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Skeleton discovered in ghost town, reappears in Kemmerer

Posted: Friday, Oct 29th, 2010

Sounds like Kemmerer has some skeletons in its closet!

Lincoln County Coroner, Mike Richins, reports to the Gazette that there has been a literal skeleton recently discovered in the evidence locker of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s office. An officer was cleaning out the evidence locker and made the discovery.

The skeleton was unidentified and Richins has been conducting an investigation for over a year to try to identify the remains.

“It is nearly an entire skeleton, about 85 percent of a skeletal remains, and is in really good condition,” Richins said. “Some people who were looking for artifacts and antiques found it (the skeleton) in 1979. They uncovered the remains and dug it up. They left the site and eventually reported it to the sheriff’s office, but they had ruined the scene. It was investigated at the time and (the skeleton) was placed in the evidence locker because they ran into a ‘dead end,’ not to make a pun or anything, and the case went cold.”

The case was reopened last year following the skeleton’s re-appearance and Richins is searching for records of dentists who were in the area in the 1910s and 1920s. “There were lots of dentists who came and left this area,” Richins said. “Some of them took their dental records with them, which makes identification very difficult. “

The skeleton legally belongs to the coroner, but has been sent to Laramie for study with Dr. George Gill a retired anthropologist with the University of Wyoming.

“Dr. Gill is the foremost world expert on native American and western forensic anthropology,” Richins said. “In fact, he is the foremost expert on skeletal remains in North America and Central America. He is the world’s best.”

Dr. Gill was able to determine the skeleton’s approximate height, age, race and gender.

The victim is a male, between the ages of 33 and 43, but most likely about 36 according to Gill’s research. He was about 5' 9" in height, and was “Caucasian.”

“It is looking a lot like he might be a miner who went missing at that time, in the early 1920s,” Richins said. “He was a German immigrant who came over here in 1902. He was from a town called Laufen, Germany, on the German/Austrian border.”

His name was Frank Skorjanz. In 1908, he changed his last name to “Lark” and eventually settled in Cumberland, Wyoming.

“Things were pretty loose back then,” Richins explained. “If you stumbled on a still, you could get shot.”

“We discovered that he had an altercation with another fellow,” Richins said. He turned up missing on a ‘cold wintry night’ some time between 1922 and 1924 according to the testimony of an eyewitness from Sublette.

“This man wasn’t buried,” Richins said. “He was found in an old underground structure that had been used to hold ice in the ice cream parlor in the ghost town of Sublette. He could very well have fallen in and could not get out and froze to death or died of exposure. The skeleton is not showing signs of major trauma or gunshot or knife markings.”

For reasons unknown, in the 1920s, the county sheriff removed all the possessions from Lark’s house in Cumberland and burned the house down.

The dental work done on the skull is unique, and may help identify the dentist, which could help lead to a positive identification of the victim. The mouth is also missing a couple of teeth, which Richins believes may have been removed from the skull or lost when it was originally discovered.

“One other thing that is really unique is that he had an extra lumbar vertebrae,” Richins said.

If Richins can locate a photo of Skorjanz/Lark, he could create a reconstruction of the skull and compare the two to help identify the remains. “The skull that I have is very good, very well preserved,” Richins said. “I can do a good reconstruction. It would give more credence to my being able to go to Germany and search for family there.”

He is also searching for old mining photos and any family members in the U.S. and in Germany in addition to looking for former dentists in the area from 1915 through 1925 and dental records from the same period.

Anyone with information about this case, the whereabouts of anyone in the Skorjanz or Lark family or dentists from the specified era is asked to contact Richins at (307) 886-9048.

“If we can put this fellow to rest that would be wonderful,” Richins said.

For the complete article see the 10-28-2010 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 10-28-2010 paper.

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