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1997 Cold Case: The Disappearance of Amy Wroe Bechtel
1997 Cold Case: The Disappearance of Amy Wroe Bechtel
Recently, while reviewing some old newspaper headlines, I came across a story from about 15 years ago that I hadn’t heard much about recently. As I began to look into it further, I came across a connection to another infamous story from these parts that had just, not too long ago, been solved. These two crimes, seemingly connected, are two crimes that if you’re from this area and they are mentioned it elicits a response of “yeah I remember that…what ever happened with that?”
The year was 1997 and the location was Lander, Wyoming; reports place Amy Wroe Bechtel leaving the apartment that she shared with her husband Steve at approximately 9:30am on July 24th. It has been reported that it was her intention to run some errands and tend to other issues having to deal with the home that she and her husband had recently purchased. It is believed that when she was finished with her errands she had intended to go for a run on the Loop Road in the Shoshone National Forest, which is easily accessible just outside of Lander. The last confirmed sighting of Mrs. Bechtel was at 2:30pm that afternoon at a local photo shop, employees reported her as “seemingly in a hurry” and “continuously checking her watch”.
Reports have her husband Steve returning to their apartment at around 4:30pm that afternoon, when he hadn’t seen or heard from Amy by 10:30pm he called the local sheriff’s office to report her missing. JoAnne Wroe, Amy’s mother, would report later that after listening to a recording of this call that Steve’s attitude was one of indifference and lacking concern; it wouldn’t be the first or last time that Steve’s attitude would be called into question.
The search for Amy began immediately, with friends and family of the Bechtel’s searching the Loop Road, where it was believed Amy had gone running. At approximately 1am that night, a group that was helping in the search found Amy’s car, a white Toyota Tercel wagon parked along the Burnt Gulch Road turnout; two hours later an official search was underway.
The resources employed during the search included local law enforcement, FBI, Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation, Bureau of Indian Affairs helicopters, private helicopters, helicopters from the F.E. Warren Air Force base in Cheyenne, scuba divers, search dogs; obviously every agency that could help was helping. The only trace of Amy that was believed to have been found was a shoe print that may have matched her shoes, but it was destroyed before a cast or match could be made, and the possible involvement of an individual related to a green van.
The FBI soon took on a prominent role in the investigation, on August 1st Steve Bechtel would cut short an interview with the FBI after an agent is reported to have accused him of killing Amy and stating “we have evidence that you did it and we want you to take a polygraph test to prove that you didn’t”. Steve would then hire high-powered Jackson, Wyoming attorney Kent Spence, son of the famous lawyer Gerry Spence, who promptly advised against taking the polygraph test; this would mark the end of Steve Bechtel’s cooperation with authorities.
The investigation into the disappearance of Amy Bechtel would continue with as many resources as could be mustered, including contacting NASA to inquire about the possibility of the Russian space station MIR having taken photos of the area on the day she disappeared, the inquiry was futile due to the weather on the day. DNA samples would be taken and thorough searches of Steve’s vehicle and their home would be conducted but nothing would be found; Amy had literally vanished into thin air.
Of course suspicion was always focused on her husband, but from what I have been able to find, which no doubt is very little in the grand scheme of things, the only evidence that they seemed to have against Steve was his failure to cooperate with the investigators and failure to take the polygraph, flimsy evidence to be sure.
The case has had little new information since Amy disappeared, the most recent was in June 2003 when a watch similar to the one Amy was reported to have been wearing when she vanished was found near the middle fork of the Popo Agie (pronounced poe-poe-juh) River. The river runs along the Loop Road where Amy had been running when she disappeared; a subsequent search of the area uncovered a collection of bones that were later determined to be animal bones.
Here is where the story takes twist; in 1988 Lisa Marie Kimmell vanished while driving from her home in Denver, Colorado to her parent’s home in Billings, Montana, she had planned to stop in Cody, Wyoming en route to pick up her boyfriend at the time. Lisa’s body would be found eight days later in the North Platte River just south of Casper, Wyoming; she had been raped and stabbed to death; this case too would go cold very quickly.
Fourteen years later, in 2002, there would be a DNA hit in FBI’s CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) system that would blow the Kimmell case wide open. The DNA hit would lead back to a man named Dale Wayne Eaton, a life-long criminal from Moneta, Wyoming who was at the time incarcerated on federal weapons charges. Eaton would ultimately be convicted of all charges stemming from the Kimmell murder and sentenced to death.
It wasn’t until authorities started digging into Eaton’s background and his whereabouts that they would discover exactly what kind of monster that they were dealing with. It was discovered that Eaton was in and out of jail for most of his adult life, the most serious of which came in 1997 when he attempted to abduct the Breeden family in the Red Desert of Wyoming. The Breeden’s vehicle was having mechanical problems and Eaton offered them assistance, when Eaton made his move on the family the mother and father fought back nearly killing Eaton. Eaton would be sent to prison for this assault as well as being a felon in possession of a firearm, while serving his sentence he would kill his cellmate which would lead to his DNA being entered into the CODIS database.
While preparing for Eaton’s trial the investigation would turn up some very interesting facts about Eaton and his activities. The most significant information to be uncovered is that in July of 1997, Dale Wayne Eaton was found to be in Lander, Wyoming on personal business, at the time it was determined that Eaton owned a green Dodge van.
There is no conclusive evidence linking Dale Wayne Eaton to the disappearance of Amy Wroe Bechtel, for his part Eaton isn’t talking. Some investigators point to typical serial killer behavior in their analysis of Eaton’s murder of Kimmell, making a public spectacle of her body and keeping her car buried on his property as a trophy, to conclude that he is clearly a serial killer; coupled with the fact that he was in Lander at the time of Amy’s disappearance seems to indicate that he may very be the man responsible for Amy’s disappearance.
Some investigators believe that Eaton is a perfect suspect for the “Great Basin Killer” a series of murders that took place between 1983 and 1997, the year that Eaton was sent to prison for attacking the Breeden family. The murders stretch from Nevada to Wyoming and there is more than one link to Eaton in the case files of the murders, no evidence has been uncovered to garner charging Eaton for these crimes. Dale Wayne Eaton’s execution date draws ever closer and unfortunately it looks as if, if there is any connection to be made, Eaton will take any knowledge he has of Amy’s disappearance to his grave.
If anyone reading this has any knowledge of the whereabouts or information of any kind dealing with the disappearance of Amy Wroe Bechtel, please contact the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office at (307)-332-5611.
Copyright© 2012 R.L.B; all rights reserved.
The Charley Project: Amy Wroe Bechtel. Retrieved from: http://www.charleyproject.org/cases/b/bechtel_amy.html
Amy Wroe Bechtel case timeline. Retrieved from: http://trib.com/news/state-and-regional/article_f289eca2-a639-5a75-a565-814f41b5249c.html
Unsolved Mysteries: Amy Wroe Bechtel. Retrieved from: http://unsolvedmysteries.wikia.com/wiki/Amy_Wroe_Bechtel
“Lil Miss” Murder: Lisa Marie Kimmell. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lil_Miss_murder
Dale Wayne Eaton: The “Lil Miss” Killer. Retrieved from: http://maamodt.asp.radford.edu/Psyc%20405/serial%20killers/Eaton,%20Dale%20Wayne.pdf