A skull fragment thought to come from Adolf Hitler is in fact that of an unidentified woman, according to a US study that has resurrected questions about the Nazi leader’s death.
The bone, bearing a bullet hole, has been held up to support the theory that Hitler shot himself and took cyanide in his Berlin bunker as Soviet troops approached in April 1945.
Doubts about the chain of events — and even speculation that Hitler got away — have persisted for decades.
The debates made the symbolic importance of the skull piece, which went on display for the first time at Moscow’s Federal Archive in 2000, all the greater — a unique war trophy which gave the Russians enormous pride.
In addition to the skull, Soviet troops said they exhumed Hitler’s jawbone and that the bone’s identity was confirmed through his dental assistants.
Now, professors at the University of Connecticut say they have debunked the story of the skull, arguing that examinations show it belonged to a woman, probably between the ages of 20 and 40.
Archeologist and bone specialist Nick Bellantoni said he immediately suspected the bone belonged to a woman because of its structure. His project partner, Linda Strausbaugh, director of the university’s applied genetics center, agreed to test for DNA if a good sample could be found.
So Bellantoni made the trip to Moscow, where he was allowed to obtain the DNA sample, and at the end of May the team got to work in the university’s laboratory in Storrs, Connecticut.
It took them three days, working with two forensic scientists from the office of the New York City chief medical examiner, to complete their tests.
Initially they feared the state of the skull would make it impossible to obtain results.
“All we had exposure to was photographs. What was exposed to us was the side that was charred. Fire is one of the real enemies of getting DNA evidence out,” Strausbaugh said.
The skull had been stored at room temperature which had also damaged the DNA. However, the inside of the fragment was not burned and “the amounts we had were well within the range that you would expect to get DNA samples from,” she said.
The result was stunning.
“What the DNA told us is that it was female,” Strausbaugh said, but added that her testing proved nothing — only that the skull purported to be Hitler’s belonged to someone else.