Human bones found in a box in a garage last week in Ohio belonged to a group that used them in rituals more than 100 years ago, police said.
The century-old mystery began Thursday night when a person heard juvenile voices near a detached garage on Werner Avenue in Mount Healthy, about 15 miles north of Cincinnati, police said in a statement Friday.
The person went to the area and found the box in the garage, which the Mount Healthy Police Department said appeared to contain “decomposed human remains.”
Police said the bones once belonged to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a group that was founded as a fraternal organization in the early 19th century and once had a lodge in the city but has long since moved from the area.
The bones were “relics” the group used in rituals, police said.
“The organization was founded in 1819 and had a large following,” police said. The building where the group met was purchased by a new owner, who cleaned it out and stored the material from the building — including the box of bones — in the garage.
Personnel with the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office took the remains for examination and identification, police said.
“It’s one of the more bizarre cases in my 40-plus year history that we’ve ever stumbled across,” Mount Healthy Police Chief Vincent L. Demasi told NBC affiliate WLWT of Cincinnati.
Demasi said it was his understanding that unclaimed cadavers could be purchased for multiple reasons in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Detectives learned that more than a century ago, Ohio prisons would sell unclaimed bodies, WLWT reported.
A family that ran a grocery store on the first floor of the building where the Independent Order of Odd Fellows met eventually bought it, cleaned it out before it was torn down and found the bones, the station reported.
The bones were named “Frieda,” and they were put in the garage, where they are likely to have remained for decades. It is unclear whether the coroner’s office will be able to make an identification, WLWT reported.
No one with the Mount Healthy Police Department could be reached Monday. A representative for the coroner’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows website, the group is now based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. No one could immediately be reached for comment Monday.
The group’s mission is to “provide a framework that promotes personal and social development. Lodge degrees and activities aim to improve and elevate every person to a higher, nobler plane; to extend sympathy and aid to those in need, making their burdens lighter, relieving the darkness of despair; to war against vice in every form, and to be a great moral power and influence for the good of humanity.”
According to the group’s website, the exact date of its founding “is lost in the fogs of antiquity.” Some historians trace its roots to the medieval trade guilds of the 12th and 13th centuries. Other estimates say group existed before 1650. The website said there were Odd Fellow groups in England in the 1700s.
Odd Fellow lodges had existed in New York City sometime from 1806 to 1818, but the group was officially organized on April 26, 1819, in Baltimore, it said.