Skeleton in a drawer: a Bellevue mystery
Remains used for Odd Fellows initiation rites
By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer
discovered in a built-in wardrobe drawer by new Odd Fellows building owner during the
historic structures renovation. (Express photo by Ron Soble)
The international Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which for centuries
has been endeavoring "to improve and elevate the character of man," according to
its literature, might not have any skeletons in its closet, but the Bellevue charter has
one in a drawer.
The Odd Fellows chambers on the second floor of Bellevues
historic Odd Fellows hall is a lonely place these days. With the building recently
changing ownership, and only a handful of Bellevues Odd Fellows still alive in the
no-longer-active group, the vacant chambers have begun to collect dead flies, dust and
Even during a warm afternoon, the three-feet thick masonry walls of the
century-old building retain the previous nights chill. The curtains are drawn on
rooms outfitted with the austere stateliness of a military museum, and only a thin shaft
of light or two illuminates the red and black carpet, the dark-stained cabinetry, and the
organizations three-letter motto, "FLT," which is painted prominently in
three linked rings on the wall. The letters stand for Friendship, Love and Truth.
Before a building can be sold in Idaho, the seller must disclose any
murders or suicides that have happened on the premises, the buildings new owner said
recently during a tour.
The owner requested that his name not be used in connection with this
"I got a call from my lawyer," he said, grabbing a drawer
handle at the bottom of a built-in wardrobe, "who told me there was a skeleton in the
closet, literally." He yanked the drawer open, and sure enough, a dusty,
wired-together, brittle-looking skeleton, screeched into the harsh florescent light.
"My wifes not too happy about it," the owner said.
Its not a very big skeleton. Perhaps the bones of a woman or an
adolescent. It rests in what appears to be a home-made coffin, and someone has propped its
head up with newspaper.
Rumor has it, the owner said, that an individual of Chinese descent
drowned in the Big Wood River and someone wired the bones together. The Odd Fellows used
the skeleton for Halloween. He added he didnt know what the legal ramifications of
finding the skeleton were and that he hadnt yet decided what to do with it.
The Odd Fellows is a fraternal organization that does charitable work
on various projects in the community. According to a pamphlet provided by the Odd Fellows
Grand Lodge in Caldwell, "the origins of Odd Fellowship are shrouded in the mists of
antiquity," but "the seed of Odd Fellowship" was planted on American soil
in 1819 by an English immigrant.
Today, Idaho Grand Secretary Bill Stephen said in a telephone
conversation from Caldwell that lodges are found in every state of the U.S. and in
"all the free nations."
When an Odd Fellow joins, he must swear to "visit the sick,
relieve the distressed and bury the dead," among other things, the pamphlet says.
Halbert Hatch, 92, is one of the few remaining members of the Bellevue
charter of Odd Fellows. He recently moved to Bridge View Estates, a retirement home in
In a telephone interview, he was reluctant to discuss the skeleton,
saying cryptically that "it has a meaning to it" and that the public
doesnt care about the internal workings of the fellowship, only about the charity it
He said that the Bellevue Odd Fellows has sponsored the Boy Scouts,
donated a ball field to the city and donated $10,000 to the Bellevue museum.
"Were strictly a beneficent organization," he said,
"for the betterment of mankind. Our belief is do unto others as you would have them
do unto you."
He said that the skeleton is used during one of the three degrees of
Odd Fellows initiation and that every lodge has one.
"You look at it," he said, "and they explain life. We
have the joys of life, and sooner or later, we become that."
It was all taken from the Bible, he said, adding that "it made you
He said that he didnt know where the skeleton came from, then
added that "today, it would probably be illegal."
Asked why, he said, "Maybe its not illegal. I dont
When asked how old he thought it was, he said, "Hell, I
wouldnt have any idea." Then he said, "Its from the 1880s, Id
imagine. Ive never been that curious about it."
Hatch also said that it was a Chinese person who drowned in the river.
He said that birds had picked the bones clean and that someone in the Chinese community
either sold it or gave it to the Odd Fellows.
"I dont think the Chinese were too fussy," he said.
When asked if he ever thought someone was killed for the purpose, he
said, "I would doubt it. That would be a little bit too much of a story."
Even though the drawer had a padlock on it until just a few weeks ago,
the skeleton is hardly a secret.
Hailey Library director, Wynn Bird, 45, said that she can remember
seeing it hung in the Odd Fellows window during Halloween when she was a kid.
Some say it was found in a mine. Others that it was found in the gravel
pits south of Bellevue.
Russ Mikel, who has been Blaine County Coroner since 1982, said that he
has never heard of the Odd Fellows skeleton, but "hopefully, there would be a
document or permit that says, this is the authority by which we hold
He said that he has never had to deal with this kind of situation.
"Where do we start from here?" he said. "Were going to have to find
out a lot of things."
Whats more, he added, "under current laws, if you have
knowledge of a deceased person, you have an obligation to make a report to either the
sheriff or the coroner."
Sometimes it is possible to identify a persons remains, even when
they are very old, he said. When he was a coroner in Kellogg, the county reasonably
identified a 40-year-old skeleton found in a river. The county was able to match scraps of
clothing to a missing persons record.
But, he added, to identify a skeleton that has been used for ceremonial
purposes, "not a chance."
Obviously puzzled, he said, "Just the simple fact of putting a
skeleton back in skeletal form took some doing."
When asked what the countys obligation is, he said,
"Ill have to think about that a little bit more."
Then he added, "Im surprised real skeletons are used for