A Titanic mystery which spanned a century was only recently put to rest when a woman who claimed to be a survivor and heiress to a considerable family fortune was exposed.
Editor's note: On April 15, 1912, the Belfast-built RMS Titanic sank, after colliding with an iceberg, killing over 1,500 passengers and crew on board. This was one of the deadliest commercial, peacetime maritime disasters in modern history and among those on board were many Irish.
In the run-up to the anniversary of the disaster, IrishCentral will take a look at the Irish on board – the lucky, unlucky and heroic.
One of the last great mysteries of the Titanic was solved only recently – and the woman who claimed she was a child survivor was exposed as a fraud by DNA tests.
Two-year-old Loraine Allison was first reported to have died along with her parents when the tragic liner sank, but nobody was ever recovered. In the years that followed the 1912 disaster, a woman by the name of Helen Kramer came forward and claimed that she was, in fact, Loraine Allison.
Kramer launched a legal bid to be considered part of the wealthy Allison family and entitled to part of their fortune. Before her death in 1992, she contended that she was entitled to the vast majority of the Allison family’s wealth in Canada.
Her family had maintained her legal right to the Allison wealth in recent years in an increasingly bitter dispute, according to a report carried by the Irish Independent.
The report said the row witnessed restraining orders were being taken out, accusations of harassment made and even security patrols set up to stop a family burial plot being interfered with. But eventually, more than a hundred years after the sinking, the mystery was solved.
The Loraine Allison Identification Project, established by a group of Titanicologists, revealed the results of DNA tests involving members of the Kramer and Allison families.
They proved that Helen Kramer was not the little girl who was lost on the Titanic. No genetic link was found between descendants from both sides of the dispute. The report says that the ruling means Loraine will keep the unhappy status of being the only child from first or second class to die in the sinking in 1912.
Lorraine traveled on the Titanic with her parents, Hudson, a Canadian entrepreneur, and Bess, as well as her seven-month-old brother Trevor and an entourage of servants. The report says that when the ship struck the iceberg, Trevor was taken to a lifeboat by a maid, Alice Cleaver. Hudson, Bess, and Loraine remained on board and apparently turned down many opportunities to be saved, possibly because they were searching for their son. Hudson’s body was the only one to be found.
In 1940 Helen Kramer, now styling herself Loraine Kramer, first claimed to be the missing child. She told a radio show that she had been saved at the last moment when her father placed her in a lifeboat with a man whom she had always thought was her father. The man, whom she called Mr. Hyde, raised her as his own in England before moving to the US. She claimed he told her the ‘truth’ shortly before his death. Kramer also claimed that Hyde disclosed his real identity as Thomas Andrews, Titanic’s designer who was thought to have died on board.
Some distant relations of the Allisons were taken in by her story, but immediate family members did not accept her.
The claims appeared to have died with Kramer, but the centenary of the sinking in 2012 saw Kramer’s grand-daughter, Debherrina Woods, from Florida, restate the claim on a series of online forums. Woods then tried to contact the Allison family in Canada, a move which prompted the intervention of their lawyers to ask her to cease.
A restraining order was taken out to stop Woods scattering her grandmother’s ashes over the Allison family plot in Chesterville, Ontario and extra security measures put in place when she visited the area.
The debate then led to the founding of the identification project by Tracy Oost, a forensic scientist at Laurentian University, Ontario, and Titanic expert. The report says Oost asked both sides to take part in the DNA screening. Woods declined but her half-sister Deanne Jennings and Sally Kirkelie, the great-niece of Bess Allison, agreed to take part. Professor Oost said, “It is good to have a resolution here, but we mustn’t forget that this is all about one of the more tragic tales to come from the Titanic. The only mystery that remains is: who was Helen Kramer?”
David Allison, the grandson of Hudson’s brother Percy Allison said, “I would like to thank Deanne Jennings and Sally Kirkelie for offering their DNA to stop this harassment. This was a courageous, selfless act, and I will remain forever indebted for their act of kindness.”
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* Originally published in 2014.