"Unsolved Mystery" Victim To Be Honored in Cody | Big Horn Basin Media

“Unsolved Mystery” Victim To Be Honored in Cody

Written by on March 1, 2019

A decades-old inter-state murder case that was solved in Wyoming will finally see closure.

Joseph Mulvaney, an Illinois man who was shot and killed in the early 1960s, but whose bones were discovered in a foot locker in Thermopolis in 1992, will be honored in a military ceremony in Cody on Friday, March 29th. The case garnered national attention after the discovery of the remains, launching an effort to identify the man who died from a gunshot wound to the head decades before.

The case appeared on the television show “Unsolved Mysteries” in 1993. In 2017, Shelley Statler from Waukee, Iowa made the decision to submit her mother’s DNA, as her maternal grandfather had disappeared under mysterious circumstances in the early 1960s. In October of 2017, the remains were positively identified as those belonging to Joseph Mulvaney, born January 3, 1921, in Mattoon, Illinois.

Although the details surrounding the murder have never been confirmed, Statler says she believes her grandmother was the one who shot her husband in the head, with some involvement from Statler’s then-16-year-old uncle, John David Morris. The body was buried on the family’s property, but at some point, the bones were dug up and placed in a footlocker, which was in Morris’ possession when he settled for a time in the Thermopolis area. The trunk was hidden in a storage shed, and when Morris decided to leave the area, he left the shed, and the trunk, in the possession of Thermopolis resident Newell Sessions.

Former Hot Springs County Sheriff John Lumley says that Sessions opened the trunk about six years after it came into his possession, and when they found what the footlocker contained, his wife Daisy encouraged him to contact law enforcement.

“Initially I responded out to the Sessions residence and took possession, and contacted the County Coroner. He took the remains to the Wyoming State Crime Lab, and that night I got a call from the head of the crime lab at that time, Sandra Mays, who told me it was a homicide, as there was a bullet located in behind the left eye, and another bullet had grazed on the ribs,” Lumley explained.

Once the remains were identified, it was found that Mulvaney had enlisted in the Illinois National Guard’s 130th infantry in 1941, deployed to the Pacific Theater and spent a period of time in the Philippines during World War II.

Jona Vanata, who is part of the Cody military support organization Families on the Frontline, worked with the Hot Springs County Sheriff’s Office, Iowa law enforcement, and Ballard Funeral Home to bring Joseph to rest and honor him for his service in a manner befitting a WW II combat veteran.

Vanata said, “Once I was contacted by Joseph’s family, our main goal was to ensure he was returned home to his family. For over 25 years Joseph’s remains were kept in an evidence locker. Finally, he will be laid to rest in Iowa where his surviving family resides.”

“We are encouraging the community to attend a memorial service in honor of this WW II veteran’s service and sacrifice to our country. The memorial service will render long overdue honors to Joseph and will include a 21-gun salute, and a flag folding,” she says. She adds that they are hoping the granddaughter will be able to attend the service and take her grandfather home -however, if she can’t, Vanata says there is a local Vietnam veteran in Cody who has volunteered to, in her words, “bring him home.”

Vanata points out that Ballard Funeral Home is waiving their fees and has been instrumental in organizing the service, which community members are encouraged to attend. The service will be held at Ballard Funeral Home in Cody at 11 a.m. March 29th, with local Marine veteran Deacon Rick Moser officiating.


For details on the service, contact Jona Vanata at (307) 899-4876

For audio bites, contact Wendy Corr at (307) 899-2799

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