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MEEKER I 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 in the Herald Times, along with a request from Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s investigator Roy Kinney asking for help from anyone who may have information about the case, 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 Parks 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 (Parks) and (Lester) Burns disappeared at the same place, the K-T Cow Camp” Kinney said. “In both cases, this Tom Graham was present.”
“There’s no proof (implicating Graham in the disappearances of Parks 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 Parks 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 Parks.
That is, until George Evanson 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,” Kinney said. “From here, 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.
Parks 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 case of Lester Burns, the county sent a crew to drain Sable Lake as part of an extensive search to find some clue in the case.
“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 in the case, Kinney is hoping more leads will result in identification of the mysterious skull.
“Our next step is to find someone who was related to either of them (Parks or Burns), but particularly Hermie Parks, 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 Parks and Lester Burns and get some DNA samples and compare it with the skull.”