When a family searching for arrowheads in a cave in eastern Idaho way back in 1979 stumbled upon the dismembered torso of a man buried in a shallow grave, no one thought it would take forty years to determine his identity. And when it was finally revealed, it shocked everyone involved in the mystery.
The body was wrapped in burlap and missing its limbs and head when Earl Holden, the Clark County Sheriff at the time, arrived in response to the family’s panicked call. Holden ordered an immediate search of the area, looking for the rest of the body, but deputies and volunteer searchers were not able to find anything.
Based upon the condition of the body, which still had some skin left on it, the local coroner said he believed it had been in the semiarid cave for about ten years. When the Smithsonian Institute’s Dr. Doug Ubelaker, considered the top forensic anthropologist in the world, examined the torso, he stated that while the coroner’s ten year determination was possible, the death could have been as recent as a few months. With no identification found with the body, he was listed as a John Doe.
More than a decade later, in 1991, a young girl exploring the same cave found a human hand sticking out of the ground. Excavating the area, the man’s missing arms and legs were recovered by searchers. His severed head was never located.
The grisly remains were stored for many years until March, 2019, when the Idaho State University Anthropology Department asked the nonprofit DNA Doe Project for help identifying the man from the cave. The DNA Doe Project uses emerging technology called genetic genealogy to identify unknown people by using their DNA to create a reverse family tree.
A team of investigators, including volunteer genealogists, spent over 2,000 hours researching the case, comparing DNA from their John Doe with other DNA found online before identifying the remains as Joseph Henry Loveless. His identity was confirmed by a DNA comparison with his grandson, who was 87 years old. But what shocked the world was the announcement that he had died somewhere around 1916, long before it was first believed he had met his fate!
Born on December 3, 1870, in Payson, Utah Territory, to a polygamist family of Latter-day Saints pioneers, Loveless was by all accounts a very bad man. An outlaw, a bootlegger, an armed robber, and a bigamist, Loveless abhorred honest work, preferring to earn a living on the shady side of society. He used several aliases, including Charles Smith, Walter Garron, Walter Cairins, and Walter Curens, to name just a few.
Abandoning his first wife and child in Salt Lake City, Utah, he was supposedly married to a woman named Stahl or Stahlings for a short time before running out on her while she was pregnant. Those two women were more fortunate than his third wife, Agnes Caldwell, whom he married in Idaho in 1900, using the alias Charles Smith. Over the next few years, he was arrested numerous times for bootlegging and other crimes, escaping from jails and prison almost every time.
That marriage went sour, too, but in a horrific manner. On May 5, 1916, he murdered Agnes with an ax in front of their eight year old son and disappeared. He was arrested by a posse a week later and charged with murder. But again, his stay in jail would be short-lived. Less than two weeks later he sawed through the bars of his cell and escaped, never to be seen again until his mutilated corpse was discovered in the cave 63 years later.
Who killed Joseph Henry Loveless, and why? We will probably never know. It may have been an act of revenge by someone he had cheated or robbed. Or, it may have been in retaliation for the brutal murder of his wife, Agnes. Given her manner of death and the state of his own body when it was discovered, that seems likely. But the crime happened so long ago that whoever killed Loveless and dismembered his body no doubt took the secret to his own grave.
Thought For The Day – You know you are getting old when the candles on your birthday cake start to cost more than the cake itself.