Famous and Exhumed

Because sometimes you have to go to extremes…to dig up the truth.

Graves Exhumed

Jesse James

The crime spree of notorious Wild West criminal Jesse James was put to an end in 1882, when he was shot in the head by cohort Robert Ford, reportedly to collect the substantial bounty that was out on him. The shocking death, and the fact that James evaded the law forever led many to believe that James faked his own death. Supposedly, Ford had killed another man, and claimed that it was James. The rumor lived for more than a century (especially thanks to a 100-year-old man named J. Frank Dalton who in 1948 announced that he was really Jesse James). James’ descendants sought to put an end to the notion in 1995, exhuming the outlaw’s body from his grave in Kearney, Missouri. DNA tests confirmed that the long-dead individual really was Jesse James.

President Zachary Taylor

The official cause of death for President Zachary Taylor in July 1850: gastroenteritis caused by eating way too many cherries and washing it down with too much milk over a particularly hot Fourth of July. That’s just too weird and random a death for many, and some historians posited that he was fatally poisoned over his enemies in the debate over the expansion of slavery to newly acquired Western territories. In 1991, the remains of President Taylor were exhumed—a presidential first. Tests didn’t show any poison in Taylor’s system.

President John F. Kennedy

Never mind Taylor—the all-time presidential king of conspiracies is John F. Kennedy, with many people who reject the idea that his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, acted alone when he shot the president in November 1963. One theory: Prior to the assassination, Oswald switched places with a Russian spy during a visit to the Soviet Union. Oswald (or the spy), in turn, was shot by Jack Ruby a few days after the Kennedy assassination. In 1981, writer and theory proponent Michael Eddowes received permission from Oswald’s widow for exhumation. Dental records confirmed that the man in Lee Harvey Oswald’s grave was Lee Harvey Oswald.

Salvador Dali

Spanish Surrealist artist and celebrity Salvador Dali—best known for The Persistence of Memory (the one with the melting clocks) and his prominent handlebar mustache, died at age 85 in 1989. In June 2017, a Madrid judge ordered Dali’s body to be disinterred to test a woman’s assertion that Dali was her real father. Maria Martinez was born in 1956, and her mother told her that she had had an affair around that time with the artist while working as a maid in a house nearby Dali’s. The exhumation is a last resort: Dali didn’t leave any biological remains behind, and the only way to do a paternity test is a DNA test on Dali’s bones.