N.C. man charged with killing second wife, ‘accidental’ death of first wife reopened

“Mom, I love you very much.”

Those were the last words Diana Alejandra Keel texted to her mother in Colombia before the North Carolina emergency room nurse and mother of two vanished, according to The Washington Post. Keel's husband, Rexford Lynn Keel Jr., 57, is now charged with murder in her fatal stabbing -- and investigators are taking another look at the death of his first wife, 42-year-old Elizabeth "Bess" Edward Keel, in 2006.

Diana Keel, 38, of Nashville, was reported missing March 8 by her 18-year-old daughter, a college freshman who had not been able to reach her by phone. The emergency room nurse’s supervisors also reported that she had not been to work in two days.

 
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In a 911 call obtained by ABC11 in Raleigh, a co-worker at Wilson Medical Center said it was out of character for Diana Keel to miss work.

"She was supposed to work tonight. She's on the schedule," the nurse told a dispatcher. "She's the type of co-worker, she's always like 30 minutes early. And if you text her, she replies back, like, reasonably. She has not done any of them."

Nash County Sheriff's Office officials said Diana Keel's vehicle was parked at the home she shared with her husband and their 10-year-old son, but there was no sign of her.

A delivery driver told authorities he delivered a package to Diana Keel around 11 a.m. March 8, Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone said Sunday during a news conference. It was the last time she was seen alive.

Rexford Keel, who goes by his middle name, Lynn, told authorities he had last seen his wife that same day. The Post reported that Lynn Keel claimed he watched his wife leave the house with friends, and that he expected her to return home as she had in the past.

Diana Keel never did. North Carolina Department of Transportation workers found her decomposing body March 12 in a wooded area outside Leggett, a town a 30-minute drive from her home in neighboring Edgecombe County, Sheriff's Office officials said. Nashville is about 50 miles northeast of Raleigh.

The moments after the discovery was also captured by a 911 call.

"It looks like something is laying in the woods," the caller said. "I don't know what it is, a body, a something, I don't know."

 

Diana Keel died of multiple stab wounds, Stone said.

“My heart goes out to Diana Keel's family. My heart goes out to the son, 10 years old, that’s without a mother today and has got a father that’s being detained in Tuscon, Arizona. And to the daughter, that’s trying to further her education.

“What a traumatic experience, what a sad experience this is.”

Watch Sheriff Keith Stone speak about Diana Keel’s homicide, courtesy of WRAL.

Lynn Keel was questioned by investigators the day after his wife's body was found. Sometime after that interview, he fled the area in his father's gold 1998 Chevy pickup, authorities said.

A first-degree murder warrant was obtained for Lynn Keel, 57, on Friday. The manhunt ended Sunday, when he was pulled over by Arizona state troopers on Interstate 10 just outside Tuscon, Stone said.

“With the arrest, he was found to have a large amount of cash on him and some bank receipts,” Stone said during Sunday’s news conference, which was held about 90 minutes after Keel’s capture.

Keel was armed with a pocket knife, Stone said.

The sheriff indicated he believed Keel was trying to leave the country.

“I have speculations, as would anybody, if you’re that close to the Mexican border and you’ve got a large amount of cash on you,” Stone said.

Nash County investigators are working to have him extradited back to North Carolina. Keel remained in the Pima County Jail Tuesday morning.

Credit: Pima County Sheriff's Office via AP

Credit: Pima County Sheriff's Office via AP

Stone said there are also theories about the motive for Diana Keel’s slaying, but he declined to give details Sunday.

Taryn Edwards, a longtime friend of the victim's, told WRAL in Raleigh that Diana Keel had been trying for years to leave her husband. Edwards, who said she was forced to back away from her best friend after Lynn Keel made his wife cut those ties, told the news station, along with ABC11, that she never felt comfortable around the man.

"It was just the atmosphere and the aura that, you know, that vibe you get from somebody?" Edwards said. "It was always very tense."

She said Lynn Keel “hovered a lot” and would not allow his wife to be alone with other people for very long. She described him as controlling of his wife.

"The verbal and emotional abuse was evident to me as a friend," Edwards told Raleigh's ABC11.

 

Edwards said Diana Keel never indicated that she was in fear of physical harm by her husband, however.

"I wish I had found some way to stay in communication with her, and I'll never forgive myself for that," she told WRAL.

Diana Keel's mother, Esperanza Prada, confirmed to ABC11 that her daughter wanted to leave her husband years ago, but couldn't because she said her Lynn Keel had threatened her. Prada said her daughter again planned to divorce her husband and had met with a lawyer before her slaying.

Prada and Diana Keel’s brother are traveling to North Carolina from Columbia.

 

Stone told the news station that deputies went to the couple’s home about a year before Diana Keel’s disappearance and death for a domestic incident.

"There had been concerns between the husband at one time and Mrs. Keel, but there has been nothing lately that has been reported on that," the sheriff told ABC11.

Diana Keel's daughter, Laura Keel, established a GoFundMe page to pay for her mother's funeral and help support her younger brother, Max, who is now living with family members. The University of North Carolina Wilmington student wrote that her part-time job does not pay enough to cover her mother's arrangements.

 

"My priorities now are to make sure my mother is laid to rest in a manner much more fitting than her death and to make sure my brother continues to feel the love that our mother shared with us daily," Laura Keel wrote. "By doing so, I hope to honor my mother's legacy."

She wrote on Facebook on Sunday that she understood people feeling anger toward her stepfather, but begged them, for her little brother’s sake, to not spread hate.

"Hate creates hate and social media is very present right now," the teen wrote. "My brother is so pure-hearted, he doesn't need to see that hate. We all just need to focus on how wonderful my mother was, in order to heal the best we can."

Stone confirmed Sunday that his office is taking a new look into Bess Keel’s death on New Year’s Day 2006, when she had what was ruled an accidental fall. Lynn Keel told investigators at the time that his wife fell and struck her head on the corner of the front steps of their home.

  
 

Bess Keel died at the same home from which Diana Keel was reported missing. Photos and video posted on social media by local reporters show the steps outside the home.

A memorial to Diana Keel has popped up on those same steps where Bess Keel died.

Bess Keel’s cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.

 

“We’re going to work all the leads on that, and we’re going to go back and look at the information we had from the first incident reports,” Stone said of Bess Keel’s death. “We’re going to talk with the District Attorney's Office. Definitely, it’s something we need to be looking at.”

Bess Keel's family issued a statement to WRAL in which they said they have "always questioned Bess' death and feel deeply saddened that another life has now been taken."

Bess Keel’s friends were also stumped by her sudden death, the news station reported.

"Bess was outdoorsy and liked to ride horses," a former co-worker, Matthew Lambert told KRAL. "They thought it odd that she would fall down the steps."

Lambert said Lynn Keel, who worked as a truck driver while Bess Keel was alive, would sometimes accompany his wife to Christmas parties and other events with her colleagues at Microbac Laboratories. He said he and other co-workers hoped to see the investigation into Bess Keel's death reopened.

Stone on Sunday had few details of the new look at the 2006 case, but he expressed satisfaction with Lynn Keel’s arrest in Diana Keel’s slaying.

“I’m just glad we got a killer off the road and brought some closure to this case,” Stone said.

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