The body of Joseph Henry Loveless was first discovered in 1979 in a cave in East Idaho
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The identity of a headless male torso found in a cave four decades ago has finally been revealed — and with it, the man’s shocking criminal history.

Since 1979, a mystery has hung over investigators in East Idaho.

It was in August of that year that a suspicious burlap sack filled with clothing and pieces of a human torso was found in a cave near the Montana border by artifact hunters, according to a report by Idaho State University. A coroner at the time believed the body had been dismembered and the man may have been placed there no more than 10 years earlier. The body was well preserved, and the coroner concluded he was about 40 years old when he died. Still, investigators had no clue who the man was.

The case would go cold until 1991, when a hand belonging to the torso was discovered by an 11-year-old girl. Severed limbs were later found in the same area.

Investigators asked DNA Doe Project — a nonprofit volunteer organization that helps to identify deceased people using forensic genealogy — for assistance earlier this year, with the forensics lab, Othram Inc., testing the DNA. The groups revealed their shocking findings in a press conference on Tuesday.

“His name was Joseph Henry Loveless,” DNA Doe Project team leader Anthony Redgrave said, according to the East Idaho News. “Joseph Henry Loveless was born Dec. 3, 1870, in Payson, Utah territory.”

According to the paper, Loveless was an outlaw had been arrested many times in the early 1900s. His last recorded location was an Idaho jail cell where he was listed under a pseudonym — Walt Cairns — for the grisly murder of his wife, Agnes, with an axe.

Joseph Henry Loveless
Composite image of Joseph Henry Loveless
| Credit: DNA Doe Project

A 1916 newspaper article described the heinous crime:

“Her death resulted after 50 hours of intense agony. It is charged that the ax was wielded by her common-law husband in Dubois at an early hour Saturday morning after she had returned home from a dance in that city,” the article read, according to East Idaho News.

Several days after being jailed, Loveless cut through the bars using a saw he’d hidden in his shoe. Investigators believed he met his demise shortly after making his escape in May 1916.

“In all likelihood Henry had been murdered and transported to the cave not long after he escaped, making his post mortem interval – the time between his death and discovery of his body — as long as 63 years,” Redgrave said, USA Today reports. “This case has been historic in more than one meaning of the word.”

A wanted poster for Loveless describes his appearance, though it lists him under his “Walt Cairns” pseudonym.

“Walt Cairns, age about 40 years, height about 5 ft. 8 or 9 in., weight about 165 pounds, dark brown hair, slightly gray around ears, eyes bluish brown, medium complexion, has little or no eyebrows, small scar over right eye, tattoo of star on right hand between thumb and index finger, also tattoo of anchor same place on left hand; he wore a light colored hat, brown coat, red sweater, blue overalls over black trousers,” the poster states.

After pinpointing an identification, investigators were able to track down the 87-year-old grandson of Loveless who helped to confirm his identity using DNA.

To this day, Loveless’ skull has never been found.