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An 18-year-old woman is found dead in the North Platte River

Lisa Kimmel

Lisa Kimmel

On a little-used suspension bridge outside Casper, Wyoming, residents reported seeing unexplained lights in the early morning hours of March 26, 1988.  Under the cover of darkness, a killer brought his victim to the bridge.  After stabbing her repeatedly, he threw her into the chill waters of the North Platte River.  The victim was later identified as 18-year-old Lisa Marie Kimmell from Billings, Montana.  She had been sexually assaulted, then killed in a manner that suggested some kind of bizarre torture.  Lisa was last seen alive on the night of March 25th, and police believe that she was killed a few hours later.  But what complicates the investigation is that many people claimed to have seen Lisa Marie Kimmell, or her car, during a week when police believe she was already dead. 

At the time of her murder, Lisa Marie Kimmel was living in Denver, Colorado.  On March 25th, she left town and headed for Cody, Wyoming, to visit her boyfriend.  According to her friend Ed Jaroch, Lisa’s car carried the spunky license plate, “LIL MISS”:

“The plan was that she was supposed to leave Denver… and get to Cody to see me, sometime late that evening. I talked to her about 4:30, and she… thought she’d be in about midnight or something like that.”

Weather conditions were good, so Lisa should have made the trip to Cody in eight or nine hours.  She was expected at her boyfriend’s house late Friday night.  But by Saturday morning, she still had not arrived.  Ed Jaroch frantically telephoned authorities in three different states. Later, Patrolman Alan Lesco of the Wyoming Highway Patrol reported that he stopped Lisa for speeding the night she disappeared: 

“I was patrolling southbound on March 25th  and I noted a small car northbound at 88 MPH, according to my radar.  I turned around and pursued the car.  I stopped her, near Oren Junction.  She was well-kept, kind of person you’d like to have for a daughter.”

Her body was found on the river bank

Her body was found on the river bank

Lisa’s signature on the ticket verified her identity.  It would be the last confirmed sighting of Lisa Marie Kimmell.  As the week went on without any word from her daughter, Lisa’s mother began to worry:

“The outlook was looking a little grim, but even if that, even if the outcome wasn’t as we hoped, we still needed to find her.”

On April 2nd, one week after Lisa disappeared, Greg Bradford, a mechanic who was spending his Saturday fishing on the North Platte River, brought the search for Lisa Marie to a sad end:

“When I stepped up off the side of the bank, I looked over my shoulder and I saw the lady in the water.  And then I remember when we were driving up from Cheyenne, they said this young girl was missing from Montana.  So, I looked again, and said, ‘Oh my god, it must be her.’” 

Police searched the area where Lisa’s body was discovered.  On an old highway bridge, one quarter of a mile away, they found blood that was the same type as Lisa’s.  Because the bridge is so inaccessible, and so seldom used, police concluded that the murderer probably lived in the area. Based on the eyewitness accounts of unexplained activity on the bridge, they estimated that Lisa was murdered early Saturday morning, roughly five hours after she was stopped for speeding.  But soon, authorities began receiving information that complicated their investigation.  Numerous eyewitnesses were reporting that they had seen Lisa’s car.  According to Sheriff Ron Ketchum of the Natrona County Sheriff’s Department, some even claimed they had seen Lisa herself:

“We’ve had over a thousand sightings of this vehicle.  A lot of them from law enforcement officers. And we were deluged with them at the point that we thought they had gone to Canada.  We had some sightings in Canada.”

One of the most reliable sightings occurred roughly ten hours after Lisa was supposedly killed.  Donna Kirkpatrick, the wife of a local county sheriff, reported that she had seen Lisa driving her car in the city of Buffalo, Wyoming:

“It was Saturday at noon, and I noticed a little black sports car had pulled out right in front of me. Then I noticed the license plate.  It was a Montana license plate with ‘little miss’ on it… And, at that point I decided that I needed to see if the car went with whoever was driving it.  I am absolutely positive there was a young gal driving it… there’s not a doubt in my mind.”

Another eyewitness reported seeing Lisa more than a day after police believe she was murdered.  But this sighting was in Casper, Wyoming—more than 100 miles from Buffalo.  Diana Houston was driving through Casper when a car with an out of state license plate caught her attention:

“It was Sunday afternoon, and I saw a Montana license plate on a vehicle.  And being from Montana, it caught my eye.  So I looked, and the license plate said, ‘little miss.’  I went by I saw somebody with blonde hair driving, and had on a yellow sweater.”

Lisa was last seen at 9:00 PM on Friday night and was reported missing by 9:00 AM Saturday morning.  Yet she was reportedly seen twice later that day and once on Sunday.  If Lisa was alive, why hadn’t she showed up at her boyfriend’s or her parents’ house?  And if she had been killed early Saturday morning as police suspect, who was driving the car with Lisa’s distinctive license plates? 

Update:

Fourteen years after Lisa Marie Kimmell was murdered, the Wyoming DNA database matched an inmate named Dale Wayne Eaton to the crime.  When police searched Eaton’s property, they found Lisa’s car buried underground.  Lisa had been held there for six days.  Eaton was tried for murder and other charges. The jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to death.  The sightings of Lisa Marie Kimmell were never explained.  Lisa’s parents were awarded Dale Eaton’s property in a civil suit and burned the buildings to the ground.