Glacier bones traced to long-lost brothers

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Malcolm Curtis - [email protected]
Glacier bones traced to long-lost brothers
Boots found amongst the human remains (Photo: Valais cantonal police)

Experts have identified human bones found last summer by two British climbers on the Aletsch glacier in the canton of Valais as the skeletal remains of three brothers who died 86 years ago.


Cantonal police on Thursday announced the findings following research conducted by a forensic scientist at the Valais hospital in Sion and other researchers.

The British climbers on June 27th reported to police finding the bones, along with clothes and equipment spread over a 20-metre area on the lower part of the glacier.

DNA analysis of the bones, ordered by the prosecutor for Haut-Valais, showed that they belonged to members of the same family, issued from the same mother with an identical genetic profile.

Experts were able to show that the bones belonged to three men, two of them around 30 years of age at their death, while the other was between 20 and 25.

The clothing, including boots, and equipment, including a pair of binoculars, dated “very probably from the 1920s,” police said.

The information was matched with cantonal police records of missing people going back to 1925.

The only alpinists recorded missing in that area of the glacier were identified as Max Rider and the three Ebener brothers, Johann, Cletus and Fidelis, who disappeared in 1926.

Police have concluded the bones belonged to Johann, who was born on September 4th 1895, Cletus, born on January 19th 1897, and  Fidelis, the youngest brother, born on February 16th 1903.

The finding took a little detective work to rule out any of the bones belonging to Rieder.

This was done by comparing the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), the smallest human chromosome, which is inherited solely from the mother.

Police said researchers were able to determine that the mtDNA of the bones did not belong to the Rieder family.

The sleuthing has enabled officers to close one of the Valais force’s oldest missing persons files.

Area of the Aletsch Glacier where the bones were found (Photo: Valais cantonal police)



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