The French woman documented as the world's oldest person at 122 may be a fraud, according to Russian researchers.
A 2018 study suggests that the woman known as Jeanne Calment was actually Jeanne's daughter, Yvonne, who allegedly assumed her mother's identity after her death in 1934 in order to not have to pay the inheritance tax.
When "Jeanne" died in 1997 at the supposed age of 122 and 164 days, she was actually thought to have been just 99, the researchers claim.
Gerontologist Valery Novoselov, who initially called for the investigation into Jeanne's age, said he first became suspicious because Jeanne didn't fit typical data trends.
"Jeanne is a dot away from the main trend," Novoselov told the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to extending the human lifespan, in an interview. "... Whenever a new record is set, the person dies several days or several weeks later, very rarely several months later. However, we are never speaking about years apart, definitely not several years."
Officially, it's said that Jeanne's daughter died in 1934, but both Novoselov and the mathematician who helped analyze the data on supercentenarians for the study, Nikolai Zak, believe things are reversed.
"We think that in reality it was Jeanne who had died, aged almost 59, and her daughter took her name and personality," Novoselov said.
But why would she do that, if that is in fact the case? As is often the answer to life's mysteries, Novoselov believes money may have played a role.
"The 1930s were dire years for the family. Her mother-in-law and her father both died in 1931, and the family had to pay huge inheritance taxes in each case," Novoselov said. "... If Jeanne had died, her daughter Yvonne and her husband would have to pay a lot of money.
"However, if it were Yvonne who died," he added. "the family wouldn’t have to pay any taxes, as she didn’t own the homestead."
Ultimately, the only way to determine if the record is a fraud is to exhume both bodies to determine how old they truly are.
Should the Russian researchers' theory prove true, the record will pass to American Sarah Knauss, who died in 1999 when she 119.