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Man's Headless Body Found In Tennessee Woods After His Best Friend Executes Him
Gene Stump's body eventually had to be exhumed for Randy McFarlin to face justice.
On April 28, 1982, two Tennessee men headed to a secluded fishing hole in the woods. They were aiming for a day of tranquility and plentiful catches. Instead, they stumbled upon a nightmare.
The two men had to contact police after finding half a human body in the woods.
“From the waist up, his body had been partially eaten by wildlife. The only thing left was vertebrae and ribs,” Sgt. David Grisham with Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office told Oxygen's "Exhumed" airing Sundays at 7/6c and 8/7c on Oxygen.
Without his head, hands, or a wallet, it was difficult to identify the man. Officials instead started scouring the surrounding area for evidence. They found chunks of hair and pieces of skull, and from those pieces could tell the man had been shot in the back of the head. It could have been a suicide — except there was no sign of a gun anywhere. It had to have been murder.
A specialized forensic anthropology team was brought in, and they analyzed the body and where it was found. They were able to make a pretty astonishing discovery after looking at the bugs on the cadaver. They found beetles only located on corpses after a certain amount of decomposition.
"Sometimes you gotta do unseemly things to find good stuff. You never know what’s gonna pop up," Sgt. Dan Goodwin with the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office told producers. "From the bug activity, they could nail down precisely when this crime happened. They quickly determined he died on or about March 29, about a month before he was discovered."
Police also found a flask that read "Gene" and a piece of paper in the man's jeans pocket that had a series of names and numbers written on it. It turned out to be a child's baseball team roster with the names of all the parents. The only parent they couldn't reach? Gene Stump.
They got in touch with Gene's ex-wife, Mary, who told them the pair had divorced after Gene started hanging out at bars too often, but said they were actually starting to date again. She hadn't seen him in about a month, though, and since it was usual for him to be unreachable for a bit, she hadn't reported him missing to police.
The only identifying feature on the body was some scars on the knee, which Mary confirmed Gene had. Authorities felt comfortable confirming the body was indeed Gene, and he was laid to rest in a West Virginia cemetery.
Mary had advised police to talk to Gene's best friend, Randy McFarlin (who in later years changed his name to Ray McFarlane, according to a 2010 Murfreesboro Post article). McFarlin told police he had actually seen Gene the day he disappeared, and that he was with a group of young people in a gray van. Gene, he said, had told him one of the girls had a father in Ohio who could offer him work. Gene then left and he never saw him again. McFarlin's wife, Donna, confirmed McFarlin's account.
After that, police had no leads. The case went cold — until a phone call years later changed everything.
In 2005, Rutherford County Sheriffs Office received a call from a woman named Ellen, who said her ex-husband admitted to killing Gene after they had a "truth session" early in their relationship. She also said they often watched a movie called "Miller's Crossing," which made him very emotional because one scene of a wooded forest trail looked exactly like where he killed Gene. After viewing the movie, authorities were shocked — the scene she referenced did look just like where Gene's body was found. The tip seemed legitimate.
The woman's husband? Randy McFarlin.
Ellen agreed to try to get McFarlin to admit to the crime on tape, but unfortunately, McFarlin froze up. "That never happened!" he insisted to Ellen in audio footage obtained by "Exhumed" when she brought up the murder.
Investigators decided to re-interview Donna, McFarlin's first wife who had initially backed up his tale of seeing Gene leave with friends in a gray van. This time around, Donna had a different story. She said McFarlin made her say that to police, and revealed he had admitted to killing Gene.
“She said the reason she didn't come forward was she was afraid Randy would kill her," J. Paul Newman, an assistant district attorney, told producers.
She also revealed a probable motive: Gene had helped McFarlin rob a convenience store, but McFarlin had since decided he wanted to clean up his act. McFarlin was terrified Gene would go to authorities.
With two ex-wives claiming McFarlin had admitted guilt, police were able to arrest him. However, McFarlin refused to confess to authorities and seemed unfazed.
They told Randy McFarlin they were gonna charge him with first-degree murder and he said, 'Prove it,'” Newman recalled.
McFarlin hired a good lawyer, who pointed out the body maybe wasn't even Gene. It was never confirmed by DNA — it was simply by circumstantial evidence and the scars on his knees, which many others could have.
All usable DNA at that point was gone. To destroy this defense, investigators were left with only one option: exhume Gene's body for DNA.
Luckily, Gene's body had been well-preserved, despite decades underground. They were able to recover the necessary genetic material to confirm without a doubt the body was Gene.
The case went to trial, and both ex-wives' testimony was used to identify McFarlin as the killer.
“I took the position of 'The state didn’t get a confession but two other people did,'" Newman said.
In January 2010, McFarlin, now 50, was sentenced to life in prison for the premeditated first-degree murder and second-degree murder of Stump. He showed no emotion at the sentencing, local outlet The Hur Herald reported at the time.
"Gene was just a goofy man. He had friends, he took care of his family, he worked hard," Gene's stepdaughter Rachel Neal told producers. "Why would anybody kill my dad?"