Skip to main content

The mystery skeleton of Centralia


Photo of Centralia, circa 1906

When the calendar reads April 1 and a child reports finding a human skeleton in the woods, it's easy to dismiss the child's claims as a joke or a prank. That's exactly what happened to Oscar Fetterman, a 13-year-old boy from Centralia on April Fool's Day of 1917.

Oscar's story, however, turned out to be true, thus bringing to light one of Centralia's darkest unsolved mysteries.

Oscar was roaming the mountains near Centralia looking for teaberries. When he reached the woods that divide Park Street and the Saints Peter and Paul cemetery his eye was attracted to something lying on the ground. He crept closer. It was a human skeleton, clad in dark clothing. A black derby hat and black dress shoes were next to the bones.

Leaving his berries behind, the boy ran back to Centralia as fast as his legs could carry him and told anyone who would listen about his gruesome discovery. Everyone thought it was an April Fool's prank, of course, but Oscar's story spread throughout the small town, eventually attracting the attention of two men, Walter Kimmel and an unidentified friend, who said that since they were going past the cemetery later that day anyway, they would take a look for themselves.

Kimmel and his friend easily located the skeleton, and the cemetery's undertaker and the county coroner were summoned to the scene. They concluded that the man had been dead for about six months. They examined the dead man's clothing, but were unable to find anything that could be used to identify the remains.
As word of the discovery spread throughout the area, a Shamokin man by the name of Joseph Stack traveled to Centralia to view the remains. His son, James, had mysteriously disappeared from home six months earlier. Upon viewing the remains, however, Stack concluded that it could not possibly be his son; James was tall, and the bones were too short. He also examined the scraps of clothing found in the woods and did not recognize them.

Joseph did provide authorities with a possible lead, however. He told investigators of a fellow from Johnson City (which is presently known as Ranshaw) who also disappeared around the same time. Relatives of the missing man came to view the remains, but once again the remains didn't fit the description. Since there were no other reports of missing persons from the area, the bones were gathered into a box and buried in an unmarked grave in the Aristes cemetery (It's unclear why the bones weren't buried in the Centralia cemetery where they were discovered. My guess is that since the Centralia cemetery belonged to the Greek Orthodox church and all the parishioners were accounted for, the church didn't want anything to do with them).

Although a century has passed, the mystery skeleton of Centralia still remains unidentified-- and since the bones were buried in an unmarked grave, it appears that the mystery will forever remain unsolved.






Sources:

Mount Carmel Item, April 2, 1917
Mount Carmel Item, April 3, 1917
Harrisburg Evening News, April 3, 1917

Popular posts from this blog

Natalie, Pennsylvania: A Murderer's Paradise

When a miner named Michael Wanzie was murdered in June of 1905, it was evident that something wasn't quite right in the tiny village of Natalie. Although the scenic mountain village had a population of less than two hundred, the slaying of Michael Wanzie was the fourth murder committed in the village in less than a decade.

By 1924 the population had nearly doubled, thanks to a building "boom" that saw the construction of 40 new homes during the preceding year by builders employed by the Colonial Collieries Company, owners of the Natalie Colliery. Twenty of these homes, many of which still stand today, were built by the Evert Construction Company of Kulpmont. In 1923 there were 56 homes in the village, housing 375 residents. By April of 1924 that number would swell to just under 400 residents and 93 homes.

Although the building boom lent a measure of respectability to the village, Natalie was still imbued with a notorious reputation as being one of the most lawless place…

The Lutz Axe Murder

A small two-story house standing at the corner of Franklin and Montgomery streets in West Pittston presents a humble appearance. Simple in design and white in color, it is remarkable only because it is so unremarkable. A local resident may drive by the house every day for years without ever noticing it, or thinking about it. Certainly, from its understated appearance, nobody would ever guess that this humble house was the home of John Lutz, who, in 1899, committed of the most heinous murders in the history of Luzerne County.

The tiny house at the corner of Franklin and Montgomery is, in fact, a murder house. It is the scene of a gruesome crime that took place more than a century ago. What you are about to read is the story of that house and the killer who lived inside.

On November 29, 1899, John Lutz came home to his 31-year-old wife, Augusta, and their five young children. Lutz, who was nearly ten years older than his wife, was said to have been suffering from feelings of jealousy. Th…

The Murder of Daisy Smith

On a Monday morning in early October of 1898, about two miles below the iron railroad bridge which crosses the river to Selinsgrove, a farmer's horse had fallen ill.  Henry Smith sent out his teenage daughter, Daisy, to gather some sweet fern.  Hours passed and the Daisy had not returned with the medicinal herb so Mr. Smith decided to look for her after dinner.  He discovered the body of his beloved daughter next to the highway not far from the barn, face down beneath a large chestnut tree; her throat cut ear from to ear.

Of all the murders that took place in Northumberland County, it is the murder of pretty Daisy Smith which has become the most famous, largely due to the brutality of the crime. Daisy, who was just sixteen at the time, was found with a gash across her neck so deep that her backbone was visible, and her body had been riddled with several loads of buckshot.  It was the type of death befitting the most heinous of villains, and the fact that this fate had befallen su…