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On Sept. 26, 1990 in Joplin, Missouri, a paint store employee noticed a strange car parked outside. When they went to check it out, they encountered a disturbing scene: a dead woman in the passenger seat with blood on her nose and hand.
"It was very unnerving and I was highly affected by that” Keith Meyer, a sergeant detective with the Joplin Police Department, told Oxygen's "Exhumed," airing Sundays at 7/6c and 8/7c on Oxygen.
The victim was Diana Kelly, age 24. "She was very giving, going door to door on any day giving flowers out or involved with Girls Scouts. She was easy to know and easy to love," Gary Stubblefield, Diana’s brother, told producers.
Diana had been with a friend the previous evening and was then supposed to see her estranged husband, Doyle. They had been married five years but had recently separated. She hadn't shown up, he said. She also failed to meet her mom to pick up her 4-year-old son.
"She had rented a new apartment, was moving on with her life. But was a breakup depressing enough for suicide?" Chief David Niebur with the Joplin Police Department wondered.
An autopsy only led to more confusion. There were signs of hemorrhaging in her face and back, and she seemingly died from respiratory failure. It could have been a form of natural death — or murder. The official cause of death was marked undetermined.
Police looked into potential suspects who may have wanted to harm Diana. She was dating a man named Richard Blackwood at the time, who was described by those who knew him as obsessed with her. He didn't help himself during questioning either, as he insisted at one point he wanted to die by suicide to be with Diana.
“This was a very strange and strange-acting individual," Meyer told producers.
One detail the friend who saw Diana the night before her death shared with investigators struck them as odd. Blackwood had gifted Diana a St. Christopher medal necklace and always wanted her to wear it. She had been wearing the necklace that night, she said, but police noted she wasn't wearing the medal when her body was discovered.
Another possible suspect was Diana's estranged husband, Doyle.
“There was a lot of gossip about what happened and one name kept popping up: Doyle Kelly,” Pam Giger, a Joplin resident, told producers. “He had a really bad temper, was very controlling."
Still, police had no evidence to tie anyone to the potential murder. The case went cold — until three years later when a grisly crime occurred in Joplin.
In April 1993, a woman called police because her sister hadn't come to pick up her daughter and she was concerned. When police stopped by her home for a welfare check, they found the woman dead, lying face down in the bathtub. She had suffered blunt force trauma to the back of the head and was then held down in the water until she drowned.
The woman? Christy Kelly, 21. Her husband? Doyle Kelly.
“It was too much of a coincidence," Niebur told producers.
Christy and Doyle had married in 1991. The relationship had started out happy, but quickly soured — Giger, a friend of Christy, told producers he was abusive — and the pair were splitting up. Christy had even moved on with her landlord, Mike, which initially sparked police interest. After all, there was no sign of forced entry at Christy's house. However, Mike said he was out of town at the time and his alibi held up. He did tell police, though, that Christy was afraid of Doyle — that he was controlling and told Christy he would kill himself if they could not be together.
When confronted by authorities, Doyle said he saw her that day around 2 p.m., but then had to go to a pig roast. Friends at the event noted Doyle showed up very late, but he insisted he had simply gotten lost en route. However, this alibi was smashed when neighbors told authorities they saw Doyle and Christy together in the front yard of the home as late as 5 p.m. Doyle was emerging as a prime suspect. Had he killed Diana as well?
Police decided to reinterview Diana's friends and family to see if there was something they missed that would connect Doyle to the crime. An interesting revelation emerged: a friend said the day after Diana died, they were at Doyle's house, and he was smashing up the St. Christopher's medal, the one Diana had been wearing the night before her death that was never found.
At this point, police had heard enough. They decided they needed to exhume Diana's body for more clues so they could officially change her cause of death to homicide.
Police need permission from family to exhume a body, and while Diana's family gave the go-ahead, her estranged husband tried to legally halt the exhumation. He failed, and on Aug. 23, 1993, her body was exhumed.
Luckily, her body was still well preserved. A new medical examiner looked her over, and noted indentations and bruising around her neck, as well as damage to a throat bone, indicating she was strangled. Her cause of death was changed to homicide, and Doyle was arrested for both murders.
In 1994, Doyle was convicted and sentenced to two life terms in prison. Thanks to the exhumation, justice was finally served — and perhaps just in time. He was actually engaged to be married for a third time to a 21-year-old named Jill when he was charged with the murders, Chicago Reader reported in 1994.
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