Ann Hines for years had heard the gossip.

People in Allendale, S.C., whispered that when her husband James died in 2004, the funeral home had cut off his legs to fit him in the coffin.

At 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds, James Hines, a preacher and former nightclub entertainer, would not fit into just any casket.

“There were people who observed the coffin being shorter than it should have been because of his height,” Ann Hines told Qcitymetro.com. “I guess I was in denial.”

That denial came to an end Thursday when state investigators exhumed her husband’s coffin, photographed its contents and returned it to the ground, all without leaving the cemetery.

What investigators saw inside has opened old wounds for Hines and her children.

“It started my grieving all over again,” she said. “It caused my children grief all over again. And my middle son, he’s just torn to pieces.”

Hines said she and James were married for “31 wonderful years.” She described him as a “very loving, kind, inspirational, awesome man.”

The truth of what happened might never have come to light, she said, had not someone who worked at Cave Funeral Home tipped her off.

She hired a lawyer in 2005 and asked the state to investigate. Meanwhile, she and the funeral home settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

Years passed, and Hines said she had decided to move on. But then state investigators called to say James Hines’ body would be exhumed. There was nothing she could do about it, she said.

In South Carolina, mutilating a corpse is punishable by one to 10 years in prison, according to the Associated Press.

Ann Hines said the hardest part of the ordeal was watching her children endure taunts and whispers from other children. She said she never asked the funeral home director if the rumors were true, and she said he never volunteered any informatons.

“You know how you want to know but you don’t want to know?” she said.

Read a longer version of this story at Charlotteobserver.com.

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