Head­less torso in Idaho cave ID’d as 1916 es­capee Love­less

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Re­becca Boone

BOISE, Idaho — The head­less torso that was found in a re­mote Idaho cave 40 years ago has fi­nally been iden­ti­fied as be­long­ing to an out­law who killed his wife with an ax and was last seen af­ter es­cap­ing from jail in 1916.

Clark County Sher­iff Bart May said late last month that the cold case will re­main open be­cause in­ves­ti­ga­tors don’t yet know who killed Joseph Henry Love­less. Still, they were able to no­tify one of Love­less’ sur­viv­ing rel­a­tives, an 87-year-old grand­son, of his fate.

For in­ves­ti­ga­tors, the mys­tery be­gan when a fam­ily hunt­ing for ar­row­heads in Buf­falo Cave near Dubois, Idaho, on Aug. 26, 1979, found his re­mains wrapped in burlap and buried in a shal­low grave. Few ad­di­tional clues turned up un­til March 30, 1991, when a girl ex­plor­ing the same cave sys­tem found a mum­mi­fied hand. In­ves­ti­ga­tors be­gan ex­ca­vat­ing, find­ing an arm and two legs nearby, also wrapped in burlap.

Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties turned to Idaho State Univer­sity for help, and over the sub­se­quent years an­thro­pol­ogy stu­dents and staffers from ISU worked on the case. Ex­perts from the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion and the FBI were re­cruited to as­sist. No other re­mains were ever found, how­ever, and with­out the head, iden­ti­fy­ing the John Doe of Buf­falo Cave seemed un­likely.

Sci­en­tists were able to de­ter­mine the slain man’s hair was red­dish brown, that he was of Euro­pean de­scent, that he may have been around 40 years old when he died, and that his body had been there for at least six months and pos­si­bly as long as 10 or more years. They weren’t able to tell what killed the man, though they could de­ter­mine that his body was dis­mem­bered by sharp tools, per­haps to make it eas­ier for his killer or killers to hide the re­mains.

Ear­lier this year ISU and Clark County au­thor­i­ties asked the DNA Doe Project for help. The non­profit uses DNA data to iden­tify John and Jane Does in hopes of re­turn­ing their re­mains to their fam­i­lies.

Ex­perts from Othram, a tech­nol­ogy com­pany fo­cused on foren­sic DNA se­quenc­ing, an­a­lyzed a sam­ple taken from the re­mains.

Then Lee Bing­ham Red­grave, a foren­sic ge­neal­o­gist with DNA Doe Project, worked with her col­leagues to build a “ge­nealog­i­cal tree.”

It was huge.

The Buf­falo Cave John Doe was de­scended from pioneers who came to Utah with the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-Day Saints, and his likely grand­fa­ther was a po­lyg­a­mist with four wives. That meant Doe’s cousins and other rel­a­tives num­bered in the hun­dreds, Bing­ham Red­grave said.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors also weren’t sure what time pe­riod the re­mains came from, fur­ther broad­en­ing the field of pos­si­bil­i­ties.

“He ended up hav­ing a lot of matches that were first cousins three times re­moved, which is very un­usual in this type of sce­nario,” Bing­ham Red­grave said. “One by one we elim­i­nated cer­tain can­di­dates and kept com­ing back to him.”

They used news ar­ti­cles, grave­stone in­for­ma­tion and other records to try to find proof of life for all of the DNA can­di­dates, she said.

Love­less’s sec­ond wife, Agnes Oc­tavia Cald­well Love­less, had been mur­dered May 5, 1916, by a man named Walt Cairns, ac­cord­ing to news ar­ti­cles and a wanted poster cre­ated by lo­cal law en­force­ment at the time.

But ac­cord­ing to an­other lo­cal news ar­ti­cle on Agnes’ fu­neral, one of her chil­dren said that it was his fa­ther in jail for the mur­der, not Walt Cairns. The child also re­marked that his dad would be es­cap­ing soon be­cause he never stayed in jail long.

The DNA Doe Project team even­tu­ally un­rav­eled the truth: Joseph Henry Love­less was born Dec. 3, 1870, in the Utah Ter­ri­tory to Mor­mon pioneers. He mar­ried twice — his first wife, Har­ri­ett Jane Sav­age, di­vorced him for “aban­don­ment,” ac­cord­ing to Salt Lake City court records — and be­came a boot­leg­ger, coun­ter­feiter and gen­eral out­law in Idaho.

Love­less used a va­ri­ety of aliases, in­clud­ing Walt Cairns. He was also no­to­ri­ous for es­cap­ing cus­tody, Bing­ham Red­grave said, saw­ing through bars with a blade he kept in his shoe.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieve he died shortly af­ter he es­caped from the St. An­thony jail on May 18, 1916, where he was be­ing held for Agnes’ mur­der.

“It’s blown ev­ery­one’s minds,” Bing­ham Red­grave said of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. “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 leads us to put his death date at likely 1916.”


A com­pos­ite sketch shows Joseph Henry Love­less, a boot­leg­ger and out­law.

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