NICOLAE AND ELENA CEAUSESCU
When the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was ousted from power in a 1989 revolution and executed by military firing squad along with his wife Elena (both pictured above), Romanian authorities quickly buried the couple in the Ghencea cemetery in Bucharest -- under crosses with false names to prevent the tombs from being desecrated.
The hasty interment prompted Ceausescu's children to question whether their parents were really buried in Ghencea and request the exhumation of their remains as part of a five-year lawsuit. They eventually won their case, and DNA tests confirmed their parents' identities in 2010. Valentin Ceausescu, whose doubts had kept him from visiting Nicolae and Elena's graves for years, reburied his parents at the same cemetery.
Asif Nawaz, Pakistan's army chief and a prominent proponent of democracy, died in 1993 while jogging, in what the Pakistani military described as a heart attack. But his widow suspected that he'd been poisoned, and the Pakistani police ordered an exhumation after scientists in the United States found arsenic in the general's hairbrush. The autopsy, however, confirmed that Nawaz had suffered a heart attack.
The results didn't convince Nawaz's brother Shuja (a frequent FP contributor and no conspiracy theorist). "The mystery remains till someone comes forward from within the US government at that time or from Pakistan," he wrote in 2008.
The investigation into the death of Turgut Özal, a Turkish prime minister and president, could prove to be the exception to the rule. When Özal passed away in 1993 while in office, Turkish officials cited heart failure as the cause of death. But his wife Semra soon suggested that her husband, whose efforts to create a Turkic union and end the Kurdish insurgency had earned him enemies, had been poisoned by lemonade that he drank at the Bulgarian Embassy in Ankara.
Turkish investigators have since exhumed Özal's body, and Today's Zaman reported over the weekend that forensic tests have discovered four different poisonous substances in the former president's remains, including DDT and DDE at 10 times the normal level. But the official report on his death has yet to be released.
Even if Turkish authorities find that Özal was poisoned, the record of high-profile exhumations validating conspiracy theorists is spotty at best. Just this month, scientists determined that the 16th-century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who has now been exhumed twice, did not die from mercury poisoning, as some suspected. After coming up empty so many times, you'd think we would learn to just let the dead rest in peace.