Pausing at the vehicle I listened as Rauchtown Run bubbled and babbled nearby. The quiet, peaceful scene was broken only by the occasional vehicle that passed on nearby Route 880. Ravensburg State Park is a mere seventy-eight acres, surrounded by the Tiadaghton State Forest and retains a remote feeling though it is only a couple miles from Interstate 80. Being the only one at the park made it feel more remote and wild than it really was, but I was at ease with the feeling.
Though I had stopped here in the past, my current visit was to remember the Ravensburg Jane Doe. The most popular belief was the unidentified lady was Grace Herman, a young lady originally from Sugar Valley, who went missing from Williamsport, but authorities never settled on Grace as being Ravensburg Jane Doe.
As I stood there I had to wonder why the murder of the unidentified young woman was never solved. The case that grabbed the headlines at the time had quickly faded away from the newspapers. Despite everyone being convinced she would be identified and her murder solved, by September 1925 – two months after she was discovered – Ravensburg Jane Doe mostly vanished from the newspapers. After the passing of a year, she vanished from the newspapers and her case forgotten by most.
So what happened that caused her case to vanish into history? First there were two major national events happening at the time: The Scopes Trial (The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes) and the death of orator and politician, William Jennings Bryan. While a handful of newspapers across the state picked up the initial discovery of Ravensburg Jane Doe, these two events became the main focus of the national and local events. The case of Ravensburg Jane Doe, an unidentified lady never made it out of Clinton County,
More than that, there are a number of questions that arise when examining the investigation that helps explain why the case was not solved. Note: Before I go any further, I feel I need to explain that I am not condemning the investigators, but there are some areas in the investigation where they seem to have faltered.
The Mysterious Farmer: If there is one lead that does not appear to have been followed up on is the statement made by a neighboring farmer who appeared on scene the day Ravensburg Jane Doe was discovered. It was reported that a nearby farmer approached those gathered at the scene and wondered if it was his cousin whose body had been discovered. She was from Sugar Valley and had been missing since April 4. The man’s description of the missing young woman and her clothing perfectly matched the unidentified victim.
How was he able to accurately describe the clothing the young lady wore? Had he possibly noticed her before July 15 but failed to notify authorities? Or did he recognize her and just chose to remain quiet?
The Jersey Shore Theory: From the beginning, the main focus of the investigation concentrated on the victim being from Jersey Shore with the murder possibly happening there. The reason the focus shifted to Jersey Shore was due to a resident having heard a man and woman arguing and a short time later heard what sounded like a gunshot. Supposedly the same witness saw a vehicle with a carpet rolled up and tied to the running board with feet sticking out of the rolled up carpet. The witness last saw the vehicle headed toward Antes Gap. Although authorities did not believe that the witness saw human feet sticking out of a carpet, the theory was enough to make authorities consider Jersey Shore as the location of the death. Authorities pursued this theory until early 1926, when they finally dismissed it – almost six months had been spent trying to prove Ravensburg Jane Doe was from Jersey Shore without any success.
The missed evidence: The initial investigation discovered little to no evidence at the scene and from all newspaper reports, it appears that authorities did little to investigate the area of the crime after the initial sweep. The first newspaper articles state that nothing was found at the scene, yet over the next four weeks possible evidence missed by authorities was discovered by individuals doing their own investigating.
Some of the things recovered by individuals and turned over to the investigators included: a jet pendant with brass ornaments found where the body had been and a woman’s coat with bullet holes in it lying in a nearby ditch.
Despite the discovery of the pendant and coat (which both seem to have disappeared from the case – I have not been able to find other references to them outside the mention that they were turned over to the police), the investigators seemed most interested in a copy of The Williamsport Sun that was found folded up tightly and placed between two rocks near the crime scene. The newspaper was dated July 15,1921 and had stains that “look like those made by blood.” Investigators believed that the newspaper had a “connection with the case” and was “a possible means of establishing the identity of the woman.” The newspaper itself was originally missed by investigators and had been delivered to them two weeks after Ravensburg Jane Doe was discovered. Authorities determined the newspaper did not have relevance to the case.
Another piece of evidence alluded to in the newspapers has having great importance in the case was a pointed stone found on top of a stump near where the body was discovered. Authorities believed that the stone was used to mark the location of the body, though why they believed this was never made clear. The stone, which seems to have held great importance at first, quickly vanishes from the news.
Time of Death: The initial reports by Coroner Bailey states that she had been killed roughly six weeks prior to being discovered. The Lock Haven Express sticks with the report given by Coroner Bailey, but there is mention in a number of articles that investigators believe Ravensburg Jane Doe had been dead only two to three weeks.
Note: I need to say I am not a ballistics expert, so this is my opinion about the murder weapon. With that being stated…
The murder weapon: The actual cause of death of the Ravensburg Jane Doe was never revealed in any of the newspaper articles about the case. Authorities investing the murder believed the holes in her skull were bullet holes. Coroner Bailey stated that he believed that the unidentified woman had been shot in the head three times. District Attorney Hollis seemed convinced that the murder weapon must be a gun and the holes had to be caused by bullets. Authorities appear convinced of the three holes in the skull being bullet holes, not because they found evidence of it, but due to the testimony of witnesses in Jersey Shore hearing two people arguing and shots being fired.
I do not believe the death of Ravensburg Jane Doe was due to being shot. She was murdered, yes, but there is something in the July 16 Express article that casts doubt in the cause of death. The article lists the holes as being “two on top of the head and one on the side” with “all three practically on a line from ear to ear over the top of the skull.” The location of the holes is odd and it seems a strange spot to shoot someone.
If she had been shot three times in the head, then where were the exit wounds? If there were no exit wounds, then where were the bullets? The missing bullets were explained away with the idea that the murder happened somewhere else. But the physical evidence of not having exit wounds cannot be as easily explained, though there is a possible scenario that would explain the lack of exit wounds. After discussing this case with a number of people, the idea that all three bullets exited Ravensburg Jane Doe through the mouth, which explains the teeth that were described as being knocked out.
While I cannot rule out the possibility that cause of death was from being shot in the head, despite the oddness of shooting the victim on top of the head, there is another possibility in the cause of her death. There is a possibility that she was not shot at all. I personally have not found another case where the victim was shot on the top of the head. I found the back of the head, the front of the head, the side of the head, but the top of the head is a strange location to be shot. The location of the holes would suggest that she was struck on the head by something, maybe with a small hammer or similar object. The first strikes on top of the head would have dropped her and another on the side to make sure she was dead. Another blow to the mouth would have knocked out her teeth or they may have been knocked out as she fell from the blows.
This scenario explains why no bullets were found and the lack of exit wounds. Again, please note: this is my opinion on the cause of death and until I have something that otherwise proves the cause, I have to question this explanation, but the official cause of death is “believed to have been shot.”
As I stood there, I realized that the possibility of ever truly identifying Ravensburg Jane Doe is nearly impossible. While I personally believe that Ravensburg Jane Doe is Grace Herman, any possibility of identifying her has been lost to history and her case mostly forgotten. The information that is available raises too many questions that are not answered and honestly may never be answered. Knowing I would never have the answers to the murder that happened decades ago, I left the park and its mysteries behind; however, the murder of Ravensburg Jane Doe will never be forgotten as I headed homeward.