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Were We Fooled by the 'Oldest Person Ever'?

Researchers claim Yvonne Calment assumed her mother's identity
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 2, 2019 9:15 AM CST
This Feb. 12, 1996 file photo shows Jeanne Calment in Arles, France.   (AP Photo/File)

(Newser) – You likely know Jeanne Calment as the world's oldest recorded person. It's a title widely used since Calment's 1997 death in France, coming 122 years and 164 days after her purported birth in 1875. It's also a fraud, according to mathematician Nicolai Zak and gerontologist Valeri Novosselov, who teamed up to investigate the Guinness World Record holder. Their research, not peer reviewed, suggests she wasn't Jeanne Calment, but rather her 99-year-old daughter, Yvonne, who supposedly died in 1934. The Russian researchers believe Jeanne was really the one who died that year, at around age 59, and that Yvonne adopted her mother's identity and kept up the ruse for the rest of her life, per LeafScience.org. Why? To avoid paying an inheritance tax of up to 35%—the family reportedly paid large sums with the deaths of Jeanne's father and mother-in-law in 1931.

Perhaps most alarming is photo evidence. As Novosselov tells LeafScience.org, "features of the young Yvonne match the features of the old Jeanne. However, when you compare the features of the young Jeanne to the old Jeanne, they don’t match." Other elements raising suspicions: the family had a stranger identify the body as Yvonne's and Jeanne claimed to have been accompanied to school by a maid who was 10 years her junior, Novosselov says. He also questions why Yvonne's husband never remarried and lived and raised a son with his mother-in-law. Still, HuffPo reports bodies would need to be exhumed to confirm the theory. A gerontologist who confirmed the Guinness record certainly isn't buying it, per the National Post. "One day Fernand Calment starts passing off his daughter as his wife and everyone keeps quiet about it? It's preposterous," he says. (This man claimed to be 146.)

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