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Famous DNA Review, Part IV – Jesse James

image Jesse Woodson James, born September 5, 1847 and died April 3, 1882, was an infamous American outlaw. Despite strong evidence that James was killed on April 3, 1882, some theorized that his death was staged and that he in fact survived to father additional children.

In 1995, researchers set out to use relatively new DNA analysis to examine the rumors surrounding James’ death. They exhumed the body believed to be that of James from the Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Kearney, Nebraska. Although the remains were poorly preserved, the scientists were able to obtain DNA from two of four teeth. They also had DNA from two hairs that were recovered in 1978 from James’ original burial site on the James farm.

The mtDNA HVR1 sequence from the teeth and hairs were identical and belonged to Haplogroup T2, with 5 mutations relative to the CRS (16126C, 16274A, 16294T, 16296T, and 16304C).

The researchers then compared James mtDNA haplotype to that of his sister Susan’s great-grandson and great-great grandson, both of whom were exact matches. Thus, either the body is that of Jesse James, or it is a body that just happens to have the same mtDNA haplotype as James. The authors of the paper did a great job of clearly stating that while strongly suggestive, the results are not absolutely conclusive:

“Do the mtDNA results prove that the exhumed remains are those of Jesse James? The answer to this question must be no, as there is always the possibility (however remote) that the remains are from a different maternal relative of RJ and MN, or from an unrelated person with the same mtDNA sequence. However, it should be emphasized that the mtDNA results are in complete agreement with the other scientific investigations of the exhumed remains: there is no scientific basis whatsoever for doubting that the exhumed remains are those of Jesse James. The burden of proof now shifts to those who, for whatever reason, choose to still doubt the identification. The mtDNA results reported herein provide a standard which other claimants to the legacy of Jesse James must satisfy.”

I wonder if any of the original DNA could be recovered again for research in the future.

James’ haplotype is available at Mitosearch (EEYCU). Interestingly, even with the increasing popularity of genetic genealogy and the many people who have entered their own haploytpe into Mitosearch, James does not have any exact matches in the database. This fact lends credence to the conclusion that the body tested is that of Jesse James.

Other Posts in the Famous DNA Series:

Blaine Bettinger

Intellectual property attorney, genealogist, and author of The Genetic Genealogist since 2007

9 Comments

  1. Wrongful death attorney: That is my interest, to ascertain if my family is directly descended. Our family’s geneology indicates that a great-great (maybe three times great) grandmother of ours, Jeanette (Last name unknow right now, my mother is looking it up) is alleged to have conjugally visited with JWJ when he was in town. The result was my great great grandmother, Viola (Prichett) Gillentine, born 01/20/1871. I have a nephew who has a DNA sample and profile, so we are currently in the process of cross matching the information. Our fingers are crossed…..

  2. For Immediate Use Press Release

    Betty Duke
    512-515-5685
    7/21/2011

    1995 Outlaw Jesse James DNA Results Fraudulent

    Stephen Caruso, the Deputy Counselor for Clay County, Missouri during the 1995 exhumation and subsequent DNA testing of Jesse James’ reported grave, recently revealed that the 1995 DNA results touted as proving with a 99.7 degree of certainty that the infamous outlaw Jesse James died and is buried as history reports are fraudulent. During separate telephone conversations with Texas author Betty Dorsett Duke and Missourian Greg Ellison he (Caruso) said that instead of abiding by Clay County Judge Vic Howard’s order to hand over hair and teeth stored at the James Farm & Museum for DNA testing, he gave him hair he obtained from the head of John Hartman, Director of the Clay County Park’s Department in 1995. The Clay County Parks Department owns and operates the James Farm & Museum, and Caruso represented them (the farm and museum) in their attempt to prevent the hair and teeth from being obtained by Starrs.
    There are two graves bearing Jesse James’ name in Clay County, Missouri, the original grave a few miles from Kearney in the yard of Jesse James’ boyhood home now turned tourist attraction and the grave in Kearney’s Mt. Olivet Cemetery. The original grave was exhumed in 1902 for the purpose of reinterring the remains in Mt. Olivet Cemetery, and then re-exhumed in 1978 to retrieve remains that were left behind in 1902.
    Drs. Stone and Stoneking at Penn State University performed the DNA tests and maintain that the hair and teeth used for DNA testing were obtained from the 1978 dig of the original grave, but in 2001 Caruso told NBC 8 KOMU TV Anchorman Jim Riek that the teeth submitted for DNA testing “had nothing to do with the teeth that were dug up.”
    Obviously the final DNA report contains conflicting statements. Again, Dr. Stone, Dr. Stoneking, and Professor Starrs state that the mtDNA results do not prove the remains are those of Jesse James yet they also claim “…The DNA results are agreeable with other scientific investigations of the exhumed remains”. Knowing that Caruso claims to have obtained the hair used for DNA testing from Hartman’s head, and also knowing that he said the teeth had nothing to do with the teeth that were dug up, one naturally concludes that none of \the other scientific investigations\ are agreeable with the hair and teeth used for DNA testing. Their report also states that there is no scientific basis for doubting the exhumed remains are those of Jesse James.
    MORE
    Duke begs to differ due to the following reasons: Professor Starrs used no chain of custody guidelines for the human remains submitted for DNA testing; The hair submitted for DNA testing originated from the head of John Hartman; The teeth submitted for DNA testing are of unknown origin and had nothing to do with the teeth that were dug up; Hartman said, “The results of the 1995 exhumation should be published as they were found, not as they have been framed or sanitized for public consumption;” The validity of the two DNA reference sources’ is highly questionable; and Drs. Stone and Stoneking’s DNA results are highly questionable.
    Being well aware that the statute of limitations is up on the crime Caruso and Hartman reportedly committed, Duke and Ellison decided to report it to Clay County, Missouri in order for truth to prevail. On July 12, 2011 their notarized affidavits were faxed to the Clay County Prosecuting Attorney.
    Jim Roberts, spokesman for the Clay County Prosecutor’s Office, replied to Duke via email telling her that Clay County is not lending any credence to Caruso’s confession of fraud and won’t investigate it. Duke left several telephone messages requesting for Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Dan White to call her, but as of this date he has failed to do so.
    In 1999 Duke petitioned Falls County Judge Meyer to grant an order to exhume the grave in Blevins Cemetery bearing James L. Courtney’s name for DNA testing purposes. Although initially disappointed that he denied her request she now realizes that it was for the best. Why? Because even if Jesse James did assume the alias of James L. Courtney and lived and died in Texas, the fraudulent DNA sequence his DNA sequence would have been compared against would have shown that he wasn’t.
    After hearing all of her life that her paternal great-grandfather was Jesse James and dedicating a large portion of her life to either prove or disprove it, Duke is now convinced the story is true thanks to a recently discovered eBay photo of the James family. She knows Jesse James was born in Clay County, Missouri but the eBay photo literally shows what DNA failed to prove – Jesse James got away with his own 1882 murder and lived out the remainder of his life in Texas as James L. Courtney.
    The photo may be viewed at this link: http://www.jessejamesintexas.com/index.htm.
    END

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