John Hollenhorst ReportingVolunteers in southern Utah are taking another stab at solving the haunting mystery of a skeleton found in a cave on the outskirts of St. George. They're trying to unravel the fascinating circumstances of a young boy's death nearly a century ago.
At the St. George Temple, Webb Hill looms in the background. Near the antennas on top is the final resting place of a teenager who died with no one to love him, in a tiny cave where he evidently used rocks to wall himself in.
Todd Gabler, Private Investigator: “Sixteen years old. This, this was still a boy!”
Todd Gabler spearheads a group of volunteers making a renewed effort to solve the Mystery of Webb Hill.
It's a story that seems to get inside people's skin. The bones lay undiscovered for perhaps 80 years. Teenage hikers found the skeleton in the cave in 1998. For five years Gabler has been puzzling over a few pieces of clothing and bits of medical evidence that provide only vague clues.
Todd Gabler: “I don’t know if we’ll ever know who this person was
The mystery isn't just who the boy was; it's why he died. And why here, in such a remote and lonely place, all by himself?
Todd Gabler: "It touches us in a way that keeps us interested, makes us want to know why."
The cave was excavated for clues five years ago. Now they're broadening the effort to nearby shelves and crevices where they hope packrats have hoarded evidence. They've already found additional small bones and a rivet from the boy's pants.
Physical evidence hints at the year 1918, and death by some form of lung infection.
Todd Gabler: "I think that he succumbed to the influenza, which was a pandemic at that time and killed over 600,000 Americans in just a few months time."
Gabler says clues suggest the boy was an itinerant worker at a nearby oil rig or mining camp when the 1918 epidemic was stirring widespread fear.
Todd Gabler: "When the signs of sickness began to show, he probably would have been shunned and would have found a place to hole up and try and get well."
Or perhaps the boy knew what was coming and deliberately chose this place to die, alone on a mountaintop with no one to tell his story.
The volunteer investigators have set up a web site to spread information and gather clues on "The Mystery of Webb Hill."