‘Dead’ is full of lively tales | VailDaily.com

‘Dead’ is full of lively tales

Terri Schlichenmeyer

So have you seen Elvis lately? According to tabloids, he’s quite the traveler. Some say that Marilyn Monroe is alive, and James Dean is living in seclusion somewhere in California. Just waiting for a good time to resurrect his career, I’m sure.Despite what you’ve heard about those celebrities being rather dead, there are people who believe, to paraphrase Mark Twain, that reports are greatly exaggerated. James E. Starrs could tell you for certain, if he had access to a gravesite. In his new book “A Voice for the Dead” with Katherine Ramsland (c.2005, Putnam), he goes digging literally for clues about some historic figures.What would compel a graduate of law school and a forensic science teacher to want to exhume bodies? Author James Starrs says that it was, in part, because he wanted answers and he wanted to set history straight. He’s also a risk-taking kind of guy.Risk Number One came in 1988. Starrs was attending a meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in Colorado Springs, when he had a chance to do a little exploring. He ended up in Lake City, the place where Alfred Packer horrified Hindsale County when he stumbled from the San Juan Mountains alone.Packer had gone with five other prospectors in search of riches. The men were ill-prepared for the weather, and had few provisions with them. When Packer emerged looking particularly hearty and well-fed, well, you can imagine what he supposedly dined on. Starrs wanted to put the rumors to rest. Did Alfred Packer murder his fellow prospectors, or was it a matter of survival?One of America’s most famous Robin Hoods was Jesse James. Jesse was a hero in the eyes of the poor and downtrodden, and a villain in the eyes of banks and railroads. According to legend, on April 3, 1882, Jesse was at home, when he was shot in the head. He was buried in Kearney, Missouri, on the James farm and later re-buried in a cemetery. These are things that history tells us, but in death as in life there are always complications.Some say that the man who was shot was a dead-ringer for Jesse James and that the real Jesse escaped and hid. J. Frank Dalton, years later, claimed to be the “real” Jesse. So whose bones lie in a grave in Kearney, Missouri?Despite the “ick factor,” I liked this book. There is something fascinating about learning secrets from the grave, and author Starrs’ makes his enthusiasm clear when he writes about these cases, and how he solved them. Author Katherine Ramsland (who is a forensic psychology teacher and has written some notable books herself) also adds a touch of her expertise to this book.If you’re the littlest bit squeamish, you might want to take a pass on “A Voice for the Dead” because in contains some pretty unsavory parts. History buffs, though, as well as armchair detectives and “CSI” fans should be dying to read this book. VT

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