Human Skull Found In Wyoming’s Vast Red Desert Was A Man Age 25-35, Coroner Says

A bleached-out human skull found in Wyoming’s vast Red Desert in November belonged to a man ages 25-35, the Sweetwater County coroner confirmed Wednesday.

Clair McFarland

April 03, 20244 min read

Wyoming red desert 10 4 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

“We got dental done, the skull’s down at the crime lab now getting DNA testing if they can acquire any,” Dale Majhanovich, Sweetwater County Coroner, told Cowboy State Daily.

An elk hunter stumbled across the skull last November while tracking elk through the vast desert. He described the discovery in the vast desert as a fluke of the odds. No other body parts were found.

The Wyoming Crime Lab started DNA analysis on the skull Feb. 7, Majhanovich said.

Authorities have registered the skull’s dental characteristics in the federal National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), but that did not produce a match between the skull and a known missing person, he added.

“There were really no findings with dental — he has no cavities, no fillings, anything we can see,” said Majhanovich.

Some missing people registered in NamUs do have DNA data associated with them. Some do not.

The sun bleaching and cracking on the skull indicates it was outdoors for a long period of time, the coroner said, adding that still, it’s considered a “recent” find, which means fewer than 75 years old.

The coroner's confirmation rules out a possibility some had pondered, that the skull could belong to Casper woman Kris Richardson, who went missing in 2014.

Just One

The NamUs system shows five males missing from Sweetwater County, with just one of those falling within the skull’s age-of-death bracket of 25-35.

That is David Williams, who was 33 when he went missing from the Creston Junction area Nov. 11, 1980 — 43 years to the day before the skull was found in the desert.

NamUs lists other males close to that age range who went missing from Sweetwater County. They are:

  • David Lovely, who was 20 when he went missing in 1985.
  • Frank Farnsworth, who was 48 when he vanished in 1986.
  • Clifford Haux, who was 42 when he went missing in 2003.

The Red Desert also stretches into Carbon County, where none of NamUs’s listed males fall within the 25-35 age range, but one comes close. That’s John Boutin, who went missing at age 24 in 1983.

‘In The Middle Of Nowhere’

Rock Springs resident Marc Zancanella found the skull while hunting. He had shot a bull elk that day.

The elk fled into a sagebrush draw about 200 yards away and keeled over. As Zancanella approached it, something white against a sagebrush snagged his periphery, he wrote in a post to Facebook group Wyoming Elk Hunters.  

“I look over and see a human skull,” he wrote. “I cannot believe what I am seeing.”

Zancanella called 911, and the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office sent investigators.  

Zancanella later told Cowboy State Daily the experience was surreal.

For the elk to go up the draw as it did was “not normal,” he said, adding that if he hadn’t taken the exact route he did creeping after it, he wouldn’t have spotted the skull.   

“Something made that elk, and me, walk up there to find that head. Some higher power or something,” he said. “Just – the odds of walking by it, you know?”

No Obvious Trauma

The skull bore no obvious signs of trauma, had no remaining human tissue and was sun-bleached but was above-ground, said Jason Mower, Public Affairs director for the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office, at the time the skull was found.

The lower jaw was detached but nearby, Mower told Cowboy State Daily.  

Whoever the skull belongs to, he wasn’t in the area grocery shopping.  

“Anybody that’s been to the Red Desert knows it’s virtually in the middle of nowhere,” Mower added. “A desert filled with sagebrush.”

Clair McFarland can be reached at

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter