Jane Prichard was conducting research on a summer vine for college. She travelled to Blackbird State Forest for two summers to watch and track the progress of the plant. On September 19th, 1986, Jane drove to a friend's place and headed to the forest early the next morning. Jane's body was discovered in the forest, but the murder remains unsolved.
In 1986, a man named John Morris left several of his possessions with his friend, Newel Sessions. Six years later, Newel opened the trunk and found human bones inside. It took more than 24 years to identify the victim as Joseph Mulvaney. It's believed that Joseph was murdered, put in the trunk, buried, and dug back up.
Jane Marie Prichard was always an outdoorsy person. She grew up on a 38 acre farm and was very close to her siblings. Her family says she was adventurous, independent, and had a knack for plants. Jane was the valedictorian of her 1976 Poolesville High School class. She was working at Brookside Gardens which was an upscale botanical garden and she was pursuing her master's degree in botany at University of Marylyand's College Park campus. Jane's research often brought her to Blackbird State Forest to focus on a summer vine known as hog peanut or ground bean, it was a native plant with edible seeds both above and below ground. For two summers, Jane would drive to the forest and sit in the shade of the tall oak trees, studying.
Jane absolutely loved her studies and she would prepare presentations on her projects and force her family to watch the slides and see the progress of her bean plant. She was proud of herself. She put her all into everything she did. In fact, Jane delivered a speech that described her work to an Ecological Society of America meeting in New York and she got pretty average teaching reviews from the undergraduates that she taught. She was insulted by this and she didn't want to be average, she worked far too hard for that. She worked so hard that she got the highest teach reviews of any department's 50 graduate students. When the class filled out their course evaluation, it asked what are the strong points of the course? And at least 50% wrote Jane Prichard.
On September 19th, 1986, Jane drove a blue and white Chevrolet Blazer to a friend's house. Her vehicle was loaded up with her research equipment and she left early the next morning to head to the forest. Jane arrived at the forest around 7 AM and she parked along an access road that was just south of Blackbird State Forest Road and she set up her equipment. Jane was interested in watching the plant leaves turn towards the sun. She was gathering the last portion of data that she needed for her thesis and would finally have her degree in a few months. Jane was taking minute by minute recording of the data and it ended abruptly right before 10 AM.
There was a couple from Perth Amboy, New Jersey and they were planning a relaxing, autumn camping trip in Delaware's Blackbird State Forest. They arrived on a saturday afternoon and there was a light breeze out. The couple picked a camping spot, set up their tent, and decided to enjoy an afternoon walk. They had no idea about the nightmare they were in for. As they were walking, they discovered the partially clothed body of Jane Marie Prichard about 20 feet from a trail. Jane was only 28 years old and had been killed by a shotgun blast to the back.
On the Monday after Jane's body was discovered, a man called the police and said he had seen Jane when he was hunting squirrels in the forest the morning she died. He had seen her talking to another hunter and was able to describe the man to a sketch artist. A composite sketch was released to the press and printed on flier. There were many hunters in the forest on the day of Jane's murder, but this was quickly ruled out as an accidental shooting. An autopsy determined that Jane bled to death from shotgun wounds of the left shoulder and neck, this was a homicide. Nearly 300 people were interviewed by the police and technicians conducted detailed tests of the shotgun pellets that struck Jane.
Investigators roped off the area in the forest and examined for days. They used metal detectors and sifted through soil. They were able to track down the squirrel hunter that was seen with Jane. He was in his late 20s and worked as a janitor at a pharmaceutical company. The police did find some inconsistencies during the interviews with this guy. In early October, they charged him with first-degree murder and possession of a deadly weapon during commission of a felony. He ended up being held without bail.
Investigators found one piece of evidence at the crime scene and it was a hair. DNA testing was brand new at this time and the detective wasn't taking any chances. Detective James Hendricks flew to California with the tiny hair because there was only one lab that was doing DNA at this time. This was one of the first cases to use DNA. Scientist found that the hair didn't match the suspect. In August 1987, they had to drop the charges and all leads in the case just dried up and the case went cold. The police aren't even sure what the possible motive would be.
In October 2014, New Castle County police announced that they were creating a new cold case homicide squad. Their hoping that a fresh look and new technologies may get some of these cases solved. At the time that this started, this county had 40-50 unsolved homicides that they planned to look at. This case is at the top of the list, but remains unsolved at this time.
Cold case unit tackles 1986 killing of student in Delaware forest (delawareonline.com)
Motive Remains Mystery In Slaying of Botanist - The Washington Post
This story is most commonly know as Gabby's Bones, the skeleton in the box or Thermopolis John Doe. When the story first aired on the Unsolved Mysteries show, the person that owned the trunk was referred to as Gabby and this is a fake name. We now know that the person's name is John Morris. In 1986, a man named John Morris left several of his possessions with his friend, Newel Sessions. One of the items left behind was an old footlocker, which is like a safe or trunk and all of the items were placed in a shed for storage. Six years later, Newel randomly opened the trunk with a torch and discovered human bones inside. He decided the bones should have a proper burial. Now, I respect that he wanted to give the bones a proper burial, but I'm confused as to why that was his first thought. He didn't think to call the police or call John Morris and be like, WTF, man. Luckily, Newel's wife insisted that they call the police. Newel thought about it and decided to contact John Morris first to see if his friend knew about the remains. John Morris said he had absolutely no idea about the bones and said he never even opened the trunk. He was pretty sure he purchased the trunk at a garage sale, but couldn't remember when or where. John Morris was quite surprised to hear about the remains in the trunk.
Newel contacted Sheriff John Lumley and he was suspicious of Gabby from the jump. He was obviously questioning why Gabby never opened the trunk before. Gabby said he planned to open the trunk, but didn't have the proper tools. The remains were examined and a bullet was discovered in the skull. The sheriff met up with Gabby for an interview and he thought he may have picked up the trunk in Wyoming, Iowa, Illinois, or Oklahom and it may have been in 1973 or sometime later than that. The trunk and lock were determined to be from the 1930s. Newel was convinced that Gabby was innocent, but the sheriff wasn't as convinced.
On March 31st, 1992, the bones were turned over to the Wyoming State Crime Lab and they created a facial reconstruction of the man. They believed the man possibly lost his life sometime after 1908 when the bullet actually became available. The trunk could have been used by someone in the US Armed Services between World War I and World War II. A bag for the Hy Vee supermarket was found with the remains and it was first manufactured in the early 1950s.
Examination of the bones showed the person was a Caucasian male, 50 to 60 years old and was about 5'8” in height. The remains had actually been buried before and were dug up and placed in the trunk. The lower leg bones and one of his hands were missing and several nicks were found on the rib cage. The bullet in the head was from a 25 caliber gun.
It took more than 24 years to figure out the identity of the victim. On October 19th, 2017, a woman from Iowa contacted the sheriff's office and submitted DNA and asked that it be compared to the unidentified man. She believed the skeleton belonged to her grandfather. A DNA comparison concluded that it was a 99.99% match and the skeleton was Joseph Mulvaney who disappeared from Des Moines, Iowa in 1963. Joseph's death remains a mystery, but here's what we do know about him. He was born on January 3rd, 1921 in Mattoon, Illinois. Joseph joined the Illinois National Guard in 1941 and served during World War II. He worked for the railroad companies in California and met Mary Alyce Mclees. The couple had three children and Mary Alyce had one child from a previous relationship. This child's name was John David Morris and this was the person that ended up being in possession of Joseph's bones.
In the early 60's, Joseph and Mary Alyce took their three children and moved to Des Moines. The couple bought a house in 1963 and shortly after the paperwork was signed, Joseph disappeared and he was never reported missing. Relatives of the victim say that Joseph and Mary Alyce didn't have the best relationship and they fought often. They believe that Joseph was murdered, put in the trunk, and buried in the backyard of the new home. Then, John Morris dug them up and took the trunk with him to Wyoming.
It's worth mentioning that the investigators had no idea that the man in the trunk was John Morris' stepfather and he didn't offer up this information because he stuck to his story about getting the trunk from a yard sale. John Morris was about 16 years old when Joseph would have gone missing. The police do not believe that John Morris is the one that pulled the trigger, but it's fair to assume that he knows more than he says. He obviously knew about the bones being buried, so it makes me think he had some kind of involvement.
Missing Iowan's bones identified 54 years later, but mystery endures (desmoinesregister.com)
Gabby's Bones | Unsolved Mysteries Wiki | Fandom