September 30, 2009

Scientists Say Skull Fragment From Woman, Not Hitler

Scientists at the University of Connecticut say that extensive testing has conclusively shown that a skull fragment that Russian officials claimed was from Adolf Hitler was in fact from a woman.

The bone fragment had reportedly been preserved by Soviet intelligence officers who entered Berlin in April 1945 after the fall of Hitler's Nazi regime and has been part of a collection of Hitler artifacts on public display in the Russian State Archive in Moscow since 2000.

The somewhat macabre Russian collection also features pieces of the bloodstained sofa where Hitler and Eva Braun reportedly shot themselves after taking cyanide pills in a Berlin bunker.

The History Channel had requested that archeologist Nick Bellantoni examine both skull and blood samples for a documentary feature on Hitler's death that aired earlier this month.

According to Bellantoni, his initial forensic tests from the cranium fragment simply didn't fit with Hitler's biological make-up.

"The bone was very small and thin, and normally male bones are much more robust in our species," Bellantoni explained on Tuesday.

"I thought it probably came from a woman or a younger man."

Bellantoni was then allowed to take a few tiny pieces of the skull fragment and a swab of the blood stains back to the university laboratory for more extensive analysis, where he enlisted the assistance of molecular and cell biology professor Linda Strausbaugh.

With the help of two former students who now work for the New York City medical examiner's office, Strausbaugh was able to extract enough DNA from the skull fragments to conduct a genetic forensic study.

Their results confirmed what Ballantoni had suspected from the beginning. 

Strausbaugh said that their analyses showed that the bones were definitely from a woman between the ages of 20 and 40.  She added that while the fragments could theoretically be from Eva Braun, the samples were extremely degraded, making a positive identification of the samples nearly impossible even if they were able to obtain a confirmed sample of her DNA as a basis of comparison.

Further adding to the improbability that the skull fragments were from Braun, explained Bellantoni, is the fact that there were no eye-witness reports of Braun being shot in the head and that she is commonly thought to have died from the cyanide poisoning.

"This person, with a bullet hole coming out the back of the head, would have been shot in the face, in the mouth or underneath chin," he said. "It would have been hard for them to miss that."

The DNA procured from the bloodstained sofa did contain at least some segments that were from a man.  It too, however, proved to be too damaged to be of much scientific use.

"The DNA is relatively degraded and we don't have a full range of markers that we'd like to have," said Strausbaugh.

Russian officials say that Hitler and Braun's corpses were exhumed from a shell crater in Berlin shortly after their deaths, reburied beneath a Soviet parade ground in the East German city of Magdeburg, and finally dug up once again and incinerated in 1970.

They also claim that a team of Soviet forensic experts returned to the Berlin crater in 1946 where they recovered the cranial fragments.

Strausbaugh and Bellantoni agree that there was nothing essentially new or groundbreaking in their findings that could challenge the widely accepted belief that Hitler and Braun committed suicide in his hidden Berlin bunker.

"My gut feeling," said Bellantoni, "is he did commit suicide there, and maybe the blood sample we found is his."

But this brings to light an interesting question he says.

"If this is not him who is it? And, two, what really happened there?"


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