Unsolved: Ravensburg Jane Doe: Part One

Dunnstown Cemetery, Dunnstown

Getting out of the vehicle, I studied the garden of stone that surrounded me. The Dunnstown Cemetery is the final resting place of area residents, with the most famous being Peter Grove, a noted Indian fighter of Central Pennsylvania. Having been here before I was familiar with his resting place and walked to where his stone stood just behind the church.

After pausing as his grave site, I turned to study the cemetery. I knew the person i sought did not have a marker. With so many graves never having been marked and so many stones missing, I knew it was impossible to discover the location of the one I knew was somewhere on the sacred grounds. Those families who visit their ancestors buried here most likely do not realize that somewhere among the stones literally lies a mystery; for buried among the stones is an unidentified female murder victim. Note: I’m going to refer to this unidentified female murder victim as the Ravensburg Jane Doe for this article.

As studied the cemetery and took in all the unmarked spaces I wondered where Ravensburg Jane Doe rested. I realized at that moment I would probably never have an exact answer and this was as close to finding her resting spot as I could get.

The journey to this moment was one that started in 1995 when I stumbled upon a brief mention of an unsolved murder that happened in the wilds of southern Clinton County. The mention lacked details: it had no date, no location, and no description of the victim. It merely mentioned an unidentified female was murdered “near Sugar Valley.” Having no clues to follow, I filed the clipping away. Having no other details to go on the whole thing should have been forgotten, and for the most part I too had forgotten about the Ravensburg Jane Doe.

Early in 2010 the mystery of the murdered woman would come to my attention again. Having just finished presenting a program about mysteries of Central Pennsylvania, I was approached by an elderly lady who asked if I had ever looked into an unsolved murder that happened “over near Sugar Valley.” At the time I consulted my good friend and Clinton County historian Lou about it. He came up with nothing at the time, but we were both going to “discover” a lot more over the next eight years.

Over the next eight years both Lou and I “discovered” that many people knew something about this unsolved murder but nobody really knew a thing about it. Over that time span, Lou and I had been asked by numerous people when one of us was going to talk or write about the unsolved murder that happened “over near Sugar Valley.” Of course every person that brought it up “remembered” the murder happening.

Surprisingly, many who asked about the unsolved murder provided a similar description of the young lady: she was in her early twenties with brown hair, was wearing a blue dress when she was discovered, and she had been shot to death.

Where the murder happened remained a mystery. The murder seemed to have happened over near Loganton, or maybe it was down towards Tylersville, or up in the mountains above Mackeyville, or somewhere along White Deer Pike. The most common description of where it had happened was along Interstate 80 at the abandoned rest stop just west of Lamar, which (according to word of mouth) was the reason the rest stop was closed down.

Even more confusion was added when we were informed that it happened sometime between 1940 and 1970. Most versions of the unsolved murder place it happening in 1968, at the abandoned rest stop. But the most interesting version was shared by a young lady who “remembered” it happening when she was a child in the 1990s.

Over the years Lou and I both shrugged it off as local lore. We both looked into the legend in an attempt to find the source of the story, but neither of us could discover an unsolved murder in Clinton County that matched the details that everybody seemed to know.

And then it happened. The one clue that was needed fell into place. “It happened over at Ravensburg State Park,” Jessica informed me. “It was either the summer of 1924 or 1925, back before it was Ravensburg. It had some other name back then.” These dates were much earlier than any other ones Lou or I had heard before. The first search came up with nothing and neither did the next handful of searches. Pulling up a map of the area I noticed the nearest town: Rauchtown.

An article popped up from The Reading Eagle: “Murdered Woman’s Body Found By Reading Youth.” After hearing about this case for years, I could only stare as the details of the discovery of Ravensburg Jane Doe filled the computer screen.

On the morning of Wednesday, July 15, 1925, a twelve-year-old boy from Reading was picking berries with some other kids who were vacationing at the Big Rock Forestry Campground [present-day Ravensburg State Park] when he stumbled upon a body. After convincing the adults at the campground that he had indeed seen a body between the road to Carroll and the stream two miles from Rauchtown, Harry Peck of Jersey Shore went to investigate. He returned quickly confirming there certainly was a body that had been dumped down a steep embankment and was covered in leaves. Some of the men quickly traveled to Rauchtown, located about two miles from the campground, and contacted authorities about the morbid discovery.

At this point there is some confusion in the newspaper articles as to when the body was discovered.. The Reading Eagle and Lock Haven Express initially say that the boys discovered Ravensburg Jane Doe the morning of July 15. However, the July 16 issue of the Lock Haven Express makes the claim that the boys had discovered the body a couple days before but it took until Wednesday morning to convince the adults at the camp grounds to investigate.

Clinton County Coroner John Bailey arrived to examine the body. He reported that it was a young female in the age range of twenty to forty years who had chestnut brown hair and stood approximately five feet tall. She was dressed in a blue dress, red silk slip, and brown stockings, but her shoes, purse and any jewelry she may have had were missing. She had three front teeth knocked out, but her lower jaw had two gold teeth that stood out prominently, which should have helped identify her.

Coroner Bailey believed that she had been dead for approximately six weeks due to decomposition. The cause of death was “believed to have been shot to death.” On July 21, the Lock Haven Express records District Attorney  William Hollis as stating that the three holes in her victim’s skull “are bullet wounds…and cannot be explained in any other way.” Note: the cause of death listed in the Lock Haven Express was “believed to have been shot to death,” so the exact cause of death is not known.

The Lock Haven Express on July 16 had faith that the local authorities would identify the body and bring the killer to justice quickly. This case would “give local sleuths an opportunity to display their ability in establishing the identity of the woman and ferreting out the murderer.” Despite this belief in a quick result by the local authorities, the State Police from Muncy would soon take over the investigation. State Police determined that Ravensburg Jane Doe had been killed outside the county and was transported to the dump site near the Big Rock Camp Ground. How they instantly came to this conclusion was never explained in the newspapers and this would later be questioned.

Ravensburg Jane Doe was buried on the morning of July 18, 1925, “in a grave distant point in the Dunnstown cemetery, set aside as the last resting place of the friendless and unknown.” The Express reported only a handful of people were present to mourn Ravensburg Jane Doe. Those people included: Reverend J. M. Reynolds, who held a short service, the church sexton, the undertaker’s assistant, and three residents of Dunnstown.

I pushed thoughts aside as I continued to look around the sacred grounds. I had so many questions that were not, and probably never will be, answered. Who was she? Where did she come from? Was she local or from outside the region? Who killed her? Why was she killed? How did she die? Why was she so quickly forgotten? Within two weeks the case that grabbed the headlines disappeared from the local newspapers and out of public memory soon after.

The case of Ravensburg Jane Doe will continue in Part Two as suspects and theories abound.

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