Micah Benson | Art DirectorNews
Toil and trouble: Uncertainty in details surrounding John Crouse Jr.’s stolen skull still remain 24 years later
When Kevin McQuain returned from Oakwood Cemetery that night, he did not come back empty-handed.
McQuain’s roommate, Nate Andresani, was preparing for an intramural football game in their Flint Hall room on Oct. 18, 1988 when McQuain came in holding a paper bag. Andresani was taken aback by McQuain’s new possession.
The bag contained a human skull.
“I was like, ‘You got to be sh*tting me,’” Andresani said. “I didn’t have time to think much about it other than ‘What the hell are you going to do with that?’”
It’s a story occasionally unearthed around Halloween, said Edward Menkin, McQuain’s attorney following the arrest. Menkin still hears from McQuain every once in a while, usually around this time of year. And though McQuain’s intentions were not to create a Halloween prank, the spooky nature of the story and proximity of the event to Halloween made it to stick in Syracuse University lore.
McQuain, a freshman art major at the time described as a “gifted artist,” planned on using the skull as a guide for his sculpture class. He even received an art scholarship from SU. But getting caught with the skull, which he robbed from a mausoleum, would change his entire SU career.
McQuain propped a garbage can on top of Flint 3C’s common room stove and began boiling it, using Clorox to clean off the dirt. The skull’s noxious stench flowed down the hall, alarming everyone.
Soon after, he was arrested. And after investigators looked into it, they discovered whom the skull belonged to: John J. Crouse Jr., former mayor of Syracuse. Crouse Jr. happened to also be the son of John Crouse, which Crouse College is named after.
“It turned out to be a skull of the ex-mayor of Syracuse and it was Halloween, and suddenly it was DEFCON 1 and the community was up in arms,” Menkin said.
Investigators found smashed and splintered caskets, bones and decomposed parts strewn across the mausoleum floor — though McQuain and others said the mausoleum was broken into and destroyed before McQuain discovered a skull out in the open.
“The frustrating part was that being your freshman year of college, I didn't need people showing up at the room when I had done nothing to contribute to it.”
Nate Andresani, McQuain’s former roommate
Many contested the Crouse mausoleum was already busted and decimated before entered. Andresani said McQuain told police the crypts were open and he did not actually break into the mausoleum.
Jim Ridlon, a professor of sculpture at the time, went to court with McQuain. While Ridlon said McQuain was “stupid,” he said people had started using the mausoleum for shelter. Copies of newspapers dating back several years were stacked in the mausoleum, Ridlon said, indicating that McQuain did not open the mausoleum.
No matter who did it, Dan Glavin, director of Oakwood Cemetery since 1982, remembers the scene of a completely broken mausoleum.
“It was a mess,” he said.
Andresani and other floormates received plenty of unwanted attention after McQuain and Andresani’s room number was published.
Andresani recalls one night, a couple days after McQuain’s arrest, when two large, intoxicated men showed up at his door looking for a fight. McQuain clearly was not there, and Andresani said the two men, one of whom was dressed in a kilt, turned out to be descendents of the Crouse family, angered by the news that Crouse Jr.’s skull was taken.
“The frustrating part was that being your freshman year of college, I didn’t need people showing up at the room when I had done nothing to contribute to it,” he said.
McQuain was sentenced to 200 hours of community service, but also had his scholarship taken away. After completing his second year at SU, he left school because he could no longer afford it, The Post-Standard reported in 2002.
McQuain and Andresani had different backgrounds, and that was clear when they first met, but Andresani said they got along well in their confined space.
“I’m showing up with Phillies stuff and season tickets for all the sporting events, and Kevin’s showing up in a leather jacket and goth-like,” Andresani said.
Multiple attempts to reach McQuain, who went on to start an independent record company named Skully Records, were unsuccessful.
The story reached national headlines, with versions published by The New York Times and United Press International. Andresani, who was from the Philadelphia area, worried about his parents finding out.
Andresani ran into McQuain once during McQuain’s second year on campus, but lost touch after, as each was on a different path from the start of freshman year.
“I told the story many times,” Andresani said. “In the sense of my friends’ kids go off to college or when other people go off to college, I am sure I have the best, strangest freshman roommate story ever.”
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