Fresh doubts over Hitler's death after tests on bullet hole skull reveal it belonged to a woman
By Mail Foreign Service
Last updated at 8:19 PM on 27th September 2009
Adolf Hitler may not have shot himself dead and perhaps did not even die in his bunker, it emerged yesterday.
A skull fragment believed for decades to be the Nazi leader’s has turned out to be that of a woman under 40 after DNA analysis.
Scientists and historians had long thought it to be conclusive proof that Hitler shot himself in the head after taking a cyanide pill on 30 April 1945 rather than face the ignominy of capture.
The piece of skull - complete with bullet hole - had been taken from outside the Fuhrer’s bunker by the Russian Army and preserved by Soviet intelligence.
Now the story of Hitler’s death will have to rewritten as a mystery - and conspiracy theorists are likely to latch on to the possibility that he may not have died in the bunker at all.
The traditional story is that Hitler committed suicide with Eva Braun as the Russians bombarded Berlin.
Although some historians doubted he shot himself and suggested it was Nazi propaganda to make him a hero, the hole in the skull fragment seemed to settle the argument when it was put on display in Moscow in 2000.
But DNA analysis has now been performed on the bone by American researchers.
'We know the skull corresponds to a woman between the ages of 20 and 40,' said University of Connecticut archeologist Nick Bellantoni.
'The bone seemed very thin; male bone tends to be more robust. And the sutures where the skull plates come together seemed to correspond to someone under 40.' Hitler was 56 in April 1945.
Mr Bellantoni flew to Moscow to take DNA swabs at the State Archive and was also shown the bloodstained remains of the bunker sofa on which Hitler and Braun were believed to have killed themselves.
'I had the reference photos the Soviets took of the sofa in 1945 and I was seeing the exact same stains on the fragments of wood and fabric in front of me, so I knew I was working with the real thing,' he said.
His astonishing results have been broadcast in the U.S. in a History Channel documentary titled Hitler's Escape.
According to witnesses, the bodies of Hitler and Braun were wrapped in blankets and carried to the garden just outside the bunker, placed in a bomb crater, doused with petrol and set ablaze.
In May 1945 a Russian forensics team dug up what was presumed to be the dictator’s body. Part of the skull was missing, apparently the result of the suicide shot. The remaining piece of jaw matched his dental records, according to his captured dental assistants. And there was only one testicle.
A year later the missing skull fragment was found on the orders of Stalin, who remained suspicious about Hitler’s fate.
Just how and when he died is now shrouded in mystery. Mr Bellantoni said it was unlikely the bone was Braun’s, who was 33.
'There is no report of Eva Braun having shot herself or having been shot afterwards,' he said. 'Many people died near the bunker.'
Unknown to the world, the corpse then believed to be Hitler's was interred in Magdeburg, East Germany.
There it remained long after Stalin’s death in 1953.
Finally, in 1970, the KGB dug up the corpse, cremated it and secretly scattered the ashes in a river.
Only the jawbone (which remains away from public view), the skull fragment and the bloodstained sofa segments were preserved in the deep archives of Soviet intelligence.
Mr Bellantoni studied the remains after flying to Moscow to inspect the gruesome Hitler trophies at the State Archive.
He was allowed only one hour with the Hitler trove, during which time he applied cotton swabs and took DNA samples.
The samples were then flown back to Connecticut.
At the university’s centre for applied genetics, Linda Strausbaugh closed her lab for three days to work exclusively on the Hitler project
She said: ‘We used the same routines and controls that would have been used in a crime lab.’
To her surprise, a small amount of viable DNA was extracted.
She then replicated this through a process known as molecular copying to provide enough material for analysis.
‘We were very lucky to get a reading, despite the limited amount of genetic information,’ she said.