Forensic mystery: Oklahoma lab determining if purse is linked to notorious outlaw

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EDMOND, Okla. (KFOR) – The University of Central Oklahoma has a mystery on its hands.

UCO’s W. Roger Webb Forensic Science Institute has teamed up with the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum to tackle a mystery involving one of the nation’s most notorious outlaws.

The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum received a donation of a purse believed to belong to Bonnie Ray Parker, of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo.

Parker committed dozens of robberies and burglaries while running from the law between 1932 and 1934.

The purse is stamped with Parker’s name and features what is presumed to be a single bullet hole.

“It’s a mystery and we are going to use forensic science to solve that mystery,” said Caitlin Porterfield, instructor of forensic science at UCO. “The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum wanted to verify that it was her purse, so they approached us and asked if there were any forensic science techniques to authenticate this purse. we will try a number of techniques to assist with this process.”

Faculty members from UCO conducted DNA tests and fingerprint scans to find indisputable evidence.

Rhonda Williams, Ph.D., associate professor of forensic science at UCO, formerly worked for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and is leading the DNA screening on this project. Williams said since no DNA sample from Parker exists, they will compare DNA from her last known living relative.

“I think it’s very possible to pull DNA off this purse,” said Williams. “The question will be, whose is it? If we find DNA and we can somehow link it, that’s amazing and the museum can use it for their exhibits.”

Regardless of the DNA results, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum plans on displaying the purse in an exhibit about outlaws and lawmen set to open in 2022. 

“There are not many items directly associated with either Bonnie or Clyde. If it is Bonnie’s, then as a historical piece, it’s priceless,” said Melissa Owens, interim chief curatorial officer and registrar for the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

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