Originally created 07/24/01

Exhumation of victim's body nears



AIKEN - A pathology team from York, Pa., will arrive today to start preparations for the disinterment of a black woman with Aiken County roots who was killed more than 30 years ago in Pennsylvania.

Prosecutors hope by exhuming the body of Lillie Bell Allen they will build a stronger case against those accused of her slaying.

She won't be exhumed from her grave until Wednesday, according to Aiken County Corner Sue Townsend.On Monday, Ms. Townsend met with members of the media outside Pinelawn Cemetery to try to persuade local and national journalists - many of whom won't arrive until today - to act appropriately in covering the news event.

Ms. Allen, who was shot in race riots 32 years ago in York, lies in one of the city's black cemeteries, at Hampton and Florence avenues.

Ms. Townsend said she had no doubt that a body buried for three decades can still yield evidence for a trial.

"I'm clueless as to the facts of Ms. Allen and her story, but I know they are looking for the best evidence," she said.

The mayor of York, Charles Robertson, is charged in the slaying of Ms. Allen, who was a 27-year-old mother of two at the time of her death. The mayor is among nine men charged. The mayor pleaded not guilty to the slaying Monday in York County Common Pleas Court.

Mr. Robertson, 67, is accused of ordering white youths to shoot blacks during York riots in July 1969. He has said in court filings that the ambush killing of Ms. Allen was justified because those who shot her believed she was armed, The York Dispatch has reported.

Ray Visotski, the owner of George Funeral Home, who will handle the exhuming process, said creating a safe work space for the exhumation will be the priority.

Ms. Allen is buried in a plot with three other bodies and officials will first clear away debris and dig about two feet to get to the coffin.

Ms. Townsend said the physical evidence could lead to answers for investigators.

"We don't know what we're going to find," she said. "I think it is going to depend on how well the body is preserved."

Ms. Townsend, whose office normally has other organizations handle autopsies, said she is not sure who will perform an autopsy on Ms. Allen.

A grand jury has been meeting in York since September to investigate the killings of Ms. Allen and of Henry C. Schaad, a rookie patrolman whose death during the July 1969 riots is also unsolved.

An autopsy was conducted on Officer Schaad's remains several weeks ago.

The York County District Attorney's Office officially asked to exhume Ms. Allen's body last week, though officials have been in contact with Ms. Townsend for some time. The petition was granted Friday by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Mr. Visotski, who said he has been in contact with Ms. Allen's relatives for the past few days, would not comment on any possible second funeral services planned for Ms. Allen by her family.

Her daughters - Aiken resident Debra Taylor and Windsor resident Jessie Settles - could not be reached for comment. Ms. Settles has attended some of the court proceedings in York.

Reach Matthew Boedy at (803) 648-1395 or mboedy@augusta.com.