‘Yes, there is a Santa Claus’: Police close books on weeks-long investigation

A young investigator from Cumberland submitted a letter requesting DNA analysis to be conducted on a partially eaten cookie and carrot remains she acquired on Christmas Day. (Credit: Cumberland Police Department)

Police in Rhode Island have settled the centuries-long debate once and for all: Is Santa Claus real? 

On Wednesday, officials held a press conference and released a memorandum revealing the findings requested by Scarlett Doumato, a 10-year-old girl from Cumberland, who submitted a letter requesting DNA analysis to be conducted on a partially eaten cookie and carrot remains she acquired on Christmas Day.

"To answer your question Scarlett, yes, there is a Santa Claus, and that same spirit resides in you," Cumberland Police Chief Matthew J. Benson said. "I thank you for the joy you brought me, my staff, and this community. And for the millions across the world who believe in Santa Claus right along with you, they too say thank You." 

Last month, Benson "immediately" instructed his investigative division to forward Scarlett’s evidence to the State of Rhode Island’s, Department of Health and Forensic Sciences Unit for analysis. Bite marks were also compared with dental records.

On Jan. 24, The Rhode Island Department of Health said it was not able "to definitively confirm or refute the presence of Santa" in the girl’s home. The department also said it found no complete matches to anyone in the Combined DNA Index System but said there was a partial match "to a 1947 case centered around 34th Street in New York City," referring to the movie "Miracle on 34th Street." It said it would need more DNA samples "from other known Santa encounters to make a definitive match."

But Benson said Wednesday his team learned that Scarlett was not the only child to publicly and famously inquire about the existence of Santa Claus. In 1897, 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon asked her dad if Santa Claus was real, and he directed her to their trusted asset to seek answers. Benson explained that investigators did not have the means to examine Virginia’s question as much as they could attempt today, but it further supported the current investigation. 

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Benson said he could further articulate their findings by reading a letter from Francis B. Church, an editor who responded to Virginia’s question, "Is there a Santa Claus?" published in the New York Sun on Sept. 21, 1987.

"He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. ... How dreary would be the world if there was no Santa Claus! It would be dreary as if there were no Scarletts," Benson said, substituting Scarlett’s name for "Virginia" in the original column. "Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see," he continued. "Nobody can conceive or imagine all wonder there are, unseen and unseeable, in the world."

Benson continued, "Undoubtedly, you will someday grow to understand the enormity of what your simple inquiry and actions provided so many. Most importantly, however, is that you achieved exactly what Santa Claus represents— you brought a smile to millions -and I do mean millions- with your small gesture of humanity, innocence, and wonder."

This story was reported from Los Angeles.