Court’s Order Offers New Hope to Identify Victim of 1944 Hartford Circus Fire
A Hartford Superior Court judge’s order offers new hope that the identity of at least one of the unidentified victims of the Hartford Circus Fire three quarters of a century ago may finally be determined.
Superior Court Judge Susan Quinn Cobb granted a motion brought by Hartford State’s Attorney Gail P. Hardy to allow exhumation of the remains of two female victims to allow for advanced scientific testing seeking to make a positive identification.
The two individuals were among the 168 people who were killed when fire tore through a circus tent in Hartford on July 6, 1944. They are buried in the Northwood Cemetery in Windsor under graves marked only as 2109 and 4512, which were the numbers assigned when their autopsies were conducted.
State’s Attorney Hardy filed the motion seeking authority to exhume the remains at the request of Chief State Medical Examiner Dr. James R. Gill, M.D., who wants to obtain DNA samples for analysis with DNA that will be provided by the granddaughter of Grace Dorothy (Smith) Fifield, one of the unidentified victims.
The DNA analysis, which could answer the identification question, was not possible at the time of the fire or for many years after. The judge’s order allows the medical examiner to retain the DNA samples to determine if the remains can be identified through other ancestry testing processes not previously available.
“I thank Judge Cobb for her consideration of this matter. Her questions during the hearing, and her decision, reveals that she researched the voluminous materials that have been produced on the Hartford Circus Fire,” State’s Attorney Hardy said.
“When thinking of, or suggesting that sacred places like burial grounds be disturbed, our courts should make sure that it is for legitimate purposes and not just to satisfy personal curiosities. Judge Cobb did that through her orders and the questions that she raised during the hearing. In our jobs as prosecutors, we meet with victims who seek to locate missing family members, and, in the case of a death, confirm what happened, and hold the appropriate persons accountable,” she said.
“If the Medical Examiner, through the Office of the State’s Attorney is able to give a family the closure that they seek, I’m happy to go through that process. I am hopeful that the exhumation yields the information that the family of Grace Fifield seeks,” State’s Attorney Hardy said.