KEARNEY — It might be some time before researchers find out whether a 19th century outlaw is buried in a northwest Missouri family plot, after a planned exhumation was indefinitely postponed when investigators could not determine which of four remains found there should be tested.
Researchers want to determine if Clell Miller, who rode with Jesse James in the 1870s, is buried in the Miller family plot in Muddy Fork Cemetery in Kearney. An exhumation was scheduled for Oct. 8.
But the Jackson County medical examiner's office recently confirmed — using ground-penetrating radar — that four people are buried there, and they couldn't determine which of the graves held Miller's remains.
Researchers want to take DNA from what was thought to be Miller's grave to see if they match a descendant. They hope that would determine whether Miller was buried in Kearney or if his skeleton was kept by the man who fatally shot him in 1876 during a botched robbery in Northfield, Minn.
"Clell Miller, or whomever it may be, is buried next to three other members of the Miller family and the graves are clearly marked, and over the years the headstones have been vandalized and may not been accurately replaced," according to court papers filed by the office of Clay County Prosecutor Daniel L. White.
Circuit Judge A. Rex Gabbert agreed to White's request to vacate his order allowing the exhumation until the medical examiner's office can identify the right grave, The Kansas City Star reported Tuesday.
James Bailey, a retired Minnesota State University-Mankato law enforcement professor who led the efforts to identify the remains, said he was disappointed.
"We were ready and we had everybody in place to do the exhumation," Bailey said. "With the right technology, we could have answered a lot of questions."
For decades, family members believed Miller's body was returned to Missouri and buried at Muddy Fork. But the medical student who shot Miller claimed he kept the skeleton and displayed it in his North Dakota office. A researcher who was searching for the weapon that killed Miller found the skeleton in 2010.
In April, Miller's relatives and a group of forensic researchers asked Jackson County Medical Examiner Mary H. Dudley, who also works for Clay County, to petition Clay County authorities to exhume the body. White filed the request in August.
Forensic experts from Virginia were scheduled to help exhume and examine the remains. They intended to collect samples for DNA tests from the femur and hair and a molar. Bailey said any future exhumation would require reorganizing the team of forensic researchers, who would have done the work at no cost to Clay County. But he said that won't happen unless Dudley reopens the case.