Woman's Fingers Returned to Her 80 Years After Death

New Zealand is repatriating the remains of 37 individuals
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 20, 2015 7:11 AM CDT
Woman's Fingers Returned to Her 80 Years After Death
Constable Craig Bennett holds Jessie Marguerite Fendall's fingers in small ceremony.   (New Zealand Police)

When New Zealand educator Jessie Marguerite Fendell was found in a dry creek bed at the bottom of a cliff near the school where she worked in 1933, her family didn't believe that her death was an accident. So investigators exhumed her body three months later, sent her fingers to the Wellington Fingerprints Branch, and reburied her, reports stuff.co.nz. The circumstances surrounding her case remain mysterious, and for decades her fingers were held in the care of New Zealand Police Forensics Collection, used to demonstrate how to care for post-mortem remains. In the 1990s, as forensics procedures evolved, the fingers were sent to the New Zealand Police Museum, and now, at long last, they have been reunited with Fendell in a small ceremony by the sea.

Fendell is actually the 33rd out of 37 people whose remains are being repatriated by police, though hers is the first case where living relatives were involved, the New Zealand Police note. "The previous 32 repatriations we have completed have been for individuals who have been unidentifiable or have had no living relatives who could be identified," the museum's director says. After working their way down the family tree, they found Fendell's great-nephew Brian Collinge, who attended the ceremony. "Jessie wasn't forgotten within the family, however as time went on, less of the family knew her story. This process has allowed us to bring back some of our family history that some of us were not aware of," he says. (More bodies are being exhumed these days to investigate cold cases thanks to DNA.)

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