid, just like real kids, but they never make a sound."
Buss said the boys are dressed in bright orange and red 1980s-style T-shirts and short pants. One boy is blond, the other brunette.
Buss' children say they have never seen the hallway boys, but her youngest son has reported more disturbing encounters.
"He used to wake me up every night saying there was a boy standing by his bed," Buss said.
Shortly after their marriage in 1999, Buss' husband saw a six-and-a-half-foot-tall figure standing in the hallway.
"It was like a shadow," Buss said. "It went past him like a breeze."
The paranormal activity stretches back into the 1980s, when Buss's parents bought the house. Buss and her three siblings grew up in the company of spirits.
"When we were in the basement, we would hear people walking around upstairs when nobody was there," she said. "It was heavy footsteps, like a grown man."
In 1993, pregnancy forced Buss to stay home from high school. She was sleeping on the living room sofa one day when something woke her up.
"I heard a lady say 'Karie.' I looked up and saw a woman down the hall, standing by my brother's door. She had dark hair in big curls. She had 70s clothing - a red skirt and a white blouse. I got up and went to my brother's door, but there was nobody there."
That same year, Buss was home alone when she heard noises coming from inside the shower. She opened the sliding glass door. The shower turned on and off by itself, spraying her.
"I went running down the hall to the phone to call my parents," she said. "I turned and looked down the hallway. I felt a rush of energy come down the hall toward me. I ran out of the house."
Things calmed down until 1998, when Buss' brother was killed in an automobile accident.
"Afterward, something came in my dad's room one night, something that was not human," Buss said. "It held his wrist down so he could not move."
The uninvited residents used to give Buss a "violent" feeling, as if she were in danger.
"But now it is a peaceful feeling," she said. "I've lived here forever dealing with it. My husband doesn't think it's a big deal. We're just seeing little kids now. I'm not threatened by little kids."
It was not Buss' idea to call the "ghost busters." She just happened to work with their leader.
Mike Adams, 41, is a production manager at the same assembly plant where Buss works as a warehouse supervisor. Adams happened to overhear Buss talking to coworkers about her experiences.
"He interrupted the conversation and said he led a group that could look into it," she said.
Adams and his wife, Sherry Adams, lead the Missouri Paranormal Research Society, an organization they founded last October with ghost-hunting friends Eric Siers and Melinda Hillig.
Mike and Sherry Adams run the organization out of their home in unincorporated St. Charles County. The group includes members from St. Peters, Rolla, Columbia and Barnhart.
"I can't remember a time when I wasn't interested in ghosts," Mike Adams said. "I've always wanted to know how they work, how to see them, how to communicate with them. I've always wanted to see one. I've seen a lot of things, the Great Pyramids, the Atlantic Ocean, but I've never seen a ghost."
His wife has experienced the supernatural - she just does not remember it.
Sherry Adams, 38, grew up with poltergeists. Throughout the first six years of her life, mischievous entities would stir a ruckus every spring in her central Missouri home. During the night, something would throw trash around the house. The family would wake to find silverware strewn about the kitchen.
"I was always screaming that 'Boo' was trying to get me," Sherry Adams said. "One night after I'd been screaming, my parents put me in bed with them. The bed started shaking very hard. They said it came up off the ground, but I don't know about that."
Adams depends on her parents' recollection because she has none of her own.
"I don't remember any of this," she said. "It aggravates me. I feel cheated. I want to recoup that experience somehow. I want to experience something like that again."
When she is not working as a mortgage processor, Adams joins her husband in ghost-hunting adventures. In 2002 they joined a St. Louis-based paranormal research group.
"The first case we investigated was a woman who had a mug explode in her hand and a hammer fly off a mantle," Sherry Adams said. "She was losing her grip and needed a method of coping with it. We told her it wouldn't harm her. It probably wasn't even aware she was there.
"Two weeks later, she told me she saw a pillar of smoke come out of her bathroom and into her bedroom. It disappeared into the wall. Because of the information we had given her, she was able to watch it with curiosity rather than fear. By educating her, we empowered her."
Mike Adams looked for a more conservative explanation.
"It could have been stress," he said. "She was in an unhappy marriage. Two of her sons had problems with the law."
Adams said he demands a high standard of proof.
"I don't walk into a house and say, ooh, I feel funny," he said. "That is why Sherry and I decided to leave the St. Louis group. We wanted more emphasis on empirical data as opposed to subjective sensory responses. We did not want to be the type of group that just goes into a place and rubber-stamps it as being haunted."
In October 2004, the Adams' attended a campout for paranormal investigators at McPike Mansion, a supposedly haunted 135-year-old house in Alton, Ill. Two of the guest speakers at the campout were Eric Siers and Melinda Hillig, of St. Peters.
Hillig, 22, began investigating urban legends when she was 14 years old.
"I've always had a fascination with the unknown," Hillig said. "When I was a kid, the only books my parents could get me to read were about ghosts, vampires and creepy stuff. If someone said a place was haunted, like a bridge or a creepy spot in the woods, I would go there at night and wait and see if anything weird would happen."
Hillig and Siers dated for a year before they told each other they were interested in ghosts.
"When I was growing up, my grandparents said their house was haunted by a ghost named Fred," said Siers, 24. "They were joking, but I didn't know that. I thought they were serious. That got my mind wondering about ghosts."
Siers and Hillig investigated the McPike Mansion haunting in 2003. Reviewing the photos he took, Siers noticed something strange in an exterior shot of a second-story window.
"There was a guy standing in the window," he said. "He looks like the guy from the 'Scream' movies. The mansion's owner showed me a photo taken five years earlier that shows the same hooded figure standing in the window."
Their findings impressed the owner so much that he invited them to speak at the 2004 campout, where they met the Mike and Sherry Adams.
"They said they were getting a group together and wanted to know if we were interested in joining," Hillig said. "We discussed our goals and how we could work together."
The Missouri Paranormal Research Society was born.
In its first year, the society has conducted eight investigations - two in St. Charles County. The first was a hair and nail salon on First Capitol Drive in St. Charles.
"The people in the salon reported hearing an angry old man's voice," Sherry Adams said.
"One of the girls there said she heard someone crying behind her," Hillig said. "She turned around and didn't see anybody."
The salon ghosts had a habit of pulling out phone lines and turning radios on and off.
The Missouri Paranormal Research Society got a taste of these antics when they investigated the salon in January. They set up two camcorders in the basement and let them record for an hour unattended.
"We reviewed the footage the next day and found that one of the cameras had been turned off after 10 minutes," Mike Adams said. "The other had a full hour of footage. At the 10-minute mark, you hear the beeping sound of the other camera being turned off. We tested the camera and found that it does not make that electronic sound when it loses power. It only makes that sound when you press the button to turn it off."
The second St. Charles County investigation was Buss' house in O'Fallon.
On Sept. 10, the paranormal researchers tried to unlock the secret of the ghostly little boys and other apparitions. They scoured the house with electromagnetic field meters and tri-field meters, looking for unusual spikes and fluctuations. They used hand-triggered thermometers to find cold spots. They took photographs, shot video and recorded audio.
The result - disappointment.
"We were not able to capture any evidence to corroborate what the owner said," Mike Adams said. "But I know the people who live there to be honest and intelligent. They are not feeding me a line."
Buss said the team was there late at night, not at 6 p.m. when the boys usually appear. Buss said there was probably too much commotion with a half-dozen investigators walking around taking pictures and reading meters.
Mike Adams agreed. "There was so much activity, we changed the environment," he said. "When water is calm, you can see your reflection. But if you shake it up, you can't see anything."
Adams said he did not believe the boys were necessarily the ghosts of deceased people.
"If it is a residual haunting, it could just be a moment in time that is recorded, as if burned into the atmosphere, repeating over and over," he said.
The phenomena could be connected to the death of Buss' brother, Mike Adams said.
"Her brother was killed in an auto accident, then her son reported seeing and talking to a little boy," he said. "When her son was shown a picture of her brother as a child, he said that was the boy he had been talking to."
Photos by Raymond Castile except where indicated.
This story was originally published in the Suburban Journals of St. Charles County, October 30, 2005. Used with permission.