Unlocking a Deadly Secret


Dinosaur bones were found on a Thermopolis, Wyoming, ranch in 1993. While this would typically be a big deal, the locals were still abuzz about the bones found the previous year.

The bones that diminished the dinosaur story had been unearthed on March 31, 1992, when Thermopolis resident Newel Sessions opened a long-forgotten footlocker. To his shock, a scattering of bones lay inside. Tests determined the bones in the footlocker were of a Caucasian male.

The footlocker had been left with Newel by former Thermopolis resident John Morris who moved to Texas in 1986. When contacted, Morris claimed only vague recollections of the chest, saying he thought he had bought it at a garage sale in Iowa in 1973. Morris also claimed he never opened his purchase because he did not have the right tools, and denied any knowledge of the man’s identity.

A rotted plastic bag bearing the Hy-Vee logo found in the trunk gave credence that the footlocker could have been in Iowa, the state in which the Hy-Vee Food Store chain was founded. The remains remained unidentified for a quarter of a century until his identity was finally confirmed in 2017.

Tests determined the bones were of a Caucasian male in his mid-50s to mid-60s. John Doe was approximately 5’8. Both of the man’s lower leg bones and one hand were missing. X-rays showed he had been killed shot. A bullet was still lodged in his skull, and he also appeared to have been shot in the chest. A three-dimensional clay figure was constructed depicting how the man may have looked.

After reading a newspaper article about the discovery, Des Moines, Iowa, resident Shelley Statler contacted the Hot Springs County Sheriff’s Office in 2017. She believed the man’s reconstruction bore a resemblance to several relatives. After obtaining a DNA sample from Shelley’s mother, the Wyoming state crime lab determined John Doe was Shelley’s grandfather, Joseph Mulvaney.

The circumstances of his murder will likely be an eternal mystery. Shelley and her mother suspect he was killed in Des Moines and initially buried in his back yard. Shelley believes her grandfather was either murdered by his wife or stepson, John Morris, who would have been sixteen-years-old at the time.

When Morris moved to Wyoming, he allegedly dug up Joseph’s remains and placed them in the footlocker. When he moved to Texas several years later, Morris left the footlocker with his neighbor, Newel Sessions.

John Morris’s fate is unclear. Some sources say he later moved to Mississippi, where he committed suicide, but in a 2019 Des Moines Register article, reporter Daniel Finney thinks he may still be alive and in his late 70’s.

Joseph Mulvaney was born in Illinois in 1921. In the 1930s, his family moved to Decatur, Iowa, where he attended high school. He enlisted in the National Guard in 1941 and served in Australia and the Philippines during World War II.

After the war, Joseph worked for several railroads that took him across America. In California, he married Des Moines native Mary McLees, and they had three children together. Mary also had a son, John Morris, from a previous relationship. The Mulvaneys moved to Des Moines in 1963, but Joseph disappeared shortly after that. Shelley’s mother was approximately six-years-old when she last saw her father. For reasons unclear, no one ever reported him as missing.

Joseph Mulvaney’s bones were cremated before his funeral on March 29, 2019, in Cody, Wyoming. He was laid to rest with full military rites, including a 21-gun salute.


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Further Reading:

Des Moines Register
Doe Network
Hot Springs County, Wyoming, Sheriff Department


More About Our Wonderful Guest Blogger:

Ian Granstra is a writer and a native Iowan now living in  Arkansas.Growing up, he enjoyed watching real-life crime shows and further researching the stories featured. He wrote about many of them on his personal Facebook page, and several people suggested he should start a group featuring his writings. Ian founded the Facebook group “Murders, Missing People and More Mysteries” in August of 2018 he writes about many cold cases. The group also features many current criminal cases in the news. When Ian isn’t writing, he enjoys exercising, traveling and collecting sports cards. He’s also a big animal lover (his Facebook nickname is “beagle lover.”)


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