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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Timepiece: Murder on the Mountain

Arkansas River Valley Business Directory

April 15, 1970 was a pleasant, warm spring afternoon on Magazine Mountain.  Mr. and Mrs. F.J. Swilling and a friend were picking poke sallet at the old rock quarry near the top of Magazine mountain.  Rounding a rock pile, they saw what they at first thought was a dead animal laying on a pile of rock and brush.  To their horror, closer investigation revealed that, instead of an animal, the remains was a torso of a human body.  Alarmed and badly frightened, they contacted local authorities.

Sherriff Raymond Henson was one of the first on the scene and described it as the most horrific and puzzling murder he encountered in his lifetime.  The body was a gruesome sight, the torso of a man lacking head, arms, and lower legs.  The body had been severed just above the naval and six inches down the thighs.  According to the coroner, the flesh had been cut through with a knife and a saw used to cut through the bone.  It was estimated that the body had been dead for forty-eight hours. 

Searching the area, a few bloody plastic bags were found, some containing human hair and fragments of flesh and blood.  Eventually, more than three hundred volunteers, including several area FFA students, were called in to assist in the search for the remainder of the body, all to no avail.  The state crime lab determined the body was male, 30 to 40 years of age, light brown hair, and weighing about 180 pounds.  Before the age of DNA identification, authorities were at a loss.  No facial features to identify, no fingerprints to use, and no witnesses left them in a quandary. Bulletins were sent out nationwide seeking help while locals locked doors and kept loaded weapons in case the killer sought more victims. A heart was found near Booneville, a dog was spotted near Midway dragging what was thought to be a human arm, a mental-patient confessed to the crime but all proved futile and inaccurate information. 

The late 1960’s and early 70’s was the period of the hippie generation.  News filtered in that a group of hippies had been seen on the mountain a few days prior to the murder.  Long-haired, bare-footed, flower-children were people of suspicion- even more so than was normal for the conservative mountain people.  About that time, a report came in from Burbank, California that a similar torso was found near their city and was associated with the Manson killings. Manson, hippies, crazed druggies?  Manson and his satanic group of followers were known to favor the use of knives and his cult followers were known to be moving into Arkansas.  Sheriff Henson checked out all the local groups and found they were just harmless idealists and no harm to the community. The Burbank body proved to have no known ties to the mountain stump.

The stump of the body was given a pauper’s funeral at Oakwood cemetery in Paris, marked unknown male, discovered on Magazine Mt., and the date.  A few months later it was exhumed and sent to Little Rock when a murder there showed similar characteristics.  Again, the results proved false.  Sheriff Henson retired in 1972, still convinced that parts of the body remained on Magazine Mountain.  Over the years, other leads have come in but nothing of substance has been discovered.  Unknown Male has remained as one of the 40,000 unidentified bodies found in the U.S. The killer roams free, also unidentified and people still wonder if the killer might yet be in the area; a neighbor or the person sitting next to you at church or in the barbershop.  The case remains open and investigators are still looking for leads.  If you happen to run across a spare leg, arm, or head as you explore around the neighborhood, please report it as soon as possible so we can put an end to this fifty-year old murder.

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