STRANGE GH: Skull on display at Tribune office

The Grand Haven Tribune office at 120 Washington Ave. opened for business in 1905 and operated at that location until the end of 1937. The building is presently the home of Great Harvest Bread Co.
Kevin Collier
Sep 24, 2012


The large display windows aside the entrance once exhibited oddities that the newspaper announced frequently on its front pages. However outrageous, like a record-sized pumpkin or unusual artifact, the Tribune invited its readers to stop in to see it.

It's hard to imagine in today's forensic world that one such item displayed was a human skull, believed to be remains of a murder victim. But, it happened.

“During the work of excavating for a basement for the home of Johannes Mouw, in the old Beech Tree section of Grand Haven, the whole skeleton of a human being was found Friday,” the Grand Haven Tribune reported on Saturday, May 9, 1914. “The skull (is) placed on exhibition in the Tribune office window.”

The remains had been found buried no more that 3 feet beneath the surface, facing down, and the skull was “thought by some to present a fracture,” suggesting murder. Although remarkably preserved, the bones were estimated to have been buried for about 15 years.

“Within the past 15 years, there has been but one mysterious disappearance in the city of Grand Haven,” the Tribune reported. “This was Will Sullivan, on the night of July 12 — 12 years ago.”

Will Sullivan had disappeared in 1903, last seen walking between two unidentified men in the vicinity of the Beechtree section going by the engine house and city hall, eastbound toward the fourth ward. He was wearing his work garments and had not gone home to change his clothing.

His father, James Sullivan, as well as his mother, first believed the young man had gone out of the city for the Fourth of July. James Sullivan traced down sighting claims of his son in Muskegon and Grand Rapids, which produced no results.

When days went by and no one had heard or seen anything of Will Sullivan, Ottawa County Sheriff Henry J. Dykhius began to investigate.

It was learned Sullivan had never picked up wages due to him from Story and Clark that week and had made no withdrawals from his small bank account. So a theory he had simply left town for a new life never grew legs. But it was known Sullivan had cash on him, as much as $30, which authorities said merited a robbery and perhaps murder.

It was reported a cap belonging to Will Sullivan had been found floating in the river near the Goodrich docks on July 4, and a coat owned by the young man was left hanging on a boat house. With no other trace of the man, the sheriff assumed a drowning likely occurred.

The fact that a human skeleton was found buried in a shallow grave May 8, 1914, on Johannes Mouw's property, and Will Sullivan was the only unsolved missing person case in Grand Haven, it was concluded the remains must be the man. Authorities believed Sullivan was killed by the two strangers, robbed and buried.

The identities of the two strangers was never discovered.

The skull was displayed in the Tribune office window for several days for the curious to gaze upon and wonder. Was the mystery really solved? Even the Tribune wondered.

“The mystery of the skeleton is still a mystery in spite of efforts to clear up a reasonable identity,” the Tribune reported on the front page of its May 13, 1914, edition. “During the last part of the excavation particular pains were taken to examine the ground for other traces of solutions to the strange find. But nothing further has rewarded the careful search.”



Tri-cities realist

Some things never change....


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