Headless Body in Cave Is Identified as 1916 Ax Murder Suspect

The DNA was high quality — unusual for so old a sample, according to Justin Loe of Full Genomes, a genetic services company involved in the case. He suspects that may have to do with the conditions in the volcanic cave.

Samantha Blatt, a bioarcheologist at Idaho State University, said the temperature of the cave sand— around 37 Fahrenheit — might have contributed to the fact that the mummified remains retained an odor of decomposition, which was rare after so many years. Also, his sock was almost perfectly preserved.

“It’s a complete sock,” she said. “It looks like it could be from my house.”

After uploading a profile to various DNA databases, genetic genealogists began looking for relatives. Beyond DNA matches and relatives’ family trees, the clue that proved most critical was a wanted poster, Mr. Redgrave said. The clothes he was wearing when he escaped — a “light colored hat, brown coat, red sweater, blue overalls over black trousers” — were an exact match for the clothes found on “Clark County John Doe,” he said.

To confirm their hypothesis, the genealogists needed a close relative. After several months, the Clark County Sheriff’s Department in Dubois, Idaho, located the bootlegger’s 87-year-old grandson. A deputy drove to California to ask him to take a DNA test. The man agreed, and the test confirmed that the remains belonged to his grandfather.

Investigators did not know why Loveless was killed and buried in the cave, but Dr. Blatt had a theory: revenge. Shortly after he broke out of jail, his wife’s family came to retrieve her body, meaning they were in the area at the time of his death. Given that most everyone thought Loveless was responsible for his wife’s grisly slaughter, her family might have dismembered him as payback, she said.

Over the past two years, a growing number of law enforcement agencies have turned to genetic genealogy to identify human remains and solve other crimes. One of many questions that have been raised around this contentious practice is why some cases get the special treatment — involving dozens of volunteers, costly external contractors and special law enforcement resources — while others don’t.

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