Digging into a 57-year-old murder case
Wednesday, August 22, 2007.
By late morning, they'd found the remains of a body.
Was it the unknown red-haired woman who was buried in an unmarked grave in Greenway Cemetery on May 23, 1950?
By mid-afternoon, things were even less clear.
They'd found bones from a second body in the same grave.
Early June, 2007.
Sgt. D. B. Swiger strolled into The Morgan Messenger office late one warm afternoon.
He wondered whether The Messenger had files going back 57 years.
The answer: No.
He began talking about a redhead, whose nude body had been found along the roadside near the Hancock Bridge on Wednesday afternoon, May 10, 1950.
Swiger, one of two Cold Case Investigators for the West Virginia State Police, was taking a new look at the unsolved case.
Seems a woman's family was hoping to find a mother they hadn't seen since 1939. They'd hired a private investigator who'd come across the Redhead Murder Case through the internet. They thought she might be the one.
Swiger had come to Berkeley Springs
to learn what he could, but it wasn't
going well. He'd stopped at Bath Town
Hall to check Greenway Cemetery records so he could figure out where the mystery woman had been buried. They were unable to find the records, but they were still looking.
Did we know anyone who might know about the redhead? he asked.
I've researched it and written articles about it, I said, and gave him the stories I'd written in 1991 and 2000.
I suggested he talk with former State Police Corporal Don Sharp, who reopened the case in the 1970s after learning of a woman who thought her long-lost sister might be the redhead.
I'll be back, Swiger said.
And a week or so later, he was.
Friday, June 15, 2007.
It was a blazing hot morning when Sgt. Swiger and I drove to Greenway Cemetery to meet Lee Fox and John Anderson, two people we hoped might know something about the gravesite.
Fox had started as a town officer and employee in the 1950s, and Anderson owned Hunter-Anderson Funeral Home, which had overseen the redhead's burial in 1950.
By then, Bath Town Hall had found documents that showed where the redhead and a few other poor or unknown persons were buried in unmarked graves in what was called the Potter's Field.
Fox said he'd begun working for the town a few years after the burial, but he pointed to a spot on a steep slope on the northern edge of the old part of the cemetery. That's where he'd always been told she was buried.
According to the town's records, that indeed was the place. At least the plot matched up with the marked graves up the hill, and there was an indention suggesting a body.
As we wandered the hillside that near 100-degree day, Charlie Webster came over. He'd lived across the road most of his life and he'd figured out what we were looking for. He remembered the case, though he'd been out of town on the day of the burial. He thought we had the right spot, too.
Wouldn't it be amazing, we all thought, if the redhead could be identified after all these years?
"We are diligently trying to find what happened to this woman," reported an internet posting by Marquita Davis, a private investigator in Layton, Utah.
The woman she was trying to find was Elizabeth Ann Bouslog Davis, no relation to her.
Marquita Davis was working for the missing woman's daughters, now aged 79 and 86.
They last saw their mother in Colorado in 1939, after their parents divorced. She was leaving for San Francisco with a man named John Spooner.
About three years later, she wrote that she was working, apparently as a nurse, at a military hospital in Presidio, California. That was the last the children heard from her.
The investigator's website goes on to list a hodgepodge of information from public documents and the daughters' fading memories.
Elizabeth Ann Bouslog Davis was born on December 30, 1902 in Chrisman, Illinois. She often went by Anna, Elizabeth, Peg or Peggy.
She was between 5'3" and 5'6," and weighed 110 to 135 pounds.
Her hair was an unusual shade of dark red or auburn and was naturally curly – so curly that she disliked it. She had green or blue eyes.
She took up smoking shortly before she left Colorado for California in 1939.
Wee hours of Thursday, May 11, 1950.
About 12 hours after a nude redhead's body was found by a mushroom hunter, the autopsy on the unknown woman's body was completed at Hunter Funeral Home in Berkeley Springs.
Prosecuting Attorney S. D. Helsley clearly recalled his main impression years later.
The smell of tobacco. When the doctors opened her up, there was a strong smell of tobacco.
The woman's hair was described as "auburn red," or reddish-brown, or brown with red highlights. It was so curly they believed she had just gotten a perm.
The redhead was 5'5" and weighed 125 to 130 pounds.
She had well-healed scars from a hysterectomy and an appendectomy, and a strawberry birthmark on her calf.
Her age was placed at 35 to 40, though many of the thousands of people who viewed the body felt she was older.
She had been strangled some 48 to 96 hours before she was found.
Aside from the estimated age of the unknown redhead, nothing so far ruled out the possibility that she and Elizabeth Ann Bouslog Davis were one and the same.
Sgt. Swiger had been told that Davis even had similar abdominal scars to the redhead's.
There was only one way to be sure. Exhume the redhead's body. Remove some bones for DNA testing. Let the lab do its work.
Swiger called Morgan County Prosecutor Debra McLaughlin and asked if she would present an exhumation order in circuit court.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007.
You couldn't miss that something unusual was happening if you drove through Greenway Cemetery last Wednesday morning.
With even a quick glance, you'd have seen a crew of state troopers, including Sgt. Swiger, Sgt. Carl Mahood and troopers from the Berkeley Springs detachment.
And there was an FBI crew – an archeologist, a survey team and others from the Pittsburgh Division.
And Circuit Judge David Sanders, who signed the exhumation order. And Barbara Sieglaff, his secretary.
And Prosecutor Debra McLaughlin and Assistant Prosecutor Dan James.
And a Morgan Messenger editor.
And others who came and went throughout the day.
The state troopers dug into the hillside, opening the grave that had been identified in June.
After a while they came across some wood fragments and what appeared to be the rotted remains of a wooden coffin.
Down a little further, and the first bones emerged.
At that point, Special Agent Mike Hochrein took over. A forensic archeologist, Hochrein climbed into the open grave and carefully dug and brushed and vacuumed away dirt and debris until the bones and pieces of a casket could be seen.
The most striking image was of a large leg bone entwined with a piece of boot.
This was troubling since it didn't fit the redhead's story.
Then a handle from a casket was found, with the outer edge facing the body. Immediately there was talk of two bodies in the grave, though the cemetery records only mentioned the redhead's.
Hochrein explained that sometimes there was "grave tumble," in which erosion on such a steep hillside might cause a casket to move and even roll over.
But no one seemed sure. And they had not yet found a skull, from which they hoped to take a couple teeth, a good source of DNA.
Hochrein and the troopers expanded their dig into the gravesite a little.
Other bones and a skull emerged. And that's when they became convinced that the redheaded woman had, without anyone knowing in 1950, been buried on top of or right next to, another unknown body, probably of a man.
You never know when you get into it, what you might run into, Sgt. Swiger said later.
So, instead of taking parts of one body for DNA testing, they took parts of two.
FBI agents carefully placed bones in boxes and bags marked Individual #1 and Individual #2.
The bones and teeth will be sent to a lab at Marshall University where DNA will be extracted and compared with DNA samples from Elizabeth Ann Bouslog Davis' children.
The results could be back in the next two months, or it might take up to six months, Swiger said.
Only then will we know if a woman who left her family in Colorado in 1939 ended her life as an unknown strangling victim in Morgan County in 1950.