Woman wants truth after body in grave turns out not be her daughter

Published 3:20 pm Wednesday, March 26, 2008

When Willie Mae Galmore buried her daughter in 2004, she was left with a sinking feeling that the person in the casket was not her child. DNA testing has confirmed her suspicions and now she’s on a mission to find out what happened.

Authorities reported in June 2004 that Galmore’s daughter, Rochelle Thomas, died in a car accident. She was buried in Heavenly Rest Cemetery in Lyon after a closed casket funeral.

In August 2007, the body was exhumed at Galmore’s request and DNA proved the woman was not Galmore’s child. Even more disturbing, the body is likely that of an unidentified male.

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While authorities in Warren County were notified following the test results in September 2007, they have reportedly not retrieved the incorrectly identified body or concluded what became of Thomas following the accident.

“They told me that by Feb. 1 they would tell me what is going on with this,” Galmore said. “I still haven’t heard a thing from them.”

Coahoma County Coroner Scotty Meredith assisted Galmore in obtaining a DNA sample on the body in her daughter’s grave. He doesn’t understand why officials are so unresponsive.

“DNA does not lie. According to the test results there is no way that body is her daughter,” Meredith said. “We called the Attorney General’s office about the matter and within an hour heard from the Vicksburg Police Department. They told us that we would hear from them by Feb. 1 and nothing has been done yet.”

Thomas, who was a 34-year-old mother of three at the time of the accident, was reportedly found dead on June 12, 2004, beside her wrecked car in a ravine in Vicksburg.

When her mother asked then-Warren County Coroner John Thomason if she could come identify the body, she was allegedly told no due to the state of decomposition.

Thomason then told Galmore that he identified the body as belonging to Thomas and sent the body to Mississippi Mortuary Services to undergo an autopsy by Dr. Steven Hayne.

“Don’t come down here is what they told me,” Galmore said.

Galmore buried the body as her daughter June 21, 2004, but even with assurances that the body recovered from the wreck was her daughter, Galmore still had doubts,

She requested to see pictures of Thomas’ body.

Thomason wrote a letter to Galmore on Dec. 21, 2004, saying: “As far as your request for pictures, as I told you numerous times before I do not have any pictures. At autopsy, the pathologist takes pictures of the deceased. I do not have any of those pictures. As far as I know the Vicksburg Police do not have any pictures.”

Nearly a year after Thomas’ funeral, Thomason himself was killed in a car accident.

After the deputy coroner took over the office, Galmore obtained pictures of the body identified as recovered from the car wreck.

She said the physical characteristics of the body in the pictures only further confirmed her belief that it was not her daughter.

“You couldn’t see a face in the pictures, but the body just looked too big to be Rochelle. It looked like a man’s body,” she said.

Meredith says there are a number of possible scenarios for the mixup. One possibility, he said, is that there were two people in Thomas’ car and her body was thrown so far from the wreck it was never found.

Or, he said, the bodies could have been switched at some point in the process between the wreck and autopsy and funeral, and Thomas is buried in someone else’s grave.

Meredith doubts Thomas is still alive because she has not come back for her children.

Galmore, who has been raising her grandchildren since 2004 in Memphis, says she has no closure.

“I am carrying this all alone. If I can even sleep three hours I am up and at ’em. It’s beginning to wear me down, but I can’t give up now,” she said.