Forensic Experts Say Grave Belongs to Jesse
NWAR Morning News  Feb. 24, 1996

    by LAURA KING

    A century-old dispute may have been laid to rest Friday in Nashville, Tenn., when forensic experts announced that the body they unearthed in Missouri last year was the legendary Jesse James.

    Phillip Steele, a Springdale resident who is also a Western history enthusiast, attended the National Forensic Science Academy's annual conference, where the announcement was made.

    "Yes, it was Jesse," Steele reported from Nashville.  As the president of the James-Younger Gang, a group of history buffs who specialize in outlaw fact and folklore.  Steele has followed the case closely.  In fact, he attended the exhumation of the body from Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Kearney, Mo., last July, and he even served as a pallbearer at the "funeral" when the body was returned to the grave after DNA testing concluded in October.

    Remains of the body -- only a few teeth and a few bones were found aside from some man-made items -- were tested and compared to the DNA of a bona fide James descendant, Robert Jackson of Oklahoma City, Steele said.  Jackson is the great-grandson of Susan James Palmer, the sister of Jesse and Frank James.

    Professor James Starrs of George Washington University, who led the forensics team that exhumed the body, reported that tests "corresponded perfectly" with Jackson's DNA profile, Steele said.

    The results come as no surprise.  Steele said researchers simply proved what historians have always known: James was killed when Bob Ford, a member of his gang who probably was out to collect bounty, shot him dead on April 3, 1882.

    The purpose of the test was not only to prove that Jesse James was in the grave, but also to determine who is and is not a descendant of the outlaw.

    It was important to establish that the body is actually James', Steele said in a previous interview, because at least four aging men claimed to be the outlaw after the shooting.

    People have claimed throughout the 20th century that they're James descendants because their parents or grandparents told them it was true.

    Reportedly, all those would-be relatives have to do to prove their stories is to take simple blood tests to see if they're biological matches.