Remains found in trunk in 1992 to be buried

These bones found in a trunk near Thermopolis are finally going to be given a resting place. The remains, identified as those of Iowa resident Joseph Junior Mulvaney, will be interred in Iowa following a military memorial service in Cody. (Photo courtesy of the Hot Springs County Sheriff's Office)

By Cindy Glasson

Thermopolis Independent Record

Via Wyoming News Exchange

THERMOPOLIS — Joseph Junior Mulvaney has been waiting literally decades to find his final resting place and that time is finally coming.

Known as the “skeleton in the trunk”, Mulvaney’s remains were finally identified on October 26, 2017, through a DNA profile at the state crime lab in Cheyenne.

His body had been originally found in a trunk on Newell Sessions’ property in 1992 and the mystery began. The trunk had been left behind by John David Morris, aka David Tanner, when he moved from the Sessions place six years earlier in 1986.

The sheriff at the time, John Lumley, ran a background check on Morris, finding he had several run-ins with the law over the years. The Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI) got involved and after an over the phone interview with Morris, the DCI agent said she believed his story that he had purchased the trunk at a yard sale.

Lumley wasn’t buying it and flew to Arlington, Texas to interview Morris in person.

Morris had a hard time remembering where he’d purchased the trunk – Oklahoma, Iowa, Illinois, Arizona, Texas or Wyoming – he just couldn’t remember.

“I told him I didn’t believe him,” Lumley said, “strongly relating that I thought it was basically BS that he bought the trunk, moved it from town to town, state to state, and only once, according to him, tried to open it when he purchased it, using some skeleton type-lock keys with negative results, and then never tried to open it again.

“It was a gut feeling. Who moves a trunk all over and never opens it? I knew then, and I know today, he sure as hell knew something about it.”

DCI determined the victim had dies of a gunshot wound to the left eye from a .25 caliber Colt pistol as the bullet was found lodged in the skull behind the left eye, indicating the shot had come from a right-handed person at close range. A graze on a rib indicated a second shot was taken.

Facial reconstruction of the skull was done and Lumley was contacted by “Unsolved Mysteries” in December of 1992. The piece aired several times over the past 30 or so years.

Current sheriff Jerimie Kraushaar said they would get a number of calls every time the “Unsolved Mysteries” piece would run, most of which never went anywhere.

Shelly Statler, Mulvaney’s granddaughter, made the fateful call to have her mother’s DNA tested against the stranger in the trunk and it came back a match.

“I just knew it was my grandpa,” Statler said. “This whole thing has affected my and my family’s life more than I can explain. It changed my mom and her brothers.”

The family believes Mulvaney was murdered by his own wife and her younger brother, Morris. Unfortunately, they may never know the truth as Iowa law enforcement has been less than helpful with an investigation into the case.

Mulvaney will have a full military memorial service in Cody on Friday, March 29 at 11 a.m. at Bullard Funeral Home. Families on the Front Line have been coordinating for the military service as Mulvaney served in the Pacific Theatre in WWII.

Statler and her family will be in attendance at the memorial service and will take her grandfather’s remains back to Iowa for interment at a later date.