Autopsy: Exhumed Ripley County couple found in fire were shot

Friday, July 23, 2010

DONIPHAN, Mo. -- Gunshots killed an elderly Ripley County couple exhumed for autopsies Thursday, not a fire that consumed their home one month ago.

The new information may result in additional charges for four Ripley County residents already charged with murder in the deaths of another elderly couple.

The bodies of Loyd Eugene Piatt, 77, and his 80-year-old wife, Gladys, were removed early Thursday morning from Pope Chapel Cemetery in southern Ripley County and taken to Farmington, Mo., for examination.

Dr. Russell Deidiker found that Loyd and Gladys Piatt were each shot in the chest, Ripley County Coroner Mike Jackson said.

"Evidence was recovered and turned over to Missouri State Highway Patrol investigators," Jackson said. "We also still have to do toxicology tests."

The Piatts' cause of death was originally listed as smoke inhalation. Autopsies did not seem warranted in June, based on information from investigators, Jackson said.

Authorities first became suspicious when a relative of the Piatts was arrested in the deaths Edgar Atkinson, 81, and Bonnie Chase, 69. Atkinson and Chase were found dead in their burning Current View, Mo., home July 10. The fire was allegedly set with gasoline.

Atkinson died from gunshot wounds to the head and upper torso. A cause of death for Chase cannot be determined until results from toxicology tests are completed, Jackson said.

A tip from a concerned citizen led deputies to arrest Ripley County residents David Youngblood, 46, his wife, Melissa Mae Youngblood, their daughter, Chantale Youngblood, 17, and Keith Boyles, 18. David Youngblood is the Piatts' nephew.

Each is charged in the deaths of Atkinson and Chase with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree arson, two counts of armed criminal action and first-degree burglary. All four pled not guilty to these charges during arraignment hearings held Wednesday.

Ripley County Sheriff Ron Barnett said officials will meet early next week to discuss the Piatts' death and determine if new charges will be filed against the Youngbloods and Boyles. Barnett has said it is difficult to determine a motive for either set of homicides.

The cause of the fire that destroyed the Piatts home on County Road 160W-1 has not been determined, state Fire Marshall Rod Hoelsher said today.

"The fire started on the south side of the house, but I don't think we'll ever have proof of [the cause] because of the extent of the damages," Hoelsher said.

The Piatts were returned to Pope Chapel Cemetery by 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jackson said.

"We wanted to get this done as soon as possible," he said.

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