Exclusive: Authorities exhume body of murder victim in 20-year-old case

Published: Oct. 15, 2013 at 11:18 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 16, 2013 at 9:51 PM CDT
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BENTON, MO (KFVS) - Could investigators' newest search for clues finally solve the mystery of the Mischelle Lawless murder? Scott County investigators hope a big move this week will bring the answer they need to solve the 20-year-old case.

Early Tuesday morning authorities with the Scott County Sheriff's Department exhumed her body. Both of Lawless' parents and other family members stood by. Until then, Lawless had laid at rest in the Unity Baptist Church Cemetery since just after her brutal killing in 1992.

"I decided to do this several months back," said Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter. "I talked to the family and I got their approval. I can't even imagine what they've been through."

Sheriff Rick Walter says years of extensive non-stop investigating has given authorities reason to believe they could find DNA evidence inside her casket that could link them to her killer. Walter explained there were pieces of the puzzle he felt needed more examination.

"There were some wounds that were on the autopsy report that were never followed up on," said Walter.

Lawless was just 19 when Walter discovered her body near the Benton exit early in the morning of November 8, 1992. She'd been beaten and shot three times. Walter was a part-time sheriff's deputy back then and he says not a day goes by that he doesn't think about what he saw.

Joshua Kezer was originally convicted of second-degree murder for Lawless's death in 1994. Walter reopened the case in 2006. After numerous hurdles in the courts, a judge eventually declared Kezer an innocent man and released from prison in 2009.

Since then, Walter says he's taken another look at nearly every piece of evidence and then some – from old crime scene tapes to Mischelle's old diaries – to items and clues he found at the gruesome scene that November night. He says he'd actually stopped to check out what he thought was an abandoned car near Benton, but found the young nursing student dead instead. Walter says investigators believe Lawless got out of the vehicle and there was an argument. Walter recalls what looked like a bloody battle and believes an argument between Lawless and her attacker or attackers turned into a fight for her life.

Tuesday Lawless's remains were taken directly from the cemetery to Scott City where a special team of scientists began their latest search for clues. Selma and Richard Eikelenboom flew in from Denver Monday night to continue their work on the Lawless investigation. They are known for their work in the United States on high profile cases and also Netherlands in a place called "The Crime Farm." The couple pioneered a technique known as Touch DNA. Walter first enlisted their help several years earlier after watching an episode of "48 Hours" on CBS. The couple had helped crack a case with similar circumstances in Colorado, and Walter felt he had to see if they could help him bring closure to the Lawless family. With Touch DNA, the Eikelenbooms only need to find a few skin cells they can compare to a list of suspects.

"We could see that the sheriff is after the truth," said Selma Eikelenboom. "This is a difficult task, let's be honest. This is a very old case but the condition of the body was better than expected."

By Tuesday evening, Lawless was once again returned to Unity Baptist Church Cemetery as her family again said goodbye with a prayer.

"48 Hours" also profiled the Lawless case in 2010. The show's team of producers and photographers was also on hand to gather footage for a possible update to the mystery that's gathered national attention.

Now, it's up the team to wait for results and compare data.

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