Loveless Lost: the Case of the Oldest Doe Identified Using Forensic Genetic Genealogy

Monday September 14th, 2020 // 11:36 am - 12:15 pm

In the summer of 1979, a family was searching for artifacts in Buffalo Cave, a dark lava tube
outside of the small and remote town of Dubois, Idaho. Approximately 200 feet from the
opening of the cave, the family discovered a burlap sack containing a mummified, clothed, and
dismembered headless torso. The Clark County Sheriff’s Department responded and searched the cave for the rest of the body to no avail. The body was taken to the local jail, where the coroner
concluded that the remains could not have been in the cave for more than 10 years due to
pungent odor and preserved skin. When the remains were sent for examination by renowned
Smithsonian anthropologist Dr. Douglas Ubelaker, he concluded that the victim was a White
male, at least 40 years old at the time of death, dismembered below the elbows, above the knees,
and above the shoulders. There was no trauma to the remains aside from the dismemberment
marks, so no cause of death was determined.

In early spring of 1991, another discovery was made after a family searching the cave for
artifacts stumbled upon a mummified hand exposed in the soil. After the sheriff’s office was
alerted, a subsequent search revealed burlap sacks containing the arms and legs in a shallow
burial. Systematic searches and probing deep into the cave by anthropologists found no further
evidence. No head was ever recovered even in later searches that included student groups and
cadaver dogs. No fingerprint or CODIS matches were ever made, and the case remained cold
until 2019. Without a narrowed postmortem interval or timeline of the crime, the victim
remained unidentified until anthropologists coordinated with the local Sheriff to bring the case to
the attention of the DNA Doe Project (DDP).

Nearly 103 years since his death, Joseph Henry Loveless, a Wild West outlaw and bootlegger
with numerous aliases was identified. A team of volunteers had been assembled to work on the
case and 15 weeks after the autosomal profile was first uploaded to GEDmatch, the DDP
contacted the sheriff’s office with a potential match (later confirmed with a direct to consumer
ancestry kit via the closest living relative, an 87 year old grandchild). In the weeks leading up to
the identification, historical documents related to Loveless’ colored past were discovered,
including a Wanted poster which detailed clothing that he was wearing during his last jailbreak.
The clothing description matched the shirt and pants found on the body in the cave, leading law
enforcement to believe that Loveless was killed shortly after his final jailbreak in 1916.

Loveless’ identification is the oldest open Doe case to be closed by law enforcement using
genetic genealogy. In this case, anthropologists’ persistence, the Sheriff’s determination, and
forensic genealogists’ tenacity culminated in a successful collaboration greater than the kept
secrets of a dark, remote cave.


Margaret Press

Co-founder, DNA Doe Project

Margaret Press, PhD is the co-founder of the DNA Doe Project, a non-profit corporation dedicated to identifying John and Jane Does through genetic genealogy.

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Anthony Redgrave

Lead forensic genealogist, Redgrave Research Forensic Services

Anthony is the lead forensic genealogist at Redgrave Research Forensic Services and head instructor of Forensic Genealogy Training for Law Enforcement. He is also a co-founder of the Trans Doe Task Force.

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