Note: The unidentified female murder victim will be referred to as Ravensburg Jane Doe for this article.
As I stepped 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 adventurer and frontiersman of Central Pennsylvania. I had visited the cemetery once before and made my way carefully among the older stones to where his memorial stands.
After I visited his gravesite, I turned to study the cemetery. With many of the graves never marked and numerous stones having gone missing over the years, I knew it was impossible to discover the location of the one I sought. The majority of those who have visited their ancestors buried do not realize that somewhere among the stones lies a mystery; for buried among the stones is an unidentified female murder victim.
As studied the cemetery and took in all the unmarked spaces I wondered where Ravensburg Jane Doe rested. While I did not know for sure, I imagine her resting place was somewhere along the outer edges of the cemetery – traditionally that was where the unwanted, unknown and poor where buried. I realized at that moment I would probably never have an exact answer to where she lies forgotten and this was where the identity of Ravensburg Jane Doe was ending.
My journey to discover her identity began 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.” With no clues to follow, I filed the clipping away. Like the newspapers, and I too soon forgot about Ravensburg Jane Doe.
In early 2010, the mystery of Ravensburg Jane Doe would come to my attention again. I had finished a program about Central Pennsylvania mysteries, when I was approached by an elderly lady who shared some stories with me. As she shared, she asked if I had ever looked into an unsolved murder that happened “over near Sugar Valley.” At the time I was unable to discover anything about the murder, but I was going to “discover” a lot more over the next eight years.
During this time I would mention the unsolved murder at presentations I did in Clinton County in an attempt to discover more about it. What I “discovered” was many people knew something about the unsolved murder, but nobody really knew a thing about it. Strangely, almost every person who mentioned the unsolved murder “remembered” the murder happening.
The one thing consistent when attendees mentioned the murder was the description of Ravensburg Jane Doe. They stated 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.
But that was where the similarities in their stories ended.
Where the murder happened remained a mystery. The murder happened near Loganton, or maybe it was down toward 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.
Despite everyone “remembering” the murder happening, nobody seemed to remember when it had happened. Most people placed the murder as happening between 1940 and 1970, with the majority saying it happened in 1968. The most intriguing version was shared by a young lady who “remembered” it happening when she was a child in the 1990s.
Over the years I shrugged it off as local lore. Despite countless hours of research, I was unable to find the source of the story. None of the Clinton County’s solved murders matched the details of the unsolved murder. I wanted to believe it was based on actual events, but was quickly dismissing it as a false memory that had infused itself into the public consciousness.
And then it happened. The one clue that was needed fell into place as I talked to Jessica at the end of a presentation. “It happened over at Ravensburg State Park. Back in the summer of 1924 or possibly 1925 – it was back before it was Ravensburg. It had some other name back then.” These dates were much earlier than any other one 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 from the July 16, 1925 edition of The Reading Eagle (Reading, Pa): “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 lying between the road to Carroll and Rauchtown Run. Finally, Harry Peck of Jersey Shore went to investigate the boy’s claims. Peck returned quickly confirming a body had been dumped down a steep embankment and had been covered in leaves. Some of the men 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 edition of the Lock Haven Express states the boys had discovered the body a couple days earlier but it took until Wednesday morning to convince the adults at the campgrounds to investigate.
Clinton County Coroner John Bailey soon arrived on scene to examine the body. He reported it was a young female, between twenty and forty years old, 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 which stood out prominently and authorities believed these teeth would help identify her.
Coroner Bailey believed 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, 1925, the Lock Haven Express records District Attorney William Hollis stating the three holes in the victim’s skull “are bullet wounds…and cannot be explained in any other way.” The cause of death listed in the same article was “believed to have been shot to death,” but the cause of death remained a mystery.
The Lock Haven Express on July 16 stated they had faith the local authorities would identify the body and quickly bring the killer to justice. 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 the belief in a quick solve by 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 statement would be questioned and challenged by locals.
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 Lock Haven Express reported only a handful of people were present to mourn Ravensburg Jane Doe, including Reverend J. M. Reynolds, who held a short service, the church sexton, the undertaker’s assistant, and three residents of Dunnstown.
As I continued to look around the sacred grounds, I pushed thoughts aside. 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 of the gruesome discovery, the case that grabbed the headlines vanished from the local newspapers.
Despite disappearing from the newspapers, her case remained a part of the public consciousness. Her story, though warped and changed over the years, remained in the memory of residents who remembered the young lady who mysteriously died decades ago in the mountains of southern Clinton County.
Note: Ravensburg Jane Doe will continue in Part Two.