Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Anglers find human bones at Centre’s Sayers Lake

Howard, Pa. – It might have started like any “walk in the park,”
but for two Clinton County anglers, it did not end that way. While
looking for lost fishing lures in Bald Eagle State Park, Ginger
Franklin and Jim Munro stumbled upon half-buried human bones.

Each fall, the level of Sayers Lake at Bald Eagle State Park, in
Centre County, is drawn down several feet as a flood-prevention
measure. A popular pastime of local anglers is scouring the
newly-exposed lake bottom for snagged fishing lures and retrieving
them. At times, there might be a dozen or more people searching
around the woody debris, manmade cover and rock outcroppings on the
now-dry lake bottom looking for lures.

Munro picked up Franklin on the afternoon of Jan. 23, at the end
of her shift at the Lock Haven Lowe’s, and they were off to Sayers
Lake to look for fishing lures. The lake is a short drive from
their home in Beech Creek. Both enjoy fishing from shore or from
their john boat for bass, sunfish, and trout.  

“We love to fish for just about anything,” Franklin said.
Looking for fishing lures or another favorite pastime – hunting
arrowheads – are two other ways that they enjoy the outdoors,
Franklin said.

“We had been searching for lures for about an hour when I found
what looked like a human tooth,” Franklin related. “It was white
and looked relatively new.

“I called to Jim, but I guess he didn’t think I was
serious. About 20 feet away, just above the water level, I saw
another piece of bone and, about 2 feet away from that, I saw what
looked like the top to a skull. Jim still didn’t think that I was
serious,” she said.  

“I started to poke around a little in the mud, and I uncovered a
jaw bone. Now I just knew it was human and I stopped digging,”
Franklin said.

Franklin and Munro decided that they had better notify the
police, so Franklin called the state police on her cell phone.

Franklin said that the officer sort of joked with her and gave
her the we-get-lots-of-calls-from-people-who-think-they-found-bones
treatment. “When I told them that the jaw bone I was looking at
sure wasn’t from an animal, they took me seriously. We waited and
they sent an officer right down to the lake,” she said.

“I was surprised that no one else saw the bones,” Franklin
said. “The area was just covered with the tracks made by others
looking for lures.” Actually Franklin’s discovery was no accident.
Her friends and family know she has a sharp eye for detail.

Since beginning to hunt for arrowheads less than two years ago,
she has discovered more than 100 arrowheads and one tomahawk – more
than many artifact hunters find in a lifetime.

Trooper Thomas Hertlein arrived on the scene and, according to
Franklin, it only took a moment before he agreed that the bones
were human. Then he became very businesslike. 

Since Centre County has a number of unsolved missing persons’
cases, including the high-profile case of District Attorney Ray
Gricar – missing since April 2005 – the discovery of the bones was
taken seriously. The area was secured, Centre County Coroner Scott
Sayers was contacted, and a forensics expert was consulted. 

The following day, Jan. 24, well-known Mercyhurst College
forensic anthropologist Dennis Dirkmaat and a team of 13 graduate
students arrived from Erie and began their investigation. While
state police and the coroner looked on, Dirkmaat and his students
carefully explored the potential crime scene.

“Dr. Dirkmaat’s team was very thorough and professional,” said
Sayers. “They used small trowels and brushes to carefully uncover
the remains, and they sifted the soil through screens.”

According to Sayers, it took Dirkmaat only a short time to
ascertain that the bones were very old and that they were probably
not investigating a crime scene. The complete excavation took about
six hours and uncovered additional bones and at least one
arrowhead. 

Sayers described the bones as “very dark with a yellow tint.” 
Dirkmaat said that a report would follow after a closer inspection
of the remains back at Mercyhurst College.

“I entered the investigation with an open mind,” Sayers said. 
“I must admit that I was relieved when it was determined that the
bones were probably much older than any of our missing
persons.”

Dirkmaat, who could not discuss specifics of the case, explained
what he looks for when unknown remains are discovered.

“I look at the context of where the bones are found, whether
they are scattered or clumped, and if there is any evidence or
artifacts discovered with the bones,” he said in a phone interview.
“To determine the age of the individual, we look at the teeth and
development of the long bones, such as the femur.”

Dirkmaat’s report was released on Feb. 13. According to Sayers,
Dirkmaat determined that the human skeletal remains were Native
American, and they were likely to be between 100 and 700 years
old. 

According to the report, the bones were actually from two
different people – one adult and one juvenile. Sayers said that the
bones had been placed in what Dirkmaat called “bundle burials” –
actually two burials about 20 feet apart, likely buried at the same
time. 

Case closed for Sayers and the State Police. According to
Dirkmaat, who now has care of the remains, procedures will be
followed as outlined in the Native American Graves Protection and
Repatriation Act. 

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