Tullahoma, Tennessee, woman charged after newborn's remains found in storage unit rented 27 years ago

Contributed photo by Coffee County Sheriff's Office / Melissa Sims McCann, 62, of Tullahoma, Tenn.
Contributed photo by Coffee County Sheriff's Office / Melissa Sims McCann, 62, of Tullahoma, Tenn.

A Tullahoma, Tennessee, woman with a 27-year-old secret has been booked on charges in connection with a newborn's remains found in a storage unit she rented in 1994.

According to allegations contained in a sealed indictment, 62-year-old Tullahoma resident Melissa Sims McCann rented a storage unit at Watts-N-Storage on Old Estill Springs Road to keep her secret for almost three decades. McCann is charged with abuse of a corpse in the first count and in the second count that she disposed of a corpse in violation of the law, according to the indictment issued Friday by a Coffee County grand jury.

Each of the counts are class E felonies, which carry a potential sentence of one to six years, depending on criminal history, according to state law. A fine up to $3,000 can be ordered.

(READ MORE: Skeleton found in Calhoun, Ga., storage unit)

The charges stem from a Nov. 13 call to Tullahoma police regarding unidentified remains found in a storage unit that had contents that were recently auctioned, 14th Judicial District Attorney General Craig Northcott said in a news release issued Friday.

"Upon inspection of the remains, it was not readily apparent if they were human," Northcott said in the release. "Upon sending the remains to the medical examiner's office, they determined that the remains were that of a human newborn."

(READ MORE: Jackson County, Ala., authorities investigating infant's death)

Investigators found the unit allegedly had been continuously rented by McCann since March 1994, Northcott said. The storage facility is on Old Estill Springs Road west of Arnolds Air Force Base Golf Club.

"Officers with the Tullahoma Police Department discovered that she rented the unit for the sole purpose of storing the remains of her full-term, newborn baby, which she delivered at home a few days prior to renting the unit," he said.

McCann would have been around 35 years old at the time.

In a follow-up telephone interview Tuesday, Northcott said a cooler containing the remains was the only item in the storage unit.

No cause of death has been determined, and a pending autopsy report could be months away because of a case backlog, Northcott said.

It's unclear whether DNA testing can be performed on the remains, he said.

Northcott said the 27-year-old case is "certainly unusual" for his one-county judicial district.

"This is the first one of this nature that I have handled personally," he said.

Tullahoma's police chief agreed the case was tough to investigate.

"Any investigation involving a child is difficult, especially during the Christmas season. Our department is dedicated to resolving this case in partnership with the DA's office," Police Chief Jason Williams said in an emailed statement.

McCann is free on bond, according to Coffee County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Frank Watkins. Court records do not contain an address or phone number, and she could not be reached Tuesday for comment. Officials in Coffee County Circuit Court said McCann does not yet have an attorney, but the status of her legal representation will be discussed at her arraignment hearing at 9 a.m. CST Friday.

(READ MORE: Documentary 'Where She Lies' explores Chattanooga woman's lifelong search for her missing baby)

Meanwhile, the investigation is continuing.

"If further investigation established evidence of other crimes, additional indictments will be sought as appropriate," Northcott said.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.

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