Splitting hairs in probing the death of Jesse James

This Just In . . .

April 19, 1996|By DAN RODRICKS

That was Jesse James buried face down in Jesse James' grave in Kearney, Mo. No doubt about it. He was 34 years old when he died from a single bullet to the head April 3, 1882. At HTC the time, James had tobacco-stained teeth, long hair dyed darker that its natural chestnut (possibly in an attempt at disguise), a .36-caliber bullet lodged in his rib cage (probably fired from a Union officer's Navy Colt at the end of the Civil War)and, while ole Jess might have been addicted to painkillers, he probably didn't do dope for at least three months prior to his death.

Those are the conclusions of a team of forensic scientists who studied the exhumed remains of the famous 19th century outlaw to settle a question about when, where and how he died. (Some people like to believe Jesse James survived the 1882 shooting and that an impostor was buried in his place.)

The bit about drugs -- or the lack thereof -- in James' body came from Bruce A. Goldberger, a forensic toxicologist who grew up in Baltimore, studied at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and worked at the state medical examiner's office.

Now at the University of Florida, Goldberger has been researching the use of hair samples in testing for drugs. In the James case, his assignment was to determine whether the great train robber had used laudanum, a tincture of opium popular as a painkiller during and after the Civil War. (Over the years, it has been suggested that James was addicted to opiates because of the many wounds he suffered throughout his life.) Goldberger was given samples of James' hair -- a length equal to a three-months' growth -- because this particular tissue analysis has become his specialty.

"The use of hair in testing for drugs has only been used since the late 1970s, and only seriously since the 1980s," says Goldberger. "It's still a new area. But hair is a fantastic media for determining the presence of drugs. ... In Peruvian mummies, hundreds of years old, the presence of cocaine has been determined using hair samples."

Goldberger's research and heavily qualified findings, along with those of a forensic team headed by supersleuth James E. Starrs (last in Baltimore to testify in the John Wilkes Booth exhumation hearing in May), will be presented in "The Search For Jesse James," airing Thursday night at 10 -- opposite "ER"! -- on the Arts & Entertainment channel.

Hollywood, Md.

I hear "Washington Square," a Caravan Pictures adaptation of the Henry James novel of 1881, has opened a production office in Baltimore, and good for us. The much-admired Agnieszka Holland ("The Secret Garden" and "Europa Europa") is the director. Jennifer Jason Leigh will star, I'm told, and possibly Albert Finney. It'll be a Disney release. Filming begins in June.

Politically correct views

Speaking of films, John-John Kennedy's new magazine, "George," surveys Hollywood personalities on their favorite political films. John Waters -- how, after all, can you publish a new and happenin' magazine without including Baltimore's own John-John? -- likes "Amin: The Rise and Fall," "The Wannsee Conference" and "The Battle of Algiers," which Waters calls "a great date movie for anybody thinking about becoming a terrorist."

4-star shopping

Joey Amalfitano, This Just In's chief cultural correspondent and food taster, is also something of a literary tourist. He files this postcard from Harford County:

"The radiant spring sunshine beamed down on me and Maxine as we strolled along Washington Street in one of my favorite towns, Havre de Grace. There, we stumbled upon Joseph's Department Store -- don't worry, no relation -- a casual clothing store that's been here for 59 years, in the Silverstein family the whole time. I walked in and it was like I was walking into an old-fashioned five-and-dime. It had that distinct smell -- make that bouquet. I went searching for a set of matching thong underwear for me and Max but they didn't stock them. I also wanted to pick up a pair of bib overalls for when I water my plants in my apartment but they didn't have my size. I did buy a pair of Levi jeans, a few bucks cheaper than you might find in the sterile malls of our land. Four stars!"

Draft report

Hugh Sisson's Clipper City beer has been on the market for a few months and, now that we've had a decent interval since bottling commenced -- and sampled it a few times -- an assessment is due. Here's mine: Good, and probably highly marketable. Given the authentic craft beers I've tasted over the last five years -- it's hard to keep up, but Lord knows I try -- I would hunch that, with consistent brewing, the Clipper City premium lager has the potential to be a national success. It's smooth (thus palatable to a mass market) but with enough original character to make it memorable. It's also competitively priced (watch out, Sammy Adams). I'll tell you what I think of

Sisson's pale ale after I give it more, you know, thought.

Pronounced differences

I wish we could convene a meeting of all Maryland broadcasters to decide on one pronunciation for the name of that Nobel laureate -- you know, what's his name -- accused of child abuse.

Pub Date: 4/19/96

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