Crime & Courts

Cleveland County officials exhume homicide victim’s body

Authorities are hoping that a coffin dug out of the red clay of northern Cleveland County on Thursday holds clues that can help solve a 21-year-old homicide.

The Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office and State Bureau of Investigation exhumed the body of victim Judith McMurry from Rose Hill Memorial Park near the town of Fallston, about 60 miles northwest of Charlotte.

The 53-year-old mother of two and sales manager at Penastar Homes, a mobile home company on East Dixon Boulevard in Shelby, was found dead in the company office around 10 p.m. on April 26, 1993, according to a Sheriff’s Office report.

No arrests were ever made.

Cleveland County Sheriff Alan Norman said Thursday that a cold case team that included a State Bureau of Investigation agent and officer from his office had worked long hours on the McMurry case and “new information was developed.” Both were involved in the original homicide investigation in 1993, he said.

New technology not available 21 years ago has opened up avenues for law enforcement, he said. According to Norman, there’s a person of interest in the case with a criminal background, and investigators were hoping that exhuming McMurry’s body would allow them to find DNA evidence to compare with that person.

He didn’t release the cause of death, but a relative said McMurry had been stabbed.

“This (exhumation) is tough on the family and community,” Norman said. “But hopefully it will bring closure.”

Evidence collected from the exhumation will be sent to the SBI lab for analysis, and “we’re hopeful to make an arrest soon,” Norman said.

Thursday’s exhumation was only the second he’s known about in the county during 30 years in law enforcement.

Eric Davis, chaplain with the Sheriff’s Office, came to the cemetery to read from the book of Matthew and pray with law enforcement officers.

“It’s very appropriate Scripture – that we find peace in God,” said Davis, who is pastor of Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church in Shelby. “I know this is a difficult time for everybody involved. A lot of emotions will be rising. I hope to offer the family and community some comfort.”

Raising the coffin

Shortly before 11 a.m., a cemetery crew began working at McMurry’s gravesite under a small maple tree. As yellow crime scene tape twisted in the breeze, the workers went about digging with a combination of backhoe and shovels.

It took about 90 minutes to get the job done.

Slowly, they raised the clay-coated coffin out of the ground. Once McMurry’s remains are examined they will be restored “back to the final resting place,” Norman said.

Karen White had “mixed reactions” about the exhumation of her mother’s body.

“It kind of brings the past up again,” White, 52, said at her job Thursday morning. “But if it has a purpose it’s worth it. I want to see someone brought to justice.”

McMurry grew up in Shelby’s Dover Mill Village and went to Shelby High School. She enjoyed going to church at Palm Tree United Methodist and spending time with her two grandchildren.

Calling McMurry a “great mother and wife,” White said they lived next door to each other in the town of Lawndale – near where her mom would be buried in 1993.

White stood in Rose Hill cemetery that day and remembers the springtime beauty.

But she also recalls the hurt and loss of her mother’s death.

“It was devastating,” White said. “It was hard. And we’ve missed her every day since.”