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Season 1, Episode 5 – Cold Case File

This week I’m in Lander, Wyoming to speak with the lead investigator on the Amy Wroe Bechtel disappearance; Detective Sgt. John Zerga of the Fremont County Sheriff’s office.

This episode is the Season 1 finale of Frozen Truth. Thank you all for listening to Amy’s case.

Stay in touch with me on social media and stay subscribed to the podcast for upcoming seasons and updates. (Subscribe to the series in Apple Podcasts/iTunes.)

If you enjoyed Season 1, please consider leaving a rating and review there. This greatly helps others find the show.

Special thanks to Christine Penhale, Jerrad Anderson, Jon Billman, Dr. John Gookin and Det. Sgt. John Zerga.

Frozen Truth Episode 5: “Cold Case File”

Scott: One small correction before we begin today’s episode. The unincorporated town in Wyoming where Dale Wayne Eaton’s property was, is pronounced “Mo-nee-ta” as opposed to “Mo-neh-ta.” There are no population figures for Moneta, but on the high side, the population is 4 or 5, and I’m driving through it on my way to Lander.

Scott: Alright this is Moneta. (Sniff), man. There’s 6 buildings. That’s what the town is, 6 buildings. We’re not going to stop here right now. The State Patrol has somebody pulled over. And I can’t…there’s (laugh) I would have to pull…I would have to pull in behind him to…I’d have to pull in behind him to stop, so we’re not going to stop. The rest stop is 26 miles from Moneta, man. Yeah, I mean, it’s not even a town. It’s not even…it’s barely property. It’s just…there’re structures. There’s 6 structures, and it’s in the middle of nowhere. There’s nothing there.

You think about how desolate this stretch of road is, but 20 years later, here it’s a weekday afternoon. There’s probably…you’ll pass a car going the other way every minute or so. You know this is the only route for trucks or for anything else from Casper west. Straight west to Cody to Riverton to Lander to wherever you’re going, so truck traffic alone for those towns…Eaton’s property off the highway would have been 40 yards off the highway –  maybe 40 or 50 yards and that’s all. You think about during the 5 days that Lisa Marie Kimmell was being kept hostage 50 yards from this road and the thousands of people that must have driven by her in those 5 days, and none of them had a clue what was going on right off the side of the highway.

Scott: I spent this last week of March 2018 in Lander.

Scott: Sure, no problem. I’m checking in.

Hotel Attendant: Last name?

Scott: Fuller.

Hotel Attendant: You’d be Scott?

Scott: Yep.

Scott: I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking for while I’m out here, but while I’m here, I’ll be meeting with the lead investigator on Amy’s case, Detective Sergeant John Zerga of the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office. I’ll be following up on some off-the-record sources I’ve been working with over the last few weeks, and I will be talking with locals, getting their unique perspective on Amy’s disappearance now 20 years later.

Male Local: Podcast has definitely shed a lot more light on Dale Wayne Eaton. We’ve always known about Lisa Kimmell, but what we didn’t know, at least me individually, was there is a Great Basin Killer. There’s a lot of similarities between that person and the traits that Dale Wayne Eaton had, and whether or not he is…Your podcast has shed a lot of light on what a novel person Dale Wayne Eaton was. I look at him now more as the prime suspect than I do Steve Bechtel, just from talking to different people and from listening to the people that you’ve spoken with.

Scott: What bothers you most about Amy’s disappearance?

Female Local: That area has always been my safe place, up in the mountains. That’s somewhere I can go, and I feel like…It’s like kind of a release, and I think, even for my family, that’s the one place we’ve always been able to get away and feel safe together and have this bonding experience, and to have that in the back of my mind, it’s always…it’s off-putting a little bit, and if there was some closure to this, I think it would solve that problem for a lot of people because I think a lot of people love that area, but it’s always in the back of your head, “There’s a murder up here. Could I be next?” And it’s not something you want to think about with their favorite place in the world that has so much meaning.

Scott: This is Frozen Truth Episode 5, I’m Scott Fuller.

Opening Music

Scott: Detective Sergeant John Zerga was not quite yet with the Fremont County Sheriff’s office when Amy Wroe Bechtel went missing in July 1997, but he was already familiar with the case when he took over as lead investigator for the agency. Amy Wroe Bechtel’s disappearance, of course, was big news here in Wyoming, and Zerga was brought on to the already cold case to breathe new life into it.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: A lot of information was still coming in that this, our current sheriff, wanted me to follow up on. Our detectives were focused on Steve and it seemed like that’s where the investigation all lead to was Steve, and so he wanted me to pick up other ideas, other information. So I started researching the information that we had that was never followed up on that was coming in, and so it kind of led me in different directions, and we went a lot of different directions.  

Scott: Detective Zerga is well aware that some of the challenges presented to him with this case could have been avoided had Amy’s car and the area around it been treated as a crime scene from the start.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: We first thought Amy, you know, got taken by an animal or something, so it wasn’t really viewed as, you know, as a crime being committed. It was almost a search and rescue, so a lot of stuff was tainted. Her vehicle, I mean, people were in and out of that vehicle – people of interest. I mean, Amy Whistler, Amy…Todd Skinner …best friends of Steve Bechtel’s, you know. And they’re the ones that found the vehicle, and in fact, law enforcement didn’t even take that vehicle. They let it go home. So it wasn’t very…it wasn’t processed very well even though the keys, her To Do List, and everything was in that vehicle.

Scott: There was something strange, Zerga says about specifically where Amy’s car was found.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: The strangest part, I found about that vehicle where it was on Burnt Gulch, was the way her vehicle was positioned because John Applegate was one the first deputies up there on scene, and John, to this day, swears up and down, because when you turn into Burnt Gulch, there’s a little – maybe 50 yards into the road – there’s a pull out area, a parking area, and this vehicle was not parked there. This vehicle was wedged into a tree basically blocking half of the road, and then they said it was raining and muddy and a really crappy day with big mud puddles, and John said he remembers. He said that there was a mud puddle… he said runners stretch out and they use their vehicle to stretch out. He said there was no way she could stretch out on the back of the vehicle because it was parked by a big mud puddle. The front of the vehicle was wedged against a tree basically blocking from…maybe she could use the sides or whatever, but just a really strange area to park that vehicle.

Scott: According to the best available timeline, Amy went for a run at 2:30, and her car is not found by her friends for nearly 12 hours – not viewed for the first time by police for even a bit longer than that. Detective Zerga says Amy’s car was not parked in a more obvious designated parking area close by but appeared to be sort of jammed into a small turn-off on the side of the road. Apparently looking, at least, a little conspicuous. This is where Amy’s car remained parked, unreported, for 12 hours. Or was it? Could it maybe have been moved at some point. I asked Detective Zerga if any evidence was found on the scene or the initial search, and again, he adds another possible item to our list of Amy’s things.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga:  You know, there was a tennis shoe found but it was never identified as being hers, and you talk to the deputies that were there, they did not find footprints other than…John Applegate went all the way down, across the Creek, went down around the marshy area, and he swears up and down that somebody had walked through that bottom. Like somebody had been down in the bottom, down where you’d either be camped or where you’re trying to disperse of a body. So they…I remember foot tracks down on that road, and I tried to tell people that whoever did this went down in that area. And he’s…John Applegate, to this day swears, that he believes she’s still up in those rocks in that area.

Scott: The Lander Journal published a picture, I think on the front page, of a shoe print that they claim to be Amy’s.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga:  Yeah, they think. Well, that was…yeah. And I don’t know how that was confirmed if, you know, because without her without her actual shoes ever being found, or what she was wearing with the…I think a lot of people jump to conclusions.

Scott: I was told, by John Gookin, that a pen was found on that initial search.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: I think a pen was found down by Rock Creek.

Scott: I think he said, “It was a mile or so from her car down the Burnt Gulch Road, throwing distance from the road itself.”

Detective Sergeant John Zerga:  Boy, I thought that pen was found down off of Rock Creek. I’d have to research that again, but I remember the story the pen being found. I…don’t remember how the pen was relevant. I mean, there were a lot of different, not a lot of evidence was found on that whole thing on the search.

Scott: Gookin told me 700 items. Most of it being cigarette butts, fast-food wrappers…

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Oh.

Scott: …could possibly be…

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Those

Scott: Right. But the pen was a, he says, a $6 pen. That it was so expensive…

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Mmhmm.

Scott: …pretty distinctive, and it was identical to one that she had.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Okay.

Scott: Steve said it was the wrong color. Steve said it was a green pen that was missing. And I’m not sure if on her To Do list if it was green ink, but the blue pen was…

Detective Sergeant John Zerga:  That’s not…That’s information that I don’t have to tell you. I don’t know how to give you that because I don’t know.

Scott: Detective Zerga was the first person to make the possible link between Amy Wroe Bechtel’s disappearance and Dale Wayne Eaton.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Richard and Bobby, which would be his brother Richard and his wife Bobby…allegedly 2 years after she disappeared, they came to the Sheriff’s Office. Basically said that they believed that their brother was involved in her disappearance because they were headed to Salt Lake with their kids on a vacation, and Dale was living with them, and so they had asked him to take care of things then. And he had left them a note said that,” Sorry I’m unable to take care of what we have going on here. I’m going to be camped up at Burnt Gulch.” And they said they’d brought that information in, and our detectives…basically told them that we, you know, know the direction we’re going. And they felt like they were shunned, so that information never really surfaced.

Burnt Gulch is not a common area. I mean, people say, “I’m camping at Louis Lake” or “I’m camping at Frye Lake” or “Fiddlers Lake.” Nobody really ever says they’re camped at Burnt Gulch. So when I was interviewing Bobby and Richard, you know, I thought nobody ever says that, and so I was kind of getting information from them, and he got very specific. He was like, “Oh no, grandpa…that was our elk camp. We grew up, up there. Burnt Gulch,” he says, “I’ll tell you those beaver ponds that we were fishing down there.” He said, “There’s a pinwheel down there.” He said very specific.

I said, “Well that road’s kind of rough and kind of hard to get in.” He said, “not back then.” And he made perfect sense. “Not back then. You could drive a van down in there,” and he said, “that’s the specific area we camped.” You know, then with Richard and Bobby being so positive that, you know. They talked about Dale’s demeanor. You know, Bobby talked about, you know, when they went to church together. When Dale was living with them, Bobby would be his sister-in-law, so she was getting ready to go to church and he looked at her and says, “Does God really forgive?” And she says, “Well yeah, that’s why you go to church.” And he says, “Well I don’t think God could ever forgive me for what I’ve done.” And she says, “Oh yeah, you want to go to church with me?” And she said, “We went to church,” and she said, “For some reason, in church, he felt like the pastor was pinpointing him.” Like the whole sermon was about, you know, your actions and wrongful things you’ve done in your life and stuff, but he felt like he was looking right at him. And he made mentioned to it. He got, she said, he got extremely upset and basically left the church in the middle because he felt like, you know, the guy was pinpointing him and looking right at him with his whole sermon.

I mean here’s a guy, Dale Eaton I mean, they put teams of investigators, FBI agents…they believe he’s the Northwestern Basin serial killer. I mean, he…what he did to ‘Lil Miss. That’s not his first go-round. The way he traveled selling trinkets, you know, construction, doing wells, gas line, digging stuff. I mean, this guy traveled all over Utah, Nevada. He had a prostitute in Nevada he did things to. The Patrick Draw incident. I mean he has all the potential of being this person that were looking for. And yeah, if he was up there at Burnt Gulch, there’s no doubt in my mind. If he was actually camped there, he was involved. Why wouldn’t he be?

Scott: I’m curious what you think of this. In contributing all four of those, minus Amy, to Eaton, he wasn’t very careful with the bodies.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Because he didn’t care about DNA back then. DNA was never an issue. I mean, DNA…I mean, it was in a sense, but it never got really publicized that you had to worry about leaving your skin contact or your DNA on bodies and stuff. He would have never thought of ‘Lil Miss. I mean, if he honestly thought, why would he…why would he dump her into a river to be found? He would’ve never thought that his DNA was going to be recovered out of her, and that’s what got him.

Scott: If he buried her with her car, he probably never gets caught.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Never get caught.

Scott: Right.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: So the DNA was never an issue to him, and that’s what I think about with these cases is, the whole part of him being up by, you know, in the Teton National Forest up by Jackson when the game warden found him, why was he up there? He has no business being up there unless he was remorse-…. You know, he put that note on Lisa Kimmell’s grave.

Scott: The…

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Yeah, the Stringfellow…Longfellow…

Scott: Stringfellow Hawke.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Yeah, Hawke. You know, we know he placed that. So why is he up there in the middle of nowhere, you know, wanting to commit suicide? To me, I think he’s up there because somebody’s up there, and that’s where he placed somebody else and he was going back to his…

Scott: This is when they found him?

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Yeah, the game warden found him up there.

Scott: He was suicidal?

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Suicidal. Yeah, apparently according to his brother Richard, that he was trying to get eaten by a bear.

Scott: Okay. I hadn’t heard that one before.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Yeah, his MO is to take these people and hold them for a while. You know, rape, molest, do whatever he has to do to them, and then…then kill them. So, my thought to this whole thing was when everybody, if Dale was involved, when he had that van, he had potentially, he has the handcuffs – they’re all up there looking. He’s either out here in Moneta, or he’s out there with his house in Mills, or he’s up in DuBois where he was caught, you know, by the game warden. He took her away from that area. I…my honest opinion is, I don’t think Amy’s on that mountain. Even if…even if it was Steve that was involved, I don’t believe that she’s up there.

Scott: You’re pretty certain that someone took her off that mountain before the initial search even began.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga:  I think so.

Scott: Okay. I know you went to talk to Eaton at one point, and it didn’t go very well.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga:  Twice, twice.

Scott: Twice.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Yeah. In my mind, I don’t have to tell attorneys I’m going to talk to this guy. They’re not representing him for what I’m looking for. But boy, as soon as I did, I mean, I got letters from 3 different attorneys that say you need to cease and desist. You can’t talk to my client da-da-da-da-da. But to me, that’s bullshit because they don’t represent him for that. Dale’s something, and I’ll tell you the reason we.…the reason Dale, I mean, there are several reasons why Dale’s involved, obviously his criminal history. You know, that Patrick Draw incident was 3 months after Amy disappeared, so tell me he wasn’t in the area. He’s absolutely in the area.

Scott: Right. Have you ever thought about the…this time in between, again assigning all of the cases to Eaton, ’82, ’83, the five-year gap, up to ‘Lil Miss, all the way up to Amy? It just seems like there would be stuff in the middle there, but…

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Oh, there’s stuff. He’s…there’s stuff he’s responsible, and that’s why, you know, that team that was put together to research his behavior and his crime…obviously there was never DNA and things that could match him, but they honestly believe that he, you know, the people, the subjects that disappeared in Utah, in Idaho and never accounted for. And they, they honestly believe that this guy is the potential one that did this. I don’t know that there really were ever gaps with him. I think it is was just things we would never have followed that could link to him.

You know, I was in contact with the detectives that worked the ‘Lil Miss case out of Casper and had some of their evidence that was found, ran it, you know, for DNA purposes. Some of the items they found at the ‘Lil Miss stuff including, you know, one of his vehicles was still sitting out there in that tow yard up there that we processed again. You know, we have an ex-deputy that said he took care of the youth camp up there. He was back and forth, and to this day, he tells me that he saw Eaton’s van parked up on that hill. He said what happened, he said he was headed up the hill, and he saw Amy jogging down the hill. And he said as soon as he got to the youth camp, it started pouring rain. And he said that he was…felt bad for her, so he turned around thinking, “Oh, we got this poor jogger caught out,” because he said it was like monsoon rain, “I’m going to go get her.” He said the van was gone. she was gone.

Scott: What time of day?

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: I want to say it was in the afternoon. I can’t remember the specific time on that, but he’s absolutely convinced that that van was there, and that they were responsible for her disappearance. Like I said, I’ve even wrote letters to Dale basically, you know, stating, you know…I’ll use everything I can, and I think I’ve got the people on board to do it with, that , you know, we would take him out of the facility, you know, if he would show is what he’s done. The bodies he’s done…and not even charging for them. Because what are we going get out of it by charging him?…All we’re going to use is more court money and time, and what more are we going to prosecute him for? He’s already got the death penalty. We’re just looking for closure for the family.

Scott: So you offer to Eaton the possibility of immunity on all of the other crimes?

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Yeah, basically. Just help us solve these crimes. Give us what you know before you die, and leave these families with some closure, you know, if there’s something out there. That’s what we’re looking for. I mean, what are we going to prosecute him for? I mean, he’s already got…

Scott: He’s 75. He’s on death row right now…

Detective Sergeant John Zerga:  Yeah, we couldn’t do any more, and it would cause court time. And I think I could get that. I don’t think anybody’s looking, you know at this point, for the prosecution…their looking for closure for the family. And that’s huge, and you ain’t going to do anything worse to the guy than what he’s already got. And it would help benefit himself. I mean, I tried talking to his psych down there. And she said he has issues, and obviously its medical so she can’t give me any information. But she said, she told me this and I’ll never forget it, she says, “you know, most guys sweat when they’re nervous and you talk to them when they’re upset about stuff.” She said, “he doesn’t sweat.” She said, “the water, like a shower, pours down his face, just covers him.” She said, “it is weird, different.”

I think he’s hiding a lot, and I would really love the chance, anything that would resolve, and maybe not Amy, I mean, maybe Janelle Johnson, maybe anybody else. It would be great, I mean, it would help law enforcement tremendously. And I don’t think we need to prosecute him, and I don’t think there’d be any district attorneys out there that…I think they would all jump onboard just as closure because what else are you going to do to him?

Scott: Because he’s going to die and we’ll never know.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: He’s going to die and we’ll never know.

Scott: Right.

Scott: There are stories about one of the Eaton’s lawyers. Stories Detective Zerga has heard over the years. Stories that seem to indicate that Dale Wayne Eaton may have confessed to some of his crimes to some people over the years. Maybe to his attorney. Maybe confessions about Amy’s case.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: He says it’s pretty funny how, you know, there’s all these investigations in this disappearance, and nobody’s looked at my client for the disappearance of Amy Bechtel. And, why would he make that statement?

Scott: We learn from Jon Billman in Episode 4 that Detective Zerga was a part of a cadaver dog search, which he thought, at the time, might have closed the case.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Yeah, we got pretty excited. You know, we’ve been using KT and their cadaver dogs in different areas, and you know, I followed those dogs up and down the mountains. And finally, we got down to the bottom, actually where Dale would be camped in that area, and there was a depression in the earth, and the dog definitely hit on that. I mean, I watched those dogs walk over carcasses and bones and…but when they went over this depression, I mean, you could see a total different change in these dogs, and I’m not familiar with them. But we moved that dog out and ran another dog, totally different. We actually used a crime team that we brought out of Wyoming and the FBI, and we dug that up. And it was, we believe it was a shallow grave at one time. Who’s grave, we don’t know.

We were able to recover a bread tie halfway down that hole, but it was very shallow.  I mean, after we got down a couple of feet, it didn’t go any deeper than that because the people that research that stuff can tell by the turned-over soil, or so on. So they didn’t feel we needed to go any further.

Scott: Geographically, where was that hole?

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Basically, it’s at the bottom camp area at Burnt Gulch. It’s down in the Meadow.

Scott: You may remember from Episode 4, as well, that a source had provided me with the results of cadaver dog searches from the area over the years. I shared that information with Detective Zerga. I was curious to see if his search had been in that same area.

Scott:  They had an indication here, here, here.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: When was this done in 20##?

Scott: And here’s another indicator and here’s another indicator. That’s a separate dog trip, and if you were to overlay that, it’s the same area. It’s like 100 yards. Does that map, is that where you searched as well?

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Correct.

Scott: Okay, so we’re talking about the same area.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: We’re talking the same area.

Scott: Okay.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga:  Most definitely.

Scott: Sounds like you think there is or was a body there at some point.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Oh yeah, because I asked the…you know, I don’t know a lot about those dogs either. You know, I don’t know if they hit on bones, or if they hit on this or whatever. It could have been anything. I mean, it could have been an old trapper, or it could have been anybody up there that just passed away. Or somebody was like, “I’m gonna bury grandpa up here ‘cause this is his favorite spot.” But why is he gone now?

I’ll tell you the weirdest part about that whole deal… is, you know, we worked that case when we could. I mean, obviously we have so many other cases, we didn’t get to dump a lot of time into it, so when we had a chance for information to follow up, you know. So I would talk to Amy’s mom maybe every 4 months, 6 months, you know.  We’d make a phone call or whatever.

I am not kidding. You talk about eerie things that happen. I’m sitting there in the interview, and I’m talking with Richard and Bobby about Dale and stuff. And my phone rings, and I look at it. It’s her mom, and I haven’t heard from her mom for 4 months. I haven’t talked about the case. I didn’t tell her where I was going. I didn’t tell her anything about it, and I  didn’t take the call because we are in taped interviews, so I put the phone back in my pocket. She called again. And I’m like, “Oh my God, she really wants to talk to me.” So at that point, I felt I had to take the call because there was something really pressing. And she told me, she says, “John I, for some reason, I really felt like I needed to talk to you, and da da da da da.” I can’t remember what her…why she had to talk to me so bad, but I told her. I said, “This is really strange.” I said, “We’re actually down here talking with, you know, about your family and stuff like that.” Isn’t that weird.

Scott: It gives you chills.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga:  It does. It did me. I mean, you believe in fate, and things happen for a reason, and stuff like that, but that was so…To me, it was like, she felt that we were talking about her daughter or something. I don’t know what it was. But she said, “I just felt like I had to talk to you.”

Scott: The Fremont County Sheriff’s Office is about 2 blocks from the business Steve Bechtel owns in Lander. Of course, I asked Detective Zerga about Steve.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Honestly, if Steve were to be involved, I don’t believe it happened on a mountain. I believe when he got back from Dubois something transpired at his apartment, and then the vehicle was positioned up there, and then she was never up there. And like you said, if Steve was involved, somehow they got that vehicle positioned, and, obviously, Todd Skinner and Amy would’ve had to be involved in assisting. And obviously Todd, you know, died in that tragic…

Scott: You talk to Steve at all?

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Oh yeah, I still talk to him, you know, and the…Here’s the deal with Steve that makes…Yeah, if he did it, man, he’s good. Because here’s a guy that probably 70% of this town thought he killed his wife, but yet he stayed here. He didn’t run. He’s now running a very successful business. He’s now remarried. He has 2 kids. We’ve never been contacted, law enforcement, for domestic, for nothing. If you’re able to do something like that…there are people out there that can do it, but they kill somebody and go on and run a successful business, a successful life, and kids, and..?

Scott: Yeah. If Steve did it, he’s a huge sociopath.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: He’s good. I mean huge good, yeah. Well, in talking him, I mean, this guy is pretty brilliant. I mean, he’s…his mind is sharp. This guy’s got it going on. I mean, he…but there’s little things that you just hear about it. You know, like, he called himself, I mean, we got rumor he called him-…his rock-climbing name was Clink Hammer/Klinkhamer. Have you ever heard that, Klinkhammer? Research that one.

Scott: Okay.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: It’s about a guy that, I can’t remember, in another country that basically killed his family.

Scott: When I heard Detective Zerga say “Clink Hammer,” I was picturing the 2 words, English spelling, together, kind of as a nickname hammer: Clink Hammer. Richard Klinkhamer of a different spelling, a K and one M, was a Dutch murderer who was convicted of killing his wife, and it looks like he wrote a very OJ Simpson, “If I had did it-esque” book. How, hypothetically, he could have committed the crime, but this guy is hands down one of the dumbest human beings I’ve ever read about. He was, I’m sure he was a person of interest in his wife’s disappearance, being the husband, but he had not been arrested. And he writes a book, apparently a very graphic, hypothetical quote-unquote book, about how he might have committed the crime and pitches it to his publisher. The publisher says this is too real and rejected it. It’s an instruction manual for the police, so he is convicted because he tried to publish a confession as a book.

I’ve boon told it’s not uncommon for climbers do have monikers, to have nicknames. In fact, it’s very common. I personally haven’t read or heard anything linking that name to Steve Bechtel. I did hear a hypothetical story from a local I was talking to this week that maybe on a climb, you know, a story grows out of a situation and that begets a nickname. Perhaps Steve was using a hammer for one of his holds, which is sometimes considered to be, maybe, bad form, and he gets razzed a little bit for it, and all the sudden he is henceforth known as Clink Hammer/Klinkhamer because he’s clinking his hammer on this side of the mountain in that one situation. That’s just speculation, but a coincidence none-the-less. And there are a lot of these kinds of things that seem to pop up around Steve.

Female Local: If it was Steve, I don’t think it’s up there. He knows that his friends are…they’re all expert NOLSes up there, and they know that area like the back of their hand, and he knows that they’re going to search and they’re going to know where she would go and all of the spots, and he would find somewhere that they would never think of. That they would never know. So if it was Steve, she’s not up there.

Scott: Steve claims those journals were high school lyrics from his band, and a way, as he said, “A trash heap. I write them and they’re gone.” He had moved several times. With Amy, at least one of those times to a new house, and that book, that journal had found its way into that new house. What do you figure the odds of living in a house with a man who you are now married to for 13 months and not being aware that book of his writings? Do you think she knew about those beforehand?

Female Local: I don’t think she did. They said that, you know in reports, that they had just moved in or they were in the process of moving into that rental house that they were renting from their friends as a married couple.

Scott: It was a Thursday that she disappeared. On Monday, they both signed on the new house, but that house where they were living on Lucky Lane was the rental. Does, conceivably, a husband own a journal that a wife wouldn’t know about after years of dating and 13 months of…

Female Local: I don’t know. I guess it depends on the type wife you are or the personality of the girl. If you’re somebody who is very trusting and doesn’t, you know, do a lot of searching or something, I feel like the only way that she would have not known about it, just from being, from my perspective, would…if he was hiding it from her. In my head, if, you know, if I …my husband had wrote that about me…How do I get out of that situation because if I confront that situation, could it escalate? Could he kill me? Would he kill me? So that’s…you know, this is a young female. I think that would be something going through her mind.  

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: When he hooked up with a gal, I think, immediately out of Utah, she defended him for a long time, and then when they split up, she came in here and was adamant that he was involved. He dumped her out on the prairie. That, you know, she was really livid that he was the one.

Scott: This is when he moved to Salt Lake for a couple years?

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Yeah.

Scott: And she came back here..

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: She came back here after they broke up, and she was adamant that he was involved. And it was like Steve said, you know, talking with Steve, and I understand his situation. I totally agree with, you know, his whole deal. They jumped the gun. They didn’t have enough information, and they jumped…. If I come to you and said, “You know, we know you killed your wife. You just need to tell us where the body is and stop this bullshit.” What are you going to do? He talked to Dave King, he said, “We jumped the gun.”

Scott: He says that now.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Oh yeah. He says, “John I’m on board with you.” You know, I’ve talked with Dave. He says, “Maybe we were wrong.” He says, “You know, we thought and everything pinpointed to him.” And, you know, he says, “Maybe you’re on the right track.” He says, “Because we didn’t go anywhere else,” but he said, “Man, did we blow that case.”  He said, “We sat in there and we thought, ‘You know, this guy’s on the run, and we have stuff we didn’t have, and, you know, we pushed him to that point.” Steve was right, you know, and when you get law enforcement, you know, thinking…and that’s what I explained to Steve. I said, “Most case scenarios, the husband’s involved. I mean, statistic-wise, the husband’s involved.” I don’t know in his case.

Scott: I’m sure you’d still give him a polygraph.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Oh, hell, yeah. Oh hell, yeah, and I even, to the point that he can pick who did…the polygrapher…The thing with polygraphs, and I don’t know how much you know about them, there’s no trick questions to them. It’s a series of questions. And you answer yes or no. And as they run through them, you have to answer the questions the same way. So, I mean, our question woudn’t be, “Did you kill Amy?” Our questions would be, “The last time you saw Amy was when you left for Dubois da da da da da alive.” Something to that effect. You know, a question like that. You know, I kind of hinted around to it a bit about it, but I didn’t push the issue. I mean, we’re talking, and things are…

Scott: Better to have things amicable right now?

Detective Sergeant John Zerga:  Yeah, we’re good. We’re good, but man, would I like him to take a polygraph to clear himself? I told him that. Hell it’s…I told him. I said, “You know, to eliminate you completely that would ease my mind.”

Scott: Calls continue to come in on Amy’s case to this day. In fact, Detective Zerga told me about a tip which had come in just a few days ago. A tip with a persistent ring to it.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Well it’s amazing because not more than 3 days ago, well last week, our detective in here, ‘cause there’s new detectives working. We got a tip that a gal wanted to talk to him about that brown car. You know the Browns driving and hitting her up on the Loop Road. I mean, I’m sure you’ve researched that, where the Native Americans hit her and then she was absolutely convinced, this gal, that that’s what happened to her. That she was struck by the vehicle. They put her in a trunk and they buried her in a shallow grave out here in the Arapaho area.

We’ve heard that a lot. That has come in, but the problem with that, is that vehicle that they were in has been processed. And nothing ever came out of that vehicle. But you will be amazed of when people are thrown in jail, that story still has stuck around, and still pops up and…You know, usually rumors die out unless they are legit or there’s something to them and then they kind of keep going. And this one just keeps popping up, I mean, it never dies out.

Scott: And if you’ve ever wondered if police have been looking at any other suspects in Amy’s disappearance, other than Steve Bechtel or Dale Wayne Eaton, here is your answer.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga:  Oh? Yeah. Most definitely. When you look back in the reports, there’s a guy by the name of Kenny Calvert that was found in that area wandering around, basically had a camp up there. And if you look at Kenny Calvert’s history, here in town, a huge, you know, drug issues. The crowd of people he runs with, stuff like that. His name has always popped up in possibly, you know, finding her. The camp up there and him and his crony buddies and stuff being involved in stuff. I don’t think we’ve ever had enough to bring him in.

But one of his good friends, Jeff Cleveland, came to my house one night. That was a weird moment because generally you don’t have these guys just show up at your house. It was hair raising because I was away from my house when I saw him driving down the road, and Jeff’s about 6 foot 4, and about 300 pounds, a native guy. And he sat on my porch and was bawling. And he says, “John, I’ve gotta talk to you about what I saw.” And then I says, “You know, Jeff, tell me. Tell me what you saw.” He said, “I saw her. I saw her dead.” You know, I said, “Who did you see dead?”

“I saw Amy dead”

I said, “What are you talking about, Jeff?” He says, “Down here in this river.” He says, “You know that swim hole down there that we always partied at as kids and growin’ up and stuff. They had her in that river down there. She was dead.” I said, “Alright Jeff, tell me the story. Tell me what’s going on.” He said, “Well.” He says, “Nobody will believe me.” He says. You know that nobody will buy into my story. They say that I was tripping on drugs.” And he says, “John, I’m a big guy.” He said, “When I walk into a room.” He says, “Yeah, I do drugs. I do dope.” He says, “But I make sure I never get to the level that I can’t beat everybody’s ass in here.” He says, “I know what I saw.” He said, “I’d…Her feet were like pinned underneath these rocks.” He said, “Her body was like this floating in the river. Like her legs were pinned under boulders, but her…” I know he had told, like, his ex-wife, Cindy Payne about this, and things like that. I did try to follow up with him. I tried getting with the FBI, you know, to do a polygraph on him. But they said if he believed, you know, if he had, like was tripping or a vision or something, and honestly believed or something like that. But we never did get anything out of that.

And then we had another kid show up here that was in jail that said, “Hey, I know it’s going on, and if you guys cut me a deal, I’ll tell you what’s going on with this.” And we brought him up here, and he started to talk. And then he was like, “No.” He said, “This is not…It won’t be good for me.” He says, “Let me see what’s gonna happen with my case before I decide to talk to you guys.” And he’s in that same group of people, the crony group of people that would know. He wouldn’t’ve been of age, but he could have been with them because his mom was with them, and so as a kid growing up, he could have been with them.

Scott: This Episode is the Season 1 Finale of Frozen Truth. Of course, stay subscribed for future seasons and updates on Amy’s case. In some ways, we’ve come closer to an answer to the question: Why didn’t the runner come home?

Scott: I’m very aware of one episode too many is too many, so I don’t want to get there.

Jon Billman: Yes, that’s fantastic and it looks like it’s getting a lot of traction and…Listen, I listen to a lot of true crime… I don’t mean a categorize it, but I listen to a lot of true crime podcasts, and this is my favorite right now.

Male Local: I just hope at some point, and I don’t know that we ever get there, but I hope there’s closure for not only Amy, but the other girls that you’ve spotlighted who still have family members out there hoping to find out what happened, hopefully.

Christine Penhale: Getting people to talk about it and remember Amy and pay attention to her disappearance might generate new interest in the case and leads, you never know.

Scott: Oh, it’s been this long. It has to…I mean, what else is there to do?

Christine Penhale: Like there’s nothing. Something needs to be done to generate some new leads, so I really appreciate you making this podcast. You’re going to the area and talking to the authorities, reaching out and, like, trying to put yourself at the scene and in the moment.

Detective Sergeant John Zerga: Like I said, there’s so much information, and to follow it out the way it needs to be followed out, you’d have to put a team together. I mean, strictly devoted all their time, and I think you could get somewhere. I think somewhere, like I’ve told, you know, Amy’s mom, that somebody knows something. And to hold that in, you know, they’ve talked to somebody or something. There’s something out there that would solve this, but we just haven’t got to that point. We just haven’t found it.

Dr. John Gookin: I think on a lot of these that we get lucky, but, I think that if Dale Wayne Eaton killed her, and he just like ditched her somewhere, I think if we haven’t found her yet, we’re not gonna. And so, I don’t think it’ll get solved, and that’s the scenario I like in terms of, you know, what’s left in terms of possibilities. And so, I don’t think we’ll ever find his name.

Scott:. As I was leaving Detective Zerga’s office on the second floor of the Fremont County Sheriff’s office, I rounded a corner and saw Amy. Her face in that same picture I’d seen a million times was smiling back at me. It was taped to an office filing cabinet. Above the photo, two words: Amy Bechtel. It’s Amy’s case file, now 20 years cold, and it takes up an entire row of filing cabinets at the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office. This case is equal parts fascinating and frustrating. It’s a slick rock toward truth in this case because it’s hard to trust details. It’s hard to get a hand or a foot hold in this case. It’s amazing the difference 20 years makes. Some facts change. Some weren’t really facts in the first place and others are forgotten all together. My thanks to everyone who I have talked to on this podcast: Christine Penhale, Jon Billman, Dr. John Gookin, and a very special thanks to Detective Sergeant John Zerga for his time and availability on this project. You would not have heard this podcast without Jared Anderson. He’s a Riverton native, and a local journalist in the Lander area, and about 6 months ago, he suggested to me that I do a podcast on the disappearance of Amy Wroe Bechtel.

This week, here in Lander, a local climber asked me if this project changed me, and I told him yes, it had. For all the work I’ve done on this podcast, I probably thought about Amy and the case twice that amount of time. My research into Dale Wayne Eaton has altered my perspective on humanity a little bit, too. The fact that Dale Wayne Eaton is possible changes your outlook on everything as a husband and a father. There’s just no way it can’t. But it’s not my place to advance a theory in Amy’s disappearance. You have some of yours, I’m sure, and now hopefully they’re as well informed as they can be.

The truth in Amy’s case, what actually happened, still exists. It’s frozen in the mountains above Lander. Sometimes facts lead us to the truth, sometimes they don’t, but there’s only one truth, and it’s still there, waiting for us to find it.

Transcribed by Charles Fournier

4 Comments

  1. Anonymous May 12, 2018

    First of all John the sheriff’s last name is spelled Zerga. Great podcast by the way. I just wanted to state that I have known both Kenny Calvert and Jeff Cleveland for years while they are both known drug users in the town of Lander I find it absurd that Kenny would even be named as a suspect. In my opinion he is not capable of murder and if he did do it he would have had to been in a drug induced psychosis and there is no way he would have been able to pull it off without getting caught.
    Jeff is also a known drug user and was probably drunk and high on speed when he visited the sheriff and in an actual state of drug induced psychosis so I can easily see why his statements were dismissed. I am a Lander native and was seventeen at the time of Amy’s disappearance. I too occasionally hear the rumor of her being hit on the loop road mainly from Native American’s I even heard that she was supposedly buried on the reservation in a junkyard and then the murderer pulled a junk car over the grave. I don’t buy the theory she was hit by a car. I think there would have been evidence on the road of that, blood, hair or something that would have indicated to her being hit. I also remember hearing that they found her car with the drivers side door open. I would also like to note that the Sheriff of Fremont County at the time was later caught and convicted of stealing and using cocaine from the evidence lockers. I think that if the Sherriff’s office would have done things differently they may have actually caught the killer. After listening to your podcast I can’t help but wonder if her car was intentionally placed there by the killer to throw off the investigation. Thank you for all your hard work on this podcast. You shed some light on a few things I don’t think many people in the area knew about, such as the pen, as well as the cadaver dog hits. I know the Burnt Gulch area well and have even camped down in the meadow by the creek a few times. I never realized that was were they found Amy’s car. Maybe if enough people hear your podcast it will breath new life into this case that has haunted our small community for twenty years. I too cannot go up that mountain without thinking about Amy and I hope someday her family will get the closure they deserve.

    • fuller May 13, 2018

      It took me a moment to find where I’d mis-spelled Zerga’s name. Thanks for letting me know! I’ve corrected it.

      Thanks also for your feedback and perspective on the case.

  2. Douglas M Hardee June 18, 2018

    I listened to this a couple months ago; had an impression. Gave it a few months and listened to it again and that impression is the same; this is a very good treatment about the disappearance/murder of Amy. He does a very good job of presenting what facts and thoughts are known about the event without including the drama that went on around this very sad event; but is not important when it comes to what actually happened to Amy.
    For those of us who knew Amy, and are still pained by this event, these podcast are very good at providing information in a way that allows, at least me, a person to address the subject without the emotional upheaval that can accompany it.

  3. Jane Doe August 22, 2018

    I just finished Season 1. Thank you for putting together this podcast. As a Wyoming native, and just heading to college when Amy went missing, this was a very big deal in my life. There hasn’t been a year, or a trip to the Lander/Riverton area where I don’t think of Amy’s disappearance nor see her face on a flyer…still. I only ever knew of the two suspects, and not much else of the other theories. But found it interesting to hear about Jeff Cleavland and a quick check through google warranted this tidbit – http://4dc.b85.mwp.accessdomain.com/2013/04/29/police-blotter-arrests-child-abuse-arrest-in-riverton-lander-man-arrested-after-altercation-along-the-popo-agie/
    that what Sherif Zerga said in Episode 5. Just interesting…..I wonder how many times people discount the ravings of someone at the time, even though they might be “reliving” something that has traumatized them in the past.

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