Museum owner says he can prove outlaw faked death

Thursday, July 10, 2003

KEARNEY, Mo. -- The last time someone tried to prove that Jesse James' body was buried somewhere besides eastern Missouri, they dug up the wrong body.

So folks at the Jesse James Farm and Museum in Kearney aren't exactly shaking in their boots over a new museum dedicated to the outlaw in Wichita, Kan. -- or the owner's claims that he can prove through DNA tests that James changed his name and died in Kansas in 1935.

"This won't hurt us because when people see anything about Jesse on the news, they come here asking us about it," said Elizabeth Gilliam Beckett, director of the Kearney museum. "Our (DNA test) was 99.7 percent accurate, but that 0.3 is what people are grasping to."

The body of the man buried in Kearney was exhumed in 1995. Testing established a 99.7 percent certainty that the body buried in Kearney was, indeed, the famous outlaw.

Ron Pastore, who opened the Jesse James Museum in Wichita, has had a Kansas man exhumed in his quest to prove that James faked his death and lived under the alias of Jeremiah M. James in Neodesha, Kan., where he was buried in 1935.

"When all the evidence is analyzed, it becomes evident that Jesse James was not killed in 1882," Pastore said. "This museum was opened to bring the story into the public's eye."

He said results from his DNA test will be revealed on a History Channel special this fall.

Eric James, a distant cousin to Jesse James, wasn't impressed by Pastore's efforts to rewrite history, calling them "exhumation for sport and for commercial activity."

Beckett was just as adamant that Pastore will find nothing new, calling the exhumation a "waste of time."

Jeremiah James' body was not the first to be dug up in hopes that the grave's occupant was that of Jesse James. A crew attempted to exhume the body of J. Frank Dalton in Granbury, Texas, in 2000, but dug up the wrong body.

The Wichita museum features photos, brooches, watch fobs, guns and other items Pastore claims belonged to James. The items were hidden in a trunk of the Neodesha house owned by Jeremiah James' youngest daughter.

Pastore invited skeptics to visit the museum before they decide he is wrong.

"Everyone is just blown away, the evidence is so compelling," Pastore said. "I have not had one person walk out this door doubtful."

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