‘DNA Doe Project’ works to identify headless torso found buried in Idaho cave

Posted at 12:07 PM, Jan 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-02 16:59:15-05

IDAHO— After two discoveries of buried bones in an Idaho cave, the identity of the remains has been uncovered.

Despite the remains not including a human head, the DNA Doe Project used forensic genealogy to I.D. the bones. The project believes the remains could be nearly 103-years-old and belong to an outlaw and murderer Joseph Henry Loveless.

"We found exactly the right person who was the paternal line who had that Y-DNA, the maternal line that had the X, and then we had to figure out which one of those children ended up in that cave," said Anthony Redgrave, the case's Team Leader with DNA Doe Project.

"We came to his I.D. in about 15 weeks but that was after hundreds of other people from law enforcement, anthropologists, coroners, search teams all tried their hand at."

The remains were uncovered in the Civil Defense Caves (Buffalo Cave) in Clark County, just north of Rexburg, Idaho. Bones were found in 1979 and again in 1991. They were looked at by specialists over the course of nearly 40 years, including a stint at the Smithsonian. No one was able to identify the remains.

Research from DNA Doe Project along with anthropologists at Idaho State University and the University of New Hampshire showed that more than 2,000 volunteer hours were logged by the DNA Doe Project while trying to find a match with over 31,000 possibilities.

After just five months, on October 28, 2019, the DNA Doe Project genealogy team concluded that the Clark County 'John Doe' is Joseph Henry Loveless. The project gave the Clark County Sheriff's Department the name of the candidate for identification and deputies were able to confirm the I.D. via comparison with a living grandchild in California.

Extensive historical data shows Loveless was born in Payson, Utah in December and was born to parents who belonged to the Utah Pioneer ancestry (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

Loveless moved to Idaho in 1905 after divorcing his wife in Salt Lake City. He re-married to another woman in Bear Lake County, Idaho and had four children. He would later be arrested for bootlegging numerous times. Loveless escaped jail in 1914 and was wanted on several liquor violations.

In 1916, Loveless, using the alias 'Walter Garron' escaped custody after stopping a train and sawing through jail bars. In May 1916, Loveless' wife was murdered by 'Charles Smith', while the whereabouts of Joseph Henry Loveless were unaccounted for. Roughly six days later, a man named 'Walter Currans,' who also gave the alias 'Smith,' was arrested for the murder of his wife. A week later, the man known as 'Walter' escaped jail by sawing through the bars using a saw he hid in his shoes. He was never seen again.

According to research from the DNA Doe Project, the numerous alias' were all the same person, Joseph Henry Loveless, as confirmed by the Clark County Sheriff's Office. As for the nature of the case as it stands now, it's being treated as a murder investigation by the Clark County Sheriff's Office and remains an open case.

"By the DNA Doe Project coming and stepping in to do the forensic genealogy again that was key to getting this entire thing resolved, we couldn't have done it without them," said Dr. Amy Michael, Anthropologist at the University of New Hampshire. "I was shocked that they were able to make the identification, so many people have tried."

Co-Founder of the DNA Doe Project Dr. Margaret Press believes this case may be the oldest to be solved in history with genetic genealogy.

"This changes everything for forensics, law enforcement, American history and the new field of forensic genealogy like this sets a precedent that we didn't have before," said DNA Doe Project's Anthony Redgrave. "We've taken this revolutionary new field and leveled it up again by doing something of a historic nature."

With numerous active cases in the works, the DNA Doe Project is hoping more people with ancestry from the Utah Pioneers may be taking at-home DNA tests and are willing to upload their data.

To learn more about the DNA Doe Project visit their website:

Anyone with information on the cave burial and dismemberment of Joseph Henry Loveless is encouraged to contact Clark County Sheriff's Office.