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Nissen body exhumed; coffin filled with water

UPDATE 12:30 PM

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Less than two hours after unearthing the concrete vault that housed the body of Wilma June Nissen, Lyon County Sheriff Blythe Bloemendaal was disappointed to find a coffin filled with water.

"DNA is just blown now," Bloemendaal said after the coffin was opened. Seeing it, he said, was like "getting punched in the gut,. I was so disheartened."

Bloemendaal had watched earlier as the coffin was pulled from the ground six weeks after he was granted permission to exhume Nissen's body to search for clues to her unsolved 1978 murder.

Nissen, whose decomposed body was discovered in a ditch outside Rock Rapids in October 1978, was not identified until Jan. 31, 2006. A gravestone marked "Unidentified woman" had until that time been her only identifier.

Since Nissen was identified by a Des Moines lab technician, Bloemendaal has pieced together much of her life story. He believed that exhuming her body would help point to her killer.

"I hope we are successful," Bloemendaal said this morning before the body was exhumed. " I hope this ends up being the key that we need."

A blue tarp surrounded the gravesite as the body was exhumed, and a white truck and trialer stood nearby ready to transport her remains. Around 10 a.m., officials were in the process of opening the vault. What they found was unexpected.

Water had filled the coffin, and some bones were floating inside, Bloemendaal said. "The pathologist will take samples of the water," he said. Officials today will siphon water out of the coffin.

Law enforcement officials would not allow anyone into the cemetery during the disinterment, but Krissi Haas, Nissen's daughter, was allowed to enter. She stood quietly watching from under a white and blue umbrella, having traveled from Kansas City, Mo., overnight to be on hand for the event.

Read more of this story as it develops and in Wednesday's Sioux City Journal.

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