The Unknown 15

The Unknown 15

It's probably the greatest unsolved mystery in Sioux City's history.

Not one, not two or three but 15 bodies found buried along the riverfront. And to this day, no one knows who they are or how they got there.

The first segment of I-29 through Iowa opened October first of 1958 here in Sioux City. The three mile stretch running from the Big Sioux River on the north, to the U.S. 20 bridge across the Missouri River.

Earlier that year, while scaling away a portion of the bluffs about a half mile south of the Floyd Monument, workers discovered something very unusual, a grave site with at least 15 caskets.

"There's a lot of speculation about whose these unknown 15 people were because there's nobody left to tell us," said Grace Linden, Sioux City Public Museum (retired).

It's believed they were here sometime after Lewis and Clark's expedition in 1804, and before we became a city in 1854.

"A group of people for whatever reason probably got a disease, cholera or something and it killed a whole bunch of them," said Linden.

At first it was thought they might be Native Americans because they all had black hair.

"One of the men was so large that they made him in fetal position, curled up to get him in the coffin. And so at first they thought that was the way Native Americans buried their dead in the fetal position," said Linden.

But some discoveries inside the caskets changed that.

"But they did find some things in there that had religious symbols on 'em so they thought it was at one time some Jesuits that were traveling across the country preaching to people," said Linden.

Silver plated coffin handles also showed a high level of sophistication.

"And whoever they were with buried them because they had wood coffins; they had hinges for the lids. So it wasn't like let's just build a grave and throw these people in," said Linden.

Experts from Morningside College, to the University of Iowa and Kansas eventually studied the remains. And local author Margaret Crary even wrote a children's book about the discovery.

But so far much remains to be known about the Unknown 15.

There's no doubt our modern technology might help shed new light on this year's long mystery.

But, adding to this mystery is that somehow all the remains have disappeared over the years. And I've been told no one seems to know where they are anymore.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off