Pueblo County, Colorado

Coroner News

Contributed by Billie Crump. Copyrighted by Karen Mitchell.

James Kramer MPAS-PA-C

Coroner Investigative News
Skeletal Remains
Evaluation and Investigation

James Kramer MPAS, PA-C
Pueblo County Coroner

Discovery of skeletal remains poses many challenges in death investigation, criminal investigation and identification. Throughout the years there have been several incidences in Pueblo when skeletal remains were discovered and required investigation.

Circumstances necessitate a multidisciplinary response by the Coroner's Office, law enforcement and other response agencies.

This newsletter will review some of the cases the Coroner's office has been called to investigate, outcomes, as well as a review of forensic anthropology and state agency involvement.

The primary question that must be initially answered is whether the skeletal bone is human or nonhuman. Nonhuman bones do not require any further investigation by the Coroner's Office. The physical anthropology field is best qualified to examine bones. The examination objectives include: human vs. non human bone, approximate age at time of death, sex of the individual, ethnicity, stature, bone pathology, anomalies, wounds and dental findings.

Bone development goes through many phases and is evaluated for the stages of epiphyseal closure. Estimating age based on epiphyseal closure is best when evaluating the femur and tibia. Other bones including the humerus, clavicle, radius, ulna, sternum and iliac crest can be utilized but the degree of accuracy is not as high as the femur and tibia.

Gender determination is best when the evaluation includes the pelvis and skull. Long bones can also be utilized as well as the sternum.

Determination of race/ethnicity based on skeletal remains is not a simple issue. Evaluation is also complicated by racial mixture and not all members of any race exhibit all the characteristics of that race. Factors that are taken into consideration include: nasal aperture and borders, orbit shape, dental arch, prognathism, femur/tibia ratio and humerus/ulna ration.

Historic Story

The history of forensic anthropology can be traced back 155 years to Dr. Jeffries Wyman, Harvard University Anatomy Professor. November 23, 1849 Dr. George Parkman was murdered. Burned human bones and remains were found by a custodian at the university. Examination found that the bones were consistent with a person of Parkman's age, build and height. Dentures that were found matched the unique lower jaw mold of Parkman. A jury deliberated for 3 hours and found Dr. John White Webster guilty of the murder of Dr. Jeffries Wyman.

Story told in The Bone Detectives, 1996, by Donna Jackson

Pueblo Case Highlights

Highlighting five cases that the Pueblo County Coroner's Office was called to participate in the investigation reflects the complexity and team work required in these types of investigations.

Case investigation information from Coroner case files. Patrick Malone, Pueblo Chieftain provided the newspaper articles from the Chieftain archives.

Beacon Hill

October 22, 1988 a father and son were chasing rabbits near Beacon Hill and came across human skeletal remains on the side of the hill. The Coroner and Sheriff's office were notified and responded to the seen.

The apparent burial site that was exposed contained a cranial cap, mandible, teeth, humerus, ribs and carpal bones. Other items located included artifacts of a notched arrow point, shells and a stone bed necklace.

The remains were examined by a forensic anthropologist who identified the remains as pre historic Native American, 45-55 year old male, approximately 5 ft 7 inches. Evaluation of the remains and artifacts were consistent with Woodland Plains Indians.

Involvement with the state archaeologist included site inspection and dated this burial site to the 1200's.


February 8, 1992 during the construction for a new DOC facility multiple unmarked grave sites were discovered at the construction site on the Colorado Mental Health Institute property.

Local response included the coroner, sheriff, police, department of corrections and CMHIP personnel.

Several questions immediately were posed about the possibility of unmarked graves, historically there was a nearby TB ward that was present on the property but abandoned several decades previously, potential for contagious disease, and could the graves be associated with the Flu Epidemic from 1918.

The issues facing the coroner were to confirm that these were human remains, was there any evidence to suggest potential for foul play, contagious disease, identification if at all possible, length of time since death/burial, potential for historical significance and was there any indication if any of the deceased were Native American.

Construction of the DOC facility was estimated to be a $22 million dollar project that had to be halted while the investigation was ongoing.

The Colorado State Archaeologist and representation from the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs was contacted and responded to the site.

Ultimately 131 individual unmarked graves were identified, skeletal remains and artifacts had to be removed and examined. Mike Hoffman, MD, PhD, Forensic Anthropologist, Dean of Colorado College agreed to review all of the remains and conduct a progressive examination. The magnitude of the discovery would necessitate a long term, multiyear project.

Preliminary review of the remains indicated that they were consistent with burial during the 1879-1915 time period. Exceeding the 100 year time frame made this discovery of historic significance and required the involvement of the state archaeologist. An agreement was reached with the DOC, State Archaeologist, Coroner, Sheriff, and Colorado College for the ongoing study to be conducted at Colorado College.

The goal is to identify if the remains were of historic age, forensic value, Native American origin, gender, ethnicity, disease, injury and cause of death.

This multiyear project continues today.

Red Creek Estates

July 18, 1994 a rancher checking livestock on horseback found skeletal remains and reported the discovery to the Sheriff's Office. The Pueblo County Coroner was also contacted. All agencies responded to the location at Hwy 96 E, 10 miles east of Pueblo and 4 miles south of the highway.

The remains were located in a rain gully approximately 4-5 feet deep, the site was eroded by rain and this had resulted in the exposure of the skeletal remains. Located were multiple long bones and an intact skull.

The remains were identified as a Native American that was 25-35 years of age at the time of death. Burial was estimated to have occurred in the 1700's.

Involvement of the State Archaeologist was required because of the historic age and also the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs because the individual was identified as being Native American

Wal-Mart Pioneers

March 10, 1998 during the construction of the North Side Wal-Mart fill dirt was required. Construction crews were obtaining the fill dirt adjacent to the construction area and three graves were discovered.

Three caskets with human skeletal remains were discovered. The wooden caskets were deteriorating but were easily identified and were unique in construction. A forensic archaeologist came to Pueblo from the Denver Museum and concluded that the grave sites and remains were greater than 100 years of age. The 100 year threshold required involvement of the state archaeologist because of the potential for historic significance to the State of Colorado.

It was determined that the graves represented the death and burial of Colorado pioneers.

Trophy Skull

June 24, 2003 the Sheriff's Office made a raid on a local residence. During the course of the raid a trunk was identified and upon inspection and opening a human skull was found in the trunk.

The skull had the name “Oscar” written across the forehead region and the remainder of the skull was autographed by 36 servicemen with their rank.

The human skull was turned over to the Pueblo County Coroner James Kramer for proper handling per Colorado statutes.

Multiple contacts were made to assure proper process and this included contact with the DOD, FBI, USMC, Senator Campbell and Representative McGinnis. All agencies deferred involvement pending further investigation and analysis.

History of the skull was related from Raymond Franklin Lay that his Great Grandfather had shipped the skull home from the Guadalcanal November 11, 1942.

Accounts of war trophies were publicized in the Pueblo Chieftain in 1942. The story conveyed to investigators was that the skull had been shipped to Pueblo by Julius Papas after a Japanese soldier had killed the best friend of Papas and then Papas killed the Japanese soldier.

The agency primarily responsible for investigation of POW and MIA military deaths is the Central Identification Laboratory Hawaii (CILHI). This agency has some of the worlds foremost anthropologists and recovery teams and they were contacted to request assistance in the investigation of the “trophy skull”

CILI was able to identify that the skull was consistent with a male, age 25-35, southern Japanese heritage and most likely time of death 1942 consistent with the previous reported news stories from the Pueblo Chieftain.

The skull was turned over to the Japanese Ministry of Health for repatriation to Tokyo.

Central Identification Laboratory Hawaii “CILHI”

An advanced laboratory with forensic anthropologist and recovery teams. A military division charged with the recovery of MIA's world wide particularly victims of WWI, WWII, Korean War and Southeast Asia War. Recovery teams are sent to sites, excavate, recover remains, return to laboratory in Hawaii for forensic examination, match MIA records, DNA, Dental Records, Medical Records, and Military records. Since 1973 1,089 service members have been identified. November 2003 CILHI was changed to JPAC, Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.

“Guadalcanal” Wikipedia

Battle of Guadalcanal August 7, 1942 to February 9, 1943 on the Guadalcanal Island part of the Southern Solomon Islands. WWII Allied forces were posed against Imperial Japanese forces to prevent the used of the islands by Japan to threaten the supply routes between the USA, Australia and New Zealand. The allies intended to use Guadalcanal and Tulgar as bases to support a campaign to eventually isolate the major Japanese base at Rabaul or New Britian.

Allies overwhelmed Henderson Air Field. The Japanese made multiple attempts to overtake the air field. There were three major land battles, five large naval battles and continuous, daily aircraft battles.

Interagency and Government Cooperation

These cases represent the complex nature of investigation of skeletal remains and the far reaching as well as world wide implications. Cooperation and communication between all of the agencies and departments is imperative. Utilization of specialists and ability to recognize and know the specialists is absolute.

The Colorado State Archaeology Office is critical in the assistance and determination of some of the sites as well as the analysis particularly of age since burial. The 100 year threshold establishes the “historical significance”.

The Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs is established in CRS (Colorado Revised Statutes) 24-44-101 through 24-44-108. The commission operates within the office of the Lt. Governor. The Lt. Governor has a statutory role as Chairperson. The commission is designed to be a liaison between the two Ute tribes and the State of Colorado (Southern Utes and Ute Mountain Tribe).

University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Facility “Body Farm”

Established by William Bass PhD, Forensic Anthropologist for the purpose of examination, study and understanding of the science of death and decomposition. The facility is a secure 3 acre location and at most times has 40 bodies under examination in the outdoor environment. The renowned facility accepts human body donations for the advancement of forensic anthropology study. The study facility gained public notoriety when Patricia Cornwell published the book “Body Farm” based on the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Facility and William Bass, PhD.

A book written by Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson, Death's Acre details the establishment of the facility and the ongoing studies.

American Board of Forensic Anthropology www.csuchico.edu/anth/ABFA

Definition: The application of the science of physical anthropology to the legal process. The identification of skeletal, badly decomposed, or otherwise unidentified human remains is important for both legal and humanitarian reasons. Forensic Anthropologists apply standard scientific techniques developed by physical anthropologists to identify human remains and to assist in detection of crime. In addition to assisting in locating and recovering suspicious remains Forensic Anthropologists work to suggest age, sex, ancestry, stature and unique features of a descendent from the skeleton.


The importance, complexity and far reaching implications associated with discovery and investigation of human skeletal remains necessitates a team work approach to these types of cases.

The proper crime scene investigation, evidentiary process, chain of custody and utilization of appropriate specialists results in a successful investigation

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