This article originally appeared on VICE US
Two weeks ago, witnesses took the stand in Tulsa County District Court to testify about the bizarre events that occurred in the Moore Funeral Home in Oklahoma a few months earlier. It was there, on April 30, that the funeral director called the police to report that someone had "pulled a glob of hair" from the body of 38-year-old Tabatha Lynch during her casket viewing (Lynch had died of an illness). Upon arrival, officers found Lynch's hair littering the floor near her casket, and also saw a "large vertical cut" on the face of the deceased, stretching from the hairline to the tip of the nose. Lynch's mother testified in court that her daughter's body "had makeup and lipstick smeared all over her face; her hair was just all over the place."
But perhaps the most gruesome finding of all was only discovered when funeral staff prepared Lynch's body for cremation. According to police, both of Lynch's breasts and one of her toes had been "crudely cut and removed." To date, these body parts have not been recovered.
Shaynna Sims, a 26-year-old woman who had been seen earlier with her hands inside the casket, was found and arrested at Lynch's apartment on the day of the funeral. Her arrest report states that Sims was found with "a folding knife with hair attached to it consistent with the deceased's hair, type, and color. [Sims] had a a scissor and additional box cutter knife as well as various pieces of makeup on her person."
Sims was initially arrested for "unauthorized dissection," a misdemeanor on Oklahoma. But in the days that followed, she was charged with several additional counts: She'd allegedly stolen Lynch's shoes (larceny and knowingly concealing stolen property, both felonies) and reportedly deceived Lynch's son in order to enter their apartment (first-degree burglary, also a felony). She was also charged with disturbing or interrupting a funeral (a misdemeanor) and the unlawful removal of body parts from a corpse (a felony). Sims has pled not guilty on all counts.
We expected to hear from Sims and her defense team this week, but her District Court Arraignment was pushed back until February—so for now, only the prosecution has had an opportunity to present their case. And we're left with a lot of very troubling questions.
Because as grisly as the case is, it's also puzzling: How would it have been possible for someone to do all this damage to a body during a funeral, in front of numerous people, without getting caught sooner? Witnesses said they saw Sims reach into the casket, but nobody has figured out how she was able to mutilate the corpse without anyone noticing. "We're unfortunately at square one," Tulsa Police Sgt. Shane Tuell told CBS News when Sims was originally arrested.
According to the Associated Press, at the hearing earlier this month, prosecutors called 12 witnesses "who slowly pieced together how Sims allegedly earned the trust of those closest to the deceased woman by assuring family and friends that she was a skilled makeup artist who wanted to help prepare the victim's body for a funeral viewing." Even still, the funeral director didn't discover what had happened to Lynch's body until after the viewing had already begun.
In early June, Sims was released on bond on the condition that she not enter Tulsa County except for medical appointments and emergencies. Sims violated this agreement four days after her release when she returned to the apartment where Lynch's children live. The Tulsa Worldreported that Sims had been "trying to obtain a cell phone from a pop-up phone stand in the apartment complex when the complex manager and two other women recognized her and noticed her GPS ankle monitor." A motion to revoke her bond also alleges that Sims was wearing a wig in an effort to disguise herself. Unsurprisingly, the motion was granted and Sims has been in custody ever since. (This may not be the first time Sims sought to disguise herself in this way—when she appeared in court on May 18, she was also wearing a brown curly-haired wig and large white sunglasses.)
"You didn't hurt her. She went out of this world as pretty as she came into it." — JuliAnn Lynch
But why would someone go to such lengths to harm a corpse and then continue visiting the apartment occupied by their kids—especially in defiance of a court order? At this point, we don't know. Initial reports suggested Lynch may have been an ex-girlfriend of Sims's boyfriend, but that theory has since been debunked. Lynch's sister-in-law—identified as JuliAnn—told a local news station that Sims's husband (not boyfriend) had known Lynch since high school and that they had kept in touch, but that there was never any romantic involvement between them. JuliAnn added that she was just as puzzled about why Sims did what she did.
In a comment addressed to Sims, JuliAnn added: "You didn't hurt her. She went out of this world as pretty as she came into it. Who you hurt was her mother, her brother, her kids who have been through so much, her nieces, her nephews, so many people that loved her—but you didn't hurt her."
Sims's original attorney, Stephen Money (who has since been replaced), appeared just as stumped about his client's motivations. In his May motion challenging her ability to stand trial, he wrote: "Counsel has visited with this Defendant on several occasions and has had difficulty developing a cogent, rational defense to these charges. Based upon what counsel perceives to be irrational delusions with respect to Defendant's status related to the current charges and revocation of the deferred sentence, she has been unable to rationally assist counsel in her defense of this case."
The same document also states that Sims's family told Money that she has a history of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The judge, however, was not convinced. After being examined by a forensic psychologist, Sims was found competent to proceed.
Further complicating the case is the fact that two weeks before Lynch's funeral, Sims pled guilty to an assault and battery charge from a February incident where she was caught on aggressively bumping into Christina Perez, a woman who Sims had allegedly been stalking and harassing for several months. Perez says she dated Sims's husband, Montie Smith, five years ago, before marrying her current husband and claims Sims' harassment had become so intense that she had filed a petition for a protective order against her. Strangely, Sims had also filed several protective orders against Perez, none of which were granted. Sims received a suspended 18-month sentence as a part of her plea deal, but that is now being re-evaluated in light of the latest charges.
It will likely be a while before we get a glimpse of Sims's defense. As of right now, her arraignment is set for February 26, 2016. At this point, we don't know whether Sims herself will take the stand; so far, her new attorney, Chad Greer, has been fairly tight-lipped. For now, he said, "she is still cloaked with the presumption of innocence, just like we all would be."
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