Human remains found in an Ohio garage belonged to a fraternal organization that used them in “rituals,” according to local authorities.
On March 24, a resident of the small city of Mount Healthy, outside Cincinnati, went to investigate a freestanding garage near his home after hearing voices nearby, according to a statement released by the Mount Healthy Police Department. The person entered the garage and found a box “which appeared to contain decomposed human remains,” the statement said, and alerted the authorities. The coroner collected the remains and police began an investigation.
The next day, police announced the bones had seemingly been “relics” used in “rituals” by a fraternal order known as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal order that was founded in the U.S. in the early 1800s.
Mount Healthy Police Chief Vincent Demasi says authorities traced the origin of the bones, which are thought to be about a century old, by speaking with a family who had purchased an Odd Fellows’ lodge nearby when the group left town decades ago. “When they moved, the Odd Fellows… left many items in the lodge, including the bones,” Demasi says. The new homeowners stored the bones and other things left behind by the group in a rented garage.
According to Demasi, the homeowners had asked the Odd Fellows about the bones when they discovered them after purchasing the lodge. “The family…inquired about the bones and were told they were of a female named Frida who died in prison and her body was unclaimed,” Demasi says. “Back in those days, unclaimed bodies could be sold for various purposes. How the Odd Fellows came to be in possession of the bones is unknown.”
The police announced in their statement that the bones had been used by the Odd Fellows “as part of their organization’s rituals.” Pressed for more detail on exactly the role the remains are thought to have played in these rituals, Demasi told Rolling Stone he did not know.
According to the group’s website, the Odd Fellows originated in England and established themselves in North America in the early Nineteenth Century. Reporting by the Cincinnati Enquirer indicates the group is still active today, with 40 lodges in Ohio.
Penny Castle, grand secretary for the Grand Lodge of Ohio, told the Enquirer that bones are used in ceremonies to represent mortality and remind people to live their lives to the fullest. “The ones I’ve seen have been plastic or paper-mache,” Castle told the Enquirer. “The ones years ago may have been different.”
Reached for comment about the discovery of the remains, Chuck Lusk, Sovereign Grand Master of the order, pointed to a 2017 Atlas-Obscura article that documented the use of skeletons in initiation ceremonies and the frequency with which bones are discovered in Odd Fellows lodges. “In reference to the bones found in Ohio, we can not be sure that these had anything to do with the IOOF since they were not in a lodge hall but in a garage that did not belong to this order,” he says.
A mission statement on the Odd Fellows’ website says the group strives “to provide a framework that promotes personal and social development.” Their 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.”
The Hamilton County Coroner’s Office has not identified the bones and was not immediately available for an interview about whether an ID can be expected.