More Than Bones

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Never one to ignore a really good mystery, the latest information on the bones found in a mansion once owned by the Vandergrifts sent me on a wild chase. The Vandergrift estate was built in 1901 with money inherited by Joseph Bushnell Vandergrift from his father Captain Jacob Jay Vandergrift. Captain Vandergrift made his fortune in the oil business. The Vandergrifts lived in the Pittsburgh and Oil City Pennsylvania area at the time of Captain Vandergrift’s death in 1899.


Joseph Bushnell Vandergrift was one of 10 children, 6 boys and 4 girls. The Vandergrift estate, Vancroft Manor, now called Aspen Manor, in West Virginia was bought in 1895 for the boys as a get away, hunting lodge built on 500 acres. In 1904, Joseph B. Vandergrift woke up, got dressed and walked away from the house, never to return. They say that when he left the stable was burned to the ground and his wife, Diana Mix Montanye and the stable man, that it was claimed that she was having an affair with, were both dead and burned.


At the time Vandergrift had a son John M. Vandergrift was 11. By 1905, I found Joseph Bushnell Vandergrift traveling out of the country with a woman named Sybil M. Clifton. The following year I found Joseph traveling once again with his wife, Sybil M. Vandergrift. There is documentation showing his father getting a passport for John and his second wife, Sybil.


More searching would uncover the death notice of Joseph in 1915 and name as survivors his wife and sons, John and J. J. Vandergrift. Within 6 months John would marry his stepmother. In 1922, John would be in court asking to have his estranged wife stopped from selling off his inheritance. He claimed that they had separated in November of 1921 and Sybil was living outside of the marital home. 


By May of 1923 the newspapers would hold yet another story about John and Sybil, the beginning of their divorce.


May 29 1923, Kingsport Times



New York. —John M. Vandergrift, a grandson of one of the founders of the Standard Oil Company, has been sued for divorce by his stepmother, Mrs. Sybil Vandergrift, it developed here today.


After his father died at Pittsburgh in 1915 he married his stepmother, twelve years his senior.


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