Scientists Begin Dig at James' Grave Site
Joplin Globe, July 18, 1995

    KEARNEY, Mo. - With a graveside gallery of about 200 people watching, a team of scientists on Monday dug delicately toward a casket that may - or may not  - contain the remains of the outlaw Jesse James.

    The search got tougher as scientists failed to hit a metal casket they had expected to find.  An old newspaper account had described James being buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in a metal casket.

    "What we have found is some bone in the midst of a wooden casket," project leader James E. Starrs, a professor at George Washington University, said as the day's work concluded.

    The exhumation, which was to resume today, is aimed at settling numerous vexing questions about James, chiefly whether the bones are really his.

    Some people claim the body beneath the Jesse James headstone is not that of James - that the infamous robber of trains and banks did not die when he was shot in the head in 1882 at his St. Joseph home, but faked his death and had more children.  Many now living claim to be descended from James, including the wife of one exhumation team member and even Starrs' own daughter-in-law.

    "I can't understand myself why people want to be related to such a scoundrel," Starrs said.

    The disintegrated wooden coffin was making the dig more difficult, but the team hoped to recover enough hard bone or teeth to identify as James', said Michael Finnegan, professor of anthropology at Kansas State University.

    Finnegan said the team found a left tibia bone, which he described as spongy and in very bad shape.

    The dig became more intricate as the day progressed.  Armed with trowels, the 15 scientists carefully scraped away dirt and removed fragments of metal and wood, bit by tiny bit.

    "Clearly this is archaeological now," Starrs said in mid-afternoon.

    Joining the onlookers at Mount Olivet Cemetery were scores of reporters, along with an enterprising vendor selling T-shirts that read: "We Dig Jesse."

    Starrs said that by using mitochondrial DNA, which is passed through the maternal line, he can determine whether the pile of bones belongs to James.

    The casket and remains are to be taken to a crime lab in Kansas City for initial preparation, then to Kansas State University, where they will remain until they are X-rayed and cleaned, scanned with a metal detector and cataloged.

    DNA samples will be sent to Pennsylvania State University, and other samples will be sent to Florida for drug analysis.  The DNA question should be answered by mid-September, said Starrs, a forensic science and law professor.

    Descendants, proven and otherwise, are all for the exhumation.

    Some people say James staged his death in 1882 as a hoax and lived under aliases until he died at the age of 107.  One of them is Jesse Franklin James, of Leander, Texas.

    "It is important that history by rewritten to truthfully show that my great-grandfather does not lie in that Missouri grave," the Texas said.

    If the remains are shown to be those of James, a cadre of pathologists, anthropologists, computer technicians, toxicologists and firearms experts will try to discover new details of his life and death.

    Was James really shot once in the back of the head by Robert Ford?