It was a hot day in early April 1882 in the town of Lafayette, Mo., where Jesse James had made a home. He had a bounty of $5,000 on his head, put there by Thomas T. Crittenden, the governor of Missouri.
At this point in the notorious outlaw’s career, he had only two gang members he felt he could trust, the brothers Robert and Charley Ford. He turned his back to them to straighten a picture, and Robert shot him in the back of the head. This was the end for Jesse James. Or was it?
As the years went by James’ legend grew, adding to the already considerable mystique he had in life. Many came to doubt that he died such an ignominious death. Some believe, in fact, that James faked his death.
Pastore’s evidentiary case will be made in a new History Channel documentary. Although no broadcast date has been set yet, Pastore is excited about the project. “Vindication! At long last, the truth will be revealed,” he says. “The full story of this eight-year project is detailed in my book Jesse James — Secrets, Codes and Hidden Treasure. It will be available when the program is aired.”
The documentary will be the second one to feature Pastore; in 2003, the History Channel aired “Investigating History: The Mystery of Jesse James,” which included the exhumation of Jeremiah’s body for dna testing. The results of the test, according to the documentary, were not in Pastore’s favor, but he remains undeterred. “Genetic testing is not the end-all, be-all of forensic evidence,” he says. “Especially after 140 years.”
Pastore first questioned the story of the murder by Robert Ford of Jesse James when he perceived differences between the outlaw in photographs of him while living and the person shown in the James death photos (according to historical records, the body of James was identified by matching bullet wounds). He theorizes that the man who was shot and killed was James, just not Jesse James, but instead a cousin of Jesse’s, Jeremiah. Taking Jeremiah’s place, Jesse lived to the age of 88, fathering eight children. Pastore has used facial recognition methods to “match” photographic images of Jesse’s face with that of Jeremiah’s.
In addition, Pastore adamantly believes he has uncovered other evidence that proves his theory. During interviews with descendants of the eight children, he was shown heirlooms that he thinks could only have been passed down by the outlaw. This heirloom evidence includes distinct pieces of jewelry, including a holster broach that appears in authenticated photographs of the outlaw.
Perhaps the most compelling piece of evidence, Pastore believes, is a wedding photo (above) that shows Jesse with a bride who appears in later pictures as Jeremiah’s wife. “Even if you believe there are these two men who look exactly the same, it is impossible that they were married to the same woman,” Pastore says. “I can’t give away everything now, but I think this documentary will change people’s minds.”
— Brendan Kachel