A Wyoming resident finds human bones in a military footlocker.

There was a skeleton in the footlocker

They found a bullet in the skull

CASE DETAILS

3-D reconstruction of the man in the box

In 1986, a long-time resident of Thermopolis, Wyoming, whom we will call Gabby, moved away.  He left some of his belongings in a shed, including an old, locked trunk.  He left the shed with a friend, Newell Sessions.  Then, six years passed.  Finally, Newell couldn’t stand the suspense another minute and opened the trunk.  What he found, shocked him:

“We had uncovered a human skeleton.  And there wasn’t too much said at that time.  I think it was my wife who asked me… to dig a hole and give it a proper burial.”

Newell’s wife told him he had to call the sheriff.  Before he did, though, Newell felt obliged to contact Gabby.  Gabby told Newell that he’d never even opened the footlocker.  He thought he’d bought it at a garage sale.  But according to Newell, when it came to the time and the place, Gabby’s memory failed him:

“He acted probably as surprised as I did when I opened the trunk, that he couldn’t believe it.  He thought I was kidding him.  And I told him, no, I’m not kidding you.  There is a human skeleton in there.”

Newell Sessions contacted John Lumley, the sheriff of Hot Spring County.  Right from the start, Sheriff Lumley was suspicious:

“I’ve talked to a lot of people about this case and everybody said, almost 99.99% or more, that they would’ve opened it immediately upon purchasing it.  They said if they went to a yard sale or garage sale, bought a trunk, that’s half the excitement, it’s like a Christmas present, can’t wait to get home to open it.”

Two days later, the skull was examined by an x-ray machine.  The tests revealed that a bullet was lodged in the skull.  Now Sheriff Lumley thought he might have a murder case on his hands.  He decided to have a chat with Gabby.  But Gabby was unsure about the details.  He said he might have bought the trunk in Wyoming, Iowa, Illinois, or maybe Oklahoma.  It might have been as early as 1973, but maybe not.  According to Gabby, he just wasn’t sure:

“Well, my being a suspect, what do I have to worry about.  I mean really, you know, I know I didn’t do the guy.  I didn’t shoot this dude… I’m not even as old as the gun that shot him.”

But Sheriff Lumley’s primary concern was not Gabby’s age:

“Gabby is in his mid forties.  The footlocker and the lock were made back in the ‘30s time period.  I don’t believe that Gabby was the person that caused the death of this person, but my thoughts have always been that he has knowledge of who the person in the trunk is or where they came from.”

On March 31, 1992, Sheriff Lumley turned the skeleton over to the Wyoming State Crime Lab in Cheyenne, in hopes that maybe the bones could tell him what Gabby could not.  Sandra Mays was the lab technician that examined the skeleton:

“He was in his 50s to 60s.  Probably stood about 5’8, plus or minus an inch and a half, was a Caucasian male.  The bullet was from a .25 caliber weapon that was produced in the in… 1904, and then available in the United States about 1908.”

In an effort to identify the victim, Sandra Mays created a three-dimensional facial reconstruction out of clay.  Only the eyes and hair are guesswork.  Otherwise, Sandra’s facial recreation should be a good likeness of the man who somehow got a bullet in his head, sometime after 1908.

But who was the man?  How and why did he die?  The old trunk appeared to have been used by someone in the U.S. Armed services between World War I and World War II. Perhaps the trunk, alone, holds the key to unraveling this bizarre mystery.

UPDATE: After 25 years, the work of the Hot Springs County Sheriff’s Office has brought this case to a close. In October 2017 a DNA sample was submitted by a woman who said that her father had been shot in the head sometime in 1960 by her uncle, and her father’s remains were placed in a trunk. The uncle transported the trunk to Wyoming, and then left it behind. The DNA sample was a 99% match to to the bones, which have now been identified as Joseph Mulvaney.


Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season five with Robert Stack and in season five with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.

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21 Comments

  1. Anthony

    So was it “Gabby” all along? Is “Gabby” the uncle? Something always seemed fishy that you would leave the trunk behind with a dead body but have no idea that there was indeed a dead body inside.

    One of the crazier stories from Unsolved Mysteries!

    Reply

  2. Jennifer

    They claim this is now solved!

    Reply

  3. James Coates

    This case has been solved!!! I live in Thermopolis and work with local law enforcement, the following is from the Hot Springs County Sheriff’s Office facebook page:

    On 10-26-2017 after 25 years of investigation The Hot Springs County Sheriff’s Office has finally made a positive identification on a case that has been nicknamed the (Bones Case).

    The case originated on 03-31-1992 when a skeleton was located in a trunk on the Sessions property. It was later determined that the person who had been placed in the trunk had been shot in the head. Many leads were investigated including leads that were brought to the Sheriff’s Office by the hit show Unsolved Mysteries.

    After DNA testing became more sophisticated and was completed by the Wyoming State Crime Lab it was held pending a viable tip.

    On 10-19-17 a DNA sample was obtained from an adult female from Iowa who had relayed that her father had been shot in the head by her uncle some time in 1960 and then was placed in a trunk prior to being burried in Iowa. It was then stated that the uncle then dug the trunk back up and transported it to Wyoming where the uncle was working. The uncle then left the trunk behind. The uncle then moved to Mississippi where he later committed suicide.

    The Wyoming State Crime Lab was able to determine that the female who had submitted the DNA sample was indeed a 99.99% match to the bones that had been collected.

    The bones have now been identified as being Joseph Mulvaney who was born in 1923. Joseph will now be able to get a proper burial and the Mulvaney family can rest easy knowing that their family member has been found.

    The Hot Springs County Sheriff’s Office wants to thank the Wyoming State Crime Lab, Jessica Hager with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), Shelley Statler (granddaughter of Joseph) who never stopped trying to locate Joseph, Mitchellville Police Department, and all the dedicated Sheriff Deputies who worked this case to its finish.

    (Included in this post is the original facial reconstruction that was completed by the Crime Lab and was later shown on Unsolved Mysteries)

    https://www.facebook.com/hotspringscoso/posts/789928571179248

    Reply

  4. Sverre Vestboestad

    My granduncle Tennes Rapstad disapeard in Worland in desember 1951. He was a caucasian male, 58 years of age. he is described beiing 5`7.He was from Norway, was a bachlor and had no.living relatives in the US. Worland is close to Thermopolis where the skeleton was found.
    This summer i was in Thermopolis and gave my DNA to the police there. Will be interesting to see the result of that.

    Reply

    • Jerimie Kraushaar

      Sverre unfortunately the dna returned as not being a match for your grand uncle. But there was good news! The bones have been identified

      Reply

  5. Andre

    The facial reconstruction looks like Judge Crater, he went missing in the 30’s and was never found.
    It would make sense that the bones were moved into the steam trunk if where he was buried had to be relocated due to maybe relocation for construction or selling property.

    Reply

    • Ryan

      The Wikipedia page on Judge Crater says in 2005 the wife of a NYPD detective left deathbed notes that a corrupt cop killed him, and buried him at Coney Island, the site of where 27 years later the NY Aquarium was built. The crime lab staff did say it looked like the victim had been buried, and then dug up and placed in the foot locker. Interesting to think about.

      Reply

  6. anonymous

    you may want to check the dna against some of jimmy hoffas relatives

    Reply

  7. Blue bird

    Who Is This Person? Whoever This Person Was RIP My Freind! And God Bless You!

    Reply

  8. Joe Kulik

    There was no DNA testing in 1986, but today it’s possible to even extract DNA from the leg bones & the teeth of a skeleton. If they did that, then the police could do a search thru Ancestry.com & other DNA databases to find family members of this skeleton. Ancestry.com finds family members that were long separated from the main “family tree” everyday for the general public. They’d probably do it for free for this case just for the publicity. … joseph.kulik.919@gmail.com

    Reply

  9. Joe Kulik

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njvSETeDNyk )–> As unbelievable as Gabby’s story is, this “Forensic Files” episode is about a 55 gallon drum containing a dead body that sat in the basement of a suburban NY home for 27 years & through 6 different homeowners w/o ANYONE Ever wondering what was in it. This barrel sat there as each new owner was happy to “inherit” from the previous owner & then to pass it along to a new owner a few years later, w/o ever being curious about what an industrial size barrel was doing in their basement. I guess SOME People are not the “curious type” !!! … joseph.kulik.919@gmail.com

    Reply

  10. Ronald Davis

    The box looks like Greg edmondson

    Reply

  11. Jas

    My grandpa Newell!!! I remember that unsolved mysteries filming. It was well below freezing and misserable

    Reply

  12. anonymous

    Maybe he did purchase the trunk at a yard sale and does not want to give the details of where because he doesn’t want it to be discovered that he purchased it empty. The date of the trunk and lock and gun should be irrelevant – maybe he collects old things?? Did they ever investigate whether “Gabby” was a collector of old guns? Of course he may have gotten rid of that particular collection.

    Reply

    • SJ

      My thoughts exactly. One would definitely remember where they bought an old trunk like that. He wasn’t exactly elderly with a failing memory. Due to human nature, no person could resist the urge to open a trunk that was 50+ years old at the time. I don’t believe for a second that Gabby can’t remember.anything regarding the origin of the trunk, or his statement of never opening it. I’m with the former Sheriff on that hunch. Tabby isn’t being completely honest.

      Reply

  13. HNH

    Did they ask the guy who lived there before or could they not find him?

    Reply

  14. TygerMn

    neat article post.Really thank you! Fantastic. fiverrr23Jz

    Reply

  15. C. Wright

    From what I have read in the past there was a bag from a grocery store chain located in Iowa found in the trunk as well.

    Reply