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WEST VALLEY CITY - As holidays go, Halloween is his family's biggie. He calls it their Christmas. Headstones dot the front lawn. A caged skeleton hangs from a tree. And ghosts are everywhere, which is appropriate considering who lives here.

By day, Troy Wood is in the business of animal services, conducting special investigations for Salt Lake County. By night, the 43-year-old founder of The Utah Ghost Organization, a group of six including his wife and some of their closest friends, is prowling for spirits.

It's the kind of work that causes some of the faithful to lash out. He's been told he's playing with demons, flirting with the devil and destined to burn in hell. But Wood, an inactive Mormon who says he continues to worship in his own way and holds fast to his belief in God, shrugs off the criticism.

"Believe what you want. I'm not here to convince you of anything," he says. "I just put the evidence out there [on the organization's Web site] and let the public decide."

His fascination with the paranormal dates back as far as he can remember. As a kid, he was drawn to UFOs, Bigfoot and the boarded-up house near his family's home in Emigration Canyon. He'd accept dares to walk through the house and swore he'd sometimes at night see light coming from inside, even though the building had no electricity.

The adult pursuit began after he heard a radio program in 1996 about EVP, electronic voice phenomenon, that said with a simple tape recorder a person can capture the voices of ghosts, heard only in the playback mode. "It can't be that easy," he remembers thinking, before he dragged a couple of friends along on a nighttime cemetery visit.

They wandered around, tape recorder in hand, asking questions including, "Is anybody here?," "Anybody want to say anything to us?" and, outside a mausoleum, "Are these the aboveground graves?"

Sure enough, the answers - and other comments - came. "This is my house," a man's voice responded to the question about the mausoleum. "What do you want?" a woman wanted to know.

"From that night on, I was hooked," says Wood. He established the organization, which does not charge for its services, immediately thereafter.

It didn't take long for his wife, Kris, to come on board as his ghost-hunting partner. She admits she first thought her husband had gone mad, but once she heard the tapes, she couldn't argue with him.

From a front closet, Wood pulls out the black duffle bag they carry to investigations, which they generally take on a couple of times a month. Inside is the high-tech gear used when he and the others are called out to survey a private house, business, government building, theater, cemetery or any area suspected of attracting spirits. Among the must-have items: a night-vision video camera, a thermal detector and an electromagnetic-field reader.

Sometimes, as happened at the Old Ft. Douglas Hospital, ghosts appear before them. More often, the presence of a spirit is sensed in other ways. Orbs and streaks of light. A waft of perfume. A rocking horse that seems to move on its own. Flickering lights. A cold or hot spot. A sudden moment that makes one's hair stand up on end. Maybe even the sensation of being touched.

And then there are the voices, heard on the tape recorder. They receive cries for help, ''like they're lost, and they don't know where to go,'' Wood says. There are interjections from those who want to get in on a conversation; a woman once commented on Kris' diamond ring, and, in many cases, they get a barrage of swear words.

"There are a lot of spirits out there that don't want to be bothered, and they'll let you know," Wood says. "They ask us to leave, and we do."

Organization members don't wish to interfere with the those on the other side or cause disrespect. Likewise, ghost-hunting and working as mediums is not their business. Their role, says Wood, is to gather evidence, alleviate the concerns of those who think they're going crazy and, even if it wasn't their original intention, sometimes offer spiritual sustenance and comfort.

They report cases of families hearing tapes and recognizing voices of people they've loved.

"Knowing loved ones are still with them gives them hope that there's life after death," says Wood, who used to believe people would simply die and go to heaven. "So many are not there. It's not black and white."

Paranormal pursuit

Want to know more?

To learn more about The Utah Ghost Organization, visit http://www.utahghost.org.

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