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By Grant Bissell

BERKELEY, Mo. (KSDK) - It's a major break in a well-publicized cold case in St. Louis.

Forensic experts will soon begin examining the body of a headless girl who was raped and murdered in 1983. They hope to find DNA evidence that could identify her and her killer.

After multiple tries, the girl's body was finally found and exhumed Monday from Washington Park Cemetery in Berkeley.

Calvin Whitaker is a funeral director and a volunteer who's spent the last six months leading the charge to find the little girl who's come to be known as "Hope."

For him, the search had become a labor of love.

"Just because somebody's dead and buried doesn't mean their story ends," said Whitaker.

The St. Louis Medical Examiner's office buried the girl 30 years ago after her body was found decapitated in an abandoned north St. Louis building and no one claimed her body. But records of her burial location were inaccurate.

Whitaker was part of a group of volunteers who were working to clean up the long-neglected cemetery when he was asked by the medical examiner's office to help find Hope.

"We actually came out and found her headstone," he said.

But Hope wasn't buried beneath the headstone. Whitaker later learned city crews had dug there once before.

A Washington University professor was called in to help identify the burial location based on photos taken the day Hope was laid to rest. She identified a spot a few feet away from the headstone and crews started a second dig.

"We kind of got down a little bit and we weren't finding what we were looking for," said Whitaker.

The group nearly gave up. But then they uncovered the handle of a small casket. Volunteers slowly unearthed the rest of the casket and found Hope's body inside. Her bone structure was intact and some skin remained on her body.

Whitaker says the emotions of the moment took hold of the crowd.

"It was almost like everybody said a silent prayer to themselves or maybe, 'We did the right thing or luck was on our side.' And we all started clapping. I think people's eyes were welling up a little. I know mine were," said Whitaker.

For Whitaker, it's almost surreal that this month's-long journey has come to an end. Now he believes Hope's unmarked headstone will one day have a name.

"My hope would be that we find her family, her relatives. Somebody is looking for her," he said.

The St. Louis Medical Examiner's Office now has Hope's body. They didn't return calls asking what's next for the unidentified girl.