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Woman Charged in 1961 Slaying of 4-Year-Old Stepdaughter

December 7, 1996

BELLEVILLE, Ill. (AP) _ The stepmother of a 4-year-old girl whose 1961 death was blamed on pneumonia was charged with murder after new tests on the girl’s exhumed remains showed she was beaten to death, authorities said.

Mary Morgan, 56, was arrested by police in Texas on an Illinois warrant Friday, a day after a coroner examined Michele LeAnn Morgan’s remains.

The investigation was reopened after Michele’s brother, George, who was at 8 at the time of her death, claimed last year he saw his sister bounce ``like a rag doll″ as their stepmother stamped on her stomach on Aug. 9, 1961. The girl later threw up blood, he said.

Mrs. Morgan, of West Columbia, Texas, was jailed on $1 million bond and charged with first-degree murder. Her husband, Billy Morgan, Michele’s father, has not been charged.

George Morgan, who is serving a prison sentence for rape in Jefferson City, Mo., had recently requested a copy of his sister’s death certificate, which listed the cause of death as pneumonia. He then wrote to the funeral home to say the certificate was incorrect.

The letter was turned over to St. Clair County Coroner Rick Stone’s office, which exhumed Michele’s remains Wednesday. Stone said the examination showed that Michele had been killed.

Military physicians on Scott Air Force Base, the southern Illinois base where the Morgans lived in 1961, had concluded that Michele had been beaten to death. An autopsy at the time found two old rib fractures, a brain hemorrhage and wounds on her head and thigh.

But the investigation into Michele’s death did not produce charges, and, after a 15-year delay, a civilian coroner ruled in 1976 that she had died of pneumonia.

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