Berks County's Missing Skeleton

Can you crack the case of one of Berks County's most intriguing unsolved mysteries?

An example of a 19th century log cabin

An abandoned log cabin in the woods north of Klinesville was the scene of a bizarre discovery in 1925, when four curious hunters opened an oak chest and found a human skeleton. The police were notified and a search of the cabin was made, but all parties were completely baffled to find that the skeleton had mysteriously vanished.

In June of 1925, four hunters from Walnuttown-- Paul Mote, Frank Stufflet, Frank Noll and Harry Keller-- were hunting groundhogs in the mountain forests above the Edward Matz farm (presumably near the present-day site of the Hamburg Reservoir on Blue Mountain) when they came across an abandoned log house. They searched for groundhogs in the stone walled basement of the building and then two of the hunters, Stufflet and Keller, decided to explore the rest of the cabin.

"There were three chests upstairs," Keller said to State Trooper William Burgoon. "Two were empty and the third, painted red and with a heavy lid, underneath which was a layer of wallpaper, we found a heap of rotted clothes and then a skeleton. We ran away." According to the hunters, the skeleton was two feet long, leading them to believe that it had belonged to a child. Mote and Noll searched the attic, finding nothing except for an envelope addressed to "Edward J. Wink, Kempton, R.F.D. No. 1." The envelope bore a postmark from 1905.

Frightened by their discovery, the four hunters agreed not to say a word about what they had found. But three weeks later, one of the men broke the vow of silence, reporting the find to State Trooper William Burgoon. Exactly which hunter blew the whistle, however, still remains a mystery.

Trooper Burgoon first learned of the skeleton on Sunday, on the evening of August 2, 1925, when he received a telephone call from one of the hunters. The man who called the state police barracks identified himself as Frank Stufflet. When questioned later by police, Stufflet denied that he had been the one who reported the gruesome find, and pointed the finger at Harry Keller. Keller, though, also denied making the call. Frustrated, Trooper Burgoon gave a stern lecture to all four hunters about withholding evidence from a police investigation. When asked why none of the men had reported the find until three weeks had elapsed, Keller explained, "We found it and it scared us and we said it couldn't do any good to go around poking old things up that had been hidden twenty years."

On the evening of August 2, Burgoon issued a statement about the incident. "We have no theory of any kind yet," he stated. "The skeleton may be that of a child or a small adult. We can determine that tomorrow and probably settle the question of the sex from the relative size of the bones. We have not had time to make any investigation of old mysteries." (1)

Trooper Burgoon single-handedly torpedoed the investigation by issuing that statement. The press quickly reported the discovery, yet the state police had not made their investigation of the cabin. The evidence was still inside, unsecured, and by this time thousands of Berks County residents were aware of the discovery. Therefore it should not have been a surprise when police investigated the cabin the following day and couldn't locate the skeleton.

On the afternoon of August 3, State Trooper Joseph Logan visited the cabin and couldn't find any sign of the skeleton. He did notice, however, that the house showed signs of recent activity. He also discovered, in the musty basement of the cabin, a partially burned letter dated July 16, 1925. The letter was written sometime after the four hunters had discovered the bones, but before the police had an opportunity to investigate. Also missing was the 1905 envelope addressed to Edward J. Wink of nearby Kempton.

Could the hunters have been mistaken about what they saw? Or did the perpetrator of a long-forgotten heinous crime read about the skeleton in the papers and decide to remove the evidence?

"I'm sure it was the frame of a child," declared Frank Stufflet. "You could see the breast bones and the chest. Oh, no, we didn't imagine it. What good would it do us to lie about such a thing? It looked like a baby's skeleton. We were afraid when we saw it but we came back last week and it was still there."

Frank Noll agreed. "We are not mistaken. We were there not once, but twice. It was there a week ago when we went for groundhogs again. So was the envelope dated 1905." (2)

This could be an important clue. Up until August 4, neither of the four hunters admitted to making a second visit to the cabin. All four hunters initially stated that the reason they didn't report the find until three weeks later was because they were frightened out of their wits. If these men were as frightened as they claimed, then why would they go back to the scene of the gruesome discovery to see if the skeleton was still there?

Trooper Logan thoroughly searched the cabin and surrounding woods but no further clues were found. Trampled weeds suggested that the grounds had been recently visited. He stated that there was indeed a red chest on the second floor of the cabin, as the hunters claimed. Years of dust coated the top of the trunk, but marks were visible indicating that it had been recently opened. Next to the chest, on the floor, was the scrap of wallpaper the  hunters claimed had covered the bones. Inside the chest, the trooper found a bit of a woman's blue and white apron and a patch of material from blue serge trousers. The bottom of the chest was littered with shreds of paper and cloth and half-eaten nuts, evidently the work of squirrels or other small animals.

Trooper Logan also examined another chest in an adjacent room. It, too, offered no evidence. All he could find on the second floor of the cabin was a broken bottle, abandoned birdnests and broken glass from windowpanes. He did discover an iron hook, however, which seemed somewhat inexplicable and out of place. In a closet on the bottom floor he found an old men's shoe, and in a corner of one of the rooms he found an ancient filing cabinet, containing invoices and letters dating back to 1897. Some of them were addressed to Edward J. Wink, whom police discovered had once owned the property before his death several years earlier. In fact, the property was still owned by Wink's heirs, though none of them recall anyone having lived there for decades.

"I believe the men are telling the truth and really believe they saw what they thought was the skeleton of a child," said Logan. "But what could have become of it since they were were here two weeks ago? If it was a skeleton, then the party who placed it in the chest became alarmed after the men's report became public and decided to remove the bones before police reached the scene. The again, it may be that in their excitement the imagination of the hunters carried them off and what appeared to be the frame of a human body in the dim light of the house was only the stuff which we found in the chest yesterday."

However, Trooper Logan's superiors weren't convinced. The official report made by First Sergeant Ahlquist on August 4 stated that there never were any human remains, and that his report was "based chiefly on the finding of a lot of old clothing, mouldy and matted together". Ahlquist stated: "We are convinced there was no skeleton in the chest and the matter is a closed incident for us". (3)

Either the newspapers and the four hunters were guilty of perpetrating a hoax, or the State Police simply had no real interest in getting to the bottom of the matter. After all, a "pile of moldy clothing" was not found at the scene by Trooper Logan, and such a pile of clothing could hardly be confused for the breastbones and chest claimed to have been clearly seen by Frank Stufflet.

Frank Greeby, who lived on the Edward Matz farm, was questioned and revealed that several parties of hunters had visited the cabin since the time of the discovery. Greeby said that he did not know any of the individuals, but they had asked him for permission to cross the property in order to get to the woods.

With all leads exhausted and no further evidence to go on, the matter was soon forgotten. Did Edward Wink take to his grave a secret involving the death or murder of a child? Whatever became of the skeleton? Who took it and where did it go? Perhaps the secret that may unlock the mystery of Klinesville's lost skeleton is still out there in the woods of Berks County just waiting to be found.

(1) Reading Times, August 3, 1925
(2) Reading Times, August 4, 1925
(3) Reading Eagle, August 4, 1925

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