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'Illegal Exhumation’ Leads To Capture Of Man Who Murdered His Wife And Shot His Lover’s Husband
Missouri detectives were able to solve a double murder after exhuming Sharon Williams' body twice — the first time illegally.
In the quiet community of St. Charles, Missouri, Sharon Williams, 43, a wife and mother of two sons, was known for her down-to-earth demeanor and readiness to help others.
But tragically, on October 19, 1983, her life came to a crashing end. She suffered severe injuries in a car accident a few miles from her home. The next day, doctors told her husband, James Williams, that his wife’s brain was irreparably damaged and he gave permission to take her off life support, reported stlmag.com in 2014.
Sharon had been on her way to an evening church service at the time of the accident, according to “Exhumed: Killer Revealed,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
As James, an electric contractor, and their sons, Brett, 19, and James Jr., 23, faced the aftermath of Sharon’s death, investigators pieced together the events that led to the fatal car crash.
Ed Copeland, who is now retired from the St. Charles County Police Department, was a rookie officer at the time of the wreck. He looked for skid marks and other telling signs of trouble, but found none.
“From what I was seeing, this vehicle just rolled basically right off the road and into the creek,” he told producers.
He also found that the lack of injuries to the front of Sharon’s face was inconsistent with the way the car crashed — instead, her severe injuries were to the back of her head.
Copeland found the inconsistencies troubling, so he considered the possibility that something other than the crash led to her demise.
A few days after the crash, investigators used a dummy and the same car model that Sharon was driving to reconstruct the accident. The results supported the finding that her death was the result of accidental blunt head trauma, and no autopsy was done.
Sharon’s family grappled with their loss in their own ways. James eventually remarried.
But in 1986, now-retired Dr. Mary Case became the chief medical examiner for Metropolitan St. Louis. Prior to her appointment, a chiropractor was the area’s coroner, according to “Exhumed.” Copeland shared his nagging suspicions with her about Sharon’s death not being an accident. Case reviewed the report and determined it was indeed suspicious that Sharon’s fatal injuries were to the back of her head.
“My impression at that time was there is a need to exhume this body,” said Case.
When her request to do that was ignored she made a bold, high-stakes choice that could have resulted in a fine or prison time.
“I decided that the value of an exhumation was so great that I would have to do an illegal exhumation without permission from a judge,” said Case.
Brett Williams’ daughter Kayla Hake told producers that her father wasn’t happy about his mother being exhumed, but understood why it was necessary, so they went ahead with it.
Sharon’s exhumed body was dry and “in very good shape,” said Case. She was able to see that Sharon had “been struck twice to the back of her head very powerfully with a blunt object.”
Case determined that the cause of death was homicide, and the case was reopened.
In 1987, police started from scratch. They began by interviewing the Williamses’ friends and neighbors. Witnesses told them they suspected that James was having an extramarital affair with Joann Notheis, the woman he later wed.
They also learned that on December 27, 1983, just two months after Sharon’s death, Joann’s husband, Walter, a performer whose stage name was Walter Scott, went missing. He’d gone out to replace a car battery and never returned.
At the time of the disappearance, Joann told police that she had gotten a call from the auto-mechanic who said that her husband had never showed up. She claimed she wasn’t immediately alarmed because Walter could be unpredictable. He was a traveling St. Louis-area musician who fronted Bob Kuban and the In-Men, which was known for the 1966 hit song, “The Cheater.”
Investigators made two startling discoveries. Right after Walter went missing, Joann reached out to clubs where he was scheduled to perform and canceled on his behalf. It was strange to detectives because she had said she knew nothing about where he was. In addition, family members recalled that James Williams was with Joann immediately after her husband disappeared. She eventually divorced her husband and married James.
Red flags were raised, but investigators needed to find Walter’s body to bring a murder charge.
Police turned to James Williams Jr. as a possible source of information. At the time, he was incarcerated in Florida. Investigators hoped that he would talk in exchange for a more lenient sentence.
Authorities asked him how his father might dispose of a body. James Jr. recalled that in the spring of 1984 his father covered a backyard cistern with a very heavy flower planter. Subsequently, Brett Williams okayed a search of the property.
Case was at the scene when the cistern was uncovered. Walter’s body, eventually identified through dental records, was found inside it. His head had been skeletonized, said Case. His decomposing body was in a condition called adipocere.
Case’s autopsy revealed that Walter had been shot in the back.
Police had compelling evidence but for the case to hold up in court, Case had to go through proper channels and get permission to exhume Sharon Williams a second time. Sharon’s sons lobbied to get the approval and Case was able to obtain the OK, perform a second autopsy, and come up with the same results as she had earlier: Sharon had been murdered.
Joann Notheis Williams pleaded guilty to hindering the prosecution. She entered prison in April 1993 and was paroled in February 1994. She was discharged from parole in April 1998, reported stltoday.com.
James Williams was charged with the murders of his wife and Walter Notheis. Prosecutors made the case that he bludgeoned his wife and staged the car wreck, and later shot Walter in the back.
At a jury trial, he was found guilty of both counts of murder, UPI reported, and sentenced to life in prison. During his term, Williams, 72, died from cancer in 2011.