A forensic scientist says a skeleton with ties to Dr. Henry Wheeler, a central figure in Northfield’s storied James-Younger Raid of 1876, could be that of gang member Clell Miller.
In a presentation last month in Atlanta at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, James Bailey, Ph.D., a professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, said a process called craniofacial superimposition could not rule out that the skeleton’s skull belonged to Clell Miller.
Miller was one of two gang members slain on the street in Northfield during the failed attempt to rob the First National Bank of Northfield. Dr. Wheeler, then a medical student home for the summer, shot and killed Clell Miller; Anslem Manning, a local hardware merchant, shot and killed Bill Chadwell, also known as William Stiles.
Craniofacial superimposition can definitively exclude remains from a positive identification. Computer tomography (CT) scans were used to establish key reference points on the skull in question. Then a postmortem photo was superimposed over the CT scan of the skull to see how the reference points match. Dr. Gil Brogdon and Dr. Brandon Nichols, Forensic Radiologists from Mobile, Alabama, collaborated with Dr. Bailey and used Miller’s case study to familiarize the forensic science community with the technique and how it is used in historical cases.
Dr. Bailey and his colleagues reported that numerous factors must still be evaluated to confirm that the skull is indeed Miller’s, but based on craniofacial superimposition analyzed by three independent sources, Dr. Bailey said the matches were “remarkable.”
The findings will reinvigorate the search for answers about the disposition of the corpses of the two gang members killed that day in Northfield.
This is not a definitive finding,but it certainly brings us a step closer to finding the skeletons of these two outlaws.
Dr. Bailey said the skeleton they examined was discovered two years ago in Grand Forks, N.D. Dr. Wheeler, who practiced medicine there for many years, purportedly donated the skeleton to the local Odd Fellows when he retired. The skeleton was discovered during an Odd Fellows’ auction in the mid 1980s and was obtained by a private collector who wishes to remain anonymous. Since Dr. Bailey’s retirement from Minnesota State University, Mankato, he continues to teach part time in North Carolina and pursues the location and identity of the outlaw skeletons.
It has long been thought that the two corpses were shipped to Wheeler’s medical school to be used as cadavers. Miller’s relatives asked that his body be returned and a body was shipped to Missouri and buried in Kearney, Mo. However, Dr. Wheeler is reported to have claimed a skeleton in his office was Miller’s.
Dr. Bailey has provided forensic analysis on another skeleton related to the Northfield bank raid. A skeleton once thought to be that of Charlie Pitts, a gang member killed in a shootout near Hanska, Minn. two weeks after the bank raid, has been in possession of Northfield Historical Society for many years. Dr. Bailey used DNA analysis in 2009 to determine that the chances the skeleton belonged to Pitts were “slim to none.”
Older Links and Post about the investigation
USA Today Article October 2011
NHS Blog Post from February 2009
Skeleton Findings Released Today, 2009
Mankato Free Press Article, 2009