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Antifreeze Poisoning, Hidden Injuries — 7 Cases Where Exhumations Helped Expose A Killer

Exhumations are not common, but sometimes they are necessary to solve a murder case, as shown in Oxygen series "Exhumed."

a photo of a Grave Site

Every homicide case comes with twists and challenges for investigators. But some murders take even deeper digging.

“Exhumed,” which returns to Oxygen on Sunday, May 8 at 7/6c, explores shocking murder cases in which unearthing a victim’s body provides the key to catching a killer. 

Before the series, executive produced by Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos, returns for Season 2, here are seven Season 1 cases where exhumations were key to cracking the investigation. 

Proof of poisoning

Stacy Castor’s husband, David, died in 2005 from an apparent suicide by antifreeze poisoning. But when investigators learned that her first husband, Michael Wallace, died in 2000 from a sudden heart attack, red flags were raised. Wallace’s body was exhumed and revealed signs of antifreeze. Castor, who also tried to poison her daughter and became known as a "black widow,” was convicted and got a life sentence.

Signs Of Strangulation

The death of Diana Burrow, a North Carolina mother, was originally attributed to natural causes. But after rumors of murder surfaced, Burrow’s body was exhumed and her broken hyoid bone showed that she had been strangled. Her killer, Jason Johnson, pleaded guilty to the murder and was sentenced to life.

An Airtight Identification

In 1982, a headless body believed to be Gene Stump’s was found in a remote portion of the Tennessee woods. More than two decades later, after Randy McFarlin admitted to his wife that he was the killer, the body was exhumed and confirmed to be Stump’s through DNA. McFarlin was convicted and sentenced to life.

Telltale Marks Of Murder

When Margaret “Meg” Purk was found dead in Ohio in 1985, her husband, Scott Purk, told detectives that his pregnant wife had died by suicide. But in 2011, Meg Purk was exhumed and detectives determined that marks on her neck were from a belt and that a line on her chest indicated she’d been dragged by a rope. Scott Purk was convicted of her murder.

Evidence Of Homicide, Not Suicide

After Jack Reeves’ wife, Emelita, a mail-order bride from the Philippines, vanished in Texas in 1994, people were concerned he was involved. Police became more suspicious when they learned that two of Reeves’ previous wives had died. His first wife, Sharon, who reportedly died by suicide in 1978, was exhumed and detectives learned she had actually been killed. Jack Reeves was thus convicted of the murders of both Emelita and Sharon.

Narrowing Down The Suspects

In 2002, Erma Price was found dead with the presence of the medication Darvon in her system. How did it get there? A year later, Price’s body was exhumed and revealed no signs of injections or crystallization in her body. The drug, therefore, had to have been given orally. Her 32-year-old granddaughter, a nurse, was found guilty of the murder.

Abusive History Unearthed

Lonnie Kerley always maintained his long-term girlfriend, Danna Dever, walked out on him and vanished in 1996. His alleged history of physical abuse cast doubt on his claim, but he denied guilt. Dever’s body, identified by a fingerprint, was found a month later, and her family buried her. In 2010, after new evidence had emerged, investigators exhumed Dever’s body. Skeletal  cracks and fractures in the bones proved that Dever had been beaten both in the past and at the time of her death — and that she had been strangled. Kerley was found guilty of murder in 2013.

To learn about more similar cases, watch "Exhumed" when it returns to Oxygen on Sunday, May 8 at 7/6c or stream episodes here.

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