Home // Forensic // Genetic Genealogy // Identifying the Oldest Doe Using Forensic Genetic Genealogy: Henry Joseph Loveless
Feb 08 2021
Identifying the Oldest Doe Using Forensic Genetic Genealogy: Henry Joseph Loveless
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.
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. No fingerprint or CODIS matches were ever made, and the case remained cold until 2019 when 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.
In this interview, we speak with Anthony Redgrave, who led the team that mapped Loveless’ family tree to identify him. Anthony describes why the case was so difficult to solve, the steps he takes when working Doe cases, and what he anticipates for the future of the field. Anthony also discusses the work he’s doing with the LGBTQ community and in training those interested in learning more about forensic genetic genealogy.
Laura: Today, we’re speaking with Anthony Redgrave. Anthony, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?
Anthony: My name, as you just said, is Anthony Redgrave. I am a former teamlead for the DNA Doe Project and current co-founder and lead genealogist of Redgrave Research Forensic Services. I have a background in instructional design and also in forensic genealogy, so my entire M.O. is teaching other people to do what I do, because there aren’t enough of us, and there’s (unfortunately) more than enough cases to go around. I led the team for the Clark County John Doe case, who was then identified as Joseph Henry Loveless. He was found through dismembered body parts in a cave – twice; 1979 and again in 1991. I have worked on a number of cases aside from that one. The most interesting thing about the Loveless case is that there were a number of hands on it before it came to us, and we closed it out.
Laura: That’s amazing! That’s incredible. I understand that was the oldest open Doe case that was closed out using forensic genetic genealogy?
Anthony: Yeah, currently, to my knowledge, it is currently the oldest open unidentified decedent case with law enforcement that was closed with forensic genetic genealogy and not just with Y or mitochondrial haplogroups or STRs. It was someone who died in probably 1916, but they didn’t know that when they found the remains. They thought that he might have died significantly more recently, because his remains were so well preserved. So, it stayed an open cold case and, unless there’s something that I haven’t heard about yet, and I check the news frequently, this is still the oldest case that was solved with forensic genetic genealogy.
Laura: That’s really remarkable. Tell us a little bit more about it. What was the secret to solving it?
Anthony: So, the biggest thing was just teamwork. We had a very strong team working on this case together, and we all had a lot of experience working on very difficult cases, and just being open to being flexible on what had come to us; knowing that the post-mortem interval estimate could have been wildly off (we were aware of that), we knew that the height and age estimate could have been off, because the biggest identifier of age and height are the long bones (which were cut) and the cranium (which was never found). So, we had almost no information other than the clothes he was found with and where he was found. So, using that, and being open to any number of variables, we just worked diligently and the biggest thing for was was innovating along the way. We used the tool on DNApainter.com called “What Are The Odds”, which is a conditional probability tool that combines the likelihood of a person’s relationship to their genetic matches based on the combined probabilities. It kept telling us that he was really old, and we’d never seen that before. We thought we broke it! But, we kept open to it and were like, “No, it looks like he’s really old.” Keeping that in mind, and also having several of our volunteers working really hard with the Y-DNA and figuring out the surname, those things together – the YDNA and the x segments that led us to the maternal line, all that combined together is what eventually led to it. And a lot of research and archival newspapers, because he was using an alias. He was born Joseph Henry Loveless, but he was wanted under the name Walter Cairns. Walter Cairns went missing from having escaped from jail wearing the clothes that Henry Joseph Loveless was wearing in the cave when he was dismembered and left there.
Laura: Wow, it gets so complicated. That’s so interesting. When you have a case like this with forensic genetic genealogy, how do you approach it? Where do you start?
Anthony: Well, we do a couple of things first. The first thing we do, when we get the file from the lab and it’s uploaded to GEDmatch, the first thing we do is we check a couple of things for analytics. We look at the admixture, which is the combination of ethnicity estimates for that person (where their ancestors were from). We use a tool called “Are Your Parents Related” which shows runs of homozygosity, which are runs where a person’s DNA is the same on either side of the chromosome. That’s very important to us, because that affects what we’re looking at in terms of… It affects the estimates of the relationships to the other matches, because they might share higher than they actually are if that’s the case. Usually, the answer is no, but it’s always good to check instead of finding out later, because you didn’t check. We also do things like cluster reports to group the matches together so that we can figure out who the common ancestors are. After all that’s done, then we start looking at all the individual matches and figure out where they match each other, finding their common ancestors, and working down from there. It turns into this weird sort of sudoku puzzle. It can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of months to come to a conclusion.
Laura: Wow, that’s remarkable. I’ve heard the word puzzle used before, and it does seem like that.
Anthony: Oh it’s a puzzle. It’s a puzzle made out of people.
Laura: Right! Exactly. And it’s relatively new to the field if we’re looking at the entire history of forensic science. Where do you think it stands now? Where do you think it’s going? I know that’s asking you to make a guess, which is probably the last thing you want to do, but I’d just be curious. What do you see happening in the near future?
Anthony: Well, what I see happening in the near future is that more law enforcement agencies will be open to using this technology. More agencies will be able to get their own whole genome sequencing equipment and be able to do more in-house testing at their own crime labs, and they’ll be more open to accepting help from forensic genealogists; valuing our work and (hopefully) closing out a lot of cases that are in dire need of attention. One interesting thing that I believe about forensic genealogy, is that it can only get easier to solve a case rather than harder, as long as you capture that whole genome sequence while the data is good. More and more people are testing and opting into law enforcement matching. More and more people are being born and descending from these people’s ancestors, and you just have more data to work with instead of less. So, that’s a huge deal. It’s really giving a lot of people a lot of hope. People who have lost family members and the perpetrator case has gone cold. If there’s a DNA sample, we can help with that. People who are missing loved ones who are assumed deceased, but they don’t know where they are. One of the people on our team, Dr. Amy Micheal, who was the one who brought the Henry Joseph Loveless case to the DNA Doe Project has a saying of, “Hope dies last” and we hold very strong to that, because this is the thing that I think is… It shouldn’t have to be hard to convince people that this is working and it’s getting easier to convince people that it’s working, because it’s definitely… Once you’ve tried everything else, this is the thing that works. Most of the time. Eventually, maybe it’ll be all the time, if we just get better.
Laura: That is so beautifully said. I think you’re really capturing what’s at the heart of it, which is hope, and that’s really remarkable. I like that a lot. Let’s talk about what you’re working on now, if you can?
Anthony: I have formed my own company with my wife and genealogy parter, Redgrave Forensic Genealogy Services, and we are able to take a number of cases that others may have had a struggle with solving. One thing that we’re taking away from our experience with the DNA Doe Project is being able to be in the midst of that think tank and learning how to do really hard things, like working with people who are from andogymous populations, where there is a lot of intermarriages between cousins, or really old cases, or cases of people who are minorities. We can take that experience and apply it to things that the DNA Doe Project is not equipped to take, like child cases and perpetrators, which is not within their scope. We can also train agencies on how to do this themselves as well, expanding the field of who can do this work effectively. We’re also doing a very important project that’s very near and dear to my heart that’s called the Trans Doe Taskforce, where we look for cases of decedents that might have been transgender or gender variant or intersex, where there’s just not enough anthropological markers to determine a sex estimate. Taking on those cases from a very compassionate and understanding standpoint of this person’s lived identity may be very different from their biological markers, so that we can handl that with care. In addition to that, we are in the process of building a comparison database for this purpose, where people are not only just family members, but chosen family in the LGBTQ spectrum, who are missing someone or know someone who has gone missing. So, if their roommate or a friend they used to see at the club or something. People can’t usually file a police report can provide us with that information and we’ll keep it safe and private to reduce harm and be able to compare that person’s identifiers to the decedents that we find who may have fallen under the Trans Doe Taskforce umbrella. We’re calling it The LGBTQ Accountability for Missing and Murdered Persons Project or LAMMP for short and that’s currently in development. So, if an agency comes across an unidentified person who might have been assigned male, but is found wearing female clothing, or if there’s some indication of their appearance not matching what their DNA says when they run STRs, we can take that into account; they can submit that to us as well. Hopefully, we can close out more cases without even having to come to the point of having to do genealogy if we just have a place where people can just connect.
Laura: That is very important. How would people reach out to you if they have something like that right now?
Anthony: If someone has a case of an unidentified person who might fall under that umbrella, they can go to our website at transdoetaskforce.org, where we have a form that they can submit. Or they can just email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Likewise, if someone has a loved one or a friend who is missing and they want to get that information to us, they can come to the same avenue and get that to us as well. And we’ll keep that on hand, and once the database is up and running, we’ll get it all entered in. We can start doing comparisons now manually.
Laura: Wow, that’s amazing. So, I always love to hear backstory if you’re willing to share it. When did you start Redgrave Research? When did you and your wife get into this field to start?
Anthony: Technically we started Redgrave Research as a project in 2015 when we were doing our own local history research and working with adoptees and NP’s (non-paternity events or not parent expected) and helping living people out with their questions. We expanded and focused more on forensic work once we learned about the DNA Doe Project and after we had enough experience with that, we started fleshing out the concept and narrowing that focus. And it’s all of the experience in our lives that has made it clear that this is what we’re “for” and we’ve also made some good friends along the way. We have Dr. Amy Michael, who’s our anthropology consultant, and we’ve got a number of excellent partnerships with a number of anthropologists actually. I’ve also learned how to do forensic art along the way, and we’ve added that to our repertoire as well.
Laura: What’s forensic art?
Anthony: If somebody has an unidentified desceadent who has skeletized remains, I can create a reconstruction image off of those remains to what they may have looked like in life. I can also do that for perpetrator sketches if necessary or age progressions. In the case of Henry Loveless, the image that gets attached to this articles that goes around, I made that based on pictures of his immediate family members and his description on the wanted poster. So, that was another skill that I managed to acquire. Also, we have the Forensic Genetic Genealogy Training for Law Enforcement Program and FG4LE.com and that’s under the Redgrave Research umbrella too. We can train law enforcement professionals, and people from the community who are already experienced in genealogy (or are just interested), or are anthropology students (I love anthropologists – they’re my favorite!). We have a program there where people can take a self- paced training course to learn the basics, and there’s also an internship program, where when we have a case that we need work on, they can come work with us and train on active cases to get experience under their own belt so they can move on to help other agencies as well.
Laura: That’s wonderful – bringing new people into the fold.
Anthony: It’s so necessary.
Laura: We certainly appreciate you presenting at ISHI too. So I know you presented on the Loveless case. Did you also get a chance to attend any of the sessions?
Anthony: I actually haven’t yet.
Laura: You’ve been a little busy.
Anthony: Yes, always busy. I am incredibly grateful for ISHI being virtual this year, because then I can watch the archives, which I’m grateful for. While I’m always busy, I’m always flexible. I never know when I’m going to have a chunk of time available, so I’m going to go back and watch the archives over the next week or so. I’m really excited about the forensic genetic genealogy workshop that was put on. I’ll be very happy to watch the replay of that, and just what everyone else is doing in the field. That can make what we’re doing stronger as well. It’s so collaborative. Everything just comes together. There’s a real collaborative effort when it comes to working with forensic genealogy, because we’re working with law enforcement, we’re working with anthropologists, genealogists, DNA scientists, historical researchers; everything just comes together at this point, and it’s so important for everyone to just come together and meet up here and bring what they have to the table.
Laura: It’s such a wonderful group and so rewarding to hear that people are having such a good experience with the virtual event, being the first and only one we’ve done in 31 years now. Anything else about your work or the Loveless case that we might have missed?
Anthony: Well, a couple of interesting things about the Loveless case that I didn’t mention earlier, that aside from the fact that he was old and died a very long time ago, there were other difficulties in identifying him, because (I mentioned earlier andogomy, which is the practice of intermarrying within a small community) he descended from descendents of the original Mormon pioneers. His ancestors came from Massachutesetts to Utah and then Idaho, so that also involves a short period of time where there was a practice of plural marriage, where a man would have multiple spouses. That only lasted for a short period of time, but it definitely affects the way that the DNA looks from people that descend from those families, because it not only andogomy, but a lot of half-relationships, and both those things are complicating factors when you’re working with genetic genealogy. So, we had both of those things to deal with, and the aliases, and the fact that he was also a wanted criminal, and therefore didn’t have a real good legal paper trail. So, there were a lot of factors on that, and plus the lack of really being able to be firm in any sort of anthropological estimate because of the state of the remains and how they were preserved. There was probably no other way that that case would have been solved, even though the best people in every field had their hands on it and tried multiple times. This is clearly the way that it was meant to be done, and I think it’s an exemplar of the power of this method.
Laura: What did it feel like when you realized you’d finally got it?
Anthony: I was floored. I think I was in a daze for a couple of days afterward. It actually took me a while to grasp what was happening when we started putting the pieces together of this man under this name is wanted for killing his wife. This woman had a supposed previous husband under this name. The DNA is pointing to Henry Loveless, the supposed previous husband, but the description of the clothing matches the man who is wanted for her murder. Oh wait – they’re the same person! I had a bunch of tabs open on my computer with these articles about all these supposedly different people who we were starting to see were the same person. I had them open on my desktop for a couple of days and it was like this crazy red string moment of like “what does it all mean?” And when it finally clicked and we started building a timeline of we can account for this person under this name here and this one under this name here, but we can’t make them overlap, it was amazing. It was just a really fun puzzle. It was a really horrible thing that happened, but it was fun for us, and it has to be fun, because we’re dealing with difficult stuff all the time.
Laura: Absolutely. I love hearing the stories. It is remarkable how it all comes together one piece at a time and then it’s right there. Anthony, thank you so much. I know you’re very busy, so it’s very gracious of you. Thank you for sharing more about the case and your work.
Anthony: I will never get tired of talking about this case. It’s absolutely one of the most interesting and definitely weirdest cases that I’ve worked on and most satisfying to close out. Well, maybe second most satisfying, but we’ll get there soon I hope.
Laura: Ok, then we’ll talk again for certain! Thank you so much!
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