A 600 year old procedure is now helping Law Enforcement break cases in the 21st century.

This is an open letter to all Law Enforcement agencies, Search & Recovery units, Cadaver Dog handlers or to any other group that are first responders for the recovery of human remains.

About 1973 or 1974 the Cadaver dog appeared on the American scene. A very valuable and efficient tool used to locate bodies; dumped in fields, buried in shallow graves, located in lakes & rivers or used as an investigative tool on cold cases.

I was one of those handlers that started at that time and have continued to work Cadaver dogs to this day. It has been a great learning experience and we have accomplished great things. However many of us have learned of some serious mistakes that have led to sad and horrible results.

In the late 70’ and early 1980’s this country was going through a transition period of getting rid of our environmental wastes. There were a lot of open dumps on farms and ranches as well as many cities that had not yet converted their dumps to sanitary landfills.

The Cadaver dog had been so successful finding bodies dumped in fields and buried in shallow graves that using dogs was considered the only way to search open dumps and landfills. Resulting in an automatic call for cadaver dogs.
This was a very serious and deadly mistake. The number of cases worked compared to the number of finds made were so low it wasn’t worth putting dogs and handlers in that hazardous toxic environment. Worst of all many of the dogs that worked these cases were dying long before their time. Cancer was the main killer along with lung and kidney failure and a host of other diseases.

Now nearly 20 years later along came September 11, 2001. The Government, Law Enforcement, and Cadaver Dog handlers all rushed hundreds of dogs, handlers and support personnel into harms way and dumped them on top of a major crime scene. That in itself must have caused serious compromise to the crime scene not to mention the risk to the lives of all the people and dogs involved. For what? Robert Shaler, Chief of Forensic Biology for the World Trade Center site said that the body parts were badly damaged by fire, water and time therefore DNA did not produce what was expected.

After 9/11/01 and the disaster of shipping hundreds of dogs and handlers to the Twin Towers site I decided to try and find another way to locate people and bodies at hazardous sites without putting dogs and humans at risk. Dowsing appeared to me to be a logical consideration.

Why Dowsing?

I do not remember my first experience to dowsing. I know it was pre-world war II. In the late 1930”s wells were still a major source of water in our society. The process had advanced from dug wells, 1 to 25 feet deep, and 3 or 4 feet in diameter to drilled wells that were 6 to 8 inches in diameter and 30 to 100 feet deep. Dowsing was and still is one of the major methods that well drillers use to locate a drill site.

As time went by every chance I had to practice with dowsing I did. Success started to come more often and my confidence was getting greater.

A friend of mine was going to drill a well and asked if I would point out a location. This was my first big success. My location yielded a 60-foot well with very good palatable water. I have been a dowser ever since.

In the early 1970’s I was asked if I could locate water lines, sewer lines, septic tanks, electric lines etc. These I found very easy to do. As time went by I was confident enough even to predict their depths.

I remember one call where a plumber who was removing water and sewer services from a building to be demolished asked if I would locate these lines for him. I had graduated to L-rods by this time. I marked out the water and sewer lines. About an hour later I stopped by just to see how he was doing. I was told the old pipe he had hit was a 2 inch gas line, no water line. I knew that the gas service had been shut off and that by cutting that line off he could get room to dig a little deeper. As they cut into the old 2 inch gas line water shot out of the gas pipe. Someone had run a ¾ inch copper line through the old gas pipe rather than dig a new ditch to reach the main water line in the street. The water line was right where the dowsing rods had indicated that it should be.

In Minerva,NY, May 1. 1984 Bruce Allen Droms, 40 years old, disappeared. Several searches were made in an area where his car had been found. The initial search made by relatives, bloodhounds, DEC, Forest Rangers, and State police was unsuccessful. At the request of Droms father-in-law Thomas Callahan, Kaufman and Irvin, two North County Dowsers were asked to try one last time to locate the man. This time they located him. DEC Ranger, Gary Roberts (who directed the first search) said, ‘the body was found in an area so thick that the body, located in a tree, could not be seen at arm’s length”. (Article printed in Glenn Falls Post Star)

Next I was invited to try and locate a woman who was buried in an unmarked grave in Newfane, New York. Her name was Malinda VanHorn buried in 1837. The farm at that time was about 300 acres. We were asked because we had Cadaver dogs to use for the search. This would be an enormous task. We decided to try dowsing first to reduce the size of the search area.

After researching some history of the mansion and some help from a master dowser we located some human bones. We put her headstone in place, restored the original rose garden and this site is now open to the public as a historic memorial. Historical records eventually confirmed this find.

In the fall of 1992 Ted Kaufman and I went to Priest River, Idaho to assist in a search for Charles Dehner a 74 year old man who disappeared on a berry picking trip in a very large area known as the Caribou Wash country of northern Idaho.
At the request of searchers Kaufman dowsed a topographical map of the search area. He picked a location known at Trapper’s Creek that was about 3 miles from where his car was found. Responding to this location searchers found the man’s shredded underwear.

Through dowsing Kaufman determined there was a member of the family who lived in another city that had not been interviewed. This person turned out to be his daughter. When she was contacted and told that her father was missing and feared dead. She asked if this happened at Trapper’s Creek. She said that this was the only place he ever picked berries. The searchers were now confident that they had narrowed the search area and this information was released. Conservation Authorities then told searchers that 50 Grizzly Bears had recently been released in the area of Trapper’s Creek.
October 11, 2003 I contacted Tony Lamana one of the original searchers 11 years ago. He told me that the information remains the same today nothing has been found or changed over the years.

Dowsing has been part of my life for over 60 years. I admit I don’t know how it works and neither does the scientific community who has been unable to prove or disprove it. Many people have opinions on how it works and many don’t believe it does work. They are all entitled to their opinion. It has worked for me and I won’t argue with success.

I look at dowsing as a tool that will assist us in many activities. I believe it has a very important place in searches and in Law Enforcement.

"An open mind opens many doors."

A 600 year old procedure is now helping Law Enforcement break cases in the 21st century.


In Mid summer 2003 our dowsing research in the Niagara County Sheriff’s Dept. was well on it’s way.

We learned that dowsing had been in use since the 15th century. Over time we have learned that dowsing can be used to search for anything. Late in the 20th Century a procedure was developed known as “Map dowsing”. Using the tools of the dowser, (The L-rods and the Pendulum) over a map, the dowser could locate people and things at great distances.

The American society of dowsers based in Vermont developed a program called, “Water for humanity”. They can take maps of the 3rd world countries, dowse these maps (here in the USA) and locate points on the map where water can be located. They then send the maps or information back to that country. Using this information they have successful located and drilled for water. This program has been in place for several years and has been a major success providing water sites all over the world.

We were ready to run our first test in the field. I contacted and got permission from Richard Pope, Director of a landfill site to put a known item in the cap of a large landfill.

The item was a two-pound coffee can in which I put an old handgun (not complete). I listed the information about the gun (2-inch barrel, 22 cal, make, serial number etc.) The area was first photographed Then the item was put in the ground A GPS location was taken at the site of the dig I received 8x10 prints of the photo of the area I sent these prints (which showed no disturbance in the ground at all) to two dowsers who were gong to work with me. On the note enclosed I told them, I have good information on a gun, 22 cal, 2 in barrel, serial #--etc. that is buried within this photo. Can you locate it?” Within the week the maps were returned both marked within a few feet of the actual site of the gun. The photo covered a couple of acres of ground. This was a major confident builder for our research.

Thanks to some Police Officers and Search & Rescue dog handlers from the “ All County K-9 Search & Rescue Unit” in the Des Moines, Iowa area we were given a chance to prove that this procedure worked.

A small boy 4 years old had been murdered in Plattsmouth, Nebraska in January 2003. Information was shared with us in May 2003. They gave us maps, scenario information, on the Internet, and photographs for us to dowse. A photo was also sent to us of the Sarpy Co. landfill. This was shared with 2 other dowsers. The next day I was told by one of my dowsers that the boy was in this landfill. A couple of days later police got word that they had gotten the DNA of the boy from a dumpster that had been emptied into this Sarpy Co. landfill. This confirmed our find and proved the procedure worked.


I would like to close this portion of the search with a word of caution. Just because we knew the boy’s body was in this land fill does not mean this boys body can be found.

Bill Tolhurst


A year ago I started a research project to find a way to search hazardous areas without putting humans and animals at risk. The procedure considered was on site dowsing and also map dowsing, a procedure involving long distance searching without actually being at or near the actual scene.

Our skeptics were many to put it mildly. At first our cases for working were very slim to non-existent. I had two other people, dowsers, who were willing to work with me. One a dog handler and retired Police officer from Ohio. The other was a housewife from Eastern New York State who was the most experienced dowser of my group.

We know now, one year later, that this procedure does work and we have cases to prove it.

When we started this research we decided to take only cold cases. We believed that because much of this work is in uncharted territory we did not want to jeopardize a victim or any on going investigations.

Cases we have worked will not be mentioned with surnames or Departments until these names have been made public or we are sure it is proper to do so.

In May 2003 the Brendan Gonzales case proved this procedure could be used to search landfills or other toxic areas.

In March 2004 another new reason to use map dowsing came to light. A dog handler contacted me and asked me to dowse a map she had sent me. She wanted me to look for an Alzheimer patient who had been missing for over a week in the area of the map. She had successfully located some of his personal belongings, a glove, hat etc. My dowsing mark was in a water reservoir. The dog searching from a boat got a hit on the victim. When the body was found it was about 35 yards from the dowsing mark. That dowsing mark was put on the map at my home in New York State some 400 miles from the actual scene in VA. What a great tool to reduce search areas and improve the efficiency of search dogs.

To all those many other dog handlers and Police officers from across the country who assisted us and were willing to stick their chins out to help us prove this unbelievable program could work, to all of you a very sincere, “Thank you”.

The learning process goes on. More later

Bill Tolhurst

By Bill Tolhurst
June 30, 2004

I was invited to go with our Dive Team from the Niagara County Sheriff’s Dept. to Fort Niagara on the Niagara River. I was going to use Dowsing to try and locate a large ship anchor that is in Lake Ontario at the mouth of the Niagara River.

Keith Stebbins, a Special Forces member, went with me. Keith had been working with me in developing a procedure that would establish a protocol that could be used on this type of search

When we arrived at the Coast Guard Station I was given a search area. They pointed to a white house across the river in Canada. ”Your search should start in front of that house and continue for about a mile east down Lake Ontario”. That was our search area. I was told they knew where the anchor was and that they had a GPS location to check our dowsing.

Here is the protocol we had developed for these cases.
Copyright 6/2004:

Step one: We stood next to a retaining wall facing North. We scanned from the house in Canada West to East for about a mile or better. We got a hit during this process. The question asked was, “ When I’m facing the anchor give me a yes”. Where it was found Keith very carefully marked that find with a stake in the ground with the angle of Northeast.

Step two: Now we had a direction and we knew our find was east of us. We walked east with rods ready. The question asked was, “When I am even with the anchor give me a yes”. Shortly we were confronted with a difficulty . Fort Niagara was ahead of us. It is set on very high ground so we had to walk and dowse up a very steep incline to reach the base of the fort . With Keith’s help we reached the fort and confident I didn’t miss a hit on the way up we walked North until we got to the back of the fort. There was a ledge 3-foot wide where we could continue dowsing in an easterly direction. After a short distance I got a, “ yes” that I was even with the anchor. Keith marked the spot.

Step three: I then went back to the West about 10 feet and took one rod and walked East. The question asked was,” when I am past the anchor give me a “Yes”. I got my ‘yes’ about 15 feet past my stake where I had been even with the anchor. Keith marked the spot. I then dowsed back to the west from this stake with the same question and when I got my next “Yes’ I was about 15 feet east from where I was even with the anchor.

We now had a pathway marked about 30 feet wide with a marker in the middle that should be the marker of the anchor. This procedure took about 20 minutes.

I then went out in the boat with the divers. I wanted to see if I could get a fix on the anchor from the boat. The boat had a pretty busy schedule servicing the needs of the divers and I was not able to get more than one hit on my find. This I’m sure could be done but you would have to have a designated boat and dedicated boatmen for that purpose.

After the divers had been retrieved the boat went to the GPS location of the anchor. When that was done Keith was able to get a fix on that location. It is very fast water at the mouth of the river and it was difficult to get right on the GPS mark.

It was establish that my location was off between 10 to 20 yards from the GPS location in the one-mile search area that I did on land.

If the East-West dowsing point could have been established this error could have been further reduced. I believe this procedure can be a valuable tool on all searches regardless of what the subject matter may be.


Bill Tolhurst

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