Originally created 06/03/01

New tests show Napoleon's hair had 'major' arsenic exposure



PARIS -- What killed the emperor? Arsenic, say some, and on Friday they put forth a new piece of scientific evidence to convince doubters that Napoleon Bonaparte was the victim of a slow, calculated murder by poison.

According to officials of the Forensic Institute of Strasbourg, tests on five separate samples of Napoleon's hair confirm "major exposure to arsenic."

The results of the tests were presented at a news conference featuring one of the leading proponents of the poison theory, Ben Weider, a Canadian author of six books on the emperor and president of the International Napoleon Society.

He claims that Napoleon was the victim of a British and French conspiracy and was done away with at the hands of his friend Count Charles de Montholon.

Bertrand Ludes, director of the Strasbourg institute, said tests on the locks of hair confirmed "chronic long-term poisoning by arsenic."

He and Pascal Kintz, an institute toxicologist, said they analyzed, and dismissed, the possibility that the arsenic contamination came from other sources - as detractors of the murder theory claim - such as seafood. Both men have served as expert witnesses at trials, including doping trials.

Napoleon, born in Corsica, died at age 52 on May 5, 1821, on the island of St. Helena, where he had been banished after his defeat at Waterloo.

Officially, he died of stomach cancer.

Weider disagrees, fervently. A year ago, he presented journalists here with evidence of his claims, boosting them Friday with the findings from the Strasbourg Institute.

"It's proven that it was not cancer. The poisoning was proven through the high levels of arsenic in his hair," Weider said in an interview with Associated Press Television News.

"You have eyewitnesses who saw what was going on," he added. "Then you have nuclear science today confirming what they saw from 1816 to 1821."

The Strasbourg institute found levels of arsenic ranging from seven to 38 nanograms per milligram of hair. One nanogram per milligram is at the high end of an acceptable level of arsenic, the experts said.

Conspiracy theories took on new credibility in 1995 after the FBI and Britain's Scotland Yard discovered that clippings of Napoleon's hair were tinged with poison.

The hair used in the latest tests was gathered from different sources, including one used by the FBI, as a way to assure accuracy. However, Weider's group said it had not, for lack of means, been able to perform DNA tests on the locks that would assure they belonged to Napoleon.

Weider's theory is that the British and the French wanted to ensure Napoleon would not make another comeback, as the former emperor had done after his exile on the island of Elba.

Weider co-wrote the 1982 book "The Murder of Napoleon," which catapulted the arsenic theory into academic circles. In the book, he claims that the Count of Montholon, a close friend who owed a favor to the future Charles X, went to St. Helena specifically to carry out the slow, systematic murder.

However, Montholon and his counterpart Hudson Lowe also acted on behalf of Britain's Minister of the Colonies Lord Bathurst, Weider maintains, painting a scenario in which the British and French at last had a shared interest - Napoleon's death.

"The Bourbons were very, very concerned that Napoleon might return after ... his exile and retake the throne because he had done that before," Weider said.

"And as far as the British are concerned, they wanted the Bourbons to remain on the throne because it was easier to manipulate them. They couldn't manipulate Napoleon."

On the Net:

International Napoleonic Society, www.napoleonicsociety.com