UPDATE: The remains of two of the three young men who died more than thirty years ago in Giles County were exhumed on July 6.


GILES COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – Next month marks 31 years since the deaths of three young, black men in Giles County were ruled accidental drownings. Now News 2 has learned their bodies will be dug up and another autopsy performed.

Loved ones tell News 2 it will be difficult, but they are ready for closure. “Like I told my brother the day they put him right here, I said one day baby brother we will find out what happened. I said one day…and that day is around the corner,” sighed Tammy Martindale.

It is a promise Tammy made in July of 1991 after her brother, 20-year-old Dennis Martindale and his two friends—15-year-old “Stevie” Russell Bass and 16-year-old Patrick Fletcher—were pulled from Richland Creek fully clothed.

“Those boys didn’t drown. They didn’t, no way possible. Three boys drowning in one day, no. Fully dressed? That’s the part that got me,” Tammy shook her head.

The deaths of the three young men were ruled accidental drownings by now deceased, former Medical Examiner Charles Harlan. Harlan later lost his medical license due to malpractice, including botched autopsies.

“I just want the truth to come out,” said Bass’s uncle Eugene Bradley. 

While most of the victims’ families have since passed away, Bass’s uncle agrees their deaths always seemed suspicious. “His mom knew something was wrong because that wasn’t like Stevie because Stevie was afraid of water,” stated Bradley.

Tammy believes someone killed the three young men and ditched their bodies. What followed was an elaborate, likely racially driven cover-up, she said. “Three young, black boys, washed under the rug,” she shook her head.

The victims’ families have not stopped praying since.

“Finally, justice. I think we are finally going to get justice after all these years. If they drowned, they drowned but if somebody took their life, I want them to pay because they deserve to pay,” a tearful Tammy sternly said.

A recent request for a death certificate brought the case back to the forefront decades later.

“They’ve had serious doubts about this case since it occurred nearly 30 years ago. So, we are hoping one way or another this will put their fears to rest or at least answer questions they had about these young men,” General Brent Cooper told News 2.

The families looking for peace and to prosecute if foul play is involved.

“If these autopsies do show there was foul play involved of course we hope our investigation will lead us to who is responsible so they can be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” stated General Cooper.

⏩ Read today’s top stories on wkrn.com

The petitions disinterment show that Dr. Harlan’s autopsies don’t mention apparent trauma to the bodies and that no X-rays were performed.

Cooper says once the cost for the disinterment and reinterment of the three bodies, which is around $21,000, is approved then they will schedule a date to remove the bodies and perform new autopsies. It will likely be in mid-July.