GILES COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – The remains of two of the three young men who died more than thirty years ago in Giles County were exhumed Wednesday.

The request for a death certificate opened the decades-old criminal investigation into the deaths of 15-year-old ‘Stevie’ Russell Bass, 16-year-old Patrick Fletcher, and 20-year-old Dennis Martindale.

Their deaths were ruled accidental drownings in 1991, but the victim’s families speculated from day one that they were murdered.

“We’ve always suspected it to be murder. I hope it finally gets its closure,” said Teresa Martindale, a relative of Stevie and Dennis.

Teresa was among the family at the gravesite as Stevie’s body was pulled from the ground in Elkton. “I love that child like it was mine,” she explained.

Memories flooded her mind as the concrete vault was removed from the ground. “I can see him walking through the door now, what’s for supper momma,” she said with tears in her eyes.

‘Momma,’ a term of endearment between the two.

Teresa says she hasn’t forgotten that day in July of 1991, “I can remember it just like it was yesterday.”

The bodies of Stevie and his two friends were pulled from Richland Creek, fully clothed.

The deaths were ruled accidental drownings by former Medical Examiner Charles Harlan. Harlan later lost his medical license due to malpractice, including botched autopsies.

The families of the victims were suspicious from day one. “We in our mind think they was killed and we think we know who did it, but we’ve never been able to prove it. Never been able to get any help on it,” Teresa said. 

Answers are what General Brent Cooper hopes to find—reopening the investigation after learning the autopsies weren’t complete.

“I have to admit, after nearly 40 years, it’s kind of a long shot, but it’s a shot worth taking. The least we are hoping for is to go back and look for any fractures or evidence of trauma to the body,” said General Cooper.

The victims’ families praying for justice.

“We’ve pretty much known the truth we’ve just got to get it out there, we gotta make them pay for what they done,” said Takisha Whitfield, who is also Stevie’s relative.

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Crews moved from Old Union Hill Cemetery in Elkton to Maplewood Cemetery in Pulaski for the exhumation of Patrick’s remains. Both caskets were then transported to the Davidson County Medical Examiner with new autopsies planned for Thursday morning.

General Cooper is working with the District Attorney’s office in Alabama on the disinterment of the third victim, Dennis Martindale. He hopes to move forward on his case in the coming weeks.