Connecticut 'Vampire' Identified Through DNA Testing Sept 26, 2019 0:05:23 GMT -5
Post by JoannaL on Sept 26, 2019 0:05:23 GMT -5
Connecticut 'Vampire' Identified Through DNA Testing
The likely identity of a rural Connecticut man once suspected of being a vampire has been unearthed. The breakthrough came from a combination of DNA testing at the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System’s DNA laboratory in Dover, Delaware, and good old-fashioned historical research.
It is the latest chapter in a macabre mystery that has stretched on for almost three decades and represents what is believed to be the only scientific study in the U.S. of the remains of an accused “vampire.” The modern portion of the saga began in 1990 when a group of Griswold children playing in a gravel quarry stumbled upon a human skull. At first the area was cordoned off as a crime scene, but it was quickly determined the skull was instead from an unmarked graveyard dating to the 18th and 19th centuries. Nick Bellantoni, then Connecticut’s state archaeologist, supervised excavation of the site and in due course, came across one grave from the early 1800s unlike anything he had seen before or since. Inside a wooden coffin marked “JB55” – the initials and age of the person interred – were the remains of a man whose head and limbs had been rearranged post-death atop his ribs in a skull-and-crossbones style.
After consulting with folklorist and New England vampire expert Michael E. Bell, Bellantoni learned that vampire exhumations occurred throughout New England, including in Griswold. These incidents generally occurred after someone died of tuberculosis (then known as consumption) and their relatives became ill with the same disease. In hopes of protecting the living from the suspected “vampire,” family members would exhume the dead and burn essential organs, or if that wasn’t possible, rearrange the skeleton, sometimes separating the head from the rest of the body.
Examination of JB’s remains indicated he likely suffered from tuberculosis and Bellantoni concluded the strange arrangement of the man’s bones was the result of a vampire exhumation. But the man’s identity was still a mystery. “We could never find any real good records. No death records, no land deed records,” Bellantoni said recently. It took cutting-edge, DNA-matching techniques to reveal what the records no longer contained.
Charla Marshall, a forensic scientist with SNA International in Alexandria, Virginia, who worked on the project, said DNA was extracted from JB’s remains to create what is called a Y-STR profile from the Y (male) chromosome. “Since the Y-chromosome is inherited paternally just as a surname is inherited from father to son, Y-STR profiles can be used to predict a surname,” she explained. The profile was compared to FamilyTreeDNA, a database for those who have been DNA tested and shared the results online. “We found two individuals with nearly matching Y-STR profiles, both having the surname Barber,” she said, adding there wasn’t enough information available to locate living descendants.
Searching through an index of Connecticut burial sites and death notices compiled in the 1930s, Katie Gagnon, a researcher in Plainville, found a death notice in the area for a Nathan Barber in 1826. Nathan was only 12 when he died, but his death notice led researchers to his father, John Barber – “JB.” On top of this, in the same burial site, there was a child buried with “NB13” on his coffin. “NB” likely stands for Nathan Barber and the age of death was just a year off. According to Bellantoni, the one-year discrepancy may have been an error by the craftsperson who carved the initials and ages. He said the combination of these two deaths, along with the DNA, is “pretty powerful in terms of our reckoning of who they are. The big thing now is that after almost 30 years of searching, we finally have a name for the suspected vampire and that is John Barber.”
Bellantoni, Marshall and Gagnon, along with others, recently published a paper describing this process. However, the mystery hasn’t been solved entirely. Very little other than his name and likely cause of death is known about John Barber or his relatives. Gagnon is still sifting through old records in an effort to learn more. Those involved in the research are hopeful that future DNA testing will conclusively confirm JB had tuberculosis and lead to descendants.
In the meantime, Bellantoni stressed that when JB’s relatives and friends exhumed his body, they did so “out of love and fear,” not for ghoulish purposes. Keeping human dignity similarly in mind, he’d like this tale to end with JB’s being returned to the earth for the third and final time. “The rest of the family has been reburied and we hope that with this closure that we can have him reburied,” Bellantoni said.
Sources: Erik Ofgang, Connecticut Magazine, September 19, 2019, and New England Vampires.