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Betty Duke's Claims

When I first saw an article in our paper about a woman in Texas wanting to exhume the body of her great grandfather, I thought "Can this be OUR James L. Courtney?" The newspaper article gave the name and home town of Herschel Shelton, a grandson of JLC. I got his phone number, called him, and he gave me Max Courtney's phone number. I realized that Max hadn't seen the book, but Herschel told me that Betty had used a picture of JLC's brother-in-law, Travis Barron, claiming that it was a picture of JLC. I went to our local Barnes & Noble, got the book, looked through the picture section, and when I saw the picture of Diannah that had been cropped from the picture of her with her four sons, it was obvious that the picture had been reversed. You see, I had gone to Council Grove, Kansas in 1994 to do research and make a family history video, and it was at this time that I met Lee Haun, a grandson of Theodore Napolean Haun. Lee had shown me the original picture, and I have him on video describing the farm and naming the people in the picture. I called Max and told him about the reversal, and since he is a forensic scientist, he prepared testimony to give at the exhumation hearing the next month. I also did more research on the family, and went to Waco at the request of Herschel Shelton to present the results of my research to the judge. This was on September 17, 1999. After Max had presented his testimony on the picture reversal and I had presented the evidence I had on the family, Mrs. Duke's exhumation request was denied.

David Hedgpeth, a close friend and supporter of Mrs. Duke, was at the hearing, and on October 3rd of that year, he posted a message on Genforum about the events of September 17th. I will give David the benefit of the doubt; I know that my voice doesn't carry well, and there was no microphone, but he did no research at all to back up the claims in this message, message number 437 if you wish to check it out. I posted a response to his message, pointed out some of his errors and suggested that he send the rest of his questions to the judge that had heard the case, since the judge would be the only one that could answer them. Imagine my surprise when I went to Mrs. Duke's new website and found that message number 437 had been copied and pasted as though this is current information. I will now give the answers that I gave David in 1999.

David's Point 8: Why didn't Max Courtney, who was supposedly an expert in the field of photo comparisons, mention that tintypes were normally reversed, rather than testifying that Ms. Duke's pictures were inaccurate because of reverse images?

My answer: Max didn't mention tintypes because he had seen the original that belongs to Harold Haun, and knew that it is NOT a tintype.

David's Point 9. Why was a certified genealogist from Kansas City, Missouri hired to do research and flown down to Texas to testify as an expert witness? Couldn't a nearby Waco certified genealogist have done the same work for less pay?

My answer: I am not and have never claimed to be a certified genealogist. I do this for my family, and no matter how distant, the Courtney's are a part of my family. I was not flown to Texas by the family, I drove my own car. I received no remuneration in any form.

David's point 10: Why didn't Ms. Duke's attorney challenge the genealogist who quoted about 10 sources all of which she claimed to have uncovered in a span of 4 hours? Since this level of work in the given time is highly unusual even for one professional, wouldn't it be of interest for a prudent attorney to ask more about where and how she obtained her data and/or leads to where the information was located?

My answer: I clearly stated that my research had taken four weeks. I had the documentation -- census reports, certified death certificates, etc. -- to support my testimony, and these were all presented to the judge.

David's point 14: Is there a direct or indirect connection in any way to the certified genealogist from Kansas City, Missouri and the nearby James farm?

My answer: I assured David that we had lived in Kansas City almost thirty years, and I had never been to the James farm museum until I started doing this research. I then made the comment that I had no desire to be linked to a psychopathic killer, and this has been thrown back at me many times by Mrs. Duke and her supporters. Sorry folks, but this can't all be blamed on the Civil War and the many injustices that were committed on both sides. There were many confederate soldiers who, when the war was over, just laid down their arms and went home to live honorable lives.

David's Point 18: "Wouldn't the exhumation of James L. Courtney not only clear up the family questions but also have a potential of benefiting both local and world history interest?"

This wasn't addressed to me but I'll answer it anyway. My answer, David, is that DNA tests have already been done but Mrs. Duke has rejected those findings. A forensic scientist who examined the results of the DNA tests stated "The data is a hundred or more times more consistent with "related" than "unrelated," establishing beyond any reasonable doubt that Jack Courtney, grandson of JLC, is related to Lee and Harold Haun, grandson and great- grandson of JLC's brother, Theodore Napolean. This will be covered in full in the DNA section.

Mrs. Duke has given us a quote from JLC's diary in which he is supposed to have said, "When stemm and tryst James L. Courtney is my heist." Mrs. Duke goes on to tell us that she thinks this was JLC's way of telling everyone that he had stolen the name James L. Courtney. Now I ask you, folks, if he really was Jesse James and really had stolen the Courtney name, would he have announced it so boldly?

Let's now look at his spelling. Cousin to him was "cosen," uncle was "unkle," Thursday was "Thirsday," wrote was "rote," where was "whare," health was "heth," weigh was "way," pretty was "pirty" -- he even misspelled his own middle name! Do you really think this man would be familiar with the words tryst, heist and especially stemm? Betty, please scan that particular page from the diary and post it on your web site. We'd love to see it.

I find it unusual that, for the last three years, Mrs. Duke and her supporters have been telling us about all the new compelling evidence that she has gathered. Where is it? Why is a three year old message, much of which has been refuted, now used as though it is all new? Could this have anything to with the fact that her new book is coming out soon?

Now, let's look at some of the claims in the 1998 book.

At the end of her book, on Page 203, Mrs. Duke lists 24 bits of evidence that she says prove her point. In point number 2 she says that James L. Courtney was not listed with the family on the 1850 census for Tennessee. This is correct, he is not listed. But then, as Linda Snyder of Gladstone, Missouri has pointed out, neither is his baby brother, Theodore Napolean, not yet a year old at the time the census was taken. Mrs. Duke has used the phrase "It is likely.." when discussing JLC's height - she says that since Jesse's mother was tall, it is likely that Jesse was tall, also. JLC was well over six feet tall. So now I feel free to say that It Is Likely that when the 1850 census was taken in Tennessee, JLC and Theodore were staying with a relative or neighbor because their sister Harriet had a contagious illness. Anyone who has done the most elementary genealogical research knows better than to rely on census records as proof of anything; the census is full of errors. JLC is with his parents in the 1860 census for Missouri, age 14. But Mrs. Duke says that this really wasn't JLC, this was Jesse, using an alias, sent there by his mother for safekeeping because of the turmoil of pre-Civil War disturbance. Now I ask you folks, would Zerelda, a staunch Confederate supporter, send her son into the home of devoted northerners? Why would a twelve year old need an alias? And why would she send her son but keep her younger daughters at home? Why would she send him to Johnson County when there was just as much turmoil there as there was in Clay County. And last but not least, the twelve year old Jesse is on the Clay County census, living with his mother and stepfather, Reuben Samuels.

Point Number 3. A signature of "J James" was written by my grandfather in his diary. This will be answered in the Documentation section.

Point number 9. His wealth - No other farmer in that area made that much money off of 160 acres of land. This will be answered in the Just The Facts section.

Point number l0. He came from the same area in Missouri that Jesse James did. And this proves ...what? Several thousand people came from that area.

Point number 11. My great-great-grandmother was missing an arm in the exact location that Zerelda was. This will be answered in the Photographs section.

Point number 15. Grandpa was the same age as Jesse James. And this proves ...what? How many male preteens were in the state?

Point number 16. Grandpa was in many of the locations Jesse James was reported to have been. So were thousands of other veterans and homesteaders.

Point number 19. Bill Wilkerson, a known James Gang member, is mentioned in Grandpa's diary. This also will be addressed in Just The Facts.

Point number 20. James Wilkerson, a known James Gang member, is listed in a federal census record as living in the household of Stephen and Dianah Courtney aka Andrew Jackson and Dianah Haun. See this census record in Documentation.

 

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