Amy Wroe Bechtel - disturbing disappearances in U.S. forests

Amy wroe Bechtel Shoshone forest disappearance

Amy Wroe Bechtel, disappeared July 24, 1997, Shoshone National Forest, Lander, Wyoming.

On July 24, 1997, Amy Wroe Bechtel, 24, from Lander in Wyoming, went for a run and never came back.

On the morning of July 24, Amy told her husband, Steve, she was planning on doing several errands in town after teaching a children's weightlifting class at the Wind River Fitness Center. She called at the Camera Connection photo store at 2.30 pm after teaching her class and then stopped by Gallery 331. Her conversation with the owner, Greg Wagner, was the last confirmed sighting of Amy before her disappearance. 

After leaving the photoshop, she drove to the area near Shoshone National Forest to map out the course of a 10K run she was organising with the local gym.

At 4.30pm, Steve, returned home and reported her missing to police at 10.30pm that night with a strange message, "Uh, yeah, hey, I’ve got a person missing here, I think, and I wondered if you had a spare around anyplace?” 

The next day, her unlocked white Toyota Tercel wagon was found around half a mile away from Frye Lake, which was to be the end the 10K hill climb, where the Loop Road joins the Burnt Gulch turnoff. There was no sign of Amy but her sunglasses, a to-do list and car keys were left on the passenger seat. Her wallet was not found and there was no sign of a struggle either inside or near the vehicle.

Amy was a strong distance runner with a marathon personal record of 3:01 and had aspirations of qualifying for the 2000 Olympic Marathon Trials.

The search began with just Steve and two dozen of his friends, but later that day there were ATVs, dogs, dirt bikes, and over 100 volunteers looking for any sign of her. The next day horses and helicopters joined in, and by the third day, the search area had been expanded to a 30-mile radius. But it took until a week after Amy’s car was found for the area around it to be declared a crime scene.

Investigators at first thought Amy had fallen and been injured in the forest, been run over on the road or been attacked by a bear or mountain lion. But then focus turned to Steve Bechtel, especially as many murders are committed by spouses.  

Amy and Steve had been married for just over a year and both worked part-time at Wild Iris, the local climbing shop. Amy also waited tables at the Sweetwater Grill and taught a youth weight-lifting class at Wind River Fitness Centre They had recently bought a house in Lander and planned to move in during the coming weeks.

What happened to Amy? - the theories

Mother nature

It's possible that Amy fell during her run or was attacked by wild animals whilst in the wilderness. But no evidence of torn clothing, blood, body parts or bones has ever been found. However, there are many cases of people in the outdoors as highlighted on this blog that has vanished without any evidence being left behind.

Murdered by Husband Steve Bechtel

Steve and Amy Wroe Bechtel disappearance Shoshone forest

After a search of the couple's property, detectives discovered Steve Bechtel's journals which contained poetry or song lyrics sometimes with violent overtones, describing violence towards women and specifically, Amy.   A week and a half after Amy vanished, Steve employed lawyers and refused to take a polygraph test which further raised suspicions for many residents of Lander as well as the media.

Detectives interrogated Steve on August 1, 1997, falsely claiming to have evidence proving he had murdered his wife. A woman driving through the area from where Amy disappeared claimed to have seen a truck matching Steve Bechtel's in the area with a blond haired woman in the passenger seat but she was unable to positively identify it was him.

On August 5th, an FBI agent, Rick McCullough, accused Steve of murdering Amy. But Steve had an alibi. He was with Sam Lightner scouting a climbing spot the day Amy had vanished in the mountains above Dubois and since it was grizzly country he took their dog Jonz as well as a firearm. Questions remained whether Steve had an opportunity during the day to get to Shoshone and carry out the crime, despite the distance from Dubois. 

loop road, shashone national forest

Amy's brother, Nels, was especially angry at Steve’s reluctance to take the polygraph test and cooperate fully with investigators. When her sisters, Casey Lee and Jenny Newton, appeared on The Geraldo Rivera Show on February 3, 1998, the host made a plea for Steve to be more cooperative with authorities.

 Nels Wroe, Amy's brother

Nels Wroe, Amy's brother

Nel told the sheriff about one night when Amy and Steve were over for dinner. Nel noticed that Amy was bruised. Amy made a joke, saying that Steve can get a little rough sometimes. Nel found Amy’s reaction odd: saying “Amy just laughed it off, would not look me in the eye, and I said, that is not a normal reaction, particularly for Amy.”

Eventually, Steve had Amy declared legally dead, and in 2004 he married Ellen Sissman, with whom he now has two children.

Steve Bechtel remained the prime “person of interest” in Amy’s disappearance for many years. In July 2007, the 10-year anniversary of her disappearance, Roger Rizor, the detective who succeeded Dave King on the case, commented on the cold case to the Billings Gazette. “In my mind there is only one person that I want to talk to, only one person who has refused to talk to law enforcement,” he said, “and that’s her husband.”

Murdered by Dale Wayne Eaton, the Great Basin Serial Killer

 Dale Wayne Eaton

Dale Wayne Eaton

A tip came from a man named Richard Eaton, who told the Sheriff that his itinerant brother, Dale Wayne Eaton, may have been involved. But the investigators ignored the information as they were focused on Steve Bechtel at the time. By not pursuing the lead, they may have allowed the notorious Great Basin Serial Killer to get away as on July 30, 1998, nearly a year after Amy’s disappearance Dale Eaton was finally arrested for another murder.

In an area called Patrick Draw, less than a three-hour drive from Lander, Shannon Breeden, her husband, Scott, and their 5-month-old baby, Cody, were travelling when their van broke down at a pullout along Interstate 80. Eaton stopped his off-green ‘85 Dodge van and offered them assistance and asked Shannon to drive. Eaton then pulled a rifle from the back of the van, kidnapped the family at gunpoint, and directed them south of the highway into the desert.

Shannon accelerated and turned in a tight circle instead, which enabled Scott to jump out of the van with the baby and Shannon to get out the other side. Scott grabbed Eaton and hit him over the head with the rifle butt. After a  struggle, Eaton was stabbed with his own knife and left whilst the family drove away at speed.

Richard Eaton knew that Dale had been camping in the Burnt Gulch area at the time of Amy Bechtel’s disappearance, at an average elevation 7,860 feet, where she was marking her 10K running route, and coincidentally this was a favourite elk hunting and trout fishing spot of the Eaton brothers. But after Richard Eatons called police with his suspicions, the detective dismissed the tip, choosing to believe instead the word of Dale Eaton's niece, who said he was visiting her in Greeley, Colorado on July 24th. A $100,000 reward out for information leading to a resolution of Amy’s case, meant that investigators were suspicious of Richard’s motives.

A plea bargain deal for the attempted kidnapping of the Breeden family meant Eaton would serve just 99 days in jail. But a sample of his DNA was taken whilst he was incarcerated. He was allowed to continue work on welding and construction jobs whilst in a half-way house due to prison overcrowding. On June 16, 1998, he failed to report to work despite strict parole conditions and a warrant was put out for his arrest. Police finally spotted his van more than a month later near Dubois in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. He was arrested and a shotgun was found in his van, leading to his imprisonment on federal weapons charges.

On March 25, 1988, 18-year-old Lisa Marie Kimmell was driving alone from Denver to visit a friend in Billings, Montana, in her black 1988 Honda CRX Si, which had a Montana plate with  LIL MISS on it. She was planning to visit her boyfriend in Cody, but never got there. Eight days later, two fishermen found her body in the North Platte River near Casper. Autopsy results showed that she had been raped, bludgeoned, and stabbed. After her family buried her, a strange note signed “Stringfellow Hawke” was found on Lisa's grave.

In July 2002,  investigators researching cold cases examined the seminal DNA from Lisa's rape and found a match for Dale Wayne Eaton. Eaton was due to stand trial that fall on a manslaughter charge after killing his cellmate with a lethal punch to the man’s vertebral artery.

A handwriting analysis from the note left on Kimmell’s grave also matched Eaton. Then, following a tip from neighbours who remembered seeing Eaton digging in his yard, Lisa's car was found buried on his property in Moneta, just an hour-and-45-minute drive east from Lander. He'd been using the car as a septic tank. A portion of the Montana plate LIL MISS was found nearby. Inside his trailer, authorities also found women’s clothing and purses, and newspaper reports about other murdered women.

Investigators determined that Eaton had kidnapped Lisa at a remote rest area in Waltman, then held her captive in a converted school bus and repeatedly raped her before murdering her. An FBI profiler who examined the case said Eaton's behaviour all fitted with that the of a serial killer.

In the subsequent trial, Eaton was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death by lethal injection in March 2004. He had a stay of execution in December 2009 with his lawyers arguing that he was mentally unfit to stand trial In November 2014, a U.S. district judge overturned his death sentence but he continues to serve a life sentence, plus 50 years. 

Amy's brother, Nels, was especially angry at Steve’s reluctance to take the polygraph test and cooperate fully with investigators. When her sisters, Casey Lee and Jenny Newton, appeared on The Geraldo Rivera Show on February 3, 1998, the host made a plea for Steve to be more cooperative with authorities.

Nel told the sheriff about one night when Amy and Steve were over for dinner. Nel noticed that Amy was bruised. Amy made a joke, saying that Steve can get a little rough sometimes. Nel found Amy’s reaction odd: saying “Amy just laughed it off, would not look me in the eye, and I said, that is not a normal reaction, particularly for Amy.”

Eventually, Steve had Amy declared legally dead, and in 2004 he married Ellen Sissman, with whom he now has two children.

Steve and Amy Bechtel

Investigations in recent years

 Detectve Sergeant Zerga

Detectve Sergeant Zerga

In 2010 Detective Sergeant Zerga’s travelled with an FBI agent to Colorado to try to interview Eaton but he refused to speak with them and with the threat of the death penalty no longer hanging over him the investigators had little leverage.

Authorities visited the Bechtel's old house at Lucky Lane in Lander with a search warrant to conduct Luminol searches with the FBI and brought in cadaver dogs. They found nothing. A tip that Steve had buried Amy below the driveway of their would-be new home at 965 McDougal Drive before the concrete had set also came to nothing. 

In late August 1997, the Federal Bureau of Investigation requested satellite photos from NASA of the area on the day of Bechtel's disappearance, but the satellite images provided no information. In January 1998, satellite images taken by the Russian space station Mir were also obtained by the FBI, but they also revealed nothing of value as cloud cover had obscured the area of interest.

Sources

http://www.charleyproject.org/cases/b/bechtel_amy.html

https://www.runnersworld.com/runners-stories/long-gone-girl

Disappeared TV series "Missing in the mountains"

http://thetruecrimefiles.com/amy-wroe-bechtel-disappearance/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disappearance_of_Amy_Wroe_Bechtel