Six Murder Mysteries That Were Solved By Science After More Than A Century

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Even though the perpetrators or victims of these whodunit tales might be long gone, scientific understanding has now caught up with many of history's greatest tales of crime or suspicious activity (although it does make you appreciate how easy crime must have been before the days of CCTV, DNA and fingerprint evidence, and 21st-century medicine).

Here's a bunch of fascinating cold cases from centuries-gone-by that science has helped to answer.

What Happened To The Boy in The Cellar?

The skeleton of a 16-year-old was discovered in the cellar pit of a Maryland house back in 1991. Curious experts descended on the scene and worked out that the remains once belonged to a Caucasian male from the 17th century.

Further analysis showed a deeply depressing story behind the remains. His spine and teeth were damaged from either hard labor or disease, and his wrist appeared to have been fractured sometime before his death. The researchers strongly believed that the boy was an abused house servant who died after a short, extremely harsh life.

"They were burying him in secret so they would not have to report the death,” Kari Bruwelheide, who studied the body, told Smithsonian Magazine.

Was The President Assassinated?

Zachary Taylor suddenly died while serving as the 12th President of the United States on July 9, 1850. During his short 16-month presidency, the issue of slavery was threatening to rip the States in two and hostility began to approach breaking point. While doctors at the time reported his death was caused by ailment, these deep national tensions led historian Clara Rising to speculate whether Taylor was actually arsenic poisoned by anti-abolitionists who were angered by his opposition to the extension of slavery to Western states.

In 1991, forensic pathologists exhumed his body in a bid to find out whether this really was a juicy assassination. Using scientific methods that were unavailable at the time, they discovered no traces of arsenic or any other poison in Taylor's remains, suggesting it was indeed just a commonplace stomach problem.

Helene Rufty, President Taylors great-great-great-great-granddaughter was pretty happy with the findings, saying: "The good thing about it is that history has been brought to life. At least it has for the family, and I hope for so many people across the nation," reported The New York Times.

Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, by Jacques-Louis David, 1812. Everett - Art/Shutterstock

Ok, But Was Napoleon Assassinated?

People have cried foul play about Napoleon Bonaparte's death ever since he passed away in exile on the lonely island of St. Helena in 1821. Although the official autopsy said he had stomach cancer, many pondered whether the former French Emperor had been poisoned by the British, out of fear he might return to Europe with vengeance.

In 2007, a team of scientists re-examined the case. They applied modern scientific understanding to interpret the old medical records left by Napoleon's doctors. High levels of arsenic had previously been found in Napoleon's hair, however, this is believed to be the result of dodgy 19th-century medicine. By all accounts, they found no indication of arsenic poisoning. However, they did find extensive evidence of a 10-centimeter-long (4-inches) lesion in his stomach.

They concluded, just like many other studies before and after, that it was most likely an aggressive form of stomach cancer that killed the controversial general.

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