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
"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
"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?