Clell Miller (1850-1876) was an outlaw and member of the notorious James-Younger Gang, made famous by Jesse James and Cole Younger. On September 7, 1876 Clell Miller and fellow gang member Bill Chadwell (alias Bill Stiles) were shot and killed during a robbery attempt of the First National Bank of Northfield. During this botched heist every member of the James gang was either killed or captured, except Frank and Jesse James.
The bodies belonging to Miller and Chadwell were buried in the pauper’s corner of the Northfield Cemetery. But at some point Miller’s father claimed his body and moved it from Northfield to a cemetery in his hometown of Kearney, MO. Though there is some doubt that this was Miller’s final resting place. James Bailey, University of North Carolina Wilmington researcher, sought to answer that question.
Townspeople were responsible for stopping the robbery in 1876. In fact it was a medical student from the University of Michigan, Henry Wheeler, who killed Clell Miller. After the bodies were buried, Wheeler asked local authorities if he could ship the corpses of Miller and Chadwell back to his medical school for dissection and study. It was common practice for medical schools to use the bodies of criminals for dissection because cadavers were difficult to acquire.
Though Wheeler was granted permission to take both corpses, Clell Miller’s family came to Northfield to claim his body. But some people believe that Miller’s family was given Bill Chadwell’s body instead, and it’s his body that’s buried in Miller’s plot in Kearney.
According to rumor, when Wheeler graduated medical school he opened his practice in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where he displayed Clell Miller’s skeleton like a trophy. After he retired Wheeler donated the skeleton to the Odd Fellows Society. In the 1980’s Odd Fellows sold off its property and an anonymous collector purchased the skeleton.
Bailey told The Liberty Tribune, “After the fact there’s a number of articles that Wheeler said he retained the skeleton of Clell Miller because that was the one that he killed, so I think there’s always been some question of who he shipped back to Missouri.”
For a Journal of Forensic Sciences article published in 2013, Bailey employed a technique called craniofacial superimposition to cross reference post-mortem photos of Miller and Chadwell and the North Dakota skull to see if the one of the photos matched the skull.
Bailey obtained a 3D image of the North Dakota skull from a computed tomography (CT) scan and overlayed the post-mortem photographs of Miller and Chadwell to see if facial features from either man matched the bone structure of the skull. Using this method, he was able to eliminate Bill Chadwell as a possibility. When he compared Clell Miller’s post-mortem photograph to the skull he found there were enough similarities to be a match.
It should be noted that craniofacial superimposition should not be used to positively identify a body. This technique should only be used to include or exclude possibilities. A DNA test of samples taken from the North Dakota skeleton and a descendent of Clell Miller is the only way to positively identify the remains.
Gonzalez, R. (2013). Awesome Forensic Technique Could Reveal Outlaw’s True Resting Place. Retrieved from: http://io9.com/awesome-forensic-technique-could-reveal-outlaws-true-r-1462959401
Meier, Peg. (2009). What really happened to Clell Miller’s body? StarTribune. Retrieved from: http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/travel/minnesota/57354722.html
Smith, Kevin. (2012). Finding an outlaw. Liberty Tribune. Retrieved 2014 from: http://www.libertytribune.com/news/article_a97def37-6fe7-5586-83c8-a173e1a0099a.html?photo=1