Being a second wife means your husband inevitably has a history with a previous marriage. But for Diana Alejandra Keel, the past was very much in her present.
Her husband’s first wife had died and Diana was living in the house the couple had shared – and where the accident happened.
Diana, 38, was married to Rexford Lynn Keel, who was known by his middle name. A decade earlier, Keel had been married to Elizabeth Edwards. On 1 January 2006, 42-year-old Elizabeth died after falling down a set of outdoor concrete steps at their home near Momeyer in North Carolina.
It had been cold at the time and there was ice on the steps. Elizabeth hit her head and the cause of death was recorded as blunt force trauma. It was a terrible tragedy.
Less than a year later, it seemed Keel had been given a second chance at love when he met Diana, who was 20 years younger than him. Keel would travel to Latin America for his work in real estate. Diana was from Bogotá, Colombia.
She was strikingly beautiful, kind and a single mum with a daughter. She returned with Keel to Nash County where they were married and later had a son.
Diana worked as a nurse in the emergency department at the Wilson Medical Center. With her compassionate personality, she was a natural with her patients.
By 2019, her daughter, Laura, was 18 and at college and Diana, a regular churchgoer, seemed to have a lot on her mind, according to her friends.
Then, on 9 March, Diana’s daughter reported her missing. And one of her workmates called police a day or so later, to say Diana hadn’t shown up for work.
“She was supposed to work tonight,” the colleague said. “She’s on the schedule. She’s that type of coworker, she’s always like, 30 minutes early. And if you text her, she replies back.” She had not done any of these things.
A delivery driver had delivered a package to Diana on the morning of 8 March, but that was the last time she had been seen.
Police started a missing person investigation and straight away Diana’s friends and family suspected that Keel knew more than he was letting on.
They said he was a controlling man who would speak harshly to his wife. Other people said the couple had heated arguments.
Diana’s mother, Esperanza Prada, claimed her daughter’s marriage was unhappy and Diana wanted to leave. But Keel had threatened her.
The day before she vanished, Diana had messaged Esperanza in Colombia, “Mum, I love you very much.”
Esperanza said the message had come out of the blue and left her feeling uneasy.
Had the missing woman decided to walk out of her marriage? If so, why hadn’t she taken her 10-year-old son with her? But the biggest question of all was, why hadn’t her husband reported his wife missing?
When questioned, Keel, 57, said his wife had gone out to run some errands and hadn’t returned. He said she would leave “from time to time” and wouldn’t return for “several days”. It was a statement that didn’t ring true.
Diana was a devoted mother who was in touch with her family every day. She regularly checked her social media, but now her messages remained unread and FaceTime calls to her went unanswered.
Her car was still parked outside the house, her mobile hadn’t been used and neither had any of her bank cards.
On 12 March, a department of transport worker made a call to police from a rural road in Edgecombe County, about 30 miles from Diana’s home. “It looked like something is lying in the woods,” the caller said. “I don’t know what it is. A body, a something… don’t know.”
Police who attended the woodland scene found a decomposing female body, naked, apart from underwear and a wedding ring. It was Diana Keel. A post-mortem revealed she had died from blunt force trauma and multiple stab wounds. It had been a brutal attack.
She had multiple skull fractures and internal injuries. There were stab wounds to her face, scalp and neck. Her lung was punctured, and her left eye was missing.
Police soon turned their attention to Keel. Records showed a “domestic incident” involving the couple had been reported a year earlier. Friends and relatives said Diana was speaking to a lawyer about divorce.
A murder warrant was issued for Keel’s arrest, but he fled. Guns and other weapons were seized from his home and police appealed for information.
They believed Keel was driving a gold-coloured pickup truck and warned he could be dangerous.
He was eventually spotted on an interstate highway in Arizona, about 30 miles from the Mexican border. He was carrying a penknife and a lot of cash when he was arrested.
At first, he pleaded not guilty as he was extradited to Nash County. The case attracted a lot of national attention and it wasn’t long before rumours were circulating about the death of his first wife. Keel had now lost two wives. Was it pure coincidence?
Last month, as the jury was being selected, Keel, now 59, accepted a plea deal to avoid a trial. At Greenville court, he pleaded no contest to second-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping.
No-contest is similar to a guilty plea – the accused accepts the conviction but doesn’t have to make a factual admission of guilt.
The prosecution told the court that Keel would have gained financially from Diana’s death. Two years before her killing, he had taken out more than $1 million life insurance for his wife and was the sole beneficiary.
“He did stand to benefit from her death,” claimed the district attorney. He said that on the morning of 8 March, the couple were seen having an argument on their front porch.
He said Diana had been beaten to death in her bedroom. Keel bought cleaning supplies from the local Walmart store and cleaned the room.
The defending attorney asked the judge to take into account that Keel was experiencing health problems, including kidney failure.
But at sentencing, Diana’s mother reminded the court of the reason her daughter was no longer alive. She said she wanted to tell women that if their partner was abusive, they needed to run.
“Don’t stay there,” she begged, as she asked the judge for a severe sentence. “I want you to have the same compassion for Keel that he had when he killed her.”
The judge sentenced Keel to a minimum of 33 years in prison. Diana’s son remains with family.
The conviction has turned a spotlight on the death of Keel’s first wife. Although her death was ruled accidental at the time, investigators have decided to re-examine the case following Diana’s murder.
Friends at the time said they were surprised Elizabeth had slipped. She was known as an outdoors type who liked to go horse riding and was always capable outside, whatever the weather.
Questions remain, but whatever unfolds, Keel can no longer run from the truth.