Artist's remains exhumed to probe his 1959 death

AP News
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Posted: Oct 17, 2014 9:04 PM

NORWICH, Conn. (AP) — The bodies of an African-American artist and his son-in-law who died decades ago were exhumed Friday in Connecticut in the hope of answering lingering questions about their deaths.

Artist Ellis Ruley was found dead in the road near his Norwich home in January 1959. His son-in-law Douglas Harris was found dead in a well on the property in 1948. Their deaths were ruled accidental, but family members and Ruley's biographer want to know if there's any evidence of foul play.

Ruley was a self-taught artist known for using every day house paints. His paintings came to the art world's attention decades after his death and a collection of his works toured museums throughout the country.

Norwich police opened a cold case review at the family's request, and attended the exhumation Friday at Maplewood Cemetery, as did retired New York medical examiner Dr. Michael Baden, who will conduct autopsies Saturday, The Day of New London reported. It may take Baden several weeks to complete a report on his findings.

Harris' body was found Nov. 20, 1948, head down in a narrow well on the Ruley property. Eleven years later, on Jan. 17, 1959, Ruley's body was found frozen. He was found on his stomach, 250 feet from his house and at the end of a long trail of blood. Police at the time said they believe Ruley fell several times after drinking heavily the previous night.

California filmmaker Glenn Palmedo Smith, author of a biography of Ruley, has led efforts to revisit the two men's deaths.

"I never thought it would come to this. I was very proud to learn they were going to do this," Ruley's granddaughter Gladys Traynum of Newport, Rhode Island, told the newspaper. She was present at the exhumation as were her daughter and son-in-law.