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Body of famed Tennessee sheriff's wife exhumed 57 years after her cold case murder

Authorities have exhumed the body of the wife of a famed former Tennessee sheriff more than a half-century after she was fatally shot in a still-unsolved killing. Officials said the unexpected move came after agents received a recent tip.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation confirmed that it oversaw the exhumation of the body of Pauline Pusser on Thursday at Adamsville Cemetery. She was killed by gunfire while in a car driven by her husband, McNairy County Sheriff Buford Pusser, a figure whose legend was captured in the 1973 film "Walking Tall," starring Joe Don Baker, and in a 2004 remake starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

Various sites in Adamsville continue to attract tourists interested in the sheriff's legacy in west Tennessee.

Buford Pusser in His Car
His face marked by the scars where two 30 caliber carbine slugs blasted half of his face away, former McNairy County Sheriff Buford Pusser points to a section along a lonely blacktop road where he and his wife Pauline were ambushed in 1967. Bettmann via Getty Images

A TBI statement said the agency received a new tip that led agents to find that there was never an autopsy performed on Pauline Pusser's body.

"With the support of Pauline's family and in consultation with 25th Judicial District Attorney General Mark Davidson, TBI requested the exhumation in an attempt to answer critical questions and provide crucial information that may assist in identifying the person or persons responsible for Pauline Pusser's death," TBI spokesperson Keli McAlister said.

Some residents in the community told CBS affiliate WREG-TV that they were caught off guard as agents swarmed the cemetery and moved Pusser's headstone.

"I was really surprised when I started getting text messages from people saying it was happening. It was shocking," Jennifer Burks told the station.

Pauline Pusser was killed in McNairy County on Aug. 12, 1967, and a previous iteration of the TBI, then named the Tennessee Bureau of Criminal Identification, was called in to investigate. The investigation into her killing has remained active, McAlister said.

The Tennessean cited an Aug. 13, 1967, publication of its newspaper that says Pauline Pusser was killed and her husband was "seriously wounded in the jaw when Pusser's prowl car was fired on at dawn on a lonely country road."

The Selmer police chief heard a call on the radio from Sheriff Pusser, and he and his wife were found just north of the Tennessee-Mississippi state line on U.S. 45  —the sheriff sitting behind the wheel, and his wife lying on the seat with her head in his lap, The Tennessean reported. Pauline Pusser had joined her husband as he headed to investigate a complaint.

Investigators found 14 spent 30-caliber cartridges on the road where Pusser said the shooting occurred about three miles from the state line, according to The Tennessean. The Pusser car was hit 11 times.

A former sheriff, Mike Elam, who wrote a self-published book about Pusser, told The Tennessean he has given tips about the case to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

"I think they'll be looking at the entrance and exit wounds," Elam told The Tennessean, adding: "The real question is the trajectory of the bullet."

In the archived news article, The Tennessean quoted an investigator who said they believed the couple had driven into a trap.

Buford Pusser spent six years as McNairy County sheriff beginning in 1964, and aimed to rid McNairy County of organized crime, including moonshiners and gamblers. He was allegedly shot eight times, stabbed seven times and had killed two people in self-defense.

The 2004 movie remake doesn't mention Pusser by name and is set in Washington state.

Buford Pusser died in August 1974 in a car wreck the day he agreed to portray himself in the "Walking Tall″ sequel.

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