Joseph Henry Loveless: The Ax-Murderer Found Headless 100 Years After Escaping Jail

When Joseph Henry Loveless, an outlaw and ax murderer with a long criminal career, broke out of jail in 1916, it was as if he'd fallen off the face of the earth. It would be more than 100 years before the world discovered his brutal fate. But, the story still isn't finished. In Idaho, there remains an open murder case on who slaughtered Loveless, cut up his body, and dumped it in a cave near Dubois, in Clark County, per the Post Register.

In the summer of 1979, a family hunting for arrowheads in Buffalo Cave made a gruesome discovery when they stumbled over a headless torso wrapped in burlap and partially buried, according to CBS News. Then in 1991, investigators turned up more body parts in the same cave system after a girl discovered a mummified hand. It would take modern forensic techniques and the help of many researchers and agencies, including the FBI, to figure out it was Loveless' corpse.

Who Was Joseph Henry Loveless?

Joseph Henry Loveless was born Dec. 3, 1870, in the Utah territory and came from a well-respected Mormon pioneer family, per the Post Register. But, Loveless must have been a bad seed since he left his family for a wild life of bootlegging, counterfeiting, and general criminality. He used several aliases and was known for his skill at breaking out of jail, often sawing through bars with a knife he kept hidden in his shoe, according to the AP.

In 1916, Loveless was charged with murdering Agnes Caldwell, his second wife (his first wife divorced him after he abandoned her and their child). The authorities tossed him in jail to await trial. However, Loveless, as he'd done on other occasions, escaped. In fact, one of his sons is reported to have said at Caldwell's funeral "Papa never stayed in jail very long, and he'll be out soon"  But, after escaping Loveless didn't live much longer since he soon met the same fate as the wife he murdered.

Modern Forensics Helped ID the Victim of a Very Old Crime

In 2015, the Clark County sheriff recruited students and faculty from Idaho State University's anthropology department to help in the case, and in the following years, both the FBI and Smithsonian Institution lent a hand. While the researchers determined some specifics about the body, they were unable to identify it. The victim had been about 40 years old when killed, had reddish-brown hair, and was of European descent, per the AP. But, it took the help of the DNA Doe Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to forensically identifying Jane and John Does, to crack the case in 2019. 

After 2,000 hours of legwork, the forensic team determined Loveless was the likely victim, and thanks to the outlaw's 87-year-old grandson, who gave a sample of his DNA, they made a positive ID, per the Post Register. While they solved one big mystery, another remains. The Clark County Sheriff's Office is keeping the case open, hoping that more clues may turn up as to who murdered the ax murdered — possibly with an ax.