Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Real Name: Unknown (at time of broadcast)
Case: Unidentified Remains/Suspicious Death
Location: Thermopolis, Wyoming
Date: March 30, 1992

Newel sessions1


Details: Sometimes in the most unlikely elements comes a tantalizing mystery and confirmation that the truth is stranger than fiction. The mystery might start with a broken-down footlocker. Who can guess what the old trunk might contain or where it might lead? Perhaps to a small town in Wyoming called Thermopolis. In 1986, a longtime resident, “Gabby”, moved away from Thermopolis. He left some of his belongings, including the old, locked footlocker, in a shed. He left the shed with a friend, Newel Sessions. Newel agreed to move the shed off of Gabby's property. A few years later, Gabby returned to Thermopolis to pick up some items from the shed. However, he was unable to take the footlocker at the time.
Six years crept by. Finally, after being unable to get in contact with Gabby, Newel could not stand the suspense another minute. On the evening of March 30, 1992, he and several friends gathered to open the footlocker. He used a blowtorch to remove the lock. When he opened it and removed an empty tray on top, he discovered a human skeleton partially covered by a piece of plastic. Nobody could believe what they had found. Not much else was said at that time. Newel’s wife, Daisy, asked what he planned to do with it. He said that he thought the best thing they could do would be to dig a hole and give it a proper burial.
Daisy put her foot down. She told Newel he had to call the sheriff. Before he did, though, he felt obliged to contact Gabby. During the call, Newel asked Gabby if he remembered the footlocker that was left in the shed. Gabby said he did, but he had never even opened it. He thought he had bought it at a garage sale. But when it came to the time and the place, his memory failed him. Newel then told him about the skeleton they had found. According to Newel, Gabby acted about as surprised as he did when he discovered it. He could not believe it; he thought Newel was kidding him. Newel told him he was not kidding.
Newel contacted John Lumley, the Sheriff of Hot Springs County, Wyoming. Right from the start, Sheriff Lumley smelled a rat. He decided to run a background check on Gabby. He discovered that Gabby had had several run-ins with the law over the years. He did not understand why Gabby never opened the footlocker, especially after he moved it with him several times over the years. He talked to several people who felt that if they had purchased a footlocker at a garage sale, they would have immediately opened it to see what was inside. They said opening it is half the excitement, like “opening a Christmas present.”
Gabby, however, claims that he was curious about what was in the footlocker. He had wanted to use it as a tool chest. He planned to cut the lock off, but he did not have a hacksaw. He also tried "skeleton-type" keys but was unsuccessful. In the end, he felt it was too much work to get it opened.
Two days after the skeleton was discovered, another bombshell: x-rays revealed a bullet lodged in the skull behind the left eye. Now Sheriff Lumley thought he might have a murder case on his hands. He decided he had better have a chat with Gabby. He flew to Arlington, Texas, to meet with him in person. Gabby was awfully vague about the details. He said he might have bought the footlocker in Wyoming, Iowa, Illinois, Arizona, Texas, or Oklahoma. It might have been as early as 1973. But it might not have been. He just could not be sure. Sheriff Lumley told him that he did not believe him.
Gabby claims he was not worried about being a suspect in the case. He says that he knew that he did not shoot the person. He also says that he is not even as old as the gun that shot the person. Sheriff Lumley notes that Gabby is in his mid-forties (in 1992). The footlocker and the lock were made back in the 1930s. He does not believe that Gabby was the one that caused the person’s death. But he has always thought that Gabby has knowledge of who the person is and where they came from. For the record, Gabby says he does not know one single thing about the skeleton. At this point, he says that he is “a little irked by the whole mess.”
On March 31, 1992, Sheriff Lumley turned the skeleton over to the Wyoming State Crime Lab in Cheyenne. Maybe the bones could tell him what Gabby could not. According to Sandy Mays of the Wyoming State Crime Lab, the skeleton belonged to a Caucasian male in their mid-fifties to mid-sixties. He probably was about 5’8” or 5’9” (plus or minus an inch and a half). The bullet in his skull was turned over to the lab’s firearms examiner. They were able to identify it as coming from a .25 caliber Colt semiautomatic pistol with a two-inch barrel that was produced in the early 1900s (around 1904), and then available in the United States around 1908. Based on the angle of the wound, it is believed that the shot came from a right-handed person at close range.
Also in the footlocker was a belt and a rotted plastic bag from a supermarket chain called Hy-Vee’s, which is popular in Iowa. The bag with that particular logo was manufactured until the early 1950s. The murder is believed to have taken place between the 1940s and 1960s. Investigators figured that the skeleton had been buried once, only to be dug up and crammed unceremoniously into the footlocker.
In an effort to identify the victim, Mays fashioned a three-dimensional reconstruction in clay. The result (shown above) is uncanny. Only the eyes and hair are guesswork. Otherwise, it should be a good likeness of the man who somehow got a bullet in his head sometime after 1908. Strangely, both of his lower leg bones and one hand were missing. On his rib cage, there were several nicks, which might have been made by bullets.
Who is this man? How and why did he die? Perhaps, the old footlocker holds the key. The trunk, though not official Government Issue, bears markings which indicate it was used by someone in the United States armed services, possibly the Illinois National Guard, between World War I and World War II.
Extra Notes:

  • This case first aired on the February 24, 1993 episode.
  • To protect his identity, the man who owned the footlocker was filmed in silhouette and given the fictitious name "Gabby".
  • The show had heard about the case through newspaper articles and contacted Sheriff Lumley about it.
  • A Cheyenne newspaper speculated that the skeleton bore a likeness to Butch Cassidy, who was also featured on the show.
  • Another family had seen the broadcast and believed the skeleton belonged to their missing loved one, Morris Livers, who vanished from North Dakota in 1925. However, he was later ruled out.
Joseph mulvaney1

Joseph Mulvaney

Results: Solved. On October 25, 2017, the skeleton was identified through DNA testing as forty-two-year-old Joseph Junior Mulvaney. He was born on January 3, 1921, in Mattoon, Illinois, and had joined the Illinois National Guard's 130th Infantry in 1941. He was deployed to the Pacific Theater during World War II. He later became a railroad worker in California, married Mary Alyce McLees, and had three children: Kathryn, JJ, and Patrick. Mary Alyce had another son from a previous marriage: John David Morris (previously referred to as "Gabby"). In 1961, the family moved to Des Moines, Iowa, where Mary Alyce had grown up. In 1963, they bought a house there. Shortly afterwards, Joseph disappeared; however, he was never reported missing. His children were told that he had left voluntarily. However, they believed he met with foul play.
When Joseph's granddaughter, Shelley Statler, was a teenager, she learned about the skeleton through a newspaper article and was told by her father that the remains might have belonged to Joseph. However, she did not "pay much attention to it" at the time. As the years passed, she became more interested in her family's history and wanted to learn more about Joseph. As she researched him and the case, she became convinced that the skeleton belonged to him. She thought the jawline "seemed to be like [her] family's."
Over the years, Shelley and her mother, Kathryn Mulvaney Guynn, Joseph's daughter, tried contacting Wyoming authorities about the skeleton. Kathryn even contacted the show, but nothing came of it at the time. Finally, in 2017, the Hot Springs County Sheriff's Office agreed to conduct DNA testing with Joseph's family. On October 19, a DNA sample was obtained from Kathryn. It was determined with 99.99% certainty that the skeleton belonged to Joseph. Sadly, his youngest son passed away in 2001 before he was identified.
Joseph's family believes that Mary Alyce shot and killed him in Des Moines in April 1963 and had Morris, then sixteen, bury the body in their backyard. At some point, Morris dug up the remains and put them in the footlocker. He then brought them to Wyoming, where he left them with Newel. However, this theory cannot be definitively confirmed. According to Shelley, the couple's marriage was "not good." Mary Alyce died in 2009 and Morris reportedly committed suicide in Mississippi years after the skeleton were found. However, some sources state he is still alive. Little information is known about Morris, who reportedly used different aliases throughout his life, including David James Tanner. No charges were ever filed in Joseph's case.
In 2019, Joseph's remains were finally released to his family. On March 29, a full military memorial service was held for him at Ballard Funeral Home in Cody, Wyoming, with Shelley and her family in attendance. His remains were cremated and are now interred in Iowa, where his surviving family resides.
Newel passed away on May 7, 2003, at the age of seventy-nine, prior to the identification.