Will Michael Jackson’s Body Be Exhumed?

On March 7 2019, pop culture and media sites published a virally popular article (archived here) claiming that pop superstar Michael Jackson’s body may be exhumed:

Express.co.uk is reporting that at least 11 new people are accusing Michael Jackson of sexual abuse and the accusations could result in MJ’s body being exhumed for DNA testing.

Although the original item was shared tens of thousands of times due to its salacious headline, it was only a few sentences long, short on detail, and deferred most of its authority to other sites. As seen in the excerpt, the site quoted British tabloid Express.co.uk, which carried a similar story on the same date and also placed the “blame” on an originating source:

Michael Jackson’s body could be ‘EXHUMED’ for DNA tests as more accusers come forward

The former pop star’s body could be removed from his coffin to be examined for DNA evidence, according to the American entertainment website Radar Online. The King of Pop’s DNA sample could prove he was a “serial molester who abused prepubescent, disabled and terminally ill children over three decades”, the website has claimed. The exhuming of a deceased body is very rare and only tends to happen in extreme circumstances.

Readers coming across headlines and excerpts from either article on social media sites like Facebook may have inferred that some new development had taken place and serious discussion of the exhumation of Michael Jackson’s body was underway. But as Express admitted, their reporting was not predicated on any event related to Jackson’s remains or an investigation. Instead, the outlet said that their reporting was based on the popularity of HBO documentary Leaving Neverland:

The shocking documentary about Mr Jackson, ‘Leaving Neverland: Michael Jackson and Me’ aired [March 6 2019] in the UK on Channel 4.

During the documentary, the musician’s former child companions Wade Robson and James Safechuck said he groomed and sexually abused them.

The same article referenced (but did not link to) the outlet RadarOnline, and we noticed that the site’s front page did not feature a story about anyone exhuming Jackson’s remains. A search of the site revealed a highly speculative item citing unnamed, possibly nonexistent, sources who theorized in February 2019 that the documentary’s release could lead to “new accusers.”

Its headline (“Michael Jackson’s Body May Be Exhumed As 11 More Sex Assault Victims Come Forward”) did not match its provocative URL (“michael-jackson-grave-ripped-from-crypt-sexual-assault-scandal-buried-proof”), and what followed were less-than-credible claims:

Michael Jackson Opens a New Window. ’s corpse may be exhumed from its crypt to prove he was a serial molester who abused prepubescent, disabled and terminally ill children over three decades, RadarOnline.com can exclusively reveal!

An army of shell-shocked victims is gathering to demand the superstar’s body be exhumed — and examined for DNA clawed from their bodies during horrific sexual assaults!

“There are at least 11 new victims who claim they were molested and even raped by Jackson when they were between the ages of seven and 14 — and the list is growing,” said an insider.

“DNA samples taken from his remains could prove they’re telling the truth!”

The article went on to suggest Jackson was in fact possibly cremated, a circumstance that would negate all its claims made in the first place:

Forensic investigators told Radar that traces of skin and nails from Jacko’s victims will remain on his body.

What’s more, “if Michael’s remains become part of a new criminal investigation, the Jackson family will not have to be consulted for permission to do this,” a source explained.

Despite rumors Jackson was secretly cremated, multiple sources are convinced that was a red herring to deter grave robbers.

As if to drive the point home, the story (and presumably every story on Radar Online) ended with the following enticement:

We pay for juicy info! Do you have a story for RadarOnline.com? Email us at [address], or call us at [phone number] any time, day or night.

We were unable to locate any non-tabloid story about the claim, and all related information we did find traced back to RadarOnline as its original source. It was not a leap in logic to suggest someone had taken RadarOnline up on their offer and spun up a juicy, but not actionable story in the weeks leading up to the hotly-anticipated documentary.

The airing of Leaving Neverland caused a global spike of interest in Michael Jackson’s life and the accusations of sex abuse it examined. But the only thing it that seemed to actually be getting exhumed was months-old speculative gossip claims his remains might be disinterred, presumably piggybacking on searches for the pop star and spreading across tabloids due to the likelihood that readers would click on such stories. Only unknown “insiders” purportedly suggested such a thing “might” happen, but as of March 2019, it looked as if no one was digging anything up except for rapidly aging clickbait.