Jeanne or Yvonne? New evidence in the Calment affair

In the past few weeks, many new photographs of both Jeanne and Yvonne have emerged. While none of them offer any conclusive evidence for or against the identity switch, they do add new pieces to the puzzle. Moreover, a brilliant new insight from Philip Gibbs could mean that we can use an existing blood sample of Mme. Calment to conclusively establish whether it belongs to Jeanne or Yvonne. But more on that later.

First, I’d like to share something about Yvonne’s bow hat photo had been bothering me from the start. Take a look, does anything jump out at you?

The hands. Look at the size of those hands. They are disproportionately large:

Moreover, it seems that Yvonne had bulging veins from an early age:

Not only that, she had very prominent knuckles:

Colorizing black-and-white photos helps discern the knuckles and highlight the bulging veins:

Old Mme. Calment also seems to have had large, lanky hands with long fingers and very similar bulging veins (black-and-white photo in the top right corner below is Yvonne’s rotated hand from the bow hat photo):

Here is a comparison with the veins from another photo of young Yvonne:

The prominent knuckles are also shared by old Mme. Clament. Here is a 1984 photo:

Here is a newly surfaced 1962 photo (are these the hands of a 87-year old or a 64-year old?):

Here are some other photos of old Mme. Calment’s hands (note the knuckles):

The forearm of Yvonne (top photo below) from a 1930s photo also looks similar to that of old Mme. Calment from 1962 (bottom photo below):

I definitely see a close resemblance between Yvonne’s hands and those of old Mme. Calment. Of course, we do not have any pictures of young Jeanne’s hands, so it still remains possible that mother and daughter shared this feature. So for now let us just add this observation to the list of noticeable similarities without drawing any further conclusions.

Feet

Another common feature between Yvonne and old Mme. Calment is large feet. Here are the feet from the picture of young Yvonne above:

Here is a recently surfaced photo of Yvonne that was the source for the 1995 Figaro cover which mislabeled it as Jeanne:

Take a closer look at the size of that shoe (or boot):

It bears very close resemblance to the shoe worn by Mme. Calment in the late 1980s:

Here they are side by side:

They seem to be of about the same large size, and their heels look very similar.

The long, thin calves of old Mme. Calment also bear a similarity to Yvonne’s (on the left below):

Again, as we do not have photos of young Jeanne’s legs or feet, these similarities won’t help us discriminate between the switch or no-switch hypotheses. However, they do add to the growing list of coincidences that, when judged on the balance of probability, tip the scales in favor of the switch hypothesis for me. In short, there are just too many similarities between Yvonne and old Jeanne, which, coupled with the dissimilarities between Jeanne and the Highlander photo, lead me to favor the identity switch hypothesis.

Highlander, Part Deux

Let me just briefly revisit the Highlander photo and enumerate its features that are closer to Yvonne than Jeanne. But first, let’s recall the key differences between young Jeanne and Yvonne:

While their core facial proportions match, mother and daughter had some noticeable differences. First and foremost, Yvonne had a longer neck, and a more prominent jugular notch, which sat lower than Jeanne’s (as indicated by the lower red line in the photo above). Secondly, Yvonne had a higher forehead (the upper red line). Both of these features of the person in the Highlander photo are closer to Yvonne than to Jeanne:

Moreover, Yvonne’s neck muscles around the jugular notch look identical to those of the lady in the Highlander photo:

By the way, recently, some distant relatives of Mme. Calment have confirmed that the Highlander photo indeed depicts the person they knew as Jeanne Calment, dispelling rumors that this photo is of someone completely unrelated. Moreover, a new 1962 photo of Mme. Calment had emerged, and it bears close resemblance to the Highlander photo:

The new photo also helps us bracket the approximate time interval around which the Highlander photo was taken — most likely, in the early or mid-1950s. Could someone’s hair go completely grey in their mid- or late 50s? That is certainly rare but not unheard of.

Who does the new photo look like more — Jeanne or Yvonne? Unsurprisingly, it is close to both, but, in my view, the lower part of the face (the chin and the jaw) seem differentially closer to Yvonne — Jeanne’s chin is less protruding, and her lower jaw is shorter:

I think the similarities in the chin and jaw are easier to spot with the Highlander photo as an intermediate link:

Jeanne’s chin looks different to me:

Nose

What I think is also interesting to see is that the nose tip continued its descent between the Highlander photo and 1962:

I think it was caused by the upper jaw retraction into the skull, which usually exacerbates nose drooping with age.

By the way, the nose is another facial feature that was noticeably different between Yvonne and young Jeanne — Yvonne’s was clearly bigger:

I think Yvonne’s nose was considerably wider and more prone to drooping, and thus is more likely to have resulted in a nose such as this:

Therefore, the following evolution of Yvonne’s nose seems highly plausible to me:

Eyes

Unfortunately, in the 1962 photo Mme. Calment is wearing sunglasses, but I think the skin flap over the right eye is still observable, if only just barely. In any case, it is clearly present in Mme. Calment’s later photos, as well as in the photos of Yvonne, together with slight but noticeable strabismus (cross-eyedness):

Young Jeanne did not seem to have had any cross-eyedness or extra skin on her eyelids, just crow's feet:

Ears, Redux

Now, one area where the differences between young Jeanne and old Mme. Calment have actually decreased with newly surfaced photos is the ear shape analysis. Initially, I believed the ears were quite different between young and old Jeanne:

However, a new picture of old Mme. Calment’s ear has emerged, and at that angle, I must admit, the resemblance with young Jeanne is closer than I originally thought:

Here is an updated analysis of the auricle structure:

The green and red lines are identical in size above. Here is a closeup:

There are still differences in auricle size and its angle on the skull (note the parallel yellow lines), but at this point I am not certain that they cannot be explained by normal ear aging. Of course, while a difference in ear shape would strongly support the switch hypothesis, the opposite is not necessarily true — similar ears do not rule out an identity switch, as mother and daughter’s ears could be quite alike.

Yvonne’s height

One interesting new factoid about Yvonne had emerged just recently, thanks to her newly surfaced wedding photos. In particular, this photo of Yvonne with her husband, Col. Billot:

Nikolai Zak had previously uncovered Col. Billot’s height (173 cm) in his military documents:

According to Nikolai’s measurements, Yvonne’s height comes out to 155 cm, based on the wedding photo above. When I measured their heights in pixels and applied the ratio to Col. Billot’s height, I obtained 154.4 cm for Yvonne, but that does not include the difference in heel height — I believe Yvonne’s heels are higher than her husband’s, which should put her height at a nearly identical value to that of her mother’s 152 cm.

Exhumation not needed! A great novel idea

Back in early February, in a 110 Club discussion, Philip Gibbs suggested a very interesting idea that may provide decisive evidence for or against the identity switch hypothesis. His insight lies in the fact that Yvonne was a daughter of double second cousins (her parents’ grandmothers were sisters, while their grandfathers were brothers), which implies that she should have a detectably higher level of homozygosity (due to inbreeding) than Jeanne, whose parents were not related. So if we could sequence Mme. Calment’s existing biological samples and check her DNA’s homozygosity levels, we could obtain very strong new evidence — without any exhumation. Methods to calculate the degree of homozyosity abound:

As Mme. Calment underwent many rounds of medical testing, including DNA analysis, and her biological samples could still be in storage (at least for project CHRONOS which sequenced DNA of several supercentenarians), such testing could be quite doable. Yes, the samples are probably stored anonymously, but Mme. Calment’s sample should be easily identifiable by circumstantial parameters (the age of the donor, for example).

What’s next?

While a lot of new interesting data and photos have emerged, none of them offer anything conclusive. A 1962 photo was helpful in validating the Highlander photo, but we really need to find some photos made before it, not after. We have no doubts that the lady in the Highlander photo went on to live to year 1997, what we need to establish is who of the mother and daughter turned into that lady. A photo of Mme. Calment from the late 1930s and/or 1940s would greatly help in this endeavor.

It could also be helpful to find archival passport and ID card applications for both Jeanne and Yvonne. They should contain the government’s copies of the photos used for issuing those documents. Presumably, those dossiers could still be held in the Arles’ Police archives.

Finally, and it’s a long shot, but maybe we could find out young Jeanne and old Mme. Calment shoe size? The latter is much easier than the former, obviously, but maybe the Calment family had a dedicated shoemaker in the late XIX or early XX century, or maybe her old shoes are in the Arles museum? The shoe size of old Mme. Calment should probably be present in Dr. Garoyan’s medical thesis on Mme. Calment, or some of her caretakers from La Maison du Lac might recall her size.

Ultimately, a DNA test will make all of these obsolete. Once it is done — and I have no doubts that eventually it will be — these ideas would probably seem quite naive. Moreover, many people will end up with egg on their face, and I fully acknowledge that I could be one of them.

Apologies

In closing, I would like to apologize and express my respects to the Calment family, as well as to the people of Arles and France as a whole. In the past few weeks, I had sometimes heard that some of you found my articles offensive. Please do not think that I have meant any disrespect to any of you or to the memory of Jeanne.

My motivation lies only in getting to the bottom of this fascinating story, and, frankly, I would be much more awestruck with Mme. Calment if it turns out that she pulled off the identity switch of the century, rather than just lived a very long life. Either outcome of this affair will not affect my existing deep respect for the French people, culture and history, all of which I greatly admire.

Unlisted

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Preventing death is my life’s mission. I am a drug developer currently working on a rejuvenating gene therapy using the approach of partial reprogramming.

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Yuri Deigin

Yuri Deigin

Preventing death is my life’s mission. I am a drug developer currently working on a rejuvenating gene therapy using the approach of partial reprogramming.