Historical Details

Workers Dig up Mystery Man

Courtesy of The Lusk Herald, 02/26/1997


It's a mystery, one that Niobrara County residents are scrambling to solve.

Last Tuesday, workers found a casket while moving dirt for the foundation of a new house for Dick Chopping. Located at the end of Fourth St. on the west side of town the discovery has generated interest throughout the county.

News of the find was even the topic of conversation at local choir practice, according to Gerry Bardo. "It's just something that's caught the imagination of everybody," he said. "I think it's what we've always called in the newspaper business a human interest story," Bardo believes it is sparking interest because people didn't realize there was a cemetery in that area and they want to research when the present cemetery was established.

Lynn Bader believes it is drawing interest because of "the natural question - I wonder who this gentleman is."

County coroner Butch Bader said an instructor has expressed interest for his students to help with the research into the individual's background.
Little concrete information is known about the individual found, Bader said.
"The individual is believed to be a male who died approximately 100 years ago, Bader said.

The casket was made out of redwood with a glass viewing window across the top and Masonic symbols on the handles.

Skeletal remains indicate the man was a "good-sized gentleman who had a full red beard," Lynn said.

Bader said the historical society and Jim Willson have found three names of individuals buried in the old cemetery but no record of them having been moved to the new cemetery north of Lusk.

Lynn said when this individual was buried the area was part of Converse County; Niobrara County had not been established. "This was a planned burial and I would say for that time frame a pretty fancy thing," Lynn said. "We in society today, would assume this gentleman was a Mason, but it may have been the prettiest, fanciest casket with the hardware that the family liked."

One of the individuals being researched died during the Johnson County war, she said. "A lot of times with something like this, people will do a lot of the leg work for you," Butch said. "We're going to do our best to identify who it is."

In addition to the ongoing local research, the Bader's are hoping to get help from the state crime lab and the state archeologists office to unravel this mystery.

"People in this town and county are so resourceful, they're going to help out," she said. "This has brought out a lot of good in people."

After all of the avenues have been exhausted or the individual has been identified, Bader said they will bury him out at the new cemetery. But he doesn't expect that to happen any time soon. He estimates it may take one or two months before they know anything conclusive.

The Lusk Herald, April 2, 1997

Lusk's mystery man may have taken two steps closer to his real identity.

Lusk City Supervisor Al Titchenor and other town staff were cleaning the concrete bunkers under the power plant, rearranging city maps stored there, when Titchenor discovered a 1915 city map of the town's earlier cemetery.

Researchers will attempt to identify the remains and the map proves a valid tool.
"I certainly hope it will help," said Titchenor.

Monday Lynn Bader transported the entire remains to the state crime lab in Cheyenne, where extensive testing will officially determine the approximate height, weight, gender and age of the deceased. Bader and her husband Butch, who is the county coroner, were able to estimate the deceased age within 5-8 years but the crime lab should come within 1-2.

Lyn requested the crime lab return the results in 4-6 weeks since Gary Troudt's history class which is researching information to help with the deceased's identification, will dismiss for the summer the end of May.

Lynn believes the research is helpful to young people beyond its historical value. She sees observing the deceased without the immediate grief inherent in the death of someone the young people know as a way to lessen death's fear and abhorrence.

The casket was unearthed during a construction project on the Dick Chopping property.

The Lusk Herald, April 16, 1997
By Jeanne Editor
Lusk Herald Staff Writer

Lusk is the center of a mystery, a who-is-it of Sherlock Holmes proportion.

The mystery had spanned the generation gap, capturing the imagination of the community and awakening the amateur
sleuth in many individuals.

Who was the mystery man? How did he die?

On Feb. 18 a construction worker was removing dirt with a backhoe for Dick Chopping's new basement at the dead end of West Fourth Street, when the blade unearthed an unexpected treasure. It ripped into a redwood casket complete with a glass viewing window and ornate handles embossed with Masonic symbols.

Though the casket itself was largely destroyed, the remains appear to be that of a man of average height with a full red beard.

Niobrara County Coroner and local mortuary director Butch Bader took charge of the remains. Initial research indicates the man had probably been buried about 100 years ago in the town's original cemetery, and was missed when the cemetery was moved to its new location. The historical society and Jim Willson found three names in the original cemetery that were not recorded as moved to the new. The first record of a burial in the new cemetery was in 1916.

Butch's wife Lynn said the Masonic symbols on the handles might now actually indicate the man was a Mason, but that his family liked the more ornate style of the casket.

Researchers dug through old Lusk Heralds and records at the Stagecoach Museum, and Lusk Middle School students in Gary Troudt's eighth grade history class got into the act. Six at a time they visited the museum for two and a half hours each week, documenting names of people whose deaths were recorded in the suspect time frame of 1886, when the community was established, and 1930. They compared probable identities with a computer record of the old cemetery reburials Candy Dooper's computer class had designed a couple of years ago.

Three weeks ago they thought that they had found their man. Katie Craig found records of Harry Harrison Roberts, who was reported to have been a member of the Oddfellows with a fine coffin and fancy handles. They students were thrilled.

"You should have seen the disappointment on their faces when they got back to school and found his name on the new cemetery register," said Troudt.

City Supervisor Al Titchenor and city staff were cleaning concrete bunkers under the power plant, rearranging city maps stored there, when Titchenor discovered a 1915 map of the original cemetery site. He brought it to the Baders and the students received a copy.

Lynn Bader transferred the remains to the state crime lab in Cheyenne about the same time, requesting the lab complete their identification procedures before school dismisses in the spring. Though the Baders are confident of his gender and can estimate his age within 5-8 years, the lab will officially determine approximate height, weight, gender and the age of the deceased between one to two years.

Last week the students came across three other names in their research but believe now the deceased is a man named J. V. White. His name is not recorded among those moved to the new location, and he appears to fit the profile.

"At the end of the research, we will rebury him (in the new cemetery). The eighth graders will perform a serious proper burial," said Troudt.

Lynn Bader believes the research had provided more than historical perspective to the young people. So many young people first confront death on a personal level, and it remains forever frightening. In this case, they are able to meet it without personal grief.

The Lusk Herald, April 23,1997

Two additional caskets found at Chopping site

Park Miller and fellow workers could well adopt the hit "Digging Up Bones:" by Randy Travis as their theme song.

Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning workers unearthed two caskets containing human remains at a Lusk construction site.

Monday Niobrara County Coroner Butch Bader, Deputy Coroner Todd Weber and Butch's wife Lynn retrieved the remains of the second person. The third casket discovered about 3' north of the second, will be retrieved on Wednesday by a grave recovery team from the University of Wyoming archeological department.

Park and Max Miller will complete excavation at the Chopping home tomorrow, and no more will be done in the area. Almost two months ago Miller was moving dirt with a backhoe, when the equipment ripped into wood and a skull rolled toward him. A unique experience at best, Miller's backhoe once again contacted wood Monday while he was digging a water line at the Dick Chopping residence at the dead end of Fourth Street. This time he knew what it was.

The wooden finished casket, complete with viewing window, was discovered about 15 feet north of the first casket. Workers retrieved exemplary pieces of curved wood and metal construction pieces after the skeleton had been removed. A metal crucifix was found with he remains, suggesting the interred could be Catholic or Episcopalian. The human remains were taken into custody by Niobrara County Coroner Butch Bader until an examination can be made.

Monday afternoon Bader received preliminary results from the state crime lab on John Doe Chopping 1, the first skeleton unearthed. The lab determined the remains are that of a big Caucasian man, 6'1" or perhaps a little taller. He was between the ages of 42-55 years. An earlier injury to his skull sometime had healed, leaving evidence of a skull depression.

The crime lab dated the buttons found with the skeleton from about 1840-1920. The bow tie was composed of rayon or a rayon - like fabric. The lab estimated the coffin's age at post 1860, possibly as late as 1890.

The Baders were contacted about 11 a.m. Tuesday morning that the backhoe had contacted the edge of a third casket.

The Lusk Herald, June 25,1997

The saga of the three bodies uncovered on Dick Chopping's building site continued on last week.

Lyn Bader of Bader Funeral Home received notification from the state crime lab in Cheyenne that the two bodies that had already been sent were ready for pick up. While at the the state lab, all of the bodies were identified as male and in their 40s to 50s when they died.

The men all had arthritis, one possibly to the degree of being crippled. The other two could have been related due to skeletal similarities. The bodies will be retrieved in the next two weeks, and after the bodies return to Lusk, Butch Bader plans to get together with Gary Troudt to match information and try to come up with some possible identities.

Funeral services will probably be in mid-July. Troudt's eighth grade students will serve as pallbearers and prepare obituaries, eulogies, and epitaphs. After a generic service at the funeral home by the Rev. Patrick Shea of St. Leo's Catholic Church, graveside services will be conducted. The Batesville Casket Company and the Wilburt Vault Company have donated a casket and vault respectively, and all three men will be buried together.

Troudt and his class have been extensively involved in the identification and recovery process. Students not only helped with excavation, but cleaned crosses and casket handles looking for dates and used cemetery maps to find where people were located in the cemetery and where they lived before they died. The class came up with two more possible names for the deceased. Both people died in 1881 in Niobrara county.

It remains to be seen if the names are a match. The students have speculated that the bodies remained buried because they were "just too gory to move. They may have been partly decomposed and the movers decided that it wasn't worth it to move the,," said Troudt.

Class members have shared their knowledge with various news organizations including the Wyo-Braska News Network, the Casper Star Tribune and the Cheyenne Eagle-Tribune.

Next year's eighth graders will continue researching in hopes of finding some more answers. "Next year we will re-grid the cemetery lot locations and orders. We hope to identify how many other bodies we don't know the location of," Troudt said.

"My guess is there are more bodies back there," Butch said. "It's probably a matter of time until more show up."

The Lusk Herald, August 6, 1997
By Dee Johnson, Staff Writer

John Doe Chopping one, two and three will take the trip they should have taken long ago to the Lusk Cemetery next week.

Funeral services for the three men will be August 14 at 2 p.m. at Bader Funeral home. The Rev. Patrick Shea of St. Leo's Catholic Church will conduct ceremonies. Burial will be a the Lusk Cemetery.

Last year's and this year's eighth grade classes will serve as pallbearers and Kay Lambert will donate flowers. The Batesville Casket Company donated a casket for the three men to be buried in and a vault was also donated.

The men were unearthed Feb. 25 on the building site for Dick Chopping's house on the west side of town. The skeletons were sent to the State Crime Lab in Cheyenne for study and it was determined that all three were men, they died in their 40's or 50's and suffered from arthritis. Gary Troudt's history classes spent time researching names and tracing the movement of bodies from the old cemetery to its present location north of Lusk.

No concrete identification was ever made and soon the men will rest with others from the time period.

The Lusk Herald, August 13, 1997

Due to a time conflict, funeral services for John Doe Chopping one, two and three will be Friday Aug. 15 at Bader Funeral Home at 9:30 a.m. Burial will follow in the Lusk Cemetery. The vault for the three gentlemen's casket was donated by the Wilburt Vault Company.

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Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Troudt, Gary (10/15/1953 - 07/24/2009) View Record