3 Giles County bodies to be exhumed, autopsies performed in 1991 TN drowning investigation

GILES COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — Next month will mark 31 years since the deaths of three young black men in Giles County were ruled accidental drownings. Now News 2 has learned their bodies will be dug up and another autopsy will be conducted.

Loved ones tell News 2 it will be difficult, but they are ready for closure. “As I said to my brother the day they brought him here, I said that one day, little brother, we will find out what happened. I said someday… and that day is right around the corner,” Tammy Martindale sighed.

It’s a promise Tammy made in July 1991 after her brother, 20-year-old Dennis Martindale, and his two friends — 15-year-old “Stevie” Russell Bass and 16-year-old Patrick Fletcher — were moved from Richland Creek were fully clothed.

“These boys didn’t drown. They didn’t, impossible. Three boys drowning in one day, no. Fully dressed? That’s the part that got me.” Tammy shook her head.

The deaths of the three young men were ruled as accidental drownings by the late former coroner Charles Harlan. Harlan later lost his medical license due to malpractice, including botched autopsies.

“I just want the truth to come out,” Bass’ uncle Eugene Bradley said.

While most of the victims’ families are now deceased, Bass’ uncle agrees that their deaths always seemed suspicious. “His mom knew something was wrong because that didn’t fit Stevie because Stevie was afraid of water,” Bradley said.

Tammy believes someone killed the three young men and dumped their bodies. What followed was an elaborate, likely racist cover-up, she said. “Three young black boys swept under the rug,” she shook her head.

The families of the victims have not stopped praying since then.

“Justice at last. I think we will finally get justice after all these years. If they drowned, they drowned, but if someone took their life, I want them to pay because they deserve to pay,” a tear-stained Tammy said sternly.

A recent request for a death certificate brought the case back to the fore decades later.

“You have had serious doubts about this case since it happened almost 30 years ago. So we hope that in one way or another this will allay their fears or at least answer any questions they had about these young men,” Gen. Brent Cooper told News 2.

The families are seeking peace and will be prosecuted if foul play is involved.

“If these autopsies show foul play was involved, then of course we hope that our investigation will lead us to those responsible so they can be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” General Cooper said.

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The exhumation requests show that Dr. Harlan’s autopsies mention no apparent trauma to the bodies and that no X-rays were taken.

Cooper says once the cost of the exhumation and reburial of the three bodies, estimated at around $21,000, is approved, they will schedule an appointment to remove the bodies and do new autopsies. It will probably be mid-July.

https://www.wkrn.com/news/local-news/3-giles-county-bodies-to-be-exhumed-autopsies-performed-more-than-30-years-later/ 3 Giles County bodies to be exhumed, autopsies performed in 1991 TN drowning investigation

Alley Einstein

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