Ripley County authorities exhume bodies found in burned home

Friday, July 23, 2010

RIPLEY COUNTY, Mo. -- The caskets of two elderly fire victims were exhumed Thursday morning from a rural Ripley County cemetery.

Loyd Eugene Piatt, 77, and his 80-year-old wife, Gladys, underwent autopsies Thursday in Farmington, Mo. The couple was recovered June 23 from the remains of their burned home. Authorities originally ruled their cause of death smoke inhalation.

Law enforcement became concerned this was not the case after four people, including a relative of the Piatts, were arrested on suspicion of murder in the deaths of another elderly couple recovered July 10 from their burning Ripley County home.

"We are trying to get the bodies up to see what exactly took place," Ripley County Sheriff Ron Barnett said Thursday after crews finished work at Pope Chapel Cemetery, just off Route E.

Exhumation of bodies for criminal investigation is rare, said Missouri State Highway Patrol investigator Don Windham. Windham said he has only been involved in three instances during his 25 years with the patrol. It happens most often in cases involving fire victims, poisoning or drugs, he said.

The decision to ask for autopsies in the deaths of the Piatts was not a difficult one, Barnett said.

"I think we had enough evidence to believe there are some questions," he explained. "At that point, I felt like we had to look into this and see what had taken place."

David Youngblood, 46, his wife, Melissa Mae Youngblood, their daughter, Chantale Youngblood, 17, and Keith Boyles, 18, all of Ripley County are being held in the deaths of Edgar Atkinson, 81, and Bonnie Chase, 69. David Youngblood is the Piatts' nephew.

Each is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree arson, two counts of armed criminal action and first-degree burglary.

Law enforcement has determined Atkinson died from gunshot wounds to the head and upper torso. A cause of death for Chase was not immediately determined.

Melissa Youngblood described for deputies during an interview Friday how the group purchased gasoline from Casey's General Store in Doniphan, Mo., before driving to Atkinson and Chase's residence on Route 1, according to a probable cause statement filed Monday at the Ripley County courthouse.

According to Melissa Youngblood, she waited in the vehicle with Chantale Youngblood while David Youngblood and Keith Boyles went into the residence. The women heard two gunshots while the men were in the home, she said. Melissa Youngblood also told law enforcement she saw Keith Boyles take the gas can from the vehicle and take it into the home. The group then went to her home, according to Melissa Youngblood, and there was not much conversation about what had occurred.

Barnett said it has been difficult to determine a motive for either Atkinson or Chase's deaths, or the Piatts', if foul play was involved.

The Piatts were found in the living room of their County Road 160W-1 home, and the cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

Barnett believes this experience will change how Ripley County authorities investigate deaths in the future.

"I really believe in any unattended death there needs to be an autopsy because you don't know what you're going to get," he said. "I feel we need to do autopsies so we don't need to do this again."

If anyone has information about these cases, they should contact the Ripley County Sheriff's Department at 573-996-5555.

"How we got what we have is because somebody in this county wanted to step up and say what they heard," Barnett said.

Authorities began looking at the Youngbloods and Boyles after a man called to say he had information in the case and turned over evidence.

Map of pertinent addresses

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