Missing woman’s death ruled homicide

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Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone speaks to reporters about the investigation into Diana Keel's death during a Wednesday evening press conference in Nashville.
Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone speaks to reporters about the investigation into Diana Keel's death during a Wednesday evening press conference in Nashville.
LaMonique Hamilton Barnes | Times

NASHVILLE -- A body found Tuesday in rural Edgecombe County has been positively identified as that of a Wilson Medical Center nurse who has been missing since Friday, and investigators say there was foul play in her death.

In a Wednesday evening press conference, Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone said the initial missing person’s case had now turned into a homicide investigation. He said 38-year-old Diana Alejandra Keel was found at about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday outside the town of Leggett, about 30 minutes from Nashville, by N.C. Department of Transportation employees. The employees were not part of the missing person search for Keel, in which Plott hound cadaver dogs on loan from Greensboro were used in an effort to “hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” Stone said.

Keel’s body was taken to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, where a forensic autopsy was conducted and foul play was determined. Stone said Keel’s local family as well as extended family in Columbia had been notified.

“We’ve got to remember that not only is this a homicide investigation, but there is now a 10-year-old kid without a mother,” Stone said. “It’s very difficult, especially when I see life as it is, how fragile it is and a lot of unanswered questions.”

Keel was last seen by her husband, Rexford Lynn Keel, on Friday. Stone said Rexford Keel continues to be a person of interest, but he would not identify other people of interest in the case.

“There’s persons of interest that I don’t want to name at this time because in any investigation, you can have a person of interest and it can change at any time and go in a totally different way,” Stone said.

Rexford Keel has not been charged with a crime and remained free as of Wednesday evening. Stone said Keel continues to be “very cooperative” with the investigation.

Authorities believe Diana Keel’s body had been in the woods for a few days. Stone said the body was decomposing but would not elaborate of the exact cause of death, only saying it was “the act of someone.”

A Nash County Sheriff’s Office news release sent after the press conference Wednesday noted that keeping the cause and manner of death confidential could aid in the homicide investigation.

Stone said Diana Keel’s 18-year-old daughter and her employer, Wilson Medical Center, reported her missing on Friday.

The sheriff said Keel’s husband told deputies his wife left with friends on Friday.

“He said that she leaves from time to time and will stay gone a couple of days,” Stone added.

Stone said investigators are interested in any video of N.C. 97, Battleboro-Leggett Road, N.C. 33 or U.S. 64 in Edgecombe County from March 8-12, adding that it may assist in the investigation.

Anyone with information related to Keel’s disappearance and killing is asked to call the Nash County Sheriff’s Office at 252-459-4121 or Twin County Crime Stoppers at 252-977-1111.