Big Bopper Exhumation


On Tuesday, March 6, 2007, at the invitation of Jay Richardson, I was present at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Beaumont, Texas for the exhumation and reburial of his father, J.P. Richardson, known as the Big Bopper.

Because of the State Of Texas Historical Sign recently awarded to the Bopper, and the fact that a bronze statue will soon be erected at the grave, and because Forest Lawn does not allow anything above ground (Grave markers, signs, statues, etc.) at that specific site, they asked Jay if they could move the bodies of J.P. and Teetsie Richardson to another part of the cemetery that would be better suited and make better availability for anyone that visited. It would be at the cemetery’s expense. Jay agreed.

As the body of his father was to be placed in a new casket while it was above ground, Jay hired Dr. Bass, a world renowned forensic pathologist to examine the body for various reasons.

Jay asked that I not make any report on the findings etc., until the story had been released to AP by Dr. Bass. I agreed, and that story has now been published.

Here is my report of the happenings of that day.

The exhumation began about 7:00 a.m. (The remains of Teetsie Richardson had already been moved to the new site.) Two feet of water had been found at the bottom of the disinterment site and Dr. Bass stated that we might find nothing but ashes and/or mud if that water had found its way into the casket.

When the vault enclosing the casket had finally been raised, it was taken to a special area at the cemetery to be washed off. There was a waterline on the vault as the water table in that area was fairly high. Again, we all worried about what we’d find.

The vault was unlocked at both ends and it cracked open fairly easily, again worrying all of us that water had penetrated the remains.

The casket was then lifted out using a crane-lift on a piece of machinery. It was then brought into the place where the examination was to take place. The casket color was a dark yellow. In the 1959 photo of it at the funeral home, it seemed to be a bit darker. Because of the shape and ornamentation, it was indeed the correct casket, made by the Batesville Casket Company.

Randy Steel, who was present, and I, and four others, were asked to lift the casket out of the hearse and place it on a wheeled apparatus to go to the examining room. We couldn’t move it. Two more came to help and we finally managed to move it. It was that heavy!

Jay Richardson had hired a film crew for a medical documentary and my wife, Sharon, and I were asked to take still photos. Another in the room was John Neil who had known J.P. Richardson since childhood. He watched everything until the time came to open the casket and he left. I believe that, aside from cemetery personnel, about ten other people were present. We were warned by the cemetery representative about what we might see, that there would be an odor, and that the place would be sealed with no one allowed in except who were there. Further, if any of us decided to leave for whatever reason, we would not be allowed back in. With that warning, the casket was unlocked and the lid raised.

There were gasps as we saw what was inside. It was J.P. Richardson. The body had been preserved extremely well and was very recognizable. The head seemed a bit smaller than expected because of loss of fluids, and the skin was a blueish green color. But the hair was very dark brown, almost black with the familiar crewcut. It was indeed, J.P. Richardson.

The skull showed a small crushed spot on the right side of the head and we all assumed that some "work" had been done at the Iowa funeral home to keep the body looking as best as possible. The upper lip still showed a bit of the "makeup" used when preparing a body.

J.P. had been buried in a dark suit that was still completely intact and there was no evidence of a leopard-skin coat in the casket. (This was one of my questions. Was he buried in the coat, or with the coat. The answer is no.)

He wore no shoes, just socks, and the feet were swollen.

It was obvious that two things took place to keep the body in that state of preservation. The funeral home did an excellent job of embalming, and the casket did an excellent job of keeping the body free from outside contamination such as air or water etc.

May I mention that the odor was nauseating and completely filled the building very quickly. I was told the odor was from the chemicals used to preserve the body intermingling with any body fluids that were still present back then.

Two medical technicians were present (part of the nine people there) and they began taking a series of X-rays of the body. I was present when those X-rays had been developed and the damage to the body was extensive. Dr. Bass, in his AP report stated there were "massive fractures" but I was not prepared for what I saw. It seemed that every bone had been fractured at least once. (Note: Sharon remembers Dr. Bass stating that the fingers on one hand were intact with no fractures .)

The skull contained three large fractures. The right thigh bone was completely separated at the biggest break. I didn’t count but I saw at least 60-70 bone fractures in those X-rays. The pelvic area (hips) had extensive fractures, more than Dr. Bass thought was "normal". I took him aside and stated that in the crash photos, it appeared that the body of J.P. had been twisted with the lower torso pointing down and the upper torso pointing almost upwards. He looked at the X-ray again and stated that the damage was conclusive to what I had told him.

After a brief synopsis of the crash facts, Dr. Bass also concluded that the three bodies were ejected from the plane at the moment of impact and tumbled along at that high speed to the place where they rested and were found.

After his examination, Dr. Bass looked at Jay and said, "There was no foul play. He did not crawl from the plane. He died of massive fractures." He went on to say that no one could have survived the crash if they had the same damage as that of J.P. They all died instantly.

The body was then placed in the new casket, provided by the Batesville Casket Company, and put in the hearse. A small funeral procession went to the new resting place in the cemetery. I was honored to have been a pall bearer during the funeral ceremony when the body was laid to rest for the second time.

I spoke quietly and said, "Jape, rest in peace. Someone IS watching over you".

And Jay, the son of the Big Bopper, was able to finally see his famous father for the first time in his life, and then be able to say goodbye.