A Titanic mystery that 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 lead-up to the anniversary, IrishCentral takes a look at the Irish on board – the lucky, unlucky and heroic.
One of the last great mysteries of the Titanic was solved in 2013 thanks to a DNA test which proved a woman who claimed she was a child survivor of the tragic Titanic sinking was a fraud.
Two-year-old Loraine Allison is believed to have been the only child from first or second class who died during the sinking of the Titanic. She was traveling aboard the luxury liner with her parents, Hudson, a Canadian entrepreneur, and Bess, her seven-month-old brother Trevor, and an entourage of servants.
Reports say that when the ship struck the iceberg, Trevor was taken to a lifeboat by a maid, Alice Cleaver. Loraine, Hudson, and Bess did not survive, and only Hudson's body was ever recovered.
However, in 1940, Helen Loraine Kramer, now styling herself Loraine Kramer, 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.
She claimed the man, whom she called Mr. Hyde, raised her as his own in England before moving to the US. She claimed he only 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.
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.
The claims appeared to have died with Kramer, but the centenary of the sinking in 2012 saw Kramer’s granddaughter, Debrina Woods, from Florida, restate the claim on a series of online forums. Woods then tried to contact the Allison family in Canada, a move that prompted the intervention of their lawyers to ask her to cease.
A restraining order was taken out to stop Woods from 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.
A report in the Irish Independent reveals that the dispute led to accusations of harassment being made and security patrols set up to stop a family burial plot from being interfered with.
But eventually, more than a hundred years after the sinking of the Titanic, the mystery was solved.
The dispute led to the founding of The Loraine Allison Identification Project by Tracy Oost, a forensic scientist at Laurentian University, Ontario, and Titanic expert.
While Woods declined to participate, Oost obtained DNA samples from Deanne Jennings, Woods' half-sister, and Sally Kirkelie, the great-niece of Bess Allison, Loraine Allison's mother.
No genetic link was found between descendants from both sides of the dispute. The results proved that Helen Loraine Kramer was not the little girl who was lost on the Titanic.
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.”
*Originally published in 2014, last updated in April 2022.
Love Irish history? Share your favorite stories with other history buffs in the IrishCentral History Facebook group.