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Skeleton in a Box

There was a skeleton in the footlocker

There was a skeleton in the footlocker

A Wyoming resident finds human bones in a military footlocker.

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.