Initial Testing Fails to Identify Circus Fire Victims

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Initial testing has failed to identify two victims of the 1944 Hartford circus fire whose bodies were exhumed from a Connecticut cemetery, the state's chief medical examiner said Friday.

Dr. James Gill also announced that anthropological examination and dental comparisons excluded a Vermont woman as being one of the two people whose remains were exhumed.

The bodies were removed in October from two of five graves of unidentified circus fire victims at Northwood Cemetery in Windsor. A state judge approved the exhumations in hopes of determining whether one of them was Grace Fifield, a 47-year-old woman from Newport, Vermont, who was never seen again after attending the circus on the day of the fire.

The fire at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus on July 6, 1944, killed 168 people and injured 682 others. The cause of the fire in the big top tent was never officially determined, but some authorities suspected a cigarette was to blame.

Fifield's granddaughter provided DNA samples for experts to use in trying to identify the remains.

DNA testing was performed on the remains, but have not yielded identifications, Gill said. Experts have begun another form of DNA testing that may allow for an ancestry investigation, he said.

Officials believe Fifield's remains may have been misidentified at the site of the fire and released to the wrong family.

“If the two exhumed women can be identified, it may help find what happened to Grace Dorothy (Smith) Fifield,” officials with the medical examiner's office said in a statement.

The initial testing showed one of the two bodies exhumed was that of a 25- to 45-year-old black woman who stood about 5-foot-7, while the other was that of a 20- to 50-year-old white woman who was about 5-foot-4.

In 1991, officials identified a young fire victim buried at the same Connecticut cemetery as 8-year-old Eleanor Emily Cook. Her body was exhumed and reburied in Southampton, Massachusetts, next to her 6-year-old brother, who also died in the fire.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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