Exhuming a mystery: Family wants answers in loved one’s death

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COLUMBUS – It was an open and shut case from the beginning.

The official ruling: an apparently despondent man, Cary Owsley, 49, used a gun to take his own life. According to the police report, there was someone in the home with him when it happened: Owsley’s wife, who called 911.

There was no note left behind, but using Lisa Owsley’s testimony, the coroner called the death a suicide.

Miles away in Chicago, Cary’s sister, Cheryl Jackson, a former Indianapolis television reporter, happened to be on a blind date with a retired police detective. The call came from her mother.

“I’d literally slid off my chair, waving my phone,” Jackson recalled.

Immediately, Cheryl made her way back to her childhood home of Columbus to find the brother she talked to on the phone daily was dead.

“I’ve done stories of people dying,” Jackson said. “I know that that’s like and I think that helped me, knowing it could happen to anyone, helped me because it just seemed so unfair.”

Unfair, and to Cheryl, unlikely. Through her initial shock, the questions already began to form. Cary told his sister the night before that the problems he and his wife of three years were having were coming to a head.

“The night before, he was finished with his family, he was moving out, he was divorcing her,” she said. “He’d been through all this angst.”

The trouble had a lot to do with the friction over their mixed-race marriage and her two adult children. According to Jackson, there had been insults and threats.

“When I heard he was shot, I started to think that one of his stepsons had pulled a gun on him how they called him (racial slur) over and over again, and that he’s been in constant conflict over months with these two adult boys that live in the house with him on and off,” Jackson said. Owsley, she added, had told her the night before he died that he was moving out.

“He was in the process of moving and we’re supposed to believe that he just stopped and shot himself. We just don’t.”

And Cary was taking all of his belongings with him; belongings he had stashed in a safe he needed help carrying out…that’s why he called his son, Logan, to help.

“Why would he call me and tell me to come out and help him move and talk about getting a place if he was just a couple of minutes later going to commit suicide?” Logan Owsley asked. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

On the ride from Chicago to Indiana, Cheryl spoke to Cary’s wife and another red flag went up: “She said we’re going to cremate (Owsley) with no service. I begged her, please don’t do that.”

Jackson couldn’t help but think that safe became a motivation. In that realization, Jackson surmised a theory.

“There was an argument in the family and my brother got shot – I believe that it was because of that safe.”

Then came another bombshell; one of the Bartholomew County sheriff’s deputies who showed up on scene — DeWayne Janes — was once married to Lisa and the father of those same two sons. And the gun she said he used once belonged to Deputy Janes.

“I don’t know when he got there, but I know when he got there, he obstructed justice. He touched the gun, body, rug everything in the crime scene. He’s been an officer for 20 years, he knows better,” Jackson.

How could an officer with obvious ties to the family be allowed anywhere near the crime scene, let alone come into contact with the evidence?

“I believe he did that to contaminate the crime scene,” Jackson said.

After Indiana State Police stepped in and ordered the sheriff to investigate, Deputy Janes and others were suspended, but the suicide ruling stood.

“I believe someone committed a crime and I believe DeWayne Sr. helped cover it up. I believe Cary’s wife helped cover it up. I believe now that the sheriff’s department and the coroner …I believe they’re covering their tracks because they botched this so completely,” Jackson said.

Cary’s mother, Rose Owsley, has the same suspicions.

“I think all of them are capable, all of them are culpable, including her. If she was in the house, I don’t care whether she was in the room, she withheld medical care for him,” Rose Owsley said.

On the 911 call, Lisa is heard trying to wrangle the family dogs away from the bloody scene, while Cary is gasping for air.

“She’s going to fight with two dogs and there’s her husband bleeding out?” Rose Owsley asked.

The family has theories. Assuming someone else shot Cary, time is stalled because the gun hasn’t been located. Rescuers can’t enter until the gun is secured. Precious time is lost with help right nearby.

“I don’t know how far a gun can go if you shoot yourself, it should be pretty easy to find,” Jackson said.

Evidence was not only touched, but burned. Neighbors told Jackson that they saw her brother’s chair burning in the backyard.

“They told me the fire lit up the sky, I think they burned more than a chair,” Jackson said.

What’s more, the bullet that had purportedly penetrated Cary’s body, passed through the chair and a wall was misplaced. It seemed as if scene was staged.

“The gun expert I spoke with said, ‘How’s a 180-pound man going to fall back and not fall out of the chair? His hands were basically at his waist,’ ” Jackson said.

With no response from repeated calls and emails to the sheriff, Fox 59 went looking for answers. We found Bartholomew County Coroner Larry Fisher, who also happens to own a flower shop he runs in Columbus.

“I’ve rendered my findings,” Fisher said. “Nothing would suggest it was anything other than a suicide.”

Fisher said he did not recall seeing Deputy Janes put Owsley’s body on the stretcher on April 17, 2013, and noted no behavior he considered inappropriate.

Next we went to the Owsley home to talk to Cary’s wife Lisa or her sons. There, the conversation was even shorter.

“No comment, you need to get off the property, you are trespassing,” said the man who answered the door. “If you don’t leave, I will call law enforcement and they will take care of the situation.”

Cary’s family feels there’s only way left to get at the truth. And that’s to exhume Owsley’s body. But just like at every step along the way in this investigation, there’s a problem there, too.

“Now she (Lisa Owsley) has stepped into it to challenge it, she doesn’t want us to exhume the body,” Jackson said.

Jackson has offered to pay the cost of exhumation and forensic analysis.

“Who doesn’t know in this modern society what you can learn from an autopsy after death?” Jackson asked.

“If you have somebody saying something bad, wouldn’t you want to clear it up?” Logan added.

Owsley’s family has pored over police documents, hoping for answers. They have since filed suit against Bartholomew County officials. And they have asked the FBI to investigate possible civil rights violations.

They have created a Facebook page and rallied throughout Columbus on their mission of justice. At one point their march took them face to face with Coroner Fisher.

And so it appears minds are made up. And until an autopsy tells them otherwise, Cheryl, Rose and Logan will wonder if the truth about Cary was, too.

“I’d like my dad to be at rest, because he’s not resting right now,” Logan said. “He might be at the graveyard, but he’s not at rest, he wants us to find out what happened to him.”

“If you want me to believe my brother left here on purpose, you’re going to have to prove it.”

The Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department has not commented to Fox 59 for this story. When Jackson’s family filed a lawsuit, Sheriff Mark Gorbett released a written statement that acknowledged mistakes in the handling of the investigation, but said those mistakes did not affect its outcome.