Why the 1995 DNA Results are Tainted….
1. The validity of the DNA Reference Sources.
2. The questionable origin of the teeth and hair used for DNA testing.
As you might imagine, the publication of my book sparked controversy and has continued to generate sometimes heated discussions on the topic of the true identity of Jesse James.
The 1995 exhumation of the purported grave of Jesse James in Clay County, Missouri, and subsequent DNA testing proved absolutely nothing.
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA, passed directly from mother to child) was chosen for that exhumation because the Y chromosome method of DNA testing couldn’t be used as the location of Robert James’ (Jesse’s father) grave is not known. Hence, there was no Y chromosome DNA reference source available at that time.
But instead of exhumation project leader, Professor James E. Starrs. exhuming Zerelda James Samuel, the mother of Jesse James and also the perfect candidate for a DNA reference sample, he chose Robert A. Jackson and his nephew, Mark Nikkel. Jackson and Nikkel claim to be matrilineal descendents of Susan James Parmer, Zerelda’s daughter, and Jesse’s full-blood sister. Zerelda would have been the perfect choice as a DNA reference source for several reasons:
- Most historians agree that she is the mother of Jesse James.
- Her remains would share the exact mtDNA sequence as the remains of Jesse James.
- She is buried only feet from the purported grave of Jesse James.
Starrs claimed Missouri State law prevented him from exhuming Zerelda’s remains, but upon contacting the Missouri Attorney General’s office, I found that there is no such law.
I have challenged Jackson’s and Nikkel’s validity as DNA reference sources because it is not clear who the birth mother of Jackson’s mother, Dorothy Anne Rose, was. Her genealogical records are highly questionable, indicating that she may or may not be a true matrilineal descendant of Susan James Parmer. And in a case of such historical significance as this–there can be no room for doubt.
It is claimed that Dorothy’s mother is Feta A. Parmer. But Feta’s husband, Bert A. Rose, was married first to a woman named Katie who might in fact be Dorothy’s mother.
Professor Starrs, who is not a forensic scientist but a law professor, did not provide conclusive proof that Dorothy, Robert Jackson, or Mark Nikkel are true descendants of Susan James Parmer. James Starrs has gained a questionable reputation among legitimate forensic scientists in his chosen hobby of body exhumation. Click on the following link to see an article written by Amanda Ripley of the Washington D.C.’s Washington City Paper who interviewed Starrs in 1998: Bone_Hunter (PDF).
The “proof” Starrs offers consists of Dorothy Anne’s death certificate and a 1920 Texas census record. Even amateur genealogists know that those records are only as reliable as the informant providing the information. Starrs has only assumed, not proven, that Dorothy was Feta’s child. And if it turns out that she wasn’t, the entire 1995 exhumation will be totally invalid because those DNA results are based solely on Jackson’s validity as a true matrilineal descendant of Susan James Parmer.
Dorothy’s birth certificate is one of the strangest I have ever seen. The original Texas Certificate of Birth has no name listed in the space for “Name of Child,” and there is no birth year listed–only the date “5/26” with no year designated.
Copies of the original birth certificate and social security application for Dorothy Anne Rose will be shown in the latest edition of my book due out soon.
Feta A. Rose requested that amendments be made to the original record and did so in Oklahoma City, OK (where Robert Jackson resides) on November 4, 1971. The original record was amended as follows:
|Item or Item NO.
||Entry on Original Certificate
|Name of Child
||_ _ _ Rose
||Dorothy Anne Rose
|Date of Birth
||May 26, _ _ _
||May 26, 1914
In checking Dorothy Anne’s application for a Social Security number, I discovered that the Social Security Administration also seemed to question Dorothy’s year of birth–1914 is crossed out.
Now this is the clincher–The 1920 Tarrant County, Texas, census record that Starrs himself used as proof that Dorothy is Feta’s child, also shows a discrepancy in Dorothy’s age. The census taker listed Dorothy as being 15 years old in 1920. If this is true, Dorothy Anne would have been born around 1905 and could not have been Feta and Bert’s child, because Bert was married to another woman at that time. But Starrs just assumes that “the census taker must have erred here since Feta’s age and her living with Allen Parmer in 1910 insure that Dorothy Ann on January 8, 1920 was five, not 15, years of age.” (Professor James E. Starrs, THE JAMES FAMILY MITOCHONDRIAL DNA TREE: Proving the Validity of the Reference Sources)
This controversy could very easily be resolved if Jackson would agree to donate a new blood sample, taken at my expense, under strict chain of custody guidelines. I can only add that if the tables were turned, and I were in Jackson’s shoes, I would be jumping at the chance to defend DNA results which such a high degree of certainty as his is said to provide…against all challengers.
Click here to review more about my DNA challenge to Robert A. Jackson in the article Modern Day Shootout.
Another key issue with the 1995 testing is the questionable origin of the human hair and teeth that Starrs submitted to the scientists for DNA testing.
Many are not aware that Starrs exhumed two graves marked as those of “Jesse Woodson James” during the summer of 1995:
- The Mt. Olivet cemetery site on July 17-19, 1995.2. The original burial site in the yard of the James Farm on September 15, 1995.
Approximately fifteen teeth were unearthed by Starrs at the Mt. Olivet site, the DNA results from which were expected by mid-September. Starrs is adamant that the 1995 DNA results are based on these teeth.
But I find that hard to believe because he obtained a court order to exhume a Tupperware bowl from the original site on September 15, 1995–the exact date he was expecting the DNA results from the teeth retrieved from the Mt. Olivet site. Starrs’ main goal in exhuming the bowl was to retrieve a tooth that was said to be encased there. He was even quoted in the Kearney Courier as saying “that tooth could be the tooth that tells the tale.” Employees at the James Farm & Museum have verified that former museum curator, Milton Perry, placed skeletal remains, including teeth, which are said to have originated from the original grave site, in a plastic container in his desk drawer and handed them out to various individuals as souvenirs.
It is obvious that if in fact Starrs did use some of those teeth for the 1995 DNA testing, there was no chain of custody guidelines used, and therefore no way of documenting their origin.
There are varying reports as to whether or not there were any teeth in that bowl–some claim Starrs expressed disappointment because there was no tooth in the bowl, while Missouri attorney, Stephen Caruso, says there were teeth in the bowl.
The reader may question why Starrs would have even bothered to get a tooth from a Tupperware bowl, if the teeth he retrieved from the Mt. Olivet site gave him the DNA results he was looking for?
Just where did Starrs get the teeth he submitted for DNA testing?
According to Gene Gentrup, the former associate editor of the Kearney Courier, “Starrs credited a tooth retrieved from the James Farm & Museum as being key to his probe.” (Two human teeth found on the grounds of the James Farm & Museum in 1976 were placed in the museum. The James/Samuel family had lived on that site for over sixty years. So it is probable that those teeth could have belonged to Zerelda or any of her children which would result in a positive match to a true matrilineal descendant’s mtDNA sequence.) Not only did the teeth come from the museum, so did the hair used for DNA testing, which Starrs acknowledges. (When my family and I first visited the James Farm & Museum in March of 1996, a sample of Zerelda’s hair was on display. The hair has since been removed from the James Farm & Museum.)
©Betty Dorsett Duke