It was Halloween 1982.
It was a Saturday night with a rare full moon looming in the night’s sky when a group of teenagers went searching for some Halloween fun.
“We had been at my sister’s Halloween party earlier that night and at about 11:30, it had run out of steam,” said Stephenville resident Dan Stanford who was a Tarleton State University student at the time.
So the group of about 10 decided to keep the fun going and set out for the old Hickey Cemetery in the Lone Oak community.
“It was just a short distance from where we lived,” Stanford recalled. “It was the perfect Halloween night. It was dark and the full moon cast shadows. To get to the cemetery you had to drive down this long sandy road with trees that hung over; it was like a tunnel. You couldn’t have picked a better setting for Halloween night.”
After a short drive, Stanford got out of the car to open a gate, then the group drove a little farther down a wooded area to reach the graveyard.
“As we pulled up, there was a 1968 Buick Wildcat parked with the driver’s side door open, but there were no interior lights on,” Stanford said. “We just figured other people were there doing the same thing we were doing.
“Most of the girls stayed inside my car, rolled up the windows and locked the doors, but the rest of us headed into the graveyard.”
As the group walked between the gravestones, they were taken aback when a shadowy figure emerged from behind an oak tree near the front row of graves.
“It was a man. He was tall and thin and wearing khaki pants and work boots, no shirt, and he had long sideburns,” Stanford recalled. “It was a cold night so we immediately became suspicious that he was up to something.”
The man walked past the group without saying a word, exited through the gate, and drove away in the Buick.
The strange incident was quickly forgotten and the group fanned out across the cemetery, reading headstones, scaring each other and telling jokes.
“The kind of stuff you do on Halloween night,” he said. “We were just having fun.”
Before leaving, Stanford walked over to the area from where the man had emerged and was startled by what he discovered.
“As I got closer to the grave, I noticed it had been dug up. It had been excavated about 3 to 4 feet deep and there was a shovel lying in the bottom,” he said. “The man had been digging up that grave. He didn’t get to the casket, but he was getting close.”
Stanford called out to his friends and soon the group circled the open grave. The headstone belonged to Tienne Boyer and simply read, “Beloved Mother.”
“It was the newest grave in the cemetery, but still several years old,” Stanford said.
The group’s fun faded quickly and was replaced with concern for their safety.
“We didn’t know where this guy went or what he would do, so we got out of there,” he said.
The group headed back to Stanford’s sister’s house where they called the sheriff’s office.
“The dispatcher who answered was a young woman and when I told her what happened, she said, ‘yeah sure,’ then warned me that I could get into trouble for filing a false report,” Stanford said. “It took awhile to convince her that I wasn’t joking and when the deputy finally arrived - he was a rookie - he had a big grin on his face.”
Stanford led the deputy back to the cemetery and to the open grave.
“He shined his flashlight into the grave and took off running back to his patrol vehicle to call it in,” Stanford said.
It wasn’t long before several other deputies and Sheriff Jack Perry arrived at the scene to begin an investigation.
They noticed that the shovel had some identifying paint on it - yellow and green - which was their first clue to solving the mystery of the grave digger’s identity.
“We figured he worked at a construction site because workers would paint their tools so others would know who they belonged to,” Stanford said.
By then it was early into the next morning and the group decided to head home. Stanford, at the time, delivered the Sunday edition of the Empire-Tribune and had to get started on his route.
When he finished, he headed to the sheriff’s office to give a description of the man.
That next day, the grave digger returned to the cemetery to retrieve the shovel and was taken into custody.
Stanford was able to identify him through pictures.
His name was Arden Claud Booth.
On Jan. 21, 1983, after waving a jury trial, Booth pleaded no contest to “desecration of a venerated object,” according to documents obtained by the E-T.
The case was prosecuted by former district attorney John Terrill.
Booth was issued a $150 fine and sentenced to 30 days in the Erath County Jail.
TELLING THE STORY YEARS LATER
Stanford has never shared his story publicly until now.
“I wanted to wait until Booth passed away,” he explained. “I didn’t want to trouble his life anymore.”
Several weeks after that eventful Halloween, Stanford recalled seeing Booth inside a local convenience store.
“He started shaking and I pretended I didn’t notice him. I just got my drink and left,” Stanford said.
But curious to learn more about Booth, Stanford followed him.
“He drove to West End Cemetery and just sat and stared intently at a gravestone,” Stanford said. “Hours later I went back to see what grave he was looking at and I saw that it was his father’s. At that point I actually felt sorry for him.”
From the stories Stanford has been told over the years, Booth may have gotten into witchcraft and believed that corpses needed to breathe.
“From what I understand he never planned to rob the grave, he just wanted to open the casket so she could breathe,” he said quietly, remembering that strange Halloween night 36 years ago when a group of young people thwarted the excavation of Tienne Boyer.