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Forensic Expert Finds Trace Blood on Revolutionary War Bullets

Fri, 01/08/2016 - 12:17pm
Seth Augenstein, Digital Reporter

Creative Commons: Engraving from painting by Alonzo Chappel depicting the Battle of Bennington.The musket balls, bucks and slugs had been buried for 238 years beneath the battlefield at Bennington, a pivotal site in the American Revolution. Archaeologists found the fragments about a foot beneath the soil with metal detectors, where they had lain untouched since Colonial times.

The discoverers brought the fragments to Ted Yeshion, a veteran forensic analyst and professor at the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania to see if any biological traces were left on the ballistics.

Amazingly, the traces of blood from the August 1777 battles showed up under a touch of Luminol using Yeshion’s technique. Of the 97 fired musketballs and buckshot rounds, seven tested positive for blood, Yeshion told Forensic Magazine.

“Although this is not a criminal matter – I investigated as though it was,” said Yeshion.

The Battle of Bennington was the turning point in the crucial Saragota Campaign. It was fought in Walloomsac, N.Y., just over the border from the namesake Vermont town. The Green Mountain Boys and other Rebel forces overwhelmingly defeated the British and their Native American allies.

Yeshion first used a control group of the dozens of projectiles which were dropped in the field without having been fired. They did not indicate any false positives, which could have resulted from the presence of copper, brass, or other metals.

But a handful of the fired rounds did show the blood spilled more than two centuries ago in the pivotal battle. It was so old it showed only general traces with the glow of the chemical – there was no particular spatter left at all.

The test was performed as part of Yeshion’s “Advanced Criminalistics” classes at Edinboro.

Yeshion has also had success with Luminol illuminating the provenance of some amazingly-old samples.

He confirmed what is likely to be the blood spatter of Jennie Wade, the only civilian killed during the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. Yeshion found the traces of blood on the dough tray she was working over when a bullet passed through two doorways and killed her in a house on the southern Pennsylvania battlefield. Yeshion also used Luminol to find the likely spot where Wade was carried up to a bedroom in the same house as she bled to death – though he could not confirm that the blood was hers, without DNA samples, in 2009.

Yeshion even documented finding tiny traces of blood using the chemical on 13 arrowpoints from 10,000 years ago, in an article in the journal North American Archaeologist, in 2004.

“Hemoglobin – it just doesn’t die,” he said.

Yeshion, who has testified at hundreds of criminal trials, mostly for prosecutors, said Luminol is an incredible tool. When mixed correctly, he said, it can detect the iron in blood from mixes as low as 1-to-1-million mixtures, while similar organic detection fluids like phenolphthalein or Tetramethylbenzidine (TMB) only indicate up to 1-drop-in-5,000 mixtures.

“I’m still amazed this stuff works as well as it does,” he said.

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