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Dismembered Torso in Cave Turns out to be Wanted Fugitive from 1916

Ian Harvey
Missing murderer found

A headless, limbless torso that was found over 30 years has finally been identified as Joseph Henry Loveless, a wanted man from 1916. It’s been approximately 40 years now since law enforcement agencies began using DNA evidence to track and capture criminals. Until the mid-1980s or so, police had to rely solely on fingerprints and other evidence that tied individuals to particular crimes. Those methods, while helpful, did not always ensure convictions. But DNA evidence certainly does; one person’s genetic makeup is unlike any other person’s, so if science says you were at the scene of a crime, it’s virtually guaranteed you were.

Now that this form of scientific evidence is commonplace, police are using it not just for active cases, but cold cases as well. There are, unfortunately, many people who were murdered before the advent of DNA testing whose bodies remain unidentified in morgues and burial plots around the world.

One in particular, found in Idaho in 1979 by a family exploring a cave while out for a hike, has finally been identified by the Idaho State University (ISU) and the DNA Doe Project, but that’s not where this mystery ends.

All that was found initially was the man’s torso — no head, no limbs.  But when investigators searched the area, they found two legs and an arm buried nearby.  In 1991, a young girl who was also exploring the cave found a mummified hand.

The more closely the remains were examined, the more scientists and police learned; the man had red-brown hair and was cut apart with sharp instruments — perhaps a saw, or an axe.

And the headless torso had a name — Joseph Henry Loveless — a wildly ironic surname considering that he had gone to jail for murdering his second wife, Agnes. (He had abandoned his first wife, so she divorced him.) But he escaped, as he had a tendency to do, and had perhaps tried to hide out in the Idaho wilderness. Unfortunately for Loveless, someone found him and soon murdered and dismembered him, for reasons so far unknown. Experts say he died shortly after his last prison break.

Because Loveless had a lengthy criminal record, scientists were able to compare his DNA to details about him already in the public record. What they can’t know, at least not yet, is who killed him, and was it for revenge? Pure hatred? Did he know something he shouldn’t have? So far, all scientists can do is speculate, but they’ve released a drawing, done of Loveless when he was on a wanted poster, in case it might jar the memory of folks today.

Lee Bingham Redgrave is a forensic-genetic genealogist with the DNA Doe Project, an agency that helps law enforcement officials tie unidentified remains to individuals. She has found the process of working on Loveless’s case an exhilarating challenge, she told the guardian on January 1st.  “I’m really excited to see what comes out” of the new investigation officers in Idaho have launched.

When the DNA Doe Project was brought into the case, leads into Loveless’s identification had stalled. But that soon changed when Bingham Redgrave and her colleagues went to work. “He ended up having a lot of matches that were first cousins three times removed,” she explained, “which is very unusual in this type of scenario. One by one, we eliminated certain candidates and kept coming back to him.”

While to some of us the whole case may seem a little gruesome, to those involved it was fascinating. “It’s blown everyone’s minds,” Bingham Redgrave enthused. “The really cool thing, though, is that his wanted poster from his last escape is described as wearing the same clothing that he was found in, so that (led) us to put his death date at likely 1916.” Not long after his escape from prison in May of that year.

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But who killed Loveless is unknown. Still, authorities in Idaho are keeping the case open, on the chance that someone, a descendant or family acquaintance, perhaps, might remember something. It’s a true life murder mystery writ large in America’s once-wild west.