MEEKER I Sometimes when we lose a loved one, closure thankfully comes quickly—with the body in the family’s possession.
Sometimes, unfortunately, real closure never comes—as the body is never recovered.
And sometimes, closure comes after 86 years, such as in the case of Herman Leroy Parks, nicknamed “Hermie,” who was last seen alive in 1930.
Many Rio Blanco County residents may have seen Hermie Parks over the years as his skull was placed on a shelf in the county sheriff’s office in 1957, but the skull had not been officially identified.
That is not now the case. The skull has been officially identified and returned to the family after 86 years.
Anna Lynn Vogel of Lamoni, Iowa, a niece of Herman Parks, was presented with the skull in a private meeting with Sue Hicken, who did private research on her own and tracked down a relative that could be tested for DNA links to the body, Rio Blanco County Coroner Albert Krueger, who played a major role in having the skull DNA tested and who issued a necessary death certificate so the skull could be transported to Iowa for burial, and Herald Times Editor Sean McMahon in a conference room at the sheriff’s office in the new county Justice Center on July 15.
It was always suspected that “Hermie” died due to foul play, Vogel said, but he was last seen in June 1930. Vogel’s mother was 8-years-old when he disappeared, she said.
Vogel said the first she heard of the find was about three years ago when then-Sheriff Si Woodruff called her in Iowa.
“I find myself in a state of bewilderment,” Vogel said. “My sister thought this was all a hoax. I had to call the number back and it did give me the sheriff’s office dispatcher, so we started to believe it might be true.
“This is such a wonderful thing,” she said. “This will now allow for closure for the entire family. We are all so grateful to have a piece of him, and I know this is the right thing to do” she said of plans to bury the skull in Iowa.
“Now there can be peace within the family, which we all appreciate,” she said.
The skull was reportedly found between 1955 and 1957. It was suspected to have been Hermie’s skull but DNA testing wasn’t available back then and a Lester Burns was also killed about that time and there was no way to be sure which of the men the skull belonged to, Krueger said.
The June 13, 1930, edition of the Meeker Herald reported, “Herman Parks, a boy raised in this section and employed for several weeks at the Paul Dunn ranch at Marvine mysteriously disappeared last Sunday morning. The Dunn ranch has been leased by Tom Graham and Parks was working for him. Park attended the dance which lasted until daylight. After leaving the dance he went to the house, changed clothes, took his gun and apparently started on a hunting jaunt. That was the last time Herman Parks was seen and what became of him is a mystery. During the dance it is reported he took on more or less liquor and might have been pretty ‘full’ when he left the ranch early Sunday morning.
“His departure was not out of the ordinary and nothing was thought of his going until Monday morning, when it was discovered he had not returned. Tom Graham then came to town and asked for help in locating Park as it was feared something had happened to him. It was first thought he might have fallen into the river and was drowned, but no trace could be found; hunting parties following both sides of the river from Buford to the Dunn ranch. The next searching part began to comb the mountains in that section for some trace of him. All day Tuesday, parties searched the surrounding country, Vern Caldwell being in charge of the search.
On Wednesday, Sheriff Gourley wired Sheriff A.M. McAnaly of Montrose County to bring his trained dogs. Sheriff McAnaly and Chief of Police Hurd drove over and put the dogs on several trails. The dogs followed Park’s trail into the hills in the Papoose Creek section and there they lost it.”
The same story continues, “Where Mr. Parks is, is an unknown fact and a hard one for even his best friends to decide. Some feel he left the country as he was well acquainted with the upper country and could hardly be lost. Another version is that he committed suicide as he was oft-times despondent or he may have fallen and hurt himself. The searching parties are about through as they have done all they can to locate the missing man. Parks was a well-built young man about 21 years of age. He was wearing a big Stetson black hat and his boots when he left the Dunn ranch.”
Let’s advance to the Meeker Herald edition of Aug. 27, 1959, under the headline “George Evenson finds human skull south of Lewis Ranch.”
The Herald story states, “George Evenson, manager of the Lewis ranch, 30 miles east of Meeker, called the Herald on Wednesday afternoon and told us that while working in the forest a half mile south of the ranch, they found a human skull on Wednesday morning of this week. The skull is in very good condition.
“He reported the find to Sheriff Harp and the Sheriff’s Office will investigate. It brought to mind the disappearance of Herman Parks (sic) over 20 years ago. Mr. Parks was a young man in his early 20s and had been working for Paul Dunn at what is now the Lewis ranch. Herman disappeared one day and so far as we know, no trace was ever found despite the fact that quite a search was carried on at the time.
“Could it be that this skull that Evenson found is that of the missing young man?”
Let’s now advance to the Rio Blanco Herald Times edition of Sept. 30, 2010, and a story with the headline “Skull is closer to being identified” that ran alongside a photo of the skull, which had the word “RED” inscribed on the right temple of the skull, believed to have been there when the skull was found.
The story began, “The mystery of an unidentified skull—discovered in a field more than 45 years ago—may be a step closer to being solved.
“After seeing a photograph of the skull published Sept. 9, 2010, in the Herald Times, along with a request from Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Investigator Roy Kinney (now with the Rangely Police Department) asking for help from anyone who may have information about the case, Meeker’s Tom Kilduff came forward.
“ ‘I got a hold of him and told him what I knew,’ Kilduff said of his conversation with the sheriff’s sergeant.
“What Kilduff knows is that a man named Hermie Park went missing upriver in June of 1930. About a year later, another man, Lester Burns, disappeared in the same area.
“Neither man was heard from again.
“ ‘The investigation from the sheriff’s office and the DA (district attorney) office at the time is they were never able to prove anything,’ Sgt. Kinney said. ‘No bodies were ever found.’
“Both men worked for Tom Graham, who leased the 101 Ranch from Kilduff’s grandfather, Paul Dunn.
“‘The unique thing about this is Hermie and Burns disappeared at the same place, the K-T Camp,’ ” Kinney said. “‘In both cases, this Tom Graham was present.’
“‘There’s no proof (implicating Graham in the disappearance of Park or Burns),” Kilduff said. All I know is (what was passed down from people who were there at the time) that there was a barn dance at my grandpa’s place where this Hermie Park got into a cussing match with his boss, Tom Graham. The next day he went out to get the milk cows and he disappeared.’
“A thorough search of the area at the time failed to turn up any evidence of Park—until Evenson discovered a skull in 1964.”
“‘If Tom (Kilduff) remembers correctly, a local rancher plowed up the skull and brought it to the sheriff’s office,’ McKinney said ‘From there, the story gets a little murky. They suspected it was a homesteader from way back when, but no report was ever done on it.’”
The skull has remained in an evidence locker at the sheriff’s office ever since.
“‘Other than the old newspapers at the museum, we have no other reports done by the sheriff’s office,’ Kinney said at the time.
Park was in his 20s at the time he disappeared.
“The skull is estimated to be that of a male in his late teens or early 20s,” Kinney said. ‘Lester Burns was in his early 40s when he disappeared, so he would be too old for this skull.”
In the Burns case, the county drained Sable Lake as part of an extensive search to find some clue in that case. To no avail.
“ ‘In the search for Mr. Burns, the sheriff’s office brought in a tracker. He tracked two horses up to Sable Lake and they found a dislodged boulder next to the lake and they suspected Mr. Burns may have been in the lake tied to that boulder,’ Kinney said. ‘They spent the summer draining that lake; Mr. Burns was never found.’
As far as what’s next, Kinney was hoping more leads would result in identification of the mysterious skull.’
“ ‘Our next step is to find someone who is related to either of (Park or Burns), but particularly Hermie Park because of the age of the skull and where it was found,’ Kinney said. “I’ve contacted NamUs (National Missing and Unidentified Persons System) and they are going to do a background check on those names and see if they can come up with any relatives of Hermie Park and Lester Burns and get some DNA samples and compare it with the skull.’”
After Kinney found the old skull in an evidence locker, he had the skull examined by two Bureau of Land Management archaeologists, Kristin Bowen and Geoffrey Haymes, who determined it to be a Caucasian adult male, likely between 18 and 25 years of age. They were not able to determine the date of death more closely than “more than one year,” nor could they determine cause of death.
They noted that the skull was sun bleached, indicating it had been exposed to the sunlight for an extended period of time—longer than being unearthed and brought to the sheriff’s office in a timely manner.
Kinney pulled case number 10-0481
In September 2010, Kinney asked the Herald Times to print two articles on the case with photographs of the skull.
Wilbur Richardson (a Meeker local and former Rio Blanco County undersheriff from 1954 to 1963) called after the second article was published. He came in and reported that he recognized the skull as one he had recovered after it was discovered in the hills above the white barn, off Rio Blanco County Road 12. This event happened in about 1957.
There was discussion of the skull belonging to Herman Park, but there was no way back then to positively identify the remains.
Around June 8, 2012, Sue Hicken of Meeker went to the sheriff’s office, stating she had seen the Herald Times article in 2010 in reference to skull. She reportedly stated that she had found some information on Herman Park.
Information included: Father: Joseph Leroy Park 1882-1957; Mother: Luella Francis Woods 1884-1929; and Herman R. Park: 1906-1930. It listed Herman’s four male siblings and one female sibling, all deceased except for a brother born in 1926.
The list also named a nephew and a niece of Herman’s: Lawrence “Larry” LeRoy Park, born in 1960, and Lynn Vogel (full name is Anna Lynn Vogel), born in 1953.
On Aug. 6, 2012, Anna Lynn Vogel and Larry Park came to Meeker.
Travis Mobley, a Meeker Police Department patrol sergeant, wrote: “I was on vacation. I was told that Rangely Police Department Lt. Roy Kinney (a former investigator for the Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office), met Larry Park and Lynn Vogel. (Lt. Kinney stated he met them in Grand Junction and collected DNA from Larry Park and submitted it to the (the Colorado Bureau of Investigation). The DNA will be compared to the DNA (if they are able to extract some) from the skull.
“On Jan. 22, 2013, I sent the human skull (RED), buccal swabs taken from Larry Park, and the CBI DNA packet with the skull’s tooth,” Mobley said. “I sent the items with the NamUs letter for Unidentified Human Remains Submission Form, Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office Case Summary, Information from the CBI, and the Kinston 8GB thumb drive with all the information on the case. I sent the items via UPS, tracking number 1Z3772W803.
“On Feb. 22, 2013, I received a call from (Anna) Lynn Vogel, who gave me more information on Herman Roy Park. Herman went missing and was last seen on June 10, 1930. Herman was 24 when he went missing.
“On June 3, 2013, I received a letter in the mail from UNT Health Science Center,” Mobley wrote. “The letter stated: The genetic date obtained from the items 13-414.1A and 13-0415.2 are consistent with the unidentified human remains originating from a paternal uncle of Lawrence L. Park.
“These genetic data (autosomal STRs and Y-STRs) are approximately 28,417 times more likely to be observed and the scenario that the unidentified remains originated from a paternal uncle Lawrence L. Park as opposed to the unidentified remains originating from an unrelated individual from the Caucasian population.
“My understanding is that 28,417 times is a big number, but you have to take in consideration the population in the area the skull was found and the time it was found. When you take this into consideration, it is a pretty good chance that Lawrence Park is related to Herman Park and therefore the skull is indeed that of Herman Park.
“On April 4, 2016, I received the skull from UNT Center for Human Identification/Forensic Laboratory,” Mobley said, adding that also in the box with the skull was fragments of the tooth and DNA swabs. All items were logged into evidence.
“On April 5, 2016, I contacted Rio Blanco County Coroner Dr. Albert Kru(e)ger” Mobley said. “I updated Dr. Kru(e)ger in this case. Dr. Kru(e)ger explained that we would need to get a death certificate in this case. He is currently working on it.”
Dr. Krueger arranged for the death certificate, and on July 15, 2016, he presented the skull, a wooden box containing the skull and the death certificate to Anna Lynn Vogel, a niece of the victim.
Vogel was going to take the skull back to her home town of Lamoni, Iowa, to provide closure to the Park family and their descendants and to bury the skull.
“I am so happy to have this whole question solved,” she said. “I am proud to come to Meeker and gather Hermie’s skull, and this means so much to the family and me.”
On Monday of this week, Vogel wrote an email to the Herald Times, in which she stated, “Upon seeing his remains and remembering the pain and tears of my mother and grandmother, I was so overwhelmed.
“They never got over it. The fear of having a loved one simply disappear and never knowing what happened is what gnawed at our hearts.
“Hermie was a well-mannered loving son and would have never wanted to bring such hurt to his mother and his family.
“My generation being the ones to bring him home 86 years later seems so bizarre.”