St. George Hopes to Solve Puzzle Posed by Boy's Skeleton, Quilt; Who
was turn-of-the-century youth holed up in Dixie cave?; Bones Found In
Dixie Cave Present a Puzzle
Byline: BY KELLY KENNEDY THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
ST. GEORGE -- About 100 years ago, a teen-age boy left home and somehow ended up in the
hills about five miles from St. George's Main Street.
Maybe he kept a hideaway in the 4-foot by 2-foot cave in the side of a steep cliff. One side
was filled in with rocks -- perhaps to protect him from the heat of the sun or to hide his body.
Inside the cave, he kept a hand-stitched patchwork quilt to pad against the sharp rocks or
maybe to protect against cool nights.
But on the last day of the boy's life, something hit him on the head -- perhaps a falling rock,
maybe he stood up too quickly in his secret spot or, unthinkably, somebody struck the boy hard
enough to kill him.
This is the puzzle that St. George residents have been trying to piece together since three boys
found a skeleton while exploring on the rocks in early December near their Bloomington Hills
"I just want to know who he was," said Cody Adams, the 14-year-old boy who stumbled
upon the bones with his brother Jesse, 13, and their buddy Jason Franz, 14. "And I want to
know why did we find him after all these years? It's only 15 feet to that [radio station] antenna,
and 30 feet to the road. Why did it take so long to find him?"
The boys were climbing near the cave when Jason spotted the sleeve of a shirt poking out
from the rocks.
"He said, `It's probably a dead body or something,' " Jesse said.
The boys pulled rocks away from the sleeve and found exactly that.
"I said, `Holy cow! What if he just died?" Jason said. "It was pretty freaking weird."
Investigators must first determine how long the skeleton has been in the cave. When they
know that, they can search for the boy's identity.
"We had one woman call in and say she had graduated from school here in 1940," said St.
George Police Det. Richard Triplett. "She told us one of her classmates had gone for a walk in
the mountains and never come back. When we researched it, we found out his car had been
found in the Henry Hills, and that's a long ways from here. But we'll check out every lead."
Until Wednesday, police thought the body may have been there for only 50 years because
the boy's clothing looked to an inexperienced eye like it might have been from the 1940s.
But then Utah Museum of Natural History collections manager Kathy Kankainen took a look
at the boy's clothing.
"He's dressed like a pioneer cowboy," she said. "We found brass buttons, wool blanket
material and a hand-sewn patchwork quilt. I'd say it's turn-of-the-century to the early part of the
Linda Carlson, a costume history expert at Colorado State University who has worked at
other grave sites, predicted exactly what the mystery boy was wearing when told he might have
lived at the turn-of-the-century:
"Let's see, denim pants could be real appropriate. We don't generally think of cowboy dress
yet at that time. He probably would have had a wool jacket. They were already wearing
machine-sewn ready-to-wear clothing then. And he probably had a cotton shirt with a stand-up
The dungarees were blue, and may have been Levi's, and the cotton shirt was blue-and-white
plaid. Police also found a wool jacket with the body. No zippers were found -- the
mesh-toothed closure was not invented until 1913.
Carlson said men's dress didn't change much for decades, but the machine stitching cinched it
was clothing from this century.
"We would need to do a finer analysis of the fabric to pinpoint it," she said.
Or, the puzzle could be solved by the boy's footwear.
He had a pair of Marshall Field's boots with the style number stamped inside. Police have sent
the boots to Marshall Field's main store in Chicago to see if someone could find out when model
No. 316 was made. Jason said the boots were high-topped leather with no shoelaces.
"If they can give us a window, maybe we can figure it out and notify the next-of-kin," Triplett
said. "Somewhere, somebody has been wondering for a long time what happened to this kid."
But now that investigators suspect the body may have been in the cave as long as 100 years,
identifying next-of-kin could be impossible.
"It's obvious that he was in that location for a long time," said Utah State Chief Medical
Examiner Todd Grey. "These are some dried-out looking bones."
He said the boy was mostly Caucasian with some American Indian features -- a broad nose
and a wide, strong jaw. Grey said his growth plates had not fused yet, so he knows the boy was
no older than 16, but probably closer to 14. There was no tissue left on the bones.
His skull shows a fracture from a blow that either occurred just before death or immediately
after because the head had swelled, pushing the skull outward, Grey said.
Triplett said he doesn't think the boy was murdered because of the blankets found with the
body and because it would have taken probably two people, a rope and a lot of work to haul
him up the 200-foot rock face to the cave and wall him in.
"It would have been a lot easier just to bury him," he said.
Townspeople have been touched by more than the mechanics of the death: The skeleton with
his hand-stitched quilt has sent some, such as Jason and Jesse's mothers and grandmothers, on a
quest to find out who this boy was -- who loved him, who took care of him and who lost him.
But there are no mentions of lost boys in the local history books.
St. George didn't see a lot of homicides in the last decades of the 19th century or the early
decades of the 20th century either. But the ones they had were memorable:
A man named Forest killed a mine overseer in Silver Reef, and a St. George mob then
Two men killed each other in a shootout.
Two cattle rustlers were executed.
A father shot his daughter's lover and then shot himself.
And a rancher was killed at home by a friend.
Police plan to go through old copies of The Washington County News once they determine an
age to see if there are any reports of missing children.
In the meantime, the three boys who found the skeleton are trying to find their own answers.
They feel a kinship to the boy because he is close to their own ages. And perhaps a ghost led
them to the long-lost grave.
"Maybe he came out on horseback," Jason said. "Maybe he was some kid on a farm who
worked really hard -- like slave labor. Maybe he ran away from home."
"Maybe he was checking out a new site for his family," Jesse said. "Or maybe he was brought
up from Las Vegas by gangsters."
"It just doesn't make sense," Cody said. "Why didn't anybody find him?"
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