Sleuths continue digging into grave mystery

A bit of bone.

That’s all they have for now, and that may be all two University of Colorado professors need to solve the century-old mystery of who was buried in an unmarked grave in Lawrence’s Oak Hill Cemetery.

After several hours of digging, crews shortly after noon today uncovered what they believe is a piece of shoulder blade.

They will run tests on the bone and attempt to solve a dispute that in 1892 was taken to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case generated an important piece of federal evidence law.

Law professor Marianne Wesson and anthropology professor Dennis Van Gervin, both of the University of Colorado, are the sleuths in the case.

They believe the grave could hold the remains of either John Hillmon or Frederick Adolph Walters.

In 1879, Hillmon set off from Lawrence with a companion, John H. Brown. Later, Brown appeared at a home outside Medicine Lodge, southwest of Wichita, and said he accidentally shot Hillmon while unloading his gun.

But insurance companies that had underwritten life insurance policies on Hillmon suspected fraud. They believed Hillmon and Brown killed a third man, not Hillmon, to collect on insurance. That man was Walters, who reportedly sent his girlfriend a letter announcing his plans to travel with Hillmon.

The case was tried six times and taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court twice. The court’s first ruling created an exception to the hearsay rule known as the “state-of-mind” exception, dealing with statements describing the intentions of the speaker or writer. The court said the letter should have been allowed for evidence in a case because it met this description.

The researchers will continue digging at the site today. They will bring their finds to a lab at Kansas University for inspection and testing before returning them to the ground Sunday. The researchers also uncovered an old nail.